Nov 29th - When God Hides
From Pastor Kevin Ader When God Hides Transcription 11/29/2020 Grace, mercy and peace be onto you from God, our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen. Our text this morning comes to us from the Old Testament reading from Isaiah. And in this, Isaiah is praying to God. Praying: Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down and do mighty acts like You did in the past! We sort of pray the same thing on this first Sunday in Advent when we say “Stir up Your power, Oh Lord and come among us!” You see, God is seeming very far away from Isaiah and the Israelites. And he admits that they have grown far from Him in His hiddenness. In his absence. And he wants that display of God’s splendor and God’s power to come, just like when wood is set to fire and the water boils. How, when He came and the mountains shook. You, perhaps, have found that it’s easy to pray to God in the midst of a storm, in the midst of trouble. “Lord, Save us.” There was a time in my first parish, out in North Dakota, it was a nice, warm October day. Actually warmer than usual for that time of year. A nice, hot, south wind had been blowing all day. Gusting to about 4550 miles an hour. We didn’t mind the wind because it was so nice and warm. I left to go to Bible class at the neighboring parish, and when I came home in the evening, as I drew close to town where I lived, I saw lights of emergency vehicles. And I thought “Oh Lord, there must be an accident down at the train crossing, railroad crossing down the highway.” And at that very moment, I realized I was already in town, and the lights were on the south side of the town. Now, the town was only about two blocks deep. I pulled into the driveway, some neighbors were outside, and I asked, “What’s going on?” A neighbor lady, Marie, behind me said, “It was a huge explosion! I was watching Wheel of Fortune and it threw me out of my chair, it was so huge!” One of the neighbors had a junk collection in a storage building, and, well, some flammable materials. And however it went off, nobody knows, but it all went up. Flames everywhere. And of course, it’s dry grass around the south side of town and that wind was from the south. And Marie said “Pastor, we didn’t know what to do! So, we prayed ‘Lord, stop the wind, or the whole town will burn up!’” Imagine coming home from Bible class and your whole town is gone. And she said “You know what, Pastor? As soon as those words came out of our mouth, the wind stopped, just like that.” That’s a real answer to prayer, isn’t it? But God doesn’t always answer our prayer so vividly, so powerfully. And what is it like when we find ourselves praying to God in the midst of the storm, and we realize that God Himself is the very storm? That’s pretty much what the conclusion is that Isaiah comes to when he says “Lord, come with Your power and might. Show Your adversaries! Give it to them like the days of old when You showed Your power and the mountains quaked.” We pray those prayers sometimes too, don’t we? During a particularly difficult time in my life, I’m reading through the Psalms, and invariably, David is praying that the Lord would address his enemies. Give it to them. And I’m like “Yeah, Lord, give it to my enemies! Let them pay!” And, of course, David is praying, sometimes selfishly for his own benefit. But really, God does what He does for His glory. I don’t really have God’s glory in mind. I just wanted my enemies to get a good taste of what was coming to them. But here now, as Isaiah is praying, it’s like wait a minute. Do we really want that power to be displayed? Remember, Isaiah has seen God. He has been in His very presence. And 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 he says “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips, from a people of unclean lips. I have seen the Lord, and surely I must die.” God’s been away. We’ve grown comfortable in our sin. In fact, we’ve grown so comfortable in our sin that we’ve moved away from God. We’ve become unclean. “There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.” We pray for God’s coming. And at the end of the church year, we pray that God would come, our Lord Jesus would come, bring His church, His bride to her heavenly home. And now, at the beginning of Advent, we pray again, Lord, come. But do we really want Him to come? When we realize that the day of His coming as Jesus said is going to be a terrifying, terrible day. Particularly for those who do not have faith or salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is going to be a terrible day for them. And so I, myself, may revise my prayer and say “Oh Lord, You’re not slow in coming as some think slowness. But You’re patient, wanting everyone to come, to turn from their sin, come to the knowledge of Your son as their Savior. Turn from their sin and repent and live. And You’re being patient.” Well, I’m impatient to be with the Lord. I wouldn’t be so impatient if I were not a child of God. Nor do I imagine you would be if you knew the wrath and judgement that was to come when He returns for those unbelievers. Passed off into darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. And so Isaiah realizes and the tone of his prayer changes. Instead of “Come, that you would rend the heavens,” but now “Oh Lord, You are our Father, we are the clay and You are our Potter. We are all the work of Your hand. Be not so terribly angry, oh Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all Your people. We are all Your people.” Remember, oh Lord. Be not terribly angry. Remember not our iniquity forever. Be patient. He hearkens back to that day when God took the clay and formed it and molded it into the form of a man and breathed His life, His spirit into that man. And he became a living being. And out of that one man comes all humanity. Both the believer and unbeliever. All formed by God’s hand. Elsewhere in the scriptures, it speaks of the Creature becoming the Creator. And that’s much of the world in which we live. The creature wants to be the creator. Wants to do the forming. