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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Epiphany 01/16/2011

“What are you looking for?” Jesus asks, and the disciples respond, “Where are you staying?” which I always find a little bit amusing as the response has little or nothing to do with the question.  It’s a non sequitor, it doesn’t follow a logical progression.  It’s like when I used to ask kids I taught, “Do you ride the bus to school or carry your lunch?”  That was always interesting because some kids would right away recognize that it was a stupid question while others, and often it was the “smart” kids for whom it was important to have the right answer, they would answer one part of the question seemingly oblivious to the fact that it was an either/or question except the either wasn’t related to the or.

I digress, but then, relative to this exchange between Jesus and the disciples, I was thinking about how often I go into a store and a well meaning salesperson will ask, “May I help you?” which when you think about it is another way of asking “What are you looking for?” and how often I’ll answer their “May I help you?” with “No, I’m just looking around, just browsing.”  Now sometimes that’s true, but sometimes I say that because I’m embarrassed that I don’t know where to find whatever it is I’m looking for but rather than accept the offer of help I’d rather wander blindly around the store for awhile.  Maybe I’ll find it, maybe I won’t but I’d rather not find it than ask for help.  It’s stupid, I know; especially when I know the sales person is probably bored silly and would love to be able to help someone find something.

The two situations, mine and that of the two disciples, aren’t exactly the same.  It’s also true that disjointed conversations are a pretty common feature in John’s gospel so this kind of dialogue isn’t really a surprise, but on the other hand, as it is for me, embarrassment could be a factor for the disciples; they’re embarrassed that they can’t answer Jesus’ question. 

Jesus asks them a question that reaches pretty deep and the question is perhaps too profound for the disciples.  They don’t have a quick, ready answer, so in effect, they change the subject trying to move on to something else and who among us hasn’t done that in some fashion at some time?  You don’t have a good answer so you change the subject.  The disciples were looking for something and based on John the Baptist’s “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” they did have some vague sense that Jesus might be or might have something to do with what they were looking for; but they can’t put it into words so they changed the subject.  Who can blame them? 

What are you looking for?  At its deepest level it’s a difficult question.  Short term it can be easier; if you’re sick what you’re looking for is to be better, to feel good again.  If you’ve got bills to pay, money to pay them would be nice, that’s what you’re looking for.  Short term it’s easier and while those short term answers are important and should not be minimized, the question that Jesus asks goes deeper and because of that it’s harder to come up with an answer.         

Think about this:  what if I told you when you go home today you’ll find a big box in front of your door and in that box will be everything you’ve been looking for your whole life.  What would be in the box?  Would it be a pile of money?  Financial security?  Good health?  A pill that would keep you forever young?  Immortality?  For you, what would be in the box?  What are you looking for?  You see why the disciples changed the subject?

I think for many people there is the sense of a need in their life, a sense of something missing, but it’s hard to articulate exactly what it is apart from the short term kind of needs already mentioned.  For most of us it’s hard to get beyond that.  There’s searching though; there’s looking even though we’re not exactly sure what it is we’re looking for.

But that’s why Jesus’ response to the disciples’ non-sequitor answer to his question is so perfect.  “Come and see,” is all he says.  Come and see; he doesn’t tell them what they are going to see, he doesn’t make any promises, he doesn’t announce to them that he knows what they’re looking for, he doesn’t tell them that he himself is the answer to the question.  He doesn’t do any of that.  He just says, “Come and see.”

With Jesus’ response, there is the indication that we don’t have to be embarrassed that we can’t answer the “What are you looking for?” question because the search itself is the answer to the question.  What that means is that there is no one right answer because for everyone the search takes different twists and turns.  But…what Jesus’ invitation to “Come and see” also indicates is that where you undertake the search does make a difference and for many, while they are looking for something even if they’re not sure what it is, they’re looking in all the wrong places. 

They’re looking in the wrong places thinking that if they just find the right product, or the right drug or the job that will pay them just a little more or whatever, then everything will come together and they’ll have what they’re looking for.  To one degree or another we all get sucked in to that kind of looking and no matter how often we find that it wasn’t what we were looking for after all, we keep going back to those same places to look some more.

“Come and see,” Jesus said and those two disciples accepted the invitation.  By going with Jesus, still not knowing what they were looking for, at least they were looking in the right place.  With their initial response of “Where are you staying?” they were closer to the mark than they might have realized because wherever Jesus was would be a good place to engage the search.  But still, what they would ultimately see, what they would ultimately experience was open ended and that’s a good thing, because what each of them was looking for might not have been the same.  But in following Jesus there was the hope and the promise of discovering just what it was that they are looking for and that they’ll know it when they find it.

But maybe not.  I go back to the idea that the search is the answer, that the search is the answer as long as it is searching in the right place.  We are all on that search and for each of us part of it takes place right here.  Word and sacrament, song and prayer and praise are part of our looking.  But even with that, we may leave this place on any given Sunday no more certain of what we are looking for than when we got here, maybe no more certain than when we started worshiping, whenever that was.  Like those first disciples we may have some vague sense of Jesus being part of the answer but that’s as far as we can go; we still can’t put it into exact words.  But we keep coming back, coming back to see because a part of us has figured out that the search and what we do here might just be the answer even if we’re still not sure what we’re looking for.

I find it comforting that we don’t have to have the right answer to “What are you looking for?” I find it comforting that maybe there isn’t one right answer.  I find it comforting but I know others are bothered because like some of the students I mentioned earlier, they want to know, they have a need to know.  For those people, the church with its creeds and doctrines has provided very good answers and I certainly rely on those answers in helping me in my looking, I think we all do.   I value those answers, but still I want this church to be more about the looking, more about “Come and see,” than it is about providing the correct answer to “What are you looking for?” because after all, “Come and see” is the invitation extended by Jesus.  He was more about the looking than he was about the answers.

Don’t forget either that we are called to extend the same invitation to others.  If we read just a few more verses, the disciple Philip invites Nathanael using the same words as Jesus and we can do the same thing.  We invite people to come and see.  What they see may help them to answer “What are you looking for?” or it might help them to find that for them it is about the looking, it’s about the journey that we talk about here.  They also might decide that their looking is better done somewhere else and that’s OK too.  No church can be all things to all people because people are looking for different things.   

However it goes, “Come and see,” is what we have to offer, and it is a good place to start because our “Come and see,” starts with Jesus.  In the company of Jesus, wherever the journey leads, we can be confident that it will end well.

Rev. Warren Geier

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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