Where is God?
October 11, 2009
Job 23:1-9; 16-17 Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31
Pastor Mary Blessing,
Vicar, St. Philip’s, Scotts Valley CA
“Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling.” (Job)
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” (Psalm 22, Jesus’ quote from cross)
“…before Him, no creature is hidden…” (Hebrews)
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” (Mark)
Today’s readings challenge us to consider the question: “Where is God?” Or, perhaps, WHERE IS GOD WHEN I NEED GOD MOST??
In the first case, Job is in the depths of despair, having lost EVERYTHING he had—his family, his home, ALL HIS POSESSIONS—he still has his “so called friends”, yet here, in today’s passage, Job is in a state of DEEP DARKNESS bemoaning the fact that AT THIS TIME OF DEEPEST DESPAIR, he cannot “find” GOD:
Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling…. If I go forward, he is not there, or backward, I cannot perceive him, on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him, I turn to the right, but I cannot see him… (JOB)
Job’s GRIEF is profound. If you did not know the end of Job’s story, you might think that at this point he gives up ever having the sense that God is present. God’s excruciating silence, God’s complete absence brings Job to beg to disappear into the darkness.
PSALM 22, famously known as the lament which Jesus cries from the cross: MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME??? In his pain and anguish, even Jesus, faithful Son of God, experiences a moment of complete abandonment—in his deepest suffering, even Jesus knows the despair of finding the presence of God absent….
But the scripture from HEBREWS, a letter written after Jesus died and rose again in God’s triumphal return in the resurrection, assures early Christians (and us) that indeed, “ before God, NO CREATURE IS HIDDEN”—while WE may not always be able to find God, we are assured that God has found us—all of us, all of the time. God is always present, whether we “feel” God’s presence or not….
A former parishioner of mine shared with me a time when a wise priest once counseled her through a divorce when was also stricken with breast cancer … she felt abandoned by God. The loving, healing Jesus she thought she was following seemed to have walked away from her; like Job, she was in a deep state of despair, wanting to be swallowed up by the darkness. She stopped going to church; she shut out her Christian community. Her priest was recovering from double knee surgery, and was out of commission. Then, one day there was a knock on the door, and before her sat her priest. He made his wife drive him to her house, and he CRAWLED UP THE STAIRS—he came to her home to check on her, asking why he had not seen her at church lately. With anger in her voice she said, “Why should I go to church? God is not there. I no longer feel God’s presence. God is not here with me, and God is not at church.” The priest looked at her with compassion, and said: “If you feel that God is not here in your heart, it is not God who has moved.” Telling me the story years later, this woman said, “Well, that was impressive that the priest went to such lengths to reach out to me, and a light bulb went off inside my head: I realized I was the one who shut God out, wallowing around in my self-pity…”
In the story of the “rich man”, Mark reveals a moment in contrast to those who feel God has abandoned them. Here is a man who has lived a righteous life—there is “proof” of his righteousness, as least as far as 1st C. Jewish culture was concerned, for the very fact that he “had many possessions” showed that he was favored by God. Also, he tells us that he has lived a righteous life, as he has kept all the commandments of God. THIS life is pretty good for him. He now KNEELS before Jesus and asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life”?
This man is in the direct presence of the living God, Jesus, and yet he chooses to put himself in a state of grief—he TURNS AWAY FROM GOD not because of deep suffering and a sense of abandonment, but because of a NEED to continue to hold on to MATERIAL THINGS of THIS WORLD—he is grieved, sorrowful, AS HE MOVES AWAY FROM GOD to retain “MANY POSSESSIONS.” He cannot give up all that he has and give it to the poor to follow Jesus. He cannot now step into the place where he will “inherit eternal life”.
It is not deep suffering that keeps this man from being in the presence of God. His greed, no, his avarice—extreme greed of having all he could possibly ever need and then some—this puts him into a state of grief. This stuff, and his pride in owning it all, blocks him from the very thing he claims he wants: to be intimate with God—even as he stands face-to-face with God.
As I consider these various stories of “God being absent or present”, stories which ask us to consider: “Where is God?” and “Where am I in relationship to God’s presence?” I am reminded of a story told by an African American woman preacher in Marin County. (told in Ann Lamott’s memoir, Traveling Mercies: Some thoughts on Faith, p. 55)
When the preacher was a little girl, her best friend got lost in the city where she lived. This little 7 year old was disoriented, walking up and down unfamiliar streets, trying to find her way home. Finally a policeman saw she was lost, and offered her a ride home. She had not memorized her address, so he invited her to get into his squad car, and he would help her find her street. Up and down and all around they went, and the little girl still couldn’t find her way. Then, finally, she saw something familiar, and announced confindently: “You can let me out now. This is my church, and I can always find my way home from here.”
The girl’s family had been taking her to that church every week her entire life, walking through big city buildings. This church was a safe place where she had been loved and nurtured. It was there that she saw grandmothers, aunties and uncles, the pastor and friends, all giving each other hugs and prayers and signs of peace in the name of Jesus Christ. It was here, at her church, that she felt confident and knew that this is where God lived. From Church, she could always “find her way home.”
Now, we know that scripture continually reminds us that God does not just dwell in fancy temples, synagogues and church buildings. In fact, scripture challenges the notion that God would be trapped in a building. God is found in burning bushes, in the rainbow after a storm, in stone altars built on hillsides, caught in the thicket when we need a sign of his presence, in a field of grain, in a picnic basket shared with thousands on a grassy plain, in an empty tomb—God is standing before men, loving them with compassion in God’s eyes, even as they reject his presence. God does not need a physical building to be present, but I believe WE NEED a “Place”. A place to gather, and to know, “When two or three gather in Jesus’ name, he is present.” And so we gather here, in our humble little St. Philip's Church, an old, abandoned motel, converted to a house of God. Do you find God here? Is this a place you can come to experience God’s presence, to help you find your way home? Will St. Philip's be a place where your children, if they are lost, can come to get their bearings, and with confidence say, “This is my church, and I can always find my way home from here.”
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