Sunday, January 19, 2014

What are you looking for?

If I asked you, “What are you looking for?” what would you say? Are you looking for a community? Friends? Jesus? Peace? Nothing—because you’re totally satisfied with what you have? Something totally outside the theological arena? You’d probably have a different answer depending upon who asked the question… I’m a religious professional and we’re in church—so when I ask the question you’d probably answer with something along the lines of a churchy or spiritual response. If we were at a bar and you didn’t know what I did for a living, you might give me a very different answer.

Jesus asks that question, “What are you looking for?” of the two disciples of John, who have just been told to look at him because he is the Lamb of God. And they answer with what has to be the weirdest non sequitur in scripture. Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?” and they answer, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Unless what they’re looking for is a hotel, that is a very strange answer to the question, “What are you looking for?” when the Lamb of God is asking it. They’re looking for a place—and Jesus is inviting them into a relationship and a way of life. It’s a very clear way of making sure that we understand that these future disciples have absolutely no idea what it is they are looking for.

The act of looking is so important in the Gospel of John, and particularly in this passage. The Greek words for look and see are used ten times today. John the Baptist can see—he sees Jesus, recognizes him, and testifies. Jesus can see—he looks at Simon and identifies him as the one who will be called Cephas. But the other guys cannot see yet. Blindness in the Gospel of John is never about physical blindness; it’s about spiritual blindness. And these guys are spiritually blind. They don’t know what they’re looking for; they don’t know who Jesus is; they haven’t taken in the revelation to which John has testified.

Have you heard of the invisible gorilla experiment? Subjects were asked to watch a short video of 3 people in white t-shirts and 3 people in black t-shirts passing basketballs around, and asked to keep a silent count of the number of passes made by the people in the white t-shirts. At some point midway through the video, a person in a gorilla suit walks into the video, thumps his chest, and walks out. More than half the people who were subjects in the experiment could not recall seeing the gorilla. I did it with Nathan yesterday—he didn’t see the gorilla. He was counting passes.

Sometimes, we can only see what’s in front of us if we’re looking for it. So what we’re looking for matters... not because we have to be looking for something specific in order to see it—who would be looking for a gorilla to show up? But if we’re so busy looking for unimportant things we can’t notice the big things, we may miss them. Jesus in his glory is not a gorilla… but he may be as obvious as a gorilla, and if we’re so busy keeping our eye “on the ball” that we miss him we will miss out.

But there’s good news: no matter how spiritually blind we are, Jesus repeatedly invites us to “come and see”. He draws attention to the gorilla in the room. It takes these disciples years to fully understand what they’re looking for—and what they’ve found. But he keeps inviting… and they keep following. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, come and see. If you can’t take in the news that the Lamb of God is standing right in front of you, come and see—spend some time with him, and eventually you will be able to see. By the end of the afternoon, Andrew realizes that Jesus is the Messiah, and goes and fetches his brother.

So what are you looking for, particularly here at Epiphany? There are a million answers—none of them wrong. Well, I guess you could come up with a few wrong answers… But often, what we think we’re looking for isn’t what we find; we look for a church for our kids to learn about God, and discover that we are the ones who are learning about God; we look for a place with friends, and discover that what we find the divine. Or it goes the other way—we area looking for God and discover a loving community of friends which is the earthly manifestation of God’s love.

Our collect this morning calls for us to be the light that helps the world see Jesus in all his glory. “Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.” We are the people called to shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory so that everyone can see. So that when we ask, “What are you looking for?” the answer isn’t a non sequitur; the answer is some version of “I’m looking for Jesus.” And we can answer, like Jesus, “Come and see.” Come follow me, and you’ll meet him. Come follow me and you’ll see who he is. Come and see his justice and peace. Come and see the glory of the Lord.

Are we looking for the glory of God? I’m not quite sure what the glory of the Lord is—but it’s in scripture all the time. I can only think of it in terms of metaphor—the glory of the Lord is like the fiery colors of a sunset; is like the sound of an organ playing Vidor’s Toccatta; it is like the breathtaking view of Yosemite Valley. We will be remembering Dr. Martin Luther King tomorrow as a nation; the last words that he spoke in his last speech the night before he was assassinated were “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” He knew what he was looking for. And even if he couldn’t see the future in reality, he could see God’s reality. He closed that speech:

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
While God is marching on.

That’s what we are looking for.


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