First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Neil H. Wilson, Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720
231-547-9122


Where Is God?

~ Sermon ~ Sunday, June 10th, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson ~

“Where Is God?”

2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1

Let me start with a “simple” question. . .   Where is God? 

I’m not asking in the sense of a spiritual crisis as in “Where is God when a child dies because her house is hit with artillery shells?” (We cannot answer that in the next ten minutes or so even if it could be satisfactorily answered!)   But this is simpler, more of a spatial reference question.  Where is God located? Up/down, in/around or out?

  In 1934 two heavyweights took a few intentional jabs at each other.  Think of pre-fight sparing between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman or Joe Frazier, only this time the opponents were not wearing boxing gloves but were two testy European theologians, Karl Barth and Emil Brunner who sparred with their pens.  At stake was determining once and for all the Anknupfungspunkt or the “point of contact” between God and human beings.  Where do we find or meet God?

Emil Brunner believed the point of contact was located inside of us, while Karl Barth saw the point of contact as truly beyond us.  To summarize many pages of their argument , Brunner believed there were echoes of Eden still inside our heart, soul, and mind, while Barth staunchly defended the notion that God is nothing like us, but instead distant and ultimately “other.”

So . . . where is God?

In our reading from 2 Corinthians this morning, Paul suggests, amidst the trial and tribulations of life, we can take comfort that a resurrected Christ lives “inside us.”  Like Brunner, Paul locates the anknupfungspunkt at first inside us rather than outside.  Paul writes, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”  (2 Cor. 4:16)

Bede Griffiths was a twentieth century Benedictine monk who in his travels around the world asked people of various faiths, “Where is God?”  Hindus and Buddhists in the East, he found out, would typically point to their heart; while Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the West would point outside of themselves to the “heavens.”

So let me ask you our question a bit differently . . . Where do you find or meet God in your life?   Inside or outside?  Up or down?   Or do these spatial references not fit with your understanding of the Holy.

Returning to Paul’s writing, he claims that (as I think we can testify) that indeed while we are being renewed within, our outer nature is being worn away.  And ultimately this earthly tent we live in will be destroyed.  Paul’s point is as Ben Franklin quipped, like taxes, death is inevitable.  Everything that is human will crumble and perish, whether it is a city, a home, or even our own life.  But in the face of this reality, Paul steers his readers to the hope found in “eternal” things.

What does this mean?  I believe like an inner nature grounded in the resurrected Christ, there also exists Paul says, divinity “outside of us,” another reality to restore us, but not one easily seen.  So we might assume that if Bede Griffiths met up with Paul and asked his question, “Where is God?” Paul would have first pointed to his heart, and then with his other hand to the world and stars overhead. 

How would you describe your experience of God?

Those moments you cannot fully explain. . . but that somehow hint of a spiritual dimension within this world or beyond it.  Some might describe them as coincidences or déjà vu.  The Celtic Christians called these moments “thin places.”

It has been observed that some creatures seem to have a sixth sense.  For instance sharks and birds have a magnetic sense to enable them to respond to the earth’s magnetic field.  Rupert Sheldrake who wrote The Sense of Being Stared At, says that while humans may not have this sixth sense, we seem to have what he calls a seventh sense – a spiritual awareness that connects us to each other, the world and to the realm of the spirit.  He points out how many of us believe we have sensed people staring at us even though our backs are turned at the time.  Sixty percent of us claim to have experienced telepathy.  Sheldrake points to the skaters Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, who dazzled us at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics.  According to Dean, the reason they could skate so fluidly and beautifully was telepathy.  “There’s simply no other way to explain it,” Dean said in an interview.

Have you ever thought of someone and have the phone ring, or receive a letter in the mail or email or text?  Have you ever woken up right before the alarm rang?  Or before your baby started to cry?

It seems to me that just as Elijah heard the still small voice at the entrance of the cave, and Samuel the voice call him in the night, and as Moses saw God’s glory on the mountain, we can discover God’s presence all around us – inside and out – if we have the eyes of the heart to see. 

There is an old story about a disciple and his teacher. One day the disciple approached his master with a question, “Where shall I find God?”

“Here.” the teacher said.

“Then why can’t I see God?”

“Because you do not look.”

The disciple pressed his teacher, “But what should I look for?”

“Nothing, just look.” the teacher replied. 

“But at what?” he protested. 

“At anything your eyes will light upon.”

“But must I look in a special kind of way?”   

“No, the ordinary way will do.” the teacher insisted

“But don’t I always look in the ordinary way?” asked a puzzled disciple.

“No, you don’t.” the teacher answered matter-of-factly. 

“But why ever not?” the disciple pressed further. 

“Because to look you must be here.  You’re mostly somewhere else.”

 

It has been said that the Apostle Paul’s thought, as a theologian, could be summed up as the “triumph of God.”  This triumph of God is discovered when we come to understand that as Christians we already live in the dawning of God’s coming reign and since the coming of Christ and his victorious resurrection, suffering becomes all the more tolerable. 

Perhaps Paul would say both Brunner and Barth were right, that God’s presence and triumph is both internal and external – as the resurrected Christ renews us from the inside out, but also God continues to birth in our midst and with our help and before our very eyes, a new heaven and a new earth.   

Might God grant us the eyes of faith to see and behold the wonders around us and also see those traces of the Holy within ourselves and each other, without regard to the color of our skin, the language we speak, the name by which we pray to God or the ones we call family.  Amen.

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