DEREK LARSON, SCRIPTURE REFLECTION
ST. GEORGE’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH GRIFFIN, GA
5TH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, 2018
“Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in you.” Amen.
Quick Survey: How many of you consider yourselves to be morning people? Let me clarify, how many of you are 0-snoozers? The alarm clock goes off and your feet hit the floor? I had a grandma like that. No hesitation. Straight up. How many of you are 1 snoozers? 2? 3? 5? How many of you just set more than one alarm just in case? Yeah, that’s me.
I’ll be honest, sometimes I snooze my alarm for 45 minutes before getting up. You’d think I’d just eventually set my alarm for the time when I actually get up, but every night before I go to bed I have this vision of getting up super early and eating breakfast at the table with a cup of coffee and some meditative reading. I imagine sitting out on the porch and having a conversation with the early birds as we anticipate the rising of the sun. I’ve had this vision virtually every night for the last 15 plus years! But alas, no matter how optimistic I am when I set my alarm, the morning comes, and my body just lazily lays there, buried in the covers until I have just enough time for a quick shower and to rush out the door.
According to today’s gospel reading, Jesus was a morning person. Jesus was an early riser. Today we hear a story of a young man (about my age) working late into the night, bombarded with sounds of people banging on the door. People in need. People hurting. People lost and looking for comfort, solace, and direction. And Jesus healed them. One after the other they crowded the doorway, and one after the other Jesus looked into each of their eyes and offered the exact thing for which they were looking. By the end of it all, Jesus must have been absolutely exhausted.
I often wonder whether Jesus was an extrovert or an introvert. He certainly spent a lot of his time with people. He went to parties. Political rallies. Religious festivals. But if you listen to the stories carefully you’ll also notice that he always seems to be looking for some alone time. As an introvert myself, I can understand that. When I read this story of Jesus working late into the night healing person after person, I can only imagine how drained he must have felt by the end of it. If it were me, I’d sleep straight into the afternoon the next day.
“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”
The story doesn’t mention how long it was before his disciples noticed he was gone, but I can imagine them waking up late, groggy with sleep filled eyes. As they sat up yawning with arms outstretched they started to remember the events of the night before. They probably jumped up, rubbing their eyes to look across the room where their teacher had slept, only to find an empty bed. Where did he go?
It probably scared them. Simon, his family and friends, and the entire neighborhood had come to find in Jesus the exact answer to all of their prayers and now he was gone, and they couldn’t stand the thought of being without him. They rushed outdoors and started looking everywhere. As they encountered people on the street they asked them if they had seen Jesus and it began to spread that he was missing. More and more people began to join the search party and when Simon finally found him he said to Jesus, “Everyone is searching for you.”
See they were afraid. They thought that maybe Jesus had abandoned them. And who could blame them? Many of these people were the outcasts of society. Not only were they a people dominated by a bigger and stronger empire, they were rural folk, in a small town, with little economic income, many with sickness and disease. These were a people that had spent their lifetime feeling lost and abandoned. According to John’s gospel, Simon and Andrew had even been abandoned by the fish they were trying to catch. They weren’t catching a thing. These were people who thought they had been forgotten by the world and by God and on their lips were the words of Isaiah the prophet who we have read today, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God.”
Have you ever felt like that? Abandoned and powerless? Weary and faint? Forgotten?
But what the people of Capernaum didn’t realize is that Jesus wasn’t abandoning them. Indeed, they were the very reason Jesus came in the first place. In that morning of searching for Jesus they must have wondered if his benevolence had just been a passing nicety on his way to bigger and more important things, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Jesus came for the lost. Jesus came for the hurting. Jesus came for the lowly, the poor, the sick, the powerless and the abandoned. Jesus came for you and for me when we are at our wits end. When we are scared and alone. When we have failed miserably. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Just as Jesus lifted up Simon’s mother-in-law from sickness, Christ continues to be in the business of lifting up the lowly as our Psalm has said today.
That’s what the people had felt in Jesus and that’s why they were afraid of losing him. For once in their life these people experienced a hope, a love, a strength they had never experienced before. It came to them not seeking a thing for its own gain, but as meek as a child, as loving as a mother, and as bold as a prophet. “Everyone is searching for you,” Simon said.
What a powerful statement. Everyone is searching for you. I wonder if Simon knew that his statement meant so much more than he realized. Because he’s right, everyone is searching for Jesus. Everyone in this room, in this city, in this world, is looking for the healing, the peace, the joy, the abundant life that Jesus offers.
And whether we are aware of our search or not, all our hearts are restless until they rest in Jesus. We may look for it a while in our career or families, or perhaps in hobbies or toys, maybe in our looks, but ultimately, the peace which surpasses understanding is only found in the presence of Christ.
And while we may spend a lifetime searching, Christ’s presence is in fact much closer than we often realize. In the late 4th century while reflecting on his life and his journey to the Christian faith, a north African bishop named Saint Augustine wrote that he believed that in the decades of trying out various religions and philosophies and in his pursuit of fame and influence he believed the presence of Christ had already been inside of him the whole time. In all those years he sensed in himself a restlessness which never left him. At times it seemed to grow faint, at others it was all to which he could pay attention, but it never left him. Later in life when he finally became a Christian the restlessness became peace, and he realized that in all those years the restlessness was Christ’s presence calling him to peace. Augustine believed that when God created each of us, he placed within us a yearning for God—a yearning which could only be quenched by participating in God’s innate presence within. Restlessness—searching—is the presence of Christ within us, calling us to himself. In the opening lines of his book, The Confessions, Augustine wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
They may not have known it, but Simon and his companion’s restlessness was already the presence of Christ within them. What they sought was in the seeking itself, and the same is true for us.
The question then becomes this: if within each one of us is the voice of Christ beckoning us towards himself, will we listen? Will we pay attention to that God given restlessness, or will we numb it with some temporary anesthesia? Will we wake up to the reality of our identity in God as God’s children? Today’s story tells us that everyone was searching for Jesus, but not everyone found him. It was only Simon and his companions who found him, and that was because they didn’t just search, our translation says they hunted for Jesus. They made it their one mission, their one priority, their one goal.
How many of us can say about ourselves that we are hunting for the presence of Christ in our lives? How many of us can honestly say that all our energy, our number one priority and goal is to find and follow Christ?
One of my favorite poets of all time happens to be a medieval Muslim mystic named Jalaluddin Rumi. Rumi wrote much about the Divine restlessness within, and I’d like to share with you this morning one of his poems. This is for all you, morning people or not. It’s Called the Sound of Water in the Ears of the Thirsty.
The real work belongs to someone who desires God and has severed himself from every other work.
The rest are like children who play together until it gets dark for these few short days.
Or like someone who awakes and springs up, still drowsy, and then is lulled back to sleep by the suggestion of an evil nurse: “Go to sleep, my darling, I won’t let anyone disturb you.”
If you are wise, you, yourself, will tear up your slumber by the roots, like the thirsty man who heard the noise of water.
God says to you, “I am the sound of water in the ears of the thirsty; I am rain falling from heaven. Spring up, lover, show some excitement! How can you hear the sound of water and then fall back asleep!”
MATHNAWI VI, 586-592 (translated by Kabir Helminksi and Camille Helminski)
So may we hear the sound of water and spring into action. May we awake in our restlessness and listen to the voice of God. May we not just search but hunt for the presence of Christ in our lives, and may we find in him ourselves being lifted up with the lowly and renewed in our strength. Amen.