Saturday, August 6, 2011

Seeking or Sinking

Thanks Diane, RevGalBlogPals
I'm traditional enough to expect to find God in church.
    I’m NOT surprised to have a moving experience in worship or find myself spiritually up-lifted during a sermon or song.

I'm a nature-lover too so I often feel God’s presence in the woods or standing by a sea-shore. Because I now feel physically rested after my vacation, I am currently seeking a place in the out of doors for a spiritual retreat. Our spirits need a type of renewing tailored specifically for the soul as much as our bodies need renewal from sabbath rest. You surely expect your pastor to maintain a level of spiritual nourishment so that she has something to share with you on Sunday and at times when we meet individually to talk.

Because my life has alternated between the sanctuaries of church buildings and the out-of-doors, my struggle is always to remain open to the OTHER places where we meet God; the unexpected and surprising occasions and places where the Spirit of the Holy overwhelms.

I'm not the first or last to have such a struggle.

Elijah had a spiritual crisis following an exhausting period at work as God’s prophet.          Just prior to the passage we heard earlier, Elijah had accomplished some impressive conveying of God’s power.
    We don’t spend much time in these OT stories. AND we tend to avoid the cringing feeling when we read about the killing done on God’s account. Perhaps we have domesticated God too much to think that the God of ultimate love never gets offended when people blatantly reject God in favor of false Gods or perhaps there are other ways to look at these stories.
    I think this is one of those famous ones you may remember.
. . .There’s been a great drought and Elijah has been blamed for it by one of Israel’s most wicked kings. (hence the title of these stories, 1st Kings...)
    Elijah claims the fault lies in the King and others who have been following false gods.  (perhaps with a few word changes, we could hear this story happening today..) Elijah sets up a contest with the prophets of the false god, Baal.

    Two bulls are laid out for sacrifice.  The prophets of the false god call on their god, dance, cry out and even cut themselves all trying to call down lightening to burn up the sacrifice and prove their god is real, listening to them and active in their world. After a day of this nothing happens - the bull is still laid out, covered in flies and the vultures are circling.
    Elijah not only has his bull laid out for the sacrifice, but he has water poured all over it, soaking the meat and the wood under the bull. Not just once, but three times.
    Then he prays. Lightning streaks down from the heavens striking the bull and burns up all the sacrifice, the wood and all the water surrounding the altar.
Elijah then commands that the false prophets of the false god be killed.

It was a pretty impressive showing for Elijah.
Of course, it was GOD, not Elijah that proved the prophets of Baal were false. But it is certainly a high-note for Elijah and I suspect he’s a bit burned out himself from these stressful couple of days of prophet-work.

So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that he seems less than confident when he gets threatened by Queen Jezebel. Maybe it’s understandable that he runs for his life.
He takes off for the wilderness, calling out to God to end his life thinking that all his work is worth nothing if the Queen and King are still in power. - “Nothing has changed” he says and ends up hiding in a cave.
Classic burned out symptoms, wouldn’t you say?

Yet even after giving up, running away and wishing for the end of his life,   he finds God’s presence, ...NOT in the storm and lightening that he had seen before, but in the still, sheer-silence.
    God comes to him.
        ...maybe he had to be broken down from his success to be open to the truly Holy. . .
    Have you ever been there? Bruised and broken and crying out? - and only then you heard God?

Peter, is our other character today.
...and he is a CHARACTER through most of the New Testament.

He is the last person we’d imagine as the church's first bishop, when we find him in this story, stepping out of the boat, even taking a few steps on the water, before he sinks. 
Yet there - in the violent sea, with water up to his neck, Jesus reaches him...

Those disciples didn’t expect to see Jesus in the storm.
Elijah didn’t expect to find God in the silence.

Where do you EXPECT to find God?

Are you like 1. Mother Teresa

    who was asked how she knelt and washed street beggars with oozing sores..and she said, “each one of them is Christ, I wash his arms, his legs, his wounds every day”
   or are you more like Elijah?

finding God in Mother Nature’s power or in the awsome-ness of the universe

  or in Creation's Beauty

or do you find God right here?

These are expected places. We are conditioned to look for God in church, in nature and even in the special exchanges between people.

But where have you found God that you didn’t expect?

Do you remember my story of the
Recent experience of God’s presence during a move. When help arrived again and again - just when we needed it the most?
Or have to sat with a baby on your lap or seen a newborn with its parents and realized how near the Great Creator is to us, each and every day?

I believe the unexpected are the places strike us the most deeply. Perhaps it is the surprise that opens our eyes and ears to the holy.
Yet I also think these are the places easiest to miss.

What does it take to condition us to see differently?
    -- to learn to see and hear God, even when we HEAR nothing at all?

Does it take A mission trip or a week with David Radcliff?
Do we have to travel to another country or encounter a life-threatening experience?
Or can we be granted the ability to see God by asking?

Elijah petitioned God in desperation, NOT asking that he might see God, but that he might die.
Instead God sent nourishment that fed him until he was ready to recognize God in the quiet.

We don’t know what Peter & disciples were asking for, but having been through some storms ourselves we can guess at their prayers for salvation , yet surely they didn’t expect Jesus to physically come to them on the water.

May it is our nature to keep expectations small. We tend to build walls between us and the unimaginable because walls protect us from magical  thinking and from being delusional. Yet these same walls can keep us from experiencing God.

Today we’ve seen pictures of someone else’s experience.
We’ve seen the places where THEY were surprised by the Holy.

Your homework is to remember your own experiences; those times when God breathed on you - and you FELT IT.
Those times when someone stepped in front of you, turned around and you saw God's face.

Write them down. Answer the questions in the space we've provided in the bulletin or here.
Where did/do you see God's presence in an expected place?
Where do you find God's Spirit unexpectedly?
What image of finding God will you hold onto forever?

Then keep this paper with you as a reminder.
    Put it somewhere you will stumble across it regularly, on your frig or in your checkbook, purse, or dashboard.

Let today’s reminder be the lightening bolt that cracks apart your walls & opens you to the very real presence of God - ALWAYS THERE,
Always HERE.
Always comforting, assuring us, guiding us, leading us forward, & CALLING us out of the cave,
          out of the boat
          out into the world where the Holy Presence is REAL.

1 comment:

Diane said...

ooh, I like these questions! and all your pictures, too.

where do you expect to find God?