Where is God?

The Rev. Joseph Winston October 18, 2009

Mark 10:32-45

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ARK

10 32 They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the

way, and they were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.

Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed

to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles,
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who will mock him and spit on him, flog
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him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”

James and John, the sons of

Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said 1

to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,
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and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.

For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a

ransom for many.”

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Sermon
Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 Where is God? If I asked you that question right now, how would you answer? It is no fair asking the person next to you to see what they have to say. Right now, where is God located? Let me give you three very common answers to this oft-asked question. Some people think that God is off somewhere in heaven, earning a well-deserved rest after creating the beautiful universe. Others picture God as a great-grandfather sitting in a rocking chair, watching over us. Perhaps, you feel that God is always interfering with your life and should remember to mind His own business. Determining where God is or is not is one of the most basic questions that anyone can answer. Your response to this simple question lets others know quite a lot about your relationship with God. For example, if you happen to think that God created the cosmos and then left the scene to let the universe follow all of God’s preordained rules, then you would generally think that God does not make laws just to break them. This attitude is perfectly fine as long as everything is going your way. Your good health, riches, and shiny new truck would then be nothing more than God’s perfect plans playing out in your life. What then would happen if your child is in the emergency room and is about to die? Can you pray to such a God for a miracle? If you follow this model to its horrible conclusion, you cannot ask this type of God to intercede on the behalf of your child because this would
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3.
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be asking God to change His preordained plans. In the same way, if you see God as a grandfather, then we can paint a detailed portrait of your God. For the most part, grandfathers are worthy of our respect. From all the stories that you heard, he lived a full life and his wisdom is something that you highly value. No one has to tell you that life was hard for your grandfather. You have heard this statement from him many times. He had to work in order to earn a living but labor and time have taken their toil on him. His faculties are not what they used to be. You know that it is getting hard for the old man to get around and he just does not hear as well as he used to. He is also sleeping a bit more these days and you just hate to wake him up with your difficult problems. You realize that the world is a different place today and you worry that his attitudes might be a bit out of touch with reality. Now, we can propose the same scenario as before. Your child is in the hospital and not expected to live through the night. Can you pray to this type of God for a miracle? The reasonable answer would be that if you could wake up the old man, he might have something good to say but would you really trust his outdated opinion? The answer that God is meddling in our affairs is part of an ancient worldview held by both the Greeks and the Romans. In this mythology, the gods live, die, and then live again. The design behind every ritual we perform is simply keeping the gods alive. It is only through our sacrifice that they live: we give them our hard earned food, we give them our children, and we literally give them our lives. Generally, for the Greeks and the Romans, it is far better if the gods kept to themselves since they tend to cause problems for us. Sometimes the gods try to steal either 4

the handsome men or the beautiful woman. And at other times, they toss lighting bolts at the earth or cause the storms to rage against humanity. It is no surprise that most ancient temples look good only on the outside. The people hope that the gods only look at the temple’s beauty but they did not want the gods to actually come inside the temple and live with them. Given this brief description of Greek and Roman gods, we can know return to our previous question. What do you do if your child is on death’s doorstep? You would first pray that the gods leave your child alone. If your child happened to die, you would then tell everyone that the gods needed the child more than you did. In today’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus comes to us and tells us that all these popular models of where God lives are completely wrong. God did not leave the universe so that the laws of physics can run their course. God is not asleep in some la-zboy recliner on the front porch and become deaf, blind, and dumb to what we are doing here on earth. God does not come here to pester us for our sacrifices. In Mark 10:32, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) reads, “They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.” This translation of the text makes it seem as if the disciples are the ones who are amazed at what Jesus is teaching them and the rest of the crowd is scared at what Jesus is telling them. There are two major problems with this translation of the original language. Most importantly of all, the word “disciples” never appears anywhere in the original text.2 The sentence should really say, “and they were astonished and those
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θα βο ντο ο δ

κολουθο ντες φοβο ντο κα παραλαβ ν πάλιν

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who followed were afraid.” Now we have an entirely different interpretation. The crowd is the one who is amazed at Christ’s teachings. These people have clearly heard what Jesus has said to them: the Kingdom of God is at hand. This means that God has not abandoned you to the whims of nature. Instead, God has come to save you from the harsh and often cruel world. The sick have been made whole. The dead have been given new life. The possessed have been given freedom. If God had been intent on observing the rules of the land, then none of these miracles would have happened. When the Kingdom of God is right here with us, we can see who God really is. God is not some old fashioned idea that only worked for our parents nor has He become deaf to our current cries for justice. The gifts of healing, of life, and of freedom are valid in every age. We want them as much as our grandfathers did. Since God’s kingdom is found right here among us, we experience first hand how the King of the universe rules. God does not want what you have. Over and over again in the Gospel according to St. Mark, we see in Jesus a God who cares for us. Jesus brings bread and fish to both the Jews and the Gentiles. Jesus gives the unworthy forgiveness. Jesus offers His life so that we might live forever with Him. God does not need our offerings. We need God. The second problem with the insertion of the word DISCIPLES is clearly seen in the rest of today’s lesson. The followers of Jesus, that is His disciples, are terrified. The Twelve are frightened out of their wits that all of their ambitions will be smashed into little pieces because Jesus is not rewarding them for their loyal service to the crown. 6

