1/15/17: What Are You Looking For? John 1:29-42
What Are You Looking For?
First Lesson: Isaiah 49:1-7
Second Lesson: John 1:29-42
Rev. Scott Dickison
The way the other Gospels tell this story of the call pos the first disciples, Jesus, we might say, is the one in pursuit. He approaches these fishermen in their boats out of the blue. As they were busy tending to other things, he interjects himself into their life and makes them an offer: Follow me, and you will fish instead for people. Follow me, and your life will take on new meaning, new purpose—follow me and I will show you abundance that you’d never believe. Follow me and I will show you these things.
But that’s not what we have here. Here, it is the disciples who are in pursuit of Jesus. They’ve been preparing themselves for this day, having received the baptism of John and heard his teachings of the ways God is about to move in the world in the sending of a Messiah. Now this day for which they’ve been preparing has come, Jesus is pointed out to them, Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away of the sin of the world! and before entry even know it, they begin their pursuit—though in secret. They’ve not dropped everything and followed after him just yet. That will come, but for now they just want a look. But as they do, Jesus sees them, turns to them, looks them in the eye and says to them, What are you looking for?
Last week we noted that the first words of God in the Gospel of Matthew, and really then, the entire New Testament, are those words of blessing which fell upon Jesus at his baptism, This is my Beloved son, of whom I am well pleased, and we noted how beautifully fitting it is that God’s first words would be ones of blessing. You are my beloved, God says, to Jesus and to us. And now we come to these words of Jesus—the first words he speaks in the Gospel of John, which may be the same.
These would-be disciples approach him at a safe distance, he sees, he turns, and says to them: What are you looking for?
It’s not an offer like the other stories tell it: Follow me and this is what you’ll find. No, it’s a question: What are you looking for? Interesting what he didn’t ask: It wasn’t, What do you believe? This was not a test of theological orthodoxy. He didn’t ask them where they fell on whatever the hot-button issue was in first century Judaism. Strange we don’t remember what that was. This was not dogwhistle to see where they stood, Jesus doesn’t seem interested in all of that, here or elsewhere. Jesus is much more concerned with getting down to the heart of things. What are you looking for? he asks. What is it that you’re in search of, what is it that you want, more than any other thing in the world? In other words, before you go a step further, if you want to follow me, it’s important that you know who you are, because, as it’s been said, you are what you seek. (1) You are what you’re looking for, because this is where your heart is, or where your heart is pointing.
And so it’s not always an easy question to answer, what it is that we’re looking for. It’s much easier to focus on lesser things—and we get no help from the world around us. We live in a culture of distraction. Of constant stimulation and incessant entertainment—it’s almost like an IV slow-drip of images and advertisements and manufactured controversy and drama and outrage. Of smartphones—God help us. A world of free two-day shipping, of emails that flood your inbox each morning with sales and styles “must haves.” The eyes, it’s been said, are the gateway to the soul, and if we’re not careful, we may never get around to asking the holy question of what we’re looking for, and instead settle for whatever it is we happen to be looking at.
We’re surrounded by voices, images, all making promises about what will bring us happiness and contentment— what will fulfill our heart’s desire to feel loved and accepted—telling us what we should desire, what we should value, what we should be looking for, all of which depend upon us not stopping for even one moment and asking ourselves what it is we’re really looking for, and considering what it would take to pursue these things.
We were going through the boys’ already extensive collection of books recently, and I came across one of my favorites. Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. A beautiful story, about a boy and his tree. There was a time when all the boy wanted was to play in her branches and eat apples and be happy. But in time, the boy begins to grow up. He goes away for a while and when he comes back the tree invites him to come and play in her branches and eat apples and be happy, but he says, No, I don’t have time to do that. What I really need is some money. Do you have any money for me, the boy asks? And the tree tells him, I don’t have any money, but take some of my apples and sell them in the city and then you will have money and be happy. And the boy does. And the tree is happy—we never hear about the boy.
He’s away for a long time again, and when he comes back the tree again invites him to come and play, but again the boy declines, and this time says he needs a house—could the tree give him a house? She tells him to cut down her branches and build a house and be happy. He cuts them down, and the tree is happy. He goes away for a long time again, and when he returns, this time much older, much sadder, he asks her for a boat to sail away on. She tells him to cutdown her truck and make a boat and be happy. He cuts down her trunk, and again the tree is happy. Yet again, he goes away for a long time until he finally returns, this time very old, very tired. And the tree—now only a stump—begins to apologize for not having anything left to offer him, but he stops her and says, I just need a place to sit. And so she straightens herself up, and says, Come, boy, and sit down, and be happy. And he does. The tree, again, is happy.
