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Congregational Development and Revitalization | God's Instagram Part Two: I and You

Second Sunay in Epiphany 

God’s Instagram Week Two: “I and You”

John 1:43-51


In one of the the churches I served I will never forget something that happened on my first Sunday.  I was being introduced in one of the services so I had taken my seat in the front row.  I wasn’t going to be sitting there long because I was preaching in a different service that took place in the same hour.  Just before the service was to begin an older gentlemen came down the isle.  He got to where I was sitting and looked down at me.  I stood up and introduced myself by name.  He then said, “You are in my seat.”  The person who was going to introduce me told him, “This is Brian and he is our new pastor.”  He looked at me and then said, “Welcome to our church, but this is my seat.”  


We spend a great deal of time in our relationships trying to figure each other out.  We wonder if other people like us or what the think of us.  We allow other people to define who we are.  We are working through a series of messages about personal identity called “God’s Instagram” in which we are looking at what Jesus’ identity was and how the story of his identity can help us have a better understanding of our own identity.  We looked last time at the story in Mark’s gospel of Jesus’ baptism and the idea that God looked down at Jesus and called him his son and then said, “ I am well pleased with you.”  This is was the foundation for Jesus’ identity and it should be the foundation of our own identity.  Everything about who were are should be defined by whose we are.  


In this message I want to continue to focus on relationships with each other as we explore the story of Nathaneal in John’s gospel.  When we meet him in John’s gospel it is through Phillip.  Jesus has asked Phillip to follow him and he has agreed.  Phillip then goes to get Nathanael and tells Nathaneal about Jesus.  This is a huge side note, but notice how evangelism is done in the passage.  It isn’t Jesus finding Nathaneal, it is the newly converted Phillip.  Notice that Nathaneal’s response maybe isn’t one that you may have expected either.  He says, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  


Apparently Nazareth didn’t have the best of reputations.  It would be like taking a city know for being backwards and expecting that town to produce the President of the United States.  More than this, I want you to notice what may be going on in the head of Nathaneal.  He is doing what all of us do when we encounter someone or learn something about someone.  He is trying to control this situation and this new relationship by passing judgement and controlling.  He is protecting himself.  


We all do this in our relationships not just because we really don't know the other person or trust them, but because we doubt ourselves in this relationship.  Martin Buber, who was a Jewish philosopher, came up with two concepts to help explain how we interact in relationships.  The first one he called the I and It relationship.  In this relationship we spend our time trying to figure out the other person.  We stay in a constant state of power struggles with those around us.  This relationship while it is the dominate way we relate to most people it is not the most fulfilling relationship. 


He then explains The I and You relationship is a relationship of intimacy where we interact by being with each other.  It isn’t a relationship of manipulation and control. It is a relationship of being.  We just are ourselves in this relationship and we are connected with someone else in our being.  We aren't trying to figure this person out.  We are not controlling them.  We are with them and enjoy them for who they are and they allow us to be fully ourselves.


You may be wondering what this has to do with God and our identity so let me explain.  Just like this was Nathaneal’s response to Jesus in our passage, most of the time this is also our response to Jesus even now.  As we learned last week God wants us to be known as his child and for us to experience this I and Me relationship with him.  God invites us into this type of relationship, but we approach God in a way that suggests we want to control God.  We want to manipulate God.  We want to make sure God stays in a our box so that we can remain in power in our relationship with God and we never move into a deeper intimacy with him.  


On Twitter after the Rose Bowl when Georgia beat Oklahoma in overtime  I saw a church sign that said, “For all of you who made promises to God, our church services are 8:30am and 11:00am.”  We do approach God as a way to control our circumstances rather than to build intimacy with him.


I love the autobiography of C.S. Lewis called Surprised by Joy.  I find myself a lot in the pages that Lewis wrote about his growing up years.  In his autobiography, Lewis described how he treated approaching God in prayer. At a young age, when C. S. Lewis learned that his mother was dying, he remembered that he had been taught that prayers offered in faith would be granted. When his mother eventually died, Lewis prayed for a miracle. Later, he wrote:


I had approached God, or my idea of God, without love, without awe, even without fear. He was, in my mental picture of this miracle, to appear neither as Savior nor as Judge, but merely as a magician; and when he had done what was required of him I supposed he would simply—well, go away. It never crossed my mind that the tremendous contract which I solicited should have any consequence beyond restoring the status quo.


In the story of Nathaneal he runs into Jesus and Jesus tells him something about himself that nobody could possibly know and it convinces him to follow Jesus.  In this encounter Nathaneal desires to move from a surface controlling relationship with God to a relationship of intimacy with him.  This doesn’t mean that he became perfect, it doesn’t mean he never slipped backwards, and it doesn’t mean he didn’t struggle.  It simply means that he took the step of desiring to following Jesus and wanting to know him better.  I am convinced that our relationship with God is all in how we approach God.  Bonhoeffer once wrote,” Seek God, not happiness- this is the fundamental rule of all meditation.  If you seek God alone, you will gain happiness.”


Jesus points out to Nathaneal that if he thinks what he has just witnessed was great then he is in for a real surprise because he is about to see really amazing things happen in his life.  Sometimes we wonder why we don’t see these amazing things happen in and around us.  I have a suspicion that at least some of the reason is that we are busy defining God into the image we want God to have., the largest men's lifestyle website in the world, surveyed over 2,000 men and asked them: "Who do you consider your role model?" The survey results were broken down into four major categories:

•8 percent of men said they look to actors or entertainers as their role model.

•24 percent of men try to emulate athletes.

•31 percent of men said "I'm my own role model."

•35 percent of men looked to entrepreneurs as role models.


One of the takeaway from this little survey is that a third of those surveyed looked to themselves as role models.  Here is the point.  If our image of God is a like us, then we will never see God’s power in our lives.  Here is a quick test.  If when we read the Bible and we always see the Bible as affirming us and challenging everyone else, then we have defined God a lot like us.  If when we read the Bible and we are challenged to love God more and love others more then perhaps we are on the right track.  It is when we allow following Jesus to define us that we come to be more like him.


I later found out that the man who wanted my seat sat in that spot because he had health problems.  After a short time we even joked around about how he "kicked the preacher" out of his seat.  All the time I spent trying to figure this man out and he had no problem with me at all.  There was no need to manipulate or try to figure him out.  All I needed to do was love him let him love me as grounded in what it means to follow Jesus.  And... I believe these things bring about us seeing the beauty of what it means to be a disciple.


Read about God's Instagram Part Two: I and You in this story from The Call

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