“What are you looking for? The first words of Jesus in John’s gospel, from our reading last Sunday. He speaks them to Andrew and another disciple. He also speaks them to each of us.
People often worry about the lifestyle of many of today’s young people – and the culture adopted by so many of drinking, clubbing, casual relationships and so on. “Not like it was in our day – we were so much better behaved,” I hear you saying!
Of course, it’s actually nothing new at all. People made the same complaints about young people in the Roman Empire. Young people have always behaved in a way of which their elders disapproved. And one young man we know a lot about was Saint Augustine. Because Augustine, before he became a Christian and subsequently one of Christianity’s greatest thinkers and writers, had a bit of a reputation. And we know about his reputation because he later wrote about it.
Born in the year 354 in North Africa he had been brought up a Christian but, much to his mother Monica’s despair, got in (as we say) with a bad lot and went off the rails. He became well known as being somewhat over fond of women. And it was during this time of his life that he uttered his famous prayer: Lord, grant me chastity and continence – but not yet! How many people must have, at some point in their lives, uttered a similar prayer and ended with but not yet!
Augustine records how, soon after his conversion, he was walking down the street in Milan in Italy. There he encountered a prostitute whom he had known, as he put it, rather too well. She called to him but he ignored her and kept right on walking. You see – he was doing his best to be a different person! He tells us what happened next.
“Augustine,” she called again. “It is I!” Without slowing down, but with the assurance of Christ in his heart, he responded, “Yes, but it is no longer I.” Although young in the faith, he knew something of how great the change was in his life, and of what God had done for him. His reply, “It is no longer I,” expresses a realisation that he had a new power available within him to combat the forces of sin and evil which would seek to dominate his life – because the spirit of God was at work in his life and his life now belonged to God. He was a changed man. He had encountered Jesus and his life would never be the same again.
Throughout the gospels we see how Jesus changed people’s lives. How when people encountered Jesus things changed. For the fact is that whatever or whoever came into living contact with Jesus was never quite the same afterwards. Today, in our gospel reading, we see three people whose lives are changed by Jesus when they have an encounter with him. John the Baptist is standing with two of his disciples when Jesus walks by. John makes what must have seemed to those two disciples the strange statement, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” At any rate, they then follow after Jesus.
And Jesus asks them, “What are you looking for?” Not, “Hello,” or “Can I help you with something,” but a rather more direct, “What are you looking for?”
These are the first words Jesus says in John’s gospel. And that makes them highly significant. Because John is always saying something hugely significant – it’s a deeply theological gospel. What are you looking for? John gives us these words as Jesus’ first words in his gospel because he wants each of us to answer the question. What are you looking for? On the surface a rather basic question, but when you think about it also a rather deep one. Think about how you might respond if you were to find yourself in their situation and face to face with Jesus and Jesus says to you, “What are you looking for?” What are you looking for at this moment in your life? What are you looking for in your life as a whole? A question full of import.
Well, they don’t give a straight answer. They evade the question. Perhaps they didn’t know what they were looking for? Or perhaps they lacked confidence in being straightforward and saying, “Why did John call you the Lamb of God?” Perhaps they saw in the question Jesus wanting to know their deepest desire for life. So they simply ask Jesus where he is staying. And Jesus says, “Come and see!”
And from that point their lives change for ever. They go with Jesus to his lodgings and spend the day with him. And by mid-afternoon Andrew, who is one of the two disciples, has realised who Jesus is. He is the Messiah, the anointed one of God, that everyone has been waiting for and whom John the Baptist has been talking about.
The other disciple isn’t named. But we are almost certain who it was. The Early Church Fathers believed that it was the one who had written this gospel. They believed it was John, the patron of our church – John the apostle and evangelist who, with Andrew, goes with Jesus. And then Andrew goes and gets his brother Simon and brings him to Jesus – and Jesus takes one look at Simon and declares him to be Cephas, Peter – which means “The rock”. The rock upon which Jesus said he would build his Church.
When Andrew and the other disciple, traditionally John, came into the presence of Jesus, when Simon came into the presence of Jesus, their lives were changed. It has been so ever since: whatever and whoever is brought into contact with the living spirit of Jesus has been altered, changed, made different. Take the church building itself. In one sense just like any other building – made of bricks, stone, wood, mortar – the kind things that of which buildings everywhere are made. Bring this building into contact with the spirit of Christ – in other words, consecrate it, fill it with worshipping people, and it becomes a house of God, a place for prayer, a place where we meet with God in spirit and in truth. The building, the stones or bricks, the wood and mortar, are used by God in a special and marvellous way. It’s not like any other building – it feels special.
And we too, are changed. Andrew was changed when he left John the Baptist to follow Jesus with the other disciple. Simon was changed when his brother found him and dragged him off to meet the Messiah. Their whole way of life changed – no longer to be spent working on the fishing boats but, even though they didn’t know it at this point, to be spent leading the infant Church. When Augustine discovered Jesus his way of life changed – no longer to be spent in a somewhat questionable lifestyle, he was to become one of the Christian Church’s greatest writers and thinkers. And like them we too are changed. For it is not saints that Jesus changes, it is ordinary people. Andrew, John, Simon, Augustine – these were not special people when they came into contact with Jesus, they were just ordinary people leading ordinary lives – or in Augustine’s case someone leading a dissolute life. And Jesus changed them. And Jesus wants to change our lives too.
Each week, as we come together to share Holy Communion, we encounter Jesus. For Jesus takes the ordinary things of ordinary life – bread and wine – and changes them. At the last supper with his disciples he took bread and wine into his hands and said “This is my Body” – “This is my Blood”. And since the very beginning of the Church his followers have continued to take ordinary bread and ordinary wine as he commanded believing that they became his body and his blood. And that as they shared them together they had a real encounter with Jesus.
So as you come forward to the communion rail today remember that you are coming to Jesus. You are having an encounter with Jesus as real as the one Andrew and John and Simon had during his earthly life. And imagine that Jesus is asking you what he asked them, “What are you looking for?” He really wants to know what it is that you seek in life for he cares about you. And when you’ve given him your answer he says to you, “Come and see.”
Come and see me. Come and see where I am, what I do. Come and see me and listen to me. Spend time with me and let me teach you. Come to me. And let me show you how I can change your life. Come and see.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, you ask each person who encounters you, “What is it you are looking for?” Help us to be honest with you, and then help us to embrace your invitation to come to you, and to see where you want to take us into the future.