“I gotta find Bubba”

I can see the headline: Church employee charged with disturbing the peace, civil disobedience, and inciting a riot.

That’s the way I felt on the morning of Friday, September 29.

I was at a hardware retailer in the city on Broad Street. I needed to replace the tires on a church wheelbarrow. On my walk to find the tires, I encountered a display of Christmas trees and decorating merchandise.

If Mayberry deputy, Barney Fife, gets frosted over a new postage machine that sells stamps, then I can get frosted over the retail rush to shove Christmas at us in September.

Back on September 29, Halloween was 31 one days away, and sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas is the slowly eroding national holiday Thanksgiving.

According to the National Retail Federation spending for Halloween in 2022 is expected to be $10.6 billion. Additionally, the National Retail Federation defines the holiday season as November 1 through December 31, and in all of their predicted sales data and statistics, Thanksgiving isn’t mentioned.

Nor is Thanksgiving Day mentioned in the famous Lectionary, where pastors all over America find their suggested scripture readings to prepare their Sunday sermons.

What does that tell us about ourselves, our thinking, our priorities, our thankfulness?

Are we more captured by trick or treating, and Black Friday sales, than we are for giving thanks for farmers, truck drivers, grocery store workers, and that guy on the back burner, God?

Come November, my old bones and my soul experience an internal gravitational pull.

For many years, our family spent Thanksgiving in Duck on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. That seasonal pull is to the edge of the Atlantic’s early morning surf as it collides with a sandy shoreline.

I’m there in waders, layered in clothing to keep me warm, and I have heaved the baited surf rod line into the breaking dawn of a faint orange light.

Dawn arriving Duck, North Carolina (Photo by Bill Pike)

The fish ignore me, and that’s ok for now. For I’m consumed by the sheer beauty of the evolving sky, the crash of salted waves, and the dives of teasing shorebirds in pale light.

Some mornings on that shore, as I look north in the predawn light, I can see the beacon from the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. That man made light, and the light of the rising sun remind me of John Chapter One Verse Five: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Let me put this disclaimer out there— I am not a theologian, nor a Biblical scholar.

I’m a rapidly aging grumpy geezer, who cares deeply about Trinity, but who does not always agree with or understand the “so-called” United Methodist church, and for that matter, you can include in my failures my inability to always understand God and the Bible.

And yet, something draws me to that scripture: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Perhaps, you recall a scene in the movie, Forrest Gump. Lieutenant Dan has his platoon out on patrol. It is overcast, raining, and the platoon is in open terrain.

Without any notice, as Forrest stated, “Somebody turned off the rain and the sun came out.” Within seconds of that transition to bright sunlight, the platoon was in a deadly ambush.

The firefight was so intense that Lieutenant Dan ordered his men to pullback. Forrest took off running, and he quickly realized he had retreated too far.

He ran back to the scene of the ambush, and immediately started to carry his fellow wounded platoon members to a safe evacuation spot. Forrest does this multiple times.

He even stumbles upon a wounded Lieutenant Dan. Who despite his protests, Forrest is able to carry the Lieutenant out of danger.

Then Forrest realizes that his best friend, Bubba is missing.
At that point, Forrest disobeys Lieutenant Dan’s orders. As Forrest is re-entering the dense underbrush, he yells back at his Lieutenant, “I gotta find Bubba.”

In the darkness of that ambush, Forrest is a light to the platoon.

Right now, someone in our neighborhood, county, city, state, country, world, or maybe in this sanctuary is silently yelling, “I gotta find Bubba.”

But what their soul is really conveying is this, “I gotta find Jesus.”

It is no secret that I am an early riser.

I start my day with the Upper Room. I read the scripture lesson, then the devotional, and if that devotional really speaks to me, I’ll log in to the Upper Room website and leave a comment of thanks to the author.

And on some mornings, I make a prayer request on the website. If you make a prayer request, you will be asked to offer a prayer to someone who has posted a prayer on the public wall.

On the morning of October 30, I read the following words on that prayer wall: “Lord help me. I can’t take much more. You know the situation and my feelings. I am struggling.” Amen

That cry for help touched my heart. I offered a prayer. In that person’s plea, I hear—“I gotta find Jesus.”

Singer/songwriter, Billy Joel, in his song “River of Dreams” writes: “I hope it doesn’t take the rest of my life until I find what it is that I’ve been looking for.”

In the Bible, there are countless examples of people who with sincere urgency are searching, trying to find what it is that they have been looking for.

I’m drawn to the stories of the woman at the well, the man with leprosy, the young daughter of Jairus, the man lowered through the roof, and maybe for me my frustrating favorite, the bleeding woman.

For twelve years this woman had suffered from bleeding, no one had been able to cure her.

