Monday, August 27, 2018

Sermon: "Where's Waldo--I Mean, God?", 1 Kings 8:1, 6, 9-11, 22-30/Psalm 84 (August 26, 2018)


Sometimes, searching for things can be fun. The increasing popularity of scavenger hunts, geocaching, and escape-the-room games attest to that. When I was a kid, though, we didn’t have quite as many of these opportunities, and I wasn’t one to get out very often anyway, so most of my recreational searching was done between the pages of a book. And of course, in the early ‘90s, there was no search-puzzle book greater than Where’s Waldo.

In case you haven’t seen him before (he is, after all, notoriously difficult to find) Waldo is a skinny man in a red and white striped shirt, blue jeans, a red and white pom-pom hat, a cane, and pronounced black glasses. His likeness is hidden in a different scene on each page of the book, and the reader is tasked with locating him. Given his peculiar choice of wardrobe, one would think that it wouldn’t be very difficult. Any regular human being dressed like Waldo in the real world would stick out like a sore thumb. But each image in a “Where’s Waldo?” book contains thousands of characters, objects, and details specifically designed to draw your eye and make you think you’d found Waldo. Hypothetically speaking and definitely not related to personal experience at all, one could spend hours staring at a single image and notice countless amusing scenarios play out across the page, but still not be able to find Waldo.

I’m generally an “it’s the journey, not the destination” kind of person, but that pesky little devil Waldo really got on my nerves after a while. I KNEW he was there; I KNEW what he looked like; I KNEW the task wasn’t complicated. And yet, he eluded me. After a while, I forgot all about everything going on around me and became single-minded in my mission: all that mattered was finding Waldo.

Now, I’m not saying that Waldo is God-like…but maybe King Solomon would have been able to see some parallels. He, like his father before him,[1] was set on building a temple for God so that the Israelites would be able to find and come before God whenever they needed to. Well, THEY’D probably say that they wanted to build the temple as a way to show honor the Lord, but since God insisted that God didn’t NEED a temple, I’d guess that their true motivations were a bit more selfish than they’d admit in public. I think they wanted a place where they knew they could “find” God easily. They wanted to be able to open the book and spot Waldo right away, no searching required. That pesky little devil.

I mean, wise old SOLOMON is no dummy. He acknowledges in verse 27, “…Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even…the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” And yet, KNOWING that God can’t be contained—KNOWING that God’s presence is bigger than any four walls—he still tries to pin God down. He goes on to piously demand, “Hear my prayer, O God, that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house…that you may heed the prayer that your servant prayers toward this place.” In other words, “Make sure you’re paying attention, God, so that I can find you as soon as I need you.” Solomon may not be a dummy, but he certainly is astoundingly bold in the requests that he makes of God.

I completely understand this impulse. Sometimes, trying to find God can feel like living in a “Where’s Waldo?” book. It shouldn’t be so difficult to find God, and yet…. No wonder the Psalmist is so enamored with the idea of being in God’s house, dwelling where God dwells, assured that God hears your every prayer. “My soul longs, even faints for the possibility of being in your house with you, God.” A bit dramatic, perhaps, but it gets the idea across. Knowing that you can find God easily is living the dream. Even the birds are drawn to the place where God lives. No wonder both David and Solomon wanted to build such a place. God on demand sounds great!

But then again, let’s be honest about what it is we’re actually doing. We know that God can’t be confined, whether in the pages of a book (puzzle OR scriptural) or in any room or building or box. Given that, how much of the kings’ obsession to house God is actually about God’s location, and how much of it is about humanity? I mean, how often do we try to pin God down out of our frustration that we’re unable to find God, when in reality the issue isn’t God’s accessibility, but our own inability to see?

When I was first reading the Kings passage this week, I was drawn towards verses 10 and 11: “…when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.” God’s glory was SO overwhelming that it KEPT THE PRIESTS FROM DOING THEIR JOB! (I need to make a mental note to file that excuse away for a week that I have trouble coming up with a sermon.) And yet…they still felt like they needed a place where they could BE SURE that God was there. Solomon still needed to pray in verses 31-52 to MAKE SURE that God was listening to all of their supplications (Go ahead and check it out; he pretty much outlines any conceivable scenario where someone might pray and says, “make sure you’re here listening then, God”). It’s so hard for them to trust that God is there that they can’t even believe their own eyes.

And sometimes, I suspect we’re even worse off because we’re so out of practice. On every mission trip I plan, I try to include a daily time for each person to share the high of the day, the low of the day, and—most importantly—somewhere they saw God’s grace in their day. Inevitably, locating God’s grace is the most challenging task for everyone. One night this year, after sharing our high-low-grace moments with our small group, one of the youth mused, “You know, it can be really hard to think of a place where we’ve seen grace, sometimes. Which is weird, because I know there’s lot of it everywhere.” I calmly nodded, trying to mask my excitement at his self-revelation. “Yes, it definitely is,” I affirmed; “That’s why it’s so important for us to make the time to find it. So that it gets easier over time to recognize it.” He shrugged and ran off, probably relieved that he didn’t have to come up with a second moment of grace to share with me. Metaphorically speaking, he’d already managed to find Waldo once that day—and it had not been easy. But at least he was starting to realize that his struggle wasn’t Waldo’s fault.

