Ginger Gaines-Cirelli: Everyone Is Searching

Just thirty years ago, if someone said they were going to do a search for something, you might have imagined they were talking about emptying drawers or closets or rummaging through a basement or going to a mall to find what they were looking for. Today, I'd bet our mind jumps right to the internet.

These days, you can find pretty much anything you're looking for online. You can order up anything your heart desires and, in no time, have it delivered directly to you. Over the past year, as our nation and the whole world has grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, those of us lucky enough to have the technology have spent an extraordinary amount of time online and in front of screens of various kinds. And here's a bit of an aside. I don't know about you, but I think I've directed some of my angst over the last year into retail therapy. Those online advertisers are tricky. I've been part of conversations among loved ones and with the staff of my congregation talking about how sick we all are of connecting via technology. Screen fatigue is real. But I've also been aware of what a gift the technology is. Imagine what it would be like if we couldn't see one another at all for a year or more! Imagine life if we couldn't search one another out in this way?

Imagine next what it would be like to be able to search God out in this way - a search engine to find God. We could set up an algorithm that, like most of our social media platforms, filters out all the voices we don't want to receive and focuses only on the voices of God. We could make sure that idols were banned from our feed. And maybe we could get an app that would allow us to order up what we needed from God and then get contactless delivery. But even in this fantasy, we know it would be difficult for these searches to be free from tampering. How would we know that we were receiving God's voice and not a "bot?" It is so easy, so easy to get lured, hooked, and distracted by nefarious voices, and all of us, in one form or fashion, end up at the beck and call of idols.

At least there is a tried-and-true way to identify when we're worshiping an idol, and that is when that idol or false god lets us down. Oh, how we are forsaken by our false gods! All those possessions haven't given the sense of self-worth that we crave; that great physique we've been so obsessive about and paid for each month by direct deposit to the fitness club hasn't brought us any closer to believing we can truly be loved; the job that has claimed our loyalty all these years has ultimately failed to sustain a deep sense of identity or meaning; our political leaders and allegiances and even the most precious relationships have failed to provide everything we need, because - gasp! - people are human and therefore fallible and finite. And our idolatrous images of God as a being made in our image, bowing to our puny vision, functioning as a divine ATM - that God will let us down every time. In our search for meaning and happiness, perhaps we have learned that the false gods whose calls we answer all the time do not provide healing for the deepest losses and brokenness in our lives. Those idols - even the most juicy escapism types - will not set us free from what truly holds us hostage.

For those frustrated by their seemingly failed search, the scapegoat is often - who do you think? - God! And the refrain hasn't changed across the ages. It is the same as we hear in the prophet's words today: "My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God." (Isaiah 40:27) In other words, "God isn't taking care of me - God blows me off - God isn't doing what God should do." Because, you see, God cannot be purchased and delivered in tidy packages with a next-day delivery guarantee. God is not available in "my way right away" fashion. And these days we don't want to wait. We want what we want when we want it. We don't want to hear that "God's wisdom is unsearchable." Come on, everything is searchable - just Google it.

In our gospel lesson, Simon comes to Jesus and tells him, "Everyone is searching for you." And it remains to be the case today. Of course, not every person will name "Jesus" as who or what they are looking for, but I believe that, as human beings - just like those who pressed against the door where Jesus was in our gospel - I believe we all search for something that will heal us, that will strengthen us, that will make us more free as individuals and as a human family. We search for better life, for more life, peaceful life, fulfilled life, a life in which we can pay our bills, in which we can trust ourselves, in which we will feel better, look better, live better; we search for a better world, a world in which we don't have to worry every day about the safety of our loved ones, a world in which the concerns of the impoverished, disenfranchised, and oppressed are the drivers of our political and religious agendas instead of shareholder returns and corporate bottom lines, a world in which we don't have to wonder each day whether there will be enough sanity around to keep us from destroying the planet. We search for a person with whom we can share our lives and our hearts. We search for a cure for our diseases. We search for a stable home in which our children will have enough food, for a community in which the reality of our lives can be acknowledged and affirmed. We search for a reality in which the hurts we feel, the brokenness we have inflicted, the pain of others will be soothed and healed.

Everyone is searching for what Jesus embodied for those in today's story: someone or something that brings hope and healing and gives meaning to human life. I believe that, whether we know it or not, we are all searching for God.

So, how do we search for and find the God whom we seek? Is the answer to have the fastest search engines? I wish I could confidently share some stunning new insight about how to connect with God. But all I have is the text and several thousand years of finite human experience to go on.

Isaiah tells us that "those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint." The promise of healing and liberation and renewed strength will be fulfilled for those who wait on the Lord. Jesus, we are told, after a very long day of ministering to the sick, rose very early the next morning and went to a deserted place where he prayed (Mark 1:35). Sometimes - perhaps right now - we, like Jesus, are in a place that is "still very dark" and from that place we wait for the Lord to renew our strength. Our searching for God begins on our knees or in our beds or on our hikes or walks or wherever we steal away to pray. It is in prayer that we not only speak, but where we open ourselves to listen. We wait.

There is another connection here for us - there is another way that we search for God. When I was in college and seminary, I worked in a restaurant waiting on tables. The language of Isaiah strikes me, "those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength..." Those who wait on God, who serve God will renew their strength. How do we do that? How can we serve a God whom we are trying to find? It may make sense to us that we have to wait on God - as in sitting and waiting, even in prayer. But consider, you may seek God's face as you serve and "wait upon" others. Jesus taught that when we care for anyone in need, we care for him. So, another way to search for God is by serving others - because Jesus has told us that when we serve others, particularly the poor and the oppressed, we will encounter the divine face.

Prayer and service; there's your God-search engine. It's not shiny and new; it's not instant gratification; it's not completely in your control; it doesn't respond at the touch of a key, a swipe right or left, or the swipe of a credit card - and Lord knows serving others is not "contactless."

Let's be honest - it's messy and difficult to serve others when we're looking into the face of a person who pushes our buttons or who doesn't appreciate what we're offering. It's difficult to pray when you're truly trying to listen and it feels like you're met with nothing but deafening silence, but we are assured that as we wait on the Lord in prayer and service, we will - in the mystery of God - come face to face with God; we are assured that we will receive, maybe not what we think we want, but exactly what we need.

Amidst the many voices that clamor for our attention, among all the idols that seduce us, the voice of the Holy One continues to speak our names. That voice knows what we're really searching for and God alone can provide it. God alone can provide what we truly need, the power, the renewal, the strength, the healing, the liberation from whatever is binding us.

Our online searches can give us pleasant distraction for the short term and can even provide some of what we need. But if we want to run the race that is set before us, the race of meaning love and justice-filled lives, we need the promise of a God who is always already searching for us, a God who won't crash or freeze, a God who will help us not only run, but mount up with wings and fly.

Let us pray.

Loving and generous, ever-present God, thank you for searching for us. Thank you for giving us not what we think we want but what you know we need. May we wait on you in prayer and service, trusting that you will be found. Amen.