Where do you go when you want to find a piece of information? In an age with technology at our fingertips, the options are almost limitless. For some, it’s as simple as holding down the home button on your smart phone, or using a voice activated command on your echo to ask a question. Or maybe you “google it.” Sometimes, you text or call a friend or family member who would be sure to know. Maybe you even remember a day when you had to go to the library to look it up in an encyclopedia, or thumb through a card catalog. Regardless of your source, though, you need to know what you are looking for. Sure, you can insert a few words and trust that a digital search engine might catch on to the idea, but for the best results, you have to have some sense of your direction. If not, you’ll be left to wander somewhat aimlessly through piles of information, hoping that you stumble upon the information you desire. The quest for information seems to be common to all of us, and has been throughout the ages.
Even in the first century, people were searching for something. In our gospel text for this morning, we find a story of seekers. They had been followers of John the Baptist, that radical renegade from the wilderness. Before our verses today comes John’s account of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, along with the proclamation that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Upon hearing this news again in verse 36, these two disciples of John leave his side to follow Jesus. Then, Jesus turns around and notices he’s got company. He asks a pointed question, “what are you looking for?” His question doesn’t have the tone, though, of one who is annoyed or worried about being followed. And his question isn’t purely transactional, like you might get from a Kroger employee who wants to help you find something as you stare blankly on a grocery aisle. Instead, this was an existential question that challenged those hearing it to consider those big life purpose questions. It is an invitation for these men to name their intentions and declare a purpose and direction for their actions.
We imagine they had them, as they had already left behind some semblance of ordinary life and had been following the radical John the Baptist. They must have had some motivation, some yearning, for a different life. They joined others who were searching for a Messiah. John Clifford offers:
Maybe they were looking for an adventure, for new experiences, to see the world beyond the sleepy little village where they had spent all their lives. Maybe they were looking to make a difference, to be a part of a movement to resist the Roman occupation and the corrupt leadership of Judea. Maybe they were looking for meaning and purpose in their otherwise aimless lives. Perhaps they were looking to “find themselves,” so they joined the cult of John the Baptist with visions of utopia dancing in their heads. . . . While Scripture does not reveal what they were looking for, is it possible they were looking for some of the same things twenty-first-century churchgoers seek?[i]
His point is that the idea of searching is not foreign to us as people, and perhaps what they were searching for was just as diverse as what we look for today. He continues, saying:
People long for identity, for purpose, for meaning, for healing. They are looking for redemption, for love, for life. The world is ready and willing to offer solutions to the search[ii].
But even with a plethora of answers from the world, we find ourselves here. Perhaps that is because we hope that the answers offered here will speak to something bigger. Theologians like have argued that at the core of our identity as humans is a desire to find ourselves. Paul Tillich said that our “ultimate concern” always pointed beyond ourselves, identifying God as the “ground of being[iii].” Our searching, it seems often finds its home with the Divine. Last week we explored the story of Jesus’ baptism, and uncovered that our central identity is that of children of God. This week’s text prompts us to consider that, as children of God, our core purpose might be to seek out a relationship with that God.
We are seekers. This happens when we sit at the feet of teachers, whether it is a wild man in the wilderness like John the Baptist or Jesus himself. We seek when we open the Bible, especially when we do so with others, and when we come to worship. Even if we can’t quite put a finger on what exactly we want to find, seeking makes us open to whatever experiences God would put before us, and encourages us to stick around long enough to see what God is doing.
In the late 80s, the band U2 topped the charts with a song that speaks of the uncertainty of the journey and the nature of searching in, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For[iv].” The lyrics speak of climbing the highest mountains, running through the fields, scaling these city walls, and more, “only to be with you.” The song takes us on a journey, while at the same time indicating that there must be something more than the literal path that they are on. Ultimately, satisfaction will not be found in this world. It must come from something else, or perhaps from someone else. We might imagine this is the song of the disciples at the beginning, searching and longing for something they can’t seem to find. In fact, considering that they never offer an answer to Jesus’ question, perhaps they don’t even have a sense of what they are searching for. So they look for a teacher, hoping that if they stick by his side, they will find the answer.
The disciples reply to Jesus’ question not with an answer to his question, but by calling him Rabbi. In this, they proclaim who Jesus is in a relational way. Their assertion follows John’s proclamation that this is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world with something more personal that sets them in relationship with the one who will be the Messiah. The declare him their teacher, and take their place as his students. They indicate a desire to remain with him, presumably to learn what he has to teach them. They never answer his question about what they are looking for. Instead, they try to figure out how to stay in his presence. It is as if Jesus’ question “what are you looking for?” is more of an open-ended invitation to them, and they eagerly jump at the opportunity.
Jesus’ next statement reveals the kind of teacher and leader he will be. Think about the best teachers you have had. Chances are, they were ones who invited you to learn and experience, to “come and see” for yourselves. They didn’t just tell you that when baking soda and vinegar are combined it produces an acid-base reaction that releases carbon dioxide. That’s not very exciting to most of us if we only hear the words. Instead, they poured them together, perhaps in the middle of a papier-mâché creation, even adding a bit of food coloring, so that you got to make a volcano explode.
