What are you looking for?
Alan's sermon at St Andrew's on 19 January 2014
‘You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains, carried the cross of my shame, you know I believe it… but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’.
When Bono, from the Irish rock band U2, first sang those lyrics back in 1987, I remember as a young Christian feeling confused. Surely, believers like me and Mr Bono have found what we’re looking for. Signed, sealed, delivered.
Over the years I’ve realised that he was right. Granted, we can and should feel secure in our relationship with God, but this thing called faith isn’t a destination to arrive at; it’s the journey itself; the trip of a lifetime. Glimpses, reassurances, moments of clarity and communion, yes; but this side of eternity we will always be searching for more.
Why? Because we human beings were created with this insatiable thirst for what lies beyond. We’re born restless; born destined never to be satisfied, because what we are searching for cannot be owned. What lies beyond - the infinite - is outside of our imagination and language and reach. And, yet, we each carry within us this invisible homing beacon, which calls us back to our Source; back to beyond; back to the One who made us; the One we were made for.
And that journey home is a life’s work; we never arrive, this side of eternity.
When we stand still, when we refuse to search, when we convince ourselves that we have found exactly what we are looking for, that’s when faith begins to stagnate and die. Faith has to keep moving to stay alive, it needs to keep pushing out into the unknown; daring to ask questions, keeping an open, beginner's mind - it needs to be humble enough to believe that wisdom can be found in the most unexpected of places. This is the oxygen of faith.
‘What are you looking for?’ That’s the question Jesus asks these two would-be disciples in our reading today [John 1. 35-42].
And it’s not the easiest of questions. Perhaps, if we could put something into words, we might say we’re looking for truth or meaning or answers? Peace of mind, perhaps, or a fix or a messiah? What are you looking for?
Or have we perhaps given up looking? Satisfied ourselves with a brand of churchgoing, or materialism, or cynicism?
The two disciples respond with a question of their own: ‘Where are you staying?’ they ask Jesus. Somehow, instinctively, they know that it’s this man who can help them find something of what they’re looking for. And, in true style, instead of giving them an address or directions, Jesus simply says in response, ‘Well, come and see’. And so begins a lifelong itinerant friendship, which takes them to the heights and depths of themselves. Even when, later, Jesus was no longer physically with them, he remained their constant companion; their guide as they pursued their quest to find what they’re looking for and to encourage others to do the same.
So, what are you looking for? What’s your heart’s desire?
What we want, of course, isn’t always the same as what we need. Every human being, if only we could recognise it, is looking actually for the same thing. We all have unfinished business, a hunger to know and be known by none other than the Creator of the universe.
I was speaking with a guy last week who was telling me about a placement he did in his early twenties with a drug rehabilitation centre in Dublin. Every time a new person was referred to the project, he explained, everyone else in rehab was taken to a room upstairs while the new person stood at the bottom of the stairs. In silence they waited and waited for one thing; to hear that person scream at the top of their lungs, ‘I need help!’ This was their only entrance requirement; to acknowledge their absolute need, because it’s only at the point of complete helplessness that real help can be received. In the words of the first of the twelve steps: ‘We admit we are powerless and our lives unmanageable.’
I need help
We all need help
In his novel ‘Life after God’, Douglas Coupland tells the stories of some friends who were brought up in a culture that had moved on from God; grown up, left those childish ways behind them.
But science and rationale don’t adequately deal with this original restlessness within, so these friends go in search of something that can. And in the final paragraph of the book, the main character makes his confession:
“My secret is that I need God—that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.”
As we listen to that, maybe we’re thinking, 'Well, that’s not me, I’m a good person; kind, giving, loving; I go to church'. And thank God for that. But when our goodness or churchgoing becomes justification for not searching or moving on or becoming more of who we were made to be, then it’s a curse not a blessing. Like the addict or the guy in the book or the writer of today’s Psalm, we all need to get to the end of ourselves before God can begin with us.
And here’s my confession. Much of the time I don’t need God, I’m perfectly capable of getting on with business as usual on my own, even this business of being a professional Christian. I can usually draw on reserves; coast along because too often I’m too strong or proud or self-reliant or busy to recognise that, more than the air I breathe, I need God.
The moment we stop needing God is the moment we stop living.
Jesus says ‘come and see’, walk a while with me, let me open your eyes and your heart to something more, let me create a hunger inside which will lead you further into truth and love and peace and life.
As sermons go, this one’s very simple. It’s not rocket science, I’m probably teaching grandma to suck eggs. But this is what I need to hear today, and I’m trusting that maybe you do, too.
We’re in a church not a rehab. I’m standing in a pulpit not at the foot of a staircase. We probably don’t need to scream. But, this morning, God is waiting for one thing, waiting for each one of us to say those life changing words: ‘I need help, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.’