Isaiah 45:15; Luke 15
“Following Jesus Today: Deus Absconditus and the Embrace of God”
April 19, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
You are our refuge and our strength, O Lord. We pour our lives into Your hands that we may discover all the benefits of Your grace and all the power of Your presence. Amen.
Last summer a couple of wind-storms blew through Spokane with tree-toppling force! Winds and gales crushing cars and houses and churches and businesses. The Riverside Community, just north of Spokane, looked like a war-zone with mobile homes completely demolished and hundreds of people left without shelter or power or protection.
Or so they thought. Did any of you drive through Riverside, maybe on your way to Priest Lake or Sandpoint or Camp Spalding? You know what the world discovered after that storm? People from every background, from a variety of religious and faith systems (and from NO faith system) stood by each other and helped each other and fed each other and struggled together to rebuild their community.
And churches and mission agencies stepped right in with food and clothes and supplies to help.
In an interview, one shirtless, tattooed, rough-looking man said something about how “no one could articulate what they had experienced – but something spiritual took place”.
It makes me wonder how this eclectic collection of atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Mormons and Christians, together, in this very unchurch-like setting, could experience what we in the Church so much long for? Where is God in our every day lives? Now, I certainly know that several people in this room have daily God-moments, but there are also seasons in everyone’s life where we just do not seem to have any empirical evidence of God’s existence. And we wonder why. (Can anyone give me an “Amen” here?) The Old Testament prophet Isaiah (43:18-19) counseled the struggling Israelites with these words:“Do not remember the former things, or even consider the things of old. [God says,] I am about to do a brand new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”Will God again do a brand new thing in our presence? Will we experience His Spirit in ways “no one can articulate”?Two chapters later Isaiah writes, in 45:15….—-“Truly, You are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.” I love that one-sentence confession and conundrum. Isaiah confesses that God is God, that God is Savior – and in the same breath he questions God’s priorities (where are You? Why are You hiding?)! It’s a tension many of us live in every day. Why are there times when God seems so absent from our lives and even from our churches? In theological circles this is called “Deus absconditus” (the hiddenness of God).Church history has taught us that we cannot effectively fix this sense of God’s absence by trying harder – not even by our own diligent efforts to read the Bible more devotedly, to serve the hungry, to clothe the naked, or to visit the shut-in more dutifully.Martin Luther, in the 16th Century, said that this distance was not caused by our lack of knowledge or ethics, but rather it was due to a “relational estrangement”. We needed a deeper relationship with God.It’s really all about our desire to invest time with Him! Yes, to read His Bible and to serve the hungry, and clothe the naked – but not out of obligation or duty, but out of love for Him!It’s a matter of gaining insight into God’s heart and what matters to God. It is seeing where God is already at work in the world around us, and asking how we can join in!In what ways have you personally experienced Deus absconditus (God hiding Himself)?Pastor Randy Lovejoy (Silverlake Community Church, Los Angeles) suggests that, maybe we’ll discover that we are looking for God in all the wrong places! We expect God to be inescapably evident in the lives of our churches and in the lives of churched people – but we sometimes walk away wondering if God even exists.The religious people of Jesus’ day expected the same thing – and they missed the “brand new thing” God was doing through the person and work of Jesus Christ.Let’s take a look at this most well-known chapter from Luke’s Gospel – Luke 15….—-
1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were looking for God in their structures and institutions, but God was “hiding” among the tax collectors and sinners. Where might God be “hiding” in Spokane in 2015?
The rest of Luke 15 is a series of parables where Jesus teaches about how God finds us and how we experience the opposite of Deus absconditus.
There’s the parable of the lost sheep, and the story of the shepherd risking everything to find this one sheep who wandered off – and when he finds it he throws a party, “‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
Then there’s the parable of the woman who has lost her coin, and after spending every moment of her day she finds this one coin which has somehow just fallen through the cracks – and she throws a … party, “‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Then we come to the most famous parable, maybe of all time, the parable of the prodigal son – these are really all parables of the lost being found – lost sheep, lost coin, and two lost sons. But this parable is different.
We all know about how the younger Son gets lost looking for something – God? And the father does not go running after him, (Deus absconditus?). This son walks away from his father, living a life of casual carousing and merrymaking (I think he’s looking for “meaning”). He finally goes home and his father … throws . a . party.
But there’s another son, an elder son, who has stayed at home, and also experienced Deus absconditus. He did his duty for his father, but had no real relationship with him. And, interestingly, the Greek description of this brother is “Delphos presbuteros” (Presbyterian brother – does he describe us? Do we do our duty, but without a living, loving relationship with God?).
Back to the younger brother, when he comes home we read: “20 …“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him….
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate….”
The climax of this parable, and really of the whole chapter, is in verse 20: “the father ran and put his arms around him and kissed him!” In His life and in His parables, Jesus revealed the heart of God.
The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin illustrate a costly search for something missing – something of great value! And when the search ends successfully, there is a celebration!
God draws people into relationship through Jesus Christ! The surprise here is that the shepherd and the woman invested so much of themselves focusing on what was “outside” rather than what was “inside”. Of course God wants us “in” His Church – but it looks like He still focuses, and maybe wants us to focus, on what’s “out there!” That may surprise us, who think we know the heart of God – but think how much more it surprises those people who believe they are somehow beyond the reach of God’s perfect love! The Embrace of God – wow!
In what ways have you experienced the embrace of God (Luke 15:20)?
That’s what happened in Riverside last Summer! They experienced the Embrace of God! People in that small community experienced something no one expected – and it was beyond their ability to articulate! And since then, I am told, several individuals have been attending some of the churches that reached out to them – and they are still experiencing the Embrace of God!
Ready for a simple surprise? Part of the Moving back into the Neighborhood experiments we are about to embark on include the potential for stumbling into the Embrace of God. As the weather warms and the sun shines, our “experiments in God doing something new” might involve simply inviting our neighbors to help – to help with serving the hungry and clothing the naked, help in mowing our lawn and weeding their garden, help in … being good neighbors.
And I’ll bet, God will … throw . a . party! Let the celebrations begin! With whom might you share God’s embrace this week?
Father, Your love washes over us into the lives of those we do not yet even know. Grant us the courage to follow that love into Your wonder, mystery, and awe so that in places unfamiliar, with people we have only just begun to know, we might share the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God. To Your glory and honor, Amen.
Detterman, Paul; Following Jesus Today: Challenges and Opportunities (Participant’s Book); Presbyterian Mission Agency; Louisville, KY; 2014; Pp. 13-18.