“Acts of God”
Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37
November 27, 2005
Community of Grace Christian Church
New Brighton, MN
Over the holidays, I was asked by an smart young man what was my favorite movie. There were a lot for me to choose from. Being a Star Trek fan, I love the second movie, The Wrath of Khan. I could have said that, but instead, I chose one from my childhood, one that I still love today: The Sound of Music. My mother loves the movie, and when I was young she sat me down and made me watch the movie. I was hooked and looked forward to the later part of the year when the networks would show this charming story of a young nun who tries to bring some life in the a family lead by Baron von Trapp.
Now, had I been asked what was the worst movie, or in this case, the worst musical, I could tell you without thinking much on the subject: it's Cats.
While I'm not someone who can tell you about every Broadway musical ever made, I know enough to say that I don't like Cats. I remember when I first saw it. The year was 1988 and I was a sophomore at Michigan State. I was looking forward to this event, my first live broadway show. I sat down all excited: and was sorely dissappointed. I kept waiting for some kind of story line, some kind of plot. And nothing happened. What I saw was a bunch of people in cat costumes dancing and singing, with no purpose.
Maybe it's just me, but I thought the show was terrible. What the heck was the story? Where was the cast of thousands breaking into song? I didn't get it. I understood shows like My Fair Lady, South Pacific or even Grease. But this? No. I still don't understand why it was on Broadway so long and why its considered as highly as it is. But then, these are just the rantings of a curmudgeon who is a best a “theatre novice,” so take them with a grain of salt.
My experience with Cats reminds me that sometimes life isn't what we expected. We expect bright lights and bells and whistles and what we get isn't near what we had hoped for. This anxiousness for something big to happen in our lives filters into how we view God. For far too many people, myself included, we see God as some sort of superhero who comes to the rescue and saves us from harm just in the nick of time. But we know that life isn't like a Spiderman movie. Sometimes God seems silent or uncaring. Sometimes we are dissapointed by God.
In today's text in Isaiah, the writer laments the silence or hiddeness of God. The writer opens by asking God to tear the heavens assunder and bring down the mountains. He recalls Israel's past, when God would do big things that showed God's existence and power. He probably remembered how God led her people out of Egypt and how he drowned the mighty Egyptian army in the Red Sea and how he provided food for them in the form of manna falling out of the sky. However, the writer notices that God is silent these days. There are no mighty works from God.
The writer of this text, often called “Third Isaiah” is seeking God's help for a reason. Israel is now a defeated nation ravaged by neighboring powers. The “glory days” of David and Solomon are long gone. The writer wants God to set things right again. He pleads for help as God's child calling God “Father.” He calls to God remembering God's goodness and asking for forgiveness.
I think we all have been in a situation where we wonder where God is. We pray for God's guidence and there is silence. We want immediate relief and there is none right away. We are expecting delieverance.
And that's what the writer of Isaiah is about, expectations. He wants his problem solved now and it isn't happening.
It's fitting that we read this text today, being that it's the first Sunday in Advent. Advent is about expectations. As Christians we too are expecting God who comes into the world in the form of Jesus Christ. On an intellectual level, we are expecting Jesus, but what are we really expecting here?
Too often we expect God to come into our lives like a superhero and solve all our problems and when that doesn't happen, we wonder what is going on. What we forget, is that God is God and comes at God's choosing and more often than not comes in ways we don't expect.
As I said before, Advent is a time of waiting. The Jews who lived in Palestine during the time of Christ, we hoping for someone who would deliver them from their dreaded Roman Occupiers. What did they get? They got a baby born to a poor teenager in a manger. How was this baby going to save them? Later on, when Jesus was an adult he read the Scriptures in his hometown synogogue and talked about how he would free the captives and heal the sick. Again, no one could believe this simple carpenter's son could do what he was talking about. How could someone from a backwater town be their savior?
As I read today's gospel about being ready for the coming of the Son of Man, I wonder if the writer and Jesus had in mind that the fact that we need to look for God in unexpected places instead of expecting God to come Broadway-style. God might be the still small voice instead of the choir.
In our modern culture, we expect things to be done quickly. These days, I can download a song in seconds to my iPod. I can by my Christmas gifts online in seconds or talk to a friend on the other side of the country of the other side of the world for that matter in real time. All around us, things are done in an instant and made to order to suit our expectations. So, then we encounter this God who doesn't do things in an instant and who doesn't necessarily meet our expectations. We get frustrated and angry and wonder why God is so silent. But maybe God isn't silent, we just aren't listening.
As many of you know, I was let go of my secular employment a few weeks ago. It was, well it is a traumatic experience. One moment, you are working on a project and getting ready for the weekend, and the next, you are giving up your badge and being escorted out of the building. I have prayed many times for God to give me a job quickly, and I still hope God does. I wonder about my finances and how will I get by. I could wonder why God allowed this to happen, why God isn't getting me a good paying and soul fufilling job fast enough, but then I would be missing the many ways God has spoken. God spoke in the many phone calls and cards I received from friends. God spoke in the way my boyfriend was supportive and was able to help me get through those first few rough days. God spoke in the way some have given me job leads. God spoke in the way that many of you have been praying for me. Has God given me a job out the blue? No. I wish it would happen that way, but it hasn't. But God is not silent. God has spoken in the actions of those around me.
The God we worship is one that comes in unexpected ways. The young baby born in a manger was the One who set us all free.
So, what does this all mean? I think it means that we shouldn't look for God in the big things in life, but keep watching for God in the small and the seemingly insignificant. God isn't our heavenly Jeeves that gives us what we want, but instead, God is Immanuel, or God with us. God promises to never leave us or forsake us, and that is important in those dark times. That might not rent the heavens, but it strenghtens us in ways we can't imagine.
I want to leave you all with this final thought. Whenever something big weatherwise happens, insurance companies tend to call these happenings, be they hurricanes, fires or earthquakes as 'acts of God.' Knowingly or not, the insurance industry tends to view such big events as something God does. I recently walked past an advertisement, by the Salvation Army that seemed to counter that assessment. As you know, one of the things that the Army does is respond to natural disasters, by providing relief. The Salvation Army ad was memorable in that it said, “We respond to natural disasters with Acts of God.”
In their view, God was not behind the tragedy, but was found in the acts of love and charity provided by countless people. God wasn't found in Hurricane Katina, but in the response of people who gave money and time to help those who from the Gulf Coast.
In this season of expectations, let us look for God among us and with us. Amen.