Monday, March 04, 2013

Seeking God

Seeking God
Ps. 63:1-8; Lk 13:1-9[1]
  During this season of Lent, we’re talking about the process of learning to trust in God.  Or perhaps it’s better to say we’re learning to entrust ourselves to God’s loving care.  A central aspect of our faith is the belief that whatever happens to us, we trust that God is working in our lives for our benefit. Theologians call it the doctrine of providence.  But as central as this trust is to our faith, it is also one of those points where we can fall into little more than pious self-interest. [2]  As I look at my own faith, suspect I may be guilty.  I look to God primarily when things are difficult in life, seeking God’s presence to help me when I’m in trouble, asking God to deliver me from my problems.  It seems that I, like many of us, turn the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ into a kind of “Jack in the Box” God whom we call on when we need a favor and whom we ignore when life is good.  We may give lip service to praising God when things are going our way, but be honest, do we really, really seek God with all our hearts in those times?  I can only speak for myself, and I’m not so sure I do.
  Unfortunately, in those times we tend to fall into the trap that St. Paul warned the people of Corinth about when he said “if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).[3]  Or we tend to be like the people who came to Jesus and asked him about the Galileans who were slaughtered by Pilate while they were offering their sacrifices in the temple (Lk. 13:1-2).  Jesus’ answer seems harsh: “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did” (Lk. 13:3-4).  But perhaps we should consider whether at least some of the people in the crowd were guilty of the kind of false confidence St. Paul was talking about.  I think Jesus must have sensed that some of them assumed because they hadn’t endured any such horrible tragedy, they were in good standing with God.  And we hear St. Paul saying, “if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.”  Jesus puts it much more bluntly.  He calls us to repent of the false confidence that thinks that if everything is going my way then God must be blessing me.  He reminds us that we all fall short, and we are all in need of constantly examining our lives to see where we need to repent before our God.[4]  And he also reminds us that God always gives us one more chance to repent (Lk. 13:8).[5]
  How do we do that?  How do we repent? The prophet Isaiah invited those who needed repentance to “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near” (Isa. 55:6).[6]  But if you’re like me, the only time you really, honestly seek God with all your heart is when you’re going through some kind of difficulty or trouble and you want God to bail you out of it! The Psalmist points us to a different way of seeking God.  He says he “thirsts” after God (Ps. 63:1).[7]  "Thirsting" for God is a way of seeking God that is based on the realization that we constantly need God’s presence in our lives—every day, in every circumstance, whether things are going our way or not. 
  In a very real sense, the only way to seek God genuinely and with all our heart is to know down in the depths of our soul that we need God in every aspect of our lives.  I think in part what this means is that we recognize that this life is too big for us to manage on our own.  It doesn’t take too much experience with life to learn that we are in many ways powerless over the people, the circumstances, and the events in our life.  There are just too many complications, too many factors that are beyond our control.  We need someone who is much bigger than we are to guide us and care for us in this life.  We need God to surround us with his “steadfast love” which the Psalmist says is “better than life” itself (Ps. 63:3).[8]
  As we examine our faith during this season of Lent, I think it’s important for us to realize that one of the requirements for developing a heart of trust is the realization that we need God in all of our lives.  We cannot look to other people, or even to ourselves to provide what we need in this life.  When we’ve done our best, sometimes life still sends us failure and loss.  And other people may have good intentions, but if we look to them instead of God, we’re only setting ourselves up for disappointment.  Only God can truly provide what we need in our lives.  That is the most fundamental reason for making the decision to seek God honestly, with all our heart, every day—sometimes every hour—and sometimes moment by moment.[9]  We seek God as the Psalmist did—thirsting for him constantly because we know that our very life depends on him.

[1] © 2013 Alan Brehm.  A Sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 3/3/2013.
[2] Cf. James L. Mays, Psalms, 218: “in a salvation religion there is always the danger for all believers to take the value of their own lives as the primary reason to trust God.”
[3] Cf. Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, 169.  He sees the warning as especially applicable to the people in Corinth who thought they were the “strong” ones, saying that their “cocksureness” that nothing will happen to them is unrealistic.
[4] Cf. Fred B. Craddock, Luke, 169: “Life in the Kingdom is not an elevated game of gaining favors and avoiding losses.  Without repentance, all is lost anyway.”  cf. R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke,” New Interpreters Bible IX:272, where he says that the calamities mentioned “should stand as graphic reminders that life is fragile, and any of us may stand before our Maker without a moment’s notice.”
[5] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, Experiences of God, 4–5, where he points out as Luther observed that the Christian’s life is always “becoming,” it’s always in process, and therefore it is “a continual repentance, a continual new start in a new direction.”
[6] Cf. Paul D. Hanson, Isaiah 40-66, 177, where he points out that the only requirement for attendance at the banquet that is offered is “hunger and thirst.”
[7] Cf. Mays, Psalms, 173.  He comments that as “the body cannot live without water,” so “the soul cannot survive without God.”  Cf. similarly, H. -J. Kraus, Psalms 60–150, 19: “‘Soul’ and ‘body’ are like land that is parched and languishes for moisture in the summer when there is no rain.”
[8] Cf. Mays, Psalms, 218: “This verse leads us in prayer to the point of devotion to God alone that must be the goal of all true faith.”  Cf. also Marvin E. Tate, Psalms 51–100, 129: he describes the Psalmists’ longing for God as a “great soul-thirst for the living presence of God”.  Cf. also J. Clinton McCann, Jr., “The Book of Psalms,” New Interpreters Bible IV:928.
[9] cf. Hanson, Isaiah 40-66, 181, where he points out that in contrast to human pride, the point of the invitation in Isa. 55:1-9 is that “it is all free for those who confess the inadequacy of their own solutions and therefore desire God’s thoughts and God’s ways.” cf. also Christopher R. Seitz, “The Book of Isaiah 40-66,” New Interpreters Bible VI:482: “Only repentance and pardon can open eyes and minds to the ways of God.”

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