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What Are You Looking For?

I Corinthians 1: 1–9
John 1: 29–42

Ephiphany 2

Delivered by Rev. Ron Coughlin                                                                      
 

Prayer

Healing and Holy God,
Penetrate our fatigue and comfort
with your transforming speech.
We pray for ears open and attentive.
Call us by name…so that we know,
call us to you… so that we live,
call us into the world… so that we care,
call us to risk… so that we trust beyond ourselves.
We are ready to listen.  Speak to us.

Amen.

One the thing you need to know about me is that I hate shopping.  I like to know what I want, walk into a store, buy it and leave.  Christmas Shopping is the worst.  I find that as soon as I enter a mall, I am surrounded by crowds, jostled by shoppers; I feel like I am in the way of a stampeding herd of deer.  Everyone seems to be in a hurry.  I find that, unknowingly, I often become part of this frantic mob, intent on one common goal.  Nothing can stop us.  Soon I also am almost running, like everyone else, trying to get somewhere, get a salespersons attention, buy something, get on my way to the next store.

This Christmas at one point I stopped myself and said, “Why am I running?  This is crazy, I’m going to stop and catch my breath.”  Now one tradition, I have, is that I buy myself a Christmas gift.  Just as a way to pamper myself.  Well, when I looked up I was standing outside a Gap store and said to myself, I need a new pair of Jeans, so perhaps I’ll just go in here and buy myself my Christmas gift.  This was my second mistake.  I walk into the store and immediately a sales agent greets me and says “What are you looking for? Can I help you?”  I say I want to buy a pair of jeans.  He then asks me if I wanted slim fit or easy fit or relaxed fit; did I want regular or faded jeans, stoned-washed or acid-washed, button fly or regular fly, blue, or black.  Well, with so many choices, and so little time, I just said, “I’ll think about it” and fled out the store, headed outside and collapsed into my car seat, feeling overheated, out of breath and a headache coming on.

What are you looking for?  That’s the question Jesus asked those first curious disciples who began following him.  They had been followers of John the Baptist, according to the Gospel of John.  But when they hear John say, “Look, here is the Lamb of God”, they up and leave John to follow this stranger.  When Jesus notices them, he asks them, “What are you looking for?”  They sound as dumbfounded as I did in the Gap store.  At a loss for words, they ask Jesus a strange question in return, “Where are you staying?”  Now that’s a strange way to respond.

But maybe there is more to these two questions than first meets the eye.  Maybe the author of the Gospel of John is speaking on more than one level here.  Maybe the questions are not only about the physical reality but also about the deeper spiritual realities of life.  You know, in the Gospel of John, these are the first words Jesus speaks.  In the rest of the Gospel, Jesus often delivers very long sermons in response to something.  But here, Jesus’ very first words spoken are a terse question.  Something else is going on here!

What are you looking for?  The question is too profound for the two disciples.  It reaches deep into their lives.  They have a vague sense of what they seek and Jesus might just offer it!

 

What are you looking for?  Jesus goes on asking that question today.  What are we looking for?  What are we seeking in life?  What brings us to this place week after week as we seek to follow Jesus in our lives?  And most of us are no better at answering the question than were those first two disciples?

Part of the difficulty we confront is that we get very conflicting messages about what we should be looking for.  The messages all around us in society carry a very different meaning than the ones we hear in church.

When I was in Atlanta Georgia last summer, I went to visit the Coca-Cola museum there called the World of Coke.  Did you know that Coca-Cola began as a medicine and was sold only in drugstores? If you were feeling tired and weary it promised to give you a boost, a pick me up.  Well, as you finish the tour of the story of Coke, you end up in a huge room with a massive indoor fountain of Coca-Cola and about a hundred fountains with different flavors of Coke.  Each visitor is given a cup and is invited to receive an endless supply of this sacramental beverage.  And as you move across the room to the fountain, you can hear a chant over the sound system: “Life…life…life”.  Coca-cola wants you to believe that they have the fountain of life!

Imagine this.  When you return to your home after this service, you find a huge box in front of your door.  Suppose on the box is a notice saying, “Contained in this box is what you are looking for.”  With that announcement, what would you expect to find in the box when you opened it?  Would it be a bundle of cash? Happiness? Peace? Good Health? Maybe a magic formula that would keep you young forever? Freedom from suffering? The return of a loved one? Immortality?  What would the box have to contain to satisfy what you want in life?

