January 15, 2017 – What are you looking for?

Epiphany 2  January 15 2017  Ps 40, John 1:29-42   What are you looking for?

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As we rejoin our story in progress… we first see John the Baptist, again. The few of us who made it out despite the snow saw John wading in the waters of baptism with Jesus last week…

Now John declares Jesus to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” And as he sees – and points out Jesus to his followers – two of them pick up and go, then and there, following Jesus…

Jesus turns, sees them following, and asks, “What are you looking for?

They’re looking for him, of course. ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ they ask. I’m very sure they were more interested in getting to know Jesus… than in just learning his address. Yet perhaps they didn’t quite know how to say… what they were looking for yet… But Jesus hears their question coming from a deeper place – and replies with an invitation, “Come and see.”

They come and see. And spend the rest of the day with him. Then, like John the Baptist before them, they’re calling others to come and see also. Starting with Andrew calling his brother Simon. And as we read on in John, we soon see others using these same words – “come and see” – to invite still others to come, get to know Jesus. And this phrase “come and see” still works well as basic words of invitation…

But before we get to asking “come and see” we have the question of come and see what? – embedded in the question Jesus asks – “what are you looking for?

And, on one level, even though we know the story – and even though “looking for Jesus” is, on the deepest level, always the right answer – even so, we probably shouldn’t always say “We’re looking for Jesus” automatically, every time someone asks, “What are you looking for?”

If the person asking “what are you looking for?” is a grocery clerk, wondering if we’re looking for tortilla chips or toothpaste… Well, yes, we are looking for Jesus. (And I’ve run into Jesus at least a few times at the grocery store.) But I don’t recommend telling anyone who might not understand – we’re looking for Jesus somewhere in Aisle 11 at Market Basket. (There are times when it’s best to be discrete…)

We are, however, expected – those of us who claim the name of Jesus – to not hide our light of faith under a bushel basket. In the words of Psalm 40 – we are blessed if we “tell the glad news of deliverance…” and “do not restrain our lips” as we “speak of God’s faithfulness and salvation”… Our faith is not supposed to be a secret. Our lives and words are meant to testify always to the goodness of God…

And, as Psalm 40 also illustrates, life often has sudden ups and downs. The psalm begins as a song of praise, then transitions to become a meditation on God’s nature and  proper worship of the Lord… Then, in our second reading from this same psalm, the psalmist is suddenly singing the ‘Deliver me, O Lord Blues’… We don’t know what has inspired this abrupt change of mood in the life of the original psalmist – but we do know life can all-too-often be like this. One day we’re cruising along praising God, feeling good. Next day we may have slipped back down into the desolate pit and miry bog we were just thanking God for drawing us out of a minute ago…

The psalms and gospels never hide the truth of the cross… We’re not walking on any crystal staircase on this path to the kingdom of God… Followers of Jesus need to expect the same mix of ups and downs as everyone else on earth. It doesn’t take long for Jesus, remember, to attract enemies who want to kill him. And crowds that want to make him king by force one day, are gone the next day when Jesus starts telling them what kind of king he really is… (It wasn’t long after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on the mountaintop… that Martin Luther King Jr was receiving death threats again down in the valley of the shadow of death…)

Which is yet another reason why… looking for Jesus is never a one-time thing. We need to keep looking to locate Jesus in our life every day. Because Jesus is nearly always on the move… and he can be hard to follow at times.

Which is not to say we can ever blame Jesus… if we’re not looking for him in the right places…

The other day I was stressing out a little, trying to get this sermon together. Stress predictably gets me distracted. And instead of spending early morning quiet time focused entirely on Jesus in prayer and study, here I was, attempting to multitask. (Something I usually do badly.) Praying and reading bible, but… simultaneously intermittently stepping outside to throw snowballs at squirrels hanging on our bird-feeder. (My wife is convinced the Animal Rescue League’s going to drive by someday, see me doing this, and make a citizens arrest…)

And I kind of knew this mix of activities wasn’t really working – and I started confessing my disorderly behavior, saying, “Here I am trying to write about Jesus and his question ‘What are we looking for?’ – but here I am – looking for squirrels to throw snowballs at…”

But… our daughter Rohi chimed in loudly, objecting, “No, you are not! You are looking for the goodness that God has in store for you!” (I have no idea where she got that idea – or that eloquent phrase – but it does seem to fit with John’s gospel saying of Jesus  “from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”

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Here we are, in the season known as Epiphany – which, translated, means seeing into the nature of Who it is in whom we are believing when we believe in Jesus…

And the phrase “lost in translation” may come to mind as we hear John’s gospel telling us – three times, actually, in one paragraph – the meaning of several Jewish terms in translation.

