"Where is God?" by Pastor Kinsey
Where is God? This is the plea from the prophet Isaiah in our first reading. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…”
God’s chosen people had returned from the Exile in Babylon, to find their beloved city of Jerusalem still in taters – the stones of the First Temple thrown down, and the city burned up. The generation of Israelites that had been carted away by the marauders had passed on, and it was their children who were returning – coming home, with the hope that all their sorrows of being disenfranchised, treated as no-people, with no status, in a foreign country, who made them renounce their former lives, would vanish, and they would regain their status and land, their reputations and religion. But life was just as hard, or harder, when they returned, for they faced massive rebuilding – starting with their Temple and their homes – in order to somehow rebuild their lives and their families, their economy and their country.
Please Lord, tear open the sky’s to come down and help us! Bring earthquake and fire to our enemies, to show them, who is God, that “the nations might tremble at your presence!”
When times are tough, even those who are not church going, or who have never practiced a their faith, may cry out to God for help! When we lose a job and a family income – Lord, help us! For all those in Houston and Florida and the Caribbean this summer, those who faced the brunt of major hurricanes, I’m sure prayers were thrown up for God to come down from the heavens to save them! From fires in California, Lord help us! From the harmful Tax Reform bill, Lord, please help us!
Where is God?!
This was also the plea of Jesus’ followers, and all of Judea – Lord, help us. The gospel of Mark recalls Jesus’ words, warning of the destruction of the Second Temple, this time by the Romans, if the Judeans didn’t repent and turn around. “But in those days [to come], the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light,” Jesus says, “and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” These apocalyptic signs sound a lot like hurricane Irma that devastated Puerto Rico, but they actually were relying on Israel’s prophets of old.
How else to describe the threats to their culture and community, in the 1st century in Palestine-Israel, but with the words of Daniel and Ezekiel? Mark’s gospel was composed, right around the time of the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., and he structured his gospel around this chapter 13, we read from today, called the Little Apocalypse. Less than forty years after the death of Jesus, the Christians and Jews were thrown into chaos, and scattered around the Mediterranean, when the Temple was once again destroyed, a 2nd time.
Where is God? Had God abandoned them? Jesus told his disciples, “Keep awake,” for “about that day or hour [when the Son of Man is coming] no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” But don’t worry, God is with you. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away,” says Jesus.
So, even in destruction, God raises up.
Many people will know the story of Elie Wiesel who survived the German WWII Death Camps and wrote a book about it, called Night. The book centered around this question of, Where is God? He openly questioned where God was while 6 million of his fellow Jews were being slaughtered, as did so many others. But he also found the seeds of an answer, the only one he could offer up, in one of the most awful experiences he had there. Wiesel, and all the imprisoned were forced to watch three fellow Jews being hanged to death one day. And they were made to, keep awake, and watch, and, one-by-one, pass in front of them as they “struggled between life and death.” And when Wiesel passed by, the man behind him said, “Where is God now?”
And that’s when “I hear a voice within me answer him,” Wiesel writes, “Were is he? Here He is – He is hanging here on this gallows. . . ” (Night, Bantam Books, 1982, pp. 61-62.)
At the time, Wiesel felt God had abandoned him and his people. God had died. And it changed him forever. Though, arguably, he found something new, in a God who does not respond to, works righteousness, the way in which he had been brought up, a God who cannot “tear open the heavens” at the drop of a hat, whenever we call out, but asks us to keep awake – and never forget!
For us, we know this experience in Jesus’ cry from the cross, ‘why have you abandoned me?’ And, as we know, the answer won’t come by an apocalyptic arm tearing through the heavens and lifting Jesus off the cross. But first, in the words of a Roman soldier who was at the crucifixion, forced to watch, and he can’t help but see and exclaim, “truly this is the Son of God.” And it began to dawn on the world, three days later, from the cold dark tomb, with the birth of a hope given to the world, that we all have the promise of new life with God, in and with the Son of God who loves us, and who came to live with, the powerless and the humble.
We heard it loud and clear last Sunday in our gospel, too: “whenever you did it one of the least of these – feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned, welcoming the immigrant – these, who are members of my family,” says Jesus, “you did it to me.”
God in Jesus, is found in the humble and meek, the poor and abandoned. God is not in the so-called, ‘Christmas gift’ to the rich and powerful, announced from the White House this weekend – but in the least of these, with the suffering.
How do we build this world, that God has revealed to us in Christ Jesus?
Where is God… today?
Today, we begin a new church year, and our gospel readings will follow the Gospel of Mark. And for Mark, it’s all about keeping your ears and your eyes open. “Listen,” the one who has ears will hear, and the one who has eyes will see! The healing of the deaf and the recovery of sight to the blind, are signs that the realm and kingdom of God are near. If we keep awake, even in the darkest times, we know God will be there with us. If we do this together as the people of God, if we keep awake even when the sun is darkened, the Just One will arrive!
And so we wait for the birth of a Savior to come! The Nativity scene was set-up outside yesterday, and the garlands are beginning to be hung. The azure blue of our paraments and banners is for Advent, meaning, the Arrival of the Lord, the color of anticipation and hope, these four weeks of waiting.
Where is God? God goes to a humble manger, to be born into our hearts, and into the world. God has conquered, even our most feared enemy death, and so, no matter the opposition, we keep awake, knowing the Day is near, the Son of Man, the New Human Being, is coming!