Homily, What are You Looking for?
Second Sunday after the Epiphany, 2023
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF
Today’s Lectionary Readings:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“What are you looking for?”
These are the first words spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of John. And while at first glance they seem fairly simple and ordinary, perhaps there is something deeper going on here.
“What are you looking for?”
In our gospel passage today Jesus is being followed by two of John the Baptist’s disciples, whose curiosity about Jesus was peaked by their teacher, John, who told them that this guy, Jesus, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And so without saying a word to Jesus, they just start following him. And when Jesus notices that he is being followed, he turns around and confronts them, “What are you looking for?”
Now if two strangers randomly started following you, you might do the same thing. Can I help you? Why are you following me? What are you looking for? Either that or walk faster and try to lose them.
But when Jesus speaks to them, he speaks in a much more invitational way. Almost as if he can see through them into their soul. He actually wants to know not just what they are looking for in this moment, but what they are looking for in their souls. In the depths of their hearts.
We don’t know much about these two disciples, but we know they are looking for something. That they desire something. They feel driven by something. They feel in their hearts called towards something.
Only someone who feels in their chest an indescribable longing would join someone like John to live on the edge of society in the wilderness. Only someone who’s soul is looking for something would drop everything they are doing to follow someone like Jesus, who they hardly even know. These are two people searching for God’s call on their life. And Jesus knows they will hear that call when they pay attention to their desire.
You know, I don’t think we are so different than these two disciples. We’re always looking for something too. We’re always searching for God’s call on our lives. I think you are here today because you also feel a longing in your heart. And you want to know what it is that makes your heart stir and what it is that God is calling you to. What are you looking for?
And we always have this longing and searching heart because God is always calling us. God may be calling us to one thing in one season of our lives, but as that season draws to a close the call of God speaks to us again. God is always calling us. And our desire, our longing, is actually the place where God speaks to us.
And so when Jesus asks those two disciples what they are looking for, he is actually inviting them to pay attention to that longing in their hearts, because he knows that before God ever called them by name, God called them by stirring up their hearts. And the same is true of us. When we pay attention to the desires of our hearts—not the wants of our ego—but the desires of our hearts, we will find there also the desire of God. What are you looking for, Jesus asks?
But we don’t always know what we are looking for, do we? We may know we are looking for something, we may feel the longing in our heart, but discerning the specifics about what God is calling us to do or be is certainly the challenging part, isn’t it?
And it’s for that reason I love the response of the two disciples to Jesus’ question. Jesus asks them what they are looking for, but they don’t answer his question. Perhaps they don’t know themselves what they are looking for. They know they are looking, but they don’t know enough to answer Jesus’ question. And so they answer his question with their own question, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
See these two disciples know that if they can just spend some time with Jesus, perhaps the answer to what God is calling them to will become clear. And so Jesus invites them, “come and see.” And the passage says they spent the whole day together. It was four in the afternoon, the Sabbath would start at sundown and they wouldn’t be able to travel far according to their custom, and so they stayed with Jesus. And while we don’t know what they did in that time or what conversations they had, what they talked about, we know they decided to become Jesus’ disciples, and so they took up a new vocation. They discerned God’s call in their lives.
We can only discern the call of God in the depths of our hearts when we intentionally take time to spend with Jesus.
God is calling each one of us today. You can feel it in your chest. You can sense it in your longing, your desire for something more, the stirring of your heart. God may be calling you to a new ministry: to be a priest or deacon, to be a lay preacher or a food pantry volunteer. To be a choir member or Bible Study facilitator. God may be calling you to a new habit: to choosing joy, to praying more, to taking better care of your body. God may be calling you to a new relationship: a friendship with your neighbor, a connection with a mentor or spiritual director. But you won’t know unless you first pay attention to the stirring in your heart and then take them time to spend with Jesus in prayer.
I know there are a lot of people in our congregation searching right now, like the disciples in our gospel ready. There are people searching for purpose in retirement and as they grow older. There are people searching for ways to deepen their faith while in the busyness of working and parenting. There are people searching for direction as their bodies are unable to do the things they once did. There are four discernment groups seeking God’s call together about the possibility of ordination here at Good Shepherd.
And so I want to encourage you. God is speaking. The longing in your heart is the call of God. What are you looking for? Stop and pay attention to that stirring in your heart. And spend some time with Jesus in prayer. Perhaps then you will find the answer. Amen.