(a sermon for January 15, 2017, the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, based on John 1:29-42)
Early on one of the rainy, foggy evenings we had earlier this week in Concord I was leaving the church to go home and was surprised to discover that there was another car parked next to mine. That in and of itself wasn’t all that unusual – quite often, especially during the week, there will be people who’ll make use of our driveway here for one reason or another – but what piqued my interest was that this particular car had Maine State license plates!
And of course, as ridiculous as it sounds, you know what I’m thinking: hey, I wonder if I know this person! Especially as now, the driver is rolling down the car windows to speak with me: maybe it’s one of our relatives, driving up through to “the County” and stopping in to visit and just in time for supper! (well… it could have been, I’m just sayin’!) Alas, this was not to be, for immediately there’s this woman who’s apologizing to me for being in our parking lot and explaining that since it was so foggy, they were feeling kind of lost and were trying to get their GPS unit to work! Of course, I must confess to you that this did not dissuade my hopefulness one little bit, because once I’d assured them that yes, the weather was awful and that it was fine they were resting in our parking lot, I immediately added, “I notice you have Maine license plates… where in Maine are you from?” But the woman simply smiled and said, “Oh, we’re up here from Texas… this is just a rental!”
We chatted for a little longer (“Texas? That’s nice… I guess”) and then we were both on our way; but it wasn’t until I was back on my way home that I realized, to my embarrassment (!), that I’d never really asked them the most important question of all, given their situation: “What are you looking for?” Because after all, ultimately when you’re on a journey and most especially when you’re feeling lost on that journey, it doesn’t matter to you where you’ve come from (even if you are from Maine!); you want to know if you’re headed in the right direction to get to where you want to be! Maybe the answer is an exit number, or a particular landmark, or perhaps, as is so often the case here in New England, it’ll have to do with local geography or history (“You go down to the fork in the road where the church used to be before it burned down in 1956!”); but when you are seeking the right direction to go and the right place to be, eventually you need someone’s help to show you the way.
In our gospel reading for this morning, two disciples of John the Baptist, having heard directly from his mouth that this man Jesus was “’the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,’” followed Jesus, perchance to find out more. And Jesus, who could see that these two were following him, said “’What are you looking for?’” You remember how we spoke last week about the first thing that Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel (it was about obedience, by the way); well, the first thing that Jesus is recorded as saying in John’s gospel is this question, “What are you looking for?” And it’s interesting because given the nuances of the original Greek language, it could just as easily be translated as “What are you seeking?” or even, “What do you hope to find?” The Message actually goes one step further here: in that translation, Jesus asks these two disciples, quite simply, “What are you after?”
“What do you need… what do you long for… what are you most hoping for?” The point here is that oftentimes what we’re looking for is not to be found in a location or the program of a GPS unit, but rather in that which will give our lives direction and meaning and purpose! The irony is, of course, that there are many in this world who will ask us these kind of questions. David Lose, of Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia, writes that advertisers are quick to ask us these questions, and even quicker to try and answer the question for us! “’What do you need?’ quickly becomes, ‘I know what you need – a new pair of running shoes, a more expensive car, whiter teeth, to lose ten pounds,’ all of which, we’re told, can be had for a price.”
But, Lose continues, down deep we know better. We know that “true wealth is counting all the blessings we enjoy that money can’t buy.” And when Jesus asks the questions of these two disciples of John, it’s a question about what it is for them that will give life its greatest and deepest meaning; and the truth is that most, if not all of us are asking for exactly the same things in life: “for relationship in a world increasingly isolated and isolating… community in an individualistic and often lonely culture… the chance to serve and be connected to others [who feel the same way]… for hope and courage when the headlines inspire fear and despair.”
What are you looking for, asks Jesus. What are you looking for?
What’s also interesting about this text (and, as it turns out, so much of John’s gospel) is that that these two disciples answer Jesus’ question with a question: “Rabbi,” they ask, “where are you staying?” And once again, we have a question that when it comes to the original language amounts to more than simply, “So what’s your address in Galilee, Jesus?” It’s the Greek word meno, and it basically refers to one’s life and meaning; in other words, the question is, “Jesus, what are you about? What is it that sustains you? Where do you live…how do you live? Who are you… really?” These disciples are simply asking who Jesus is, and by extension, if they can come and be with him; to know him, to find out about him, to figure out for themselves what this man Jesus, this “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” is all about!
