Lost and Found
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29The next day he (John) saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When 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?” 39He 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. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He 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).
One of the things I love to do when I travel to a new city is allow myself at least one afternoon to get totally lost. On purpose. I have done this in many different cities, and I always discover something interesting I never would have discovered otherwise. This works very well when I am traveling alone or with David. He and I are perfectly happy to take a subway or a bus to an unknown neighborhood, and then wander around until we find something interesting to do or see or eat. Mitchell and Rachel, on the other hand, want a schedule and a map and a YELP-approved restaurant at the end of the journey. So when the four of us travel together, there are squabbles about how much planning to do or not do. But I still maintain that the best moments in travel happen when and where you least expect them. You cannot plan surprises and, last time I looked, YELP doesn’t have a serendipity rating. Sometimes you just have to wander aimlessly to find the place you had no idea you were looking for.
This week, I have been thinking about how the disciples coped with Jesus’ tendency to sort of wander around without any sort of plan. It’s sort of strange, isn’t it? Jesus begins his ministry with big broad brushstrokes — to proclaim good news to the poor and release for the captives – and here in the gospel of John, Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Now proclaiming good news and releasing captives and dealing with sin are all very good things to do, but you never really hear Jesus plot out how those things are going to happen. There’s no strategic plan. No program or curriculum. No nothing. Just Jesus and the disciples traveling around and showing up in towns and villages.
The introduction of Jesus in the gospel of John is very different from what we have been hearing in the gospel of Matthew over the past few weeks. Matthew gives us a long genealogy that connects Jesus to the Old Testament tradition beginning with Abraham and Isaac. In Matthew, we have a birth narrative. And in Matthew, we have a baptism during which the voice of God clearly tells us who Jesus is – the Son of God, the beloved One.
The gospel of John does not seem so interested in history. The writer does not include an infant narrative, nor does it include a baptism scene like we encountered last week in Matthew. In John, Jesus just walks into the scene with no annunciation and no genealogy and no baptism, yet somehow, John immediately knows who Jesus is. When Jesus walks toward him, John just knows that this man is not only his cousin, but also the One the world has been waiting for. John didn’t know him, but now John he does. The Messiah has found John.
Rachel and I used to have a running joke and it goes something like this. “Hey, Rachel, guess what? I found Jesus!”
“Yeah, he was under the sofa cushion the whole time.”
Or another variation: “Guess what? I found Jesus!”
“Really? I didn’t know he was missing.”
I know, I know. It’s not very funny. I know it’s totally irreverent and horrible. But it is nevertheless true that we think it takes a whole lot of energy and time to find Jesus, and much of our language circles around this notion that Jesus is playing some sort of hide and seek with us and if we are clever enough or good enough people, we will find him. We think we need a PLAN and a MAP to get to Jesus, when I think quite the opposite is true. I think Jesus is pretty much everywhere, always as close to us as he was to John the Baptist when they finally met on the river bank. I think the problem is that we are just terrible at recognizing Jesus. And the more religious we are, the harder it is, I think, for Jesus to get to us.
One of my favorite Christian philosophers, Soren Kierkegaard points out that church people often assert that they would have most certainly recognized Jesus as the Messiah had they been living at the time of Christ. This is absolutely ridiculous, says Kierkegaard. One only needs a very passing knowledge of the Gospel to understand that the most religious people in Jesus’ time were the ones most likely to walk right by him or pretend they can’t see him or reject him entirely. Doesn’t it seem in scripture that it is always the heretics, the outcasts, the deep down dirty sinners and guys possessed by demons who could take one look at Jesus and said, “Hey, it’s you!”
But two of John’s disciples are curious enough to leave John and follow Jesus. But in the gospel of John, Jesus doesn’t say, “Follow me.” He doesn’t tell them to drop their nets or say goodbye to their families. Jesus simply asks them, what are you looking for? The disciples seem startled, as if this was the last question they expected to hear from Jesus. And the truth is, they probably haven’t the faintest idea what they are looking for. So they respond with another question: “Where are you staying?”