God wants to be found. Just as the psalmist yearns to be in God’s presence, so too does God yearn to be noticed. After all, you can’t be in relationship with someone that you don’t even realize is there. When we do it right, that’s the point of a retreat like the one we had last weekend: we go somewhere different, somewhere outside of the routine, in the hopes that we’ll better be able to notice God around us. That instead of blending into our everyday surroundings, the glory of the Lord will fill the new place, such that we can’t help but notice.

And yet, that’s the opposite of what Solomon tried to do with his trap for—uh, I mean, temple for God. Instead of finding a context where HE would be more open to God, he tried to create a space to insist that God be more open to HIM. For a people who are so singularly bad at noticing when God is present (which is to say: always), we’re awfully concerned with making sure that God is paying attention to us. But I wonder if perhaps God knows this about us and uses this very human inclination of ours for good.

It’s certainly more than we deserve. In my opinion, this scenario calls for some good old-fashioned passive-aggression on God’s part. Whenever an entitled person demands that you show up somewhere at a certain time solely for their convenience, what’s the first thing you want to do?...Not show up—exactly. But that’s not what God does at all. God not only shows up, but God invites us in. Although God didn’t need a house, God still allowed Solomon’s temple to become a place for the Jewish people to encounter God for hundreds of years, until it was destroyed by foreign powers. While the psalmist longs to be in God’s court, God sees that desire and does one better. God takes what we build to be GOD’S house and makes it OUR house. Our shared home, together. God’s insists that God’s home is a place of mutual dwelling, despite our best efforts to make it just about finding God. We are invited to abide in God JUST AS GOD ABIDES IN US[2]—scripture rarely proposes one without the other. Can you imagine if, while you were trying to find Waldo, Waldo was not only waving you down, but inviting you in to meet him? That’d make for a pretty easy puzzle, wouldn’t it?

Instead of demanding that God stay in one place, a home base that’s easy for us to find, perhaps we should shift our focus. Maybe it’s time for us to start thinking about coming home to meet God, instead. But if God’s home isn’t about the walls or the roof or the building, what part of God’s home SHOULD we be emphasizing? To answer that, I think we need to remember what was in the ark that the priests brought into the inner sanctuary. What was the pièce de résistance that completed the temple, the thing that made it whole and complete and truly God’s home? It was the tablets from Mount Sinai, the symbol of God’s covenant with God’s people. In short—the ark contained God’s promise. It’s not the walls we build or the magic words we say or the demands we make that draw God to us. It’s God’s promise to be our God and for us to be God’s people that draws us together, that draws us home. Maybe we shouldn’t be counting on God’s striped shirt, or black glasses, or a feeling we feel, or a special holy place to assure us that we can find God when we need help. Maybe instead, we should be looking towards the promises that God has made. God is faithful; where God’s promises are, there God will be also.

So THAT’S why places like Solomon’s temple and our church building—all church buildings—are so important. Not because they’re where we can catch God, but because they’re special places where we can MEET God and rediscover God’s promises to us. That’s why things like worship and community fellowship and Christian Education are a critical part of our life together. Because they’re the part of place, this home, that reminds us of God’s promises—and what we’re called to do in response to those promises.

Do we mess up? Of course we do! Just as no building can contain God, no community can perfectly encapsulate God’s promise to the world. But does that mean we give up? Of course it doesn’t! It means that we remember what God’s promise says, we hold one another accountable, and we keep being the church reformed, always reforming. We keep working, so that God’s promise can be manifested in God’s kingdom on earth. So that all can truly be at home with God.

God’s home is where God’s promise is. It’s where we can find hope and direction. It’s where we can find God, not because we demand it, but because God has chosen to dwell here for our sakes and for the sake of God’s covenant with us. Each week, we come to this home that we share with God, knowing that we can find God throughout creation, but recognizing that this is a unique place where God’s promise is recalled, renewed, and restored in our lives. It can be hard to find time in our busy lives to come home and seek out God, but we all need reminding, and that’s really not something that we can do for ourselves. It takes a household, a community, a family, to do that. That’s why we’re all here.

So where IS Waldo—I mean, God? God is here, in this space, because God promised to be. Remember God’s promises. Welcome home. We have a lot of work to do.



[1] 2 Samuel 7
[2] John 15:4, John 6:56, Revelation 3:20, 1 John 3:24, etc.

No comments:

Post a Comment