Sunday, January 19, 2014

Epiphany 2A

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 he simply says, “What are you looking for?”

It’s a good question, though, isn’t it? Perhaps THE question. Especially for those who have a sense that God is up to something in their lives. 

Those who are looking for more from God than what they were told as children, those who who have a hunch that the universe is made up of more than that what the eyes see, the ears hear, and the fingers touch. 

Those who have a gaping God-sized hole dug deep within them that seems to get wider and more cavernous with each flip of the calendar.

“What are YOU looking for?”

That question could be directed at 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. Where the majestic power of God washes over us, and we can see more possibility for our lives than when we walked in, and see the world with fresh eyes when we leave.

Or we come looking for community, to worship and fellowship with other believers, to know that we aren’t alone in our faith, but that there are others who can support and encourage us as we walk the Christian path together. 

Or we come looking for meaning in a seemingly meaningless world. Hope in a seemingly hope-less world. Good news in a bad news 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 them up, and sent them running from their lives to follow him, feasting his every word, and soaking in his teaching. 
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 find themselves knocking on the door of another preacher. There must be something more about this Jesus if John was sending them to him. And what’s this “Lamb of God” stuff about anyway? 

But if John wanted them to follow this other teacher, then follow him they must. After all, John pointed to God.

“What are you looking for?” the new teacher asks.

“Where are you staying?” they answer.

Where are you staying? That’s an odd reply, don’t you think? Why would they want to know that? What’s that got to do with what they’re looking for? Is where Jesus hangs his sandals a clue to what he was all about?

But the new rabbi doesn’t bat an eye. “Come and see” Jesus replies, and with that reply comes a fresh batch of recruits for his start-up religious movement.

Clearly, these new conscripts were impressed by what they saw and heard. “We have found messiah!” they announce to anyone within earshot. 
But did they know what they were talking about? That word, “Messiah,” meant a lot of things to a lot of people. And while that sounded like good news to them, some would be REALLY disappointed when they found out what that word really meant.

Many people were expecting royalty, someone to kick the Romans out of the holy land and bring in a kingdom like the one they had when David ruled that land. 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 reformer who would return God’s people to prayer and devotion, where worship was central to peoples’ lives, where the bible was read by everyone, and where people structured their lives around scripture.

And still others believed the messiah would rescue people from their earthly lives, blow up the planet, punish unbelievers and fry 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?” is filled with so much dynamite. We’re all looking for something. We’re all placing our hopes on Jesus even if those hopes have more to do with us than with God.

“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 give me a great life without me having to do any heavy lifting. I want God to give me certainty rather than faith. I want God to bless everyone I love and curse those who cut me off in traffic. 

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 interested in giving me what I’m looking for.

What we’re looking for isn’t always what God wants to give us. Just look at what happened in the bible. The people wanted a King; God gave them a lamb. The people wanted their enemies destroyed; God gave them mercy. The people 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. But usually, God’s actions are more life-giving than what the people want.

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? 

Do you believe that, in this house of prayer and praise, together with other believers, gathered among the saints, you will encounter the living God revealed in Jesus? 

Do you arrive here, at this hour, trusting that God will meet you - in this moment - as you worship?

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

We hear the proclamation of God’s new world bursting into ours. On communion Sundays we receive God’s presence in the bread and the wine, believing that in the loaf and the cup, Jesus dwells within us, so we eat and we drink, and are satisfied. Within these walls, we pray with trust, and we sing with hope.

But then there are those moments when God can often seem like a ghost, a flicker in the corner of your eye, a slippery truth that you can’t quite grasp, a meal half eaten. 

When your questions don’t have any answers. When your tears are more real than God’s comfort. When the bread is stale. The wine is sour. The road is dark. When morning seems so far away.

That’s when John proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It’s because of those things that keep us from God that Jesus came and lived among us. John didn’t proclaim his message to a confident crowd of the self-assured and fiercely faithful. 

But John gathered and sent a broken band of believers, still fresh from the battle, proudly baring the scars that life gave them, united only in their questions, and in their pursuit of God, not knowing where that quest might lead them, but daring to believe that the journey itself IS the destination.

So, when you hear “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” know that you are in good company. Know that your questions give you faith. Know that your scars are your proclamation. Know that your losses are your announcement of compassion.

Know that if you feel like your faith is constantly shifting beneath your feet, that’s because faith is always moving, always looking around the next corner, always peering over the bordering horizon. 

For some, faith is like a cathedral, fixed in one place, immoveable, splendid in solemnity, majestically lighting up  the night, and towering over all who sit under its shadow.

But for most of you, most of the time, faith is more like staggering along a dark trail, and your flashlight’s batteries are drained. So you rely on a voice you can barely hear, guiding you to where you should step, not being able to see what’s ahead, but trusting that the one leading you has already been there and knows the way, and can safely bring you home.

It’s the voice that says, “Come and see” that is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The messiah we have found, and the messiah who has found us. 

The messiah who called you by name, and set you on your path, with you not knowing where the road leads, but trusting that voice to guide you, step-by-step, when the darkness arrives, who lifts you when you stumble, and when your body grows weary and you fall asleep, carries you the rest of the way, and wakens you when you reach your final destination.

May this be so among us. Amen.

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