Everyone was searching for Jesus. At least that’s what we are told in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus had only been teaching and preaching for a short time. He had begun proclaiming, "The time is at hand, the Kingdom of God has come near! Repent and believe in the good news!" He went to the synagogue, and he preached with authority. He exercised that authority by casting out evil spirits and healing the sick. Weary with His work, He arose early in the morning to recharge His batteries. He went to go to the source of this power–His Father in heaven. He went to a deserted place to connect, to pray. And there He lingered, getting direction, getting strength, and making sure His heart aligned with His Father’s. His time spent in solitude was interrupted by His disciples who came and said, "Everyone is searching for you."
It’s not surprising, really. If you believe as I do, there literally is a God shaped hole in each and every one of us. We long and desire to have it filled. Unfortunately, most of the time we don’t turn to God. We turn to all sorts of other things that provide temporary relief. We try to fill that hole with money. We try to fill that hole with work. We try to fill that hole with another person. We try to fill that hole with hobbies and sports. We try to fill that hole by escaping to various destinations away from our real lives. Sooner or later, we realize the futility of doing such things. Sooner or later we realize the fixes are just temporary. We realize this when the hunger becomes consuming and the things that once soothed it no longer work. And when something comes up offering us the promise of satisfaction. We jump at the chance. I am positive part of the reason everyone was searching for Jesus was exactly this aspect of human nature.
But it’s not the only reason. Far from it. For I believe folks were also searching for Jesus to experience healing. One day, while sitting in the office, I happened upon a Youtube video about a revival preacher in Florida. Many were flocking to his tents to hear him preach and experience the healing that was supposedly taking place amongst those who gathered. I watched as a mother brought her son forward. He had been stricken with a debilitating illness that left him crippled. He could barely stand. With effort, he could manage a step or two. Doctors could do nothing else, and the parents believed that God, through the touch of this evangelist would heal him. The video showed the boy go on stage. The evangelist touched him, and the boy was "slain in the Spirit." As the video progressed, the evangelist laid hands on him once more, and the boy’s feet and arms shook as though an electric charge was running through them. Finally, the boy stood, and the crowd went wild. A few moments later, the camera focused on the boy once again. He was in the back of the tent trying to dance and sway and participate in the worship. He could barely stand once again, but his mom was convinced he was stronger now. They clung to that hope because of their desperation.
When folks heard Jesus was casting out evil spirits and was healing the sick, they too came out of their desperation. There were few doctors. The mortality rate was sickeningly low. Children died as often as they lived. A high fever was often a death sentence. Blindness, deafness, and leprosy were considered curses from God. Folks who lived with such chronic disease had no hope other than a small one that God would eventually remove this curse from them and restore them to community. Jesus offered that hope. Jesus had cured the sick and had cast out the evil spirits. He could do so for them as well. They came searching.
And of course, Jesus doesn’t disappoint. Sure, we are told that He doesn’t stay in that area, but he moves around. He heads from town to town, village to village to proclaim the gospel. When he is there, He heals the sick and casts out demons. He offers people hope as He fills the God shaped hole with His preaching and he offers hope as he cures disease and casts out demons. It’s not too long that we read of people coming together from the surrounding villages and countryside to produce a crowd of five thousand men plus women and children. Indeed, people from everywhere were searching for Jesus.
But are they still searching for Him? Are people still trying to fill that God-shaped hole? Are people still trying to find healing? Has human nature changed in the last 2000 years so that such things are no longer relevant? We know the answer to those questions. We know people are still searching. We know people are still trying to fill that hole. We know people are still striving to find hope and healing not only for their bodies but for their minds and souls as well. We know people are searching for meaning and for purpose. We know people are searching for hope in the middle of all the stress, all the anxiety, all the rushing back and forth from place to place, and the feeling of being stuck on a treadmill without every getting from point a to point b. Yes, people are still searching, but where are they going to find such things?
If you look at the trends of churches in the U.S., you would be hard pressed to say that they are finding Jesus at church. That might seem blasphemous, but the latest numbers show that there is minimal growth in most denominations. Most are in decline. Most congregations are stagnant to declining as well. Very few are actually growing and thriving, and among those many are thriving not because they are bringing in unchurched and de-churched folks. Instead, they are playing membership shuffle with other congregations. The church doesn’t seem to be growing even as the population itself is. Why? What is going on if the population is increasing and people are still searching? Why aren’t they turning to the church to find what Jesus offers?
This, I think, is where things get tough for you and me. Because this means we must look deeply into the mirror and examine ourselves. We must examine our lives. We must examine our hearts. We must look deep within us and see if we are different from the rest of the world.
Do we as Christians show that our God-shaped holes are filled? Or do we act like those who are still searching?
Do we as Christians show that we have found hope and meaning and purpose? Or do we go about as
though we have no idea on earth why we are here?
Do we as Christians show that we have found healing–not in the sense that we are free from all illness and ailments, but that we know the peace that comes from having hope in the midst of suffering? Are our spirits
healed so that we no longer despair?
Do we as Christians have a sense of peace and humility about us knowing that we could have never come to such a place without coming into contact with Jesus Himself, and do we have compassion upon those who are still seeking? Do we have compassion or contempt? Our attitude will matter immensely when we come into contact with those who are searching for Jesus.
And do we expect that we constantly meet Jesus? Do we expect that even though we have found Him and been found by Him, do we consistently seek to grow in our knowledge of Him? Do we seek to meet Him at church, at work, at play, in our families? Do we seek to walk with Him daily?
I am going to go out on a limb here and say that if those who are seeking see that we are no different from them, then they will continue their search. They will continue to abandon our congregations and churches and continually wander. But, if they see that we indeed have found Jesus–that we have experienced His love and mercy and that we truly seek to show that love and mercy to others so that through us they may find Jesus as well, their search will be over. Amen.