WHERE IS GOD NOW?
Click here to listen to this sermon.
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth 2 before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us.
3 Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.
4 How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
6 You have made us an object of derision to our neighbors, and our enemies mock us.
7 Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.
17 Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
18 Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, Lord God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.
A group of Jewish Exiles who had been held captive in Babylon for a generation have finally been set free to return home. They return to the land of their ancestors, the land that God promised their forefather Abraham. They have hopes and visions of returning the land and its royal city, Jerusalem, to its glory so that it will be a light among the nations. Their dream is to restore the temple and seek to fulfill Solomons prayer.
But it isnt so simple. Some of their brethren lack the zeal that they have. Also, the elite groups left in Jerusalem have taken over the rule of the city and they have their own designs for the future of Israel and Jerusalem. They have made alliances with other nations and adopted their ways. They arent as pure as they should be.
Seeking to express their anguish and understand their disappointment, this community of returned exiles lift their voices in lament and prayer ...
Read Isaiah 64:1-9
Where is God?
Israel remembers how God worked powerfully among the nations to deliver Israel from Egypt. And now they want God to do the same for them.
They are tired of waiting. They ask, Where is God? (Isaiah 63)
They feel abandoned. They are angry. They want God to rip open heaven, come down form his lofty perch and start mashing their enemies into mortar and use it to rebuild their temple. They want some justice, some punishment, and some restoration ... ... but it seems to them like God is nowhere.
- Where is the God who parted the Red Sea?
- Where is the God that led the people across on dry land?
- Where is the passion and the might you used to show on our behalf?
- Where are your mercy and compassion now?
Can you identify with these poor outcasts? The land that they called home seems more and more like a foreign country. The people who ought to know better have lost their way. Those who ought to set an example for other nations have become a global shame.
Can you identify with these poor outcasts? Do you ever wish that God would rip the sky open and start sorting it all out?
- In other parts of the world, people stand in lines to get scarce resources just to live: clean water, rice, bread
- In this country, people were trampled and killed by a restless mob anxious to get cheap junk at Wal-Mart. Is this what we consider an economic crisis? We push, shove, and trample to get toys?
Affirmation and Challenge
The words of Isaiah affirm that we are not alone when we call upon God for justice and vengeance even if we just whisper it. The words of Isaiah affirm that we are not alone when we feel like God is nowhere to be found.
But the words of Isaiah do not leave us without a challenge ... Stop and reflect on what this summons of God means. Lets say God does rip open the sky right now and Hes ready to sort it all out. Lets say that God does show up right now with his hammer and blowtorch. Lets say He begins the retribution and punishment right now.
Think ... does He stop at our borders? Does He spare us? Why should he? Is God our attack dog on our chain?
- Israel thought this one out ... They were ready for the shock and awe of God that would humble her enemies. They were ready for God to go to work and put down the mad dogs that threatened the peace of Jerusalem. They were ready for God to burn out the impure and immoral in their land.
- In the midst of their prayer, a thought strikes them. (64:5b) Maybe it seems like God is nowhere because Hes angry with them. They have to admit that they arent as godly as they should be. No, they are impure. They are feverish because of the infection of sin. They have the stability of dry leaves blown in the wind. When they attempt to dress up in righteousness, they end up in soiled rags polluted with their own filth. Its not pretty. And if God shows up to begin the apocalypse, they might just be the first in line.
The Courage to Confess
Do we have the courage to confess our sins? Can we identify with these Israelites now? Do we want to? Since Adam and Eve, weve had a difficulty confessing sin. We tend to blame others or blame circumstance, or even blame God just as the Israelites do in Isaiahs prophecy.
Weve discovered convenient ways of managing this ...
When we can do this we begin to draw close to the God who can make a difference. Especially when it seems like God is nowhere ...
- Justification and denial. Making excuses and rationalization.
- Generic confession of sin. Were all sinners. Of course we are. This is an opposite extreme, for when everyone sins, no one sins.
- Overlooking the corporate dimension of sin. We like to think of ourselves as independent individuals. We are free agents, loners, and accountable only for ourselves. We dont want to be responsible for the sins of others. That wouldnt be fair. But there is a way in which we all participate in systems and structures larger than ourselves and there are elements of those corporations, governments, relationships and even congregations that can be warped by sin. Who is to blame? Thats the wrong question. The better question is, Can we confess that sin before God and be redeemed?
God is Here Now!
Confession of our sinfulness as individuals and as a people causes the scales to fall from our eyes.
- When we look for a God who will rip open the sky and begin busting mountains and boiling the seas, then we stare into nothingness. That God is nowhere because that is the God that looks like us, salutes our flags and protects our fortunes at any cost. When we look for a God who strikes terror in others at a push of a button or a magic word. Then yes, that God is nowhere.
- Confession is the way to perspective and truth. When we confess our sinfulness before God, we realize that God is the potter and we are the clay. He is our Father and we are his children. God is not nowhere, but he is here now.
- When we confess our sinfulness we see that we need a rescued from ourselves and not just from enemies.
- When we confess our sins we see that God has already ripped open the sky and sent his Holy Spirit down to descend on his Son, Jesus Christ. (Gospel)
- When we confess our sinfulness we see that the God that we thought was Nowhere is Here, Now. He is with us in our suffering. In all their suffering he also suffered, and the angel of his presence rescued them. (63:9)
- God is Here and Now and he has cast his lot with us. He is building a temple for his name among those who are soft in his hand like clay. God is here and now. May God forgive our sins and help us to live in his presence!
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 30 November 2008
Link to next sermon
Link to other sermons of Chris Benjamin