What Are You Looking For? Where Are You Staying?

This morning I’m filling in at First Presbyterian Church in Hudson Falls, NY. Here’s the sermon:

The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 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 1:27–39a

I must have read this passage from John a couple hundred times. Well, maybe not a couple hundred. But a lot of times.

When I read it last week – actually, when my wife read it aloud to me last week – for the first time I wondered, “What are these questions doing here?”

Maybe it was because I was hearing it out loud. Most of the time I read silently. Whatever the reason, as I heard them again they sounded funny. So funny I laughed out loud. “Ha!”

Jesus is walking along. It’s the day after his baptism. John’s disciples are all standing around on the shore. Maybe it’s a union break. Maybe they have the day off. I don’t know why they’re standing there. Maybe they were kinda hoping Jesus would come back that way.

Lo, and behold! He does come by. So they follow him.

I remember in second grade, one day, I just decided to follow my friend Mark home from school instead of going home. I don’t remember why. I don’t think I had any reason. I thought Mark was cool. We were both “walkers,” kids who walked home from school every day. (I don’t think they let kids be “walkers” any more. Not in the 2nd grade. Maybe it’s my fault. I just followed him home at the end of the day.)

Anyway, John’s disciples had someplace they were supposed to be that day. They were supposed to be following John around. Helping with baptisms. Crowd control. Making sure people were in line. Vetting them for the sins they were going to confess. Making sure all the paperwork was filled out. All that. Instead of that, Jesus walked by and they followed him.

So far, there’s nothing  strange about that. People go where they’re not supposed to all the time. People skip work to go fishing. I followed my friend Mark home in the second grade. Now they don’t have “walkers.”

When Mark realized that I was following him home, I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday. I remember he stopped and turned around and said, “Why are you following me?”

I just shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t know,” I said. Because I didn’t know.

Those were the questions. “Why are you following me?” “I don’t know.”

“Well, I’m going home,” Mark said.

“Ok,” I said.

And off we went, to Mark’s home.

John’s story is a little bit the same way, only the questions are different.

Jesus realizes he’s being followed. He turns around and says to these guys, “What are you looking for?”

They answer with a question. They don’t say, “We don’t know.”

I’m guessing they didn’t know. But when you’re all grown up, you’re not supposed to say, “I don’t know” any more. This isn’t second grade. When you’re grown up, you’re supposed to know what you’re doing, even though most of the time you still don’t.

So they say the first thing that comes to mind. They say, “Where are you staying?”

Jesus says, “Come and see.”

Isn’t that perceptive of Jesus? When he realizes he’s being followed, he sorta already knows that these guys are looking for something.

They haven’t found what they’re looking for with John. They don’t really know what they’re looking for. They don’t know what they want. When they say, “Where are you staying,” he knows they don’t know what they’re doing or why they’re really doing it.

He says, “Come and see.”

Well? Come and see what? Where he’s staying? Really!

For all we know, he’s staying at the Motel 6? He’s not from here by the Jordan. He’s from Galilee. He made the trip down from Nazareth. So it’s not like they’re going home with him for Mary to make them all peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and they can play in the back yard for a while, and Jesus can show them his Lego collection.

Maybe that’s really why I followed Mark home that day. My parents never bought me Legos. But it’s not what Jesus was going to show them when he said, “Come and see.”

Now, here’s the most important thing I’m going to say to you today. They had no idea when they followed Jesus that day what they were going to see. They didn’t know, and we don’t know either, when we set off to follow Jesus, what we’re going to see.

They had no idea that Jesus was going to show them how to heal paralytics, and turn water into wine, and cast out demons by the legions. They didn’t know Jesus would show them how to restore sick and dying little girls and boys to their mothers and fathers, how to walk on water, and how to feed thousands when you’re starting out with just a couple tuna-fish sandwiches.

They had no idea when Jesus said, “Come and see,” that he was going to demonstrate the right way to love prostitutes, and give them a degree in cleansing leprosy. They didn’t realize they were signing on to a plan to give dignity to the poorest of the poor, and to tell off the preachers with rolexes and TV shows.

When Jesus said, “Come and see,” they had no idea that Jesus was going to show them that the Passover Seder was a sign of God’s salvation that went deeper than any Priest or Rabbi had ever let on it did. They had no idea they were going to witness his arrest on trumped up charges, his torture, and his death carried out in the cruelest way any sick, perverted mind could dream up.

They had no idea what they were looking for that day when they decided, for reasons they couldn’t explain, to follow Jesus.

I had no idea that afternoon why I’d decided to follow Mark home from 2nd grade. Most of us, most of the time – if we’re honest with ourselves – have no idea what we’re looking for.

When we got to Mark’s house and I followed him in the side door that day, his mother went into a huge panic. “Who are you?” “What are you doing here?” “Does your mother know where you are?”

All these questions! She was going off the deep end. I was in second grade. I was fine. Why was she so worried? I didn’t get it. I hadn’t considered that grown-ups would get so frazzled by what I’d done.

She asked me if I knew my phone number. I did. She called my mother. She called the school.

My mother came and got me from Mark’s house. She said she had wondered why I was later than usual, but she didn’t let on she was worried. Maybe, in hindsight, she was more worried than she let on. For whatever reason, her only words on the subject were, “You should let your friends’ parents know before you just show up.”

The next day at school, I was called down to the principal’s office. I was in trouble. My mother didn’t seem to be all that concerned, but the principal went up one side of me and down the other.

Again all these questions. “What were you thinking?” “Why did you do that?” “Did you know it was against the rules?” “Do you know what could have happened to you?”

In second grade I had no idea what the answers were to any of the questions the grown-ups were asking me. All I know is, they don’t let kids walk home from school in second grade now, and it’s all my fault.

Most days, I still don’t know what the answers are to all the questions grown ups ask me. Now I have a kid who’s in 4th grade, and he asks me questions I don’t know the answers.

Here’s the thing – and what’s gospel to me in this story. It’s ok that I don’t know the answers to any of these questions.

“What do I think I’m doing?”

I don’t know most of the time.

“Why am I doing this?”

I don’t know.

“Who are you?”

Beats me most days. I get up and stumble into the bathroom and look in the mirror and wonder, “Who let him in here?”

“What are you looking for?”

It’s ok that I don’t know most of the answers. I follow Jesus. He asks me what I’m looking for. I say, “I don’t know.” And then he always says, “Come and see.”