St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Pentecost 5 2016 Sermon
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Corby Varness

Have you ever heard of the children’s book called “Where’s Waldo”?  Well, today we’re going to go over our readings and play “Where’s God?”  Let’s start with this powerful story from First Kings.  I’ll set it up for you: Jezebel wants to kill Elijah so he is on the run.  He hides in a cave, then God tells him to go out on the mountain. 
           
Where’s God?  Well, a great wind comes up, so strong that it was splitting the mountains and breaking rocks in pieces, but God wasn't in the wind.  And after the wind, a powerful earthquake, but God wasn't in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake a fire, (God is often in fire…) but God wasn't in this fire.  And after the fire, came a sound of sheer silence.  Out of the silence there came a voice that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"   Elijah explains the situation, and God promises, as God always does, not to leave Elijah alone.  God guides him into the wilderness.   God was with Elijah in his time of terror.   
           
In Psalm 42 we read such powerful words of seeking God, of longing for God: “My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God.  My tears have been my food day and night.  Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul and why are you so disquieted within me?  The psalmist then remembers the answer is to; “Put your trust in God, for I will yet give thanks to him, who is the help of my countenance, and my God.”  God is with the psalmist in his time of despair.
           
Paul writes to the Galatians, telling them that God is with them, “now that faith has come, you are no longer subject to the law, by faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God.  In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female.  Among us you are all equal and in a common relationship with Jesus Christ”.   God is in close relationship with us and God is with the people of Galatia in their challenges.
           
In our gospel, when Jesus is called upon by the tormented man who is filled with a legion of demons, he steps right up to help.  He makes a deal with the demons to allow them to inhabit a herd of swine.  The demons leave the man, go into the poor pigs and the pigs immediately run down into a lake and drown.  The villagers respond to this miraculous healing with terror and order Jesus to leave ASAP!  Jesus sends the healed man off, telling him to declare how much God has done for him.  The man leaves and God goes right along with him as he starts his new life.
           
The villagers were afraid of this tremendous act of healing.   Instead of praising Jesus for his power they send him away in their fear.  They don’t realize that they are encountering the living God, instead they are just afraid of his power and drive him away.  Doesn’t fear just bring out the worst in everyone?  Fear drives us away from God.  If we follow our fear instead of our faith, we can find ourselves living lives full of misery, anxiety and sorrow so beware of people who try to manipulate you with fear.  Listen to these teachings: Isaiah 41: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you.   Joshua 1: “Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”   God is with us even in our fear.
           
In the face of violent acts of hate, the dreadful repetition of mass murder after mass murder, it is most human to ask, “Where is God in this?”  In the wake of the horrific killings in Orlando, one hears of so many acts of love; the heroic tales of people carrying others out of danger, the endless lines of people donating blood, the incredibly brave actions of the police and the hospital staff and all the helpers, the huge crowds who stood in vigil all over the world.   By Tuesday afternoon, Muslim Americans had raised over $60,000 to support victims of the shooting.   God is with us as we suffer in our grief just as God was with Jesus as he suffered on the cross.  God was with Elijah, the psalmist, the Galatians, the man healed by Jesus.  God is with us in times of trial.
             
Psalm 120 says; “I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me.”  That’s the first step to finding God.  Elijah remembered to call on God, then more importantly, he stopped everything and listened until he heard the still, small voice of God.  God is with us but it’s a two way street: we have to seek God, we have to listen for God.
           
There is absolutely nowhere God is not willing to go to reach and sustain and heal those who are broken and despairing.  There is no place on earth that is forsaken by God.  No one, no place is left out.  There are no conditions that must be met to receive God’s love.    God loves all: male and female, young and old, gay or straight, white, black, Asian, Latino, believers and non believers; Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist.
           
When you wonder where God is, remember that God is with us, that God stays with us. The apostle Paul writes: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, not any powers, neither height, nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  God is with us and God will NOT leave us.  Alleluia.



 
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