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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Where is God? - 07/26/2020

Where is God?

The answer depends on whom you ask:

  • Evangelicals told me I would find God, If I invited Jesus into my heart
  • Baptists told me I would find God if I studied the bible…
  • Charismatics told me I would find God through experiences with the Holy Spirit, Methodists told me I would find God by working on behalf of the least of these
  • Mystics told me I would God in meditation

And I have to say I found God in all those places. I even found God is a place I was taught to fear. “Watch out for those ‘liturgicals’, you won’t find God only religion in those places. In spite of what I was told, I experienced a profound connection with God, especially in Holy Communion. I am a Lutheran today, because I see many of these streams converging in the ELCA. Sometimes in life you can get so busy trying to find the right seat (or for some the best seat) that you forget you are on God’s 747 with enough space for everybody. The mystery of soaring above the clouds can get lost in obsessing about whose got the best seat. We find God wherever we find God. Let us not forget to enjoy the ride.

Before his vision, Jacob saw God as distant and removed. God was at the top of an invisible ladder, but after his vision, he sees God in the rock he used as a pillow.

In our gospel reading, Jesus opens the eyes of those convinced that God towers over the earth with a long sword ready to uproot evil. But Jesus says you will not find God at the end of a sword ready to mow down evil. Instead, you find the kingdom of heaven growing in the field of a world where we humans cannot always tells the difference between who is good and who is bad. We are all a mixture of both impulses. Lutherans call this active non-violence grace.

Our scriptures today are helping us to find our seat and enjoy the ride by answering the question: “Where is God?”

And why is that an important question?

For modern people the question where is God has not led to finding our seat, but abandoning ship. If God is real and all-powerful, why don’t we have a vaccine already? Why is their evil in the world?  God just step our from behind the clouds, if you are real. However, for the psalmist the question where is God is a silly question. It would be like asking a Yooper where are the trees? It would be like asking in July, in Munising, where are the tourists? What do you mean they are everywhere!

The question the psalmist is pursuing is not where is God, but where is God not and the answer is there is no place that God is not. 

Now that doesn’t tell us why this is important. I remember in seminary being taught all the OMNI’s of God. God is omnipotent, and God is omniscience and God is omnipresent. The omnipresence of God means God is everywhere and Psalm 137 was a favorite proof text. And so (dust off hands),  I have God figured out; check that off the list of things I need to know like North Dakota is north of south Dakota. It was just a fact and that is pretty much all it meant to me. I knew where God was. God was inside the box of my systematic theology. The only implication of the omnipresence of God was a fear tactic. God, the cosmic micromanager, sees every bad thing you have ever thought or did.

However, we still have not answered the question why an omnipresent God is important.

Where God IS has huge implications for life.

How many of us have heard the saying, “everything happens for a reason” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle” or simply God is in control? Behind these sayings is a picture of where God is. God is the man upstairs. Notice it is never the woman upstairs because that does not fit our masculine ruler of the universe pulling the strings of human existence. This is why “everything happens for a reason”.

Now I get why we want to believe this, we want to believe that someone is in charge of the craziness. Well there is a sense in which God is in control, but not from this distant heaven as an autocratic ruler being in charge. If that is God’s job, we should fire God. I reject this God just as much as the atheist rejects this God.

To say, “everything happens for a reason” creates real problems. You mean I was sexually abused for a reason, but don’t worry God did not give me more than I could can handle. You mean slavery in this country happened for a reason, but God did not give them more than they could handle when they separated black kids from their parents never to be seen again!

People had a hard time with Christ, because he did not fit their expectations of what the messiah was supposed to do. The messiah God would send out of heaven would be like George Patton. He would raise an army, defeat the Romans, and accomplish God’s will on the Earth. However, Christ does none of that, just the opposite, he allows himself to be killed, to expose the injustice, to show the myth of redemptive violence as a myth. Moreover, he doesn’t command an army; he gives us a new commandment, that we love one another. Our parable addresses how this could be. Rather than the kingdom of heaven exercising authority over, the kingdom of heaven exercises authority among. The good seed grows with the bad seed. In fact, violence does not get rid of the bad it also uproots the good. We end up not just pulling the weeds but the wheat and the world starves for justice. World War 1 created World War 11 and World War 11 created the Cold War, and the Cold war created Vietnam. Hundreds of millions of people, mostly civilians die caught in the crossfire of a world addicted to violence as a solution.

The second issue with that is claiming that the man upstairs has authorized our group our nation, our religion. God chose our denomination, our political party, our gender, to exercise his authority on the earth. Our group is higher up the ladder on God’s chain of command.

