2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall

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Sermon Ideas For Mark 13:24-37 Part 5

This is the season of Advent, but before that happens, Isaiah is calling out for God to deliver God's people once again. Isaiah leads the people in confession and reminds them that the covenant between God and the elect depends on their mutual relationship. Isaiah grows in intensity, calling for God to "Look down from heaven and see…O that you would tear open the heavens and come down."

Longings, lamentations and hope pervade the readings. It must be mentioned that Isaiah sets the stage for the rest of the readings by stating from the first, "You LORD, are our Father." This image of God was not used regularly in the times of the Hebrew Scriptures, indeed it was borrowed from pagan religions. Yet it speaks of a loving personal god who comes to us in human form at Christmas.

How often do we cry out to God to make obvious God's presence in our lives, in our world? How urgent does the world cry out for a personal savior, as well as the One who stands at the beginning and the end of all history? How often do we really want a sure sign that God is with us, helping us to heal, bear up under suffering, to find an end in peace?

Where is our God? This is a question repeated over and over by the people I work with on a daily basis; the mentally ill; the emotionally distraught; the ones overcome by fear, anxiety, depression, grief, trauma, personality disorders, fractured relationship with family and friends. Recently a young woman regularly and routinely sexually abused in childhood and early adulthood (this precious woman who struggles every day just to have a normal day), said that God has left her. No matter how much she prays, she feels she is praying into an empty void.

Rather than defend God (who needs no defense) I talked with her about the rather arbitrary nature of our human experience of God's presence. Isaiah, at his calling, experienced God as directly speaking to him. Yet here he is today asking for God to stop hiding "your face from us."

How often do we pray, "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!" (Is 64.1) This prayer is prayed throughout the Bible by both believers and skeptics. How are we to know when God is with us giving us direction.

Certainly on this the first Sunday of Advent, we know that surely, certainly, soon the babe will be in our midst, with all of the wonderful teachings and healing to come. It is true that some biblical characters experienced God in a "flash of lightening" like Paul on the road to Damascus. And wouldn't it be great if all of us found that God was always present, visible, clear as day in standing beside us? But such moments are irregular and yet no less valuable. Sometimes the existence of God comes through to us in the most surprising of ways.

God came to me in a song of salvation last year. I was at the Cathedral of Guadeloupe in Mexico when a painting of Jesus on the left side of the cathedral caught my eye. I went to stand under it, and I could swear that Jesus eyes were directed just into my eyes standing there. Then an old biblical song came to my mind which was to be my petition to the Christ at that moment: "Jesus, remember me, when I come into thy Kingdom, Jesus remember me, when I come into thy Kingdom." Apparently I stood before that painting and heard those words for more than one half an hour because others came to retrieve me for more sightseeing later.

People who talk about having direct experience with the Holy are often Mystics, but in my experience as a pastoral counselor I do hear of times when the Holy spoke to people, helping them with their immediate problems. Usually they speak of such interventions in terms of whispers, or experiences in the dark shadows—very low whispers. Usually, I remind people that God historically has been found in the whispers, the lure, the shadows rather than the blinding lights or flashing directions. Sometimes it is important to see whom, of our friends and family, have been temporarily serving as angels, who give us guidance to a spiritual or interpersonal problem.

With the Advent Season upon us, we must be prepared to see God in different forms. Sometimes you may experience God guiding you, but you have to express after having been asked, "it's like a movie on the big screen—you have to have been there to get it."

Whenever crises appear, it is to accept and express the feelings that come (even if it means an angry prayer to God that you feel there is no presence here). It is important to hold onto hope, as is given in these readings today. Third, it's important not to spend a lot of time trying to find out where the blame lies, but to work for the resolution of the crisis itself. Finally it is clear that we must return mercy for God's mercy, for wherever we are we can find solace in the fact that in most cases, God is right there with us, if we can only discern God's presence.

Gail Unterberger

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