Two times before today’s lesson, Jesus told the disciples that he will die. As we all know, a murdered king cannot grant you either privilege or prestige. He is in the grave. He is dead and he is powerless. There is another reason for their fear. In a coup, the supporters of the disposed leader are next in line to die. The Twelve know this. They have seen this when Rome rounded up the other freedom fighters and then put them to death. With what is happening to Jesus, they now fear for their lives. It is completely natural to want something in return for your work. The matter of reward is even more pressing when the giver of gifts is about to die. That is why James and John ask Jesus for a favor. They want Him to remember them with presents of prestige and power.3 Jesus explains to them that, if such gifts were available, God the Father would hand out these awards in recognition of their achievements. The word quickly gets out to the other ten and it soon becomes apparent that the rest of the disciples want in on all the action. You can almost hear them say, “I want recognition for all that I have done for God.” Your desire for recognition from God is nothing more than a symptom of your terminal disease. Deep in your heart, in a place that one only glances when no one else is looking, you know that you do not deserve to live. Your secret, which you want to keep all to yourself, is that you have not loved God with your entire being nor have you been able to take care of your neighbor in the same manner
This request by James and John is perfectly normal in this society. John R. Donahue, S.J. and Daniel J. Harrington, S.J.; Idem, editor, The Gospel of Mark, Volume 2, Sacra Pagina, (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002), p. 314. For example, this is the how the Essenes thought the messianic banquet would take place: people are ranked by honor. ibid..
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that you provide for your own wants. And if truth be told, you really do not even love yourself. You see, all of us do things that we do not want to do. We all find ourselves powerless to do what we really should do. All of these actions weight heavily on our hearts and we do not know why we are alive. We ask the question, “Why am I here?” In our desperation, we want to be able to find some justification for the reason of our existence, for our use of precious resources. (Even the news tells us the same thing. We take what others need. One billion people, about one sixth of the world’s population, are hungry today.) All of us want to find some reason why God should not just forget us and wipe all of us out of existence. Jesus has an amazing Word for us with heavy hearts. He has Good News for all of us that question why we are alive. He says to each and everyone of us, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This one sentence tells you where Jesus is, what Jesus does for you, and your value to Jesus. Jesus can be found wherever one human is assisting another. If you help someone rebuild their business, then Jesus is there. If in a moment of need you hold someone’s hand, Jesus is there. If you tell someone about God, Jesus is there. The Christ that you find working right beside you is not a disembodied spirit nor is He some perfect ideal. Instead, the person helping you is the very same Jesus that the disciples knew. Christ’s reason for existence is quite simple. He comes to help. He serves God 8

the Father by doing His Father’s will. Whenever you need Him, He comes to wait on you. Does this service by God’s Son make all your problems magically go away? In a word, no. Before His death, sin and evil were Christ’s constant companions. While He suffered death on the cross for our sins, these forces continued to torment Him. Even though sin and evil were morally wounded by Christ’s victory and they soon will perish, they will remain with us until the end of time when they will finally vanish forever. Think about your worth to Jesus. Jesus loves you so much that He will be with you whenever you need Him. But what about God the Father? Where will the Father be when we need help? The ancient answer that we profess in the creeds is that God the Father is similar to God the Son. In other words, the Father acts like the Son and the Son behaves like the Father. This means if the Son comes to serve us, so does the Father. In the same way, if the Son gives His life for us, so does the Father. At least once in your life, you will ask, “Where is God?” Your answer to this fundamental question is very important since it shows what kind of God that you worship. We do not believe that our God stays in heaven away from it all and is incapable of changing the world today. Nor do we think that our God remains up in the sky because He cannot come to us. We do not feel that our God needs us or our sacrifices. Our confident answer to this question is that our God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are right here with us. The Trinity is suffering with 9

us during our times of trial and rejoicing with us when we our happy. Our God is constantly on the move. That is why the Ark of the Covenant has handles. Jesus, because He is God’s own Son, continues this grand tradition. He tells us that He moves so much that He has no place to call His own (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58). Then where is God right now? Jesus is here with us when we gather and listen to His Word. Will He stay here? No! He is going out into the world to serve someone. If you want to know where God is going next, go and help your neighbor. You will find Him there. “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”4

References
Donahue, S.J., John R. and Harrington, S.J., Daniel J.; Idem, editor, The Gospel of Mark, Volume 2, Sacra Pagina, (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002).

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Philippians 4:7.

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