February 18, 2018

What are you looking for?

Passage: John 1:14-29
Service Type:

Bible Text: John 1:14-29 | Preacher: Stephanie Haskins | Have you ever stood in front of your fridge, the door wide open, just staring at the contents inside?  You’re hungry, but you don’t know what you want to eat.  You pick up an apple, then put it down.  A cheese stick looks appetizing, and then it doesn’t.  You’re feeling too lazy to make something.  The fridge could be full of food, but nothing looks good enough to eat.  So you close the door, and walk away.  If you live with someone, that person might notice your strange behavior and ask you, “What are you looking for?”  And all that you might be able to say is, “I’m hungry, but I don’t know what I want to eat.”
Today is the first Sunday of Lent, a season of preparation for Easter.  And Lent is traditionally a time when Christians give up a bad habit or take on a spiritual discipline of some kind.  For the Sundays of Lent, we’ll be considering some of the questions that Jesus asked in the Gospels.  In the Four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John Jesus asked 307 questions.  Yes, someone counted them all.[1]  Jesus was asked 183 questions.  And of those 183 questions, he directly answered three or eight of them, depending on your definition of “direct.”  So Jesus asked 307 questions, and of the questions he was asked, he answered either three or eight of them.  That’s amazing, isn’t it?  What does that tell you?  What that tells me is that Jesus loved to ask questions more than he liked to answer them.  And the questions he asked were rarely routine, “I’m looking for Fareway, do you know how to get there?”  No.  Generally, Jesus wasn’t looking for facts, just as he wasn’t looking to provide direct answers.  Jesus had this way of turning the conversation back to the other person.  Jesus asked good questions.  And this week, we will explore one of Jesus’s favorite questions, one of the most basic questions of our human experience.  It’s the fridge question.  “What are you looking for?”
At the beginning of this story from John, I don’t think Andrew and Peter could have told you what they were looking for.  The first century was an intense time, full of all kinds of political turmoil, but also incredible spiritual longing.  In a sense, it wasn’t that different from the time we live in now.  There were many spiritual teachers floating around, many different Jewish renewal movements, and so it isn’t surprising that people who were following John the Baptist began to follow Jesus.  John the Baptist himself points to Jesus at the “Lamb of God,” a title that perked up the ears of Andrew and another disciple.  They approach Jesus, and Jesus being Jesus, asks them a question.  They haven’t even been introduced yet, and Jesus has a question for them.  “What are you looking for,” he asks.  What are you looking for?  And maybe they don’t know, or they don’t know how to respond.  So they ask Jesus, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  And again, Jesus being Jesus, he doesn’t answer directly.  He simply says to them: “Come and see.”  Come and see.  So they do.  They follow him to where he’s staying, and something in them must know that they’re onto something, because then they go and find Peter.  And when they find Peter, the first thing out of their mouths indicates that they have finally found something to eat.  They figured it out.  It wasn’t an apple they were hungry for; it was an orange they wanted.  Andrew tells his brother Peter, “We have found the Messiah.”
What are you looking for?  That’s not always easy to tap into, is it?  In the deepest sense, I mean.  The teenager stocking the shelves at the grocery store might ask us what we’re looking for, but he means something different, something more straightforward by his question.  What are you looking for?  What do you want?  What do you long for?  What are your deepest desires?  Sometimes we just don’t know.  Sometimes we have this feeling that we don’t understand, this longing we can’t quite put a finger on, but it’s there, hanging out in our peripheral vision.  We keep coming back to it.  Or, we might have the opposite problem.   We might know exactly what we want, but we might be ashamed of it or feel unworthy of it.  We might know exactly what we long for, but we don’t know how to reach for it.  What are you looking for?  Jesus asked.  And it’s possibly the least straightforward, but the most provocative question we can ask.  What am I looking for, anyway?  Jesus: that’s a good question.
Before Centering Prayer every week, we begin with something called “The Welcoming Prayer.”[2]  You can find it online.  It’s beautiful.  But there’s a challenging section of it, and of course, it’s the section where we try to let things go.  We let go of needing security and safety, approval and affection, power and control.  Security and safety, approval and affection, power and control are basic human needs—things we all desire, we all need at some level.  But in the prayer, we let go of these things, not because we don’t need them, but because our desires lead us to try to find them in the wrong places.  We try find security in our bank accounts.  Affection from the family members we have the most conflict with.  Control in the very situations in which we have the least control.  Desire can be like a set of Russian dolls.  You might think you want this one thing, and if you get this one thing you’ll finally be happy and satisfied, but it never turns out that way, does it?  Because when you finally get that one thing, and open up that doll, there’s another doll inside, there’s another desire inside of the other one.  And on and on it goes.  Andrew and Peter think they’re looking for the Messiah, and in a way, they are.  But they’re going to open the Jesus doll and find that he’s a different Messiah than the one they imagined.  What are you looking for?  Are you sure it’s an apple you’re hungry for?
Our desires and our longings are always worth paying attention to, and what better time than Lent to do that?  When you reach for that bag of chips, when you find yourself judging that person, when you pick up that romance novel, or see a new car on the lot, can you tell there’s desire there?  That’s worth paying attention to.
Jesus may have asked more questions than he directly answered, but he addressed the source of all desire.  This is the conviction, by the way, of our Christian tradition.  Which is that all of our desires have their source in God.  Our deepest desire is to be in union and communion with God.  That’s the desire inside of all our desires.  And that’s why Jesus asked Andrew, “What are you looking for?”  And when Andrew couldn’t or wouldn’t say, Jesus just said, “Come.”  Come here.  Move away from that fridge, already.  You’re hungry for something else.  Come, follow me.  I think it’s God you’re hungry for.  Amen.
[1] We’ll be using Martin Copenhaver’s book, Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered (Nashville, TN: United Methodist Publishing, 2014) as our Lenten sermon series.  If interested, this book is worth purchasing!
[2] http://annettelsherwood.com/prayers/the_welcoming_prayer.html.  Retrieved on 2/16/18.

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