Worship Service, February 7, 2021 “Tracking Down Jesus”
Join Holy Trinity church members and Pastor Erik
on February 7, 2021 via YouTube
The message “Tracking Down Jesus” by Pastor Erik can be heard during HTLC Virtual Worship Service.
“Tracking Down Jesus”
The Gospel according to Mark 1:29-39:
29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
When I was in High School I read a novel called The Tracker, by Gary Paulsen. The book begins with the main character, John, reflecting on his parents’ death in a plane crash and how his life has changed since he came to live with his grandparents in Minnesota. He has been deeply wounded by the trauma of grief, but he has found some comfort in helping his grandparents on their farm. Since coming to the farm, John’s grandfather has taken him on an annual deer hunt to provide food for the following year. However, when John’s grandfather is diagnosed with cancer, John is faced with the challenge of having to complete the annual hunt on his own.
Once in the woods, John sees a deer and tries to shoot it. However, the deer repeatedly escapes his many attempts to hunt it down. John ends up following the deer with perseverance non-stop for two days. As he tracks it, he becomes convinced that the deer holds mythical powers that might be able to heal his grandfather.
When John finally catches up with the deer, who has collapsed from exhaustion, he chooses not to kill it. Instead, he reaches out and touches it. John comes to realize the deer cannot magically cure his grandfather, but he still feels as if he has a greater acceptance now of death as a natural part of life which allows him to begin to deal with his grief. What originally started out sounding like a story about hunting, actually ends up being a story about healing.
Like the young boy looking for the deer, in today’s Gospel from Mark there is an intense search. Simon and his companions are searching for Jesus. The text uses an interesting word to describe the search process of these early disciples. It says that they hunted for Jesus. This seems to be an odd choice at first. We usually think about hunting as a word associated with looking for animals for food. When the word is used with people it tends to have a more negative connotation like the search party intends to harm or capture a person as in “hunting someone down.”
The Greek word that gets translated as hunting is “katadioko.” Another way this word could be translated is “to follow with perseverance.”
Perhaps in using this word then, Mark was trying to relay the intensity or urgency of their search for Jesus. They were not going to give up looking until they found him. Why do Simon and his companions seemed so concerned with trying to find Jesus? Why would they be searching with such urgent intensity? Couldn’t they have just waited for Jesus to come back?
Knowing what had happened the day before, I can understand why they would be seeking him out. It had been a day full of miracles. It had begun in the morning with worship and prayer at the local synagogue. While they were there, a man had come in with an unclean spirit that Jesus had cast out. After attending the synagogue, they went to the house of Simon and Andrew. At the house, Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. He then came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. The fever left her! That same evening, at sunset, they brought to Jesus all who were sick or possessed with demons, and he cured them.
Simon and his companions had just witnessed a full day of the power of Jesus which would have made them even more eager to learn about him. So, you can see why they would have been searching for him with such intensity or almost desperation. They were not the only ones. The Scripture says that when Simon and the others finally find Jesus they say, “everyone is searching for you.” There had been a crowd the day before, at Simon and Andrew’s house. Mark’s Gospel says the whole town was there. Was it hundreds of people? We don’t know the exact number, but it is obvious the word had gotten out that Jesus was a healer. Everyone was looking for him because they were looking for healing.
Are not many of us looking for healing today as well? Are we not also plagued with diseases, not only of the body but also of the mind and spirit? Certainly, the pandemic which has been raging for the last year has brought to our attention all too clearly our need for healing. You might say we are also looking for healing from the increased social isolation. Beyond that, we are looking for healing for the wounds others have given us or that we have given others. When we too hear that this Jesus can cure such ailments, we can wonder how we might find Jesus in our lives.
