Sunday, February 22, 2015

God, where are you?

It’s one of those wonderful questions children ask.

And indeed when we invited everyone, the children included, to ask those questions they always wanted to ask, it was one of the ones one of the children came up with.

Where is God?  God, where are you?  Where do we find you?

It’s a set of questions that works at all sorts of levels.

At that simplest level of genuine enquiry the child makes the way we talk about God can give the impression that God’s a person just like any other person.   I’m a person and I live in a particular place and have a particular address.  So, if God’s a person then surely God must live in a particular place and so to say have a particular address.  So, God, where are you?  Where do we find you?

I want to respond to that kind of question by capturing the immensity and sheer awe at the God who is above and beyond and around and within all things, all existence, the God is nothing less than being itself.  That sense of wonder and awe and majesty of God comes for me in reflecting on the immensity of the universe … or even the multiverse.

My son, Dave, put a video clip up on to Facebook this week and drew my attention to it – one of those clips that makes you go ‘wow’ what an incredible world we live in and it’s only the tiniest, bit of the universe … which itself may be only one unimaginably tiny dimension of the multi-verse.

See such a video and it somehow enlarges my understanding of God – God is in every tiny bit of the being that is all that can possibly be imagined … and God’s a bit more too!

Our older young people will be reflecting on the arguments for the existence of God.   For me each has some value, but none of them actually proves God – but maybe they go some way towards suggesting that believing in God has some basis, is what some thinkers suggest is ‘warranted faith’.

The cosmological argument for the existence of God suggest everything must have a beginning, it traces that back to the very beginning and then suggests that something must have made that very beginning – the big bang – and that must be God.

The teleological argument, or the argument from design, suggests that there is a movement forward in all we see and that movement forward is what gives a sense of purpose – there must be a design to the world around us – and that must be God.

My favourite was thought up by someone called St Anselm who was Archbishop of Canterbury nearly 1000 years ago.   It is called the ontological argument.  God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived.  I like that.  The bigger, the more complex, the more difficult to understand, the world, the universe, the multiverse is … then God is greater.

God is nothing less than being itself.   God is every process there is of coming into being.

Three is a wonderful sense of awe at the immensity of the God who has no specific location, cannot be pinned down anywhere, but is in and through, above and beyond, around and within everything there could ever be.

That’s the sense of wonder there is in those wonderful passages that speak of the world and all we see around us and see their origin somehow in the very being, the very mind of God.  One of my favourites comes in Proverbs 8

This ancient wise writer of words of wisdom thinks of the wisdom of God as the very life-force of the universe …

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
   the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
   at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
   when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
   before the hills, I was brought forth—
26 when he had not yet made earth and fields,
   or the world’s first bits of soil.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there,
   when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above,
   when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit,
   so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30   then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
   rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world
   and delighting in the human race.

And if the wisdom of God is the very life force of the universe then we need to seek out this wisdom of God to get an understanding of the world we live in and of life  itself.

32 ‘And now, my children, listen to me:
   happy are those who keep my ways.
33 Hear instruction and be wise,
   and do not neglect it.
34 Happy is the one who listens to me,
   watching daily at my gates,
   waiting beside my doors.
35 For whoever finds me finds life
   and obtains favour from the Lord;
36 but those who miss me injure themselves;
   all who hate me love death.’

This is a wonderful argument for opting to do RE at school – explore, ask questions.

Where is such wisdom to be found?

Where can I find such wisdom.

I love the way it is possible to channel the energy of something as immense as the sun into one particular spot.  Now comes a health warning. Don’t try this on your own if you are under a certain age … or for that matter if you are above a certain age.  Maybe actually it’s something we should only ever do in very careful circumstances.

Take a magnifying glass in the full sun and focus the energy of the sun on a single spot and it bursts into flame.

What if this wonderful wisdom of the God who is all around was focused in one particular spot, in one particular place, at one particular time?

That’s the conviction I have as a Christian.

In the beginning was the word, that wisdom, that wonder, and the word, the wisdom, the wonder was with God, and the word, the wisdom and the wonder was God.

