Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Epiphany 2A

In reading today’s gospel, it’s clear that we shouldn’t be looking to John the Baptist for advice on how to grow a church. He sends his best people over to another preacher, who looks surprised to see them.

“What are you looking for?” Jesus asks these strangers at his door. “What are you doing here? What do you want from me?” are questions that he was probably really asking.

But it’s a good question, isn’t it? It’s perhaps THE question. Especially for those who have a sense that God is doing something in their lives. And for those who have a gaping God-sized hole inside.

“What are you looking for?”

That could be the question for us here at worship. We come to worship looking for something, perhaps we can’t put that something into words.

We come looking for God, or an experience of God. Or we come looking for community. Or we come looking for meaning in a seemingly meaningless world.

Or we just come, not knowing what we’re looking for, but hoping to recognize it when we see it.

I’m sure it was the same with John’s disciples. There must have something about John’s fiery preaching that lit up their spirits, and compelled them to follow him, hanging on his every word. They probably didn’t understand much of what John was saying, but they knew what he preached was true. Truer than anything else they’d ever heard.

Which was why it must have been puzzling for them to be on the street to find themselves at the door of another preacher. There must be something more about this Jesus if John was sending them to him. What’s this “Lamb of God” stuff about anyway,? They may have wondered. But if John wanted them to follow this other rabbi, then follow him they must. After all, John pointed to God.

“What are you looking for?” the teacher asks when they present themselves to him.

“Where are you staying?” they reply.

Where are you staying? Why would they want to know that? What’s that got to do with what they’re looking for? Is where Jesus hangs his hat a clue to what he was all about?

“Come and see” Jesus replies, and with that reply comes a fresh batch of new recruits for his movement.

“We have found messiah!” they proclaim to their friends after spending time with Jesus. But that doesn’t give us any more insight into what they were looking for.

They may have been looking for the Messiah, but that word, “Messiah” meant a lot of things to a lot of people.

And while that sounded like good news, someone would be disappointed when they found out what John meant by that word.

Many people were expecting royalty, someone to kick the Romans out of the holy land and bring in the kingdom like the one when David reigned. When other countries were afraid of them, when everyone had enough to eat, when arts and culture flourished, when God showed them the favour they believed was their divine birthright.

Others saw a religious figure, kind of like a pope, who will return God’s people to great prayer and devotion, where worship was central to peoples’ lives, where the bible was read and studied by everyone, and where people structured their lives according to the Law of Moses.

And still others believed the messiah would rescue people from their earthly lives, destroy the planet, banish unbelievers and punish evil doers, and then lift the righteous into heaven.

It seems that not much has changed in 2000 years. That could be why the question “What are you looking for?” can be so potent. We’re all looking for something. We’re all placing our hopes on Jesus even if those hopes contradict each other.

“What are you looking for?” is a question often rooted in selfish desires rather than a pursuit of something greater and truer than ourselves.

I may be looking for God, but my motivates certainly aren’t pure. I want God to make my life better. I want God to give me certainty rather than faith. I want God to bless everyone I love and curse those whom I hate.

When I’m looking for God those are the desires hiding underneath my pursuit of the divine. And that’s why God isn’t terribly interesting in giving me what I’m looking for.

What we’re looking for isn’t always what God wants to give us. They wanted a King. God gave them a lamb. They wanted their enemies destroyed. God gave them mercy. They wanted a return to their glory days, God gave them forgiveness.

That’s why it’s hard to be a Christian who believes that God does something in our lives. It’s hard because we can’t control God. We can’t offer up our hopes and fears in prayer, and - poof! - God answers in just the way we want.

All throughout the bible we see God ignoring the peoples’ cries then going and doing whatever God wants. And usually, God’s actions are more life-giving than what people ask for.

What we can know, and what we can trust with our lives and our deaths, is that God is faithful, that God is merciful, that God is loving. We can trust in the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who is still at work healing the world, forgiving our sin, making us whole.

So what are YOU looking for? Do you believe you will find it here, among God’s people, within the Word proclaimed and the sacraments received?

Your answer, I’m guessing is “Yes”....and...“No.” You look for God where God promises to be. And there we do find God. We receive God’s forgiveness and remember that we are indeed children of a living and loving God.

But also, the God you find can often seem like a ghost, a flicker at the corner of your eye, a slippery truth that you can’t quite grasp, a meal half eaten. Our darkness can often make us blind to God’s light.

That’s because who we want God to be and who God is can be very different people.

God doesn’t act according to our directions. But God does what God does. Forgiving our sin. Making a new world filled with justice and marked with peace. Preparing us for eternity, where we will live in the fullness of who God wants us to be.

May this be so among us.


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