LOOKING FOR GOD IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES
IF there is a common theme running through today's Scripture lessons it is that people don't know where to find God, but that is only because they are forever looking in all the wrong places. They don't understand a key mystery of the Christian religion: that God only reveals Himself through things that are NOT God. Let us hear that again and pay close attention: That God only reveals Himself to men by things that are NOT God.
You see, there are only two realities. there is God who is in a category all His own, and there is everything else, all the things visible and invisible that God created and still lovingly preserves, but when God wants to reveal Himself to man, He never does it directly. He never does it face to face, but only through things that are not God; only by means of the things He created.
Does that seem mysterious? It is; not only mysterious, but baffling, and offensive to human pride, yet once we understand the mystery for what it is, we will no longer be confused. Then we will not be like the people who heard Jeremiah preach, or like the Jews who encountered the Lord in His temple that day who had no earthly idea of the momentous events taking place before their very eyes! Not only will our confusion vanish, but we will also know when, where and how to find our gracious Lord Who has unconditional positive regard for us, watches over us, and who delights in delivering us from all our troubles. Yes, if you want to find God and enjoy the peace that surpasses understanding, then be sure to look in the right place.
What Jeremiah's audience did not know is that the prophet's words were God's words, that when Jeremiah spoke, God was speaking. They saw Jeremiah's face, heard his voice, took note of all his utterly common features and promptly discounted him! That was unfortunate, because by the prophet God was calling His wayward people to repentance. He was warning them to avoid the coming judgment by amending their wayward lives, but they did not listen. Their sins reached such a pitch that their consciences were no longer operational. They normalized every sexual perversion and every from of idolatry. Fraud and oppression became the national sport, and in the words of Jeremiah, they forgot how to blush.
St. Paul notes the same problem in his sermon to the church in the city of Rome. The Jews did not recognize that the Old Testament was not an end in itself, but a schoolmaster that leads men to Christ. They did not realize that when God's Lamb, who bears away the world's sin, arrived on the scene that the law had come to an end; that the temple with all its liturgical hardware, rituals and sacrifices was now obsolete. They stumbled over the stumbling block that is Christ, but Scripture says to us as to them, "That whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame!"
The same confusion was at work in today's gospel lesson where we read that as Jesus viewed the holy city from afar, He broke down and cried. He was filled with sorrow because His own people did not comprehend the mystery that we are pondering this morning: that God's greatest revelation of Himself was here, dwelling among them, dressed in human flesh, and brimming over with grace and truth.
In spite of the Lord's unparalleled wisdom, His gracious displays of power over sickness, sorrow, death and Satan; in spite of all that Jesus said and did, His own people did not comprehend who He really was. "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph," they said, "whose father and mother we know?"
What really tripped them up was the cross. "You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days," they taunted, "save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." But Jesus would not do that; not until sin was conquered, Satan's power crushed, and His Spirit was given over to His people to be the Lord and Giver of life for us all. Then He would come down, yet not under His own power, but by the hands of Joseph of Arimathea, who boldly claimed the Lord's body from Pilate, and laid Him in his own tomb because he recognized that this Man is truly the Son of God.
Therefore the mystery we should learn today is that God only reveals Himself to men by things that are not God. He makes His grace, mercy and peace known to us today by the Word of holy Scripture read, preached, prayed, sung, and confessed among us, and in the bread and wine which are the Lord's own body and blood, and the medicine of immortality.
Yet let us not stop there, because God reveals Himself by many other things that are not God as well. What things? The sanctuary itself, sacred art and architecture, by liturgical hardware, vestments, clergy, rites and rituals. He uses graven images such as statues and crucifixes, icons and objects of sacred art to show Himself to us and to teach us about the life and salvation that is ours in Christ Each of these discloses Jesus to us, who in turn reveals God to us. None of these exist for their own sake, but for the sake of the gospel that fills them, otherwise they would be empty indeed, but they are not empty; quite the contrary. These things that are NOT God engage all of our senses in order to uncover God for us.
There is yet one more disclosure of God that is not God. It is you! Yes, you, compelled by the love of Christ, reveal the goodness of God to others by your own gracious words, your peaceful thoughts, and your sacrificial acts of love. By these, people perceive Christ in you and glorify your Father who is in heaven. By these God is made known among men.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras