Seeing an unseen God

In First Kings Chapter 19, the great prophet Elijah is in a bad way. He is running scared: Jezebel has killed all the prophets and is closing in. So Elijah goes out into the wilderness, out to die in the barren wastes of unsettled lands. Suddenly an angel touched him and fed him. Then the Voice of the Lord said:

“‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” And so begins the rescue of Elijah from the hands of Jezebel.

Which brings us to our question for this Sunday: How do we find God? For Elijah did not find God in the great wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire. Elijah did not found God in the silence; where we would least expect to find God. So where do we find God? Not in the bustle of our daily lives, in the great wave of information washing over us from the internet and other sources, not in the battle we wage day in and day out in our job and personal life.

Yet, much to our astonishment, sometimes the divine breaks into our life. Perhaps it is a moment in the midst of nature – standing in a grove of ancient redwood trees or at the ocean’s shore or looking up into the star-filled heavens.

For me, I sometimes sense God’s presence after an exceptional interaction with someone at the Hospital where I serve as the Episcopal Chaplain. Perhaps it was a patient who had just received a terminal diagnosis or a patient who connected with something I said in a life-changing way. After those encounters, as I walk away, I realize “God was in this place and I – I did not know it.”

How do we find God? This Lent we’re walking through Dean Jane Shaw’s book A Practical Christianity: Meditations for the Season of Lent searching for ways each of us can fashion a Christian life for this time and place. Dean Shaw suggests we can develop an intentional way of life that enables us to connect with the divine. Today we are talking about her ideas as presnted in Chapter 4.

First, she recommends we seek God in Spiritual practice. How? We can be as simple as setting a time to pray a simple prayer – praying one like the Lord’s Prayer at the same time every day. Or saying one of daily services in our Book of Common Prayer every day at the same time. “By taking even five minutes in a day to pray, we are engaging in a relationship with a God who not only created us but loves us, and therefore wants to be in a relationship with us. Something begins to happen when we engage that loving God…And such a spiritual practice begins to take us into a relationship with a different facet of God.”

Our second way of seeking and seeing God, she continues, is worship. “It is in our worshipping life that we may train ourselves to “see” in a regular way the God of mystery, the unfathomable, the un-seeable Creator God,” she adds. “God’s glory is always there, ready to be appreciated and glimpsed whenever we turn our hearts and minds and sensibilities towards that which is beyond us and yet entirely a part of our daily lives.”

But there is also the God who is incarnate, in the birth and life of Jesus the infinite God becomes finite. Through our worship here today, we who are many become one people by sharing one cup and one bread. We become the continuing incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But to do this, to find spiritual renewal here, we must participate and listen to what God is saying to God’s people.

Maybe you will hear God when singing a favorite hymn or joining in a much-loved prayer or when sharing communion. You might even see God in scripture or – perhaps – in something said in a sermon.

“Every time we celebrate the Eucharist,” as David Stancliffe writes, “we Christians believe that God is in plain sight…As we receive the broken fragment of the consecrated bread into our hands, we are offered transformation: a change from being the broken, discordant and fragmentary people that we are into being renewed and whole, members of one single body. Ready to act as one.”

“We ‘see’ God,” Dean Shaw writes, “by making time for the God of mystery who is out of time, for the incarnate God who came into time, for the ever-present Holy Spirit who is in time. We take time to look for the traces of God and God’s glory.” And from this, we grow into a relationship with God. This Lent, may we each find our own way to begin or deepen our relationship with God.

Let us pray.

Steadfast God,

you reach out to us in mercy

even when we rebel against your holy call

and prefer to walk in disobedience

rather than in the way of your divine truth.

soften our hearts with the warmth of your love,

that we may know your Son alive within us,

redeeming us

and raising us up into your eternal presence.

May God’s people say amen.

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