Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | January 15, 2023
Many years ago when I was single, I went on a date with a woman who told me she had a checklist of one hundred traits and qualities that she was looking for in a partner. Some were considered deal breakers, and others were flexible.
In the deal breakers column were items such as – No smoking – no drugs – no diseases – not controlling – no cats.
Of the more flexible traits were items such as – Prefers lakes – balding okay – offers help but doesn’t take over – light drinker.
There were even some idealistic qualities such as – forgives self and others – listens well – intuitive – wise. She certainly knew what she was looking for in a partner. I had not thought through it in such detail. I was more of an “I’ll know her when I find her” type of guy.
Anyway, we only went on one date. After that one date we just spent as much time together as possible until we got engaged then married. After 22 years, her checklist of traits and qualities is still holding up and my “I’ll know her when I find her” has been vindicated. One item on her list she was willing to let go of on my behalf, is that she is slightly taller than me.
Sometimes we know exactly what we are looking for and we enjoy the discovery. Sometimes we aren’t so sure of the specifics and we appreciate the journey and the process of discovery.
People will say, “In all honesty I’m not sure I believe all that stuff about God and Jesus. In fact, I have my doubts and I see them as valid. So no, there’s a lot of it I just don’t believe. Maybe that means I can’t be a Christian.”
I always appreciate the honesty. I say that if being a Christian is agreeing to a certain set of beliefs – thinking the right way, so to speak – and you don’t believe or think that way – then according to your own criteria you might not identify yourself as a Christian.
But if you have questions about God, questions about the nature of your soul, about what is the spirit of life, the meaning of life beyond what you can see and touch for yourself, then you are on a spiritual journey – a faith journey.
Jesus never said, “You must adhere to this particular set of beliefs.” He never said, “I want you to be a Christian.” He did say there are certain things we must do – but do them as a means of entry to the journey rather than an end point.
Such as you must –
Be born of the Spirit if you are to see the realm of God.
Become like a child if you are to see the realm of God.
Love one another.
Forgive those who have wronged you.
Turn the other cheek.
Go the extra mile.
In the gospel of John, the portrait of Jesus is a story of search and discovery. The story is set up by describing Jesus as the “Word made flesh.” God’s creative will, the “word” that brings things into being, brought to bear in a person. Jesus of Nazareth. As the story unfolds, Jesus is revealed through a series of ‘I am’ statements.
These statements are the writer’s technique of revealing a mystery. The story of John’s Gospel often refers back to the story of Moses who first encountered God in a mysterious burning bush. When he wanted to know God’s name, God responded by saying, “I am who I am.” Jesus reveals the mystery.
The story starts out with Jesus being identified by John the Baptist. John points him out by saying, “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb! He forgives the sins of the world!” Some of John’s students followed after Jesus. He saw them trailing along behind him.
So here is the image of God in a human person and what might the storyteller have him say as his first words of introduction? The first words that Jesus utters in John’s story are a question. And not a loaded question but simply, “What are you looking for?” He asked. An open-ended question. Everything that follows in the gospel is in a sense an answer to that first question, His last words in the gospel are, “Follow me.” Truth is between those two parentheses.
Two guys had trailed behind him. “What are you looking for?” he asked them. Were they even sure? Something, but what, who knows? Truth? Maybe. But what is truth? That question would come later. “Where are you staying?” was the best they could answer. “Come and see,” he said. And so begins the journey.
What are you looking for is an easy question if you have something specific in mind. But if the question involves something deeper, such as the meaning of life, then answering the question involves a process of search and discovery.
What do you say when Jesus asks you, “what are you looking for?”
We might want to say, “What do you mean, what am I looking for? Can you rephrase the question?”
But he doesn’t rephrase the question. He doesn’t water it down or make it any easier to understand. “What are you looking for?” requires that we do some work defining our needs. Then once we have some sense of our need, we move along in the faith journey.
What are you looking for? Imagine Jesus asking you that question. Think about it for a moment. What are you looking for? How would you answer in your heart of hearts?
What am I looking for? I don’t know, maybe I’m not looking for anything. But now that you ask, peace of mind, maybe. Love. Success, power, wealth. What does it all mean? Who am I, really? Where is my soul?
Come and see, he tells us. Come and see. God gives us what we need, but not in ready-made form. God gives us the seeds of wisdom, the seeds of strength, the seeds of courage and so forth. We grow through life’s events.
It’s elusive. Jesus said that we wouldn’t be able to point to it in any definitive way. We discover it within us, or among us. People asked him, “How may I have it?” And he would point them to Scripture and ask them what they read there.
He only described it by way of analogy. It’s like, it’s as if. He told stories to illustrate it. Stories that revealed a merciful God; a God with a sense of humor; a God even willing to play the fool if that’s what it took; but above all, the God Jesus revealed was a God of uncompromising love. That is, God who loves no matter what.
The closest he came to saying, “this is it,” is when he said that the most important thing we can do is love God with our whole selves and love our neighbor as we would love ourselves.
A couple of years after Lindsay and I were married, I decided to make my own list of traits and qualities. Not for her, but for church; the kind of church I would like to spend time with.
This is the list I came up with – I would like to serve a church where the people love God wholeheartedly and love their neighbors as themselves. A church that welcomes all of God’s children not because they’ve earned the right to be there but because Jesus invited them to the table.
This would be a church in which stewardship is not about raising money for the budget, but about raising Christians for the kingdom of God. A church where people have more questions than answers, who think critically and take Scripture and its mandates seriously, so that people do more than give lip service to ideals like peace and justice and where people stand up for what they believe even if it isn’t the popular thing to do. The church I would like to serve is one that has a vision for mission to its community and for a world that is bigger than “our own backyard.”
I want to serve a church where young people are valued and encouraged and where old people can share their wisdom.
I want to serve a church where leaders roll up their sleeves and get to work, a church that doesn’t personalize conflict and where the common ground of faith in Christ is stronger than the differences.
I want a church where laughter is heard, where the kitchen gets used and where little kids run around the fellowship hall. A church where the carpets get worn out because people walk on them and where people don’t worry about smudges because that’s how custodians make a living.
I want to serve a church where people will step out on faith and live their hopes and not their fears. A church where we affirm the dignity of all people.
A church where we welcome into the life of our community of faith people of every age, gender, race, country of origin, ethnic heritage, sexual orientation, mental or physical abilities or condition, education, marital or economic status, cultural or religious background.
A church where all people are welcomed and affirmed at the Lord’s Table and at ours.”
I’ve found what I’ve been looking for in various places and in various people. I found it here. What are you looking for? Come and see. Amen.