And the word became flesh, dwelt among us, became one of us, just a slob like one of us, just a stranger on a bus, to quote the song we happened on when listening to Radio Gloucestershire the other day!

In Christ we see a window on to God … and what do we discover.  John tells the story of this Jesus Teaching that centres on love for God, love for neighbour.   A life lived in bringing healing to hurting people.   A life that ends in untimely death and yet a life that cannot be held down by death, a life that is risen.  And in the letter that maybe accompanied the gospel comes that remarkable insight … God is love.

This is the wisdom that can be discovered – this is the wisdom that leads to life.  This is the excitement that means the world as it unlocks the key to living in the world of God’s creation.

Where is God?  God, where are you?  Where do we find you?

All around us and within, above and beyond, deep down in our innermost being … and yet to be found, to be discovered, to be made real in one particular place, at one particular time, in Jesus Christ.


That’s one way of answering that question.

And it’s the way I followed in the first part of today’s service, albeit in a more jokey and fun way than it may appear here in writing!!!!

But after the children and young people went off to their groups, I returned to that set of questions.

For it is a set of questions that works in a very different way.  In a very painful way.

Where is God?  Is the question that plagues many in a world of pain and suffering.

God, where are you?   Where can we find you?  Is the painful question that has troubled so many when confronted with the awfulness of our world.
One such story is a timeless one … and it is real in our day as ever it has been.

He found it a deeply troubling question.  He had at one time been filled with certainties.  God had seemed so real.  What’s more God had seemed so relevant. He had a powerful message to share with the world of his day … and he had been so sure it had been nothing less than the word of God.

Few people listened.  And those that did had little time for the message.  But it was man’s inhumanity to man that finally got the better of him.  It was the sheer barbaric cruelty of the wars that raged that drove him to utter despair.

It was the cry of despair that rose up from the depths of his innermost being. 

God, where are you?  Where can I begin to find you?

When no answer came there was nothing left for him to live for.

That’s the story of Elijah.  He had spent a lifetime in the service of God, speaking truth to power, confronting the evils of the world of his day, in the ways of his day, challenging and defeating the prophets of  Baal.

But the King of the day was filled with evil.  And the Queen more so.  Jezebel was her name.  And hearing all that Elijah had done she determined to have him killed.

It was the last straw for Elijah.  He had had enough.

He was afraid and he fled for his life.

I’ve skirted over the next verse in the story of Elijah.

I Kings 19:4 – he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat under a solitary broom tree.  He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

It was during the bereavement course that Facebook came to the fore once again and led to a very moving and timely discussion about what too often can still be an unmentionable and not talked about taboo subject – bereavement in suicide.

A very moving article was circulated, suggesting that this is something to talk about, to have in the open.  And it pointed towards a number of places in the Bible where people get to rock bottom and have suicidal thoughts.

This is one of those moments.

Elijah, the great Elijah, has these suicidal thoughts. He want his life to be ended.

I gloss over it in telling the story.  But he’s the great Elijah, he didn’t mean it.  Maybe he did.  Maybe the story takes on greater significance if we acknowledge it.

He goes to sleep.

And it is in his sleep that it happens.

The insight is that God has something more – that’s the thing to hold on to in that context of someone feeling suicidal.  That’s the driving force of the Samaritans as they endeavour to keep the conversation going – there is something more.  This is the conviction – there is something more.

Elijah has a dream – an angel touches him and sends him on a journey, a journey that will last, the proverbial 40 days.  And he has food and drink that will give him strength for the journey.

The journey takes him to the holy mountain, to Horeb, the mount of God.  At that place he came to a cave and spent a night there.

And in his mind’s eye he found himself in the wilds, yet there was no mountain top experience for him. 

The storm raged, the earth shook, fire swept over the land in front of him.

And the questions plagued him.  God, were are you?  Where can I find you.

But God was not in the earthquake.  God was not in the fire.  God was not in the storm.

And then there came the sound of sheer silence: a still small voice.

And in that moment he knew: God was there!

And there was more for him to do – to anoint others to take on the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom … and to pass on the mantle to another who would follow in his footsteps, Elisha.

