Ash Wednesday 23 | The Question of Meaning

Ash Wednesday 23 | The Question of Meaning

February 22, 2023 • Rev. Rob Fuquay

Lent is the 40-day season that leads to Easter. If you are someone who likes to fact-check you maybe counting the days in your head right now and coming up with 46. That’s because the Sundays in Lent aren’t counted. They are a break from the Lenten disciplines we observe.  


The season began as a tithe, or one-tenth, of the days of the year, hence 36 days. Four more days were eventually added to keep the significance of 40 in the Bible: it rained for 40 days in the time of Noah; Moses leading the people in the wilderness for 40 years; Jesus started his ministry by going into the wilderness for 40 days. In other words, when 40 is mentioned in the Bible something life-changing and transformative is happening. 


Lent is meant to be a spiritually transformative period. We remember Jesus’ suffering and death, but more than remember, we do things that help up us enter into his own passion, his very life, so that we can better experience His risen life on Easter. To help us this Lent we will consider Questions Jesus Asks. 


You may not realize just how many questions Jesus asked in the Gospels. In fact, let’s take a little poll to see what you think. How many would say Jesus asked around 20 questions? 50 questions? 100? 300? The last group would be right. Actually Jesus asked more than 300 questions in the Gospels. As much as parables were an important teaching method of Jesus, so were asking questions. 


Lovett Weems says a good leader isn’t focused on right answers. A good leader is focused on the right questions. Jesus understood that the answers to life’s most important questions can’t be given to us. They are inside of us, and the right questions help us to find them. 


This series will not be exhaustive of all the questions, obviously, but we will consider some of the really important ones and we start today with the question that happened to be the very first words Jesus spoke in the Gospel of John: “What are you looking for?” 


Let’s put the question in context. John the Baptist (pic) started a spiritual revival preaching repentance to get ready for the Kingdom of God. Anyone who hung around John knew that he was simply preparing the way for someone greater who is to come, someone, he said, whose sandals he was not worthy to untie. 


One day Jesus walked (pic) by John the Baptist and two of his disciples, John said, “Look, there goes the Lamb of God.” The two disciples realize John is talking about the One who is to come, so they start walking behind Jesus. Jesus turns around and asks, “What are you looking for?” 


We are told that one of these disciples was named Andrew who happened to be the brother of Simon Peter. But the other disciple is not named and you have to wonder if this was literary device used by the Gospel writer in which we are invited to see ourselves as that disciple; that we should imagine Jesus is turning toward us right now, asking, “What are you looking for?” 


What do you say? 


It’s a very straightforward question. No hidden agenda. The question shows that Jesus cares about what we are looking for, what we want. He invites us to think about our lives right now, at this particular place, and consider, what am I looking for? Maybe its faith. Maybe its happiness. Maybe its courage or comfort. Maybe its direction. Maybe its love. 


I have found myself considering this idea lately but for an unusual reason. I am applying for a Lilly Endowment Clergy Sabbatical Grant. It’s a generous gift to clergy who apply and are selected to take 3 months of leave for renewal and reflection. I had been thinking of doing this in 2024 and thought I had until August of this year to submit the application but found out just before Christmas that its due March 15. So that has sped up the process! 


Staff Parish has approved and we have a grant committee that is working with me to make the application. Two weeks ago when Susan and I visited our daughter in Chicago, we went to a coffee shop one day to work on the proposal. The grant uses a key question for clergy: what makes your heart sing? If they are going to support a sabbatical they want to know what makes a clergy person’s heart sing. So Susan sat across from me and said, “SO, what would make your heart sing?” I kind of froze. She said, “What’s wrong?” I said, “I’m not sure. I’m not sure what would make my heart sing. Some of things that used to bring me joy and refreshment don’t quite do the same thing for me. I’ve been in a grind of getting through the last several years, trying to hold things together. I’m not sure right now what would make my heart sing.” 


