When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” John 1:38
Very frequently when someone comes to meet with me to talk about a personal concern, I begin our time together by asking, “What brings you here today?” Or to put it another way, “How can I help you?” It may not seem like a very important question, but it is really the most important question I could ask, because without an answer to this question the person meeting with me and I could walk in circles for a very long time without actually doing anything very useful. We would be like the Israelites in the desert who walked around for 40 years because they didn’t really know what they were looking for or what they needed.
And this isn’t a one time question. For many years I met regularly with a therapist, and I noticed over the time that I worked with him, that he began almost every session with the question, “What do you want to talk about today?” or “What do you want to work on today?” which is simply another version of “what do you need today?” or “what are you looking for?” Without an answer, not much could really be accomplished in our time together.
“What are you looking for?” I think this question is a crucial question for every human being, whether or not you ever work with a therapist, because I think without an answer to this question, we will walk around in life confused, anxious, depressed and unhappy. To honestly answer this question is to begin the journey towards finding a healthy and life-giving path toward what it is that we really need. Asking and answering this question honestly wakes us up out of the stupor that we often walk around in and helps us to get in touch with what is most important in our lives.
For me this is what Jesus was trying to do with John the Baptist’s disciples in our passage from John that we heard read this morning. These new followers of Jesus are clearly a little confused, and Jesus cuts through that confusion with a very direct question, “What are you looking for?” Jesus cuts through all the theology of the previous verses. He doesn’t ask them deep theological questions. He doesn’t ask them what they believe. He doesn’t offer them tests of their belief or faith. He simply says, “What are you looking for?” And this very simple and direct question leads the disciples to a very simple and direct answer. They are looking for “rabbi,” “teacher”. They are looking for a connection. They are looking for a relationship. They are looking for a connection and a relationship with God.
And how does Jesus respond? Not with a sermon or a list of rules or a set of beliefs that they must ascribe to in order to have that relationship and connection. He doesn’t respond with an offer to join a religious community. Jesus responds with an offer of relationship, “Come and see.” He offers them an experience. He offers them a journey. He gives them an invitation to enter into that relationship that they desire in their deepest most parts. He gives them an invitation to clear away all the clutter that they have built up around themselves, so that they can focus on the one thing that they really need, a relationship with the God who loves them more than life itself.
I wonder what all of our lives would be like if we were asked and tried to answer this question, “What are you looking for?” Do you know what you are looking for in your life? Do you know what it is that you really need in your life? The world will tell you that you need money, material security, sex, entertainment, power, control, safety, the newest technology, beauty, youth, a smaller waistline, thinner thighs, the latest fashion, a bigger house, success. But none of these things really seem to fill the need that exists in each of us. What if the answer for each of us for this question is really the same as that of those disciples following Jesus those many years ago? What if what we also really need is relationship and connection? What if what we really need is a relationship and connection with God? What if that is the most important thing in all of our lives?
I think this is a question we would do well to also ask as a community of faith. What are we, the community that is St. Andrew’s, looking for? When we strip away all the layers, at our very core, what are we looking for, what do we need? I think, when we answer this question honestly, we, as a community, need exactly the same thing as what we need as individuals. We need a relationship and connection with God. We need Jesus. We need to connect with one another on a deep and honest level, and we need, as a community to connect with those outside of our doors. And we need this connection, because it is in this connection we meet Jesus, we meet God. Let’s face it, we human beings are communal creatures. We don’t and can’t live in isolation. When we connect with other human beings we connect with God.
However, just as we can get confused as individuals about what we are looking for and what we really need, I think communities of faith can also become confused about what it is that really brings the community as a whole into relationship with God. We often confuse our buildings, our programs, and our material resources with our real need. We come to believe that without these things we cannot exist as a community, and we cannot therefore as a community have a relationship with God. Now these things are not unimportant, but they are not our primary need. They are simply things that support our primary need. Certainly, we have to have some place to meet, to gather, but whether we meet in this church, in a parking lot or in a barn, we are still a community. Certainly, as a faith community an important part of connecting with God is our worship of God, but whether we worship with a prayer book or looking at a screen, we are still a community. As long as we join together and connect with one another as we seek to connect with God, we are a community, and we are fulfilling our primary purpose and our primary need.
Understanding what it is that we are looking for at our deepest level can help us differentiate between our true need–connection and relationship with God, and all the stuff we confuse with this need. It can help us as individuals and as a community navigate and negotiate the anxiety and fear that we have around all the changes occurring within Christianity and the world. It can help us focus on what is most important, and free us from our attachments to that which is not so important. It can help us find that connection with God which is ultimately what is most important and the only reason for us to exist as a community.
What brings you here to church today? What do you hope to get from your time in this community? I encourage you to ask these questions of yourself. I encourage you to look beyond the surface and look deep within to discover your deepest need, your need for relationship with other people and your need through these relationships to be connected with God.
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?” He said to them, “Come and see.” John 1:38-39
What are you looking for?