S. Pentecost 2.19 “Unsought, Found” Is. 65:1, Luke 8:26-39

    Our Old Testament reading puts us in a rather strange situation that, at first, can seem quite confusing: God says “I was sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me.” And we go: “Hmm; that’s tough to get your head around! How can someone seek for a Person without asking where He might be found? How can God be found by people who aren’t even seeking Him?” But I realized, right away, that I actually know lots of people who go seeking God, yet do not have any idea that it is God Whom they’re seeking. They think they’re looking for Happiness or Success or the Right Spouse or A Good Job to fill an empty spot in their lives. From my perspective (as someone heavily immersed in the Story of Jesus as the most real and interesting one around) it seems obvious to me a good many of these people are really seeking God. But when I learn of their searchings along the way, and the suggestion’s gently made it might be God they’re really looking for?—that suggestion’s usually dismissed as a silly idea someone who’s read too many theology books would come up with. And they go their merry way…

    I was certainly one of those people in my (wayward) youth. The church and I were not on the best of terms. My mother encountered my 8th grade Lutheran School teacher Jan Bryant in the grocery store by chance, once, when I was 22, in graduate school. Jan asked what I was up to (my mother recalled: “with the tone of ‘what correctional institute is he in, and how long is his sentence’?”). When mom told Jan that I was a 2nd year student at Yale’s Divinity School, Jan’s mouth literally dropped open and she blurted out: “It’s the people you least expect!” Neither academically (nor spiritually!) was I a promising lad. At all

    In those days, I sought adventure, excitement—such things as Yoda says “a Jedi craves not.” Boredom seemed to me the Great Enemy. A Good Time was all I consciously sought. I was crazy for flying, fast planes, fast cars, fast anything appealed to me—a lot. Even when I went to divinity school, I did not think I was seeking God—strange as that might sound. I was deeply annoyed with the institutional church which had pretty much convinced me Christianity was a big swindle. I went to div school with vague ideas of exposing the con-men of institutional Christianity for the hucksters they are—though my vague ideas have gotten sharper over time. See me, later, for names

    I went to Yale like Augustine went to Carthage—burning, seeking only a Good Time, as everyone who knew me then would attest. But my idea of a good time had shifted a little bit. St. Exupery’s Wind, Sand, and Stars convinced me the life of the early airline pilots was the pinnacle of a good time. Until I read The Razor’s Edge in which Larry Darrell (an ex-pilot) finds the life of the mind might be the highest grade of adventure. A place like Yale began to appeal…

    Besides, Yale looked like fun at 21, as they say: “stay in school for years and years and so delay your worst fears”. And it was fun!—back then in the mid-80’s, before it got all meritocratic, uptight, impossible-to-get-into and chi-chi (which doesn’t look fun anymore, to me). Contrary to what TV and alumni magazines portray, most of the people I met at Yale weren’t high-achieving valedictorians, science whizzes, musical geniuses, or future Hedge Fund Managers who got in because of their sparkling resumes. My friends were mostly high-minded slackers. Rusty’d been a carpenter and a climbing bum in Yosemite. Greg had backpacked around India and been at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. I guess Randy, my housemate in Brainerd did have a 7 figure trust fund, and Jen (the cute girl from history class—not as cute as Bonnie!) turned out to be a movie star. Some of the stereotypes were true…

    But we all worried the glittering angels of Success, Wealth, Fame might actually be demons hunting us, hounding us, trying to suck out our souls, Dementor-Style. We were like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys: afraid to grow up, yet unsure how to avoid it. We suspected Christianity was just another marketing swindle, but were naively hopeful it might be the hidden door to the secret garden. Our clothing had holes (like our lives) but we did wear clothes, usually. Our demons might not have been legion, but they were there. We weren’t quite living in tombs, though the peeling paint and dilapidated state of most of the campus then could make you wonder, sometimes. We were trying to break the shackles of polite society, but you could hear some rattling

    My first day of classes, there was a common room debate. Prof. Paul Holmer stood up, like a wild-eyed, white-haired OT prophet. He pointed at us and went: “Look at you people! You make me sick! All lined up to join something, march somewhere. What happened to divinity school as an academic asylum, a place to come to get rid of your demons, to get sane?” As Mr. Holmer spoke forcefully but plainly of the Way of Christ Jesus, we all listened, enchanted. And so unsought, I found myself clothed, in a better state of mind, unshackled; flat on my face at Jesus’ feet, begging for a place at His Table.

       Which is why I love the story of the man with the Legion of demons, unclothed, wild, in the tombs (and why I relate to this one just a little bit more than maybe I should admit!). Mr. Legion Man wasn’t seeking Jesus, and yet he’s found. He comes out yelling at Jesus “Go away!” Jesus, unfazed, just goes, “What’s your name?” And the guy goes “Legion!” for he had many demons. Jesus casts the demons out of the man into a herd of swine which race into the lake and drown. Word of this spreads. And when the pagan town-folk find the man demon-free, clothed, in his right mind, sitting at Jesus’ feet, they are afraid. They also plead: “Go away, Jesus!” And He goes…

    But, the man (formerly demon-possessed) begs Jesus to take him away: “Take me with You! Take me someplace new!” And Jesus, oddly to most ears, says: “No. Return to your own house and tell what great things God has done for you.”

    This is where the Story gets interesting, to me: here’s a guy not asking for Jesus but finding He’s the One God and His is the Kingdom we’ve sought all along. Here’s how God is found by those who did not seek Him! But the story doesn’t end the way you think it will. I would have thought that after the demons are cast out and we’re clothed and in our right mind, Jesus would whisk us away from the country of the Gadarenes to a much more glorious and Perfect place…

    But Jesus doesn’t do this! He tells the man: “No. Return to your own house!” So I have discovered: Christianity is not being whisked away to some Perfect Fantasy World. It’s literally stumbling on Jesus (when we were looking for Something Else!). But, instead of taking us straight to Paradise, Jesus sends us back (seemingly alone!) to our old house—but, as new people. Rough around the edges, yes. Confused and slacking, still. But sins forgiven. Demons cast out. And yet… we’re still in Kansas, not Heaven, not quite. Unsought, we’ve found our old place made new by Jesus—Who becomes, for us, the Way to the Heaven we truly seek. And, on this Way, by Word and Sacrament, through God-given faith alone, Peace, surpassing understanding, guards heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.