Is God Among Us?

The story found at the end of the Gospel According to Luke lets us in on something of a secret. There are times when our recognition that God is with us comes after the fact. Or, as one of another of my favorite authors puts it, we are often responding to the “aftermath” of God.

Consider it something like knowing a tornado came through in the night. You hear the wind. You listen to the rain. But, you cannot see it. As the sun rises you know where the tornado has been. You see the aftermath. All too often our discernment of the presence of God gets dulled and we often wonder, “Where is God?” On many occasions our questions stems from the vision we have of God. Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote that many Christians see God as a “deus ex machina.” I know, how fancy is that Latin!

You and I would be more familiar with this description from watching movies. We are drawn into the plot line and the major characters develop nicely. Then it happens. Something goes wrong. We wonder just how will it all work out, or will it. Enter the “deus ex machina.” The literary vehicle that solves the problem. Out of nowhere and not really connected with the story – sort of in the background – comes the “hero” to the rescue. Then once normalcy is restored the hero disappears until needed again. Too often that is precisely how we “play with God.” We don’t really need him until something in our life needs resulition we cannot quite figure out.

Israel is complaining again. This time the issue is water not food. Last week they were going to die of hunger. This week, they will die of thirst. At once we need to see at least some connection to the way Jesus fills out both of these stories. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” He also said, “I will give you living water.” Surely we cannot miss how Jesus fills out the needs represented in the story of Israel. What they need to bear the image of God is found in Jesus, the Messiah. Dependence on God at all points not just in crisis creates of a people relfective images – those who look like the One they trust. Here again, we could apply a thought from last week’s message. Rather than try not to complain, how about taking complaint to be a natural place to experience the transforming work of the Spirit of God?

Once there, in the aftermath of complaint and contempation, we may indeed see the aftermath of God. There is something of this thing being sorted out in the Gospel passage. Jesus “cleared the Temple.” Those whose powe and authority derive from their relationship with that Temple wonder where Jesus gets his authority to do those things. It is as if to say, “Is God among us?” They would need some compelling evidence that Jesus had authority to clear the Temple, if not then he could be discredited, marginalized, if not arrested and put away.

Rather than play their game, Jesus wants to know how do they recognize authority. Would they know if God was among them? He turns the tables and creates an awkward moment after giving a story/parable of the two sons. Once they have to admit that the son who changed his mind was faithful to the Father they were left needing to consider what kind of changes they may need. Jesus pressed the point further. When they are able to recognize that actions of obedience are more powerful than words of obedience, he suggests all “those people” the religious leaders thought would never get into the Kingdom of God are going in ahead of them. Zinger. You mean what we do matters more than what we say? Indeed.

Evidence is found in the way God acted toward humanity. Rather than grab his position in the way Adam grabbed the fruit of the tree, Jesus let go of his position of power and authority and bowed toward us. His Way, Paul notes to the Philippian Christians, should be their way with each other. Take some time to read through Philippians 2 and see how you may make the connections to the Exodus story and our Gospel passage.

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Jesus invites people into his life and his way. He takes what is and points to the new way of the Kingdom of God.  Come see what this journey is all about!

One way to think about the mission of Jesus - He calls into question the way things are and points to the way things may be in the Kingdom of God. 

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