On One Defining Question
January 15, 2023
“I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”
John 1: 35-39
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.
*** Today’s sermon is titled, On One Defining Question.
The defining question is the one that Jesus turns and asks of the two people following him. “What are you looking for?,” he asks them. They do not answer. It’s a difficult question, to be sure. It is difficult because any honest answer would say so much about who we really are. We will come back around to the question Jesus is asking, but first I invite you to consider the lives of two individuals whose lives were both under threat because of what they were looking for. They were looking for the chance to live and love and prosper; both of them were severely challenged by the culture of their time.
Viktor Frankl was a prominent psychologist and neuroscientist in Austria when he was arrested by the nazis. He was 37 years old when he and his young wife were arrested for being Jewish and taken to Auschwitz; they were separated there and never saw one another again. For three years, Frankl survived the most appalling conditions in various camps as he was forced to build railroads in sub-freezing temperatures on a ration of one piece of bread and one bowl of soup a day. I’ve been reading Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, where he recounts how he
worked diligently to stay sane and optimistic in the midst of impossible circumstances. I’ve been
taking notes in the back of the book, listing in particular his method for not losing hope. The list so far reads as follows:
Think about those you love Dare to imagine a better future Find humor
Be grateful for the smallest of mercies
Tell the truth, regardless of the consequences
Remember we have an inner freedom; we can choose how to react to life’s hardships
Search for meaning, even in the smallest things
Identify and focus on what, or who, we live for
[Frankl builds on Neitzche who wrote, “One who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” Time and time again, Frankl saw his campmates lose touch with what they had to live for and it would sometimes be a matter of hours or days before they lived no longer.]
In pondering the question, “What are you looking for?” I can not help but to think about Viktor Frankl. If he were here today, he would be urging us to consider the answer to this question. He would be reminding us that all of humanity is looking for the same things: Life, Love and Prosperity. Viktor Frankl would also be challenging us to use our freedom responsibly, until life, love and prosperity were available to all of humankind.
Martin Luther King, Jr. told the following story about being a boy, riding in the car his father was driving when they were pulled over by a police officer. The white officer came to the window of the car and referred to King, Sr. as “boy.” King, Sr. pointed to his son and said, “This here is a boy. I’m a man and until you call me one, I will not listen to you.” From a young age, Martin Luther King, Jr. learned that if he was looking for equal treatment under the law, if he was
looking for fairness and justice, he would have to demand it. He learned from the example of Jesus, who never resorted to violence; he learned from Mahatma Ghandi, who showed that the non-violent resistance of many could move an entire nation from colonial rule to democratic independence. Building on the examples of his teachers, Martin Luther King, Jr. brought a righteous momentum to the civil rights movement that continues to take us closer to the goal of true equality, outlined in our Declaration of Independence. Martin Luther King, Jr. left many
answers to the question “What are you looking for?” He dreamed of a world where people would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 2018, an initiative was launched in Amsterdam to create 50 identical bronze statues of Martin Luther King, Jr.* Each statue stands 2 feet tall and they were placed around the globe, beginning in Atlanta, “in
locations that refer to slavery and places that emphasize the importance to end racism.” In the same year, 2018, another initiative was launched to build a monument that Viktor Frankl proposed. It was his vision that on the west coast of the U.S., a Statue of Responsibility would stand to remind all people of the responsibility that comes along with freedom.** I quote the following from an article in Psychology Today. “Viktor Frankl warned that freedom threatens to degenerate into mere license unless it is lived responsibly. Although he enjoyed his time spent in America and admired much about it, Dr. Frankl was not shy about criticizing the popular understanding of some cherished American values, such as our notion of freedom. He took exception, for instance, to what appeared to be a commonly accepted view of equating freedom with a license to do virtually anything one wants. To Frankl, freedom without responsibility was an oxymoron. That is why he suggested that the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor on the East Coast be supplemented by a ‘Statue of Responsibility’ somewhere along the West Coast.”***
The statue has been designed and funds are being raised to build it. It will be 80 feet tall, featuring two interlocking hands, each grasping the forearm of the other in an unmistakable gesture of help, proving that we have a responsibility to use our freedom to improve the lives of others.
In closing, Friends, I hope that we will carry with us the question Jesus asked of his companions, “What are you looking for?” I hope we will consider it not just for ourselves, but for our community and our nation. Life, love, and prosperity are just some of the many possible answers. I pray we will use our freedom to further ensure that all people can confidently expect to live, to love, and to prosper. Our teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, demanded as much for his community. May we do the same. So be it. Amen.
In the stillness of winter, Lord, turn our hearts and minds to your presence. Help us to travel through our days with great care, paying close attention to how we are and where we are. Make us ever mindful of ways we can share your love, with a kind word, a smile, a note or a phone call. For all those who are ailing, Lord, we pray for their comfort. For all who are without, may they find the resources they need. For those facing death, we pray for peace. All these things I ask in the name of Jesus Christ, who gave us this prayer… Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against
us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you with these words from Martin Luther King, Jr., from his sermon, preached in
Montgomery, Alabama on November 6th, 1956:
“I think I have discovered the highest good. It is love. This principle stands at the center of the cosmos. As it says in the Gospel of John, ‘God is love.’ He who loves is a participant in the being of God.”