What Are You Looking For?

John 1:35-51

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed ). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter ). 43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Here is the link to the RadioLab podcast I talk about in this sermon – http://www.radiolab.org/story/match-made-in-marrow/

What are you looking for?  It’s the question Jesus asks the 2 brand spanking new disciples who are following him. They are also the first words Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John. What are you looking for?

This question echoed for me all throughout a podcast episode of Radiolab I listened to between Christmas and the new year called “A Match Made in Marrow.”

Jim Munroe’s life was falling apart. He was part of a duo that did magic shows – think Penn and Teller – and his partner, a devout Christian died in a hiking accident. So, Jim was depressed and in grief and had lost his faith, the little he had. And his marriage was on the skids. Then he was diagnosed with cancer and was given 2 months to live. They put him on the bone marrow transplant list and then began round after round of chemo as they waited.

Jennell Jenny was at a music festival called the Warped Tour and saw a booth saying that she could save a life, she could be the match for someone else out there. So she swabbed her cheek and 6 months later, she got a call that she was the one-in-8-million match, “the perfect match” for another’s DNA.  Jennell, an only child, confides to the podcast hosts that she has always longed for a deeper connection, to have “a person” of her own, a blood connection to someone else. And so news of this match overwhelmed her.

Jim is prepared for the bone marrow transplant by doctors and nurses. They throw him a new birthday party and also prepare him for death. The doctor tells him “Someone else will live inside you now. This new system of blood will be your life.” There is also the threat that his body will reject the marrow.

Fast forward to now – Jim is cancer free. The bone marrow transplant was successful, and his faith in Jesus has been reborn. He says of this spiritual rebirth, “For me, it was like I was being introduced to a person…an experiential understanding.”  His connection back to Jesus was through his experience of cancer, and soon through meeting Jennell.

A year passes, which is the time they must wait before a patient and a donor can meet. So Jennell fills out the paperwork to request a meeting and Jim responds and flies her out from Wisconsin to where he lives in Texas.

We learn quickly that both are gracious and loving. Both are overwhelmed by their connection to each other. And, they discover that one is a devout Christian – Jim – and the other – Jennell – an atheist. Jim attributes their meeting and his rebirth and new life as a clear answer to prayer, a sign from God, a miracle. Jennell is his Jesus. And Jennell attributes it to being an amazing experience that is bigger than them and, to her, bigger than Jesus or any one system of belief.

Here is where I thought their story would go off the rails. I thought certainly at this point their beliefs would exclude each other and they would shake hands and part ways.  But, as I glanced down at how much time was left on the podcast, I could clearly see we were in the middle of the story. And I wondered, what are you looking for? What did each want out of this relationship now?

Jim invites Jennell to be part of his magic show and she says, “of course.” The hosts of Radiolab stop and say, “Really? Of course?” And she says, “Yes, of course. This is just so much bigger than any of us.” Each of the shows has 2 parts. The 2nd part is about Jesus and is basically about this miracle in his life. He always tells people what part 2 is about and gives people time to leave.

Jennell had contacted the people at Radiolab to help them continue to tell their story. You see, Jennell has appeared in about a dozen or so of Jim’s shows and any feelings of being an imposter had been outweighed by the number of people signing up to be bone marrow donors. Yet, the more shows she does, this imposter feeling grows. She says, “If this is a sign, if there is a God, I’m a real jerk. This is such a beautiful and literal story about God…if I am perpetuating it and refusing it, there is a special place in hell for me.”  She wondered if her way of seeing things could be in the room. So her reaching out to RadioLab to talk was her invitation to Jim to “come and see.”

The answer was yes, with Jeff saying, “I’m commanded to love, to start conversations – I’m not the one sent into the world to judge.” They both, Christian and atheist, talked about humility and grace and love. And so, we hear in this podcast the great divide between church people and non-church people, between believers and non-believers, the churched and the nones has been bridged by one from each side.

What are they looking for? Connection. Relationship. Love in the world.

Jim says to this atheist who literally saved his life, “come and see” and she does. Without hesitation. With gratitude and love.

And when Jennell said “come and see” to her part of the story, he does. Without hesitation. With gratitude and love.

They both got up from under the shade of their fig trees and followed. Both of their lives were transformed through this relationship, one to the other.

One qualifies it scientifically and points to the universe.

The other sees it through the lens of faith and points to Jesus.

Both do so with utter amazement and awe, with humbleness and curiosity.

This wasn’t about Jim digging his heals in, insisting on his way.

This wasn’t about Jennell disproving Jim’s faith, insisting on her way.

They both gave each other the freedom to be deeply different but yet one, together.

It was a conversation. It was about their relationship. It was and is about love. And it transformed both their lives.

What are you looking for?

We, sitting here together, follow Jesus. What are you looking for in your life of this following?

Are you looking for certainty?

Are you looking for moral guidance?

Are you looking for love? Connection?

What are you looking for?

Will you say “come and see” to a stranger, to a friend, to family member?  Are you brave enough to go with them when they say to you, “Come and see”, trusting that God can be working in that place too, just like God is with Jennell? And then will you stick with them, where the only string attached is love? Are you curious about the world and God’s activity in it to trust Jesus to walk with you no matter what?

What are you looking for? Jesus’ answer always leads us to each other. Amen.