What Are You Looking For?
John 1:29-42 January 19, 2019
What are you looking for? This is one of the best questions ever. It is also hard to answer. At a job interview you may be asked,” What are you looking for in a new job?” Don’t say more money. That will kill your interview. You have to say, “I’m looking for a chance to use my skills to make a difference in a great organization.”
If you are single and you go to Match.com, you are asked what you are looking for in a romantic partner. I’m so glad I don’t have to figure out an answer. You can’t just say you want to meet someone who is attractive, kind and fun. You have come up with stuff like, “I like pina coladas, getting caught in the rain…”
Nearly every great song is wrestling with the question, what are you looking for? Usually the answer is love, but we might be “looking for love in all the wrong places” as Johnny Lee sang. We might be looking for meaning or our true selves. Charlene and The Temptations both sang, “I’ve been to Nice and the Isles of Greece…. I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me.” Sometimes we may feel like the grant rock anthem from U2.
I have climbed the highest mountain,
I have run, I have crawled,
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
What are you looking for? A guru, the secret, the diet that will change your life, peace of mind, world peace? Some of us need a cause, or a second chance, and sometimes we are just looking for a chance to stop and rest. The hard part is actually knowing what we are looking for right now, and sometimes we don’t know till we see it.
Our Gospel readings for the next two weeks are two different versions of the calling of the first disciples, first in John and next week in Matthew. It creates a mini-series on what does it mean to be called as disciples of Jesus, not only then, but right now today.
In John’s Gospel, John the Baptist’s says, ““Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John tells everyone this is the guy. He baptized Jesus, saw the Holy Spirit descend upon him. This is the one John has been talking about. Two of John’s disciples hear this, so they start to follow Jesus around-like stalkers. (Come on, stay close, I want to hear what he is saying. Back up, not too close. He will notice. Act casual. Don’t look at him!) Jesus realizes these guys are tailing him. What’s up? Are they undercover Roman FBI? Or just star struck? Maybe they just want a selfie.
Jesus asks, “Hey, what are you looking for? “Who us?” Andrew whispers, “I think he’s seen us!” No kidding. “Hello Rabbi…um…where are you staying?” This seems like an awkward conversation between people who aren’t sure what to make of each other. What do you say to the Messiah when he asks you a question? Isn’t he supposed to have answers? Andrew fumbles, like most of us do as we take our first hesitant steps toward encountering God.
Moses did not say to the voice coming from the burning bush, “Here I am, send me.” He was just enjoying the view on a hike, not looking to lead a revolt, and complains, “You’ve got the wrong guy.” Isaiah sees a vision of God and falls down on his face and says, “I am not worthy.” Paul, blinded on the road to Damascus, cries out, “Who are you?” Jonah runs the other direction and ends up in the belly of a whale. I give Andrew credit. While he deflected the question, he hangs in there. Where are you staying? At least he invites further conversation. If you don’t know what you are looking for, you can always be indirect. That is what I learned growing up in the Midwest. We are masters of the indirect answer. It helps keep the options open without committing till we feel safe.
I’m ready to make Andrew my patron saint, someone so filled with longing and hope, but not ready to commit and jump in, but not wanting to miss out either. He wants to get used to the cold water and wade around a little. Besides, he has Peter as a brother, who plunges ahead without thought. Somebody in the family has to say, “I’m not sure this is a good idea.”
Since this is Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, I’ve been re-reading some of his early work as a young pastor at the Montgomery bus boycott. I wonder what his hesitations might have been. What was he looking for at his first pastorate a Dexter Avenue Baptist in Montgomery? He was in his mid-20s, brand new pastor leaving the confines of academia in Boston. He’s back in the South trying to make that leap between everything you learn in seminary and the real world. What was his plan? After some pastoral experience, he could perhaps get a faculty position, or move to a more prestigious church. He certainly was on board with civil rights, but at 26 he had not yet been to the mountain top and dream of leading a movement. He was still 10 years younger than Pete Buttigieg is today. Yeah, that young. The world was coming to a boiling point in 1955. A few months before, 14-year-old Emmett Till was accused of whistling at a white woman and brutally beaten to death. His mother courageously insisted on an open casket so the world could see the brutality of injustice.
Rosa Parks had enough, so she went to a training on nonviolent action. When she was asked to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger, she was prepared. The Montgomery community organized quickly, and young Martin was pushed forward as the spokesperson. He had 20 minutes to prepare his remarks for the press. Why him? Was he chosen by God from the beginning, the Holy Spirit resting upon him? Did the other clergy see his greatness and push him forward? Or was he the only one to show up? Did the wise elders say, put the young fella out there? From there it is a whirlwind. Within a few weeks the FBI is wiretapping him and trying to dig up dirt. He receives threats to his family; his church is bombed. One more thing they don’t teach you in seminary, what to do when they try to blow you up. Is this what he was looking for when he entered the ministry?
Not all calls to discipleship are as dramatic, but like any of us, we don’t know what happens next after Jesus says, “Come and see,” and we take those first small steps on the path.
What are you looking for today on MLK weekend? What are you looking for this week as the Senate is starting impeachment hearings, and the already overbearing rancor is about to get worse? If only there was another Martin Luther King to lead us. But King was not popular when he was alive. A Harris poll in 1968 showed that 75% of the respondents disapproved of his activism. The Poor Peoples campaign frightened people more than Bernie Sanders “Socialism.” King opposed the Viet Nam War and joined a union picket line in Atlanta the day after he won the Nobel Prize. Moderates said he wanted too much too fast, while black nationalists said he wasn’t revolutionary enough with his nonviolent action strategy. He preached his last sermon, “I’ve been to the Mountain Top” in Memphis. His plane was late arriving because of the intense airport security due to numerous death threats. He knew his time was short and urged the crowd to push past fear and continue the struggle for human dignity. The next day he was gunned down. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
“What are you looking for?” Those first two disciples struggled to answer, as Jesus invited them to “Come and see.” I struggle too. I want to see a future where God’s love and justice is made real. But deep down I want an easy and gradual way, a way that won’t make me tired, where I don’t have to make sacrifices, a way where my approval ratings stay high and everyone still thinks well of me.
I continue to need to hear the words of Jesus call of discipleship. “Come and see.” I can’t be brave without the continued encouragement to follow. I can fall down stuck in analysis paralysis when I want all the answer before I start. Sometimes you just have to come and see. I fail to take the first steps because of my guilt over what I haven’t done. I fear resistance before words even come out of my mouth. I need to come and see.
Jesus made this invitation to discipleship, “Come, See, Follow…” over and over. He called fishers like Peter, tax collectors like Matthew and Zealots like Simon. He invited people like the intellectual Pharisee Nicodemus to come and be born from above, and the rich young ruler to follow him, and the Samaritan woman at the well. He welcomed the sisters, steady Martha and passionate Mary. He was followed by blind Bartimaeus, the unfairly maligned Mary Magdalene, and inspired even Centurions like Cornelius. Surely then the call comes to us as well amidst the troublesome days ahead. What is the next step for you, and for First Churches, on the path of discipleship? Come…See…Follow.