Fredrick Buechner once said:
‘There would be a strong argument for saying that much of the most powerful preaching of our time is the preaching of the poets, playwrights, novelists [and lyricists] because it is often they better than the rest of us who speak with awful honesty about the absence of God in the world and about the storm of his absence, both without and within, which , because it is unendurable, unliveable, drives us to look to the eye of the storm.’
I couldn’t agree more. So, let’s listen to some powerful preaching shall we. Click here to listen.
‘Well, Jesus gon’ be here
He gonna be here soon, yeah
He a gonna cover us up with leaves
With a blanket from the moon, yea-er
With a promise and a vow
And a lullaby for my brow
Oh, Jesus gonna be here
Gonna be here soon, yeah’
Tom Waits, Jesus gonna be here
Let me share something I’ve heard often in church and Christian circles. It goes something like this…’and then God showed up!’. Normally this is the turning point from hopeless and despair to life and fullness. God showed up and everything changed. I myself have used this terminology in the past, I’m sure you may have used it or continue to use it today. It’s a phrase. A way of describing something indescribable I suppose, but it brings with it questions.
Like. If God suddenly showed up…then where was he before that? And if God was somewhere else, and then he showed up and flipped a desperate scenario into a positive one for you…then why? Did you say the right words, behave in the correct manner or is it all just haphazard and random?
Why didn’t God swoop down and help the little boy I met in Kenya in 2014. Both his parents had died from HIV. His wider family blamed him for the deaths and kick him out on the street. He was alone. He was HIV positive himself, life was… well there is no way to describe it in a family-friendly way.
Where was God for Kavita? A woman I met in India whose husband was murdered, left with two young boys and no money. The police unwilling to investigate the case because after all, her and her family were from the Dalit caste. Their lives were, are, viewed as worthless.
‘I got to keep a my eyes
Keep ’em wide open, yea-er
So I can see my Lord, yea-m
I’m gonna watch the horizon
For my brand new Ford, yeah
Well, I can hear him rolling on down the lane
I said, “Ah, Hollywood be thy name.”
Cos Jesus gonna be here
He gonna be here soon, yeah’
You see, if God shows up and helps you to get a brand-new car or helps you advance your career but at the same time he stands back and lets a child suffer and die…is that a God, you want to worship? Not me.
‘God showing up’ is not so concerned with who God is but more, where God is. And it is so ingrained in our culture as the church. We pray and ask God to be with us. We sing songs inviting God to come near, when an event or service is good we describe it as a God moment. All of these holds up this idea that God is somewhere else and then from time to time comes here to do God stuff and swoosh, he’s off again. Nobody can explain why this god comes and goes or under what criteria this god makes its decisions.
Do you see where this is going?
This idea of god can easily lead people to the conclusion that life, the world and our very existence is perfectly capable of going on without that god. Because it needs to right? So rather than trust this god, we will trust our own capabilities because we cannot guarantee that god will actually show up. This god becomes optional. A la carte. Then countless hours are spent trying to convince people that this god does exist, hours that could be spent doing something better.
‘Well I got to keep myself
To keep myself faithful
And you know that I’ve been so good, yuh
Except for drinking
But he knew what I would, yea-ah
And when I’m gonna leave this place better
Than the way I found that it was
And Jesus gonna be here
He gonna be here soon, yuh
I know my Jesus gonna be here’
Can we endeavour to be better? Not to sit and wait for the magic to show up but get up and work. If you want to find God’s presence, you will find it in people, in Christians, in the church. God’s presence is not in a book, it is not beckoned from afar with a song, it is here with us. I want you to realise that God’s presence is not a feeling, but a truth.
You cannot get away from God’s presence.
The fact that a particular bible passage or a song about God’s love for us brings tears to your eyes, doesn’t mean God suddenly showed up during that song; it just means a beautiful truth just sank a little deeper into your heart.
If we as the church stop focussing so much on the feeling of God’s presence and instead shifted to focussing more on the truth of God’s presence what would change?
I’d like to argue that many things would change. We would be more confident of our place and role in society. We would be more able to stand up and live out the gospel that has been passed into our hands. We would be more selfless. We may even become a community that displays God’s presence so greatly that people no longer question where to find God because it is so obvious where God is.
The parable of the disabled fox.
A man was walking through a deep forest when he happened upon an injured fox that could not walk. As he wondered how the fox was still alive he saw a tiger approach the lame animal with fresh game in its mouth. The tiger ate its fill and then left the rest of the meat for the fox.
The next day the man returned to the same spot to see if this miracle would be repeated. Sure, enough the same Tiger eventually appeared and once more fed the fox.
The man was so impressed by what he witnessed that he gave thanks to God and said to himself, “I shall learn from this fox by trusting that the Lord will draw close to me and provide me with all that I need.”
And so, he found a quiet spot in the forest and waited there for many days.
But his needs were not met.
When he was almost at death’s door, with great difficulty, he drew the mental and physical strength to shout out to God in anger, saying “I have shown undying faith, yet you are absent.”
But then, in an instant, silence fell on the forest and a voice from heaven could be heard,
“Oh, you who are in the path of error, open your eyes to the truth. Did you ever consider that you might just be imitating the wrong animal?”