What are You Looking for?

John 1:35-42

Jesus says to us today what he said to Andrew in this Gospel, “What are you looking for?” No matter our age or stage in life, I believe that what we are looking for is a life that has meaning. Where do we find the meaning that we seek?  I believe that the Gospel puts us on the path to the answer: What we’re looking for can only be found in seeking, and living out, a personal relationship with Christ.


Imagine being in this scene: Jesus walks along the bank of the River Jordan. John the Baptist points at him and tells his two disciples that he (Jesus) is the One, the Lamb of God, the Messiah.  John and Andrew can barely believe their ears. They decide to check out this new Rabbi. Jesus hears them approaching, turns around, looks them in the eye, and asks that key question: “What are you looking for?”


Struck by the simplicity and warmth of Jesus’ greeting, and maybe surprised by the question, they just say, “Teacher, where are you staying?” Maybe without realizing it, they have offered the perfect answer: “Jesus, we are looking for you; we want to stay with you.” A smile then spreads over Jesus’ face, and he says, “Come and you will see.” He invites them to walk with him, to follow him, to be his friends.


All of life’s answers, the fulfillment we seek, what we are looking for, can be found in a relationship with Christ. A relationship is not something to be possessed, or a doctrine to be understood. Meaning is found in this relationship to be lived out, with Jesus. Faith is found in the pursuit of that relationship. Faith is proved in what we do.


It was said of Oral Roberts that when someone would come up to him and talk about their level of faith, he’d say in response, “I’m not so much concerned about how much faith you have. What I want to know is, have you released the faith you have?” Faith is not something we own, it something to be released. Faith is proved by what we do.


Jesus is the fulfillment of every promise by God the Father. He is the fullness of love, the provider of mercy, the divine healer, the perfect mediator of all our prayers and everything else we truly need. Our study of faith has taught us this. So, why does it sometimes feel like something is still missing?  What keeps us from releasing our faith? What keeps us from the joy that comes with a relationship with Christ?


Both the First Reading and the Gospel illustrate for us what might have been a “tipping point” of faith for the principals involved, and many others down the line, as one small occurrence, a conversation or otherwise, made a lifetime’s worth of a difference, and changed history.


The notion of a tipping point is widely understood in both positive and negative terms. Negatively, it could be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Positively, it could be one person, taking even the smallest of steps forward, which could end up causing a tremendous change in that person’s life, and possibly the lives of many.


Generally, we don’t see tipping points out ahead of us before they occur or even as they happen in the present. Most times we recognize them in retrospect, looking back. In a faith context, what enables tipping points to occur is when we release our faith in an ever so small, yet significant way when we take on a posture of prayer that says in effect the words from our psalm, “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.” When we pray that prayer, and mean it, our possibilities are endless.


The story of Samuel began long before his call in today’s first reading. But when, out of obedience, he declares, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”, the possibilities open up for him, and as the reading tells us, the Lord was with him and his words were no longer “without effect.”


Andrew stepped out and followed Jesus, and then from that little exchange we see in the Gospel, he then recruited his brother, Peter. They influenced Philip who told Nathanael, and the rest as they say is history. Could there have been a bigger tipping point (outside of Jesus on the cross)?  And it all came from a willingness to find meaning, seeking a relationship with the Lord.


None of us have had the experience of hearing God’s voice aloud as Samuel did or had Jesus look us square in the eye and say, “What are you looking for?” But when we need answers, “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will” is a good place to start. God knows each of us through and through, and seeks to guide us to his will and a relationship with him.


God is always beckoning us. He knows us better than we know ourselves: He is “nearer than my nearest self” as St Augustine put it.


The catechism tells us “at every time and in every place, God draws close to man.” And in a later section it says, “God never ceases to draw man to himself.” So on one hand God is always coming close to us, and on the other hand he is always drawing us closer to him.


