Most of you have heard the story of how I cane to be a pastor. It was not my childhood dream or a sense of duty or something like that. It happened slowly and with great resistance on my part. It came through a growing love for theology and a deep desire to know more. The central question I sought answers for was the fundamental inquiry which has long been at the heart of Christian theology. It is, quite simply, “What must I do to be saved?” Do I look toward my own works for assurance of salvation? Do I spend my time trying to create the right experience so I might know salvation? Or, do I simply trust in the promises of God? Do I cling to Christ alone for my salvation? Different theological traditions have worked this through different ways, dealing with the Word of God and human experience and our free will or lack of it. These questions led me, ultimately, to the seminary and over time to becoming a preacher of the Word, to proclaim the answer to this age-old question.
But since becoming a pastor I have regularly been reminded how there are other questions in need of answering. There are other questions occupying the hearts and minds of God’s children and, perhaps, especially of those who wonder if they are in fact one of Gods children. More and more I am becoming convinced the primary question is not simply, “What must I do to be saved?” but what is the location of salvation, where do I find it, can you point it out? Or to put it simply, the question is, “Where is God?” This issue, I suppose, assumes the divine. It begins with a starting point of the existence of God, but where do we find Him? If someone was on a spiritual quest seeking an experience with the holy, where would you lead them? To what might you direct their attention?
I remember a good friend of mine, who is also a pastor, once told me the story of a member of his who had missed worship on Sunday. They had a good relationship and often joked with each other. When she showed up at church the next Sunday, she said something along the lines of, “Sorry I missed you last week pastor, but I was communing with God in my kayak on the Saint John’s River.” To which my friend answered without hesitation and said, “Well, too bad He wasn’t communing with you.” And you have to wonder if God was found there on the river? Was He more there than He is in church on Sunday morning? Can you be sure? Or I remember taking a group of kids to a camp in the mountains of North Carolina and one of the counselors opened the week with a prayer in which she prayed to God saying, “Help us to find you in unexpected places.” I thought, why? Why do we need Him in unexpected places? Have the old places grown too dusty and boring? Perhaps.
The interesting thing is the answer to this question of where we find God becomes defining for churches. After all, a church is full of people from various situations in life, facing various struggles, undergoing various bouts of doubt, depression and longing and they have come to find God in their life. You are not much of a church if you cannot tell the faithful where to find Him. Some look to the history and majesty of the institution itself as a location of God. He is in the teachings handed down and the rituals which are carried out. Many others turn inward to find God. He lives in your heart and you need to find Him there. Through prayer, meditations and spiritual songs you are awakened to God’s presence and His love and care for you. Proof of God’s presence in both options lies in the works you do. You rise above your old self. You clean up your act. You change and become a better person and then we know you have found God. But have you? Can you be sure?
You see, the quest to find God or to be where God has located Himself for us has always been the mark of His people. In Luke’s Gospel we are told this fascinating story of Jesus as a young man, a 12-year-old boy. His parents went up to Jerusalem every year for the Feast of the Passover. Why did they do that? Why go to Jerusalem? Well, that was where the Temple was. The Temple was the place where you found God. God dwelt there for His people. It was there the sacrifices were made. At the Temple, the incense was offered up and He met His people to forgive them their sins. In other words, they found God exactly where they expected Him to be. But something happens in this account. On their way home they lose Jesus.
Apparently, they assume He is with others and they begin to make the long journey home. When they go to camp for the night, they find the horrible discovery, He is not there. They rush back to Jerusalem and, in a panic, they search for Him. They ask those who know Jesus, know who He is and where He comes from, but they cannot find him. Finally, they discover Him, after three days, in the Temple. He is there speaking with the teachers. He is asking questions and listening to what they have to say. All are amazed by Him, all but His mother. Mary is relieved, mad, overjoyed and angry all at the same time. Then we hear the first recorded words of Jesus. “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus is doing what is necessary, what the Father calls Him to do, what He has come to do. Jesus will not conform to the expectations and the desires of this world. Later, we learn to see Him is to see God. To hear Him is to hear the Word of God. To find Jesus is to find God. So, where do we find Him?
We are reminded by this text how we are not in control of God. We do not get to decide where and when He will show up or certainly what He will do when He does. But we are not just left to wander around in the darkness searching for Him either. No, He has promised to be found. He has located Himself for your blessing, for your hope and confidence. And so, Saint Paul will declare, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried, therefore, with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised form the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). In the waters of Baptism, you have found God for you. God united you to His son’s death. God crucified your sins so He might raise you to new life.
Jesus says to His disciples, “Take and eat, this is My body which is given for you. Take and drink, this is My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.” He gives His body and blood for your forgiveness and He gives it in, with and under the bread and the wine of His supper. He is found here for you. Found so you might truly commune with Him, so you might know that in Christ alone you are given life everlasting. When we gather in this place, when we come into the company of our brothers and sisters, we are told He is located here for us. Jesus is in the words of absolution, when one declares how you are forgiven all your sins in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Here you find God speaking His promises to you again.
If the question is, “Where do we find God?” the only answer we can give with any assurance is He is found where He promised to be for you. Can you find Him in acts of kindness in the face of adversity? Yes! Can you find Him in the beauty of creation, in a sunrise or out kayaking on a river? Sure, you can! Can you find Him in the emotions and feelings which come from worship and praise? Yes! You can find Him there in the beauty, power, awe and mystery. But He has promised to be found every time in His simple, lowly gifts; in His Word and Sacraments. This is not just God in the abstract and overwhelming, this is God for you. Here you experience God forgiving you, loving you, and promising you life and salvation.
Rejoice my friends, for you have found your God. Or rather, He has once again found you.