by Melody Kroeger
The gospel writer John has many titles for Jesus – Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd and the True Vine. In fact John begins his gospel “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In today’s reading, John introduces us to Jesus, not once but twice, as the Lamb of God. I can’t hear today’s gospel reading without recalling my own encounter with a lamb.
Many years ago, my parents purchased farm property in northern Colorado where I grew up. They made many plans for this piece of land, lying next
to the Poudre River, nestled up against the Front Range of the Rockies. But until my father could retire, they leased the land out – first to a hops farmer and then to a Basque sheep herder – who rested his flock there before heading up to the high country for summer grazing.
One morning, in early May, my folks drove up the farm to inspect the land after the sheep herder moved his flock up to higher greener mountain pastures. Slowly walking the ground, looking, I suppose, for deep tire ruts left in the soil or gates left open, my mother spotted something lying half hidden in a dry irrigation ditch. She bent over, parted the weeds and looked right into the eyes of a new born lamb. In the rush of loading the ewes and lambs into trucks for transport this baby had been left behind.
Having a soft spot for all young and tender things, my mother wrapped the tiny raggedy bit of wool, hardly bigger than the average housecat, up in her coat and took him home. We got a calf-feeding bottle and fresh cow’s milk from the dairy down the road and proceeded to nurse the little orphan back to life. We named the lamb Buster and added half-jokingly Lamb of God as his middle name because surely finding Buster was a miracle.
Within a few days, Buster was following my mother throughout the garden, making a nuisance of him-self to the family dogs and cats.
Our gospel reading for this celebration of epiphany, is all about looking and finding. The first words John says are: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The following day, when John, once again, is standing with some of his disciples, he says ““Look, the Lamb of God!” Jesus stops, turns around and looks at the two men following him and asks “What are you looking for?”
Notice that it is Jesus and not the two men who initiate the conversation. St. Augustine once said that we could not even begin to seek Jesus if he had not already found us. Indeed, the primary reason we seek Jesus at all is because he began seeking us before we were even born. “Before I formed you in the womb, writes Jeremiah, I knew you”. We long for Jesus because he first longed for us.
It’s interesting that these are the first words spoken by Jesus in John’s gospel. What are you looking for? This question cuts to the quick of our human nature.
On one level, the answer is simple. We’re looking for our car keys. We’re looking for a place to park or have dinner. Some of us are looking for a Seahawk victory later today!
On a deeper level though, the question takes on a different meaning. We’re looking for a partner to share our lives and its inevitable joys and sorrows. We’re looking for good health. Children who are successful. Financial security in our golden years.
But at its most base level, Jesus’ five words penetrate the deepest places of the human heart.
The question unsettles us. We look to make meaning of our lives. We look for peace and justice in our world, although nothing could startle us more that actually finding them. To be asked this question, directly and personally, discomforts us.
And, I suspect it unsettled the first disciples. “What are you looking for?” Instead of answering the question, Andrew and Simon Peter ask one of their own, “Teacher, where are you staying?” At first, the question seems to be “What house are you staying at tonight?” But a closer look shows the question seeks a more profound answer. In Greek, the word for staying is meno (minnow) and it means to abide or physically to just stay where you are. It also means to continue to live, not die, to keep on keeping on. It can also mean to stay strong in our resolve, to remain in common purpose with others.
There’s a subtle flavor that using “abide” gives us. Abide means not to just continue to exist but to continue to exist under adversity. It gives the impression of being unable to change one’s circumstances but clinging to hope nevertheless.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me,” Jesus says later in John’s gospel. He urges his followers to “abide in me as I abide in you.” Jesus offers himself to John’s disciples as the place for them to abide.
Where are you staying? When we ask this question, we open ourselves up to finding Jesus dwelling in every facet of our lives. Some of you know – Velma and Scott certainly know – that I volunteer for REACH and we work for and advocate on behalf of our homeless friends and neighbors – who have no place to stay – to abide. A common question I will ask a client at REACH is “Where are your staying?” Often the answer is a doorway. Under a bridge. On a heat grate.
When we ask the question, we open ourselves up to hearing Jesus’ voice whispering his presence not just into the parts of ourselves we show one another but into our deepest hidden places, where our responses to Jesus’ question lie dormant. These hidden places can become our personal discoveries of Jesus calling to us to look and find him in everything we do, in everything we say, and in everyone we meet. The next time you past a homeless person on the street, ask yourself “Teacher, where are you abiding in me?”
And this brings us back to Jesus’ second line of the dialog in John’s gospel “Come and see.” What are you looking for? Where are you staying? Come and see!
Now I generally prefer to see first and then decide whether to enter and abide there. But Jesus invites us to see where he abides, where he is present in our lives. He invites us to dwell with him, no matter the situation or places we find ourselves in. Abiding in his presence gives us the grace to persevere, to cling to hope, to be show the world the deepest yearnings that God has put in our hearts, the callings that God has blessed us to follow.
And that is the good news! Come and see means that Jesus will be with us – always – to walk with us where we need to go and to help us do what needs to be done.
Buster, lamb of God, lived out his natural life with us. Not quite a dog, and certainly not a cat, Buster wandered through the garden content to simply be one of the family – to be loved and cared for. To abide with us.
On the spring morning, many years ago, my parents weren’t looking for a lamb. They didn’t expect to find the unexpected. In contrast, in the season of epiphany – a season of looking and finding, seeing and understanding, we do look for the unexpected. We seek an epiphany.
In a few minutes we will be invited to the communion table. Just my parents rescued and kept Buster, Jesus rescues and keeps us. He has shared our human identity and included himself in our community. He dwells in our hearts whispering his question: What are you looking for? And in return, we ask “Where are you staying, where are you abiding in our lives? Jesus walks one step ahead – replying “Come and see.”