Where is God? Thirsting for God’s Presence 4-10-16

Psalm 42 Like a stag, a doe, longing for streams of cool water, my whole being longs for you, my God. My soul aches with thirst for God, for a god that lives!  When can I go and see God face to face? My only food, day or night, is my tears; they recriminate me:  “Where is your God?” they say. These things I remember as I pour out my soul like water—how I’d go with the crowds and lead them into God’s house, amid cries of gladness and thanksgiving, drunk with the dance of celebration. “Why so dispirited?” I ask myself.  “Why so churned up inside?  Hope in God!”  I know I’ll praise God once again for you are my Deliverance; you are my God. This is why my heart despairs:  I remember other days with you, in the land of Jordan, on Mount Hermon and the Hill of Mizar. The primeval Deep is echoing in the sound of your waterfalls; your torrents rage and break over me, overwhelming me. Every day, YHWH, you ordain your love toward me, and during the night you bring me your song.  In my prayers the God of my life,

I say to God, my rock:  “Why have you forgotten me?  Why do you keep me in mourning, oppressed by an unseen enemy?” My bones are shattered by their words, foes taunt me constantly:  “Where is your God?” they say. “Why so dispirited?   I ask myself.  “Why so churned up inside?  Hope in God!”  I know I’ll praise God once again, for you are my Deliverance:  you are my God.”

Christ is risen! … How easy it is to say on Easter Sunday when spirits are high and the crowds are there. It’s difficult to hang on to the energy, the Spirit, the hope. Every Sunday is Easter and God is still Eastering our world. Even if the cold weather makes it hard to feel it, the redbuds and dogwoods tell us, the community coming together tells us, the gospel reminds us, that Christ is risen and continues to bring new life into our midst.

Listen for the word of God for you this day from the last book of the Bible, Revelation.

Revelation 5:11-14 Then in my vision, I heard the voices of many angels who surrounded the throne together with the living creatures and the elders.  They were numberless, thousands and tens of thousands, and they cried out:  “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and wealth, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard the voice of every creature in heaven, on the earth, under the earth and in the sea.  Everything in all creation cried aloud:  “To the One seated on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honor, glory and dominion, forever and ever!” The four living creatures said., “Amen!” and the elders fell on their face and worshiped.

April 10, 2016

Where is God? Thirsting for the Presence of God

It would seem that Easter season is the easiest time to sense God’s presence, with the world is bursting out in beauty, daffodils, tulips, and forsythia. It is the season of Christ’s presence. Theologically we proclaim Christ is with us -at least for a season until the Ascension and Pentecost.

On the other hand, it’s not that easy for us to imagine the risen Christ is really with us on Easter itself, let alone for a whole season– let alone for all time. We have some kind of differing and sometimes contradictory ideas, teachings, and images in our heads and in our community about where Christ and where God – on Easter or anytime. And that’s one reason I decided to address this question during Eastertide this year.

Another reason I thought about addressing the question of “Where is God” was this radio show, On Being featuring a monk by the name of David Steindl-Rast. He talked about how we usually think of God above us, right? God is portrayed so often as the guy in the sky with a beard, that we can hardly help having that image in our heads.

Steindl-Rast suggested that instead of thinking about God as being up above – out there, we might think of God as being all around us. That doesn’t seem like such a radical idea, but somehow the way he said gave me this image and inspired this whole sermon series.

 

In this three part sermon series, i’m proposing that we explore these varying understandings of God’s presence, first by reading Psalm 42 and Revelation today and recalling some of the different ways the Bible thinks about where God is. Today we will think about our thirst for God, even when God feels absent or irrelevant to us.

Next week we will think some more about reaching for the reality of God’s presence as we read the Gospel of John and we think about Jesus as a risen presence like a shepherd and a voice which is present to us.

For the third week, we will ask how we might live into that reality. As we come back to read the end of Revelations, we will see how we hear scripture differently with these varied images of God in our head and our heart.

 

So today, let’s look a little more at Psalm 42. The Psalm starts out with a famous image of a deer thirsting for cool water. The Psalmist says, “I long for you just like a deer that thirsts for water.” But after this beautiful image, we realize that something is wrong. The Psalmist says they are thirsting for God because they do not long to see God face to face and they can’t figure out how to do that.

It is clear that the writer is distressed and concerned – even though he or she has at times led precessions to the temple, now they are feeling lost and distant from God. In fact, the Psalmist even feels like people are taunting and teasing him or her, saying ‘Where is your God?’ The Psalmist says, “Why have you forgotten me?” but keeps trying to remind his or herself that God is there, that hoping for God’s presence will actually lead to that presence.

 

Psalm 42 and 43 have a beautiful tone of longing for God and finding God’s presence even when God feels absent. I remember a sermon my preaching teacher gave on this text titled, “The Presence in the Absence.” He was making the point that in our longing for God, in our feeling separate from God, we may realize in a most profound way that God is actually present. When we feel a need for God, even if that thirst is a feeling of God’s absence – that is the time we are most likely to realize God’s presence.

All through the Bible we have contradictory images of where God is. In Genesis, we have identified 3 different traditions that have been woven together into the final book. We identify those different traditions partly by how they talk about where God is. The earliest tradition imaged God anthropomorphically – walking in the garden with Adam and Eve, talking with them and getting angry at them. The writer in that tradition tended to call God Yahweh or Lord, and since Yahweh in German begins with “J” scholars call that the ‘J’ tradition.

Later writers thought of God in a different way – less like a person, but more like a mystery and a force. The second creation story in Genesis portrays God as “Elohim” – it’s called the “E” tradition.” and God is less the God of just this people and more the God of the whole universe, of all that exists.

The third tradition scholars have identified in Genesis is called the ‘P” tradition and it combined elements to the first two and tends to call God Yahweh Elohim, or Lord God.

These tensions between a local and locatable anthropomorphic God and a more amorphous force or Spirit extend all through the Bible. When the Psalmist longs for God like a deer longing for water, and feels God’s absence, it sort of feels like she is longing for God to appear to her and show the people who are taunting her, that her God is actually present. Give me a sign!

I thought this sermon was going to go a different way. I thought I was going to follow Stendl-Rast and his urging us to have a bigger vision of who God is and where God is, understanding God as part of a larger creative presence rather than being like a person who interacts with us.

Instead, at least for today’s sermon, I can tell that there will be ways that both traditions continue to influence us. There are lots of ways to image God and understand where God is. And that bigger, spiritual understanding of God need not exclude an understanding of God who walks with us and talks with us, of the one we long for in concrete, visceral ways in our daily lives.

The place where we meet God is not at some intellectual understanding or search for where God is. We find where God is in the place of our need, the place of our longing and hope, the place of despair over a death of a parent or loved one, the place of feeling like no one cares or will help us in our loneliness or isolation.

When we meet God in that place where we are yearning for help, we may hear God’s voice, we may feel God’s presence, we may taste God like a deer tastes water when deeply thirsty. And as we complicate our thinking about where God is – our longing for that presence will help us to realize the divine right in the middle of our greatest need.

Responsive hymn – 2025     As the Deer