Two Questions and an Invitation
A sermon on John 1:29-42
(for an audio recording of this sermon, click here.
Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash)
“What are you looking for?”
I don’t know about you, but that’s a question I can relate to.
There’s a lot of details in today’s gospel that feel pretty distant from my reality: The baptizer’s words about the one who comes really being ahead because he was before is grammatically confusing; And I’ve never personally seen the Holy Spirit descend from heaven like a dove; And outside of church-speak, my only interaction with lambs is when I order a dish at a nice restaurant, so the imagery of “Lamb of God” feels a bit… uncomfortable.
But the question: “What are you looking for?” – That’s familiar. In mundane contexts, I hear it when I’m out shopping, or I ask it of my kids when they are hunting through the refrigerator (10 minutes before dinner).
But it’s also a helpful question in more reflective contexts: when I’m talking with my therapist, or my spiritual director, and trying to get to the core of what my heart longs for, and to untangle the knots in my faith. Then, it helps to ask “what are you looking for?”
One of my favorite professors and all-around most-inspiring people, Dr. Audrey West, elaborates on this gospel story’s initiating question:
“What are you seeking? What are you looking for? What do you need? It is a question worth wrestling with – as individuals, as congregations, as communities – since our answers will have a great deal to do with what we find as well as with the journey we take to get there. What are you seeking? What motivates you? What is it that you really need, not just on the surface, but deep down into the core of your being? What are you looking for?”
This question beckons us to step out of the rushing current of daily life and to recognize that we are, in fact, looking for something. Life is not just a hamster wheel of endless to-do lists. There is purpose to our lives… and we do better when we know what that purpose is.
Of course, the question could also put us on the defensive, especially if we are suddenly confronted by the realization that we don’t know… that we are just charging ahead on the hamster wheel and haven’t actually thought about the big question of why? MAYBE that’s why Andrew and the other disciple answer Jesus’s question with another question, as a way of deflecting attention away from their own big question mark… But I don’t think so. Because the second question in today’s reading is just as profound, just as revelatory, as the first:
“Teacher, where are you staying?”
Our English translations make this sound a bit like a request for directions, a query for Jesus’ address, but the Greek word translated “staying” is meno, and it asks a much deeper question. It’s closer to asking Jesus “where do you abide? Where do you sojourn? Where do you endure?”
In other words, when Jesus asked these two disciples what they were looking for, their answer was “time with you.” Somehow, they had figured out that being close to Jesus was what they needed. They weren’t looking for “something;” they were looking for “someone.” They were looking for a relationship, for a teacher with whom to abide.
And abiding with him is what Jesus invites them to do: After these two as-yet-unknown disciples answer his question with their own, a question that expresses their longing for more than just a one-time answer, he ushers them into a life-changing relationship with just three words:
“Come and see.”
“Come and see” is an important phrase in John’s gospel, a phrase used to call us – as readers – into an awareness of how much there is to see in Jesus:
We hear it echoed by the disciple Phillip calling Nathaniel to come and see the teacher who already knows Nathaniel’s soul (1:46);
And we hear it in the words of the woman at the well, who calls her whole town to “come and see” the prophet who told the woman her own life story, in order to call her into a new identity (4:29);
And it’s there in the healing of a blind man whom Jesus sends to bathe in the pool of Siloam, and who comes back able to see (9:7);
And then, again, in the words of the mourners, who call Jesus to come to Lazarus’ tomb and see that he is really dead, before Jesus calls him back to life (11:34).
Each “come and see” is an invitation not just to the people in the stories but to us as well – an invitation to come and see Jesus.
To come and see the one who affirms, and gives value, and heals, and calls forth new life.
To come and see Jesus not just for what he does, but for how he answers the deepest question of our souls: “what are you looking for?”
These stories call us to come and see that the longing of our hearts – the deep need that we try to silence with all of the activity, and posessions, and achieving of our lives – is a longing to be known, and valued, and healed, and restored to life like those who come and see Jesus.
But I think Jesus calls us to something more as well.
What we are looking for is not some goal we can achieve or some thing we can possess; it is being WITH the one who comes to abide with us in the middle of all the brokenness and pain of our lives and of our world. And that means that what we are looking for is NOT an escape from the things that are wrong with our lives…
The Rev. Dr, Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “I still believe that standing up for the truth of God is the greatest thing in the world. This is the end (purpose) of life. The end of life is not to be happy. The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may.”
That “come what may” might sound a little scary, especially given what we know about the man who said it. His “come what may” included abuse, and imprisonment, and slander, and finally death. And, of course, the same can be said of Jesus.
But the “come what may” also included changing the world!
When Jesus invited his first two disciples to “come and see” where he was staying, it was an invitation to abide with him in his world-changing ministry. And that invitation was HIS answer to the question of what they were looking for. Because the purpose of our lives is – as Dr. King proclaimed – to do the will of God, to be part of God’s life-changing work in our broken world.
That might look like being part of continuing King’s on-going work to dismantle the corrupting forces of racism and inequality in our country;
Or maybe it will look like seeing, and valuing, and listening to the “woman-at-the-well” people on the margins of our community who need to know their voices matter;
Or maybe it will look like working for healing of the various forms of disability and blindness in our world;
Or maybe it will look like believing in the possibility of life, when all we can see is death.
The world is broken in a lot of ways, and most of us probably can’t take them all on. And that’s OK. As long as we remember that “what we are looking for” isn’t just about ourselves, and our needs; As long as we keep hearing the call to “come and see”; As long as we keep responding the invitation to be part of God’s welcoming, healing, life-giving work in the world.
Because coming, and seeing, and abiding in that work is how we come to see, and know, and abide with Jesus… who truly is the one we are looking for.
Thanks be to God.