It is in the sound of sheer silence, in the still small voice that God’s presence is felt.

It’s that phrase, ‘still small voice’ that is the inspiration for the wonderful exhibition of British Biblical Art since 1850 – a very secular age.

It’s on at the Wilson and it’s worth a visit. 

Writing in the beautifully produced catalogue, Ben Quash, Professor of Christianity and the Arts, in King’s College London, comments about the ‘unpredictable, quirky, but always humane’ works on display and suggests that ‘the still, small voice of a Craigie Aithison Crucifixion or a Barbara Hepworth Madonna and Child can be a source of powerful resistance to the great totalitarianisms of the noisy and violent century that broke upon us in 1914.

For it may be that the greatest and most enduring truths are not to be found in that century’s earthquakes, wind and firestorms.”

But in the still small voice.

Hymn:  Dear Lord and Father of mankind

1          Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
            Forgive our foolish ways;
            Reclothe us in our rightful mind;
            In purer lives thy service find,
            In deeper reverence, praise.

2          In simple trust like theirs who heard
            Beside the Syrian sea
            The gracious calling of the Lord,
            Let us, like them, without a word
            Rise up and follow thee.

3          O sabbath rest by Galilee!
            O calm of hills above,
            Where Jesus knelt to share with thee
            The silence of eternity,
            Interpreted by love!

4          With that deep hush subduing all
            Our words and works that drown
            The tender whisper of thy call,
            As noiseless let thy blessing fall
            As fell thy manna down.

5          Drop thy still dews of quietness,
            Till all our strivings cease;
            Take from our souls the strain and stress,
            And let our ordered lives confess
            The beauty of thy peace.

6          Breathe through the heats of our desire
            Thy coolness and thy balm;
            Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
            Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
            O still small voice of calm!

Quaker activist who campaigned against slavery:  John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)

“the still, small voice … can be a source of powerful resistance to the great totalitarianisms of the noisy and violent century that broke upon us in 1914.

“For it may be that the greatest and most enduring truths are not to be found in that century’s earthquakes, wind and firestorms.”

But in the still small voice.

What is the inspiration of that resistance?

It is the still small voice of Christ who is the subject of so many of the pieces on display.

Some challenge, some disturb, some comfort, some reassure – all offer an alternative to the earthquakes, wind and firestorms that bedevil the world of the twenty-first century as much as the twentieth.

Maybe we should cultivate that sense of quiet and peace, seek again, the still small voice, and find the presence of God in Christ.

Where can we find Christ?

Did into his story in the gospels and what you find is one who teaches love for God and love for neighbour, one who brings healing into a hurting world, one who shares the pain and suffering of humanity and opens up a way through the valley of the shadow of death into the peace and glory of the God who is love.

But it is in the practice of that love that Jesus is to be found … it is in the silence of eternity interpreted by love that we truly find where God is …

I was hungry and you fed me,
thirsty and you gave me a drink;
I was a stranger and you received me in your homes,
naked and you clothed me;
I was sick and you took care of me,
in prison and you visited me.’

“The righteous will then answer him,
‘When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you a drink?
When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’

The King will reply,

‘I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these members of my family, you did it for me!’

Matthew 25:31-40

Hymn:  Jesus, where can we find you?

Jesus, where can we find you
In our world today?
Jesus, where can we find you
Incarnate word today?

Look at your brother beside you,
Look at your sister beside you,
Look, listen, care.

Jesus, in the hand of the healer,
Can we feel you there?
Jesus, in the word of the preacher
Can we hear you there?

Jesus, in the mind of the leader
Can we know you there?
Jesus, in the aims of the planner,
Can we find you there?

Jesus, in the thought of the artist,
Can we sense you there?
Jesus, in the work of the builder,
Can we see you there?

Jesus, in the face of the famished,
Can we see you there?
Jesus, in the face of the prisoner,
Can we see you there?

Jesus, in the faces of children,
Can we see you there?
Jesus, in all of creation,
Can we see you there?

Doreen Potter was married to the General Secretary of the World  Council of Churches – the hymn is copyright the Caribbean Conference of Churches.  Sadly, she died at the young age of 55 from cancer.

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