These aren’t the THINGS you are looking for. Sermon on John 1:35-51

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.

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I am a grown woman, and I need a chaperone. You notice I did not use the word “ mature”. But still as a 47 year old, I need a chaperone.

Not all the time. Just when I go to certain places—like Michaels, Target, or Cermak.

If you haven’t been to one of the few Cermak’s in Milwaukee, well when I go there I need a chaperone. Sure I take a list. Ok not a paper list, but one in my head. I mean I know what I’m looking for until, I get to the aisles somewhere in the middle of the store. The aisles with packaged international/ethnic food—food from Greece, Russia, Germany, Thailand. Then there’s the frozen foods like papusas from El Salvador and 4 different types of pierogies: and don’t get me started with the fresh foods, the many different cheeses and meats like weisswursts. There’s just so much more there than what I am usually looking for.

So, what are you looking for? Jesus asks this question to a couple of John the Baptist’s disciples, and he’s asking still today: what are we looking for? Some of us know. We may have a list; looking for hope, a moment of peace, it might be just a distraction, for others some real meaning in this crazy world. Maybe it’s forgiveness—a fresh start. We may be looking to be accepted—to be listened to, for care—to care, to make a difference. Some of us may even be looking for a challenge, something to wake us up, shake us up, something to add some spice to our daily diet.

We are all looking for something, truth be told, even if we don’t know what it is. John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God. The disciples called Jesus Rabbi, messiah. But what do those titles mean? Sure we get a clue from the Bible— rabbi translates as teacher; messiah anointed. What that really means, I can’t tell you. Just as Jesus didn’t stand there and give the disciples a lecture. What did he say? He said “come and see”. We are going to immerse ourselves in John’s picture of Jesus. Just as John’s gospel is one picture of Jesus, Jesus isn’t trapped in the lines of scripture. Jesus still says to us whatever you are looking for, come and see, but remember you may see something you had no idea you were looking for. Jesus is like that. Jesus is the “nice old black lady at McDonald’s.

From an essay by Arno Michaelis. Share his words with you.

Dear nice old black lady at McDonald’s,
I think of you fondly and often, and I talk about you all the time.
You wouldn’t think that a cumulative five minutes of contact at a fast food restaurant over the course of a few weeks could help change the course of a life, and subsequently change the course of countless other lives, but that’s exactly what happened.
Our paths crossed during a time in my life when I radiated hostility, especially towards anyone with a darker complexion than mine.

You demonstrated the courage necessary to respond to my ignorant, fearful aggression with compassion—from behind a cash register at McDonald’s.

I thought I knew all about courage back then. A zeal for violence and the willingness to engage in it at the slightest provocation was my idea of courage. Of course, I thought I knew all about everything. Via an ongoing practice of ignorance, fueled by hate and ego, I had managed to convince myself that white people were superior to everyone else, and that there was a worldwide Jewish conspiracy to wipe us out…

This miserable condition was plainly evident in my appearance. Covered with streetfight scars and homemade tattoos indicative of my angst, steel-toed boots and a shaved head completed the look that said, “I hate you” in no uncertain terms. The many people who crossed the street rather than pass me on the sidewalk were wise to do so. But that first time I walked into the McDonald’s where you worked, I was met with your smile, as warm and unconditional as the sun.
And I shrank in the light of that smile. I was such a pathetic lost soul that a genuine smile made me quite uncomfortable. There I was very diligently trying to hate black people, and there you were making doing so seem as stupid as it is simply by smiling at me.

Having drowned the trauma of your smile in cheap beer and hate-rock over the course of a week, I was taken aback by your warm greeting upon my return, this time amplified with your recognition of me. When you asked me how I had been you might as well have asked me to solve Pi to the millionth digit.
I was bewildered at the prospect of conversation with someone who wasn’t a violent white racist. Once again, I looked down at my boots, mumbled a strained response, and scurried off with my Big Mac as fast as I could.

That weekend I had a swastika tattooed on the middle finger of my right hand…
Willfully ignorant of the wrongness steeped into the swastika during the Holocaust, all I thought of was the cheap thrill of offending people.
But when I walked into McDonald’s for that third payday Big Mac, you took no offense.
Instead you smiled, and asked how was my day, and if I was going to have a Big Mac again, and you remembered that I drank Diet Coke. Thoughtless, I had managed to forget my discomfort with your past kindness. I would have chosen another restaurant for my one meal a week that wasn’t ramen noodles,…

At 6’3” tall, I towered almost a foot above you, but I felt about six inches tall as it dawned on me that I didn’t want you to see the swastika. As the ancient symbol hijacked by hate was needled into my finger the Saturday before, I relished the idea of it being the exclamation point on my ongoing flip-off to the world…

I tried hard to keep my hand behind my back, and awkwardly dug into my front pocket palm-up to fish a $20 fresh from the check-cashing place to pay for my meal. But as the money went from my hand to yours, the swastika was revealed.
The look in your eyes for the split-second they met mine before I shamefully looked away is still clear as day over two decades later. It was the same look my grandma gave me when I used to torment my poor little brother. A look that said, “I love you, but let’s stop this foolishness.”
“What is that on your finger?” you said.
“…it’s nothing.”
I should have said, “I’m nothing,” as that’s how I felt for coming before you with such disrespect.
“You’re a better person than that. I know that’s not who you are.”
Powerless against such compassion, such engagement with the human being I was despite my best efforts, I snatched my food from the counter and my change from your steady hand, and fled from your steady smile and authentic presence, never to return to your McDonald’s again.
It would have been nice if that experience of humanity changed me on the spot, but it didn’t. I went back to my dingy house and got drunk out my mind, blasting white power music with my white power buddies, and slurring some nonsense about Jews taking my money from my paycheck and giving it to lazy black people. We set out on the streets to find someone to beat up. People were beaten that night, and throughout the next seven years, for no reason other than the color of their skin, their assumed homosexuality, their religion, or just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Yet a seed was planted in my heart that day you saw it behind the swastika. A seed hardy enough to take root and sprout in the desolation of fear and ignorance. The seedling grew, attracting like seeds. Together with my family that refused to give up on me, and my daughter who needed me, the kindness of peace warriors like yourself brought love to my life until there was no longer room for hate.
Today I share this ongoing process of learning and growth. Over the past eight years, I have had face-to-face contact with over thirty thousand people, and exponentially more via media worldwide. A nonagenarian black man once told me that I gave him hope. An eleven year-old Latino boy told me he could see how bad I felt for hurting people and that he felt sorry for me. Gay men and Jewish women call me brother. Countless lives were involved leading me to where I am now, and countless people have been inspired to live more compassionately after hearing my story.
A story that couldn’t be quite the same if you weren’t in it.
Thank you.
With love and gratitude,
Arno
Arno Michaelis is a former white supremacist from Milwaukee who now leads the organization Serve 2 Unite and is the author of My Life After Hate.

Come and see. What you are looking for, you may not expect it; it may come from a distasteful, uncomfortable, or unexpected “place” like McDonalds, a white supremacist, Cermak, Nazareth whatever Jesus says, Come and see. Come and see Amen.