Telling us Rabbi, in translation, means Teacher. Messiah, in translation, means Anointed. Cephas, in translation means Peter. (Footnotes in many bibles also tell us Peter, in translation means Rock.) Telling us the meaning of these words in translation in triplicate’s probably not intended just to fill information gaps. This is probably mostly about giving us a heads up – that the good news of Jesus, Jewish Messiah, will soon be revealed also to all the ends of the earth… And Jesus is often going to need some translation…Meaning explanation… in the languages and cultures of all the nations…

Likewise, the church, and all the usual and unusual suspects God rounds up to be the church, will often need translation. Jesus, for example, will famously say of Simon Peter, “on this rock I will build my church…” (Mt 16)Yet in all four gospels rocky Peter will famously deny he even knows Jesus, three times in one night… Which, translated, probably means even the most foundational leaders of the church are not to be confused with Christ, the solid rock of God. And this, too, probably needs continuous translation…

Yet happily and blessedly – translation assistance is always readily available…and… If we are willing to come and see – there’s always much more to be found than lost in translation of the good news of Jesus into all the cultures of this peculiar time and place…As the gospels encourage us to consider – what Jesus hopes for – as he asks us –  What are we looking for?  (What are we looking for?)

(Anybody willing to share? )

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What are we looking for?

If we ask enough people – we’ll hear many answers… We’ll probably learn many people have no idea what they’re looking for… Some will tell us so directly. Some will let us know in other ways….

Others do know what they’re looking for. Even if not always on a very deep level. Some of us (especially when we’re young and especially if we have been encouraged to think big) may like to say ‘I’m looking to have it all’. (All, sometimes in a good way… All, sometimes in very unfortunate ways…)

Others, especially those who have had hopes dashed or betrayed… may have a hard time even thinking about looking for anything beyond survival. Though often out-of-sight-of-conscious-mind, somewhere in the depths of the heart… God-given hope still lives… and longs to come to light of day…

In between the polarities of looking for everything under the sun… and looking for nothing at all… We find many people looking for something they can’t always name… And when they can name what they are looking for, it may be only a word,  – like help. Or – direction. I am looking for help. I am looking for more direction in my life. I am looking to learn what’s most important in life… I’m looking to figure out if God’s really real. I’m looking to see if Jesus is who I’ve heard he is… Looking to see if he could maybe be more than what I’ve heard… (Better than some of what I’ve heard…) I’m looking to see if Jesus can be found in this church that carries his name…

Many of us are looking for direction… Many deeply desire to steer our lives in the direction of God… (even when are not sure yet there is a God…) As people made in the image of God, we’re wired by God to want to know God… We’re made to desire God…Created to want to live in peace, happiness, blessedness… a meaningful life… Now we’re getting closer to what Jesus hopes to hear, as he asks – What are we looking for?

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Probably we should start by continuing to give ourselves and each other the same very generous benefit of the doubt our daughter Rohi offered me this week. Probably we should keep assuming we are, all of us, at the deepest level, “looking for the goodness of God – the goodness God has in store for us…”

Like Andrew and the other disciple with him, probably we are all basically looking to get to know Jesus – even when we’re not quite sure yet how to say this.

Probably we know Jesus is always inviting us to get to know him better…

And inviting us to invite others… to come and see, also…

So – may this be our work of faith in the days and weeks ahead – to pray yet more deeply about what it is we are looking for from Jesus.

And – What is Jesus looking for… from us?

Remembering – whenever we are truly looking for Jesus –

We are always sure to find him…

Looking, always, for us…

Thanks be to God. Amen.