And it’s funny, for the longest time, I read this story as a testament to sacrificial love: the tree’s holy willingness to give all that she has to the boy. And it may be that. But more and more I’ve come see it as a parable about our human inability to know what it is we’re looking for. What it is that will bring us peace.
Thrown off guard by his initial question, I suspect, the would-be disciples answer by asking him where he is staying, and this is his response: Come and see.
Come and see, he says. This is the invitation to discipleship.
Come and see where I’m staying, but more than that, Come and see where I am going. Come and see, and you may find what it is that you’re looking for.
Or maybe—and we can’t know for sure—Come and see what I’m looking for. It’s quite possible this is what Jesus meant. Come and see what I want more than anything in the world. Come and see what I’m willing to do for it. After all, this is the meaning of discipleship: not simply to go where Jesus goes, but to want what Jesus wants. To seek what Jesus seeks, to love what Jesus love. To love who Christ loves.
I heard recently of an ongoing conversation between a father and his young daughter.
It all started at Christmas some years ago when his daughter was four-years-old and began asking for the first time what the holiday meant. And so the father explained to his daughter as best he could why they were celebrating the birth of Jesus. And she wanted to know more, and they went out and bought a kid's Bible and had these readings at night. The daughter loved them—wanted to know everything about Jesus. So they would read each night about his birth and teaching. And the daughter would ask constantly about one phrase in particular, and the father would explain to her that it was, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Golden Rule. And they would talk about those old words and what that all meant.
And then one day they were driving past a big church, and out front was an enormous crucifix. The daughter said, Who is that? And the father realized he’d never really told that part of the story, and so on the spot there in the car he had to explain as best he could the crucifixion. Well, that's Jesus, he told her, and I forgot to tell you the ending. Well, you know, he ran afoul of the Roman government. This message that he had was so radical and unnerving to the prevailing authorities of the time that they had to kill him. They came to the conclusion that he would have to die. That message was too troublesome.
It was about a month later after that Christmas. They’d gone through the whole story of what Christmas meant. It was mid-January, and his daughter’s preschool was off for the Martin Luther King holiday. So the father knocked off work that day and decided they’d play, and go out to lunch. And they were sitting in a restaurant and right on the table where they happened to sit down was the art section of the local newspaper. And there was a huge drawing by a child from the local schools of Martin Luther King. And the daughter saw and said, Who's that? And the father said, Well, that's Martin Luther King, Jr., and he's why you're not in school today. We're celebrating his birthday. This is the day we celebrate his life. And the daughter asked, So who was he? And the mother told her, Well, he was a preacher. And the girl looked up at her father and says, For Jesus? And the father said, Yes. Yes, actually he was, but there was another thing that he was really famous for, which is that he had a message.
And again, the father realized that he’s trying to explain these things to a four year old and so he’s being very careful. So the father said, Well, he was a preacher and he had a message.
Well, What was his message? asked the daughter.
Well, that you should treat everybody the same no matter what they look like.
The daughter thought about for a minute, and she said, Well, that's what Jesus said.
Yes, I guess it is, said her father. I never thought of it that way. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
And the daughter thought for a minute and looked at her father and said, Did they kill him, too?
What are you looking for? What is it that you long for, what is your heart’s great desire, that when you found it would bring you great peace? Today, we might even find the courage to say, What is your dream?
What are you looking for? Would you find courage enough to ask yourself this question? I’ll tell you that I did this week and was very surprised by my answer. But my load was lightened.
Whatever it is, hear the words of Jesus when he says to you, Come and see. Come and see where I’m going. But even more, Come and see what I’m looking for. And even more still, Come and see how your eyes might be turned in a different direction, how your heart might be tuned to a different key. How it might be changed to become more like his.
We never know where this call will take us in the short run, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. We’re not promised an abundance of days or riches. If anything, we’re promised the cross. And if we could speak with certainty about the long run, it would be something other than faith that we live by. No, what we have this: A question that would ask us to look into our heart and see what’s there, and an invitation to come and see what else there could be.
Which leaves us with only one question, which is the question of discipleship that we will ask ourselves many time in our Christin journey:
Will this be enough?
(1) Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, 8
(2) James K. A. Smith’s fantastic book, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, was helpful in shaping this point.
(3) Thanks to dear friend, Courtney Allen, for passing this story along. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8wWMbo8gUM&feature=youtu.be