Sermon Text: Where's God?
A man asked me once how he could go about changing his religion, to stop being a Christian and join another faith. He said that he did not actually want to be part of another faith tradition, just hoping to find another God to pray to, one more openly responsive to him. A different and a brand-new God. He said “this Christian God” he had been praying to had let him down, had disappointed him, had not given him any breaks in the bad situation he was in at that time, and did not seem to be hearing him. The man seemed to be looking, not for a newer, more generous God or a different faith practice, but for magic. I held my judgment and said I believed that if he did indeed change (and he could) to this other faith, he would still be praying to the same God, just God with a different name. Surprise!
It is sad to weigh in on what can seem to be scattered pieces of distorted, almost child-like, requests, such as the one from this man, including the notion that God is far too often something of a disposable entity to people who believe they have to go looking somewhere, anywhere, else for God. After giving thought and prayer to what the man believed to be true of “this Christian God” he had been praying to, I softened in the awareness that he truly felt that God was ignoring him and believed God had probably given up on him. This man was lost and hurting. After spending more time with him, it became apparent to me that he really was searching for God, that he knew he wanted/needed God’s love, care, guidance, and forgiveness to heal/redeem his broken life.
We heard something similar from Deuteronomy a few minutes ago, something the Israelite people were experiencing with Moses. That same “Where’s God?” thing we probably all say and experience from time to time in our own broken, wounded lives. The Israelites were on the plains of Moab, at the end of 40-year wanderings with Moses, their prophet law-giver leader, who was preparing them for their long-awaited entry into the promised land. They were most likely scared, nervous, uncertain about where God was or if God was even truly with them. They did not know how to communicate directly or effectively with God, so there was not much confidence within them in their relationship with God. Thankfully, they had Moses to keep them on track and away from any false leaders or fraudulent prophets, or distorted ideas about God.
Like my friend, the people of Israel were longing to hear directly from God. Moses foretold the arrival of a prophet, messiah, Jesus, who would guide the people of the world, deliver God’s word and care, peace and redemption to all of them, and be with them wherever they went. Moses assured them that God would always be with them, just as we know that God is always with us today, tomorrow, and forever. Even, especially when we are on shaky spiritual ground, when our personal worlds and the world around us feel threatening and uneasy, times when we wish/pray that God would arrive on the scene and magically pull us out of whatever is scaring us. God is with us, and we do not have to convert to another faith tradition to believe, live into, and experience God’s constant and eternal love for us. This is the final spiritual purpose of our human existence, to know that we always have God with us; we never need doubt that!
When my son Ryan was starting kindergarten, I anticipated accompanying him on his very first day of school - straight from our front door to the front door of Mrs. Henderson’s classroom. About halfway there, Ryan abruptly let go of my hand and ran ahead, calling, “Go home, Mom, I can get there by myself!” I was floored, crushed, but I followed him anyway right to the front door of his kindergarten classroom! God is like that with all of us. We may run away, feel we do not need God, become lost or disillusioned, frightened by what we may perceive as God’s absence from our lives or consumed by violence or confusion, even seductive distortions, around us, wondering, “Where is God?” We may even seek out another god, but God, our real God, our faithful and steadfast parent, never abandons us. God runs behind us, catches up with us, finds us at our worst and best places, hears our prayers, loves us forever.
These gifts of God’s faithfulness to our human existence paint a powerful portrait, a confident vision of lasting promises concerning our lives. As Christians, we believe these gifts are met most fully in Jesus, who becomes our front door into the life God has created for us. Picture how Jesus entered the front door of the synagogue, teaching and acting with God’s authority, and immediately attending to the man with the evil spirit. We may wonder how that man even got into the synagogue. If Jesus had not been there, he would probably have been expelled, but Jesus caught up with him and did not expel him, but the evil within him. Satan was defeated, and the man was restored, invited into God’s family, on the spot. The Kingdom of God, as promised!
This is more than just knowing we always have God with us; it’s also remembering that God is counting on us to, not necessarily to chase, but to truly reach out to people seeking God, especially those who are hurting, marginalized, lost, anyone otherwise excluded/lost in life and wondering where God is. God is here! Let’s run out into the world today, find others wanting to be closer to God. AMEN.