A few weeks ago Google published its annual Zeitgeist, which is a list of the most-searched terms on the internet for the year. In 2013 the top five were Paul Walker, the Boston Marathon bombing, Nelson Mandela, Cory Monteith, and the iPhone 5S. More people searched the internet for those things than anything else. Google’s search data serves as a little window into our culture, and it’s meaningful because every day Google conducts more than a billion internet searches. Everybody is looking for something, and more than ever we are using the internet to do it. Whether you’re searching for the perfect birthday present, or your friend’s address, or what time the game is on Sunday, or cat videos, or even what that church behind the elementary school is like, you can find answers by using a simple search box and a keyboard. What are you looking for? As it turns out, we’re looking for quite a bit.
Our searching for things has also turned into big business. Google and countless other websites keep track of all those things you search for so that they can sell targeted advertising. Have you ever wondered why you search for something, or order something, or email someone about something, and then just a few minutes later you start seeing ads on your screen for those very things? It’s because your online activity allows internet companies to make more money by delivering specialized ads to you. What are you looking for? Google, and Yahoo, and Apple, and Facebook, and Target, and Walmart already know. We live in a time of lightning-fast electronic communication, a time of interconnected social media, a time in which millions of people can search, find, and communicate all in the blink of an eye. It’s a fascinating time to be alive, and it’s about as different from the world in which Jesus lived as you can get.
In the Broadway musical Jesus Christ, Superstar there is a scene in which the ghost of Judas Iscariot sings to Jesus. In his song Judas wonders why Jesus came to first century Palestine. In his mind, Jesus could have reached a lot more people had he come to some other technologically advanced period in history, say 2014. One line of the song says, “If you had come today you could have reached a whole nation. Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication!”
So might we wonder, along with the ghost of Judas, what would have happened had Jesus come to twenty-first century America instead of first century Palestine? Would the results of his arrival have been different? In the age of Twitter would he have gotten more than two people to follow him on his second day on the scene? Would he be trending on social media? Maybe twenty-first century Jesus would have had active Facebook and Twitter accounts, and more followers on Instagram than you could count. He could have shortened his messages a bit to fit into 140 characters or less, and maybe even started a board on Pinterest for every big thing he did. He could have reached millions of people in a matter of days. The big J.C. would have been everywhere. He could have done it that way and been a real superstar.
Only he didn’t, and he wasn’t. Our scripture reading for this morning tells us how it really happened. Soon after he had been baptized Jesus met John the Baptist again down by the river. John seems like he’s the sensationalist type. He’s the one shouting at the top of his lungs for everyone to hear. “Look!” he says, “There goes the Lamb of God!” If it were up to John, “Lamb of God” would have been a trending phrase on the riverbank that day, but Jesus is more low-key. When two of John’s followers ask to follow him, Jesus doesn’t make any attention-grabbing claims. He doesn’t ask them to follow or give them any reason to come with him.
Instead, he asks them a question. “What are you looking for?” he says. Instead of giving him an answer, like “We’re looking for a mission,” or “We’re looking for the meaning of life,” or even, “We’re looking for the best place to buy sandals,” they ask him where he’s staying. They essentially invite themselves over for dinner, which isn’t exactly polite but Jesus receives them well enough. “Come and see,” he says. That’s it. No grand claims. No over the top promises. No gimmicks. Come and see. They do go, and they do see Jesus face-to-face, and by the end of their time together Andrew is convinced. He rushes off to tell his brother, “We just found the Messiah.” Simon joins him at Jesus’ feet, and thus begins a journey that neither of them could predict. That’s how the church begins.
In some ways, nothing has changed in 2000 years. We’re still following Jesus, trying to find ways to spend time with him, trying to find out where he’s staying so that we can make sure to be there. Ministry is still not really about the quick slogans, the flashy advertizing, the grandiose claims. It’s very much about what happens on an interpersonal level as we meet fellow searchers face-to-face. The best missionaries are the ones who go into places of need with hospitality and compassion, giving a smile, a helping hand, a cup of cold water with no strings attached. They’re the ones who spend time with others face-to-face, bearing witness with their actions more than their words. “Come and see.” That’s all there is to it. We don’t have to do or say more than that.
Christian Author Parker Palmer once wrote, “When people look upon the church, it is not of first importance that they be instructed by our theology or altered by our ethics but that they be moved by the quality of our life together: ‘See how they love one another.’” That’s the mission to which we are called, and that’s what we can offer the world that nobody else can. Everybody is looking for something, and maybe everybody is looking for something different. The fundamental truth, however, is that inside of each person there is a longing to be surrounded with love, to feel it and to share it and to know that it’s real. Inside every person there is a longing for God, in other words, the God who has created us to be seekers and searchers and sharers of love.
Another author, Tiffanie DeBartolo, wrote, “We’re all searching for something to fill up what I like to call that big, God-shaped hole in our souls. Some people use alcohol, or sex, or their children, or food, or money, or music, or heroin… I could go on and on. I used to know a girl who used shoes. She had over two-hundred pairs. But it’s all the same thing, really. People, for some stupid reason, think they can escape their sorrows.” What lies behind it all is a longing for love, a yearning for home, a search for God.
Even very long ago, St. Augustine wrote, “God, Thou hast made us for thyself, so that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” The longing we experience, the emptiness, the incompleteness, the looking for something, is built into us by God. Thomas Aquinas, centuries later, said it again: The basic human desire is for God. That is what we’re looking for—for God, for truth, for relationship with that which is ultimate, for some sense that my life matters to God and in some way fits into a pattern of love that God knows and gives.
What are you looking for? Maybe it’s something simple. Maybe it’s something so complex that you can’t even describe it. Maybe you’re looking for so many things, and maybe you don’t even know what you’re looking for at all. No matter what it is, the fundamental truth built into each of us is that we are all seekers, seeking a way home. We seek acceptance. We seek love. We seek God. It was the psalmist who wrote, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after, to live in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life” (Psalm 24:4). That’s it. That’s all it is. It’s in each of us and every person around us. It’s in every family living in Mint Hill, and Matthews, and Charlotte.
If we’re going to be serious about growing God’s kingdom here at Philadelphia, especially reaching out to children and their families here in this community, we can talk about how we communicate. That’s important. We can evaluate how we are utilizing social media and the internet and how we can do it better. That’s a vital tool in this day and age. We can get our name out there and promote what we do through marketing and advertising. That’s a way to let people know we’re here. But unless we are willing to engage in hospitality, show compassion, and share love, all of that will be for nothing. The Kingdom of God becomes known through the invitation – “Come and See” – but it grows when the seekers and the searchers find the same thing that Andrew did: That behind the invitation there is a face-to-face meeting, a personal relationship, a love that fits that God-shaped hole within us. Behind the invitation there is Jesus, speaking words of peace and welcome.
Come… and see. Thanks be to God. Amen.