Scripture - John 1:29-42
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
*Hymn - We Would See Jesus, UMH #256
I don’t remember who it was who first introduced me to Jesus. I suppose it must have been my parents, though I don’t really know that for certain. Church and faith was just always a part of my reality as a child, so I can’t really pinpoint the moment when Jesus entered my world.
I do, however, remember the first image I had of Jesus. That first image was embodied in a stained glass window at People’s United Methodist Church in South Portland. It depicted Jesus with long brown hair in a white robe with a blue sash holding a sheep in his arms, looking tenderly and lovingly down at it. I remember it made me feel safe and comfortable - that I could trust this Jesus to protect me from every bad thing. I felt a lot like the lamb - held, carried, protected.
This was the Jesus I was introduced to in Sunday School - a benevolent, kind, gentle and patient figure - who moved around the flannel board with James and John and Peter and Andrew and the rest of the gang - healing people and doing nice things for others and sitting with children and telling stories.
When I went to college, I carried this Jesus with me, but this two dimensional Jesus didn’t quite fit the complexities of life I was facing. The “What Would Jesus Do” bracelets were coming into fashion, and that helped flesh out Jesus to a certain extent, but this Jesus I believed would keep me comfortable and provide me with a framework for life didn’t really talk a lot about dating advice or an overcommitted schedule or stress management.
And then I was introduced to a different Jesus -- the one who turned over tables in the Temple in righteous anger, the one who pushed back at the Pharisees and challenged the religious and cultural norms of his day; the one who took the status quo and flipped it on its head; the one who hung out with people no one else wanted to hang out with. This Jesus felt a lot more real to me than the Jesus of my childhood. This was a Jesus that I wanted to follow. Where the first Jesus made me feel safe and protected, this Jesus wanted to push me beyond my comfort zone; where the first Jesus felt like a warm fire, this Jesus beckoned to me like a burning torch in the night; where the first Jesus was rather static and unchanging, this Jesus was dynamic and challenging and invited me into a life in God’s kingdom.
In the scripture passage we heard this morning describes Jesus appearing on the scene for the first time in John’s gospel. We have John the Baptist pointing him out to his disciples, introducing him as ”this is the guy I’ve been talking about!” He describes what happened at Jesus’s baptism, with the spirit of God descending like a dove upon Jesus.
Two of John’s disciples are intrigued by John’s testimony, and are interested enough to start following. I kind of imagine this encounter like two shy teenage girls who see their idol off in the distance and start to follow, but are too nervous to actually go up and talk to that person, instead preferring to go back and forth and say “you go talk to them,” “no you go talk to them” “no, you saw them first” until the object of their obsession gets fed up and turns around and says “what do you want?”
In any case, Jesus initiates the conversation with a simple question: “What are you looking for?”
The two disciples ask him where he’s staying, and instead of giving directions or telling them where it was, he extends an invitation to them. “Come and see,” he says, and they follow and remain there with them until the end of the day. Even the time of day is mentioned, it was such an important moment, like how we remember anniversaries or significant events by what time of day they happened.
One of John’s disciples, Andrew - who would become Jesus’s disciple, was so compelled by Jesus that he introduces his brother, Simon Peter, to Jesus. And at the end of the story, we see this exchange between Simon Peter and Jesus, where Jesus gives him the name Cephas.
This question, “what are you looking for?” in John’s gospel is more than just an innocent inquiry. Big themes in John’s Gospel are the search for truth and with the incarnation of the Word made flesh. Read in that light, “What are you looking for?” isn’t merely akin to the “can I help you” question we get when we can’t find an item in the department store. “What are you looking for”, in John’s Gospel, implies something deeper.
These two disciples left John the baptist to follow Jesus, and even brought along a friend. John had been preaching and baptizing and calling people to change their hearts and lives in anticipation of God’s kingdom. Andrew and the other disciple must have been open enough to John’s teaching to want something deeper. We know they were longing for deeper meaning because they were hanging out with John, who himself was articulating the longings and of the people in their hopes and dreams of a Messiah who would come to save them.
So when John points Jesus out, they were ready. “What are you looking for?” In some sense, they had found it, though they may not have realized the extent to which Jesus would fill their desires...though they had enough of a hunch to invite Peter and introduce him to Jesus.
And Jesus -- Jesus doesn’t lay out his master plan, he doesn’t launch into a sermon on God’s love or the meaning of life, he doesn’t give them the five reasons they need to follow him -- he just issues an invitation to “Come and see” -- to come and see him in action, to come and see him teach and heal, to come and see him bread bread with sinners and forgive their sins, to come and see him offer hope and new life, to come and see him die at the hands of the state only to rise up again. He invites them to Come and see and experience that he is the Messiah, the Lamb of God, the son of God.
“What are you looking for?”
How were you first introduced to Jesus? Maybe, like me, you can’t remember a time without him. Maybe you can pinpoint the day and exact moment when you met him. Maybe your understanding of who he is has changed as you’ve grown older. Maybe you’re being invited to come and see a different side of him.
Whoever Jesus is to you - however you first met him, however long you have walked beside him or followed at a distance, he asks that same question -- What are you looking for? What is it your heart truly desires?
So many of us go through life searching - looking for the thing that will make us happier, enable us to live a fuller life, solve all our problems. We are on the lookout for that thing that will give our lives more meaning, that will point us in the right direction, that will make us feel like we’re not doing so badly at this game called life.
The world, of course, offers its solutions -- buy more stuff, find fulfillment in relationships, look out for yourself, try this self-help routine or that diet -- and while our lives may be filled with good things, that deeper longing yet remains.
What are you looking for? It’s an opportunity to clear away the superficial wants and dive deep into our hearts for what we truly yearn for...and Jesus invites us to come and see how those deepest desires can come to fruition in the life he offers to us.
As I think back over my own relationship with Jesus and my own answer to that question over the years - Jesus certainly occupied that space for me, even when I don’t think I could have precisely articulated my own desires. As a child, Jesus filled that need for safety and comfort, and as I grew older, Jesus took on more definition and became more of a trusted friend, a teacher of spiritual wisdom, a example of what a life lived fully in God looks like. Even now, as I seek to figure out the changes in my life over this past year, Jesus offers a place of quiet and peace -- a space for prayer and silence.
What are you looking for? Perhaps you are looking for your place in the world and what you can offer. Perhaps you are looking for greater patience or generosity. Perhaps you are looking to become more forgiving or more compassionate. Perhaps you are looking to enjoy life more fully and to be more mindful of the world around you.
This week, may you create space to listen to the answer to this question - may it guide and challenge you, may it awaken forgotten hopes and dreams, may it inspire you to encounter Jesus yet again...as he calls us to come and see how he can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the Chebeague Island United Methodist Church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and two dogs, and soon will expect a new addition to her family. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the chuch community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.