Now I don’t want you worrying about me. I’m not headed toward a midlife crisis (I’m past midlife!) I share this honest admission to say, this is a liberating question. It puts us back in touch with the fact that our hearts are meant to sing! And maybe it’s a helpful question for you today. Perhaps you are still in this post-Covid funk. You’ve gotten back into a routine of life, but something is missing. Something isn’t there. And perhaps this Lent you need to pause and consider what’s going on in your heart.  


Maybe you have gone through some significant life change in the last few years. Things are different but you are quickly gathering up the pieces and trying to move on, but its hard to do if your heart isn’t singing. 


So what are you looking for today? 


Trevor Hudson, (pic) South African Methodist pastor and author, says this question from Jesus makes us go to the heart. It invites us to go deep inside to that place from which springs our actions, our energy, our joy. When we deal with the heart we are considering who we are and who we really want to become. 


One exercise he recommends for starting this journey is write our own eulogy….(p.78) 


That’s the kind of question Jesus asked. He didn’t ask just anybody what are you looking for? Jesus asked two people who had been disciples of John the Baptist. That told Jesus something about them. They were searching. They were looking for something deep and significant. 


When people showed up for the miracles Jesus performed, he didn’t say, “Now what are ya’ll looking for?” He knew better. “We want to be healed! We want to be fed! We want a miracle!”  


Jesus isn’t looking for surface level answers. I don’t know that Jesus would walk through downtown Indianapolis and ask just anyone, “What are you looking for?” You can imagine the answers, “I need a $100,000! That would get me out of debt and back on track.” Someone else might say, “I need my boyfriend to get his head on straight and come back to me. That’s what I’m looking for.” You could imagine the answers, but there’s a difference between getting life under control and experiencing new life. 


This is a question that’s really intended for deep seekers, people who aren’t just looking for a temporary fix to current life, but people looking for new life. You don’t rush that search. It requires slowing down and reflecting on everything going on with us and where God is in the midst of it all. 


Notice that Andrew and the unnamed disciple answered Jesus question with a question. When asked What are you looking for? They answered, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” The word “stay” in Greek is meno which means “abide.” It is a word with double meaning. It can mean where do you live in a physical sense. And it can mean, ‘what do you live on? As in, what sustains you, what keeps you going? 


So Jesus says, “Come and see.” And it says these disciples stayed with him. Several times the word meno is used. Meno is not a word you use when looking for something quick. Meno and microwave don’t go in the same sentence. Meno is slow play. Meno is like yeast rising in the dough. You have to give it time. “What are you looking for?” is a meno kind of question. It is one to slow down and consider. Being with Jesus will make us slow down. 


So here are a few questions that might help us in our pursuit of what we are really looking for: 




How do I want to be remembered? 


As someone who had time for people or was important? 


As someone who was generous or tightfisted? 


As someone who was understanding or powerful? 


As someone who was fun or had high standards? 


Doing meno kind of time with Jesus, will intersect what we are looking for and what God is hoping for us. When we are willing to let those two meet is where satisfaction begins.  


I have been around a lot of older people in my time. A lot of people who are no longer living, many retired clergy as well as people of other professions. They all had one thing in common. They wanted to know that their lives mattered. They would often recall stories from their careers, things they had done, things of great significance, but after awhile I began to recognize what they were expressing. They wanted to know, “Did my life matter? Did it make a difference?” 


And what I have come to find is a profound paradox. Yes, people’s lives mattered, but they may not be remembered. Our being remembered is not the determiner of whether our lives mattered. Living in such a way as to let God make a difference through us, in the end, is all that matters. One day, I believe, we find that is all that really matters. 


Kent Millard is well beloved and well known to many in our church. But why do we know Kent? You could say that it in large part is due to somebody we don’t know. When Kent was a boy his father was an alcoholic. He would often get so drunk in their small town in South Dakota he couldn’t find his way home, so the town jailor would have to lock him up. 


But the jailor was not a normal person. He was a strong Christian. He believed his life’s difference was not just being a jailor but being someone God could use. He believed Kent’s dad’s life could be salvaged. So one night…