And this is when Jesus utters what are arguably three of the most important words of our Christian faith, three words that offer up an invitation to a relationship with the divine that’s at once immediate and eternal: “Come and see.”
What Jesus knew, you see, is that faith ultimately is something that is experiential. By that I mean that Christianity cannot be learned in the same manner that one memorizes a series of mathematical equations, nor can it be logically accepted or rejected on the basis of whatever series of propositions are set before it (though many have tried). Faith is truth; truth that is personal, all-encompassing and wholly enveloping, something that once it becomes part of you, it will affect how you think, the way you act, and the kind of life you lead. But first that faith has to be experienced, and therein is the beauty of Jesus’s answer: it’s an invitation to these two disciples to come and experience truth in being with him, dwelling with him, coming to know him. “Come and see.”
To quote David Lose once again, Jesus’ invitation is really quite simple: “it’s non-threatening. It’s clear… it’s relational… [and] it’s something any of us could say.” And, I might add, it’s not wrapped up in the promise to receive all the answers to all our questions all at once (!); it’s simply the deep and sincere invitation come with Jesus in our search for something more than the world’s culture has to offer!
What are you looking for, asks Jesus? Well, come and see!
John tells us that the disciples “came and saw where [Jesus] was saying and they remained with him that day.” John also makes a point of telling us that it “was about four o’clock in the afternoon,” which suggests that their together likely lasted well into the night. The point is that for these two disciples, one of whom was named Andrew, it was the beginning of a long and remarkable journey on through the next three years and beyond. In fact, it’s so remarkable that we’re told almost immediately, Andrew seeks out his brother Simon Peter (the one who was to be called Cephas, “the Rock”) to come and see this one who was most certainly the“Messiah.” You see, that’s the nature of the search for that “place” in life where you belong and where it all begins, if only in a glimmer at first, to make sense. In the words of the song, “once you’ve experienced it… you want to pass it on!”
And therein lies an important piece of this that we also need to remember today, friends. This passage from John most certainly proclaims to us how God in Jesus Christ is offering us that divine invitation to “come and see” (or perhaps to “come back and see”), so to experience the power and presence of the divine and, as we say at communion time, “to be[come] people of his new realm.” But there’s even more here than that; there’s also the understanding that by our faithful work and through a truly “holy” Spirit of welcome, we are also offering up much the same invitation. “It is God in Christ working through us to invite others to abundant life so much richer than anything we can buy,” even as Jesus – even in this moment, beloved (!) – continues to invite you and me to come, to see and to know even more about what it means to love, to be loved and to be his disciples in the world.
You know, it does seem to me that in these days when congregations are shrinking and the church as a whole is taken less seriously by the world, we who know and who at least seek to understand the ways of faith, hope and love have a responsibility to reach those around us who are searching and ask that very important question, “What are you looking for?” I actually suspect that there are so many people out there, maybe even people who are closer than we think, who are wanting, yearning for somebody just like us to ask! Now, the answers we receive from them might surprise us and they might even confuse us; but the thing is, we – you and you and me and everyone in this sanctuary – has an answer to give. Because we’ve experienced it; we’ve been strengthened by it, you and me; we’ve been led out from the midst of darkness, struggle and grief because of it; when we were broken, it healed us and made us whole once again; it provided things like joy and love in those moments of life when such blessings seemed to be in very short supply. And it made us a family here on Mountain Road, gathered by God in Jesus Christ and bound by God’s Holy Spirit, just as it has for generations of our family in this place for 175 years.
We’ve got an answer to that question, what are you looking for… and it’s this:
“Come and see.” That’s it… just come… and see!
Just make sure, beloved, that when the opportunity arises, that invitation doesn’t get forgotten or neglected. Because so often it’s our making that invitation that makes all the difference.
Thanks be to God!
Amen and AMEN!
c. 2017 Rev. Michael W. Lowry