Where Are You Staying?

 In Telling a Better Story

By Garrett Vickrey

What are you looking for? Jesus asks this profound question of two disciples of John. They reply with a question of their own: “Where are you staying?” Here at the beginning of the gospel, John articulates a search at the heart of the human condition— the search for home or belonging. John’s gospel is a search for the place to abide. Not just a new home, but a new household.

Dr. Seuss said that every children’s book should address at least one of what he called “the seven needs of children.” Near the top of the list was “the need to belong.” The need to belong is the need to know where we can stay. Or to put it in the words of John— where we abide.

At first glance this passage from John 1 may not look like much. John being John. Jesus meeting disciples. Peter is a rock. Ok. You might even be wondering why we spend a whole Sunday on this passage. Right after this is the Wedding at Cana— isn’t that a better story? What about the woman at the well in John 4— wouldn’t that be a more fruitful use of our time? Maybe.

But, what might jump out if you read closely is the repetition of the word stay or remain or abide. Those English words that show up 5 times in this passage all come from a Greek word that’s important in the gospel of John. It’s the Greek word “meno” which means abide, remain, or stay. That word is used 34 times in the gospel of John. Where we abide and who abides with us is a theme throughout the gospel. Abide.

Last week I was in Piedras Negras and the Rio Grande Valley with Fellowship Southwest visiting pastors who work with migrants on the border. As I followed these pastors around, I heard them ask many times: “Where are you staying?”

One of those pastors was Carlos Navarro. For the past 30 years he has been the pastor of Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville. Every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday he and his deacons greet migrants who have found asylum in the U.S. When these asylum seekers get off the bus after being released from border patrol he greets them and feeds them.

While we were at the welcome center, Carlos, this 60 year old man, jumped up on a table and shouted to the crowd, “Where you from? Anybody here from Venezuela? Any Ecuadorians in the house? Que tu parles français, Haitians?” This guy has the vitality of a house cat on Mountain Dew. His hospitality is a result of a theology shaped by scripture and his own experience. He came to this country from Guatemala 40 years ago. His first night here was the worst night of his life, and he intends to make sure that’s not the case for anyone who gets off that bus.

Igelesia Bautista West Brownsville houses families each week in a couple of apartments built onto the side of the church by Fellowship Southwest a few years ago. These dwelling places are places our church helped fund and our own Woodland member Ray Furr helped to design. Pastor Navarro greets the families as they enter the church by playing loud music from their country and usually waving their flag. Last week a family of Venezuelans arrived with two teenagers. After Navarro sang along to the radio blaring from his minivan, he welcomed them and then he ushered them over to a Venezuelan flag on the wall for a picture. And then he turned to a few of us not as well-versed in Spanish and asked, did you catch what that kid said? He said, “You act like a kid.”

In many ways he’s turning the household upside down— he’s like the child welcoming the parents. But he’s also pushing against the limits of what we think of as a household itself. Everyone who passes through the church is welcomed into the household of faith. But that’s just a tip of the iceberg. Because these asylum seekers are going to a sponsor somewhere in the US. Wherever they end up, Pastor Navarro connects them with a church that becomes their extended family. So the web of mutuality or mutual indwelling is growing exponentially.

When Jesus begins walking around meeting people and they abide with him and bring their brothers and sisters to abide as well, what’s happening is not just random meetings. It’s new creation. It’s the new family. The disciples are gathering around Jesus. After this they go to a wedding where Jesus is revealed as the bridegroom who takes the bridal party ahead to his father’s house. After the wedding at Cana, Jesus went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples and they “abided” there.

So in what seems like a passage of scripture we might just skim… fly over to get to the miracles… we find the foundation for the gospel… and the gospel shaped community.

First published in Fellowship Southwest January Newsletter January 19, 2023.

Garrett Vickrey is pastor of Woodland Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. This is an excerpt from a sermon preached on January 15, 2023.

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