Jesus asks the two people following him, “What are you looking for?” It’s a great question and I wonder how seriously we take it? What are we looking for? Are we just looking for a comfortable life? Is that all? Are we just looking to stay busy, to keep our calendars full of some kind of activity so we don’t feel we’re wasting our time? Is that all? Are we just looking for love? Are we just looking for acceptance and respect? Is that the core of what we’re really looking for? Or is it something bigger? More substantial than an easier life for ourselves.
In 1845 a British Arctic expedition set sail to chart the Northwest Passage around the Canadian Arctic to the Pacific Ocean. Neither of the two ships and none of the 138 men aboard returned.
Captain Sir John Franklin prepared according to what he was really looking for. This expedition was likely to be a two to three-year grueling journey through one of earth’s most hostile environments. His packing list reveals what he was—and what he wasn’t—looking for.
He packed a 1,200-volume library, a hand-organ, china place settings, cut-glass wine goblets and sterling silver flatware. What does it sound like he was actually looking for? Perhaps he was looking to impress his friends back in England. Years later, some of these place settings would be found near a clump of frozen bodies.
The ships sailed into frigid waters and became trapped in ice. It coated the decks, the spars and the rigging. Then water froze around the rudders and the ships became hopelessly locked in the frozen sea.
Sailors set out to search for help, but soon died of exposure. The crew was not prepared for the cold or for the possibility of the ships becoming ice-locked. On a voyage which was to last two to three years, they packed only their Navy-issue uniforms and just a 12-day supply of coal for the auxiliary steam engines. The frozen body of an officer was eventually found wearing his uniform of fine blue cloth, edged with silk braid, a blue greatcoat and a silk neckerchief — clothing which was noble and respectful, if that’s what he was looking for, but wholly inadequate for the reality of their situation.
I think that most people actually see what they’re really looking for. Can you imagine how, for instance, our government would be different if we were truly looking for ways to lift people out of poverty? Can you imagine what the church in the US would look like if we were really looking to include those left out as Jesus did?
The answer to that question matters, which means we really need a good answer to that question. “What are you looking for?” Because whatever it is, that’s what we’re likely to see.
Jesus asks two of John the Baptist’s disciples that very question. He notices they are following him after John makes a pretty big deal about Jesus being the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, the Son of God, the Lamb of God. So when Jesus sees them following him, he asks them that really important question, “What are you looking for?”
There’s more at stake in our answer than just getting a bigger house, a promotion, acing a test, getting into a better college. There’s more at stake in our answer than just winning elections or making sure “our people” get into power. Because if that’s as far as we’re looking, then that’s about all we’ll see.
Don’t you think that the answer to that question ought to at least brush up against the priorities of the One who created us in the first place? Shouldn’t the vision of God at least be on the table when we consider how we’ll answer Jesus’ question? Doesn’t it make sense that we should be looking for a world not centered around me and my priorities, but God’s?
That’s the whole point of spiritual practices: worship, prayer, scripture, holy conversation. It’s so we can grow in our awareness of what God is actually up to, so we can be looking for that.
This text in the gospel of John points us to an answer that is fairly significant. “What’re you looking for” Jesus asks the two followers? They answer, “Where are you staying?”
Could the answer be that simple? Just looking for where Jesus is staying? Just looking for where Jesus is spending their time? What would we be seeing if Jesus is what we were looking for?
We’d see Jesus hanging out with those he always hung out with: the homeless, the victims of abuse, refugees and immigrants, those pushed out of power, those on the margins. On this Martin Luther King weekend, and as the whitest denomination in America, we need to acknowledge those we’ve historically excluded in a variety of ways.
We’d see Jesus doing what he always did: working for peace, seeking justice for all people, calling out the abuse of those in power. On this Martin Luther King weekend, we need to recognize Jesus present with those who’ve been short on justice for 400 years of American history.
We’d see Jesus living as he always lived: generously, prayerfully, compassionately, showing mercy to all.
What are we looking for? If we’re looking to follow Jesus, that’s probably who we’re going see. And it’s probably where we’re going to go. And it’s probably what we’re going to do. And it’s probably going to change our lives. And looking for the presence of Jesus is probably going to change the church.
What are you looking for? How we answer that question makes all the difference in the world.
“Where are you staying,” they asked? “Come and see,” Jesus said. Look for Jesus, come and see where he is.