01/19/14 Sermon (January 19, 2014) “What Are we Looking For?”

posted Mar 11, 2014, 10:35 AM by David Hawkins   [ updated Mar 11, 2014, 10:36 AM ]

01/19/14 Sermon (January 19, 2014)

“What Are we Looking For?”

Scripture Reading: John 1:29-42 (Liturgist)

The next day he [John] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.

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?”

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.

One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed).

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).

Sermon: "What Are We Looking For?"    Rev. David Hawkins

I don’t know if this has ever happened to anybody else, but I know that there have been many times that I’ve been working on some project at the house, and I’ll need something from the hardware store in order to get the job done. Something critical.

The problem is, a lot of times, I’m not really sure exactly what it is that I need. I know what it needs to do, but I don’t know what it’s called. I’m not even sure it exists. But I need it. And when I walk into the hardware store, and the helpful people inside ask me if there’s anything they can do for me, I can only say that I don’t really know what it is that I’m looking for, but I’ll know what it is when I see it.

I think that happens to us more often than not. I mean, I really don’t know what kind of shoes I’m going to buy until I see them. I might know what size, and what kind, and have a vague sense about what color and brand, but I don’t really know until I actually see them, and put them on.

And, we don’t know what kind of house we might buy, do we, until we see it. I mean, we don’t tell the realtor that we need a three bedroom, two bath house with a two car garage, and then buy whatever house the realtor suggests, without looking at it. At least, I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t really know what kind of house I wanted until I walked around in a few, and then I would know.

And I think that’s the way it works with relationships as well. We don’t really know who the right person is going to be for us to marry. We might have some ideas, maybe even some fairly unrealistic expectations. But the reality is, we don’t know who that person is that we’re going to spend the rest of our lives with, until we see them, and get to know them. And in my case, at least, at that moment I knew. It took Karen a little bit longer to come around.

We don’t always know what, exactly, what it it that we’re looking for. But we do know when we find it.

I kind of get the feeling that that’s what’s going on with John the 0Baptist in today’s scripture. Until the moment that Jesus was revealed to him, he didn’t know what it was, exactly, that he was looking for.

We all know the story of John the Baptist. John is an interesting fellow. He’s been living out in the desert, dressed in just about the most uncomfortable clothes you can imagine, all made out of camel’s hair, and he ate grasshoppers and honey. Now, they were kosher grasshoppers, but still.

Like most prophets, John was a strange man. Most folks didn’t know what to do with him. Was he simply crazy, or was he the incarnation of Elijah? Was he just some fringe lunatic, or was he the messiah? It was hard to tell what was going on with John with his strange lifestyle, and his insistence that everyone should repent and be baptized.

But John has lived his whole life just for the moment that Jesus steps into the water with him. His vocation had always been to prepare the way for the Lord, to be the voice in the wilderness telling the world that God was coming to live with us. And now, here’s Jesus.

The interesting thing is, this whole encounter catches John off guard. It’s as though John was just as surprised as everyone else that it is Jesus who is revealed to be the Son of God. He even says two times in a row that he had no idea for whom he was supposed to prepare the way and yet, here, in front of him, is the one. Listen to what he says: “I myself did not know him, but this is the reason I came baptizing. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent told me what was going to happen.”

John didn’t know what he was looking for, but when he found it, he knew that his search was over. Standing in front of him is the Lamb of God. John’s long, strange, uncomfortable mission to tell the world that the Lord was coming has been fulfilled. God has come to us, and to everyone’s surprise, including John, he has come in the person of Jesus Christ.

Now, I don’t know exactly who it was that John was expecting. But it evidently came as a shock to him that it was a carpenter from Nazareth. It is strange that God would come into the world, not as a prince, or a religious leader, but as a common worker -- that God would choose such a simple town to be his home, that God would come to us in such a simple way. No chariots, no pageantry, no dancing elephants. It seems a little, I don’t know, anticlimactic somehow, that there isn’t more of a fuss.

But for John, there is no doubt. The Son of God is here, in front of him, and he has come to take away the sins of the world.

Now, up to this point, John had been attracting his own followers, his own circle of disciples. There was a whole religion surrounding John the Baptist. But when they hear him speak of Jesus with such conviction, two of his disciples actually leave John, and begin following Jesus.

I’ve always wondered what John thought of that. I mean, here’s two of his inner circle, two of his most trusted students, and at the first glimpse of Jesus, they go off and leave John behind. I mean, I think I would have taken that personally.

And when Jesus sees them following him, he asks, “What are you looking for?”

