Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Hidden God

Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
October 6, 2013
There are some who don’t believe in God. Then there are those of us who do. Some say, “I can’t see, God, why would I believe He exists?” Those of us who believe in Him are well aware that He can’t be seen. Why, then, do we believe in Him? Why would we take that leap of faith and believe in something so spectacular, when we can’t simply point to Him and say, “There He is. There’s the God I believe in.”? For many, that He can’t be seen is a liability. To them, it shows how ridiculous it is to believe in an unseen, all-powerful being. And even for us, it’s not the easiest thing to believe, is it? Sometimes it’s hard to trust in God when He seems far away, especially when we’re going through rough times.

God is hidden. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Would you rather be able to see Him, or are you content in believing in Him, not by sight but by faith? Some will say, “If only we could see God, we would know that He exists, and therefore we would believe in Him.” The sad fact is, this is not the case. When Jesus rose from the dead, His enemies knew and believed He rose from the dead—but they still didn’t believe in Him as God and Lord. They refused to believe in God even though they saw God with their own eyes.

Today’s Gospel reading shows us that God being hidden is a good thing. I was driving down a major street the other day and drove past a church. How many hundreds of people pass by that church every day? How many people know about that church who otherwise wouldn’t have if they hadn’t been driving on that major road? How many more people visit that church simply due to it being prominently positioned?

All of these thoughts went through my mind as I then thought about our own little church, tucked away here on a cul-de-sac. Out of the way from the central part of the community. Way back in here in this residential area. Thousands of people who derive down Waring Rd. are oblivious to this church building being only hundreds of feet from them. Prince of Peace Lutheran Church is what you would call a hidden church.

The thing about things that are hidden is that they are real. They exist. They are actual things. They just can’t be seen. They can’t be seen because they are hidden. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist, they simply aren’t prominently displayed. If something is hidden you could be right next to it and never know it’s there. If you know it’s there, on the other hand, then you have full confidence it’s there even though you can’t see it. You know that it’s hidden but is every bit as present and real as those things you can see.

God is real, but He is hidden. He exists, but you can’t see Him. It seems that it would be better if He were right out in the open. But consider what happened when it actually was that way. In the Garden of Eden, Adam walked with God. He spoke to Him face to face. It didn’t take long for Adam and Eve to look elsewhere. God was present among them, but they sought Him in a way He in which He had not made Himself known. They promptly fell into sin and removed themselves from the grace of God, which  was nothing else than the presence of God.

In the Gospel reading Jesus responds to a need brought before Him by forgiving the man’s sins. His friends brought Him to Jesus because he was paralyzed and they sought healing from Jesus for him. What did He do? He forgave the man his sins. What did the religious leaders see? They saw a man forgiving the sins of another man. The problem with this is that it is in God’s place to do this, not man’s. He is the one who has the prerogative and authority to forgive people carte blanche. Since Jesus, a man standing before them, was, well, a man standing before them, He was blaspheming. He was putting Himself in the place of God and therefore committing the worst sort of sin.

What did the religious leaders see? They saw a man. What did they believe? They believed He was a man. God couldn’t be seen, but here was a man claiming to be God. What they didn’t believe was that the unseen God is the God who is hidden. Even though He’s hidden, He makes Himself known. He does this in hidden ways. First and foremost He does this in His Son, Jesus Christ. An ordinary man, a man who is no more and no less a human being than you and I are. It’s no wonder many people don’t believe in God. Why would God reveal Himself in an ordinary man? Why would the All-powerful, Almighty, Omni-present God make Himself known in a man who, as the Bible says, wasn’t much to look at, and who never mustered up more than twelve disciples to be His right-hand men, and one of whom, at that, ended up betraying Him?

This is what some people just can’t get beyond. God needs to make Himself known in a way where it will be clear to me. What exactly, though, will it take? There is nothing God can do to get people to believe in Him if they have their own conditions for what God needs to do to make Himself known. Again, just look at the resurrection. If that didn’t convince some people, what will?

We’re different. We believe in God. We believe He has made Himself known in the person of Jesus and that He died on the cross for all of our sins and rose from the grave. But the hard part is continuing to trust in this hidden God. To live by faith every day. To know that just because He’s hidden, doesn’t mean He’s not present and doesn’t care. If Adam and Eve were face to face with God and they sought Him elsewhere, how much more difficult will it be for us?

What did those four men in the Gospel reading do? They went to Jesus. Jesus explains why this is. Their faith. Faith is only as good as its object. And if that object is Jesus, then you know the faith is good. The trust these men had in Jesus was reliable trust because the one whom the trust was in was reliable. What they didn’t expect, what no one there expected, was that this one, this man who was like all of them there, was going to do for this man what He had come in the flesh to do. Forgive this man his sins. No one there expected that because the man brought their friend for release from paralysis.

The religious leaders said that no one can forgive sins but God alone. They did not see and believe that God was hidden in the man who stood before them, this man Jesus. How many people today refuse to believe that in ordinary water God is present? How many scorn that God comes with forgiveness in simple bread and wine? How often do we long for some sign that God is with us when He has made known that He present, albeit hidden, in the pure proclamation of the Gospel? How many times do we doubt that God is with us when we have been Baptized into His death and raised in that Baptism to His resurrection? How long will we continue to seek God through feelings and things going well in our life and countless other ways when He comes to us in the bread and wine of His Meal He gives us? The bread of which we eat, is it not a full participation, a communion, with the very body of Christ? His body is hidden, no doubt, in and with that bread—but very much there! The cup of which we drink, is it not a full sharing in the very blood of Christ? Yes, His blood cannot be seen; it’s hidden. But very much given you in that wine of which you drink.

That God is hidden in these things is good. How else would you know where to find God? You wouldn’t. The hidden God very purposefully comes to you in these means so that you may know He is for you, comes to you, forgives you, and is with you.

This has tremendous implications for our lives as Christians in this world. We await the day our Lord takes us to heaven. We know it exists, but it’s hidden from us. We can’t see it. It’s only by faith that we know He will take us there for eternal glory and grace in His presence. For now, we live in this world among the world. The people of this world do not believe in heaven as God has made it known. They do not believe in Him as He has made Himself known. But we live as His people. We are Christ to the world. Christ is present in this world, but hidden in our actions, our words, our serving others.

To the world, we look weak. To the world, it looks like there’s nothing special about us. It’s somewhat like this church. It’s largely hidden from view, tucked way back in here. But look at what happens here! Our Lord comes to us with all His grace and blessings and forgiveness. In water and words are hidden God Himself. In bread and wine are hidden the Lord of the universe, all His power concentrated in that bread and wine to forgive you and strengthen you. Ultimately, it comes down to that, forgiveness. That’s what Jesus said to the man. It’s what He says to you. Hidden though it is, it’s as real as can be.

And your life. Real as can be as well. Others will not see Christ in you, He is hidden after all. But we pray they will come to know Him through your love for them as you forgive them, are merciful to them, and simply, are Christ to them. Your sins are forgiven. That was His word to the man who was brought to Him, it is His word to you. It is why He hides Himself in these Means here, water, word, bread, wine. In these ways you know that your hidden Lord is truly your Lord, who comes to you in mercy and forgiveness. It is why you serve in the world. The world doesn’t simply not see God, it doesn’t believe. Show them the hidden God. Love as He loves. Forgive as He forgives. Be merciful as He is merciful.

It is, after all, not you who are truly loving them but your Lord Himself. For though He is hidden He is very much present and always ready to forgive. Amen.

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