Some of us who were on the Adore the King tour last week witnessed a testimonial from a fellow who experienced a “tipping point” in his relationship with Jesus.  He stood at the ambo at St Sebastian and told of his faith journey- Nothing too out of the ordinary going on. He just wasn’t going to Mass very regularly. He happened to be a commissioner in the area.


His elderly mother said to him one day, “You know, you are a leader in this community. People need to see that you believe in God. You need to be in church.” And that variation of “Come and see” really struck him, and was what led him to a deeper commitment of faith.  He shared that he’s now quite involved in ministry of many kinds at St Sebastian, and he now gains strength from his relationship with Christ.


His story, like most stories of conversion, don’t contain high drama or lightning bolts. It simply contained a response to the yearning that we all have inside for meaning (What are you looking for?), and God’s call to a greater relationship (to come and see). He committed to release his faith.


May I add a second tipping point story? It was back in 2005 when then Bishop Wuerl called for a deacon class to be formed for the first time in 10 years. Some “listening sessions” were made available down at the seminary to anyone who might want to “come and see” what being a deacon was all about. Fr Bob had encouraged me to go check it out.  


Honestly, I really didn’t have much of an idea of what a deacon was other than what little exposure I had to Deacon Joe Compomizzi who was assigned here.  I was very ambivalent about the whole thing, and had in fact missed the first three opportunities to attend. The fourth and final available session was on a Saturday morning, rather early as I recall.


What I remember about that day was that I didn’t even care enough to set my alarm (which I usually do). I didn’t get up in time. I think I slept until just about the time when the meeting was about to start. And I remember sitting up in bed pondering whether to go or not – everyone else in the house was still asleep (the kids were still living at home at the time).


I’d like to tell you that some dramatic, prophetic siren went off (a sign from God) that led me to know that I had to go.  But that didn’t happen. What did get me out of bed, finally, was the thought (and this is how my mind tends to work), “Heck. What are they going to do to me for being late, throw me out?” So I did end up going, very late!


I’d also like to tell you that one of the speakers conveyed a message that was a clear message from God, that tugged at my heart, and it had me charging out the door convicted that being a deacon was my destiny for life. That didn’t happen either. The biggest influencer, quite candidly, was one of the deacons, a guy from the South Side who got up there to speak. I don’t remember much of what he said. All I do remember was that this guy was quite ordinary, and probably one of the biggest yinzers of all time.


It had me walking away thinking, ok if this guy can make it as a deacon, maybe I shouldn’t reject this whole notion out of hand. Maybe faith and being of service to others is in fact less about a doctrine to be understood and more about releasing one’s faith, being a doer, which this guy certainly was.        


I think about that Saturday morning often. It was my tipping point. On that day, and for many that followed, I don’t exactly know why I kept showing up. My position for the longest time was I can’t think of a reason to say no


But what happened was, Jesus walked with me. He kept drawing me in. I’ve used the word “walk” purposefully here. It was never a race. Jesus was never so far out in front of me that I felt I couldn’t catch up. And when I stumbled and fell, he was patient and he waited.


And some twelve years later, I see that I’ve gone from ambivalence, not being able to figure out a reason why I shouldn’t, to a point where I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. God has called me, to be a deacon, and husband and father, yes, but more importantly, he’s called me to follow him.  And I will.


I tell this story only to underline the point that we all need to keep our eyes open to what God might be calling us to. Tipping points only come if we make ourselves available to them. Tony Campolo once said, “I don’t want to tiptoe through life only to arrive safely at death.”


Blind faith is a steep hill to climb. We want tangible answers. We want alarm bells to wake us up, and we want directional signs at every turn. But the destination we seek can only be found by releasing our faith, living out those words, “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will”.


And so we pray today, Lord, you call upon us to seek your face. You are what we are looking for. You’ve created each of us uniquely with distinctive gifts and abilities. Help us find our meaning in life and the purpose for which you have created us. It’s only in our relationship with you that we will be sustained, strengthened and live out our calling! Amen!


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