XCovid-19:Important Updates for Worship, Church Operations and Staying ConnectedRead more

Sermon Archives

Where is Your God?”

Rev. Dan Smith
Sun, Jul 29

Psalm 42 and Matthew 26: 36-39
The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

I’d like to begin by sharing a few lines from a Stevie Wonder song. As some of you know, Stevie is a Motown hero and one of my all time favorite musicians. I wonder if he had Psalm 42 in mind when he penned these lyrics: “They say that heaven is/ ten zillion light years away,/ and if there is a God,/ we need to know/ where is your God,/ that’s what my friends ask me?” Do any of you know that song? ‘Where is your God?” is a question that Stevie’s friends ask him. It is a question my friends ask me and maybe your friends ask you too. It’s a question we may hear especially in the wake of some national tragedy like we have witnessed in Colorado, or at Penn State, or even amidst the global economic and ecological tragedy we see unfolding daily. “Where is your God?” also comes up in our Psalm for today. Twice. The psalmist cries out in verse 4: “My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?” And again in verse 10. “As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

Let’s start with Stevie. His so-called friends already have an idea of where God is, or at least where heaven is, however misguided. ‘They say that heaven is ten zillion light years away.’ Sounds a little far fetched but let’s give these friends the benefit of the doubt and assume for a moment that God is ten zillion light years away. After all, the idea of a God who resides high in the sky is so deeply entrenched in our history and culture that I’m guessing all of us from time to time - no matter how much we resist - find ourselves thinking about God in vertical terms. We live here on planet earth and God is the big guy in the sky! Thanks in part to those tacky Sunday School pictures of God with his big sandaled feet in the clouds, and thanks to countless images of athletes pointing “heavenward,” that “big guy in the sky” or “big gal” for that matter can be a tough image to shake. In fact, it points to a rather profound notion that some academic theologians have toyed with through the centuries, namely that if God exists at all, God exists “out there,” “wholly other” and utterly transcendent. God is not merely way out in the nether corners of the universe, they say; God’s primary domain is even beyond the universe, beyond space and time as we know it. This perspective lies at one end of a broad theological spectrum. Its the idea of a God that is largely unable to penetrate the laws of science, unable to penetrate the atrocities of human history, and unable to have all that much influence on our daily lives.

While I for one find this idea of God too remote and detached, let’s be honest and think about where we ourselves tend to place God in the context of our own lives. My guess is that for many of us, though we may come to church regularly, God sits somewhere on the margins of our days and weeks. God may even be like a big box that is stashed for the time being in our proverbial attics. We brush by it regularly. We know there’s some good stuff in there, though we’re not exactly sure what it is. If we could only find the time to sit down someday, open it up and unpack the box, we might just find a few gems of real and lasting value – if we could only find the time. Except for the more prayerfully attuned among us, and I know there are many in this congregation, God rarely disturbs the flow of our day-to-day routine. God seems more or less hands off and may well be among the farthest things from our mind when we are in the trenches of our jobs, in the throws of our studies, or when we are schlepping kids to and fro. During the regular grind, to say that God is light years away, at least from our consciousness, may not be too far from the truth. And so for some, God is still very much an “out there” sort of thing, if only because we are still learning how to bring God “in here” into the very substance of our lives.

Indeed, many of us are working on this because we long for a God that’s closer to home and closer to our hearts. I wonder if any of you have come across a great book that came out several years ago called “A Natural History of the Senses” by Dianne Ackermann. In her chapter on vision, there is a section entitled, “How to Watch the Sky?” Listen up now because what she describes might just help us to bring that big guy in the sky down to earth. She writes that “the sky is the one constant in all our lives, a complex backdrop to our every venture, thought and emotion. Yet, we tend to think of it as invisible – an absence, not a substance.” She goes on “Though we move through the air’s glassy fathom’s, we rarely picture it as the thick heavy arena it is. . . .“Skeu” is the ancient word from which sky is derived and it refers to a covering of any sort. To the ancients, the sky was a roof of changing colors.” She then says ‘Look at your feet.” Go ahead, all of you. Look at your feet. Have you ever thought that you are now and have always been standing in the sky? “When we think of the sky, we tend to look up, the but the sky actually begins at the earth,” right where our feet touch the ground.

Feel free to quibble with such a poetic idea of where the sky begins. But the sky, especially when seen in this light, becomes a beautiful, and I would add biblically legit metaphor for God, one that can make God more present in our day to day activities. God is much like the sky and the wind that moves that sky. God, too, is invisible and may often seem more like an absence, as opposed to a substance. God surely provides the backdrop for our every venture, thought and emotion despite the fact that we sometimes mistakenly think that God is standing atop some rooftop of clouds looking down over us. To take this idea to heart, just think about it: all the time, even right now, we are not merely looking through the sky to see each other, we are looking through God. Even when we look to the stars that are light years away, we are looking through God. With this idea in our mind, our skin is always touching God and God is always touching our skin. Consider this next time you are driving in a car, hurdling through the air. Imagine God being in the space between your eyes and the taillights ahead of you. Rather than sitting in traffic, you can be sitting in God! Where is your God? God is still “out there” and very much beyond our full comprehension, as far as a distant start, but God is also right here, all around us, near as our breathing. You are in God and God is in you! Where is your God? The answer now is as clear as day, right? I wish. For, during the night, or at least those dark nights of our soul, even these answer begin to fade away.

