We’re all searching for something.
When I ride my bike I love to search for random items strewn on the roadside. I’ve found lots of things this way. I’ve found a little pocket knife that’s now a favorite, a few nice pairs of gloves, lots of bungee cords, and sometimes cash. To a lover of plants a walk outside is a search for variations in leaves and bark and blooms, with different species popping out to them. The ear of a birder is trained to search for the faint melody of a songbird’s call that would be lost on the rest of us.
We’re all searching for something.
I wonder if in a world that seems so overwhelming sometimes, with so many options and choices, where there is such an abundance of knowledge available at our fingertips but not a whole lot of wisdom, where there are many important causes clamoring for us to care about but little clear direction about how to make an impact….I wonder if in this world, the quest to understand our individual selves and the goal of improving ourselves becomes a task we can latch onto because it seems attainable.
We embark on new fitness programs hoping to feel better about our body.Uncertain about ourselves, we discover our Enneagram personality number. Trying to understand our past we do a DNA test to trace our heritage. Longing to belong we might latch onto a favorite podcaster or musician or theologian or sports team.
In this kind of life, we become like museums, constantly curating our sense of self, rearranging pieces and artifacts, our lives filling up with carefully chosen accoutrement, items that in the end only serve to distract us from the deeper questions of love and justice and belonging that gnaw at us below the surface.
I’m not saying that paying attention to ourselves is wrong – often its vitally important for folks to understand and care for themselves and get needed help and embrace the uniqueness of their individuality. But the constant search for ourselves can also eat away at us, we can live so self-consumed that we miss the joyful goodness going on around us. And I think that our scriptures invite us into a way of understanding ourselves not as curators of constant self-improvement but as beloved beings made in the image of God.
It is in the search for God that we come to know who we are. And it is in remembering that God searches for us and knows us and loves us deeply, that we encounter the joy of life with God.
Psalm 139 models a deeply curious self-reflectiveness that never becomes self-centered. It is some of the most beautiful prayer and poetry in all of the Bible. I imagine that it’s a favorite for some of you that you’ve returned to again and again. “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up, you discern my thoughts from far away.”
The Psalmist is meditating on every part of themselves and every part of their life as being held by God. The Psalmist cannot find the place where God is not – and in this mystical pondering of God, the poet gets worn out – “How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them – they are more than the sand; I come to the end – I am still with you!”
The Psalmist recognizes that trying to ponder God and God’s ways is like being on the beach and deciding that it would be a good idea to count the grains of sand. Being a human is knowing that our words and actions are so small, so limited, yet because we are made by God, who knows us, we are called to use these words to try to speak of God. We are called to count the grains of sand, while at the same time, always acknowledging that our sand castles are always approximations of God’s love that knows no limit.
As humans, every single part of ourselves – from our very good bodies to our birth to our death to our thoughts to our words to our depths of despair to our temptation to violence and our capacity for love – every single thing that makes us, us, says the Psalmist is searched out and known and held and nurtured and loved by the Divine. And a paradox of our calling as people of God is to acknowledge that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and yet not to confuse ourselves into thinking that we are gods.
We’re all searching for something. And if we’re looking to find ourselves, then Psalm 139 reminds us that God is also searching for us and knows us more than we can comprehend.
In our text from the gospel of John, Jesus is also searching. He’s on the hunt for disciples. Jesus calls out to Phillip to “Follow me” and from then on Phillip is talking about Jesus. The first person Phillip finds is Nathanael and he tells Nathanael that this Jesus from Nazareth, is the one the law and the prophets, the scriptures speak of. Nathanael is skeptical about this and he retorts back, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
We’ve all heard this line of thinking before. “Oh, I wouldn’t expect a lot knowing where he’s from?” “… they’re gonna struggle in college, coming from that high school.” “I wouldn’t even think to live in one of those neighborhoods.”
The expectation is that nothing good can come out of the little village of Nazareth, let alone a Messiah. Nathanael may be searching for something, but Nazareth was not at all where he was looking. Phillip teases back, invitingly, “Come and see!”
We all need that invitation to be open and curious. We need that prodding to test our assumptions about where we think God might be working. Even our most earnest searching and seeking might need to be reoriented and recalibrated. When we’re skeptical if any good can come out of someplace or if any goodness can be found in some person, God invites us to “come and see” what God is up to.
I’ve been moved by folks here at CHMF and Mennonites around the US who’ve joined into the Mennonite Action movement – especially when things like public action and protest might be new practices. When we’re uncertain what might happen when we boldly act out of our faith or if we are skeptical what our actions will accomplish – the call of God is to “come and see!” what might happen.
Nathanael goes to see Jesus – and he is surprised when Jesus knows him even though they’ve only just now met. “Where did you get to know me?” Nathanael asks. Jesus responds, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Hearing this, Nathanael bursts out, recognizing and naming Jesus as Son of God and King of Israel.
While Nathanael is right about Jesus, Jesus has some questions of his own, pushing back and asking if Nathanael only believed in Jesus because he learned that Jesus saw him sitting on the fig tree. Jesus isn’t interested in being some kind of mentalist who wows people with his foresight and ability to know things about them. God isn’t some-kind of ever-present 24-hour security camera system that’s always watching and hovering.
Instead, Jesus tells Phillip – “you will see greater things than these! You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man!” Jesus is telling Phillip and telling Jesus is telling us there is something greater than our own proclamations about God or even our well-spoken words about who Jesus is as the Son of God. What is even greater than all of this is the journey with God…what is greater is a life of walking with and knowing Jesus, who is the conduit between earth and heaven.
Jesus describes himself using imagery from the book of Genesis, where Jacob took a rock to use as a pillow and fell asleep at Bethel and dreamed of the angels of God climbing up and down a stairway to heaven. Jesus uses this imagery to call himself the link, the extension ladder between heaven and earth. And Jesus calls us to come and to see – to search for him and to know him. Because whenever we are alongside Jesus, we are in the presence of God.
The call to come and see, the call to discipleship is a call for all parts of us to come and follow Christ. We bring our quirks and our curiosities, and like Nathanael we bring our questions to Jesus on this journey of faith. And Psalm 139 reminds us that God holds all our humanity – the birth and death, the future and past, the darkness and light, even heaven and hell, are all searched and known and loved by God.
We are all searching for something. And I hope that the search for our true self leads us not down circuitous paths of self-reinvention, but into a journey with Christ. Because Jesus is the fullest expression of the God who made us, a God whose love holds all our thoughts, who holds all time and all heights and depths, a God intimate with how we were knit together in the womb and a God whose Spirit goes with us beyond our final breath. The love of God in Christ is with us to the end.
Come and see is the invitation that breaks us out of the bounds of the possible, so we can move through life with the curiosity of faith. And on this journey with God, we will come to discover that the roadsides of our lives are strewn with precious items waiting to discovered – not only pocket knives to be picked up and blooming flowers to identify and birdsong to hear – but also the glimpses of heaven opening up and angels streaming up and down, upon the Son of Man, who is Jesus, the word of God who became like us, human, embracing what it means to be a fragile watery bag of bones and dreams that is fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God.
So this week – care for yourself, seek to understand yourself – and also go seeking the God who is seeking you. Go desiring the God who desires you and go following and serving Christ, who loves us all.