Sermon for Sunday, January 19, 2020 || Epiphany 2A || John 1:29-42
“What are you looking for?” These are the first five words Jesus speaks in the Gospel According to John. Two of John the Baptist’s disciples are following him – quite literally trailing him after John has revealed Jesus’ identity to them – and Jesus turns around to question them. “What are you looking for?”
Jesus speaks these words, and is so often the case in the Gospel, his question operates on multiple levels. The first layer speaks to the surface meaning. This layer is easy for Jesus’ listeners to access, and so they become drawn in. Then the second, deeper layer of meaning presents itself. Many of Jesus’ listeners resist this deeper level. But those who do listen for it, who do dive deeply, find rich, life-giving substance in Jesus’ words.
So, at the surface level, Jesus’ question is straightforward: “What are you looking for?” In other words, “Are you following me on purpose or do you just happen to be going the same way I’m going?”
But at the deeper level, Jesus’ five words reach for the deepest places of the human heart. What are you looking for? His question beckons a response from our depths, from those places within us that whisper who and how God yearns for us to be. The trouble is there are so many potential answers to Jesus’ question that digging through them to find the ones that exist in those deep places is problematic to say the least. Here’s what I mean.
What are you looking for?
- My car keys.
- My sunglasses.
- My kid’s left sneaker.
No, no, go deeper. What are you looking for?
- A career that has meaning instead of my soul-sucking job.
- A doctor who understands my symptoms and actually seems to care for my well-being.
- An assisted living facility with caring staff for my parent whose mind is rapidly deteriorating.
Yes, those are so important. And you can go deeper. What are you looking for?
- Relationships that bring me life and challenge me at the same time.
- The stamina to work for justice and peace in a world built on oppression and war.
- Eyes to see your presence, O Christ, wherever I am and in whomever I’m with.
The deeper we dive into Jesus’ question, the more we realize how often the “car key” level of answer distracts us from what’s truly important. These distractions are like the “busy work” you did in school, which you always suspected was given to you just to take up time. And yet, multi-billion dollar industries exist to keep us living at this surface level of searching: searching for the right mid-sized sedan, for the diamond that means forever, for the clothes or shoes or tech or beer that projects the right lifestyle aesthetic. We chase after so many things, which keep us swimming at the surface of ourselves. The billion-dollar industries exist because they know that if we dove deeper into the question of what we’re looking for, we wouldn’t care as much about their stuff anymore.
John’s two disciples could give Jesus the “car key” answer, but they intuit that such a response isn’t what Jesus expects. Still, they don’t know quite what to say, so they respond to Jesus’ question with a question of their own. “Teacher, where are you staying?”
Like Jesus’ question, their question lives, too, at both the surface and deep levels. At the surface level, they ask, “In what house are you going to rest your head tonight?” But on that deeper second level, their question seeks a much more profound answer. Where are you staying? In Greek, the word that is translated as “staying” means quite a bit more than the English equivalent. Rather than the connotation of “staying at a hotel” or “staying on a friend’s futon,” the Greek word means to “abide” or to “continue to be present.” Thus, at the deeper level, the disciples ask Jesus where he dwells, where he abides, where he is present.
Their question, then, is the best response to Jesus’ own question. What are you looking for? “Lord Jesus, I’m looking for where you abide. I’m looking for where you are present in my life. I’m looking for where you dwell in this particular situation or this challenge or this opportunity or this relationship.
When we receive Jesus’ question at the deeper second level, we feel his words reaching our hearts. We hear his voice whispering up from the very depths of our beings: What are you looking for? Paying attention to his words rising from those depths helps us locate our own responses, the ones that originate in the same deep places of our beings. The surface level, car key type answers to the question fall away when we search deep within.
The best way to begin this search is with the disciples’ question: “Where are you staying?” When we ask this question, we open ourselves to finding Jesus dwelling somewhere in every facet of our lives. We open ourselves to hearing his voice whispering his presence into and out from our souls. We open ourselves, and in doing so, we turn the depths of our beings outward. The hidden deep places, where our responses to Jesus’ question lie dormant, become the pieces of ourselves that we display to the world. These pieces of ourselves are our callings from God. They are our personal, individual discoveries of Jesus beckoning us to find him in everything we do, in everything we say, and in everyone we meet. And in so doing, we make the personal communal, for we offer the depths of ourselves for God to use in God’s mission of healing and reconciliation.
And this brings us back to Jesus’ second line of dialogue in the Gospel according to John: three precious words of initiation. “Come and see.”
What are you looking for?
Teacher, where are you staying?
Come and see.
Jesus invites us to see where he abides, where he is present in our lives, in our communities, and in this world. He invites us to dwell with him, no matter the situations we find ourselves in. Finding his presence means we have found those deep places within ourselves. Abiding in his presence gives us the grace to be vulnerable and to show the world the deepest yearnings that God has put in our hearts, the callings that God has blessed us to follow.
And the good news is this: “Come and see” means that Jesus will be with us, to take us where we need to go, to show us what we need to see. Jesus remains with us throughout our journeys. Jesus dwells in our hearts whispering his question: “What are you looking for?” And when we ask him in return where he is staying, where he is abiding in our lives, he walks one step before us, saying, “Come and see.”
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