It seems I spend half my life searching for things that I’ve misplaced. Umbrellas, sunglasses, keys, mail all have a way of mysteriously disappearing. Then sometimes, after I have lost something, it suddenly turns up. Several years ago I had a ring, one that I liked well enough, but not one particularly dear or important. It was a little loose on my finger, and one day it slipped off when I was in the living room. I looked high and low, in every possible corner and crevice, and could not find it, though I distinctly heard it drop. Several years later, I opened a frequently used closet in my study—nowhere near the living room—and there on top of a frequently used backpack, lay that ring. How it got there I will never know. And why there I will never know.
It is not so much about mysterious disappearances nor about equally mysterious reappearances that I talk with you today. It is rather the perennial condition of searching for something. Or more particularly, searching for someone.
This sentence leaps out to me in today’s gospel: “everybody is searching for you.” Yes, everybody still is searching for you. But who is the “you” we are looking for? Take a closer look at the story. Jesus has appeared in the town where he is headquartered for the time being: Capernaum. It is the village of Simon Peter, whose mother-in-law is ill. Jesus heals her. Suddenly all manner of people appear wanting their own personal miracles. Some are demon-possessed. Some are just sick. Some have one thing or another that begs to be healed, cleansed, made whole. Little wonder that everybody is searching for him the next day. That sort of appearance with those sorts of effects can make one instantly popular. And the poor people in and around Capernaum can hardly be blamed for wanting health care. Notice, however, that Jesus does not hang around Capernaum, great as the need there may be. He insists that he go on to other towns in order to “proclaim the message,” for that, he said, is what he came to do.
Everybody in 2015 is looking for something. I think that is a fair statement. Trouble is we are not at all agreed on what it is we are searching for. (Nothing says that everybody either is or ought to be searching for the same thing.) But I suggest, broadly speaking, that we are indeed looking for two things that are fairly constant and universal. We are looking for solutions to problems, and we are searching for meaning. And if I am at all right about that, it is precisely at the intersection of those two things—solutions and meaning—that we find ourselves engaged in a search for God.
I suspect that few here would challenge me on that. You are, in my experience, a rather congenial audience. You are in church today expecting to hear something about God, and you probably aren’t surprised to hear a sermon offering you something along that line. But I want to push us this morning to examine a bit more closely what it is that drives this search, and where it is that the search might lead.
It should come as no surprise that the search we are engaged in is a part of what it means to be human. St. Augustine famously said in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” To have a heart restless in its tossing and turning until it find its Maker is quite a different thing from looking for a solution to a problem. It is quite different even from looking for a miracle—a healing, for instance. Is it possible that we could start out searching for something that we are very sure we need, only to find out somewhere along the pike that we actually seek something different from what we initially had thought? That seems to be the discovery of a huge number of people on the path to Truth. We start looking for protection or help in specific situations or for things that we think we need (and perhaps do need). But if we keep at it long enough, and if we are growing in awareness, we possibly come to the place where we are interested in things that are a little bit more removed from our immediate desires and wants. We might even begin to desire things that we have little to benefit from personally, but which can be enormously important to others. So we add to our search not just things that will make us personally whole and well and protected from harm, but also things like justice and peace for the entire human family. And if we search even longer and more diligently, we might possibly begin to see the center of our search become not just virtuous things like justice and peace, but a search for a kind of grounding in charitable living, for example. And if we continue searching, we might begin to see that the search is leading us to more openness to Presence all around us and within us.
That seems to be what we notice in Jesus, and so also in the people that were seeking him. It would have been understandable for him to stay in Capernaum, open up his own hospital or medical practice and treat an incessant stream of folk who truly needed his healing touch. But he didn’t. He kept moving, going to other towns so he could bring them the message (could it have been a message about the great Search itself?). That is why he came in the first place.
Don’t miss the thing that bridges the healings in Capernaum and the decision to move on. It is a big chunk of night spent in prayer. And what is prayer, if not the explicit search for God? Jesus engages in his own search, one can well imagine a searching out of his own purpose and mission. He models for us what searching is. He invites us into the great search, which is, ironically, not just the human search for God but the Spirit of God’s own search of the human heart. “You have searched me, O God, and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up. You discern my thoughts from afar. You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways.” So says the Psalmist, one of the wisest of Hebrew poets.
So, far down the avenues that we are scanning with our hearts in restless gear, it begins to dawn on us that while we are doing our searching for meaning, this untamable God is doing a kind of searching too—searching out the human heart, looking for the return of this creature in whom God has set a squirming restlessness. And if we are ever so lucky as to be able to say that we have at last found anything, don’t be surprised to hear yourself saying something like, “I walk, I find, I love, but O the whole of love is but my answer, Lord, to thee. For thou wert long beforehand with my soul. Always thou lovedst me.”
© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2015
Hymnal 1982 (NY: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1982), hymn 689.