Everyone is Looking for You

A sermon preached at the Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco, on February 4, 2018, by Christopher L. Webber.

Most of us, I expect, at one time or another, have had the experience of being told “Everyone is looking for you.” It’s one of those things people say when you’ve forgotten that you were supposed to be doing something like conducting a funeral or going to your spouse’s birthday party and they come and find you watching television or at the local MacDonalds and tell you, “Everyone is looking for you.” It’s not literally true – there are people in China and Sumatra who have never heard of you – but you know what they mean.

It’s a similar situation when you see someone on the street and they say, “How’s everything?” They probably don’t really want you to tell them. They know and you know that these phrases are “hyperbole,” an overstatement. No one wants to know how “everything” is and not “everybody” is ever looking for you or me.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is in that sort of situation: he had put in a full day’s work teaching and healing and finally the day was over and people had found places to sleep and the next morning Jesus was up early and went off by himself to pray. So when his followers got up, they couldn’t find him and they went looking and when they found him they said, “Everyone is looking for you.”

The gospel according to St. Mark doesn’t waste words and it often packs in more meaning than you might notice on a first reading. I think Mark means it. When he has people tell Jesus “Everyone is looking for you,” I think he means it quite literally. Yes. It’s true. Mark means to tell us that everyone in the world, every single human being is looking for Jesus and needs to find him.

This is, you might say, the other side of the mission coin. The mission of the church is to proclaim the gospel to all people. Why? Because we assume that all people need the gospel, that all people are looking for Jesus. They may not know it, but they are. If they haven’t found Jesus, there’s something missing in their lives. That’s why the CEO of a major corporation with a salary of a zillion dollars and stock options for more, who has a Rolls Royce and a private plane and a house in Sun Valley and another in Bermuda, and on and on, still goes to work and still tries to increase his wealth. There’s something missing in his life and he tries to fill the void with money and possessions and it never works. It’s why some people live to go shopping and it’s probably the root of most addictive behaviors. If we eat too much or drink too much maybe we need to find Jesus; maybe that’s what we’re looking for. It may explain a lot about most of us because most of us have behavior patterns that if we analyzed them objectively might have more to do with silencing our hunger for God than any socially useful purpose.

St. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” Or, as someone else put it, there is a God-shaped blank – or a Jesus-shaped blank – at the center of every life; there’s a void that cries out to be filled. Everyone needs to fill that space and Jesus’ disciples saw that Jesus could do it in a way no one else could do. That’s why they said, “Everyone is looking for you.”

Now, think about the world from that perspective. What does that tell us about the suicide bomber in Afghanistan who has despaired of any future, or the tyrant who runs North Korea with his need to control his country, or the President of the United States with his insatiable need to be liked, or what does it tell you about the neighbor whose behavior drives you around the bend, or about myself on the days when I do things that I know are hurtful or create needless tensions in a local community?

At their root, all these problems are the same. Everyone is looking for Jesus. Our problem is that we don’t know it so we try everything else in the world to fill that need and none of it works – not for very long. Over 20% of the world’s population is Muslim, 1.5 billion people. Are they looking for Jesus? Well, certainly not consciously! Most of them have probably never met a Christian. But they need to.

Come closer to home. If every member of the Episcopal Church is looking for Jesus, why can’t we get along with each other better? Shouldn’t we have more in common than we seem to? Maybe we need to meet Jesus in some deeper way.

I come across the term fairly often these days, “a seeker-oriented church.” It’s a description often used about some of the mega-churches: “seeker-oriented.” But why would that be different from any other? I hope this church is seeker-oriented; I hope you and I are seeker-oriented. I hope we are all seekers ourselves. I hope each of us comes seeking every week and is consciously seeking every day and seeking especially such a knowledge of God and relationship with Jesus Christ that other seekers, maybe not quite as far along as we are, might find some answers through us, might recognize us as people whose lives reflect a certain sense of purpose, whose lives seem to be centered, seem to be moving in a direction that might draw them along to come seeking with us.

As we move along toward the Annual Meeting next week we need to think in those terms: what kind of church are we, what kind of church do we want to be, why are we here, what or whom are we seeking, what help do we need in our search, how can we draw others to join us in our search. These are, first of all, the kind of questions we need to be able to answer. And pre-packaged answers don’t usually help. What we need instead are tools to help this particular community and each particular individual find the answers that are right for them.

I learned early on not to be too certain as an Episcopalian about anything – except the love of God. Apart from that, there is no one-size-fits all answer because there’s no one single question. Even my own questions today are different from the ones I had last year or ten years ago or fifty years ago. Some Christians think there is one simple answer like “John 3:16.” That’s the right answer for some people some of the time, but some people may need to hear John 3:17 or 3:18. But our questions change and the answer comes in  different forms. It’s still Jesus – that’s still the answer – but what Jesus means to me now is different in some ways from what he meant to me fifty years ago. What Jesus means to me is different from what he means to someone dying of cancer or a teenager whose friends are doing drugs or a Detroit auto-worker just laid off from the only work he knows or a Palestinian with no work or hope of work or an Afghan whose life has been torn apart and who finds American troops to be a convenient focus for his anger. Are all of them looking for Jesus? Yes – at the deepest level – yes. Because what all of us need to know deep down – is the same thing: that there is a God who loves you and cares for you and sent his own son to die for you and rise to a new life. That’s Jesus. That’s life. God’s promise is life. Life in Jesus. That’s what we need to know. And that’s what we need to translate to the specific needs of others. And it does translate: differently for each life, yes, but it does translate, and that’s what today’s gospel tells us that Jesus’ disciples had realized: “Everyone is looking for you.”

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