02/23/2020: Where Do You Find God?
Matthew 17: 19
A Sermon by Reverend Gretchen J. Switzer
I started out my sermon this week with the question that became the sermon title: “Where do you find God?” But as I began writing, I realized that was not the truest question that we need to ask ourselves. We must begin with a more basic question: “Where do you look for God?” Or do you look for God?
I’ve known church members over the years who came to church faithfully every Sunday morning to look for God. They listen to the scripture and the sermon, they pray (kind of) and sing some hymns and figure whether they have “felt” God or not, this is the only place where God is to be found.
Obviously, since I have “Reverend” in front of my name, I must believe that God reveals divinity and power in worship. And yes, I do believe that, but I do not believe that church is the only place we can see or experience or recognize God. The bible teaches, and I believe, that God is communicating to all of us in every moment of our lives in innumerable ways!! God is speaking our names to communicate with us. I also believe that very, very few of us listen well enough to hear what god is saying to us. And for most of us, sometimes we hear god and sometimes we don’t.
After we learned of Ted Berkeley’s death, Barbara Stietzel sent me a sermon he had preached here at Federated Church, titled “The Birds Will Sing Again.” In that message, Ted talked about how in deep winter, “there is a period of time in the world of nature when winter grabs hold of New England with cold, icy fingers and things become black, and barren, and lifeless, and most of the birds go away, so that we don’t hear them singing anymore.”
But, Ted says, “There is always the promise of Spring, and for many it’s a source of great comfort and hope and reassurance to realize that the birds will sing again.” But we have to listen to hear them!”
The problem, I think, is that we have not taught ourselves to seek God everywhere we look or listen for God in every moment. We do not accept God’s assurance that in the deep dark moments of our lives, there will always be a sunrise and a bustling world and yes, the birds will sing again.
The challenge, I think, is that we have not taught ourselves to look for God everywhere we look, or listen for God’s voice in every moment. We come to church, we might read the bible and we may pray when things in our lives become difficult, but what we fail to do is focus our minds and our hearts and our eyes and our souls on actually looking for Jesus in our midst. The thing is that Jesus is here! – He could be sitting beside you in that pew this very moment, or pushing you silently in a certain direction as you try to make a decision in your life. He is the one keeping your knees from buckling when you feel like you could fall down and give up. But if you are not looking for Jesus. If you are not putting any energy into hearing His voice, if you are not actively seeking His involvement in your life, then you might never hear the birds sing or have the kind of experience Moses and Elijah and Peter, James and John got to have. We could be missing so much love and so very many blessings and understandings because we are not actively expecting them or seeking them out.
Now I am not saying that any of that is easy. It’s a lot of work. It takes discipline enough and faith enough to truly believe that God is talking to you and touching you and guiding you even when you may not be aware of it.
To quote Ted Berkeley’s sermon again, describing the inevitable challenges in life: “There are times in life when everything seems bleak, and we have no idea what to do next. A prolonged illness, a crippling accident, a loss of a job, financial crisis, the loss of a home, personal bankruptcy, a separation or divorce, being cut off from your best friend, watching a loved one suffer and die.” But God is always and forever here to walk with us through the anguishing times in our lives. Our faith is constantly reminding us that we can survive. God is telling each of us that we are never alone. God is with us, holding us up and guiding us through the difficult times in our lives, even when we don’t realize it.
So, let’s look at how this worked for Moses and Jesus. Did you notice that this morning’s reading from Exodus and Matthew are quite similar? The Jesus story is the description of what we call “the transfiguration” – when God lets three of Jesus’ followers, Peter, James and John, see Jesus for who he really is. When those three men actually hear the voice of God in the middle of the cloud which enveloped them on top of God’s mountain.
Notice that those men had to climb a mountain, they had to want to follow him anywhere and they had to do some hard work to actually hear God’s voice in person. Chances are that god may not lead you or me up a high mountain to recognize Jesus or hear god’s voice,
but God does need us to put some sincere effort into knowing him, to focus on Jesus even when there doesn’t seem to be any direct response. We have to make the effort to know how to understand Jesus Christ.
God also asked Moses to climb up a mountain by himself, but he had to wait there before God came to him. Moses climbed and climbed up Mount Sinai, and when he arrived where God wanted him to be, a cloud settled on top of the mountain, so Moses could see very little around him, but Moses stayed right there waiting for six days. Finally, on the seventh day, Moses hears God’s voice surrounding him in the cloud, calling Moses’ name and leading him out of the cloud. Then scripture tells us that “the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.” Moses entered the cloud again and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the Mountain for forty days and forty nights. Moses was receiving the ten commandments, but to do so, he had to climb the mountain and wait for what must have seemed like forever. But because Moses did that, we received the word of God to guide us. You and I tend to put limits on God, even though God is limitless. We tend to think God is not communicating with us because in our owns minds we have limited expectations about how and why and if God will come to us and talk to us.
A final illustration: Once there was a man who dared God to speak. Burn the bush like you did for Moses, God. And I will follow. Collapse the walls like you did for Joshua, God. And I will fight. Still the waves like you did on Galilee, God. And I will listen.
And so, the man sat by a bush, near a wall, close to the sea and waited for God to speak.
And God heard the man, so God answered. He sent fire, not for a bush, but for a church. He brought down a wall, not of brick, but of sin. He stilled the storm, not of the sea, but of a soul. And God waited for man to respond.
And he waited. . .
And he waited. . .
And waited. But because the man was looking at bushes, not hearts; bricks and not lives, seas and not souls, he decided that God had done nothing.
Finally, he looked to God and asked, ‘Have you lost your power?’
And God looked at him and said, ‘Have you lost your hearing?’