Tuesday, September 06, 2016

September 4, 2016 - Watch for God

For a number of weeks I’ve been looking at this wristband on the music stand I use during the early service and during Singspiration in the 11:00 service.  I believe it is from VBS.  It’s a little too small for me to wear it comfortably on my wrist, so it must be one for kids.  Printed on the wristband are the words Watch For God.  Every week, as I’ve looked at this wristband it’s been a good reminder for me.  As I’ve been following connecting points for my messages this summer, this is one that has been right in front of me every week for a number of weeks, and one day several weeks ago, while I was in here moving some things around, it finally dawned on me that’s a sermon I should offer – Watch for God.  It was right in front of me for weeks.

That’s sometimes how it is with God, isn’t it?  Right in front of us, but not always noticed.  Working all around us, but not always seen.  There’s nothing quite like missing something that is right in front of you, like looking for your glasses when they are on your head or looking for your keys when they are in your hand.

Follow along with me as I read a story from Mark’s gospel.  It’s a familiar story of Jesus walking on the water, including one rather peculiar phrase –

Mark 6:45-56

45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.
46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land.
48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them,
49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out,
50 because they all saw him and were terrified.
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed,
52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there.
54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus.
55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.
56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Of the several things that I want to say this morning, the first is this –

We must open our eyes.
One of our great callings – and, at the same time, great challenges – is to see God in our daily lives.  But that is not always as easy as we would like it to be.  Many of us, for instance, have wondered why God is not as obvious today as he was in Biblical days.  Even the disciples, who witnessed many great acts performed by Jesus, had a difficulty understanding not only who he was, but struggled to see the ways in which God was working through him.  In the Old Testament there were many miracles and, during the ministry of Jesus and in the time of the early church, miracles were taking place on a regular basis.  Which can bring us to ask, does God work as obviously today, or do we have to look harder to see him?  The answer to that question is, yes.  Yes to both, that is.  I believe that God is just as obviously at work today, while at the same time we have to look harder to see the ways in which he is at work.  God is just as obviously at work today but we must look harder because there are more things that get in the way, I think, of our ability to see.

All of us want to have the ability to see God, and the ways in which God is at work.  But that ability really rests upon us more than it does God.  I think that people mistakenly believe that if God would just offer some kind of irrefutable sign or evidence then faith would be so much easier.  The problem with that is that, first of all, it wouldn’t be faith, and secondly, it doesn’t guarantee that we would really be able to see.  Think for instance of the raising of Lazarus, in John chapter 11.  Can there be any great work of Jesus to offer prove to people?  And yet not everyone was convinced.

Have you ever noticed that odd phrase in this passage before – He was about to pass by them?  Doesn’t that sound strange?  What in the world does that mean?  Was Jesus going to pass by the disciples and leave them struggling in the storm?  Was it some kind of race to get to the other side of the lake?

That strange phrase, he was about to pass by them (verse 48) is interpreted through Exodus 33:22 – when my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by (it is also the verse that inspired the hymn He Hideth My Soul – He hideth my soul, in the cleft of the rock).  The phase until I have passed by has great theological significance, as passing by means God is about to show something important about who he is.  God was about to show Moses something very important, and as Jesus comes to the disciples on the water, he was not intending to pass them by in a literal sense – to race past them – but was about to show them something very important about who he was.  But they had to look close to even know it was him who was coming toward them.

Even those who were the closest to Jesus struggled at times to see, to understand, to open their eyes and see what was literally right in front of them.  We often speak of seeing the world through the eyes of faith.  Seeing is more of a spiritual act than it is a physical or biological act.  Our minds are focused and trained to see things in a particular way, but faith reorients the way we understand, the way we see, and that’s what Jesus spent so much time trying to get through to people, as he sought to help them get their minds out of the way so they could see, through faith.

  There are any number of things Jesus was always tring to get his followers to see, but allow me to offer a few this morning –  

Look for God in the storm of life.
There is a literal truth in this passage, as the disciples found that Jesus would, quite literally, calm the storm for them.  For us, the truth is metaphorical.  We aren’t going to see Jesus walking on the water towards us, but we experience storms that are every bit as real to us as what the disciples faced and we too, find that the presence of Jesus will calm our storms.

C. S. Lewis, in his book The Problem of Pain, said that difficulties are God’s megaphone to get our attention. I agree with him, although I would not go so far as to say that God causes those storms in our lives, but I will absolutely say that God is in those storms with us.

For some people, the presence of God is so real they can see him.  Over my years of ministry, I have been with people in hospitals or at other times of great trial, and they have pointed their finger and said Jesus is right there.  And they meant that in a very real sense, not just a metaphorical or symbolic sense.  I asked do you mean literally right there?  Their answer would be yes!  Right there!  In the corner of the room, or by their bed, or sitting in a chair!  And though some would say it was the result of medicine of the disorientation that sometimes comes about as a result of a hospital stay, I don’t believe it was medicine or any other physical factor that caused them to have that experience.  I believe they are real, and I believe it to be real because the storms of life can open our eyes to spiritual experiences that we do not allow ourselves to open up to at other points in life.  And though I have never had such an experience myself, I take great comfort from those who have.

Watch for God in the storms.

Watch for God in yourself.
Sometimes it’s hard to see how God is working in us.  I don’t think the disciples always realized the ways in which God was working through them.  I don’t think Peter really recognized how God was working through him.  Or pick any other character in Scripture, or church history, or even today.

Maybe it’s easier for someone else to see.  My friends saw God working in me before I did.  Many years ago, before I had come to any realization of a call to ministry, some of my friends told me they believed I would become a minister.  And these were not friends who attended church or were particularly spiritual, but they could see God working in my life in a way that I could not.  It was a good while before I came to that realization myself, and it was offered by some of my friends who weren’t necessarily tuned into God in ways we would normally understand.

God is working in your life, even when you don’t see it and even when you might not believe it.  God is working in all of us, and we must learn to tune our hearts and minds into the way he is working.

Watch for God in other people.
God can, and does, use some surprising people.  He sure did in the Bible, and one of the greatest examples is Paul.  When Paul was converted he did not get a rousing reception in the churches he visited.  And no wonder, as he had been a great persecutor of the early church.  Paul was blinded at his conversion, and God told a man by the name of Ananias to go to him and to heal him of his (now there is some irony – it took blindness for Paul to truly see).  Ananias was hesitant, and reminded God that Paul’s plan for coming to Damascus was to arrest followers of Jesus (Acts 9:1-0-19.  Ananias told this to God as though God didn’t know what was going on.  This is what we often do; we assume we know more than God).  Later, when Paul returned to Jerusalem he was shunned by the believers there, because they were skeptical of him as well.  But Barnabas – remember, his name means encourager – spoke up for Paul (Acts 9:26-28).  What an example!  Barnabas reminds us that there are times we need to speak up for people as well.

There are times I wish I would have stood up for people.  There are times I should have, but I didn’t, unfortunately.  Jesus always stood up for others, because he wanted us to know that every person is God’s child.  Every period of history has its people who are deemed objectionable.  In the day of Jesus it was lepers, or women, or Gentiles.  We still have groups today who are considered outsiders, people who are considered objectionable, and churches haven’t always done a very good job of standing up for them.

We must never forget that God is at work in the lives of others, and we need to watch to see not only that God is working in their lives but how he is working in their lives.

I will continue to keep this wristband nearby so I will not forget to watch for God.  Watch for God this week.  God is all around us; let’s not miss him!

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