“What Are You Looking For?”
A sermon by Rev. Aaron Fulp-Eickstaedt
At Immanuel Presbyterian Church, McLean VA
On January 19th, 2014
Isaiah 49:1-6, John 1:29-42
Our first passage is from the Book of Isaiah. Like last week’s passage from Isaiah, it is another of what have come to be known as the Servant Songs—poetic words from and about an unnamed servant of God. The servant spoken of may be the people of Israel returning from exile, one member of that community, or a future Messiah to come, but Christian tradition has come to understand this figure in light of Jesus and the community formed in his name. Listen for how the words servant is used three times—a servant in whom God will be glorified, a servant God formed in the womb, and a servant who is expected to be a light to the nations.
Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’ But I said, ‘I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.’
And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength— he says, ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’
Our second passage is from the Gospel of John, the 1st chapter beginning with the 29th verse. This is John’s gospel’s account of what happened after Jesus’ baptism. Listen for how John the Baptist describes Jesus, and for what Jesus says to two of John’s disciples who begin to follow him.
The next day he saw Jesus coming towards 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).”
I really love the question Jesus poses to the two disciples of John the Baptist who start following him after their leader has told them, “Look, here is the Lamb of God.”
Well, these followers of John hear this, and they decide to leave John behind, to switch horses in midstream as it were, and take off after this new person.
Jesus turns around and sees them tagging along behind him, (who knows how close or how far they physically are from him at that point, but they are in hearing distance) and he turns and says to them, “What are you looking for?” What do you want? What are you seeking?”
It’s a profound question, really. And I think John’s gospel means for us to hear it that way. For it to hang in the air a while to let it do its work on us.
You see, if you do any reading at all of the Gospel of John you know that Jesus and the people to whom he is talking always seem to be speaking on different levels. He speaks in metaphor, they understand literally. He speaks in depth, they understand on the surface.
Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born anew, from above, and the imagination-challenged Pharisee wonders how he can enter a second time into his mother’s womb. Jesus says to the woman at the well that he can give her living water springing up to eternal life so that she’ll never be thirsty. And she tells Jesus, “Where are you going to get that water? You don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep!”
When Jesus asks John’s disciples, “What are you looking for?” he’s asking them a deep question and he’s asking it in a context. They’ve begun to follow him, just the first steps, but they’ve begun to follow him, and he wants to know why. I think he’s asking them what they are looking for out of life.
What are YOU looking for?
There is a lot of literature out there trying to figure out the magic key for bringing an increasingly unchurched and skeptical population into Christian faith communities. I know that Bruce Douglass today talked about the rise of the NONEs, (not the nuns, the NONES), the people who when asked, on a survey, what their religious affiliation is, respond by indicating, “None.” In an effort to reach that group, and those who perhaps grew up in the church and perhaps feel some sort of connection to the church but don’t come very often, we often ask ourselves, “What are they looking for?”
Our Immanuel in the Evening service is in part an effort to respond to that group. In a culture that increasingly has activities that interfere with Sunday morning worship we want to give a Sunday evening option. In a culture that has shifted, in terms of technology, we want to provide something a little more visually and experientially oriented. We want to provide something more informal, more ‘come as you are.’ It’s centered in trying to respond to what people who aren’t or can’t be here on Sunday morning are looking for in a worship service. And I think that’s a really good thing.
But when Jesus asks the question of John’s followers, “What are you looking for?” it is not with the idea that he’s going to somehow change his message about what really matters in life. Or to change who he is. That’s going to stay the same. It does say the same, morning and evening: what really matters, that is.
I think when Jesus poses the question, “What are you looking for?” It’s a way to get those first disciples and us to think. What are you looking for—not just out of a church service, but out of life?
One of the ways I have introduced the idea of faith and crafting faith statements to confirmation classes in the past is by telling them that however you answer them, there are certain big questions in life that you just don’t get to avoid answering in one way or the other.
