(Psalm 13; 2 Corinthians 4: 1, 5-10, 16-18)
If you were to walk into my office right now – which for obvious reasons I’d prefer for you not to do – if you were to walk into my office after worship, you’d quickly learn a few things about me, things you may already know or not know, simply based on what you’d see. You’d see a coffee mug on my desk, revealing my love for all things java. There’s a Panthers floor mat to greet you, a panoramic picture of the Panthers stadium hanging on the wall, and a Hornets basketball, because my family and I have been completely smitten by the sports offerings of our new hometown. There’s a guitar on a guitar stand and, on occasion, an upright bass, because when the sermon isn’t coming as quickly as I’d like it’s always good to have a little distraction.
And you’d also see this – a picture of Bono, lead singer for the rock band U2. It is a signed picture, complete with a certificate of authenticity. This prized possession hangs prominently on the side wall when you first walk in. It was given to me by Lorie and the boys for Father’s Day a few years back. It is the real deal.
So if it’s not already obvious, I’ll spell it out for you: I’m a huge fan of U2. Have been since my high school days. Word is that they’re getting ready to drop their first album in five years sometime this fall – which has me humongously exciting; and if you happen to follow me on Facebook or Twitter you can expect frequent updates going forward.
And in case you’re wondering, or even if you’re not, there are many reasons why I’m a fan. It begins, as it should, with the music. solid songs for five decades now, the same four guys in the lineup – a rarity in today’s consumer-driven, quirky-musician music world. Their lead singer, whose real name is Paul Hewson, not only sings with passion about things that matter, but backs it up with the way he spends his life offstage – everything from leading a campaign to end third world debt to bringing renewed attention to the urgent epidemic of poverty.
But the thing that has drawn me most to U2 over the years is the faith that is woven throughout their music. All four guys are Christian, but it’s not like they go around wearing Jesus t-shirts or consider themselves part of the nebulous genre known as “contemporary Christian music.” The faith component of U2’s music is more subtle and nuanced – and because of that, I believe, more powerful. There’s one song, for instance; one of my all-time favorites. At heart it’s a gospel tune; but you’d probably not think that if you heard it on the radio. However, if you stripped away the bass line, the guitar and the drums, it’d sound something like this:
I have climbed the highest mountain
I have run through the fields only to be with you
Only to be with you
I have run, I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls only to be with you
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
I believe in kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Yes, I’m still running
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
The song, not surprisingly called “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” was one of the four or five hits off the wildly successful Joshua Tree album. I remember when this song first got airplay, though, there was a bit of an uproar from some in the faith community who had always seen U2 as a band with a Christian message. On one hand it professed a tremendous depth of faith, belief, convictions: I have climbed the highest mountain. I have spoke with the tongue of angels. I believe in kingdom come. And yet at the end of each verse there’s this refrain, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
So what kind of faith expression is this, exactly? Can people of faith, people who “believe in kingdom come,” still be looking, still be searching, still be trying to find what it is they’re looking for? To put it more directly, as the staunch believers asked, shouldn’t finding Jesus be enough?
Now, if I’m honest with you, as I always try to be, there’s a part of me that gets a little squirrely inside when I hear well-meaning people say or suggest that being a Christian means you’ve arrived, that you’ve reached your goal, that you’ve found everything you’re looking for. And while I guess it’s possible that for some that may be the case, I’ll tell you, I sure find myself crossing paths with a whole lot of faithful folks who are struggling, who are lost, who are searching; and yet feel they have to put on this façade of having it all together, because that’s what they think a “real Christian” looks like.
Somehow we’ve let modern-day Christianity evolve into this unrealistic utopia, where we don’t allow ourselves space to embrace our doubts, to ask questions, to face head-on our brokenness and the very real possibility that perhaps we haven’t yet found everything we’re looking for. And that’s not only a shame, it’s also unbiblical. Just listen to the great King David in our first scripture today:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Now tell me, does this sound like someone who has it all together? Does this sound like someone who is done searching? Can’t you hear the struggling faith, the growing discontent, the longing? And lest we forget, this is not some run-of-the-mill Dave. This is the great King David, perhaps the most revered paragon of faith in the whole Old Testament. His words in the 13th Psalm cut to the quick; right through all the facades and fluff: How long? How long?? How Long!! Is this really a sign of a lost faith? Has David given up on his search for God?