“Come and See” Jesus says to the disciples. Instead of launching into a lecture or giving them a lengthy reading list, he invites them into a relational and active way of engaging the world to learn. We are invited. We don’t have to push our way into the doors or pass a series of tests to be qualified to stay in God’s presence. That invitation is already there for us, it was present to us in our baptisms when we were claimed as Christ’s own forever, and it comes to us as seekers when Christ turns to us and says “Come and See.” There is no pressure in these words, no strings attached. It is simple an open invitation to experience all that God has done and all that God offers.
Jesus is inviting these first followers, and us, into an experiential learning program. The first part of it involves some classroom instruction time, which we read about today. The second part of it includes a tremendous number of field trips, the start of which we’ll talk more about next week with the account in Matthew’s gospel. This model is exemplary for education and for our lives of discipleship. It is a pattern that echoes throughout John’s gospel, as believers discover firsthand the signs that demonstrate Jesus is the Christ.
It’s a big invitation, to be sure. And when we accept it, we accept the possibility that big things will be revealed and that our lives will be changed. For the disciples, this happened first with a time of prolonged conversation as the disciples stayed with Jesus until the tenth hour, about 4:00 in the afternoon. This was not a short session. We might imagine that it was captivating for these followers, absorbing all that Jesus had to teach them. While we don’t know what exactly he covered, Jesus must have sparked more than just a passing interest in these two followers. There must have been an immediate connection that allowed them to talk for hours. I remember when Matt and I first met, after bringing home two busloads of youth from a weeklong trip to the mountains, we decided to go get dinner, which led to hanging out and a conversation that lasted all night. Something drew us in and sparked within both of us. The same happens when you connect with a close friend, or even a parent. You can talk for hours and never get it all said. I imagine that is what this conversation was like between Jesus and the very first disciples.
When we take the time to truly dwell in God’s presence, to immerse ourselves in God’s Word and love and grace, we cannot help but be changed. We trust that the Holy Spirit will show up, and stir us into a deeper faith and understanding. The revelations may be big or they may be small. They may happen quickly, or they may take years to develop. God is working within us, within this community, within our world. And when we earnestly pay attention to that, it is hard not to be inspired and transformed by it. We experience the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah.
Then, we go back into the world again. When the school bell rang to dismiss the disciples, or more likely, when they noticed how late in the day it was, they emerged with I think a renewed energy and sense of purpose. They had a spring in their step, the kind that only comes with newfound knowledge. And, as if we needed proof of how great of a teacher Jesus is, the disciples are eager to share what they have learned with the world, immediately putting it into practice. It’s not like they got home and their family asked “well, what did you learn in school today” and the answer was “nothing.” Quite the opposite. The disciples reciprocate the learning process Jesus has demonstrated. They are seeking again, but this time it is seeking out others with their story. For Andrew, he finds his brother, Simon Peter, and tells him he has found the Messiah. Now it is Andrew who is saying “come and see,” inviting his brother to experience the revelation that has just changed his world. Several times in the gospels this is the role we see Andrew in. Writer Carol Miller notes that:
Andrew’s claim to fame is that whenever we see him, he is bringing someone to Jesus. Here he brings his brother, Simon Peter. . . . We don’t hear Andrew preach or teach, but we see him doing the most important thing one human being can do for another: He opens the door to God for the other to step through![v]
The end of our story puts us at another beginning. The pattern of seeking, inviting, and revelation is not just an impressive progression of education; it is a cycle that becomes a way of being. The beauty of becoming a disciple of Jesus is that it’s not just a one-time experience. It is something that happens over and over again as our lives continue to be changed by the one who came to walk alongside us. What is more, we are called to keep it going. Just as the disciples emerged from their first lesson with Jesus, eager to tell others, we, too are called to share this message. It’s as simple as inviting someone else to “come and see” what the Lord has done in my life. The cycle also continues with us personally, as again and again we become seekers, asking questions that deepen our faith and prompt us to remain with God. John’s gospel invites us to take part in this wondrous journey, seekers together, dwelling with God. Perhaps the question to us now is more than “what are you looking for?” – it’s “What are you waiting for?” Come, and see. Amen.
~Rev. Elizabeth Lovell Milford
[i] Joseph J. Clifford, “Pastoral Perspective: John 1:35-42,” Feasting on the Gospels: John, Volume 1, Chapters 1-9, Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson, editors. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015).
[iii] Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951-63), as quoted by Joseph J. Clifford, “Pastoral Perspective: John 1:35-42,” Feasting on the Gospels: John, Volume 1, Chapters 1-9, Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson, editors. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015).
[iv] “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” written by Adam Clayton, Dave Evans, Larry Mullen, Paul David Hewson, and Victor reina, performed by U2, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3-5YC_oHjE
[v] Carol J. Miller, John: Immersion Bible Studies, (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2011).