Lived Experience

 Inspired by John 1:35-51

I was at a hardware store the other day, looking for a water supply line for our ice maker. I went to the appliance department, and they had some but not the one I was looking for, not the one that their website said they had in stock, seven of them! Now at this point, probably sooner, any other sane person would have just asked for help. Not me. Maybe because I don’t like to bother people that have way more important things to do, or maybe it’s just my own stubborn pride. So, as I’m wandering through the store I pass by their breakroom. There was no way I was going to ask one of them. I remember all too well working retail and how important a break was, if you even got one.

So I kept wandering. I passed many employees in my travels there, but I kept walking. Well, at some point I started getting frustrated that I couldn’t find what I was looking for, especially because I had a limited amount of time as I had to pick up Jesha and I don’t like making people wait for me. Again, any other sane person would have just asked for help. Not me. But just as I was about to go find an associate, I passed one, we said hi to each other, and lo and behold, he asked me that golden question, “Can I help you find something? Whatcha looking for?” Now, I almost, out of pure instinct, said, “No. I’m good.” But I fought that instinct and said, “Actually, yes.” And he quickly helped me find right what I was looking for. 

As I walked away from that encounter, I started thinking about all the employees that I passed, who never said a word to me. I’m sure you’ve all been there. But then I realized that there was one thing different about the one that offered his help. He was a person of color. Latino to be exact. So, was that just a coincidence? It very well could be. But that’s not what my experience has taught me. There are some other real possibilities. Because maybe, his own experience played into this. Maybe, he saw a person of color and thought, “I wonder how long this guy's been wandering around without any help?” Because maybe, he’s been there too, as a person of color in a store. Maybe it was his own lived experience that caused him to ask, “Whatcha looking for?” Hold that thought. 

I’m not sure how many of you use a red-letter Bible. I do. It’s a Bible that has all of Jesus’ words in red print. I have found it an important tool, especially when starting to read through one of the Gospels. The first thing it highlights is Jesus’ first words in the Gospel you happen to be reading. And that is always enlightening. Think about it, if you were writing a book about Jesus, the first words that you put in Jesus’ mouth to share with others would be pretty important! Same with the Biblical writers. And I love that in John, those first words from Jesus come in the form of a question. After two of John the Baptist’s followers hear him refer to Jesus as The Lamb of God, they immediately begin to follow Jesus, and when he sees them following he asks, “What are you looking for?” 

Now, when I’ve read these call stories before from the Gospels, my attention has usually been on why they followed Jesus in the first place. I mean, he hadn’t even done anything yet and they just follow him. So, I’m usually wondering, what was it about him that drew them so? But this time, I found myself wondering, why would he ask that? It’s not a typical question that you ask someone. In fact, in some circumstances, it could come across as rude! Or, at the very least, a question of annoyance. But I’m not getting any of that here. I’ve mentioned before that John likes to be mysterious, and sometimes that mysteriousness comes out in double meanings. But the frustrating part is not knowing which one John meant! Take this question for example. 

“What are you looking for?” On the surface, it could very well be a simple question, right? Maybe he was just asking them if they needed directions to the nearest synagogue! It’s possible! But let me warn you before you go down that path with John. John is a deep thinker, and rarely is it wise to take his words at face value. Which can be frustrating, but also quite magical at the same time! Because if he wasn’t just asking if they needed directions, what was he asking? How deep of a question was this? What are you looking for to bring you happiness? Even deeper? What are you looking for in life? What are you looking for from God? What are you looking for from your fellow humans? How profound of a question was this! We don’t know, but as we will see, rarely is anything simple with John, and maybe that’s why people love him so much. 

What can help us with this question is what will help us with the entire book, and that’s remembering what John revealed to us in chapter one—that Jesus wasn’t just God’s son, nor a wise rabbi—Jesus was the Word made flesh. And so, remembering that, maybe Jesus was coming to them with that question, the same way that Latino employee came to me, with a lived experience that caused him to ask, “What are you looking for?” Because the Word made flesh, was flesh, like you and me, and wandered through his world with the same longings that you and I do, the same yearnings that those first disciples did. Love? Peace? Hope? Trust? Rescue? You see, for John, Jesus always enters a scene with his heart first. More than that, with his human heart first. 

And for us, Jesus does the same. Jesus enters each and every scene from our own lives with Jesus’ human heart first. A gift that can only be given due to Jesus being the Word made flesh—flesh like you and I. Now, I haven’t even gotten past the fourth verse of this passage. But that’s ok. I will point out though that the rest of this passage is about the calling of the first followers of Jesus. And unlike the other three Gospels, in John, most of those first followers were not called by Jesus! Rather, they were called by each other. Time after time, they would encounter Jesus and immediately go to someone, a friend, a family member, and say, “Come and see!” What a beautiful way to invite someone. But what makes it so beautiful is that it comes from the heart first, the human heart first. 

Those first followers went to their family and friends and coworkers and said, “Come and see” because they knew that they sought the same things out of life, they were yearning for the same relief. And because Jesus came to them, human heart first, they, in turn, did the same. I’m gonna take a wild guess and say that this is probably why you are all here today. Someone in your life at some point, said to you, maybe not in so many words or maybe not with any words, “Come and see.” Maybe you didn’t grow up in church and it was a neighbor or a friend. 

And if you’ve come your whole life because that’s just what your family did and you never stopped, that still applies to you. Your parents or guardians brought you to church with their human heart first, because they knew, as fellow humans, that you too would have the same longings in your life that they did, you too would yearn for something more, that at some point, Jesus would ask you, “What are you looking for?” With Jesus’ human heart first. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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