Sunday, November 30, 2014

o that you would tear open the heavens - advent 1b sermon 2014

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down...
- Isaiah 64:1a

Where do you see God?

God, where are you?

God? Come back?!

This is a sermon about Advent.


I used to work at a camp up in central Wisconsin.

Pine Lake Lutheran Camp.

In Waupaca.

It was on a lake.

On the grounds of an old fishing resort.

At the time I was there some of the “cabins” where we would stay with the campers were still these old historic houses that fisherman of days gone by had stayed in as they fished and worked up in the northwoods.

The old buildings (some of them rumored to be haunted)

along with the spotty history,

and the acres of land that led into the “back 40”
of woods and meadows

was enough to capture the imagination of many a camper--
and, of course, counselor.

One year, one of the Bible study activities--
that is, one of the kind-of ice-breaker activities we did
before we got to the actual Bible stories--
was to search out “crosses” in nature.

We provided the kids with a pencil or crayon or something,
and we walked around quietly,
while they would either jot down,
or simply remember,
the various places they saw a cross or crosses in creation,
formed by the nature that surrounded us.

When we’d found a nice place to settle after the hike,
we’d sit down in a circle to share our findings.

I’d then get to ask:

“Where did you see crosses in nature?”

On our hike?

Their answers varied.

In the trees. In the veins of a leaf.

In the places where one animal’s smoothed down dirt path intersected with another.

Some even expanded the assignment beyond “nature,”
finding a cross in two jet-streams intersecting in the sky,
or where the power lines crossed the wooden poles that brought electricity to the camp.

The message of the Bible Study,
if I remember correctly, was something like:

“Just like you can find crosses everywhere in Creation,
so, too,
so, too, we can find God,
if we look hard enough,
in pretty much any situation,
and pretty much any place.
At anytime.”

This was a good lesson to learn.

For campers. And for counselors.

To this day, I see that the skill that develops from that activity,
that poetic identification of God’s presence--
finding God in various places and situations,
and naming God in various places and situations,

is actually a large part of my job,
and my role,
as a pastor.

Actually, I think it’s kind of the role of Christians,
in general,
as we claim God as incarnate
and present
and active
in our realities, in our everyday lives.

Not “Finding Jesus!” but finding Jesus.

Where is God?

I see God in…

In the trees.

In the sunshine.



Especially in my time at summer camps, this task was easy.

Life was simple,

beauty was everywhere,

and it seemed like I could feel God in every ray of sunshine, and hear God in the laughter that surrounded every activity, and every meal, all day, every day.

Life was good. God was real. God was everywhere!

Advent is a time to look for God all around--
In creation, in humans, in situations…
All around us. In everything. All the time.

Of course, for most humans, I think,

and I would presume for most of us, gathered here,

the feelings of deep joy and ecstasy and spirituality and gratitude that life sometimes brings..

following those feelings, in the aftermath of those feelings,

is often a feeling of absence--or void--

that joy and ecstasy and grace and wonder can be amazing--
but often, days, or minutes, or years later,
we find ourselves asking:

“Where did it go?”

Mountain top experiences can lead to valleys of dry bones.

The sunlight of the Spirit can be overcast by the shadow of death.

Joy can be fleeting.

The seasons of life bring other emotions
and experiences,
including other emotions about-
and experiences of-

Most of us are quite aware of this.

Advent is quite aware of this.

Whatever the situation:

A friend or a child,
a loved one or a parent dies.

Our school is shut down, we lose our favorite teacher,
or our favorite job.

Youthful, blossoming love turns to wilting resentment and separation.

Our child is shot or killed,
or institutionalized.

We are victims of racism or classism
or machismo or homophobia.  

We find we’ve become the person we swore we’d never be.


the joy of celebration and new friendship ends in addiction and isolation.

Whatever the situation,

suddenly the task of “looking for God” all around is not a fun contest,
or a meaningful activity.

It just annoying.

And silly.

And, honestly, somewhat insulting, if reassigned.

Don’t tell me to look for God.

Perhaps he was in the trees, and in the jetstreams, but he sure as hell doesn’t seem to be here:

in Bridgeport,
or in prison,
in the government,
at the currency exchange,
at the Pacific Garden Mission,
at the bedside of my mother,
in the psych ward,
in battle at the center of another war,

in our complete and utter helplessness,

not here,
in Chicago or in New York, in Turkey or Syria,

or LA, or Fergusson...

The question “Where do you see God?”

Becomes, simply God, “Where are you?”

God, do you really exist?

God, were you ever real in the first place?

God, Where are you?


Advent is a time to ask these questions. 

To search, to wonder, to doubt, 

to long for something better, something deeper, something new.

