Questions From Jesus: What Are You Looking For?

The First United Presbyterian Church
“Questions from Jesus: What are You Looking For?”
Rev. Amy Morgan
August 11, 2019

Isaiah 49:1-7
Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me.
 2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away.
 3 And he said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified."
 4 But I said, "I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God."
 5 And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength--
 6 he says, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
 7 Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, "Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you."

John 1:35-51
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).
 43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me."
 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth."
 46 Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."
 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!"
 48 Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you."
 49 Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"
 50 Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these."
 51 And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."

Who’s responsible for sin? Do you care about us? What are the rules we have to follow to be saved? What really matters to God? Can I get divorced? How much of my money do I have to give to God? Who matters to God? Who are you?

Reading through the gospels, it sometimes feels like Jesus is God’s press secretary. Everywhere he goes, people are firing questions at him, one after another. His disciples, the religious leaders, people in the crowds, folks he encounters along the road. They all have questions.

Not much has changed in two thousand years in that regard. We show up to worship with a lot of the same questions. And we add questions that couldn’t have been imagined in the first century. Should abortion be legal? What should we do about gun violence? How do we address racial inequality? Why are we so divided?

We keep on firing questions at the podium. Jesus barely has a moment to try to answer. No wonder nobody can understand his parables. We don’t take the time to really listen before another question comes flying.

So for the next several weeks, we’re going to stop. We’re going to stop the barrage of questions that flood our minds. Not because asking questions is wrong or a bad idea. Our questions are important. They help us grow and learn.

But sometimes we have to hit pause on our question monologue. We have to let Jesus speak. We have to hear him out.

And what we’re going to hear in this sermon series is the questions that Jesus has for us. We’re going to turn the tables, put ourselves in the hot seat. Instead of looking to Jesus for all the answers, we’re going to explore the answers that lie within our own hearts and minds. We’re going to hear, in the questions of Jesus, what God needs us to know about ourselves.

We’re going to begin right at the outset of Jesus’ ministry in the mystical gospel of John. After John’s poetic prologue describing Jesus as the Word of God made flesh, this powerful, positive, creative divine force, some religious leaders come to Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, full of questions. “Who are you? Are you Elijah? A prophet? Who are you? What do you say about yourself? Why are you baptizing people?” Within this barrage of questions, John manages to clarify that he is not the Messiah, he is not Elijah, and that he is preparing the way for one who is more worthy and wonderful.

Then the next day, Jesus comes by, and John baptizes him with lots of excitement and explanation. And then the next day, John is hanging out with a couple of his disciples when Jesus just happens to walk by. John mentions that Jesus is the Lamb of God, and his disciples start stalking Jesus.

Any time you notice someone stalking you, it’s a good idea to ask questions. I might go with “What are you doing?” or “Do you want me to call the police?”

But Jesus has a different question. He asks: What are you looking for?

As I read this, it occurred to me that our faith walk is often more of a faith stalk. We follow Jesus around, but we don’t always know why or where we’re going. But we’re fascinated by this guy. Nobody walks through the doors of a church on accident these days. Especially this church – in a building that cannot be mistaken for anything other than a church. We come here to stalk Jesus. Something has triggered our interest, and we are looking for something.

What are you looking for? When we join the church, we get asked these questions that have clearly pre-defined answers. Yes. No. I will, with God’s help. They aren’t questions so much as answers in question form.

What if we initiated our life together with the question, “What are you looking for?”

Would we answer much like the disciples? I don’t know. You tell me. Where’s Jesus? Let’s go hang out at his place.

These first two disciples to follow Jesus are convinced after an afternoon with him that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One. But then, each of the disciples Jesus picks up through the course of this text have a slightly different way of describing Jesus. John begins by introducing him as the Lamb of God, and Andrew comes out proclaiming him to be the Messiah. Philip tells Nathanael that Jesus is the fulfillment of Moses and and the law, and that he’s a kid from down the street in Nazareth. Nathanael later determines that Jesus is the Son of God and the King of Israel.

We are not even through the first chapter of John’s gospel, and Jesus already has close to a dozen different titles. I don’t think this is accidental. John’s gospel, for all its mystery, is expansive and imaginative. It leaves space inside for us to find ourselves. And finding ourselves is key to knowing what we’re looking for. Because what we are looking for is at least as much about us as it is about God.

The term Lamb of God that John uses is drawn from images within the prophetic tradition of Israel. Isaiah prophesied that God’s servant would be led like a lamb to slaughter. Little wonder that John, a prophet, is looking for the Lamb of God, the leader of a non-violent resistance.  

We don’t learn much about Andrew through the rest of scripture, but we do know that Messianic expectations were high in the first century. Things had gotten so bad for the Jewish people that many of them were looking for God’s Anointed One to come and perform a military overthrow of their oppressors. So perhaps Andrew was among those who were looking for a strong military leader.

Peter seems to be looking for someone to fulfill the law and the prophets, someone who will restore the righteousness of Israel. But he’s also looking for a regular guy. Someone he can relate to. What a friend he has in Jesus. And his friend helps him be a better person, too.

Nathanael, wowed by Jesus’ extrasensory perception, has apparently been looking for something amazing. He wants divine intervention, pomp and circumstance.

Everyone in this story finds what they’re looking for in Jesus. They aren’t looking for the same thing. But they do find what they’re looking for. And because of that, they stop stalking Jesus and start following him.