It is probably worth mentioning here that the Greek verb for staying – meno – can also be translated as remaining or abiding. Meno is used to describe the Spirit “remaining” on Jesus, and it is used twice in verse 39 to refer both to where Jesus was staying and that the disciples remained with Jesus. “Meno” isn’t just hanging out or touching base or having lunch, but about entering into a relationship deeply enough to experience life changing, life shaping stuff. It’s moving in close and staying awhile to find out what Jesus is all about. Which is what the two men do. They remain with Jesus and are so changed by the experience that one of them, Andrew, invites his brother Simon to come and see Jesus.
What are you looking for? What does this mean to be a disciple? What does it mean to meet this fully human Jesus, who turns around and says, “What are you looking for?”
And of course, you know, Jesus has got you there. He’s got you because he’s not asking you what you want. He’s not even asking you what you need. He’s asking the big question, the eternal question that will strip away all of that and reveal who you are.
Holocaust survivor Ellie Wiesel (Ellie Veezel) tells the story of a three year old boy who keeps running into the forest. His father wanted to know: “Why are you wasting your time in the forest? Why do you go there? “I am looking for God,” said the 3 year old boy. “Isn’t God everywhere?” asked the father. “And isn’t He everywhere the same?” “He is, but I am not,” replied the child.
In the Isaiah text this morning, we hear the words of another prophet who is also trying to move us to a place where we might be fully disclosed, that part of the forest where our true selves might be revealed by our never changing creator. God’s intention for us is with us from before our birth, before we were formed in our mother’s wombs, and it is a true measure of our deep sinfulness that we spend so much of our lives alienated from our true selves, imagining we can play a cosmic game of hide and seek with God.
The little boy who keeps running into the forest is onto something I think. It’s not that we can’t find God in our offices or our classrooms, the bar or the bank, the soup kitchen or the homeless shelter. God is there. God made the world and exists in the world, in places both profane and sacred.
But it is here in worship, when we gather at font and table, that we are like that little boy in the forest. Yes, God is everywhere the same. But it is here where we put ourselves in the way of Jesus and when we do that, we are not the same.. It is here where we learn to see differently. And this is where we begin to learn how to see Jesus.
It is here that we confess our deepest sinfulness. It is here that we receive the forgiveness that we are not at all certain we deserve. It is here that we die to our old selves and become new creations in Christ through the sacrament of baptism. It is here that we are lifted into participation in the very Kingdom of God through our holy communion of the bread and the cup. It is here that we hear the living Word of God, so that the Holy Spirit may move in and shape up and shake up our lives. It is here that we lift up our deepest sorrows, our greatest joys, our darkest fears and our most profound hopes in prayer and thanksgiving. It is here that we are fully revealed to be exactly what we were created to be. Children of God. Loved and forgiven for the many and various ways we miss God’s presence and mess up.
What are you looking for?
“Come and see,” is every good storyteller’s plea, because until you enter into the world of the story there really is nothing to see. “Come and see,” can also be scary because it beckons us to a place we’ve never been. A place where you have to abandon your maps and your plans and your programs, and slip into that forest where anything at all can happen if you have eyes that are open wide enough to see its wonder. You have to get over the panic of feeling lost, because being lost isn’t the worst thing. Getting lost, in fact, makes it easier for Jesus to get close. The truth is that God’s presence with you has very little to do with what you feel or think. But it has everything to do with your willingness to go into the forest and see what happens.
Not surprisingly, we would prefer to see first and then decide whether to enter the story and abide there, but eyesight is curiously deceptive in this uncommon place. Even at the story’s end, “seeing,” falls short: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
That’s the sort of world Jesus invited the disciples to inhabit with him. And he’s still inviting disciples today. To get lost on purpose. To trust him so deeply that we are willing to truly “go with the flow” of the Holy Spirit and get ready to be surprised by the journey.
So, no, I haven’t found Jesus. But Jesus found Andrew and Peter. And Jesus found me. And he found you. And you. And you.
The real miracle of it all, the grace that’s truly amazing, is that he keeps finding us.
We’ve traveled through the Advent streams together. We’ve been burned and tempered by the heat and light of the Advent texts. We’ve stumbled through the wilderness, blinking in the brilliant light of a star of wonder. We heard the baby’s cry. We’ve been dunked in the Jordan by a wild-eyed man preaching repentance for the sins we don’t want to admit we have. Yet, here we are. Face to face with the one who made us, called us, knows us, and loves us into being. Here in the deep dark forest of our lives, we have been found.