“What are you looking for?”
January 16, 2011
Last week, I spoke of epiphany, the season we are in, of how it is a time to celebrate the manifestation of God in the world. Of incarnation — God taking on flesh. It is not too hard to see how two thousand odd years ago this was so very real. God came to us in Jesus, born under a star, in a manger, surrounded by hush and wonder, celebrated by angels heard on high. But that was long ago. Can we, 21 centuries later, see God taking on flesh today? Recent events may leave many of us wondering about the relevance of manifestation. Is God present in our time? Where is Jesus now?
Where was God when that seriously ill man in Arizona lifted a gun to wound and kill? This week marked the anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti and with the subsequent cholera outbreak and we cannot help but ask “Why? God why?” Closer to home, many of us struggle with hurt as we try to comprehend how a vibrant woman can be out for a run in one minute and then fighting for her life in the next. And still others here today sit stunned by the incomprehensible loss of Tommy Haggie. After all these recent events, we are left trying hard to make sense of a world that in a heart beat has turned upside down and inside out.
It seems that if anything is manifesting itself these days, it is pain. And as Christians, why wouldn’t we want some kind of explanation for it all? I certainly do. If God is indeed with us, then why in the world is pain so palpably present? But in my search for an answer, I can easily slide into theological speculation that in the end does very little to alleviate the pain, or bring everything right side up again.
Thankfully, in these times, we have a life line in Scripture and the text today leads us in a life giving direction. Listen again, will you?
The text tells us that when John the baptizer saw Jesus walking by he calls out to his disciples, “Look, there is the Lamb of God!” John had been waiting for Jesus. He knew that he was to make a way in the wilderness, to prepare the way for the Lord. He understood that this was what he was to do even though he says he had no idea who Lord would be. He simply trusted that God would reveal that to him when it was time.
And sure enough, one day when is John waist deep in the Jordan River a man came to be baptized. But when this man emerged from the waters the Spirit descended from heaven like a dove and remained upon him!
In that moment John knew. This was the Lord. And so the next day, when Jesus walks along the river bank, John calls out with conviction because he understands what has been revealed, he knows truth has been made manifest. “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
Now “Lamb of God” may at first sound like a strange thing to call Jesus. But John is helping the hearers make a connection back to the Passover lamb that was sacrificed in remembrance of how in Egypt the angel of death passed over the Hebrew people because they had taken the blood of sacrificed lamb and had put it on the two doorposts and lintel of the house (Exodus 12:7). John is making the connection for his disciples that this is the one who is going to deliver them anew. That like the lamb’s blood that initiated the Exodus, God will use Jesus to deliver the people anew.
And John’s disciples are clearly intrigued by this idea for they set off after Jesus. When they catch up to him, Jesus turns around and asks them “What are you looking for.” Now let’s hit the pause button in the story for a moment. John has just told them that this man is the Lamb of God who is to deliver them. And they are clearly spiritual seekers, for they are disciples of John, and you’d have to be pretty serious about your spiritual life if you were going to be a disciple of this lotus eating, camel hair wearing man, who spends his days waist deep in waters of the Jordan. So when Jesus turned to them and asked them “What are you looking for?” I think they ought to have asked for an explanation, for an answer. If I had been there, I would have wanted to ask something like “Why? Why does life have to be so hard sometimes? Why do these terrible things happen, especially to people we love?” I mean if Jesus asked you “What are you looking for?” What would you say?
But instead of asking about the “why” of life, the disciples there by the river, answer Jesus’ question by asking him “Where are you staying?” Now to me, at first, the disciples reply sounds like nothing more than missed opportunity! Here they have just caught up with the Lamb of God, who has given them his full attention and what do they do? Instead of thinking about the big questions of life, they seem to be angling for an invitation for the evening meal. It was about four o’clock, the text tells us. Evening was falling, they were thinking not about the meaning of life but about the plans for the night. So they ask “where are you staying” They don’t seem to want an answer to it all, they just seem to want to hang out with Jesus a bit more. They want to be around him a bit longer, they want a more time in his presence.
And how does Jesus respond? With three little words that like the mustard seed of the parable, contain within them the fullness of the kingdom, the entirety of discipleship. “Come and See!” And so they do. They do just that. They set off with Jesus. They go to where he was staying and they remain with him. And so extraordinary did this time of just being with Jesus turn out to be, that Andrew dashes out to get his brother Simon Peter so he too can spend time with Jesus, who Andrew now knows for he has spend time with Jesus, he now knows that this is the Messiah, the anointed one.
We may try to answer this question “what are you looking for?” in many different ways. We may be looking for an explanation. We may be looking for meaning. We may be looking for someone to blame, or a way to turn back the hands of time so that what is will be no longer. But as crazy as it sounds, the disciples seem to have gotten it right this time. The learning for us this day is that the answer to “what we are looking for” – is really quite simple. We are looking to spend time with Jesus, no matter where it is that we find ourselves. To be with him a bit longer. “Where are you staying, Jesus, Lamb of God? Can we stay with you?”
This last week, I have seen many of you not demanding not an explanation for really hard things that have happened, but instead I have seen how you too have chosen the path of the disciples. You have chosen to look around you, see what the hour requires and simply seek to stay awhile. You have stayed for hours and hours in the waiting room of Brigham and Women’s hospital, holding a hand. Giving a hug. Bringing up some bagels from Dunkin Donuts. You have chosen the part of the disciples and instead of demanding an explanation for it all, you have rolled up your sleeves and got busy organizing breakfast food to be brought by. You have stayed present through prayer, by courageously lifting up the yearning of your hearts to each other and to God. You, like the disciples chose not to try to work out the unfathomable “why?” but instead took up Jesus invitation to “come and see”, to stay awhile.
The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. deeply believed in the power of staying. He stayed awhile, stayed fully present to those who were suffering the assault of racism and violence. He saw hurt and need in the people he loved and through a nonviolence presence decided to not only stay fully present to the injustice of the age, but also to bring that injustice into the presence of those who might have rather ignored it. In his stunningly beautiful and deeply powerful letter from Birmingham jail (if you have not read this for a while I encourage you to do so), King writes a response to a public statement of concern and caution issued by some of his clergy colleague. These white colleagues were concerned that what he was doing, being present to the issue of segregation, this need of his people was pointless and that he was simply being an agitator.
But King had a much different understanding of what he was doing by being there in Birmingham. He writes:
“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
King understood that if we think our lives are only our own then we are lost. But when we realize that our lives are bound up with others. That my pain is your pain. That your joy is my joy, then we are delivered. When we are fully present to each other, God is revealed. In the precious poignancy of shared moments, God is made manifest. Jesus walks with us again . Incarnation, Epiphany
So in difficult times when the world seems to have turned upside down, let us be present. Let us be present to those hurting and trying to heal in Haiti and in Arizona. Let us be present to those who are coping with hardship and loss. And let us be present to each other. For when we do, we too will come to know the Messiah, the anointed one, the Lamb of God, that in our simple acts of care and compassion is delivering us this day. Amen.