The Greek word I mentioned earlier, Katadioko, that gets translated as hunting in this passage can also be translated as tracking. It makes me think about how I used to search for animal tracks as a teenager in Montana. We had the privilege of living by a river which made it easier to find tracks. Animals would come down to the water for a drink or travel its banks in search of food and the soft, muddy ground picked up the imprint of their hoof or paw, toes or claws. Whether it was a fox, or raccoon, pheasant or a deer, the shapes in the soil would tell me what animal had passed through that space in the last hours or days that had gone by. They were signs that I was not alone in the woods. They were signs that life was around me even if I couldn’t always see it. The deer tracks were the easiest to read. Sometimes I could even follow them into the trees and see other signs where the deer had been, such as a circle of grass all matted down flat from where they had recently curled up there and gone to sleep. If I was really lucky, those signs would actually lead me to the deer itself, and I might catch a glimpse of it silently standing in the distance.
I think that looking for Jesus can sometime be like tracking animals down by the river. It may not always be obvious where he is, but when we can see small signs of life around us, we can trust that he is present and that we are not alone. When we hold still for a moment, we can catch glimpses of Jesus in the small acts of kindness or forgiveness occurring around us, and in becoming aware of these glimpses, we can see that the good news about trying to track down Jesus is that at the same time, Jesus is looking for us.
When Simon and his companions find Jesus they tell him, “Everyone is searching for you.” Jesus could have responded by saying, “So what? I’m tired. Let them keep looking if they want to find me so bad.” But Jesus didn’t say that. Instead he says, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also, for that is what I came to do.” Jesus goes out looking for people with whom to share the message of God’s forgiveness. He goes out looking for more people to heal, and more demons to cast out. In Jesus we see that the God of the ages is tirelessly tracking us down.
Wendy Pfeiffer is someone who was glad that there were people tirelessly tracking her down when she was abducted in 1966 as an eight-year-old girl in New South Wales, Australia. She was walking home from church on a country road when a strange man grabbed her and put him in his pickup. He drove out of town where he stabbed her and left. Miraculously she was still alive and began to try and make her way home. Wendy showed incredible resilience and determination as she struggled to survive. Growing up in the country, she wasn’t afraid of the woods. In fact, she said she could her the animals around her, so she knew she wasn’t alone. But she was growing weaker and time was running out.
A large search party was put together. Over 150 volunteers and police officers combed the area around the town where they thought she was. After an extensive search lasting several days, however, they still failed to locate her, and everyone feared she might be dead. Their last hope was a man named Jimmy James and his relative Daniel Moodoo.
Jimmy was an aborigine, a native Australian, who was very skilled in tracking animals and people. he had been taught by his family of aboriginal aunties, in Central Australia. Jimmy had grown up learning to recognize plants, and to hunt small game through tracking lizards and insects. He held an entire knowledge system in his mind. He knew when something was out of place. He had a feeling and sense of belonging to the land. A part of that was the skill of being able to observe, to notice what is missing and anything that is added. This skill eventually led him to work with the police as a tracker on missing persons cases and to his being called up help find Wendy.
Many had given up on ever finding the girl, but Jimmy James and Daniel Moodoo tracked Wendy’s prints across 20 kilometres of dense forest in just under two hours. During the search, Jimmy was keenly aware of Wendy’s extraordinary ability to adapt to the landscape. He saw every piece of evidence first-hand: evidence that was hiding in plain sight to others. It was only Jimmy and Daniel who could hear Wendy crying as they combed through the bush, finding more of her tracks. The other searchers didn’t recognize the sound, but it was actually the girl and she was still alive.
Now in her late 60s, Wendy Pfeiffer says she owes her life to the two aboriginal trackers. She says, “I walked 12 kilometres over a 42-hour period, becoming more and more dehydrated and totally exhausted. Today, I’m lucky to be alive.” She is very grateful that the trackers didn’t give up their search.
In Jesus we see a God who continues to search for us so that we might have new life today and eternal life in the future. We see a God who is so concerned with tracking us down and loves us so much that this God was willing to become incarnate, to take on flesh and become like one of us, in order to find us. So when we feel lost in hopelessness, when we are wounded or hurting, when we feel like a missing person on the inside because we are lost in despair or simply overwhelmed by the burdens of the day, Jesus is there at the head of the search party, reminding us that he is always with us, saying to you and to me, “I was there when you were born, and I’ll be there when you are old. I am looking to bring you home. I am looking to bring you healing and to make you whole again.” Amen.
-Pastor Erik Goehner