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5 Epiphany - Mark 1:29-39

Sometimes Simon Peter gets it right.

For all his foibles and failures, Simon sometimes sees and speaks the truth, even if it is deeper than he realizes.

Long before naming Jesus the Messiah with no idea what that meant, he and his companions nail the truth in chapter one, saying to Jesus: Everyone is searching for you.

Centuries later, Saint Augustine prayed: Our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you.

The God in whom we are finally and fully at home, the God who makes a home with us in Jesus, is the real longing of every restless heart and thirsty soul.

We don't all, or always, realize that, of course.

We spend a lot ot time and energy and money hunting down other gods: popularity,

pleasure, security, success, fortune, fame, family, career, victory, health, prestige, power, or whatever else we think will make and keep us happy.

We chase after Christ not only in the usual suspects like sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but also among the noble idols like work and religion and fitness and family.

The gifts are so good that we can easily confuse them with the Giver.

We set ourselves up for disappointment, burdening these beautiful gifts with a weight they cannot bear.

We do the same to ourselves.

We wear ourselves out, to quote the theologian Johnny Lee. looking for love in all the wrong places.

In our frantic, impatient, demanding pursuit, even youths faint and grow weary and the young fall exhausted.

I read dire warnings about the massive wave of turnover coming to churches and think, "but

nurses and teachers and grocery workers and bartenders and therapists and social workers and so many others have it worse than we do."

What will become of an insatiable society addicted to instant gratification now buried alive in pandemic and political gridlock for over a year?

Our whole town is sick, and even Jesus only healed many of them, not all, before dashing off to the desert to escape into the mothering arms of prayer.

Is our way hidden from the LORD, disregarded by our God?

Where is our heart's desire now?

Send a search party and hunt the healer down: Everyone is looking for you!

Credit again to Simon and his companions for finding Jesus where we might not think to look.

They find him alone, in the wilderness, in the day's darkest hour.

It is the same word Mark uses when Jesus was driven by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan

among the wild beasts.

It is a landscape of loneliness, darkness, and danger.

Are we wise enough to hunt for God in places like that?

Are we brave enough to look to the cross?

The good news Jesus speaks and lives is that the kingdom of God has come near, which means It hangs out in a sketchy neighborhood.

We can find what we're looking for, but we have to be willing and brave enough to look in scary places.

We have to search the darkness, within us and around us, that we would rather avoid.

We have to touch the fever and face the demons.

We have to traffic among the sick and hurting and desperate.

We have to move beyond the outskirts of our familiar world to the neighboring towns,

to other worlds, other ways of living.

God does not stay confined in our hometown synagogue or sanctuary or church family or

denomination, no matter how much Jesus might agree with Lutheran theology.

We have to follow Jesus into places where we are not in control: other towns, broken lives, and of course, prayer.

Mystics will tell you that the dark night of the soul is the unavoidable passageway to glory.

Those with the deepest, strongest faith are usually those who have weathered the direst doubts and storms.

The path to spring goes through winter; the path to adulthood goes through adolescence; the path to wisdom and maturity and joy goes through going without them.

We have to risk the dangers of being in the dark to find the true light.

Everything quick and easy is a light bulb, not the sun, which only appears on the back side of the darkest hour.

There is no Easter avoiding the cross.

The shepherd we seek walks us into the valley of the shadow.

When he celebrates Passover—which itself led directly to forty years in the desert—he is betrayed and framed, arrested, denied, and condemned to death.

He tears open bread and says, This is me, broken for you.

He pours out wine and says, This is my blood, my life poured out for you.

Eat, drink this messianic mess and renew your strength.

Mount up with wings like eagles, move forward beyond fainting and fatigue.

This strange manna, this swig of crushed grape, this solitary, crucified man who hangs out in

the desert and the sick bay and the foreign turf and other scary places, including but not

limited to the weekly Sinners Anonymous meeting called church—this weird, wonder-working, elusive, prayerful, powerful, pathetic excuse for a messiah who dies in darkness and slips away again into life—he is the one everyone is searching for.

He is the unlimited Love we yearn for, and he is endlessly, tirelessly hunting for you.

You might fall exhausted into the arms of death without ever finding him.

He will find you.

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