Pastor Hugh

What are you looking for?

January 22, 2024

Long ago, there was a village, and at the gate of the village sat the village elder. He served as a sort of judge, settling disputes, hearing stories, and offering advice when asked.

One morning, there was a large caravan heading their way. They saw the dust first, and then slowly across the desert they saw a string of camels and wagons and people headed their way. Eventually they stopped, and a man from the front of the pack walked over to the village elder.

“Good morning,” he said. “My family and I are moving to this land, looking for opportunity and work, and we heard good things about this village. Tell me – what are the people like here?”

The elder looked at the man, at his caravan of people and animals, and said, “Well, that’s a good question. Tell me – what were the people like where you moved from?”

“Oh – them!” The man said. “They were scoundrels and thugs. They gossiped constantly, they would steal you blind if you were not looking, and they never had a kind word to say. I hated it there.”

The elder nodded his head and said, “Ahhh. Sadly, I think you will find the people here the same way. If I were you, I would keep on moving.”

And the man thanked the elder, and the caravan kept moving.

That afternoon, the elder saw a plume of dust on the horizon, and then slowly it turned into camels and wagons and people. Eventually they stopped, and a man from the front of the pack walked over to the village elder.

“Good morning,” he said. “My family and I are moving to this land, looking for opportunity and work, and we heard good things about this village. Tell me – what are the people like here?”

The elder looked at the man, at his caravan of people and animals, and said, “Well, that’s a good question. Tell me – what were the people like where you moved from?”

“Oh – them!” The man said. “They were amazing. They were always quick to help out, they shared whatever they had, and they looked for ways to make sure you were taken care of. I miss them so much – were it not for our need to find a better way to make a living, we would have stayed there forever.

The elder nodded his head and said, “Ahhh. I think you will find the people here are just as kind and loving. I know we would welcome you and your family here.”

The man thanked the elder, and led his caravan into the village.

I love that story. Because the question isn’t what is the world like around us, but what sort of world are we looking for. What do we expect to find? How do we expect people to act? And in the story, the elder asked both men what they were looking for. And when their vision matched the vision of his community, he invited them to stay. He invited them to come and see.

In the first chapter of the gospel of John, there is this weird little passage, right in the middle of a larger story.

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 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?” He said to them, “Come and see.”

John is talking to his disciples, and along comes Jesus. John tells the disciples what he knows about Jesus, and to the disciples, it sounds amazing. They drop John and head off down the road after Jesus. They are all excited about being with the Jesus Movement now.

You know these kind of people. They join the cool new church, or they take up crossfit, or they start doing Paleo, or become vegan, or start using essential oils, or whatever. And they have been in this new way of life for virtually no time at all, but they are super excited about it, and they want you to be super excited about it, too.

So here, John’s disciples know virtually nothing about Jesus, and they are ready to throw John over and follow Jesus. I wonder why that was. What made them dissatisfied with John – enough so they were willing to throw him over for Jesus? In any event, they are looking for something new, and then they find Jesus.

And Jesus stops them, and rather than signing them up then and there, instead of building his church and “increasing his membership” and “optimizing his base”, he asks them a question:

“What are you looking for?”

He knew they were looking for a new world, and he invited them to come and see. 

Open Door is a small church. A tiny church, even. And to be blunt, we need to grow if we are to remain viable. And when you need to grow, the temptation is to grab every warm body that passes by, that shows a fleeting interest in you, or who heard you have a great preacher (ahem) or awesome potlucks, and sign them up quick, before they figure out that it’s much more about who they are and what they are looking for, than it is about who we as a church is.

But we didn’t want to be that sort of church. So recently, our leadership team has asked ourselves some hard questions about what sort of community we really are, and what kind of community we want to be. In short, we have had to ask ourselves what we are looking for.

What sort of church do we want to be? How do we want to live with each other? How do we want to engage the world around us? And out of all the work that needs to be done in this city, what specific work is ours to do?

As a result of this process, our congregation has been going through a lot of changes, and more are yet to come.

We are working to become the church we thought we want to be – a church that welcomes and affirms whoever shows up, a church that honors the gifts we all bring, a church that seeks to learn the ways of peacemaking, justice, and hospitality. We are moving from the church we were into the church we dream of being.

But we are not yet done.

Because while we have decided what sort of church we want to be, we have decided who we are and what we are doing – while we have done all that work – what remains now for us is to live into that vision, to do that work, to build that world we want to live in.

And then, when we find people who are looking for a new world, we can invite them to come and see. 

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Hugh