Jesus is Hard to Find
Jesus is hard to find.
The words came from my son as I collapsed into my seat after delivering the sermon yesterday morning. It was about the last thing I wanted to hear near the end of a worship service that came at the end of an exhausting week. I’d been single parenting for the past few days (my wife was on Vancouver Island running a half-marathon), while trying to finish preparations for the Sunday service and dealing with a bunch of other issues that were taking far more time and energy than I had to give. About the last thing I wanted at this point in the week was a crisis of faith from my son. All I wanted to do was finish the service and stumble home to bed.
What do you mean? I whispered, all kinds of plaintive existential angst no doubt dripping off my frantic tongue. Could we talk about this later, please?! He pointed absently to the kids’ crossword puzzle in his lap. “Jesus” is the last word in the list, and I can’t find it anywhere.” I looked at him, smiled and sighed. I looked over at my daughter. “This story is getting really good,” she whispered, before returning her gaze to the book in her lap. I smiled, and sighed again, a bit more audibly this time. Okay, so the sermon might not have been the best I’ve ever preached, but… So much for the kids basking in the wisdom no doubt pouring forth from dad’s mouth.
The phrase stuck with me, though. Of course it did—how could it not? Jesus is hard to find. Yes, it’s true, he is. And not just in crossword puzzles.
For starters, the Jesus we encounter is always Jesus through some other lens. We don’t ever just encounter Jesus himself, but someone’s conception of Jesus.
The activist Jesus who is fed up with our middle-class apathy and privilege and wants us to go protest something.
The pious, emotional Jesus who wants to “touch” us and “move” us, and “meet” us in poppy praise songs with vacuous lyrics.
The harsh, severe, hyper-conservative Jesus who wants us to talk mostly about his blood and our sin, who wants us to spend our days aggressively proselytizing and not much else.
The mushy liberal Jesus who wants us to talk about love and compassion and creation and racism and sexism and who knows what other isms, but hardly ever about himself (that would be exclusive and intolerant).
So many Jesuses… The real one can often seem pretty elusive. How do we find Jesus when it’s so hard to sort out who we’re even looking for?
Jesus is hard to find for other reasons, too.
Jesus is hard to find amidst the crushing (often self-imposed) demands of modern busyness.
Jesus is hard to find in the barren cynicism and poverty of imagination that tinges so much of our discourse and our thinking in the postmodern west.
Jesus is hard to find when our looking is mostly half-hearted and self-serving. We want to find Jesus, we say, but church is mostly optional, and we would rather our pursuits be a solitary quest as opposed to one peopled by, well, other people… People who can—let’s face it—be pretty annoying and inconvenient, and not really very spiritual or inspiring at all.
We want to find Jesus, we say, but we’re not really very interested in doing what he told us to do. We’re not interested in difficult things like extending grace to graceless people, forgiving those who don’t deserve it, in keeping no record of wrongs, in serving the lost and the least, in (audibly) giving thanks and praise to God in a culture that is mostly embarrassed by the idea.
We want to find Jesus, we say, but we would prefer it if the Jesus we “found” would conform more neatly to our expectations—a Jesus who largely baptizes our desires, validates our understanding of ourselves, blesses our choices (however confused and conflicted these might be), forgives us on the rare occasions when these choices are wrong (or when we are the victims of our biology and/or our culture, if admitting that we make wrong choices is too much to bear), and generally is pulling for us to become all that we can be.
Yes, Jesus is hard to find.
This morning, I decided to do a bit of snooping around for Jesus. I opened—of all things—my bible, and touched down in a few places.
In a conversation with the citizens of Athens (a people no less conflicted, confused, or selfish than we are), the Apostle Paul says:
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:26-27).
To his disciples, eager to learn about prayer, Jesus himself says:
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Luke 8:10).
To weary exiles struggling to sort out how to live in a foreign land, the prophet Jeremiah says:
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 29:12;14).
He is not far from any of us.
The one who seeks, finds.
I will be found by you.
Jesus is hard to find. But maybe not as hard as we think or as we sometimes make it. We are not so very different from the people to whom the words above were spoken, nor are the challenges of our postmodern age so very different from any other time. The ingredients for the search aren’t so mysterious. A sincere heart, an openness to surprise, and a willingness to encounter (and obey!) a Jesus who isn’t always what we expect or prefer—these are all that have ever really been necessary. If we are pushing in this direction, we may just find Jesus after all. Or, to put it a bit differently, we will be found by the one who has never stopped looking for us.