Where is he?



Growing up in west central Illinois in what was arguably the greater St. Louis area, we regularly found ourselves traveling to that great city on all sorts of adventures. One targeted stop for us regular non-locals was to hit St. Louis’ Union Station and work our way through it’s stores. Closed to train operations in 1978, St. Louis’ Union Station at one time was a shopping destination on par with the Kansas City Plaza or even the Mall of America in Minnesota. Given the shift from boutiques to Big Box retailers that soon followed the Station’s zenith, the center today is but a shadow of what it once was and, like many such mixed use locations, struggling to successfully repurpose itself.

But to my wife’s family the St. Louis’ Union Station is at the center of a legendary story that involved my brother-n-law and my wife’s first cousin. Both near brothers growing up, and both serious audiophiles, the two regularly met in St. Louis from wherever they happened to be living at the time to catch the concert of a big name group or performer who happen to be in St. Louis on tour. Well, needing a place to connect once in town, the two of them decided they would meet at “the fountain in Union Station.” Easy enough. Both knew where that was, and that was all that need be said to launch each other on their travels.

The first thing I might mention at this point is that this event happened before cell phones became popular. The second thing I should tell you is that St. Louis’ Union station is a significant expanse running east to west along the end of what used to be the western outskirts of old downtown St. Louis….and, most importantly, it has two fountains; one on each end. So, as you may have easily discerned by those two points, they each had a fountain in mind….just not the same one. This led to hours of concern and confusion. Many calls home to parents from pay phones. Confusion back home by parents who found similar messages from each of them odd and more confusing. But most enjoyable of all, years and years of laughter and embarrassment at family functions.

Have you ever had that happen to you? Had some part of your life, some event, or some trip all planned out. Then something that you took as a given in your thinking wasn’t what you thought it was and that moment turned the whole experience around? Not always fun. That ever happen to you in your faith?

What about Jesus? Has that ever happened to you with your relationship with Jesus Christ? Are there givens in our thinking that we may or may not realized could be flawed? How would we know that? What do we do to check in on our relationship with Christ? How much of our relationship with Christ do we, like in my brother-in-law’s situation, hear what we think we need to hear, and miss the greater details. Do we sometimes forget to contextualize our relationship with Christ in those smaller details of our lives? Perhaps maybe an even better place to start in examining this question is to ask ourselves, “How do we even recognize Christ in our lives?”

Would you recognize Jesus if he walked up to you today?

That question jumped out at me in hearing this past Sunday’s Gospel reading from the Gospel of John:

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said,

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

He is the one of whom I said,

‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me

because he existed before me.’

I did not know him,

but the reason why I came baptizing with water

was that he might be made known to Israel.”

John testified further, saying,

“I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven

and remain upon him.

I did not know him,

but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me,

‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain,

he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’

Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

John, who said repeatedly, “I did not know him,” tells us that he recognized Jesus because he saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as a pretty telling sign that this was Jesus. But if Jesus walked up to you today is that what we will see? John was the herald announcing the Kings’ arrival. We…we are sinners in need of a savior. Maybe…maybe not? If we call ourselves Christians, if we believe we are in Communion with the Body of Christ, and if we see ourselves in a relationship with him maybe we should have some way of recognizing Jesus when he is a part of our everyday lives?

Years ago before I could be labeled as a parent or father, I donated my time as an Assistant Scoutmaster for a Boy Scout Troop out of a Church in Central Kansas City, MO. One of the projects I put together for them was organizing a “campout” in Gardner, KS to go horseback riding. A co-worker of mine owned property out there and kept a small stable. We brought the boys out, camped, and earned Horsemanship Merit Badge.

As Scouts, we occupied our downtime on our horse adventure with a hike. Now despite all the credit we should give these boys for what they do, they are still primarily 11 to 14 year old boys. They get tired when you wear them out. It was a full weekend and I had packed the schedule excited about what I was offering them. Now, when boys get tired they can get crabby. When they get crabby they can bicker with one another. Every once in awhile when boys bicker their feelings get hurt.

On the hike a young man came up to me in tears. He was new to the Troop, which also meant he was one of the youngest boys on the trip. He was having trouble fitting in, and some of the older boys were giving him a hard time as they were getting worn out by with the rigidity of the day and taking it out on this kid. I had yet to really get to know this boy well as this point either, his Dad had not come with us, and he is coming to me as I was the one running the outing.

Sobbing, he let me know what they had said, that it hurt his feelings and he didn’t understand why they were being so mean. Contextualizing what I thought was the situation – a battle for respect, I encouraged this young man to give the older boys a taste of their own medicine and gave him some tips on how he could return some meanness with meanness.

A pause then passed between us, his tears dried up, his eyes focused, and he looked up at me with determination in his face. I stood there looking back at him thinking I had inspired some confidence. I started to smile, really proud of myself for delivering the perfect message, and began patting him on the shoulder. It was at that moment that he started to look confused and said in a deep sincere voice, “I can’t do that!”

“Why?” I said in total surprise.

“Because I’m a Christian,” he stated proudly, “We don’t treat people that way.”

That was my moment of faith in which I was at the wrong fountain. I had completely missed seeing Jesus standing right in front of me, and he wasted no time reminding me that I didn’t see him. I have spent my years since that moment regularly praying for the strength to see Christ in my life as clearly as that 11 year old boy could.

My prayers for you in your search.