A reading from theologians Annie Lennox and David Allan Stewart:
Sweet dreams are made of this.
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world and the seven seas.
Everybody’s looking for something.
The 1983 hit from the British pop band known as the Eurythmics speaks a powerful word about human nature: “Everybody’s looking for something.”
Researcher Brene Brown made this point seven years ago in one of the most popular TED talks in history. For six years, she had studied what motivates people, and she found that we as a culture have become excellent at numbing ourselves. No one wants to experience painful emotions. We don’t want to feel fear. We don’t want to feel isolation. We don’t want to feel embarrassment. We don’t want to feel anger. We don’t want to feel shame.
So, we have become excellent at numbing those emotions. Instead of seeking to deal with the profound, we major in the profane. She calls Americans today “the most in-debt, obese, addicted, medicated adult cohort in U.S. history.” According to Brown, we use spending, food, alcohol and drugs, and medication as a way to numb the painful emotions that we experience.
Everybody’s looking for something. The problem is, most of it isn’t working.
But this problem did not originate in 1983. It is deep in the recesses of our human nature. And it is the question that Jesus deals with in the Gospel of John.
The very first words that Jesus speaks in the Gospel are this: “what are you looking for?”
It is a theme throughout the book. People are always looking in the wrong places. They are always missing the point. Misunderstanding Jesus. Right after Jesus asks this question in Chapter One, Nathaniel hears about Jesus and says “Nazareth? Why would I want to go to see a redneck from Nazareth?” Then in Chapter Three, Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born from above, and Nicodemus asks “born again? How can I go back into my mother’s womb?” Then in Chapter Four, Jesus tells the woman at the well he has living water for her, and she says “living water? You don’t even have a jar…what are you going to put it in?” And on it goes throughout the book. Everyone continues to miss the point. They miss the profound, because they are stuck on the profane.
Until you get to Chapter 9 and 10. We explored that passage a few weeks ago – the story of the healing of the man blind from birth. In the sermon that Jesus gives after that event, he gives us the right answer to that question. With a parable about sheep. Sheep, Jesus says, know that the shepherd will be the one to take care of their needs, fulfill what they most deeply desire. They trust the shepherd. They need the shepherd. So, he says, when they hear the shepherd’s voice, they follow him. The sheep know the shepherd because of his voice. The sheep follow the shepherd because of his voice.
And, this whole parable leads up to the big reveal from Jesus: “I am the Good Shepherd.” I am the One whom you are looking for.
And from that point on, Jesus doesn’t ask, “what are you looking for?” But “whom are you looking for? It is subtle in the Greek…two little letters change the question from “What…” to “Whom are you looking for?” But now, that is the question that returns again and again.
We find it in the depiction of Thursday night. Jesus has shared the last supper with his disciples, washed their feet, prayed with them, led them into the garden. And now they come with clubs and swords to arrest him. Twice, Jesus asks this question. He looks his attackers in the eye and asks, “Whom are you looking for?”
And of course, they miss the point. They always miss the point. Throughout the Gospel, they are looking for the wrong person, the wrong idea, the wrong thing to chase after. And John’s point I think is this: everybody’s looking for something…and most of them are looking in the wrong direction!
Until Easter morning. The tomb is empty! Alleluia!
But for Mary in the garden, it is not alleluia she feels. Not joy she feels. But grief and fear. She doesn’t understand. The disciples have run off again and she is alone and afraid.
As she is quietly weeping in the garden, she hears the gardener approaching her. And he asks a question: “Whom are you looking for?” Of course, if Mary has been paying attention, she should have figured it out by now. But she isn’t. No one is. No one gets it. They are always misunderstanding. “I’m looking for Jesus. If you know where they put his body, please tell me.”
It isn’t until the Good Shepherd speaks to Mary by name that she gets it…for the sheep knows the voice of the shepherd. It is Jesus. Risen from the dead. Come back to her. In one of the most powerful moments in the Bible, Mary, turns with joy on her face and in her heart and squeals, “Teacher!”
And in that one word are a thousand answers to the question: “Whom are you looking for?”
“I am looking for the one who knows me and loves me and was there when I was created. I am looking for the one who has showed me what God is all about. I am looking for the one who has showed me how to live. I am looking for the Good Shepherd. I am looking for the one who cannot be undone by the brokenness of this world, even by the power of death itself. And I found him…he is alive! I found the One whom I am looking for!”
Last week, I put a big chart up on the wall, representing our relationship between God and humanity. Again and again, we saw in these gray arrows, we as humans have missed the point. We have gone chasing after the wrong things. We have misunderstood the ways of God. We have fallen into the trap of selfishness. Into the trap of short-cuts around God’s way of life. Into the trap of worshipping human authority and power and human wars and weapons instead of God’s authority and power. Again and again and again, we have made our own rules and we have spent our days looking in the wrong direction. And the arrow that strikes the deepest was the last one, the one that represented our rejection – humanity’s rejection – of Christ in crucifixion.
“Whom are you looking for?” Not you, Jesus.
But next to the gray arrows were these orange ones. Demonstrating all the ways throughout history that God has chosen to be with us. To teach us the ways of love and justice and community. In creation. Through the covenant. Through the prophets. Most perfectly with Jesus.
And now, in the Resurrection! In the Resurrection, God has shown that there is no end to God’s yearning to be “God with us.” Even death cannot overcome it. Our songs and our readings and our banners and our colors reminds us, the story of God with us wasn’t over, not even then. For even the power of death is not enough to separate us from the love of God! Frederick Beuchner says it well, “resurrection teaches us that the worst thing is never the last thing.”
And that’s when we realize what the true good news of the story is. It isn’t that we are looking for God. Of course, that is part of the equation…. Scholar Dallas Willard says in his book The Divine Conspiracy that we are all somebody’s disciples. Each of us is following someone. And one of the deepest questions that we can ask is whom are we looking for?
But the best of the good news is this. That God is looking for us! That God is reaching, teaching, loving, forgiving, offering the deepest grace and the most abundant life that we can imagine. The Shepherd is looking for us as sheep! And despite our misunderstandings and our perversions of the Gospel, God still seeks us. Searches for us. Grants us profound grace.
We can travel the world and the seven seas, but we aren’t going to find someone or something that loves us as deeply, as profoundly, as eternally, as powerfully as God does. The Shepherd is calling. On this day of Easter celebration, let us answer with joy!