It’s obvious they really don’t know. “Um…, Rabbi,” they reply. “Umm, where are you staying?”

It’s not much of an answer to his question, but Jesus lets it slide. “Come with me,” he says. “Come and see.”

And after an evening with their new Robbi, these disciples have a better idea about who he really is. They may not have known before what they were looking for, but they know now that they’ve found it. And they want to share that with other people. And the circle around Jesus begins to grow.

You know, there are a lot of references to looking in the story. And there’s a lot of looking for something, but not knowing exactly what to look for.

It starts with people looking at John the Baptist, hoping he’s the Messiah. But he’s not. And then, they’re looking hoping he’s Elijah, but he’s not that either. And then Jesus unexpectedly shows up, and John is the only who seems to realize who he really is. But John didn’t even really know who he was looking for.

And then these new disciples are not sure what they’re looking for either. A teacher? A Rabbi? A Messiah? They have to go and see in order to know who Jesus really is. They have to experience Jesus in order to realize that he is the one they’ve been looking for.

And I suppose that this understandable. When it comes to God, it really is hard to know exactly what it is that we’re looking for. And without an experience with Jesus Christ, it’s even harder to realize when we’ve found it. Until we have felt the love that takes away sin, the grace that welcomes us into the arms of God, it is very difficult to recognize Jesus for who he is.

And this is hard for us very practical, very rational Presbyterians to accept, isn’t it? We are proud of our education, of our thoughtful approach to matters of faith. It’s hard to think that our faith is revealed to us, rather than figured out on our own. We would prefer to hold our faith at arm’s length, in order to be able to study it, rather than to feel it. Feelings are squishy. Calm, rational theology is more our style.

Let’s be honest: We are prone to dissecting our faith, rather than experiencing it. Because experiences are subjective. Experiences vary from person to person. Logic, however, is objective. Universal. It fits every situation, every time. And we like that certainty.

And so we value an abstract faith, one that doesn’t depend on such unquantifiable variables like feelings and experiences. We hold the mystery of God at bay, afraid of what it might mean to not be able to explain every nook and cranny of what we believe.

At least, I do. I don’t know about the rest of you.

I had a great conversation with my brother Michael, you know, the one who catches fish, while I was in Grand Junction over the Christmas break. A few years ago, he was the youth director at the Presbyterian Church in Grand Junction, but now he is involved in a very charismatic church.

He asked me why it was that the Presbyterian Church taught so very little about the movement of the Holy Spirit. His current church evidently talks about it all the time, and he was curious why he never heard it mentioned before.

I confess, I didn’t really have a great answer for him. But since that conversation, I’ve come to think that maybe it has something to do with what I was just talking about, that we are a little bit suspicious of matters of faith that can’t be explained in a rational way.

We are nervous about saying that God is actually present with us, and his presence is still guiding us, and he is still moving in this world in ways that we can’t predict, and can’t quantify. We can’t quite bring ourselves to confess that we believe in a God that we can actually feel, a God that is revealed to us in our senses, in our experiences.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am so glad that Presbyterians take the idea of an educated faith seriously. I am so grateful that the Church requires its clergy to receive training in Biblical languages and a rigorous study of theology.

But I wonder if we aren’t missing something in our emphasis on the academic aspects of faith. I wonder if we are running the risk of not finding what we are looking for, not because we lack faith, but because we are afraid of letting go of what we can logically prove to be true about Jesus.

And even when we do experience Jesus, it’s hard to talk about it. Especially for us frozen chosen Presbyterians. Experiences can’t be quantified, and you can’t build a theology around an experience, and my experience will be different than your experience, and if our experiences with Jesus are different, then what do we do?

Besides, what will people think, if we admit we had an encounter with Jesus? We might as well just put on a hairshirt, go live in the  desert, and start eating grasshoppers and honey.

But just imagine if John the Baptist had not shared his experience with Jesus Christ. Imagine if the first disciples had decided that it wasn’t worth the effort to go and see who Jesus really was. Imagine if they had kept that good news to themselves. Our lives, and our faith, would be quite different today.

Jesus Christ is standing right in front of us in the waters of our baptism. He is holding out his hand, and is inviting us to come and see who he really is. Everything that we have ever looked for in life is fulfilled in him: love, forgiveness, welcome, peace, healing, freedom. If you have ever wondered who, or what it is that you are looking for, Jesus is ready to show you his true nature. And when we experience that, we can’t help but share it with others.

But, some things you really have to see in order to believe.

Thanks be to God. Amen.