Hi folks! Sorry I forgot to post this last week. Must have been busy getting ready for Lent! Here’s the sermon from March 5, which kicks off our series on “Questions Jesus Asks.”
SCRIPTURE – John 1:35-42 – 35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed[j]). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
Questions Jesus Asks Sermon Series
#1 – What Are You Looking For?
March 5, 2017
“What is a shoe?” Did you know that question may be one of the most important questions in the history of the world? And it wasn’t even asked by a person. It was asked by Watson, an IBM super-computer that was competing on Jeopardy! against two former champions, both humans. When Alex Trebek read, “Iron fitting on the hoof of a horse or a card-dealing box in a casino,” Watson buzzed in with the question, “What is a shoe?” demonstrating for the first time that computers can be built to reason for themselves.
In his book Thank You for Being Late, author Thomas Friedman says that question from Watson, asked in 2011, brought to the public eye the amazing power and speed of technological advancements. And it’s changing the landscape for how we humans think and work. Computers are no longer static instruments to be used at cursed at when they don’t work; they are becoming partners in our vocations. For example, a doctor examining a cancerous spot on a patient’s skin can feed that image into a computer, which can compare it against thousands of other images, find information from millions of pages of journal articles, and identify the type of cancer and best course of treatment – within seconds.
What does this mean for us? For one thing, it means we don’t have to know everything, although that won’t stop some of us from acting like we do. From now on, computers will know everything for us. Writer John Kelly makes this astute observation: “In the 21st century, knowing all the answers won’t distinguish someone’s intelligence – rather, the ability to ask all the right questions will be the mark of true genius.”
In that case, Jesus was way ahead of his time. I don’t know if he could beat Watson at Jeopardy! but he sure did know how to ask all the right questions. We’re starting our Lenten sermon series today by looking at some of the questions Jesus asked those around him. We’ll not only explore how they answered the questions, but we’ll daydream about how we might answer those same questions if Jesus asked them of us. Be warned, thought; the questions are a little deeper than, “What is a shoe?”
“Jesus is the answer.” Remember that bumper sticker? It was popular a decade or so ago. I would see that on a car and I would be so tempted to stop the driver and ask, “But what is the question?” Is “Jesus” the answer to “What is a shoe?” When I read the gospels, I often get frustrated at how little it feels like Jesus does answer. Instead, he asks questions, 307 of them to be exact. That’s a lot of questions from someone who is supposed to be the answer.
His questions were hard questions, too, ones without easy answers. We all know that some questions are asked with only one possible answer. For example, if your spouse asks you, “Do I look good in this outfit?” there is really only one answer to that question. One day, Leigh texted me the question, “Should we get a second dog?” and then 20 seconds later texted me the picture of an adorable little puppy that very shortly after that became our second dog. At that moment, the question “Should we get a second dog?” only had one answer. But those aren’t the kinds of questions Jesus asks.
Instead, he asks questions that invite pondering, that encourage contemplation, that don’t lend themselves to easy answers. After all, the word “question” has the word “quest” in it. Jesus’ questions invited his listeners on a journey toward discovery, both of self and of God. The reward of that journey is that we might discover something about ourselves we never knew. The risk of that journey is that we might discover something about ourselves we never knew. Are we willing to answer Jesus’ questions?
The first question for us comes from the gospel of John. In fact, it’s the first words that Jesus speaks. In our scripture reading today, John had been preaching and baptizing, and was popular enough to attract a crowd of followers. But he was quick to point out that he was only the opening act. The main attraction, the Lamb of God, was on his way. When Jesus arrives, John points him out and two of John’s disciples began following him. Jesus turned to them and asks, “What are you looking for?” They respond, “Where are you staying?” which you’ll notice isn’t an answer, and Jesus said, “Come and see.”
“What are you looking for?” That’s kind of a funny start to a conversation, when you think about it. Jesus apparently doesn’t like small talk. No chit-chat about the weather or the fishing conditions. And even the wording of the question is odd. It would seem more logical for Jesus to ask, “What do you want?” But maybe this question cuts deeper than wants. It implies a longing, a searching, a yearning for something.
