The Great Invitation: What Are You Looking For? – Sermon on John 1:29-42

January 15, 2017
Second Sunday after Epiphany A
Watch a video of this sermon here.

Today’s gospel lesson picks up the story right where we left off last week, after the baptism of Jesus by his cousin, John the Baptist. John and a few of his disciples are together as Jesus approaches.

The next day he 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). – John 1:29-42

Do you ever get discouraged at your own thick-headedness? I sure do. I’m pretty sure there is a groove in my skull where a 2×4 fits just perfectly, because I seem to constantly need that kind of a wake up call. So I take a small amount of comfort in knowing that John the Baptist’s disciples were just as thick in the head as I often am.

After all, John has to tell them two days in a row, “ Look, there goes the Lamb of God!” They have to hear it at least twice before they get it, and start following Jesus instead of John. But they follow him at a distance. Maybe they are just curious. Maybe they are uncertain what John’s story about baptizing Jesus really means. Whatever their reasons, these two disciples stay far enough behind Jesus that I’m sure they were surprised when he turned and faced them.

“What are you looking for?” he asks.

These are the first words Jesus speaks in John’s gospel. We heard the opening verse of John on Christmas Eve: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…” But that Word doesn’t actually utter a word until 38 verses later, and when he speaks, it’s a simple but profound question.

When Jesus asks Andrew and the other disciple, “What are you looking for?” it means a lot more than just, “Can I help you find something? Is there some object you’ve lost?” Jesus is really asking, “What are you searching for in life? What is your soul’s deepest desire? What are you seeking with all of your being?” What are you looking for?

Jesus asks us the same question. What do you seek? What are you hunting for, to satisfy your soul’s deep longing? He’s still asking. He still wants to know, because we are really good at looking for all the wrong things, in all the wrong places.

We can devote ourselves to all kinds of self-help programs, diets, and workout routines, in an effort to improve our physical and emotional lives. We can also devote ourselves to destructive habits that eat up our time and financial resources, and tear down our bodies and our minds. We can waste our lives looking for the next big thrill, expecting to be entertained at ever-increasing levels of stimulation. We are really good at consuming, as if buying material goods will somehow make us feel important, accepted, and loved.

What are you looking for? What will satisfy your deepest need? What will bring you joy?

When Jesus asks them, “what are you looking for?” the disciples of John don’t give him an elevator speech or a thoughtfully prepared mission statement. But they know what they are looking for. They know that the thing they’ve been seeking is this man standing in front of them. They respond with a question of their own. They only want to know, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”

Again, this means more than, “what’s your current address?” They are really asking, “Teacher, what is it like to abide with you? Is there room for us in your life? Can we come live where you live? Will you teach us? Because, what we are looking for something to devote our lives to. We are looking for someone who will teach us the things of God. If you are who John says you are, we want to spend every possible moment in your presence. Where are you abiding, so we can come abide with you?”

And Jesus invites them to “come and see.” He doesn’t give them a business card with an address they can find later. He invites them immediately into his life. He does this with the understanding that they may choose not to follow. Once they’ve seen his accommodations and had a taste of his teaching, they may not want to stay. But his invitation is open anyway. Come, and see.

When Jesus says, “what are you looking for?” he’s asking if we are ready to be disciples. If we are looking for comfort, or security, or some assurance that we are right, we might not be ready to follow Jesus, to abide with him and become his devoted students. If we are looking for acceptance into the “Cool Kids Club” or recognition for belonging to the most popular leader’s inner circle, we might not be ready to ask where Jesus lives.

But if we want to be with him day in and day out from this moment and for all eternity, if we recognize that following Jesus is the only way to know the fullness of God’s love, then it just makes sense for us to want to spend every moment in Christ’s presence.

Asking, “Where are you abiding? Can I stay with you?” puts a different twist on our usual thinking about becoming a Christian. We often talk about making Jesus part of our lives, inviting him into our hearts to live with us. But what if we turn that around, and realize that Jesus is welcoming us into his life? Jesus invites us to come and see where he lives. He offers us the opportunity to become part of what he is doing. Jesus invites us to join him in his life.

His invitation is open, but it’s up to us to follow, up to us to “come and see.” We must decide if we can make that kind of deep commitment, if we can devote ourselves to that kind of close relationship. It means letting go of our own desires and expectations, and surrendering our whole being to God’s desire and plan for us.

What are you seeking with all your being? What is your soul’s deep longing? Are you ready to go be part of Jesus’ life, so you can find what you seek? Once you’ve found Christ, what happens next?

Andrew shows us. Notice that it doesn’t take long for Andrew to go find his brother Simon. And the instant Jesus meets Simon, he gives him a new name: Peter, or “Rock.” In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus waits until later in his ministry to rename Peter, and he goes on to say, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:18) But here, Jesus gives him a new name the moment he meets him.

Jesus gives each of us a new name the moment we meet him, too. Last week, we talked about the name given to us at our baptism. We are called “Beloved” and “Child of God.” In 1 John 3:1 we are reminded of this new identity. John writes, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

But Christ gives us another name, a specific one, just as he renamed Simon to indicate what his new mission in life would be. Maybe your name is “servant” or “healer” or prayer warrior” or “teacher.” Maybe you have been named “reconciler” or “leader” or “joy-bringer.” Whatever your new name is, it is an invitation to live into your new identity as a follower of Jesus in a particular way.

It may take a couple of times hearing someone else say, “Look! There goes the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” before you realize that following Jesus wherever he goes, living with him more than allowing him to live with you, is the only way you are ever going to find what you are seeking. Entering into a life-long commitment to live with Jesus, and to be part of his saving work in the world, is the only way you will ever fulfill that deep longing inside you. It’s a longing that you might not even be able to name. But it’s there. And only Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, can fill the God-sized hole in your heart. It isn’t so much a matter of inviting him into your life. It’s a matter of accepting the invitation to become part of Christ’s life.

This season of Epiphany follows a theme called “The Great Invitation.” Over the next few weeks, Jesus will invite each of us to follow him, to sit at his feet and learn from him, to come and see what life in Christ has to offer.

Jesus isn’t sitting around waiting for us to invite him into our lives. Instead, Jesus invites us into his life. With his “come and see” Jesus includes us in his Lamb of God work. It isn’t really about looking for something to fill the God-sized hole in our lives, after all. It’s about filling the us-sized place we can claim in God’s family by accepting Christ’s invitation to grace.

Pastor Mike Lyle writes,
“When will we stop being challenged? Never. When does God stop asking difficult questions and expecting extraordinary feats of faith? Never. When do we get to rest on our laurels? Never. When can we become self-satisfied, self-congratulatory and complacent? Never. When will God stop loving us, stop feeding us, stop protecting us, stop nurturing us? Never. When will God give up on us, leave us to our fate, sell us out to that which would destroy us? Never. What are we looking for? Nothing that we thought [was important], but everything that we most want and need. Where do we find it? Where Andrew and Simon, James, John and the others found it, in Christ our Lord.”

The Great Invitation has been extended to you. Come, and see.

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