John 1:38 “What do you want?” [“What are you looking for?”]
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2016 – A tough year… Trump / Brexit / Syria…
2017 – What will it bring?
In reality, were these two years so different? 1916/1917!
Society at a crossroads? Meanwhile – people keep spending, debt rises…
We want something – not sure of what it is, but there is sense of emptiness and longing in so much of society.
And in Church – the question ‘what do you want?” tends to bring answers in terms of a full church, all ages, clear leadership, enthusiasm, a Minister who is God’s gift to the Church, works every hour God gives but doesn’t neglect his family…. We could go on…
What do you want? What are you looking for? How typical of Jesus to make his first question (at least in John’s gospel) such a difficult, perceptive and deep one. When I read today’s readings through earlier in the week, that question just knocked me over! And if you take nothing else away, please take the text and wrestle with it in the days to come – and see what God says to you through it!
But when you put the text and the passage alongside our other readings – you can see that this isn’t the first time God has posed this kind of question…
Isaiah 49 – One of the Servant Songs – sets God’s call to Israel in a particular framework. It leaves no place for self-congratulation (we’ve been called, we’re special!) Instead God makes clear that the people of God have a servant role.
v3: “You are my servant through whom I shall win glory”
v4: “Once I said, ‘I have toiled in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing, and to no purpose.’ Yet my cause is with the Lord and my reward with my God.”
What do you want? – Both those verses make clear what is in God’s mind. And of course at the end of the passage the role of the servant is clarified even more. It is not simply enough to bring the 12 tribes back to God – nothing less than the whole world will do!
v6 “It is too slight a task for you, as my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob, to bring back the survivors of Israel: I shall appoint you a light to the nations so that my salvation may reach earth’s farthest bounds.”
Reminiscent of Covenant Service promises? What do you want? – Who is the “you” in that sentence?
Hardly surprising that passages such as this were applied to Jesus?
Psalm 40 – The Psalmist witness to a deep experience of having wants met. It’s a spiritual experience – one of rescue. “From sinking sands he lifted me” – it’s that type of experience.
v2 “He raised me out of the miry pit.. He set my feet on rock.”
And of course from the experience of salvation, the Psalmist sings his songs of praise and enjoins everyone to sing along!
1 Corinthians 1 – the beginning of a long-standing correspondence? The first two readings give the sense of background to this congregation.
– Called to be saints…
– Not lacking in any spiritual gift…
John 1 – two characters in the passage examine their wants. John the Baptist and Andrew.
John is the one who declares Jesus to be the one that his people want and need – “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”
And having made the identification, he goes on the point it out to others… “He it is of whom I said…” John, whose ministry of preparing the way is almost at an end, sees in Jesus the one whom he wants, and whom he wants the people to want!
And then there is Andrew. Given the way in which Simon Peter has pre-eminence in the gospels and in the church, it’s a wonderful touch that John includes here in his account. (Maybe a sign of continuing tension between a ‘Peter Party’ and a ‘Beloved Disciple’ Group – as witnessed in the end of the gospel?) That aside, it is Andrew who tumbles upon Jesus after hanging around with John. And we read:
v41 “The first thing he did was to find his brother Simon and say to him, ‘we have found the Messiah.’”
We could discuss for ever exactly what he might have meant – but what seems clear is that Andrew perceives in Jesus not only someone he wants his brother to meet, but someone for whom he believes his people have been waiting a long long time. The Messiah was the one the people expected to free them and to heal them and make them whole. “What do you want? We want the Messiah”
And seeing that raises the question that was to go through the gospels… What sort of Messiah do you want? Do you want a Jesus who will solve all of our problems with a flick of the wrist? Or are we prepared for a Jesus who is truly “flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone?” The gospels demand that we see that not simply a question which First Century Judaism faced – it’s part of Jesus’ “what do you want?” question asked to us as well.
“What are you looking for?” “What do you want?” Jesus’ questions which still come to us down the centuries. What might we say?
a: Above all, as I said earlier, this is a question to wrestle with.
In a busy activist church it is too easy to assume that the question should be “What can we do for Christ?” But Jesus’ question comes first – “What are you looking for?” And note that when we respond, so does Jesus – “Come and see” is his invitation. Faith, verified by Jesus, grows forever because it is inspired by the Spirit, focused on Christ and grounded in God.
Like those who heard the Servant Song words of Isaiah, it’s too easy to assume that we know what God has in store for us. But remember, the glory always belongs to God.
Alessandro Pronzato wrote “In the desert you discover your true name, and God calls you by that name.” Only as we discover who we are, do we discover what we want and what we need to look for.
b: Mission, and Society’s aspirations.
If we ask anyone in our area today “What are you looking for?” Or “What do you want?” I can guarantee that “The Messiah” will not feature in the answer – unless we’re in the Classical Music section of a Music Shop! But there are aspirations, there is emptiness, there is a search for meaning – and a general feeling that the Church is not the place to look for answers?
Two things are hugely important tasks for the contemporary Church. One is articulating Christian answers to 21st century issues, the other is finding 21st century ways of expressing Christian doctrines and beliefs. We are very good at offering the answers to questions people are not asking! We need to learn to listen for the questions that are being asked so as to discover ways of addressing them.
Psalmist – his was an experience of rescue – and that was what he spoke of. Testimony has a place within mission, but again it needs to be addressed to the needs of those around us.
Jesus began his work by probing to the depths of human experience. If we do not scratch where folk are itching, then we miss them and they miss us.
c: What sort of Jesus are we looking for?
Mission series featuring pictures of Jesus from different cultures… Interesting reactions!
Christians often berate the Jews for missing Jesus – yet we are so good at missing Jesus ourselves! Christmas – the fast of the incarnation – “The Word made Flesh” usually followed by weeks of behaving as if God had never become part of our lives and part of our world.
How open are we to the rich diversity of pictures of Jesus that we encounter in the Bible and Christian tradition? Jesus wants to open our eyes, minds and hearts to the depths of God….
What do you want? Here’s a poem with that title.
He turned and asked me, what do you want?
And suddenly I found myself unable to answer.
I thought I knew, I really thought I knew.
A fine car! A gracious house! A loyal friend!
More money than I could possibly dream of,
Good health, world peace, and an end to hunger, grief and pain,
No more death, or dying, or tears or heart aching weary longing.
What do you want? The question left me speechless,
Silent because too many things clamoured for attention
Or perhaps too few, none at all
All hope gone and all longing dead?
For I have longed before for so many things
But disappointment has quenched the fire,
Experience diminished the need.
I have taught myself to long no longer
Hating the pain of a child on Christmas Eve, Birthday Eve, or Holiday Eve, New Car Eve or New Baby Eve.
What do you want? He asked again
Speaking to a rusty, weary child within,
Waking up to the me that long ago got lost
In duty disappointment and despair.
For only a child can enter here. He seemed to say,
Only a child can hear this call.
With unpractised voice, fearful of another let down,
I heard the question and knew the beginning of the answer.
“Where do you live?” I asked, as a child might ask of a stranger,
A perilous question fraught with unknown danger.
“Come and see”, he said.
What do you want? May God in Christ guide our thinking that we may ask him where he’s going and have the grace to follow. Amen.