What are you looking for? What do yearn for in the depths of your being? What do you long for? As we navigate the ordinary things in life, we are often looking for something big, something beautiful, something meaningful like love or belonging or community or hope or for the world to change. As you think about all the things you engage in – relationships, work, play, ask yourself what your underlying desires truly are. If Bono is right, we still haven’t found what we are looking for. For those of you not well-versed in rock music of the eighties, Bono is the band U2’s lead singer and songwriter, and he sang a song called, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Bono sings about how he has climbed the highest mountains, run through the fields, run, crawled, scaled city walls but that he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. He says he has kissed honey lips and felt burning desire but that he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. He says he believes in the Kingdom to come but that he is still running, and that while a character he only calls “you” but whom I interpret to mean Jesus, has broken his bonds and loosed his chains, he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. Have you found what you’re looking for? Do you want something more?
I believe that every time we walk in these doors, we are looking for something. Maybe you are here for the first time today or maybe you’ve been coming in these doors your whole life. But in a society that no longer expects you to be at church on Sunday morning, you don’t walk through these doors for nothing. Why are you here? What are you looking for? Why are you committed to the work of becoming a disciple? Why are you trying to follow Jesus?
The first words out of Jesus’ mouth in the gospel of John are “What are you looking for?” Jesus asks this question of two disciples who have started following him. These disciples have found him because of John the Baptist’s testimony. John had been in the wilderness baptizing with water, causing quite the stir among people in Jerusalem. John knew he was preparing the way for Jesus, and when the Spirit descended upon Jesus during his baptism and remained on him, John knew Jesus was the son of God. He gave Jesus quite the introduction. When he saw Jesus coming, he shouted, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” His whole ministry had been pointing to Jesus, and now here he was. Now that Jesus had come, God in the flesh, John urged his disciples to shift their allegiances to Jesus. In our passage for today, two of John’s disciples start following Jesus. He asks them what they are looking for, but they don’t respond with an answer, only another question. They ask him where he is staying. He tells them to come and see. They stay with Jesus all day, until four o’clock in the afternoon. They hang out with Jesus; they begin a relationship with him. One of them turns out to be a man named Andrew. Andrew goes and gets his brother Simon and brings him to Jesus. Andrew testifies that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one, and when he brings his brother Simon to Jesus, Jesus’ encounter with Simon brings Simon a new name. Jesus tells Simon that he is now to be called Cephas, which is also translated Peter.
This passage is a beautiful story of people bringing those whom they love to meet Jesus. John points his disciples to Jesus; Simon brings his brother. They are all encountering Jesus and bearing witness to who he is. John the Baptist calls him Lamb of God, testifying that he will deliver them and that he has removed any separation between them and God. John also calls him Son of God. Two of John’s disciples call him Rabbi, recognizing his role as teacher, and then after one of them, Andrew, spends time with Jesus, he testifies that Jesus is the Messiah. Whenever Simon encounters Jesus, his entire identity is transformed; he gets a new name; he gets a new purpose in life. We know Simon who becomes Peter as the rock upon which the church was built.
What we learn from this text is that becoming a disciple is about being in relationship with Jesus and allowing that relationship to transform our identity. As we talked about last week, we don’t ever arrive at a final destination in our work of becoming disciples. We are always becoming, always stretching to be who Christ called us to be, always trying to let our identity as God’s beloved child have the most say in our lives and the lives of others. Our text for today teaches us that in order to become disciples, we have to learn how to point people to Jesus. We have to meet people where they are with their deep longings for something more and show them Jesus in our midst. We have to invite them to come and be changed, to see what Jesus is all about, and to let their identity be shaped by him.
Instead of asking ourselves the popular question – “What would Jesus do?” – maybe we should ask ourselves, “What would John the Baptist do?” The answer is point people to Jesus! John the Baptist would urge people to follow Jesus, to go and see what Jesus is up to! When people walk through our doors looking for something more, what do they see? When we invite people into our community of faith, how are we pointing them to Jesus? When they come looking for something more, can they see the Holy Spirit at work in us and through us and even in spite of us?
In his sermon entitled, “A Knock at Midnight,” Martin Luther King, Jr. preached that it was midnight in the social and psychological and moral order. He said that it is in the darkness of midnight that millions of people stand at the door of the church and knock. What are they looking for? He proclaimed that they were looking for the bread of faith, the bread of hope, the bread of love, the bread of peace, and the bread of justice. King wondered what people were finding when they showed up knocking on the door of the church. He warned, “If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause people everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will. But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of humankind and fire the souls of all people, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. People far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight.”[i]
It's midnight in our world too. There is so much more that people are looking for, and it doesn’t look like the kingdom of God has come in our midst. And so, what are we to do when people come knocking on the doors of our church looking for more? How does our life together bear witness to Jesus? Is our work of becoming disciples transforming our identities? Is our ministry together pointing to Jesus? As King reminded us, when the world comes knocking on the door of our church, we are to show them that we are participating actively in the struggle for peace and justice. We are to demonstrate that we are speaking and acting without fear. We are to invite them to come and see that we are kindling the imagination of the world, dreaming that another way is possible. We are to be about the work of offering the sustenance of the bread of faith, hope, love, peace, and justice. King once said that if the church is following its guidelines, it will follow Jesus in his mission of healing the broken hearted and delivering the captives.[ii] When people come knocking on the doors of our church looking for more, looking for Jesus, will they find us about Jesus’s work of healing and liberation? Will they find us being the body of Christ here on earth? When people come knocking on the doors of our church, will they find us pointing to Jesus?
The good news this morning is that Jesus has come, and he is as John the Baptist proclaimed, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. He is our Savior, the one who delivers us, and as we become his disciples by being in relationship with him, we are transformed. But the even better news is that we aren’t the Messiah! It’s not all up to us! Our work is to invite people to come and see what Jesus is doing, to point people to Jesus. We are to invite people to come and see for themselves, to abide with Jesus, to have their deepest longings and desires fulfilled by Jesus, to find the one they have been truly looking for, and to be changed. When the darkness of midnight threatens to defeat us, we can look to Jesus to give us strength. We can find comfort in these words from Martin Luther King’s favorite hymn, Precious Lord, Take my Hand: “Precious Lord, take my hand. Lead me on, let me stand. I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. Through the storm, through the night. Lead me on through the light. Take my hand, precious Lord. And lead me home.” Greenwood Forest, the midnight darkness surrounds us, and the world is knocking, looking for something more. Let’s invite them to come and see and to find the one they’ve been looking for.