What Are You Looking For?
| John 1:29-43
||Sun, January 21, 1996
Rev. Ed Searcy
|"What are you looking for?" According to John's gospel it is the first question Jesus asks of his new followers. "What are you looking for?" he asks of the two converts from John the Baptist. It's a good question ... a good question to ask of ourselves on a snowy Sunday morning. What brings you out of bed and through the slush here today ... what are you looking for? It is a question with as many answers as there are people in these chairs. 'I'm looking for a church full of music' answers one, 'We're looking for a church with room for children' answer others. At 'Share and Care' on Wednesday we quickly brainstormed a healthy list of responses: 'people come looking for peace, for teaching, for nourishment, for a sign, for a spiritual experience, for joy'. Early in the first term, Gerald asked his second year Denominational Studies class at VST why people are coming to the United Church these days. Together the class shaped a threefold reply. People come to church, they suggested, 'seeking mystery in a world of banal technology; seeking community in a world of isolated individualism and seeking moral insight in a world of confused relativism.'
Mystery, community and moral insight. Is this what we are looking for? Well, you don't have to look much farther than this very congregation to see the truth in that summary. If, after four months, I was asked to name the factors that have brought this congregation back to life from its near-death experience of a few years ago I think that these three would be a good place to begin. Mystery? See the chapel that inspires awe ... hear the music that transports you to another realm ... experience the worship that makes room for the sound of a bell, the light of a flame and the taste of bread and wine. Community? Witness married and single ... youth and elder ... conservative and liberal ... African, Asian, European ... poor and rich ... no longer separated by walls of isolation but made members of one family. Moral Insight? Meet a people being formed by a Word that cuts through our culture's obfuscations and our personal rationalizations ... God's vital, engaging Word of truth that at once judges and makes new.
Yes ... mystery, community and truth .... this is what we are looking for, Jesus. But then it is as if Jesus puts the question again: "What are you really looking for?" Forced to dig deeper we discover other answers, answers that come closer to the truth. If you listen, you can hear them come tumbling out in the silence all around you: 'I am looking for forgiveness that can free me from the pain I have caused' ... 'I am looking for healing from the effects of the tragedy I have suffered' ... 'I am looking for hope to overcome the depression that weighs on me so heavily' ... 'I am looking for a miracle to break the chains of my addiction' ... 'I am looking for ..." well, you fill in the blanks. Each one of us comes yearning for an answer to our deepest need.
Yet when Jesus wonders aloud about what it is that his new converts are looking for their response is surprising in its simplicity: "Where are you staying?" they want to know. Here's a question we hadn't thought of: 'To tell you the truth, Jesus, we're looking for your address ... could you tell us your motel room number?'. They aren't looking for a brush with celebrity, for an autograph and a fond memory ... they are looking for time together, for the chance to be with Jesus, for a relationship with him. Sure enough, as fast as Jesus can say "come and see" they sit themselves down and "remain with him" for the rest of the day. Could it be that this is really what all of our searching amounts to? Perhaps our long seeker's litany - our desire to find mystery and community and truth, our quest for nourishment and hope and healing - perhaps all of these longings are a way of asking the same question: "Where are you staying, Jesus?"
For each of us the journey starts when we are invited to take a look ... we come because someone else points the way to the place where he can be found. We are guided by a parent, perhaps, or a grandparent whose own devotion convinces us that there must be something to this ... by a teacher or a preacher or an acquaintance, who like John the Baptist, seems utterly convinced that this is the Son of God. It is the way becoming a disciple begins. Take Margaret. She came one Sunday morning because a friend from politics brought her along. He said he thought she might be interested. Nearing fifty, she had never set foot in church in her life except on her wedding day. But she had nothing to lose and he seemed a sane enough type so she came with him. Well, it was like nothing she had ever known ... they spoke a strange language here that she could barely understand. Yet, though she hid way in the back, it was as if the prayers and the hymns had been selected ... the sermon written ... just for her. It seemed as if the preacher was speaking about her life ... about the abuse she had suffered, the despair she endured, the future she could hardly face. Week after week she found herself returning, often slipping out at the end with healing tears running down her cheeks. She felt like Simon for it seemed that Jesus already knew her name ... and that he had a new life waiting, a new name in store for her. Kneeling at the baptismal font one Sunday morning, a year after her first visit, she was the most surprised person in the place.
Well, guess what happened next? Wouldn't you know it ... she showed up in church with a friend. "You need to experience this" she told him, "I'll take you with me". Now this is something unheard of in most United Church congregations. We are, after all, well known for our modesty ... or is it our embarrassment ... when it comes to inviting others to the party. Maybe that is because much of the time there isn't really much to come and see. How often the call to evangelism has been one more duty to be fulfilled (about as much fun as swallowing our cod liver oil), one more obligation to be met (about as enjoyable as paying our taxes). But notice what happens when Jesus is clearly in view ... when the mystery and the community and the message leave no doubt that he is here. Why, we can't help ourselves. We tell anyone and everyone: "You should really come and experience this ... it's not like anything I've ever known before". These days I even find myself inviting other ministers to come to University Hill on a Sunday morning ... until they remind me that it will be rather difficult for them to find the time! Like Andrew, the first thing we want to do is to go and call our brothers and sisters and tell them to not to miss this. But, of course, like the first disciples, none of us really has any clue where it will all lead ... except for John, standing knee deep in the Jordan, and the One he calls the "Lamb of God".
In this account of the gospel story, John and Jesus know from the beginning that the life of the Anointed One is meant to be a sacrifice. "Here is the lamb of God", John says, "who takes away the sin of the world". And, sure enough, come passover it is this very human life that becomes the means of God's liberation of the earth. Such evocative yet strange talk, strange talk indeed ... and the disciples don't really get it. All they know is that they want to stay with him. But look, he never stays in one place ... he has no official residence. Tomorrow he is off to Galilee ... and then to Cana and then Capernaum ... and then, one day soon, to Jerusalem. "Follow me" he says to the men and women who discover him by the lakeshore ... "if you want to know where I am staying, follow me". Wouldn't you know it, at the conclusion of this service, we are invited to move ... to move downstairs and then, via slides and stories, to travel to the troubled region of Chiapas in Mexico. Jesus, you see, is once again on the move. He is not staying here in this lovely chapel, singing our joyful songs, revelling in the mystery and the community and the profundity. No, he is already moving on ... on towards his destination, on to the cross ... and all the while calling back over his shoulder to any who would seek his company: "Follow me ... follow me".