Where Did You See God Today?
A pastor who served a rural church tells this story. In reading the minutes of the Church council some years ago, I came across the following:
Elder Smith recommends we hire Mr. Johnson as our student minister. He has a background in music and a history of outstanding youth work. Music and youth are two areas of church life where we need improvement.
Eighteen months later there was another entry:
Elder Jones made the motion that we fire Mr. Johnson, our student minister. The man spends too much time working with the youth in the church and it seems all we do is sing during the worship service. We need more preaching and someone to work with the older people.”
Mr. Johnson didn’t know what to expect from his church council. He tried to please them in one area, and they changed their expectations of him. In today’s Gospel reading John the Baptist doesn’t know if this man named Jesus is the one who is to come.
That is if he is the messiah. John had doubts about who Jesus was. He wasn’t sure Jesus was the one. He wanted to check it out. As he sat in jail, he struggled with what he had heard about Jesus. He questioned, he had doubts, he wondered.
He have thought, “Lord, where did I go wrong? I did what I thought you wanted. I said what I thought you wanted me to say. You told me that Messiah was coming. But where is he? Where’s the fire, the ax, the judgment he’s supposed to bring? And why, if he’s here, would he let me stay in prison?
I’ve heard rumors about this one called Jesus. I remember that day in the Jordan when I baptized him. What a glorious day. I knew it was all beginning then. God’s whole plan was being put into play. But, where is he now? Why isn’t he doing what I said he would do? Is he really the one or should I look for another?
Jesus tells John’s disciples to “speak up”, to go and tell John what you hear and see. And Jesus even tells them what they are to say. That the blind, the physically disabled, the deaf, are healed, even the dead are raised to life and the poor have good news spoken to them. But how can one speak up when you have doubts, serious doubts about who this Jesus is.
You see John had a problem, first he is in prison and cannot go and see and speak to Jesus himself.
Second John expected Jesus would bring a message of repentance telling people to change similar to the message John had preached. But Jesus message is one of compassion, one of love. And John is confused. So, he tells his disciples to go to Jesus and ask Jesus if he is the one, if he is the Messiah, if he is the one who is coming, or should we look for another?
This whole scenario reminds me of that Christmas Carole, What Child is this who lay to rest on Mary’s lap sleeping? Yes indeed What child?
Wondering, having doubts, is that okay? Do we shy away from these questions of doubts? As Christians do we say doubts, questions of faith are wrong? Certainly not. God does not stand aloof; rather God is in the struggle of our doubt, making himself known through it. Doubt therefore is a vital part and element of our faith.
In the book, “A sign in the straw” the author Richard Hoefler asks, “Who of us have not cried out with John, ’Are you the Christ, or shall we look for another’? When life gets tough and we see innocent people suffer. The bad so often succeed while the good fail.
When we face a world locked in the death grip of one meaningless war after another; when we witness the destruction of nature as greed and desire for comforts drain the earth of her natural resources; when we choke on pollution and stumble over wrecked lives of people struck down by drugs and alcoholism; who can help but cry out, ’If you are the Messiah, Must we, shall we, look for another?’
Hoefler says “When will we learn that faith does not have all the answers? Faith is a life of trust, not of certainty and security. God never promised answers to all our questions. God never promised life without stress.
We may doubt God, but God never doubts us. We may not know God but He with absolute certainty knows us. This is the gospel. This is our life. This is the love that will never let us go.”
So John had his doubts, he questioned, he wondered, but he did not stay with those doubts, he sought answers. Jesus tells John and his Disciples look at the evidence and decide for yourselves. What does the evidence show? Maybe in John’s eyes Jesus did not fit his expectations, but Jesus said loud and clear through His actions that He was indeed the Messiah.
God’s great plan of salvation was unfolding in the world, and John did not understand and he had his doubts.
- I wonder what John thought when his disciples returned with the news about Jesus?
- Did he now believe with certainty that Jesus was the one?
- Did he see the gospel of salvation unfolding upon the earth?
- Could he sense the hope, the life, the salvation that Jesus was bringing to all people?
We don’t know the answer to that question.
Some cannot see God’s redeeming work in this world. They cannot see the changes God makes in people.
A few years so when I was at Community Family Life Services I remember that we had a women come to us who was kind and gentile, but she was also frequently high on cocaine. I remember that someone on our staff remarked that “If God would take her and stop her addiction it would do more to convince me of his presence than anything else I can think of.”
Well we reached out to this woman and tried to help her. She was going to NA and she would even find work from time to time but often she would slide back into her addiction. After 5 years, Celeste was back at work, back with her family, she had even found a place to life that was not a shelter.
God had been redeeming Celeste life but because it happened over a period of years, we missed it.
But God’s didn’t. God dealt with Celeste as a whole redeemed person.
- God redeemed her soul;
- God redeemed her relationships with her family.
- God redeemed her relationship with the community.
Sometimes the answer is right in front of us but we can’t see the forest because the trees are in the way. We must stop look, feel and experience God’s redeeming work all around us.
And sometimes, God uses us to do that work. Sometimes He uses us in the most unassuming ways to redeem people and situations.
For example: Joseph Baylys wrote this book entitled The View from a Hearse after he experienced the death of 3 children. He says this:
“I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He said things I knew were true. I was unmoved, except to wish he would go away. He finally did. Someone else came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat with me for an hour or more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.”
Joseph Bayly’s recognized God in the presence of this man.
We really don’t know how John responded to Jesus’ answer. But we do know that Jesus wasn’t finished.
After giving his response to John’s disciples, he went on so say that John was one of the greatest of all prophets. And then Jesus goes on to say this. The least in the kingdom of heaven, and here Jesus is referring to us, are even greater than John. Why? How?
Because we have seen Jesus in action restoring and healing, redeeming and saving, we have seen people like Celeste everyday.
Some of us who went to the Gulf Coast to help after hurricane Katrina know that we would close each day with devotions and part of those devotions was to answer this question, “Where did you see God today?’
My friends God is at work in and though our everyday lives. This is what we need to recognize and speak up about. Each night before you close your eyes to sleep ask yourself, where did I see God today.
So what Child is this who lay to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Christ the Lord!!
Pastor Tom Knoll
Thanks for letting me share with you. Tell me if you’ve ever had a similar experience. How did it affect you or others around you. I welcome your thoughts and inspiration in the comments below…
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