Where do you see God?

God, where are you?


God, where are you?

Often, when asking this question,
I’ve felt the question answered
in a somewhat surprising,
and disappointing

God, where are you?

If our Gospel reading from last week,
the words we read,
attributed to Jesus himself
are to be trusted,
the answer is simple:

God is in the suffering, in the hungry,
in the imprisoned and excluded,
the dehumanized and alienated.

God is in the need,
a need we are called to fill--
our acts of healing and hope, love and liberation,
in the face of pain and despair
are our acts of worship,

our acts of kindness and charity, of loving and liberating justice are our true acts of piety, and our devotion toward God.

If Jesus is telling the truth in the Gospel,
God is present in the Crosses and Managers of the world.

Places we are often in,
but always called into.

And in those places,
the places of despair and oppression and death,
somehow, someway,
by some miracle,

hope and liberation and Life are born.

at least they promise to be born.

At least we find promise of a beginning. Something to anticipate.

An Advent. Of something New. Something transformative.

Advent is a time of expectation. 

Even if it is sometimes unclear what it is we are waiting for.

Where do you see God?

God, where are you?

God? Please come back.

Of course, even as Jesus looks for
and finds

(or finds himself?!)

in the poor and those in need,
even as Jesus finds an answer,
and a presence,

both the answer,
and the presence,
are only partial,

both the answer,
and the presence,
are not entirely “complete.”

Even in the presence of God, found in the poor and the suffering,

Jesus promises a fuller presence, a deeper presence.
Jesus promises that one day
the first shall be last and the last shall be first;
and the humble will be exalted.
Jesus joins his mother’s refrain
in proclaiming that the tyrants will be torn from their thrones.

Jesus promises a new order of peace
born not from the might of military
or “security,”
but of a world marked by justice and equality.

This, too, is God’s work, Jesus promises.

God doesn’t just get crucified.

God also resurrects.

Disappointingly, often, this work of God’s--
this Resurrection--
seems to be exactly what we’re still waiting for it.

Or at least waiting for
“more fully.”

Often times Advent is a season of waiting. Of being stuck. Of hoping things might get better. Of longing for crucifixion and oppression and discrimination to end,
and for a new world marked by peace,
born of justice to begin.

Where do you see God?

God, where are you?

God? Please come back!

Sometimes, just like Jesus,
we can make that jump,

from asking “Where is God?”
to his answer:
“In the Mangers.”
And “In the Crosses.”

Or sometimes, perhaps,
we can maybe see God  
promised to be in the Mangers and Crosses.

But sometimes,
we see the Mangers and Crosses as most people see them;
as symbols,
not of God’s presence,
but, rather,
of injustice and suffering.

There’s a guy hanging on that tree.

Sometimes, all we can do is join, hopefully,
or doubtfully
in the refrain of the prophet,
as the prophet speaks to us this morning.

Just get it over with, Jesus! We cry out. Rip off the band-aid!

The bloody life of oppression and struggle honestly doesn’t seem to be working out too well!

Just hurry this thing along!

We’re glad, Jesus,
that you identify with the oppressed and the suffering,
but, damnit, we’d like it better if you just went right ahead and liberated and healed
the oppressed and the suffering!

Please! The struggle is getting... old.

Your people are getting tired.

O! God! That you would tear open the heavens and come down!

We’ve had enough already!

You can come and fix this now!



Tear open the heavens!

Come down!

Certainly this was something of the longing and the hope of all the apocalyptic writers we’ll read this Advent.

No matter how dark or morbid their writings can sometimes seem--
moons turned to blood,
fig trees cursed,
tribulation and turbulation and desecration and sacrilege
and weeping and gnashing of teeth…

No matter how dark their writings can seem,

from the point of view of desperation,
the end of all things, even the death and rebirth of everything,

sometimes seems to be the most hopeful
(and perhaps most realistic!)
prospect of a new beginning--of peace, of harmony, of resurrection.

Let’s just erase this whole thing and start over.

O! That you would tear open the heavens! And come down!

Advent is a time of hope, and fear, and desperation, and anxiety. It’s a time and season of longing for the radical re-orientation of all things at the hand of the God who identifies with poor and the oppressed and the downtrodden.

A new beginning!

Hoping that God, who is present in suffering,
in solidarity,
in the crosses and managers,
in birth and resurrection,

will tear open the skies, and create a world where killing and poverty are no more,
where fear and need are eliminated,
where death and scarcity and confinement and oppression
are transformed into mutual love and abundance, and abundant life.

(pause). (breathe).

This is a sermon about Advent.


Where do you see God?

God, where are you?

God? Come back?!

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.


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