Let’s face it!  My confusion in the shopping department is nothing compared with the confusion most of us experience regarding this question, What are you looking for? Some of us are at least vaguely aware of a need in our lives. But we may have no idea how to fill that need. We may shop around for some solution. But, if we do, we are then confronted with a bewildering array of options. Rack upon rack of different solutions, counter upon counter of what we think is our need.

What would be in your box?  I know for myself, what I say I need is probably not what I really need.  It is probably only a remedy for symptoms rather than a real need.  Some of us may think – and I know that I am one of them – that we need money and security.  Yet eventually in life we find those things are not the real solution to our discontentment.

I know that I am influenced by the culture around us.  Like the Coke-cola fountain room, the culture has taught us to pursue goals that do not bring real satisfaction.  Our culture says, “Seek your place in the world!” but the Gospel message says, “Seek first the kingdom of God.”  Our culture says, “Find yourself!” but the Gospel message calls us to “lose yourself, and so find life.”  Our culture says, “be your own self-made person!” but the Gospel message is “become members together of one body.”  Our culture teaches us to “look out for our own needs and interests!” but the Gospel message is “love your neighbour as yourself”, and even more profoundly, “love your enemy.”  Our culture promises that, “You can have it all!” but the Gospel message says, “imitate Jesus who took the form of a servant.”

Jesus asks the two disciples What are you looking for?  They reply Where are you staying?  The word in Greek here for “stay” is the same word as “abide”.  Everything here has a double meaning.  The question What are you looking for? is appropriate for any disciple just beginning the pilgrimage of faith.  And the response, “Where do you abide?” is an appropriate response for a disciple.  A spiritual journey is being emphasized here, one that is echoed again and again throughout the Gospel of John.  The disciples are invited to leave behind their former life as a follower of the Baptist and now abide where Jesus abides.  As Jesus will say later, “Abide in me and I in you.”[1]

And Jesus responds, Come and See.  Yes, Jesus invites Andrew and the unnamed disciple to follow him to the place where he is staying.  But, of course, Jesus is saying more.  He invites them to trust him.  He invites them to follow along with confidence that there is more – something important still to be discovered.

Jesus today still asks us What are you looking for? and still invites us to Come and See!  These words are a promise of sorts.  Come, follow me, trust me, put your confidence in me.  Then you will see!  You will understand.  Trust the promise.

I remember one time when I was teaching swimming at summer camp.  I had a group of non-swimmers and so I worked hard to dispel their fear of water and slowly get them to float.  I remember one child; he must have been about seven.  He would not take his feet off the bottom of the lake.  No matter how hard I tried to get him to extend his arms, take a deep breath and then let himself fall back and float, he would not do it.  I told him he would float, I promised him he would float.  I tried to bribe him with candy or extra desserts.  He kept saying, “No, I will sink like a stone.  Water cannot hold me up.”  I’m not sure what did it, but the last day of camp as I was urging him to let go and trust me and the water, he suddenly extended his arms, took a deep breath and keeping his body rigid, slowly let himself fall back and took his feet off the bottom.  There was big surprised look on his face.  He shouted, “I’m floating.  I am not sinking!”  As he went home the next day, he gave me a big hug and said, “Your promise was true, I did not sink.  I did float.”

Come and see.  The promise is true.  The promise will sustain you.  We still do not know what we are looking for.  We still do not know where Jesus will lead us.  You may never learn the butterfly stoke, but the promise is true.  Jesus Christ abides with us and sustains us in the dangerous waters of life.

There is one more curious feature to our Gospel lesson.  Andrew, one of the disciples, trusts the promise and accepts the invitation to come and abide with Jesus, but he also shares the good news with Simon, his brother.  “We have found the Messiah”, he declares.  You must wonder at Andrew’s brazen announcement.  Does he have reason to make such a claim?  He only spent a little time with Jesus.  All he had to go on is John’s witness and Jesus’ promise that he will see!  But he makes his announcement nonetheless.

We may not be sure what we are looking for, we don’t know where we will be led by following Jesus, but we trust the promise.  The promise that we will see, we will learn, we will grow!  Our trust in Christ’s promise compels us to share the good news.

What are you looking for?  We may not have all the answers.

Where are you staying?  We may not have all the right words.

Come and see.  We step out in faith, we follow the one in whom we trust.

But one thing is for sure, in answering Christ’s call and abiding in him, the clamour of the conflicting messages of our culture is dimmed and clarity is found.

Amen.


[1] John 15:4 KJV

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