Call Off the Search

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Preached at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church – Tifton, Georgia

1 Kings 19:4-8        John 6:35, 41-51

Today is Rally Sunday,
the official end to our summer break:
the day we bless our backpacks,
get back in the swing of things,
and kick off our new program year.

You have heard me say before
that when you step on this campus
and the smell of incense and fried chicken collide,
you know it’s going to be a great day.

Of all our guests,
I want to make a special welcome
to the amazing acolytes
you see before you.

This year St. Anne’s was given the honor
of hosting the diocesan Acolyte Festival,
which means over 40 acolytes have come here
from places as far away as
Albany, Augusta, Jesup,
Savannah, and St. Simons Island.

They’ve been
sleeping on our floor,
running on our field,
practicing in our church,
and learning how to do
all the important things
that make our worship complete.

They’ve been led and cared for
by a tireless group of adult chaperones
and by our diocesan Canon Missioner
for Children and Youth,
the Rev. Joshua Varner.

To all of you:
we love you,
we’re proud of you,
and we are so thankful
for what you do
for the Lord and for his Church.

I also want to make
one huge thank you
to our St. Anne’s Kitchen Ministry,
organized by Peggy Clements.

It’s one thing to prepare
for our massive
fried chicken
Rally Sunday
potluck lunch,
but it’s a whole other thing
to add breakfast, lunch, and dinner
for a ravenous army of acolytes.
God bless all of you
who have made that possible.

*    *   *

Yesterday, one of our big activities
during the Acolyte Festival
was a massive scavenger hunt,
put together by yours truly.

In our planning,
Father Joshua and I
wanted to come up with something
that would educate our young acolytes,
and create friendship and fellowship among them,
but most of all,
we wanted to wear them out!

So, I hunkered down and made
a seventeen-point scavenger hunt
complete with rhyming clues
that sent teams of acolytes
running sweaty and red-faced
from point to point
all across our campus.

Clues built upon clues
to create more clues,
and in the end
you had to unscramble all those clues
to find the answer to the final question.

I felt like a great wizard,
like a mad scientist
like a guardian troll,
as I put this thing together.

As the scavenger hunt went on,
I sat in the glorious air conditioning
of our nice, cool sanctuary,
and teams of acolytes inevitably came to me to ask,

“Fr. Lonnie, can’t you just give us a clue?
Fr. Lonnie, when can we eat?
Fr. Lonnie, what is the point?”

“Nope. Sorry y’all.
You’re not done yet!”
(Mu-hu-ha-ha.)

It wasn’t easy,
but they passed
with flying colors.

*    *   *

The funny truth is,
as all of this unfolded,
the whole process reminded me
of the prophet Elijah
in today’s Old Testament reading.

When we meet up with Elijah,
he is on the run.
Elijah is a prophet,
but the thing about prophets
is they have big mouths,
which often get them into trouble.

At this point,
Elijah has spoken out
against the wayward king Ahab
and his wicked wife Jezebel,
and they want him dead.

So here he is in the desert,
tired, bedraggled, and in despair.

Elijah thought he was going to be a mighty prophet.
Elijah thought he would be the voice of God.
Elijah thought he would speak, and everyone would listen.

But now, just look at him:
on the run with
no shade,
no food,
no rest,
no hope.

And so he sits there and asks,

“O Lord God, can’t you just give me a clue?
O Lord God, when can I eat?
O Lord God, what is the point?”

To which God calmly replies,
“Nope. Sorry, Elijah.
I am not done with you yet.”

And then—
suddenly,
mysteriously,
miraculously—
bread and water appear before him
to give him strength for the journey.

*    *   *

I wonder:
Have you ever felt this way
at some point in your life?

Maybe you know exactly what it’s like
to be running around,
searching for clues,
searching for hope,
searching for God.

Maybe you know exactly what it’s like
to be hungry and humbled,
feeble and frail,
starving and stuck,
out in the desert alone.

Well, if you do,
you are not alone.

From Moses and the Israelites
to Elijah and the prophets,
everyone has taken their turn
out in the desert.
Everyone has been
running in circles,
looking for bread,
looking for hope,
looking for God.

In the old days—
the days of Moses and Elijah—
if you were lucky,
God would provide you
with a little bit of hope,
a little bit of bread:
a couple cakes on a rock,
a little manna from above . . .
just enough to tide you over,
or as my daddy likes to say:
“just enough to hold body and soul together.”

*    *   *

But you know,
the funny thing about seeking,
the funny thing about searching,
the funny thing about scavenger hunts
is that sometimes
the thing you’ve been looking for
is right under your nose.
Sometimes the thing you want most
is so close you could bite it
and is hidden
in plain sight.
 
Sometimes it’s not
that you’re not looking hard enough,
it’s that you’re looking too hard,
and time after time,
you pass it by.

This happened several times yesterday
during our scavenger hunt,
and I believe it’s often what happens
with Jesus.

You see,
the whole world had been
looking for hope,
looking for bread,
looking for God,
and finally
all three showed up.
And not as some piddly
hoe cakes on a hot rock
or manna crumbs on the front lawn,
but as nothing less
than Jesus, the Son of God,
right there in the flesh . . .
and yet people kept missing him.

God saw
how hungry we were,
how lost we were,
and said,
“You know what?
I’m calling off the scavenger hunt,
I’m giving in.
I’m going in.
I’m going to give them
everything I have,
everything I AM.
No more clues.
Just me,
right there in plain view,
right there under their noses.”

He couldn’t have made himself plainer,
but they still missed him,
and many of us still miss him today,
all because we’re just looking too hard.

When Jesus says,
“I am the bread of life,”
what he’s saying is,
“Y’all, I’m not pointing to the thing,
I AM the Thing.
I’m not just enough
to hold body and soul together . . .
I AM Body and Soul.
So come . . .
seeme in the flesh,
get close enough to take a bite . . .
for I AM the thing
you’ve been looking for.
Your long and crazy quest is over.”

That’s the grace for us today.

*    *   *

As we begin a new school year,
as we dive in and recommit
to our ministries at church,
as we seek to grow in spirit
and become more fruitful Christians,
(all of which are good things)
just remember
that you can run yourself ragged
if all you’re trying to do
is to be “more spiritual,”
or find all the answers,
or piece together all the clues.

No, that rat race is over.
He who was spiritual
has now come in the flesh.
He who was the clues
has now become the answer and the prize.
He who was hidden from our eyes
is now in plain sight . . .
close enough you could bite him.

The good news for you today is that
you don’t have to go searching for God anymore.
God has already come searching for you.

The hunt is over.
God delights in what he has found.
And guess what?
He’s not done with us yet.

Amen.

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