Sunday, June 7, 2015

"Find What You Are Looking For?": Pentecost 2 2015

Pentecost 2 2015 June 7, 2015
St. Thomas’ Episcopal
“Find What You Are Looking For?”

I have had a lot of jobs along the way.  Many different and varied jobs, all of them fascinating in their own way, all of them hard for what they attempt.  I have told stories of working at the mall, and I have been a frequent shopper enough to know very well the phrase “Can I help you find something?”

In that way, I feel like I am still in Sales, helping people find what they are looking for.  And people are funny.  So many of us have no idea what we are looking for.  We know we want something, we just do not know what.  Even harder are folks who know what they want, even if it is not what they need.  And some, the rare few, get to that happy place, the Promised Land.

When my kids look in the fridge with the door open, I urge them to know what they want before they open the door.  But they are like me, and most of us, so often, they have no idea what they want.  They stand there, letting all the cold out, or the heat in, I guess.  Pondering what it is they want.

All of us, we just know we want something.  The phrase “I’ll know it when I see it.” comes from United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in 1964 to describe his threshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio.  He did not want to set parameters that someone could find their way around on allegations of obscenity or pornography, and very clearly set this common sense standard. “I know it when I see it.”  How many of us use that standard in our longings, in our searches for our heart’s desires?  We know we want something other than what we have, we just do not know what it is.

If only our searches were as simple as my kids’ looking for something in the fridge, but alas, we still have not found what we’re looking for, to borrow from U2, the Irish rock band.

In our searching, we have this vague feeling of whatever it is is out there.

Blaise Pascal, philosopher and theologian, talks about these deep longings:

"What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself."  Blaise Pascal, Pensees

The God-shaped hole in all of us, as Pascal alluded to, may be what we seek.  Many theologians have stated this over the years, whether Bill W.’s Higher Power as the 12-steps rely on, or as St. Augustine phrased it.  “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”― Augustine of Hippo, Confessions
While many may not know what they are looking for, a goodly number runs the other way.  The other extreme is just as bad, if not worse.  Sometimes, we think we know what we need and we say we know exactly what we want, and we could not be more in the wrong!
Instead of staying in the tension of the journey, the run to surety and comfort.  This is the underlying cause of fundamentalism no matter what the religion or the political party.  That need to be in the right, and going to the point of obsession over it is the reality that we see in the headlines on a daily basis now.  ISIS, Tea Party, Christian Right, New Atheism, whatever the stripe, the people who need the surety find comfort in finding something, giving themselves a handle to abate their fears.
This is no different than the reading from I Samuel, when the leaders of the nation of affiliated tribes let go of their long tradition of being ruled by judges and corrected by the prophets.
I Samuel 8:6-7 But the thing displeased Samuel when [the leaders] said, "Give us a king to govern us." Samuel prayed to the LORD, and the LORD said to Samuel, "Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.
God’s people looked around, and all the other nations around them had kings.  They felt inferior.  Their tribal leadership approach seemed outdated and old-fashioned.  We are looking at the point in history when monarchy was the cutting edge of political thought.  Monarchy was the be-all and end-all of the way things could be.  As God made clear to Samuel, God was the one being rejected, not Samuel.  In fact, they called on Samuel’s spiritual authority to anoint the newly chosen king, Saul, and if you follow your biblical history, we know what a winner this guy was. [Sarcasm]  The people saw what they wanted to see, and so they found what they desired, even though it was a horrible choice.

When I was in graduate school, many of my friends in the program were planning on going into consulting, or were sharpening their skills as they already were consultants.  We were repeatedly extolled to go into every situation fresh, and to try and take our own blinders off before making conclusions or stating errant generalizations.  It summed up well this way, “If the only tool in your toolkit is a hammer, every problem is a nail.  If the only tool is a screwdriver, every problem is a screw.”  

The nation of Israel’s leaders said they wanted a king, so they went out and found themselves a king.  Like the old adage, be careful what you wish for, you just may get it.  Just as bad as not knowing what we are looking for, is deciding in advance what we are looking for and not slowing down till we find just that.  During staff training at Shrine Mont we repeatedly say to our staff, “Be open to outcomes.”  

When we are open to outcomes, God can do miraculous things, things can be far better than we ever realized or worked towards.  God’s possibilities are far greater than our hopes, far greater than our dreams.

When we define the outcomes, we put blinders on ourselves.

Jesus family, like everyone else, wanted a Messiah, but not like this.  In our Gospel reading for the day, we have the story that too many people want to avoid.  Too many people want to sweep this one under the rug.

Jesus was teaching, healing, and casting out demons.  Word had gotten back to Mary and Jesus’ siblings that, “He has gone out of his mind.”  And it would have been their job to get the man back home.  

Scribes, down from the Capital of Jerusalem, started saying in response to this obvious sign of authority (they would have said flagrant) that Jesus had power over demons because he was the Lord of Demons.  

Mark 3:22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons."

Interesting sidenote, the term they use here is Beelzebul, a slightly off transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic slur of the Lord of Flies, or the Lord of Dung.  They have even found golden fly statues in Philistine archeological digs.  King of Filth might be an appropriate modern translation.  If you remember the young adult novel by William Golding entitled Lord of the Flies, it comes from this term as the boys on the island devolve to their most base selves.
So we have his family saying he is crazy, and we have the religious leaders saying he is the Devil himself, but those who were gathered around him that day were willing to look beyond the easy assumptions, those that are open in their outcomes, and were able to see something more.

This story so closely parallels a passage from C.S. Lewis’ talks during World War II that became the classic, Mere Christianity.  He says here,
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

The people there in the room with him were not the only ones who found something more.  You see, Jesus was finding and growing his Church.  The word we translate as Church comes from the Greek for “the called-out-ones.”  Here he even calls those his true family.

Mark 3:31- 35 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.   A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you."  And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?"  And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."

Jesus knew what he wanted, AND he was open to the outcomes of how God would do it.

We can wander aimlessly, not having a clue and hoping to found what we are looking for eventually.

We can get impatient, and decide on a course of action, any course of action.  We all have heard the cliche, “Don’t just stand there, do something.”  God may very well be screaming back to us, “Don’t just do something, STAND THERE.”  We do not need to rush, but we do need to be open to God.

Let us wait, dear brothers and sisters.  Let us wait on the Lord.  As Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  May we be counted among them.  Amen.

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Blessings, Rock