So the disciples go with Jesus and spend the day. One of those men, Andrew, meets Jesus and calls him Rabbi, but after a few hours with him, Andrew tells his brother Simon not about Jesus the Rabbi but Jesus the Messiah, the anointed one of God. Just as Andrew gives Jesus a name change, so Jesus does the same with Simon. Jesus says, “You are Simon, but you will be called Cephas,” which translates in Greek as “Peter,” or “the rock,” like the word “petrified.”
“What are you looking for?” Jesus asks us. I’m not talking about when we’re browsing on Amazon or shopping at the grocery store or standing in front of the fridge late at night. It seems there are many times in our lives when we’re looking, but we’re not really sure what we’re looking for.
Is that how it feels on Sunday morning? When you come through those doors on Sunday morning, when you come into Jesus’ presence, what are you looking for? I’ll share with you my secret fear. It’s that you aren’t looking for anything. I hope I’m wrong, but I worry about that. I worry that some folks come to church with no intentionality, no expectation. They come because…well, that’s what you’re supposed to do. But if come looking for nothing, I’m afraid that’s what you’ll find.
I wonder how our experience of worship would be different if we came looking for something. I wonder how it would be different if we came with the expectation that we were going to meet Jesus here – in the lyrics of a hymn, in the handshake of a stranger, in the breaking of the bread. I wonder how it would be different if we came here to worship, not just to sit in a pew, if we came with a longing, a searching, a yearning to know something.
“What are you looking for?” Jesus asks the two men. I believe they were looking for much more than a place to sleep or a quick cup of coffee with Jesus. I believe what the two disciples were truly looking for was themselves. They were looking for a new understanding of who they were apart from the way their society defined them – lower class, blue-collar, manual laborers, riff-raff. They wanted to be known for who they truly were, not for their jobs or their family history or their mistakes. They were longing, searching, yearning to be known.
Jesus offers us that gift. Jesus has the ability to look at us and know us, not just for who we are, but for who we were created to be. Jesus looks at Simon and says, “You will be called a rock.” Peter probably thought, “Me? A rock? Does this guy really know me?” One day Jesus looked at me and said, “You are Kory, but you will be called pastor.” And I thought, “Me? A pastor? Does this guy really know me?” Jesus knows you, not just for who you are, but for who you were created to be.
This doesn’t translate well into English, but five times in this passage John uses the Greek work “meno,” which means “stay,” like when the men say, “’Where are you staying?’ They came and saw where he was staying, and stayed with him that day.” Jesus offered them a place to stay, a place where they could remain, a place where they could become known in a way they weren’t known before.
Jesus offers us the same invitation to “Come and see.” When we come into this place, we are invited to sit, to stay, to remain. But we are not invited to stay the same. Do you hear that? Through this gathering, through this worship, through these song and rituals and practices, we are changed, transformed from who we were when we walked in to nothing less than the people of God.
That’s the beautiful irony of this question Jesus asks. What are we looking for? We’re looking for ourselves, and when we come here to find that, we end up finding Jesus, instead. And in the process of finding Jesus, we find ourselves. But it’s not ourselves as we see us, but as Jesus sees us. You know those carnival mirrors? When you stand in front of them, they make you look a lot skinnier or taller, they distort your true image? That’s what Jesus does for us. When we see ourselves through Jesus, we’re not skinnier or taller. We’re holier. We’re more divine.
I think that’s what we’re looking for. We are looking for the true version of ourselves, refracted through the lens of God’s vision of us. We’re looking for a place where we can be known, where we can remain, where we can receive some understanding – no matter how small – of who we are. We’re looking for a community that welcomes us, that accepts us, that knows us and yet still loves us. We’re not perfect here at Crestwood, but we strive to be a place where people can find what they are looking for.
“What are you looking for?” I invite you to ponder that question the next time you come to church. Are you looking for community? It’s here. Are you looking for inspiration? It’s here. Are you looking for forgiveness or a new start? It’s here. All that is here because Christ is here, beckoning us to come and see, becoming known to us in the breaking of the bread. I urge you to come here looking for something, because if you come looking for nothing, that’s exactly what you’ll find. Jesus invited the two disciples to come and see. Come and see who he was. Come and see who they could be. Jesus extends the same invitation to us. Come and see that your questions are welcomed here, because a lot of other people probably have those same questions. Come and see that you are a child of God, loved just as you are, and called to be more than you are. Come and see that Jesus is the answer to the questions you bring with you. Come and see.