Where is God?: Reaching for God’s Presence 4-17-16

Where is God? That is the question we are asking for a few weeks here in the season of Easter. It may not be the most pressing question of our lives in this season – some of us (maybe most of us) are more concerned about the pressing concern of where we’re going to eat lunch today than about where God is – but asking the question raises some interesting questions about our assumptions and our faith beliefs.

The nice thing about a three part sermon series about God is that you can give three different answers. And preachers always like to talk about threes – you know why, right? The Trinity for one. So today we’ll particularly focus on Jesus. Today, the 4th Sunday of Easter, we almost always read about the image of God or Jesus as the good shepherd – so let’s listen to John and see what that image might teach us about the presence of God.

John 10:22-30 The time came for Hanukkah, the Feast of the Dedication, in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the Temple area in Solomon’s Porch. When the Temple authorities surrounded him and said, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense?  If you really are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus replied, “I did tell you, but you don’t believe because you’ re not my sheep. My sheep hear my voice.  I know them, and they follow me..I give them eternal life, and they will never be lost.  No one will ever snatch them from my hand. Abba God, who gave them to me, is greater than anyone, and no one can steal them from Abba God. For Abba and I are one.

April 17, 2016

Where is God?: Reaching for God’s Presence

God is everywhere, right? Not just a white bearded man in the sky. When I asked people this week where they think God is, they said God is all around us – in nature, in community, in our thoughts and prayers, in our creativity,… in our democratic process of elections. I know that last one – finding the authentic presence of God in our election process – is a bit of a stretch, but we’ll hope for God’s presence somewhere in the process, right?

This whole sermon series came out of the simple statement of a monk that God is better imaged as all around us than as being above us. That statement caught my attention, and I thought it would be interesting to explore. My sense is that most of us would agree with the statement that God is everywhere. We just don’t really act as though that’s the case.

We church people act as though we might know a little more than the average person about where to find God – that our prayers might be particularly effective in finding God and calling God’s attention to some concern that God would have missed this week.

Even if we don’t feel that way about ourselves, the outside community sometimes assumes that about us. People who don’t go to church sometimes will ask us to include a particular person or concern in our prayer list as though we have some kind of special line to God, some ability to ferret out this elusive divine being and bring them to the place where they are needed.

Part of the assumption is that God can be found in the church, in a sacred place. We appreciate sacred spaces, don’t we? Don’t you think God might be found in some sacred spots more than others? We recognize the field in Ashbridge Park as a sacred space more and more every year because of the energy of the sunrise service we’ve been having there for the last 15 or 20 years. We think of cathedrals or Stonehenge or other historical places of worship as thin places – where we might be especially likely to feel the presence of the Spirit.

But if God is everywhere, then how could it be that we find God at those places and not at other places? Is that because the Spirit’s energy is a little stronger in those places than others, or is it because we are more sensitive or expectant in those places, or we are made more sensitive or expectant in those places? Maybe you have another answer to those questions.

The Bible often gives the impression that God is to be found in one place more than another. Jacob finds God at Bethel in his dream of a ladder to heaven. Moses and Elijah find God on the mountain. The Psalms, as we heard last week, sometimes lament God’s absence and sometimes rejoice in God’s special presence.The prophets often criticize the Hebrew people for abandoning God by marrying foreigners or not following the law. Even Jesus, of course, cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

That question has always confused me a bit. How could Jesus, who knows God so intimately, who is part of God, so clear about God’s presence in him – how could even Jesus feel like God is not there?

Our assigned passage for today has Jesus talking to people who want Jesus to be someone different than he is. They identify him as the Messiah, but they are hoping that means he will lead a political revolution to reestablish the kingdom of Israel. Jesus tells them that they don’t get who he really is, and they will only get him if they hear his voice as their shepherd, only if they follow him. Only if they learn what Jesus is really about will they know and understand him as the one who brings peace, the one who eats with tax collectors and prostitutes, the one who dies for the new realm of the Living Present God.

Being a shepherd of course is a metaphor about who Jesus is. Hearing God’s voice is a metaphor that we understand – sometimes viscerally, sometimes only in a general way. And knowing where God is – here or far away – is a metaphor itself, a representation of our own relationship to God and our own understanding of the divine. Only when we are following, only when we are trying to hear God’s voice, only when we are living within that reality do we have a way of saying God is present or God feels distant.

(Am I getting you confused.) All I was trying to do was to say that God is all around us, whether we are in a sacred place or not and I got myself into all these questions about whether God is in a certain place, or more in one place than another, or whether it’s our problem if we don’t sense God’s presence. So finally, I decided I had to ask Jesus where to find him and where to find the Living God.

I asked, “Do we find you in nature or in the church, in the temple or in the synagogue? Do we find you in the refugees that Pope Francis brought back from Greece with him to the Vatican, in the rage and hope of a Black Matters demonstration, in a potluck dinner with young parents? Do we find you with prostitutes and tax collectors, at a party or in the welfare center? – and guess what Jesus said to me? Jesus said, “wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”

“Whenever two or more of you are together because of me, you can be sure, I’ll be there.” Matthew 18:20 So this is where God is, this is where Jesus is – where we gather in Christ’s name – where we gather because of Christ. God surely showed up where Pope Francis showed up in the middle of the refugees this week. God surely showed up

Responsive Hymn  2180  Why Stand So Far Away, My God?