The continual struggle of America with racism is the fruit of this thinking. We created our systems to benefit white Americans, especially male white Americans. Black people were at the bottom of the ladder. They bore the mark of Cain. God made black people to serve white people, or so the logic went, and white people had a manifest destiny from God to settle this country. This provided the justification for the genocide of Native Americans who were in the way of God’s plan for America.

It does not matter if you or I are not personally a racist. What matter is a system set up to benefit white Americans, especially male white Americans? Until those systems change, racism and sexism will continual to plaque us

Many churches have a long history with sexism because God, on the ladder of hierarchy, put men over women. Men are supposed to be in charge, especially white men. Where we put God has huge implications for life.

We get in trouble when we limit where God can be.

We have so many denominations and sects because one group left another group believing God had abandoned their previous fellowship. And so, Martin Luther got into trouble with the Catholic Church because he kept finding God in the pages of the bible and this did not fit because the Catholic Church at that time said God could only be found within the official dogma of the Church.

But I am not picking on Catholics; it seems many Christian groups try to corner the market on God. If you are evangelical, you must invite Jesus into your heart (and for some be a republican)…for Pentecostals you must speak in tongues, for Baptists you must believe in their reading of the Bible. 

The issue is not that God cannot be found in these things, the issue is limiting God to these things. Have you ever been to a restaurant, they have like a ten page laminated menu, and it weighs about 3 pounds. So you sit there with your family overwhelmed by all the choices from grilled cheese to Sesame chicken. The server keeps coming back because no one can decide (or someone cannot decide). If you are like me, after a while, I just go with what I know I like. I choose the corned beef hash and eggs almost every time and if I am adventurous, I go with the meatloaf.

 I limit my options to my present comforts. Some of us do this with God. We limit our experience of God to that which is comfortable. I think I will have the Methodist with extra social justice or the Lutheran with lots of liturgy but hold the hand raising. 

People love equilibrium. We spend a lot of energy trying to stay in the comfort zone. But in that comfort we limit where we find God. Jacob experiences more of God in discomfort. There he is sleeping under the stars. Anyone here ever have a bad camping experience? The softest thing he can find for a pillow is a rock. It is in this wilderness of discomfort that he finds God. In this place, he gets a vision of a God ready to bless all of humanity through his tribe. 

Our gospel reading made people uncomfortable. It uprooted deeply held beliefs about a God exercising power from the top of the ladder. I dare say that if our reading of Jesus is not upsetting us, then we probably are misreading what Jesus is saying. Much of his teaching upsets those who limited where we find God. God cannot be with tax collectors or a woman who bathes a man’s feet with her tears. In the bible, it is in the wilderness of discomfort that people experience God.

Covid 19 what not caused by God but it does represent an opportunity to expand where we experience God. We might be surprised to discover God in the wilderness of Facebook live. The capital C church is so building dependent. As if, God is limited to our space on Sunday mornings. And yet the world itself is becoming so digital. Maybe Covid 19 will retrain the church to think of how to reach a digital world and not insist they find God in a building once a week. Maybe God wants us to find God even in the wilderness of digital space with a keyboard for a pillow. Instead of limiting God to where we want God to be.

And this is why the best answer to where God is, is that God is with us

This is the mystery of the incarnation, Emmanuel, God is with us. Jesus is the manifestation of the truth that God is with us. When we limit God to a god who is over us, we miss the incarnation. God is in the heavens above us and the rocks under our feet. God, in theological language is not just transcendent (beyond it all) God is also immanent. God is present in it all….

Recently I had a woman come to me with a question about dispensationalism, now this is a way of reading the bible that gives me problems. And my first response was to challenge her. But as she talked, I could see how excited she was, for the first time in her life, about the Bible. She was finding God in the Bible. And I thought I could crush her enthusiasm, or I could rejoice with her, even as I gave her a couple of things to think about. I chose to let it go because the command to love takes precedence over my need to be right. 

Another time, I had stretched myself, trying something knew on the menu. I was practicing meditation something my religious tribe feared. But as I dedicated myself to this practice, I experienced the immanence of God. And there was this tree, and it was as if I had never seen or touched a tree before. The sheer wonder of this 70 foot majestic, living thing, and I was overwhelmed with the joy of being alive in God’s universe. Moses found God in the wilderness. He saw a burning bush. Was it really burning or were his eyes opened to the immanence of God present in all things.  Jacob built a house for God out of rocks. He named it Bethel meaning the house of God.

And more than once in this church, we were celebrating Holy Communion. The very ritual of incarnation, the very place where we can taste the love of our transcendent but immanent God. I experienced a God who was with me, a God who was with us. I could taste it..

Where is God? God is with us.  In the dark and the light, when things are good and when it feels like we sinking into chaos, God is there.

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.

May we not shield ourselves from a life fully alive to the presence of a God available in all of life. So where is God? God is everywhere!

Pastor Lon Hinder

 

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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