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a lump of clay. When a potter throws it on the wheel and it just kind of sits there as a lump of clay. It can’t do anything, it can’t form itself into a bowl or a cup or a sculpture. It just lays there as a blob. But in the skilled hands of a potter, it becomes a beautiful masterpiece. And there’s no greater sculptor than God, who sculpted us. And apart from Him, we have nothing. In God’s hiddenness, Isaiah says “we have grown in our iniquity.” During this COVID time, we have had to do a lot of things virtually, and one of those things is confirmation. I was meeting with my confirmation class. I knew the students. Typically, they would chat a lot, and they goof off a lot. After all, they’re eighth graders, what more can I expect of them? And they’ve been cooped up in school all day. And they ask questions to get me off topic. Not so this year. Not so. They’re completely quiet. Quiet as mice. Well-behaved, no questions. In fact, one evening, I allotted an hour. Half hour. I was done in 10 minutes. I said “Well, you might as well go do your other homework, because you don’t have any questions for me.” But you see, part of the requirement was that a parent had to be online with them. Both for the student’s benefit and wellbeing, as well as mine. And they were on their best behavior, because in all instances, it was their mother with them. And I know that’s not how they are when Mom’s not around. Because regular class time, moms and dads aren’t present. They’re welcome, but they’re not present. And they’re their usual selves. You, yourself know, growing up, when Mom and Dad are around, you behave a whole lot differently with your siblings than when they’re not around. You get into trouble. Isaiah’s saying that’s what happened to the people. But, you see, God’s still very present. After all, that’s what Immanuel means: God with us. He’s always with us. He just likes to hide. He just likes to hide. In our alternate Gospel reading for today, it’s the reading of Jesus coming in on the donkey Palm Sunday. And you might say: what in the world does Palm Sunday, the entrance of Jesus have to do with the beginning of Advent? That reading we had from Mark goes a whole lot better with Isaiah here, because there too, Jesus talking about when He comes in power. But you see, more often than not, God comes to us hidden in unexpected and often ordinary ways. He comes as an infant born in Bethlehem whose birth we celebrate again in a few weeks. He comes on a donkey, barefoot with palm branches laid before Him. It doesn’t look very powerful, does it? The mountains aren’t shaking. But yet, God comes, and God is present. This morning, God comes to us. He comes to us in ordinary words. Ordinary words that we can read on paper or on the screen. Ordinary words we use every day as we communicate. He comes to us today in ordinary bread and wine. But He comes hidden in that, offering us His very body and blood, that very body and blood given up for our salvation. And that Word of God connected with those elements. Yes, God does come down in power. He does rend the heavens. Just in a hidden way. He comes to us in ordinary water, again with His Word, adopting us as His children. He will come rending the heavens one day. But in this world, in this time and space, He often comes hidden. And sometimes, He comes hidden even within you and I. As we go forth into this world with the knowledge of our salvation, with the knowledge of our Creator and Redeemer, equipped with the Holy Spirit to share that good news: that the one who molded and shaped all people wants to bring them all into His kingdom. Now, maybe somebody out in the world is saying, “I sure wish God would just do some spectacular thing, and I would know that God really existed.” But you see, that’s not how God works. That’s not how He often answers prayer. He often does it in very hidden ways. But He’s not hiding from us. By faith, we see through that hiddenness. That ordinariness. And we see the extraordinariness of God at work in our lives. As He heals, as He restores, as He forgives, as He comforts and consoles, oftentimes, it’s with our words and our voice and our hands. Be not so terribly angry, oh Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all Your people. And he comes hidden in a man. A crown of thorns on His head, bleeding, scourged, nailed to a cross. It doesn’t look very powerful or awesome, does it? And yet, in what seemed like an ordinary crucifixion to the world – what still looks like just an ordinary crucifixion to the world – there God was displaying His mighty power. To forgive. To not remember sin forever, but to forgive it through His son Jesus Christ. That when those words are spoken: you are forgiven of your sins, that we believe them just as if Christ Himself stood before us and spoke those words Himself to us. Looks so hidden, but yet, so very powerful. May the one who often seems hidden from us make His presence known to us. Not only in the bread and the wine, the water, but may He make Himself known through us to a world lost in sin and death, in so much need of that great power of God, to work in them. And to you who are lost in that world of darkness and sin, don’t ask for God’s power to come. But rather that He might come to you also, meek and gentle. With that grace and mercy purchased for you through the same offering of Himself on that cross. The day indeed will come where the heavens will be rended open. And it will be a terrifying day for those not in Christ Jesus. But for those of us who by faith have seen Him hidden in not so ordinary ways, it will be that day that we long for. The day we cry “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” And it isn’t that He doesn’t hear our prayers. But as Peter reminds us, He is being patient, wanting all to come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ as their Savior. To turn from their wickedness, to repent and to live. Thanks be to God we already heeded that call. But may He hide himself in our voice, in our person as we go forth into this world to bear His name and to share His gospel, to remind a world we are all His people. And He has died for all His people. And may that God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit who creates, sanctifies and redeems, keep us in this most holy faith until that day in which He returns. And indeed, the heavens will be rended open and the power that Isaiah wanted to see will indeed be shown for all to see for His glory. Amen. And now the peace of God which surpasses our human understanding, keep our hearts and our minds in faith in Christ Jesus into life everlasting. Amen.