No. No, I’m not buying that, you know? I’m not. I mean, obviously something is not right here. Something’s amiss. But what if that disconnect, what if that discord is not a sign of a lack of faith, or the absence of faith, but a testimony to the very presence of it? Faith to have our eyes truly opened; faith to empower us to see that things are not the way they’re supposed to be. And the Psalms, this beautiful collection of poetry where the people dare to talk back to God, the Psalms are great at voicing this tension. Because something is missing, something is absent, something has gone awry. And contrary to popular opinion, faith is not about the three steps of salvation and everything being all nice and neat and making perfect sense. Faith is the awkward dance we do when the loving God we believe in and the crazy world we live in do not match up.
Which is pretty much what the apostle Paul was writing about to those Corinthians. Again. Talk about being frustrated! Apparently his first letter didn’t stick, and Paul is kind of ticked about it, to be honest. You can see him vacillating between polite niceties and open frustration, like the angry boss giving a poor review to a gifted employee or the frustrated parent who hates seeing their child make the same mistake over and over again. You’re clay jars, he tells them – clay jars with this amazing treasure inside, a treasure that is timeless and glorious and perfect in every way. But you’re still clay jars – you’re going to crack, you’re going to break, you’re going to spend a whole lot of time searching for what you’re looking for.
It’s not easy being a clay jar! It’s not easy carrying this treasure of God’s grace and love and mercy in our fractured lives. Paul knew how hard this would be. He had lived it in his own life. And that’s why he said a few verses later: We do not lose heart. And why is that, exactly? What in the world is to keep us from losing heart when we’re fragile clay jars trying to share God’s grace with a broken world?
Could it be, my friends, could it be that we do not lose heart because, to put it bluntly, we don’t have time! We’ve got work to do! After all, what were Jesus’ last words to us? Go out into the world, baptize, teach, I’ll be with you. It wasn’t “congratulations!” It wasn’t “mission accomplished!” It was “Go.” And you don’t tell people “go” if they’ve already reached the finish line, do you?
Of course not! Here’s the hard truth: being the church is not about being in some club that meets once a week to sing songs, hear a good word, do a few things and then go home. Being the church at it’s very heart is to walk right into the awkward dance of faith, the questions and doubts, and boldly proclaim that no, no, we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.
The strongest faith coming out of the frustrating disconnect – that’s precisely what’s going on here. Let me show you:
The Apostle Paul preaches that “love is patient and kind and not arrogant or rude,” and Jesus says we should “love our neighbor as ourselves.” And yet we look at the way humanity often attaches disclaimers to that love, such as loving only those who love back, or only those who believe like us, act like us, look like us. We watch as people in positions of power enact legislation and even preach sermons that are the very antithesis of Jesus’ love. And so we sing – we still haven’t found what we’re looking for. Sing it with me: We still haven’t found what we’re looking for.
The prophet boldly proclaims that one day “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” And yet our world is one torn apart by war and strife, where reconciliation between nations, between neighbors, between political parties is seen as a weakness, not a strength. We even throw children into the mix – not as leaders in peacemaking, but as victims caught in the crossfire. So we sing: We still haven’t found what we’re looking for.
Jesus was, among many things, a healer. He returned sight to the blind man, life to Lazarus, serenity to the man possessed. And yet so often we fail to see the needs of the person right in front of us because we are so focused on our own. We are ignorant, for example, of those who die of AIDS or starvation in Africa alone – as Bono puts it, a football stadium of people disappearing every week. And so we faithfully sing: We still haven’t found what we’re looking for.
Our Bible speaks of God doing a “new thing” in our midst – as Revelation puts it, every tear wiped away from our eyes, with no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain. All we have to do is turn the TV on, or open our web browser, and see the news, any time of day or night; news which causes us to shake our heads in disgust and mumble under our breath that no, we still haven’t found what we’re looking for. How long, O Lord? That’s what David asked; that’s what we ask. And so we keep singing: We still haven’t found what we’re looking for.
Do you see now why this is such a tremendous statement of faith? Do you see now why it’s not at all weird to sing in church, but is in fact precisely what we should be singing? We are not done yet. Not in this world, not in this country, not in this city, and certainly not in this church. We, these broken and cracked jars of clay, we proclaim and live our faith right in the middle of the doubts and the questions and the awkwardness and the searching. And that is what moves us forward – because we do not celebrate a destination reached but a journey shared – a journey where heaven rejoices every time a life is transformed, every time an injustice is replaced with justice, every time a brokenness is healed, every time that love becomes the common thread running through the tapestry of all life.
We still haven’t found what we’re looking for – and in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God! And may all of God’s people say, AMEN!