Looking for God

A Meditation for the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, March 28, 2021

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Where do we look for God? Everywhere!

Look up to the sun and moon, straying clouds and streaking comets. God is there.

Look down to the caverns below the earth, the chasms beneath the sea. God is there.

Look around to the coastlands, grasslands, timberlands, even wastelands. God is there.

Look into the depths of thought, the heighth of emotion, the breath of spirit, and the breadth of soul. God is there.

Look beyond the reach of reason, the sense of sight into the fathomless face of incomprehensible mystery. God is there.

In 19th century terms, God is immanent, in wholly connectedness in the created order and God is transcendent, in holy otherness over the created order. Centuries ago, the psalmist gave ancient voice to this idea:

O God, where can I go from Your spirit?

Or where can I flee from Your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, You are there;

if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there.

If I take the wings of the morning

and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

even there Your hand shall lead me,

and Your right hand shall hold me fast.[1]

God is everywhere.

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On Palm Sunday, with its inherently ironic depiction of Jesus’ triumphal procession into Jerusalem that continues, wending its way outside of the city to a Calvary hill of his defeat and death, God is there.

In Jesus, betrayed, bound, beaten, blooded, and broken. God is there.

In Jesus, captive, crowned with thorns, and crucified between criminals. God is there.

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Yet honesty compels the confession that this runs counter to the longing of the human heart, which habitually looks for God in lofty, sovereign majesty.

When the Israelites, during the exodus, beheld God’s mighty power in the drowning defeat of their Egyptian pursuers, they, in one voice, joyously cried: “I will sing to the Lord, (who) has triumphed gloriously…God is my strength and my might, and has become my salvation.”[2] Yet in the suffering of their wilderness wandering, the people, querulous and quarreling, questioned, “Is the Lord among us or not?”[3]

When Peter, on the mountain, beheld Jesus’ transfigured glory, he, in reverent awe, cried, “Lord, it is good for us to be here!”[4] However, earlier, shocked at Jesus’ prediction of his suffering and death, Peter protested, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”[5]

The human heart has a hard time dealing with a suffering God. Nevertheless, that is where Palm Sunday leads us to look for God, and, therefore, in the looking-glass, the mirror. In our own faces. In the suffering of our daily afflictions and tribulations…

Our passion, our suffering about past mistakes; the bitter memories of which seem to abide.

Our penitence, our sorrow about our characterological flaws, which no amount of work, therapeutic or spiritual, seems to cure.

Our pessimism about the possibility of healing those broken places in our relationships.

Our pathos about our aging or our care for our aging loved ones.

Our pain of unending grief at the death of a beloved one.

Our perplexity in the face of whatever reminds us sadly of our mortality.

At times, we may be critical, complaining loudly and at length to whomever will listen.

At times, we may be cynical, clinging ever more desperately to whatever has not been taken from us. Yet.

At times, we may reach that strange state of contentment, conceding what has been lost and concentrating on the moment at hand.

At these times, we experience our own Calvaries, taking up the crosses of our life’s afflictions and tribulations. At these, no less than at other times, God is there.

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And, as God is everywhere, God is in everyone. Therefore, we look not only at our own faces, but also into the faces of others. All others.

The people who we like and love. The people who like and love us. The people who look – think, feel, and act – like us. God is there.

And – being reminded of Jesus’ critique of our all too easily constructed and comfortable reciprocity in relationships, “If you love those who love you…(or) do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?”[6] – the people we don’t like or love. The people who don’t like or love us. The people who don’t look – think, feel, and act – like us. God is there.

And, perhaps especially, in the faces of those Jesus calls us to seek and to see him. The least and the last. All whose life’s riches and blessings cannot be counted in material measure, social standing, or political power. The hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned,[7] who, although Christ has died, hang on countless present-day Calvary crosses of struggle and suffering.

And whenever we do the “heavy-lifting” of the crosses of affliction and tribulation, those reflected in the “looking glass” of our lives and those with whom we share and do not share likeness and love and especially with the least and the last, God is there.

For God, who, in Jesus’ cross-bearing procession to a Calvary hill of crucifixion and death, and who, therefore, knows everything about “heavy-lifting,” joins us. And this is the only God worthy of our trust.

© 2021 PRA


[1] Psalm 139.7-10

[2] Exodus 15.1b-2a

[3] Exodus 17.7b

[4] Matthew 17.4

[5] Matthew 16.22b

[6] Luke 6.32a, 33a

[7] Matthew 25.34-40.

