“God’s Ways and Our Ways”
March 3, 2013
This morning we sang the longing words of the Psalmist: “O God, you are my God; I seek You eagerly; My soul and body thirst for You in barren lands and dry.”
These words express the deep human desire for God that has been with us since ancient times and continues to drive us today.
The Revised English Bible translation seems even more desperate:
God, you are my God; I seek you eagerly
with a heart that thirsts for you
and a body wasted with longing for you,
like a dry land, parched and devoid of water.
After the drought of last summer we know something of what it is like to be in a dry land, parched and devoid of water. We watched as the grass withered and the flower faded. And most are probably aware that the lasting effects of a drought don’t start to show until the following year, when the trees still just don’t look right, when the land struggles to nourish all growing things.
Most of us can remember such times of spiritual drought in our lives—times when God was eagerly, desperately sought but was nowhere to be found; wilderness journeys from which it took time to recover. Perhaps you find yourself in such a place this morning.
Our bookstores are filled with titles like The Loving Search for God, The Soul’s Search for Intimacy with God, The Expanded Search for God (Volumes One and Two) and even The Search for God at Harvard (which always comes as a surprise to some people).
The first outcaste convert in the Church of South India, whose name was Venkayya, prayed every day for three years: “O Great God, who art thou? Where art thou? Show thyself to me.” This is a beautiful prayer, a deep prayer. It is the prayer of a seeker who is willing to take time in the search. This kind of prayer does not promise instant success. Praying in this way teaches, instead, what one hymn calls, “the patience of unanswered prayer.”
Searching for God calls us out beyond ourselves. For us as individuals and as a gathered congregation the search will involve us with great joy and great sorrow.
The world can be cruel and seemingly devoid of compassion. We acknowledge with pain and puzzlement those points in our lives when we seek and do not find, when we listen but do not hear.
It’s easy to be discouraged.
We hope that if God cannot be found in the world, perhaps the hiding place is here in places like this. Still, many people open the doors of a church and, looking in, conclude, “Nope, God’s not here.” Occasionally those of us who keep coming back week after week wonder if they are right.
Can we find the faith to keep looking? Can we continue to ask: “Where are you?”
Some have taken their search for God to the internet, where virtual religious communities have sprung up, offering the spiritually curious the opportunity to meet, argue, pray, and commune with people around the world—with none of the messy differences and difficulties that we encounter when meeting, as we do, face to face with flesh and blood people. Some have just given up the search—called off the game and gone home.
We might turn once more to seek God in the world—to face the hunger and loneliness, the cruelty and violence, the racism and poverty that surrounds us—in this city, this nation, this planet—and cry out “Where are you?” In crying out maybe we will discover that it is the crucified God who is present in the suffering of the world. Seeking such a God might lead us to renew our efforts to make the world hurt a little less, to bring healing to the broken places, to seek as well the restoration of our own broken lives.
When we ask, “Where are you, God?” the response will surprise us.
Thirsty, in a dry land, we seek God.
Into the middle of our seeking, comes a new voice.
“Ho!” prophet cries out.
Like a merchant at a bazaar, attempting to get the attention of any and all who pass by, the prophet cries out, speaking the word of God: “Ho!”
Hey! Over here! Look!
“Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
Our search for God is interrupted by God’s search for us.
Our “Where are you, God?” is met by God crying out to us.
In our intent and earnest seeking, we forget that God is looking for us, trying desperately to get our attention.
In the opening chapters of Genesis we hear God’s first words spoken to the human race: “Where are you?”
What astonishing words! The All-knowing One asks a question. The Creator seeks the creature. It is the cry of the abandoned, the pleading of the lonely. It is the question of one who desires the presence of another.
“Where are you?” It sounds like our question, but it comes from God.
When God asks questions, we do well to listen and consider them. “Where are you?” suggests a God who is not only puzzled but also loving, respecting us even in our fear and insecurity.
The searching of God is good news. Because God seeks we are reminded that each life is of great value. If you are ready to give up on yourself, if it seems as though others have given up on you, remember that God has not given up—and God will not give up.
We can trust the love that calls to us: “Where are you?
Speaking the word of God, the prophet Isaiah encourages us to look up, look around, and see that we are the recipients of God’s love and generosity.
It’s not always easy.
In her book Traveling Mercies Anne Lamott tells the story of a man getting drunk in a bar in Alaska. He’s telling the bartender how he recently lost whatever faith he’d had after his twin-engine plane crashed in the tundra.
“Yeah,” he says bitterly. “I lay there in the wreckage, hour after hour, nearly frozen to death, crying out for God to save me, praying for help with every ounce of my being, but he didn’t raise a finger to help. So I’m done with that whole charade.”
“But,” said the bartender, squinting an eye at him, “you’re here. You were saved.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” says the man. “Because finally some Eskimo came along . . .”
Lamott concludes: “The way I see things, God loves you the same whether you’re being elegant or not. It feels much better when you are, but even when you can’t fake it, God still listens to your prayers. And he or she will still try to send you an Eskimo.”
You who seek: Ho! Look! Over here!
The “search for God at Harvard” is answered by the Geneva Campus Ministry’s monthly program, “Finding God at Iowa.” Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.” Even in Iowa City. Even across the street. Even here.
The thirst that we feel—is it a sign that we have been abandoned, left to our own devices? Or is the restlessness, the uneasiness, the thirst we often feel in our lives, in our work, in our church the moving of God’s Spirit in our lives?
Isaiah again: “My thoughts are not you thoughts, nor are your ways my ways. This is the word of the Lord.”
Thirsty and hungry, we hear the unexpected: “You that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”
Reading Isaiah I am reminded of those wonderful words in Babette’s Feast—both the original story and the movie from several years ago. Near the end of a marvelous—even transformative—meal, one of the participants rises and speaks of human frailty and foolishness:
We have been told that grace is found in the universe. But in our human foolishness and short-sightedness we imagine divine grace to be finite. For this reason we tremble before making our choice in life, and after having made it again tremble in fear of having chosen wrong. But the moment comes when our eyes are opened, and we see and realize that grace is infinite. Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude. Grace…makes no conditions and singles out none of us in particular; grace takes us all to its bosom and proclaims general amnesty. See! That which we have chosen is given to us, and that which we have refused is, also and at the same time granted us.”
I love those words because they tell me and they remind me of God’s grace that surrounds us everywhere and is always accessible. “You that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
Again and again this is the message of the Bible. Again and again we forget this message in our seeking.
We open ourselves to small occasions of generosity and abundance and discover that the Psalmist does indeed speak for us, not only in our longing but also in our satisfaction: “I am satisfied as with a rich feast.”
There are reservoirs of life and love that are available in human relationships. It is not difficult to begin to search for the source of these gifts: a source of life, a source of love that is eternal and intensely personal, a deep well or a fountain of living water. This source is what we call “God.”
And when we experience this source, is it so strange for us to envision one life lived among us who was totally alive, completely loving, perfectly being what he was created to be. In this life, all that God is might be seen, met, engaged, and experienced. This life we call “the Christ.”
There is grace, there is refreshment for us all.
Await it in confidence.
Acknowledge it in gratitude.