What Are You Looking For?
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 3/22/2015
Based on John 1:28-38
Questions are an inevitable part of life. Our very first thoughts of the day are usually in the form of questions. “What do I have to do today?” “What shall I wear?” “What shall I have for breakfast?” “Where’s my coffee?”
When we get to work we are met with questions and the day usually ends with at least one question, maybe, “What did I forget to do today that needed to have been done?” Some of us even have questions in our dreams!
There are two types of questions, closed-ended questions and open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are used to probe in order to discover deeper levels of understanding. Many a teenager would like to have their parents ask them, “Are you going out?” for it only requires a “yes” or “no” answer. The parent has no idea what that “yes” or “no” answer really means. That’s why parents invented the open-ended questions, “where do you think you’re going?”, or “who will be there?”, and then there’s the, “what will be going on there?” It’s the only way as a parent we can get information out of our children, because it is a natural instinct for teens not to tell you anything specific until asked.
There are times when all you need is a “yes” or “no” answer. “Hey grandma, is dinner at 6 p.m.?” That’s a very straightforward closed-ended question. Unless you had a grandmother like mine, who would give you a 20 minute answer usually about family or community history before giving you the “yes” or “no”.
Jesus was a master at asking open-ended questions. In almost every story about Jesus, He was asking someone a question that was designed to probe. Even in the parables, Jesus designed the stories in a way that provokes opened-end questions? In this morning’s text as an example, after pointing out Jesus as “the chosen one of God” the day before, two of John the Baptizer’s disciples approach Jesus, full of questions. As they approach him, Jesus asks them, “What are you looking for?” When you consider the fullness of scripture, in all of its richness of information in how to live one’s life, possibly one of the most re-occurring themes is that of, “What are you looking for?” This the gnawing question that all the other questions are really asking?
In last week’s story of Jesus and the lawyer, the lawyer was searching for life eternal, even though he had all the answers as to how to find it, he still didn’t know what he truly was looking for. I played the U2 video of, “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” because of the reference to believing in the cross and God’s salvation. Like the lawyer who talked with Jesus, Bono says, even with this knowledge I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. I think this song echoes many of us as we go through life searching for something, but we just can’t quite put our finger on it.
Maybe that is the thing that drives us as humans in being constantly discontent with what we have and always looking across the fence, thinking that the grass is greener on the other side. A certain amount of discontent is healthy, possibly, as it is the motivating force for us to move forward. Think about the desire to look beyond our own world. It isn’t enough that we have yet to understand and explore all that there is to know about the planet that we live our daily lives on, we have this huge curiosity to explore outer space, looking for something – we don’t know what we are looking for, but we are looking for it anyway. We rationalize this search by saying it will help us to better understand our own world, but if we really looked honestly in our hearts for the real reason, it would most likely come out of a sense of “emptiness”; that feeling that we are not quite complete and that maybe somewhere out there we will find that one thing that will complete us.
An old story tells of a rabbi living in a Russian city a century ago. Disappointed by his lack of direction and life purpose, he wandered in the chilly evening. With his hands thrust deep in his pockets, he aimlessly walked through the empty streets, questioning his faith in God, the scriptures and his calling to ministry. The only thing colder than the Russian winter air was the chill within his soul. He felt so enshrouded by his own despair that he mistakenly wandered into a Russian military compound off limits to civilians.
The bark of a Russian soldier shattered the silence of the evening chill. “Who are you? And what are you doing here?” “Excuse me?” replied the rabbi. “I said, ‘Who are you and what are you doing here?”’ After a brief moment, the rabbi, in a gracious tone so as not to provoke the soldier, asked, “How much do you get paid every day?” “What does that have to do with you?” the soldier retorted.
With the delight of someone making a new discovery, the rabbi said, “I will pay you the equal sum if you will ask me those same two questions every day: “Who are you? And ‘What are you doing here?’” pg 3-4 ,Jesus Is the Question, by Martin Copenhaver Jesus would often ask those who were coming to him, “What are you doing here?” and “what are you looking for?” It wasn’t intended so much for his benefit, but rather, for the benefit of those coming to hear Jesus. It’s very much like going to a therapist. We go to a therapist because we know that something isn’t right within us and we are there to find out what it is, so that we can correct it. The therapist asks us many questions that are “open-ended”, as a way of helping us, the patient, learn what our issue is. Once we become aware of what it is we are seeking help with, then we are open to working on how to heal.
I think as spiritual beings, this is where we fall short in our living life to the fullest. We get so busy with stuff, some major, some minor of what we call “life” that we forget to take the time to ask ourselves those really important open-ended questions that we need to ask in order to know what we are needing and seeking. Instead of asking ourselves those profound questions of life, we would rather take the easier direction of trying to fill our lives with stuff, with approval of others, with careers, with diversions, all things that we hope will fill that deep longing that is hidden deep within us, but it never really does. So often we don’t know what we want and then are disappointed when we don’t get it.
This longing, this search that so many of us have is expressed in the Psalms this way, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.” (Psalm 90:1) The philosopher Blaise Pascal says it this way: each of us is born with an empty place in our hearts –a void- that is in the shape of God, and that means that nothing and no one else can entirely or ultimately fill it. This empty space is not a square hole or anything as simple as that, but a complex, hungering, God-shaped space where only God fits and only God can fill. We can try to fill that space with other things – human relationships, careers, or other earthly pursuits – but they will sooner or later leave us unsatisfied. Which means that our task is to learn what we are looking for and who we are looking for. Pg10-11, Jesus is the Question, Martin Copenhaver
As we approach the celebration of resurrection on Easter Sunday, may we dwell on the question, “What are you looking for?” It’s a question that if we can find the answer to, will allow us to grow into a life that provides contentment and peace, even in times that life is like a whirl pool, trying to pull us down. Life is full of questions. Letting ourselves ask some of the more profound questions is the best way of discovering true life. Amen