October 14, 2018: "What Are You Looking For?"

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What Are You Looking For?

John 1:29-39

 

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! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”  And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  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.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples,  and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 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?” 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.

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 “What are you looking for?” Jesus asked the curious men.

I believe that Jesus gave up omniscience when he took on human form, so when he asked this question to the two men, chances are he didn’t know the answer.

“What are you looking for?” he asked them. “We’re looking for the restroom,” could have been their answer. Or on the other hand, “We’re looking for salvation and a cure to our existential angst,” could have been their reply. But instead, they answered Jesus’ question with a question of their own, “Uh, where are you staying?”

Well played, future disciples. Well played.

I’ve been around long enough to know that sometimes it’s best not to give a direct answer. Good politicians are masters at giving non-answers. Most of us are pretty good at it too. When the question, “What are you looking for?” is posed on a first date, most people know not to answer, “I’m looking to get married and have babies as soon as possible.” When the question, “What are you looking for?” is posed in an interview, most people know not to answer, “I’m looking for a six-figure salary with 300 vacation days and a 20-year contract.” That just not how these things work. It’s not how faith works, either. In the same way that dating and job interviews are like a dance, faith is a dance. The Spirit of God is the music; we move to the unfolding melody set forth at the beginning of time.

So the men asked Jesus, “Where are you staying?” That’s a pretty innocuous question, among all the questions they could have asked. They could have asked Jesus where he stood on the controversial issues of the day, like “Gillum or Desantis for governor?” or “Strong mayor or no strong mayor?” Depending on Jesus’ answer, they would have made a judgment on Jesus, placed him in a camp of “right or wrong,” placing their presuppositions upon him, and circumventing the dance and the process of learning about Jesus first hand. The invitation Jesus offered, “What are you looking for?” is followed by a reciprocal invitation, “Where are you staying?” Both questions seek response and relationship. Simple, inviting questions. Did Jesus answer their question directly? “I’m staying at the Sandpearl.” Again, no. How did Jesus reply? “Come and see.” Again, an invitation to more. And so the dance begins.

I love the metaphor of the dance to describe faith. So much of religion has become all about dogma:

·      1 Our Father

·      3 Hail Marys

·      4 spiritual laws

·      12 steps of . . . well . . . everything

·      613 laws of Judaism

When we codify faith like that, we sometimes lose the spirit of the faith. That’s what the Apostle Paul made clear to the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 3:4,6,17:

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God . . . who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life . . . and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Freedom! Religion that has all the answers, theology that fits neatly into a system, preachers who leave no room for mystery—that kind of faith isn’t a dance but a death sentence. Like Paul says—it kills.

But Jesus invited the two curious men to “come and see.” To enter the dance of relationship.

There’s a theological word that I’ve come to appreciate over the past several years. The word is “perichoresis”—“peri” means around and “choresis” means to turn or rotate, from which we get the word “choreography.” The term was first used in the 4th Century to describe first of all, the sacred dance between the two natures of Christ—his humanity and divinity. Later on, this was the metaphor used to describe the interaction of the three persons of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together in One sacred dance. Neither the word “Trinity” nor “perichoresis” are found in the Bible. They are used later by people trying to make sense out of the whole thing—to systematize the faith. That’s part of why the idea of the Trinity used to drive me crazy—no one could understand, let alone explain it. But then I moved away from dogma to the dance. Now I embrace the mystery of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dancing together as One.

So Jesus said, “Come and see.” He offered them no spoiler. No “for three years you’ll travel with me and watch me teach and heal people and then I’ll make waves in Jerusalem and I’ll be executed by Roman crucifixion. What do you say? Come on!” No . . . the invitation wasn’t a blueprint for what would lie ahead . . . it was an invitation to take the next step in the dance to the unfolding melody of God.

Brennan Manning tells a story about a famous ethicist who went to Calcutta seeking Mother Teresa. For three months, he volunteered at “the house of the dying” to find out how best he could spend the rest of his life. Near the end of his time there, he spoke with Mother Teresa, and he asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she replied. He then uttered the request he had carried thousands of miles: “Clarity. Pray that I have clarity.” “No,” Mother Teresa answered, “I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When the ethicist noted to Mother Teresa that she always seemed to have clarity, the very kind of clarity he was looking for, Mother Teresa laughed and said: “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”[1]

The question Jesus poses, “What are you looking for?” leads into the invitation, “Come and see.” For the two men to take Jesus up on the invitation required trust. They didn’t know where they were going. Would they walk 1 mile or 100? Would they sleep in luxury or squalor? What kind of travel companion would this Jesus be? Would he snore? Would he have really stinky feet? They didn’t have the answers to any of these questions. No clarity whatsoever. What they had, at least to some degree, was trust. With that modicum of trust, they took the next step.

So my friends, what are you looking for? What do you need? We all have needs. You may be familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

It’s easier to name tangible needs—after the service you may find yourself looking for the restroom, or for the sign-up sheet for the potluck luncheon. Basic health needs fall under safety and security. It’s easy to ask for prayers for healing. These types of things would fall at the bottom of Maslow’s chart—essential, basic needs. But what about those needs you have toward the top of Maslow’s hierarchy? The need for love or belonging? For prestige or accomplishment? For self-actualization—for arriving at your full potential? Can you name what you really want—the deep yearnings of your heart? I dare say it’s OK if you can’t. Even Mother Teresa didn’t have that kind of clarity.

The great Spanish poet, Antonio Machado offers insight for this mysterious journey: 

Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more;

wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.

By walking one makes the road,

and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again.

Wanderer, there is no road—only wakes upon the sea.

In the passage we’re studying today, Jesus says two things: 1) “What are you looking for?” and 2) “Come and see.” A question and an invitation. The response to the invitation is far more important than the response to the question. The willingness to follow is more critical than the ability to answer. Trust trumps clarity. Every. Single. Time.

You want religion with all the answers? I can recommend lots of churches to you. Here at the Chapel, we embrace a “Come and see” faith—we value the dance over the dogma. You don’t have to know how the song ends or any particular dance steps. No 3 steps to this or 15 rules of that. Simply move to the unfolding melody set forth at the beginning of time. Day by day. Step by step.  

“Come and see,” Jesus says to each of us. You don’t have to know the outcome. You simply need a willingness to take the next step. In what way is Jesus saying, “Come and see” to you? Are you ready to join Him in the great adventure of faith?

 

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way

To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

 

[1]From Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust, 2000.

 

Shari Maxwell