It all starts by knowing what we are looking for.

So first, we have to know ourselves. We have to know our own needs and desires, our own selfishness and fear, our own gifts and hopes. All of this contributes to what we are looking for in Jesus. If we could care less about law and order, we’re not going to come here looking for Jesus to quell the chaos in our lives. But if we truly lack and desperately need a source of unconditional love and acceptance, that is precisely what we will be looking for when we stalk Jesus.

In this process of discovering what we are looking for, specificity is important. The other night, I was half-reading, half-dozing on the couch, when Dean bounded out of his bedroom and asked me a very specific question. “Mom, do you know where that orange plastic box with the green chains outside and gold coins inside went?” He could describe the thing he was looking for, inside and out, with precise detail. Which was really impressive because I’m fairly certain he hasn’t seen or thought of this box in over a year. But I, having somewhat recently helped organize his bedroom, could tell him exactly where it was, and he easily found it.

By contrast, when I began shopping for my wedding dress, I had no idea what I was looking for. I had never imagined myself planning a wedding. I was busy with other things in my youth and young adult years. I had vague memories of Barbie weddings in my childhood, so I started with that. After trying on more than 50 dresses in three different bridal shops, I finally determined I was not a Barbie doll. But I really didn’t know what else to look for.

Saving the day, my cousin managed to smuggle me in to see a private consultant who immediately sized me up, pulled one dress off the rack, and the matter was settled.

What are you looking for? The more clear and detailed we can be in answering that question, the more success we will have in finding what we’re looking for.

The church - generally, universally, historically – has given us the impression that there is only one Jesus. In truth, there was one physical, historical Jesus of Nazareth. But when Jesus himself asks “What are you looking for?” he opens up the possibility that many things can be found in him.

There are millions of churches in lots of different traditions and denominations found all over the globe. This vast variety helps people find the Jesus they are looking for. The Jesus that helps them escape from hell or reach heaven. The Jesus that grants our wishes for health, wealth, and happiness. The Jesus that protects us. The Jesus that brings justice. The Jesus that loves us unconditionally. The Jesus that teaches us. The Jesus that heals us.

Generally speaking, the Jesus we are looking for is the one we’re going to find. All of these Jesuse are found somewhere in scripture. Not all of them are the Jesus we are looking for. But it may be the Jesus someone is looking for.

The problem is, what we are looking for will usually determine where we will look. Nathanael can’t believe anything good could come out of Nazareth. He never would have looked there for the Son of God, the King of Israel. Nazareth is not an amazing place. Nothing impressive happens there. No one important lives there or visits there. If it weren’t for Philip’s insistent invitation, “Come and See!,” Nathanael would still be lost. He would not have found what he was looking for.

If we only look for Jesus in the places we expect to find him, we may not find what we’re looking for. If we’re looking for progressive Jesus, we will probably not be visiting the evangelical megachurch. If we’re looking for rock star Jesus, we will not be going to the little rural clapboard church where ancient hymns are plunked out on an out-of-tune piano.

But if we’re honest, like Nathanael, and if we are willing to listen to what other people have found, like Nathanael, we might find what we’re looking for in surprising places.

Right now, in our society, where a third of Americans don’t go to any church, don’t affiliate with any particular religious tradition, the most surprising place to find what they are looking for might be in a church building. For a growing percentage of our neighbors, the last place they expect to find the answer to the question “What are you looking for?” is through our red doors.

So how do we change that? I think it starts with our own answers to Jesus’ question. If we don’t know what we’re looking for, if we are stalking Jesus with our questions instead of following him with a clear sense of what we hope and desire, we are probably not going to find what we’re looking for, or we won’t know it when we see it. Nobody wants to be a stalker. But everyone wants to find what they’re looking for.

So let’s show the world how to do it.

Let’s begin by spending some time getting to know ourselves. Not the people we’re supposed to be. Not a cleaned up, sanitized, make-believe version of ourselves. Who are we really? What do our accomplishments, traumas, relationships, failures lead us to desire and hope for?

And then we can get specific about what we’re looking for. Describe the Jesus we want to follow inside and out, with lots of detail. Don’t worry about getting it wrong or right. It’s Jesus. He can fulfill lots of very different descriptions. And he’s going to transcend all of them. So go for what you really want. What Jesus are you looking for?

And then, go looking in some unexpected places. I’m not saying you have to attend a different church, though you certainly might want to try that sometime. But at least talk to some different people. Spend some time checking under rocks. Head out to some backwater towns.

I hope your Jesus shows up for you here. Because I hope all Jesuses are welcome here. I hope you find what you’re looking for.

But you may also find what you’re looking for at the Community Kitchen or a Together Colorado meeting. You might find it in a Bible study or at a restaurant downtown. You might find it around your kitchen table or on a hike in the mountains. Jesus can be found all over the place. He’s a busy guy. He’s on the move.

But if you do find what you’re looking for here, you’re going to be able to encourage other people to “come and see.” Like Philip, you’ll be able to convince people that something good can come out of the church. You’ll have the openness to understand that Jesus can be many things to many people in many places. But you’ll also know that you can find him here.
What are you looking for? Know yourself. Be specific. Challenge your assumptions. Look in unusual places. You’ll find it. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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