Psalm 13; 2 Corinthians 4: 1, 5-10, 16-18
May 5, 2012
You know, you can tell a lot about a person by the kind of music they listen to – you ever noticed that? Just by perusing their CD collection or iTunes playlists. It’s actually scientific. An article in Psychology Today a few years back looked at how musical tastes reflect personality traits. You a jazz lover? Apparently you have a higher-than-average IQ, congratulations! If you like country and Top 40, you have a tendency to be more conventional, honest and conservative. Extroverts tend to gravitate toward music with a heavy bass line, like dance music. Which I guess explains why my oldest son is into hip-hop right now. I’m hoping he eventually grows out of that.
I tried to raise him right, y’all, I really did. He had just started talking when I taught him how to say the names of the four guys in my favorite band, along with the instrument they played. Anyone want to take a guess at what that band is? You know me well! Yep, it’s the Irish rock band U2. Big shocker, I know!
The thing is, there are many reasons why I’m a fan of U2, in addition to the fact that they make what I consider to be great music. They’ve been a band for almost forty years now – the same four guys, the same lineup. That says something, I think. Their lead singer, whose real name is Paul Hewson but goes by Bono, not only sings with passion about things that matter, but backs it up with the way he lives his life – everything from leading a campaign to end third world debt to bringing renewed attention to the epidemic of poverty.
But perhaps the thing that has drawn me most to U2 over the years is the Christian faith that is woven throughout their music. All four guys are Jesus-followers, but it’s not like they wear Jesus t-shirts or would ever be classified as “contemporary Christian artists.” The faith element of U2’s music is more subtle and nuanced – and because of that, I believe, more powerful. There’s this 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. If you stripped it of its bass line, guitar and drums, however, 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 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
It’s called, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and if it sounds familiar to you, it’s because the Beacons sang it in their Youth Sunday service last spring. I remember when this song first came out, it confused some people who had always seen U2 as a band with a Christian message. Because on one hand it professes 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 is this somewhat unsettling refrain, But 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? I mean, shouldn’t finding Jesus be enough? A lot of people thought that U2 had collectively lost their faith when this song came out. Because how can you still be looking for something if you were supposed to have it already?
I don’t know. I’ve always been slightly troubled by people who seem to believe that being a Christian means you’ve arrived, that you’ve found everything you were looking for. And yet, I can’t tell you the number of people of faith I’ve come across – as pastor and just as a person – who put on a façade of completeness when, in fact, they are as lost as ever. Dealing with some inner pain or turmoil, and thinking they shouldn’t be dealing with it – because, if they were a “real Christian,” they wouldn’t have to. Sometimes I’ve found that the most pastoral thing I can do is simply empower them to understand that having doubts, having questions, still trying to find what they’ve looking for, is not at all a sign of a lack of faith, but is very much a tremendous testimony to it.
It’s also, I might add, inherently scriptural – just listen to the questions King David lifts up in our passage 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?
Can you hear the incomplete faith in those words? Can you feel the growing discontent, the searching, the longing? And let’s keep in mind – this is not some run-of-the-mill Dave here. This is the great and revered King David, the paragon of faith in the 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!! And we are tempted to wonder: is this a sign of a lost faith? Has David given up on 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 it’s not that David – that we – don’t have faith anymore. It’s not that we’re not following Jesus. It’s that our believing and our following have enabled us to see that things are not the way they’re supposed to be; the way God created them to be. And the Psalms, the only real part of the Bible where the people talk back to God, the Psalms are great at voicing this tension. Because something is missing, something is absent, something has gone awry. Contrary to popular convention, faith is not about the three steps of salvation and everything after that being all nice and neat and making perfect sense and being all black and white and cut and dry. Faith can be a messy, messy thing sometimes.
I think about those Corinthians that Paul was writing to – writing to again. Talk about being frustrated! He had to send them a second letter because they didn’t “get it” the first time – and Paul was kind or ticked about that, to be honest. He vacillates in this letter between the angry boss giving a poor review, and the frustrated parent who hates to see their children make the same mistakes over and over again. You’re clay jars, he tells them – clay jars with this treasure inside, a treasure that is timeless and glorious and perfect in every way. But you’re still clay jars – clay jars that will crack and break, clay jars that won’t last forever like the treasure, clay jars that still haven’t found what they’re looking for.
Raise your hand if it’s hard being a clay jar! Nod your head if it’s hard carrying this treasure of God’s grace and love and mercy in our fractured lives, out into a cracked and broken world. Paul knew how hard this was, of course. And that’s why he says what he does a few verses later: So we do not lose heart. We do not lose heart. And I have to wonder if the reason we don’t lose heart is because the Christian journey that you and I are part of is not all about the finish line, as so much of conventional Christianity tries to tell us. Because if it is, then absolutely, we should’ve already found what we were looking for. We should be satisfied with the way things are. We’ve got our ticket to the Promised Land; hope everyone else gets theirs.
But no, it’s not all about the finish line. It’s about the journey of getting there, and the journey together; like those four guys in U2 who’ve been making music all these years. Journeying together and knowing that, through the journey, we are helping God build a little part of God’s kingdom on earth. And that, my friends, is why we can proclaim, with every ounce of who we are, the tremendous statement of faith that says: no, we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.
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, like only loving those who love us back, or only loving those who believe like us, act like us, look like us. We watch as people in positions of power and influence 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 torn apart with 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 crossfires. 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, and 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 from U2 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 describes it, every tear being wiped away from our eyes, with no more mourning or crying. All we have to do is turn on the TV or open our web browser and watch the news, any time of day, 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 asks; that’s what we ask. And so we keep singing: We still haven’t found what we’re looking for.
I gotta ask, does it feel a little weird singing that? Not singing in the middle of a sermon, which I’m sure feels weird, but singing those words? I remember a few summers ago, leading music for the Massanetta Middle School Conference, we came up this great idea to sing that song as the benediction for our final worship service. It was awesome – hundreds of middle-schoolers and advisors belting it out at the top of their lungs and filling that place up with those wonderful words! But afterwards the program director, a friend of mine, was absolutely mortified – crying, even. Because she just couldn’t get beyond the idea of all those people piling into their cars and vans and heading home with that song on their lips.
I just don’t think it should be weird for the church to sing that! In fact, I can’t think of anything better for the church to sing. Because outside our church doors is a world that needs to hear, from us – from us – that we aren’t satisfied with the way things are either. That there are no easy answers; that it’s not all about the finish line. That we are nothing more than clay jars, still looking, still searching; and trusting in God every step of the way. Can there really be any greater testimony of faith than that? In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God! AMEN.