“What Are You Looking For?” January 19, 2020
“What Are You Looking For?”
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
When we read from the Gospels in our time together, it’s pretty well understood what to expect: that we will be reading from the Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And it’s also pretty well understood that these 4 books from the New Testament are the core of our faith in Christ; they are the main “go-to” documents when it comes to our understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. They are the “go-to” writings, mostly, because the gospels are the closest thing we have to real life, first hand reports of the life and death of the son of God. The folks who wrote these manuscripts were either there when Jesus was alive, or they spoke with those who were.
The first 3 gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are referred to as the “synoptic” gospels because they include many of the same stories in, more or less, the same order. If we read the stories in the original Greek, we’ll sometimes even find the exact same wording is used from one gospel to the next. The word “synopsis” is defined as “seeing all things together,” or “seeing the big picture,” if you will. As it pertains to the writings of Matthew, Mark, and Luke we could call it more like “giving an account of events from the same point of view.” The writer of these 3 books shared the same resources, the same stories, and so, came from the same point of view.
The gospel of John, however, is different. It’s safe to say that John definitely is coming from a different point of view. In today’s reading, for example, we find Jesus at the very beginning of his ministry. John the Baptist is introducing him to the people of the town with some strong language: (vs 29) Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, then later (vs. 34) I have seen and I testify that this is the chosen one of God. A couple of John the Baptist’s disciples are curious, however, and start to follow Jesus around, not really sure how to approach the situation. That all changes when Jesus turns around to ask a simple question: “What are you looking for?” Not “what’s going on?” or “what’s happening?” or even “what are you looking at?” No, he only asks “What are you looking for?” and this led to a beautiful and holy conversation which led to one of the disciples, Andrew, to later tell his brother Simon (vs. 41) that We have found the Messiah. Simon, if you recall, later was named Peter and became the rock upon which the church was to be built. So there we have it: Jesus begins his ministry with the conversion of a man named Andrew and his brother Simon. But like I said, John’s gospel is different. In the gospel of John, there are no fishing nets, no boats, no promises of becoming “fishers of men.” What we do have is an awesome example of evangelism from the heart. “What are you looking for?” he asked them. “Um, we’re not really sure. Where are you staying, if we might ask?” “Come see,” he replied, “Come see.” What they saw was goodness and grace. What they saw was the presence of God and it changed their lives.
The Canadian preacher Ralph Milton ran a website called Rumors for years before he finally retired. I liked his writing for his sense of humor which too often crossed over the line into corny. But he had some wonderful insights as well. Part of his column was letters and emails from readers and this one came to mind. Mr. Milton says: Some time ago I received a one-line message. “I want to be a Christian. Can you help?” “How do I respond to that?” I asked Bev. My first instinct was simply to ignore it. “Ask some questions first,” she said. “You can’t answer that unless you know who you are talking to.” So I asked a few questions as gently as I could and said I would be happy to respond “when I know you at least a little.”
The response was surprising. A man wrote saying that someone with a warped sense of humor had sent that letter to hundreds of people from his computer. It was a prank and he didn’t really enjoy it. “I’ve been sent long sermons and I’ve been sent vitriol. Yours is the first response that was kind and open.”
We corresponded on and off for quite awhile. Not about becoming a Christian because the man was already a very active and caring Christian. But I enjoyed his friendship which became possible because I didn’t follow my first instincts – because I gave a “kind and open” answer to what seemed like a setup to be flamed by some crank.- –end quote
I love this story from John’s gospel on so many levels. I love it because in this gospel story, just like Mr. Milton’s story, Jesus shows us the right way to spread the good news of the Gospel. This is evangelism from the heart. It doesn’t threaten, it doesn’t coerce, it doesn’t intimidate, nor does it plead doom and gloom.
I love it because it causes me to think back on the moment that I came to know and cherish the love of God through Jesus Christ. Sure, I was raised in the church, and for that I am grateful. But it seems to me that there comes a moment in our faith journey when Jesus calls to us up close and personal. It can be in a time of pain or loss; it can be in a time of doubt when he calls. Or it can be in a time when we are perfectly content to just follow him around with one foot in the gospel and the other in the evils of this world. For me, it was a time when I couldn’t believe that I was worth it; that God just might as well give up and move on. “What are you looking for?” he’ll ask us. Now if it were the lion of God to ask this of me – if it were to be some sort of wild beast – that would be frightful. But it is the lamb of God that asks; the lamb: innocent, vulnerable, and condemned. “I’m looking for things that I can’t have,” I said. “Things I could never deserve. I am looking for the peace of Christ, I am looking for the joy of believing, I am looking for forgiveness that is real, that is lasting.” And then, like Andrew, I asked, “Where are you staying?” “Come,” he said, “I’ll show you.” And he led me to the church. Funny thing, ain’t it, that for all our foibles and flaws, we are still the church, the body of Christ, the place where Jesus stays. And boy, is that good news. That is good news indeed.
Amen & Shalom