In the crush of a crowd that swarmed around Jesus, with complete human desperation, this woman believes that if she can just touch Jesus, that all of her suffering will disappear.

She works her way through the crowd, comes up behind Jesus, touches his cloak, and instantly, the bleeding stopped.

The woman must have felt deep internal joy, but now she has a bigger problem.

Jesus stops in his tracks, and asks, “Who touched me?”

From the crush of the crowd around him come quick denials.

His disciple, Peter, attempts to say to Jesus, “Look at this mass of humanity around you, anyone could have brushed up against you.”

But Jesus is adamant, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”

Perhaps, it was in the strength of her new found healing, that the trembling woman comes forward and falls to the feet of Jesus. She explains why she had touched him.

At that point, Jesus says to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

I love that story, but I will confess, I struggle with it.

I’m agitated by the instant healing from a simple touch.

I want to know why that healing touch of Jesus eludes those who surround us who are desperately in need.

Where is that touch in Ukraine?

Where is that touch in the unstable mind of the next mass trigger puller?

Where is that touch for the person battling cancer for a second time?

Where is that touch in our divided church, our divided country?

And while I’m whining away, what I really need to be asking is this: Bill, where are you, where is your faith?

“I gotta find Bubba.”

“I gotta find Jesus.”

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

My wife is a prolific reader.

Quite often, she will hand a book over to me that she has completed.

My reading pace is turtle slow. I plod through a book.

I keep a highlighter with me as I read a book. That way I can capture a word, sentence, or paragraph that resonates with me.

I wonder if you have ever come across a book passage like this: “There was no God for me anymore. My God had forsaken me. My God was a punishing God. My God had failed and left me to die. I had no use for God. Forgive me, Mama. I thought to myself as I threw the Bible under the bed. I had no use for it. All of it was a lie.” (Hinton, page 105)

Those words came from Anthony Ray Hinton as he sat on the edge of his bed in his cell on Alabama’s death row.

For nearly thirty years, Mr. Hinton was an inmate. Mr. Hinton was wrongly convicted of murdering three people. His book is titled: The Sun Does Shine.

Luckily for Mr. Hinton, a very gifted attorney, Bryan Stevenson, kept battling the darkness of Mr. Hinton’s case. Mr. Stevenson always ended his conversations or meetings with these words for Mr. Hinton: “hang in there.”

No matter where we look in our world, it is becoming tougher and tougher for people to hang in there.

“I gotta find Bubba.”

“I gotta find Jesus.”

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Yes, tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and across America there will be hundreds of volunteers who will feel an internal gravitational pull to be a part of providing a thanksgiving meal to the poor, the homeless, the downtrodden, the outcast, the addict, the lost, and the person who can’t take much more.

Over the course of the last several weeks, our congregation felt a gravitational pull, flood buckets and Thanksgiving meal bags were filled and distributed.

That heart work from you will be a light in the darkness of a stranger’s life.

You became this stranger’s Forrest Gump, or even better the embodiment of Jesus.

What made you respond to those requests? What nudged you? What pulled you?

Those are questions worth pondering because there are times when you, me, we, us choose not to respond to the nudge or the pull.

From now until Christmas, and despite our efforts to push it back, a chaotic craziness will consume us.

This madness has its own gravitational pull.

This seasonal circus will aggravate us, test our patience, cause frustration, push us to pursue an unattainable seasonal perfection, make us cranky, and zap our energy.

At some point in this lunacy, you have will have a mercurial meltdown.

And when that happens, a voice deep inside of you will whisper—“why, why are you doing this?”

Well, the answer to the meltdown can be traced back to that hardware retailer down on Broad Street on September 29.

But here is the real challenge for you, me, we, us in the coming collision with Christmas—it’s not about us.

No, its about the darkness.

The darkness is trying to overcome us.

We can’t let that happen.

We must confront the darkness.

We must find the courage to counter the darkness.

By countering the darkness, we have the potential to bring more good, more light, and more hope into the life of people like the person who wrote these desperate words on October 30: “Lord help me. I can’t take much more. You know the situation and my feelings. I am struggling.”

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

When you least expect it, an internal gravitational pull will be coming to you from Jesus.

That pull will require your soul to gently disrupt your peace, to be disobedient for the right reasons, and to incite a riot within you.

Drop your fear of the darkness, step into its edge, and shine your light.

Somewhere out there, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, a stranger is hoping that the darkness will not overcome the light of your kind soul.

I gotta find Bubba.

I gotta find Jesus.

You, me, we, us gotta push our light into the darkness.

Jesus is counting on us, his touch can’t do it all.

Remember: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Author’s note: I had the honor of being the speaker at our annual Thanksgiving Eve service at Trinity United Methodist Church in Henrico County, Virginia on Wednesday November 23. The words shared here are what I presented.

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