You may ignore the questions, but the way you live provides your answer to them. Is there a higher power at work in the Universe, beyond just you and me, or are we it? What ultimately brings your life meaning? Anything? Or nothing? What are you looking for in life?
If you’ve watched the movie The Wolf of Wall Street, and I haven’t done so yet, you know that the people depicted in it show by their lives that they have a certain answer to the “what are you looking for?” question.
The real-life daughter of the man who is the self-described wolf, who wrecked many people’s lives through his pursuit of wealth and what he considered to be fun, well, his real-life daughter wrote an open letter to Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese denouncing the film. Here’s just a portion of the letter.
You people are dangerous. Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals. We want to get lost in what? These phony financiers’ fun sexcapades and coke binges? Come on, we know the truth. This kind of behavior brought America to its knees. And yet you’re glorifying it.
Did you think about the cultural message you’d be sending when you decided to make this film? You have successfully aligned yourself with an accomplished criminal, a guy who still hasn’t made full restitution to his victims, exacerbating our national obsession with wealth and status and glorifying greed and psychopathic behavior.[i]
Glorifying greed and psychopathic behavior…
That word glorify is an interesting one. To give something glory. GLORY has roots in the Hebrew. It comes from the Hebrew word KAVOTH, which literally means heavy, weighty. When we glorify something or someone we give weight, mass, to it or to them.
I am quite sure that we don’t want to glorify the Wolf of Wall Street and his actions. But the question we must all face is what do our lives glorify? What our lives testify is important.
In the Servant Song we read from the Book of Isaiah, the Lord says to the one who was formed in the womb to be his servant, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel.” That’s not heavy enough. I’m going to give you to be a light to the nations.
In other words, I’m going to give you a little heavier than just your own self-interest, your own pleasure, to be about here. I’m going to ask you to care for the whole world. Not just your own pleasure, not just your own career, not just your inner circle, not just the people that you like, not just the people who make you feel comfortable. I am calling you to show my glory, to be a light, to the whole world.
Jesus understood himself in light of that servant. And he calls those who would follow him to understand themselves in light of that servant as well.
When Jesus asks those first disciples, “What are you looking for?” it’s his way of seeing what they think is important, what matters? Because if they are going to follow him, they are going to have to get on board with what matters to him.
Their response, simply because they don’t seem to grasp that he’s talking on a higher level, is to ask, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Literally, where do you abide? They are willing to learn. They are willing to spend time with Jesus. And when he says, “Come and see,” they go and stay with him. And they learn from him what really matters. They learn from him what it means to be a Lamb.
It is Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday tomorrow. So it is fitting that we reflect on what his life taught us about what matters as well. And what his life taught us about what matters goes beyond us and them. What matters is the unity of humanity and creation. What matters is love.
So he said, in the words that adorn the front of our bulletin today:
“Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.”
But he also believed in taking a stand and making a difference even if it came at a cost. So he said in words that one of my favorite writers, reposted this week. Parker Palmer quoted Martin Luther King Jr. saying this about love and power:
Now power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. One of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites—polar opposites—so that love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love.
We’ve got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love. It is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our times.
So what are you looking for in life?
The disciples followed Jesus and went to where he was staying and they learned from him. They learned about power. They learned about love. They learned it from the Lamb.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Charge at the End of Service:
So what are you looking for? In life?
That’s what Jesus asked the disciples of John who followed him.
What are you looking for
I’m not sure precisely what the answer to the question is for you
But if what you are looking for is a life of meaning
A life that really matters
A life centered in love
Love which uses power and is not used by it
Then you can find it and have found it in the Lamb.
Go from this place to live that truth out in Jesus name.
[i] Christina McDowell, “An Open Letter to the Makers of the Wolf of Wall Street, and the Wolf Himself” LA Weekly, Thursday, December 26th, 20134. http://www.laweekly.com/informer/2013/12/26/an-open-letter-to-the-makers-of-the-wolf-of-wall-street-and-the-wolf-himself