Let me ask you a personal question: Why are you listening to this program? What are you searching for?
You and I lead busy lives. A friend commented recently, "We live in a hurry, die in a hurry, are buried in a hurry and forgotten in a hurry!" What a sad commentary on our times. I was handed a business card the other day. In simpler times a professional business card would have a person's name, address, and phone number--that's all. But not this card! It had the man's name, address, work phone number, home phone number, car phone number, cell phone number, beeper number, fax number, e-mail address, and website. Poor fellow--he must be on call around the clock.
In metro Detroit, as other major urban centers, seasoned drivers know that "every hour on the 8's," one can dial a particular radio station for an up-to-date traffic and weather report. During morning and afternoon rush hours, helicopter traffic watchers report how to adjust our driving routes around congested intersections and clogged arteries. We have places to be and appointments to keep--there's no time to waste. Our cell phones and personal pagers must always be at hand. Computers, clocks, calendars, and cell phones could one day replace cancer and heart disease as the major causes of death in this country.
Our culture is looking for something desperately. Lurking behind all the scheduled chaos that fills our modern life is a deep hunger gnawing away in the deepest part of our being. Some may not acknowledge it, but most of us are searching for something more in our lives. Still others, so consumed by their spiritual hunger, in frustration, have at least become church dropouts, yet yearning to discover something more to fill the awful emptiness deep inside the soul.
Perhaps it's the quest to fill that emptiness which has created today's boom market for the spiritual "quick fix." In the contemporary market place, spirituality is a major consumer item. When a spiritual ache twinges or empty soul growls, we can run to the closest bookstore and buy the newest "hot seller" on the spiritual fulfillment list. Unfortunately, many are so confused about what they're looking for, they end up collecting "spiritualities" like other people collect stamps or coins.
On one hand we encounter the New-Age seekers with their crystals, pyramids, animal spirit guides, herbal potions, dream shapers or dream catchers. Their promise? We can provide the missing spiritual spark in your technological, time-ticking daily schedule. My curiosity was grabbed by a recent sermon title on a Detroit church bulletin board. The preacher's topic: "An Idiot's Guide to Christianity."
On the other hand, there's a different religious twist that's continuing to pervade our national culture. Someone has said that much sentiment surrounding religion today may be compared to an old grandfather's clock. The clock is now a family heirloom; everybody likes to have it around. No one seems to notice it fails to keep time. But nothing in the world could convince a family member to get rid of grandfather's clock. Indeed, it's polished and dusted regularly and has a place of honor in the living room, yet no one today expects grandfather's clock to tell time or to regulate life.
And so the beat goes on!
This search for an anchor or something we can count on to bring meaning in our life is ageless. The quest was as real in the first century as it is in the 21st. We read in today's Gospel that Jesus is confronted by some disciples of John the Baptist, who have begun following him. "What are you looking for?" Jesus asks. No pithy parable here, no gentle discipling but an interrogation more than anything else. During the course of Jesus' ministry, it would become blatantly evident just what some of his so-called followers were looking for.
As Jesus' reputation spread, throngs crowded around him with various diseases and ailments.
They were looking for healing.
As his popularity spread, the religious authorities began to question his theology and orthodoxy.
They were looking for a fight.
As his miracles increased, there were the hangers-on, just there for the show.
They were looking for entertainment.
As his wisdom spread throughout Galilee and into Judea, there were seekers like the rich, young ruler who tried to second-guess his meanings.
They were looking for an easy way into heaven.
As his fame circulated and he became the "talk of the town," there were lots of people with needs and wants who followed him.
They were looking for the loaves and fishes.
When Jesus went off by himself to the mountains and became lost in prayer, his disciples interrupted him, "Everyone is looking for you!" The disciples were right. Everyone was looking for Jesus--even John the Baptist was looking for Jesus.
An official delegation from the Sanhedrin, made up of priests and Levites, was sent by the high priest to quiz John about his identity. The Jewish leaders regarded John as a maverick, an outsider. He had gone to no seminary; he had sat at no one's feet; he had not been ordained. He had suddenly arisen out of the common people, and many were flocking to hear him. The establishment could no longer ignore him.
So they asked John, "Who are you?" We are justified in reading it as though they were saying, "Who do you think you are anyway?"
