There is a restlessness in the city right now. Students are back. Some coming from near, some from far. Some sure of what they are doing; some not sure of much at all. The fritteurs are hot and ready to go, grease is steaming away. You can smell fries flowing, wafting through the air. The kegs have all been tapped. The cellars are stocked with that much-prized Belgium brew (thanks be to God for those monks). And for the past few nights you could see the masses of young people making their way to the center of the city: the famous Grote Markt and Oude Markt. My guess though is that probably not many of them are going to Sint Pieterskerk. Not many going to stop off and fill up at the Sedes Sapientiae. Mary probably has had fewer customers these days than De Rector, De Kroeg or The Capital. But even though students may not stop off at the church that does not mean that their hearts are not restless. For all of our hearts are restless. All are searching for something more. It’s just that sometimes we don’t know where to seek. Sometimes we don’t even know where to begin to ask.
The Israelites were a restless people too. They searched for God in many places. Even when God revealed himself to them, they still weren’t really sure where to find him. So they sought him in pagans God, in idols of smooth stones and in sorcerers’ wisdom. They searched for him on mountains; they searched for him in valleys. They were restless and looked in so many places. But Isaiah simply said to them: Seek the Lord where he may be found: call on him while he is near. They knew where God could be found: in the covenants and in the promises, in that culture sustaining monotheistic belief. But they weren’t always so sure. So their restless hearts searched in many other places.
One of the goals of my last assignment as a priest was to build community beyond the walls of the church—especially with the youth. We went out one night in an attempt to do just that, and were going to a play together. I was driving and I had my GPS set. Now I am terrible with directions, but the GPS has really enhanced my life. It told me to take a right and so I followed the directions. It brought us into this cul-de-sac, I could literally see our destination just in view, but then the GPS started going crazy. It told me to go right, then left, then right again. We kept winding around these houses. It said that we were right next to our destination, but it kept telling me to turn and turn and turn. We couldn’t find our way out of these houses. But I kept my cool. I wanted to seem like I knew what I was doing. Finally in a fit of frustration I turned to the other chaperone sitting next to me and asked: do you know how to get out of here? She said: I wondered how long you were going to wait to ask me. It is just up there straight ahead and take a left. She was correct, and we proceeded to our destination, no thanks to me.
We have all embarked on a new journey. Perhaps up to this point we have followed our inner GPS well. Perhaps unlike many of those parading to the center of town the past few nights, we have been graced with the gift of faith. And so we have chosen to come to Leuven. For many of us we have chosen to stay in a community because something inside of us encouraged us to do so. We have all chosen to follow some intuition inside to choose the field and subject matter we are invested in. In the midst of all of that, hopefully, we have asked God for guidance and help in making these decisions. This is a wonderful thing, but we can’t stop there. We must keep searching. For oftentimes when we think we are on the right path, when we think we are following correctly, it is then that we start to rely a little too much on ourselves, and it is then we find ourselves a little like the Israelites, searching to settle our restlessness in the wrong way.
If the first reading is a gentle invitation to us all to search for the Lord where he can be found, the Gospel today should be a bit more challenging. Here we see that it is not always so easy to understand God’s ways. Most of us are probably like the workers who worked hard all day. We have tried to be faithful. We are at least asking the right questions. We know of our own restlessness and want to find rest in God. And yet it was just those who did all the right things, those who were faithful and hard working in a good Palegian fashion, who misunderstood the ways of God. Perhaps we think we have done the right things and so we should know what to expect from God. But then the words hit us in the gut: God’s ways are not our ways.
For in Christ God changed everything. The old order was flipped on its head. In Christ when we think we have everything figured out we must think again. For in Christ:
The first become last
The last become first
The wretched are redeemed
The redeemed are asked to suffer
The scoundrel is saved
The saved are sent out
The tax collector becomes a saint
The saint is then despised
The wise become foolish
And the foolish are given a chance to see.
As soon as we think we have it all figured out, as soon as we think we are certain of our path, as soon as we think we have found the place where our hearts need to rest, it is then that we must seek the Lord even more, ever more, always more.
We will have the chance to read a lot of books and take a lot of classes. We will know a lot about God and about faith and about religion. But it is exactly at this point that we should beg God for the humility to say that we really do not know that much at all. This is not a nihilistic skepticism. Rather this is admittance that our ways are not always God’s ways. When we think we have things figured out we must step back in humility and beg God for assistance.
We will have the chance to get to know each other in community. We will laugh and cry and rejoice and get frustrated. But even when we think we know each other well we should beg God for the humility to see that there is so much more mystery in every person that we still don’t see.
We have assurances that we know where the restlessness of the world can find its rest. But lest we lose our place of rest in Jesus we must always bring ourselves back to him.
So in our studies we seek the Lord.
In our meals we seek the Lord.
In our tears and joys and frustrations and triumphs we seek the Lord.
In all things we seek the Lord.
And we know where he can be found. Right here in this community that is gathered, in his church, in this historic chapel that has for years connected America and Leuven, where for over 150 years, right here, in the basic elements of bread and wine we see that our ways are not God’s ways. For in this sacred institution narrative God actually comes again and again and again to be with his people. And he says to each of us, and to each of those restless hearts in the city of Leuven: I am here. I am waiting for you.