4 thoughts on “Looking for God

  1. Paul,
    I took away so much from this sermon! It’s a powerful way for me to start this Palm Sunday. I’ve always looked for God wherever I am, especially when I’m sad, angry, worried or alone because looking for him lifts me up and refocuses my mind. When I’m joyful, I see God in all the places you listed. It’s such a beautiful feeling of connectedness. I truly felt God all this week with Mom’s decline…. and I know that I am not alone.

    Here’s the part of your sermon that I’ll be focusing on this week to deal with the incident of hate this week at St. Mark’s. “And, as God is everywhere, God is in everyone. Therefore, we look not only at our own faces, but also into the faces of others. All others.”

    Love

    Like

  2. Dear Paul,

    As we of Christian heritage enter the beginning of Holy Week today, our Jewish neighbors of course have entered the season of Passover. A Jewish acquaintance of mine offered a meditation on the Seder yesterday, and as I read your meditation today, I thought back to Michael’s meditation and made some connections. Your thoughts about the immanence and the transcendence of God’s presence everywhere and in all people recalled one of the quotes with which Michael introduced his message:

    Our rabbis taught: when the Egyptians were drowning in the sea, the Heavenly Hosts broke out in songs of jubilation. God silenced them and said, “my creatures are perishing, and you sing praises?
    . . . The Haggadah

    I had never heard this before, nor had I ever thought about the idea that the same God who accompanied the children of Israel out of captivity in Egypt – who is described in the scriptures as causing the parting of the Red Sea waters to allow them to pass safely and then drowning their Egyptian pursuers by calling the waves back over them – that same God, still walking with the Hebrew people, was caught in the roiling waves with the Egyptian soldiers and charioteers as they drowned. That same God was with them as well in their suffering and dying.

    I am trying to get my head around the enormity of that thought. And around what it means in the world we are living in today. It’s very hard not to embrace duality, isn’t it? It’s very hard not to assume that we always know where and with whom God is. It’s very hard not to believe God belongs to us rather than the other way around.

    I will cling to the same words from your meditation that Loretta quotes above: “And, as God is everywhere, God is in everyone. Therefore, we look not only at our own faces, but also into the faces of others. All others.” I know I will struggle to understand what part of God is in some of the faces that I encounter, but I will try very hard to remember that great truth you have highlighted and will work very hard to keep looking until I am able see the face of God in everyone.

    Thank you, Paul. I wish you a blessed Holy Week.

    Love,

    Karen

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  3. My dearest Loretta and Karen, with love, always thinking of you and thanking you for reading and reflecting on, and then responding to my writings.

    Karen, your sharing the word of The Haggadah speaks powerfully to my soul. For I do believe that if God is God, then God is God of all creation and of all creatures.

    The words of Jesus come to mind: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5.43-48). In this, I understand Jesus’ call to perfection to be a verb, that is, an ongoing action of our coming to/growing into the fullness of God’s Love rather than some arrived state of being of assured rightness.

    Yes, it is hard, at the least and at the (my) most, I find it difficult to love (with active benevolence, which causes no harm and seeks to give aid where and when I can) those whom I dislike and/or who dislike me. Nevertheless, it is my understanding of Jesus’ living and dying and, therefore, my calling.

    And, Loretta, regarding the hateful symbolic ack’t of the stringing and hanging of noose in the St. Marks garden, I spoke to it during last evening’s FB livestreamed Compline with the St. Matthew’s, Spartanburg community. And I closed with the following prayer, which I wrote yesterday morning as I reflected on the incident.

    A Prayer for Restoration

    O Lord, our God, You, in the magisterial magnificence of Your Love, in our creation, give Your Self to us, making us in Your Image.

    Yet, in our freewill (also a measure of Your Love for us), how quickly, how exceedingly quickly we turn away from Your Face; seeking only the mirror of our human reflection. Thus, settling for our minor manner of being; believing that our image of whatever color or texture, shape or size is best in our own eyes. Thus, forgetting that You, by Your Sovereign Love’s grace, hath made us, each and all, not as rivals, but as equals.

    O Lord, our God, by Your Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, remembering that You are Love, we thank You that You neither forget nor forsake us. Indeed, You are for us, withholding not Your Son from us, but giving Him up for all of us; thus, no thing and no one, not even we ourselves can stand against us.

    O Lord, our God, in Your Love, restore us. Melt our hardened hearts, clear our muddled minds, free us to fulfill only Your will of Love’s equality. Unshackle our fettered feet to walk only in Your way. Stir our sullen souls and our silent spirits to sing only Your praise.

    All this, we ask in the Name of Jesus.

    Amen.

    © 2021 PRA

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    1. And the people all said “Amen!”

      Like

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