"Are you the Christ?" He said, "No."
"Are you Elijah?" "No, I'm not." (He was in the Elijah tradition, looking the part in his sackcloth and leather.)
"Are you one of the prophets?" "No, I tell you."
"Then who are you? We can't go back to Jerusalem without an answer. Give us a break."
And to this John replies, "I'm a voice crying in the wilderness preparing the way of the Lord."
John is very upfront. "I am only a witness."
"Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is the man I've been talking about, the Messiah, the Son of God...."
Just as John was clear about his role as a witness, he was also clear about Christ's role on behalf of humanity.
John uses the image of the Lamb--not just any lamb--but the Lamb of God. He was referring to the Old Testament ritual of sacrificing a lamb upon the altar. Divine instruction had been that without the shedding of blood, there could be no forgiveness of sin. The priests were kept very busy in the temple as people crowded to clear their records with God through the sacrifice of the lamb.
John pointed to Jesus saying, "Behold, the Lamb of God," the lamb God has chosen as the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of all humanity. Jesus would become a once-and-for-all sacrifice for all people. We read in the prophet Isaiah that "as a lamb he is slaughtered and does not open his mouth...and by his wounds we are healed."
The image of a lamb applies to us today. We like lambs can easily go astray and become prey to the forces of evil. No lamb alone can withstand the attacks of a hungry wolf. Except for one. It took Jesus, the Lamb of God, to take our sinful nature in his own body, and through his death and resurrection conquer sin, death, and the evil one. This is the good news! This is exciting news! It is news John, the witness, is revealing to us of God's work on our behalf. He is unveiling for us the grace of God.
Like John, you and I are called to be witnesses to Christ's work on behalf of all humanity in every time and place.
Now, more than ever, the lambs in our midst are being preyed upon. You and I witness the situations surrounding many in our urban, suburban, and rural areas--people facing increased violence, drugs, fear, poverty, economic and ethnic strife, injustice.
You and I encounter people spiritually starving. More than half of America's population is not active in any church with little, if any, knowledge of basic biblical teachings.
H. George Anderson, a Lutheran bishop, has said, "People are hungry for God, yet are settling for spiritual junk food." Yes, people are searching!
"Everyone is looking for you!"
The disciples were right--many are looking for Jesus, for the living Spirit of God in their lives, even though many may not realize it. But where are we looking? Collections of ceramic "Jesus junk" can't fill the void. Bags of crystals won't answer the need. All the newest spiritual books fail to fill the emptiness inside us. The answer to Jesus' soul-searching question, "What are you looking for?" can't be bought in a shopping mall. Each one of us has a hole in the heart that only God can fill. The ancient cry of St. Augustine must become our cry: "Thou has made us for thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee."
Jesus knew there would be a lot of wrong reasons given as well as wrong pathways taken in our spiritual search. Our world abounds today, as then, with persons who are following a counterfeit Christ.
Discovering the Spirit of God, the presence of Christ in your life, will rarely be experienced as a burning bush or a blinding light. Growing a soul, filling your spirit with the right nourishment is a day-to-day, week-to-week, lifelong process. Sometimes it takes long years of sitting at the Rabbi's feet, listening to his teachings, before we can kneel at the foot of the cross and claim discipleship. Perhaps we need to first ask, "Teacher, teach us," before we can confess, "Jesus, save us."
People are searching--looking here and looking there--and too many are looking in all the wrong places. No matter how you slice it, ultimately, at the bottom of it all, you're searching for something more and that something more finally ends up with God in your life.
Perhaps that's one of the reasons we've shared these moments today. You're on a spiritual pilgrimage? You're on a mission to grow a soul?
I pray that you who hear Jesus ask, "What are you looking for?" may gladly respond with the only answer that will ever truly satisfy: "I'm looking for Jesus, the Lamb of God, who forgives the sin of the world, who forgives even me."
You see, God really wants to do you good, and not to do you in!
Let us pray.
Behold, Lord, empty vessels that need to be filled. Lord, fill them. We are weak in faith; strengthen us. We are cold in love; warm us and make us fervent that our love may go out to our neighbors. We may not have a strong faith. At times we doubt and are unable to trust you altogether. Lord, help us. Strengthen our faith and our trust in you. Amen.