Even if and when we have trained ourselves to avoid that annoying and almost inevitable ‘big guy in the sky” syndrome, and even when we have learned how to find and to feel God’s presence perhaps through the love we share with our family and friends, or through the air that we breathe, we still may find ourselves at a loss to answer the “Where is your God?” question. The Psalmist was surely going through such a time when he wrote these lines: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my souls longs for you, O God. My souls thirsts for God, for the living God.” The psalmist’s soul is longing for something that is obviously not there, something that, however close, feels far away. When we recognize within us a deep longing for something that even our closest friends and family cannot provide, when our hearts cry out for comfort, or our minds and souls long for guidance or deliverance or when we hear no answer to our why’s, we too may find ourselves pressing still the question, where is God? Where are you now, when I need you the most? Why aren’t you here, to ease this pain, to cure this cancer, to take away this suffering, to save those children? If we don’t recognize these refrains amidst our own doubts, we certainly have heard them echoed throughout history. The question “Where is your God?” becomes all the more poignant and we find ourselves surprisingly back to the idea of a God who lives ten zillion light years away from the struggle and turmoil of our own souls, our own communities, or our own world.

A Jewish proverb offers what may be something of an antidote to this notion of a faraway God. It considers the possibility of a God that lives, not light years away nor in the sky all around us, but on earth and presumably in a house no less. I’d be worried it was trying to domesticate God were the conclusion not so startling. The proverb is this: - “If God lived on earth, people would break God’s windows.”

I was hoping that would maybe catch a mild chuckle or two. When I first heard it, I’m sure I laughed until I started thinking about what a heartbreaking thought it really is. Not so much the idea of God taking up residence in a house with broken windows which is just bizarre but the idea of “people breaking God’s windows?!” Can you imagine throwing rocks at God’s windows? Anyone?

I can. No question. Preposterous as the idea may be, it can sometimes help to let the imagination wander. Truth to tell, I’ve got a whole bag of rocks that I would love to chuck at God’s window. Rocks of anger, grief, longing, and injustice, rocks that sometimes lay heavy upon my heart and that cast down my soul. I would lift them up, one by one, and I would hurl them right smack at the glass!

Looking at it this way, maybe its better to leave God ten zillion light years away. This way, we don’t have to worry about making a mess when we start complaining to God about all the things that are broken in our lives and in our world. Lucky for me at least, I thoroughly believe that God can handle a few broken windows from time to time. I even believe that God would say. “Bring it on! Go ahead. It’s O.K. Throw as many rocks as you need to. Don’t worry about the glass, just do what you need to do to unburden your heart and when all is said and done, you know what, you will still be welcome in my house! There will still and there will always be room in my house for you and you may dwell in my house forever.”

Now, of course we don’t need to worry about the glass and this house is obviously but one more metaphor. But the image of shattering God’s windows breaks right into the heart of the psalmist’s predicament, namely, what do you do when your very best answer to the question of “Where is your God?” falls short. What do you do when your mind, and more deeply, your faith draws blank in the face of human suffering, your own or that of another. What do you do? Perhaps it could be enough to a heave a few rocks! Heave the rock of that very question into the air. Heave the rocks of your unanswered questions and prayers! Heave the rocks of your lamentations! Heave your sorrow and longing! Heave those rocks or words and prayers, whatever will weigh upon your soul until finding some expression. Have you ever managed to do that? To throw those rocks—and have you heard something akin to the glass shattering, felt some of the barriers between you and God fall away, have you sensed God inviting you into God’s dwelling place, even if you have to break-in through the windows?! It is what the psalmist knows to do. “Deep calls unto deep,” he writes. Psalm 42 is a collection of rocks, weighing upon a soul, thrown up in a longing to break through the glassy fathom’s of God’s ever mysterious, ever present, ever spacious air. Do you see the permission here for honesty? Do you sense the ongoing conversation and the unbreakable relationship that remains? Even in the last line of the psalm, there remains a paradox, one that even Jesus held in his own heart through his last days as he quoted this and other psalms of lamentation.

Perhaps the paradox itself is gospel enough for today, and the reminder that God is not an either/or God but a both/and God--God both transcendent and immanent, both far away and near, both then and now. While our hearts may be stretched to span the distance and difference between, and though we may tend to get stuck in one place or other, we’d do well to seek out a balance, to know God as One who meets us where we are and as we are but who at the same time moves us to where God is and to wherever God needs us to be, in our lives, in our communities, in our world. We might even do well to stop looking up and out and instead to start looking at our own feet for a clue and for how God just might be asking us the same question – Where are you? Where are you standing today? “For by day the lord commands God’s love and by night God’s song is with me”, maybe even this very psalm! “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise God, my help and my God.” Amen!

Looking for ways to support our community during this unprecedented time of need? The Missions and Social Justice Committee has compiled and vetted a short list of organizations looking for assistance to aid in their work in the COVID-19 response...

In response to the Coronavirus outbreak, the Shelter has expanded into Sage Hall to allow for greater social distancing, and is now open to guests around the clock, thanks to additional funding from the Commonwealth. They would very much welcome...