Religion, no matter how one might define the term, for most people evokes the notion of a quest or a journey in search of something more. It is a pursuit of things beyond what we experience in our normal day to day, or perhaps even more, it is a search that gives a deeper meaning to our day-to-day activities. Therefore, religion is understood as seeking answers regarding our purpose and helping to define a goal for our life. People go to a church because they are hoping to find something. They hope to find God, and with Him, life, salvation, assurance, hope, and all that comes with Him. Most religions have a system, with some more detailed and prescribed than others, but a system non-the-less of how you can find what you are seeking. From practices of prayer, to works of service, or sacrificial living we are often told there are ways to find what we are looking for. In this way, God is envisioned as hiding away somewhere and religion holds the key to discovering Him. Yet, the Christian faith, our faith, is something different. Its central message turns out to not be about how we too can find our God but rather about a God who finds us. It is not about our work to uncover God, but God’s work to uncover you.
The prophet Isaiah says, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call on Him while He is near. Our God is a God who can be found, a God who draws near to His people. Our God is a God who locates Himself for your salvation, for your hope and assurance. This may seem easy and obvious to us, but it is a shocking thing for a God to do. He is not far removed, hiding away on a mountaintop waiting for us to perform the proper tasks before He deems us worthy to appear before Him. No, He comes down and declares precisely where He can be found, where we can get ahold of Him. This separates our faith from all others. Our God is one of mercy and compassion, a God that fills our days with meaning and purpose here and now.
Because of His grace and mercy, our God does not come into the here and now full of His terror and majesty. His unveiled glory would consume sinners like us. Remember, Moses had once asked to see His glory, and God said, “You cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.” So, as He comes, He veils Himself. God comes through means, lowly tangible things which allow us to find Him. The first place we find our Lord is in His Word, His self-disclosure of Himself. The Word of God is the gift of God’s self. It is the language of creation and the work of redemption. It is a living and powerful thing. The voice that spoke the world into being is taken up by the prophets and apostles as it establishes and guides the Church to this very day. The Word of God proclaims truth into our world, truth about this age, about its judgment, and where hope is found. It is the truth about who you are and the condition of your heart. It is the truth about what God has done, is doing, and will do in the future.
The Word of God hits us in our life as both commands and promises, as no and yes, as Law and Gospel. It tears down and builds up, and in doing so leads us to despair of our own works and cling to those of Christ alone. When God finds you with His Word, He shows you your sin. He declares you have fallen short of His glory and have sinned in thoughts, words, and deeds. You justly deserve eternal punishment. He finds you and kills your pride and self-righteousness. Yet, the same God who works this death in you through His Word, also works to bring new life. In His Word, He gives to you all the works of Christ. He binds you to His Son, who has suffered in your place. He connects you to Himself and declares you to be hairs of eternal life. This is why Isaiah will call us to return to the Lord, so He may have compassion and pardon the repentant sinner. As a result, we marvel at the grace of our Lord. We stand in awe of a God who comes near and seeks us out.
But He does not stop with His Word. Surely it would be enough. It brings about death and gives life. Yet, He comes in other ways as well, further means to get ahold of you, to give you assurance of your salvation. He comes in the waters of Holy Baptism. Here the promise of the Word is united to water so you might be washed in the name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit. What comfort there is in this! What strength and joy. Saint Paul will say, “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 from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” So, as the concerns of our age rise, as the doubts and fears try once gain to choke out the faith given by the Word of God and you begin to wonder if you really are saved, if you really are redeemed, you can say, “Yes. Yes, I am.” Not because of your works, your finding of God, but because He has found you. He has washed you. He has clothed you in all the works of Christ your Lord.
Isaiah says, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.” He comes near. He allows Himself to be found in water and Word washed over you, declaring for all to hear, “This is my child. Here is an heir of eternal life.” So, we turn to Him. We remember our baptism. We cling to His work.
But God does not stop there, does He? No, the One who washes you, who calls you by name also feeds you with promises of life and salvation. In, with, and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper you are given the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Take, eat, this is My body… Take, drink, this is My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” They are gifts given right here in our midst. It is an embrace of our God, declaring you have been found. You are the beneficiaries of all He has done.
Truly our God is a God who comes near and will not abandon His people. With the Word, He works death and life. With the waters of Baptism, He anoints you and sets you apart as His own children. In the Supper, He strengthens you with His promises so you might endure unto eternal life. These gifts are an overflowing cup of blessing. They continue to call you, to define you, and to work forgiveness in you. When we gather here, these gifts burst forth into a living voice that echoes in your ears. The promises of our God are not just remembered, like some glorified history lesson. No, they are spoken and worked even now. We gather together and confess our sins, saying the truth of the Word of God, and then we hear those sweet words of absolution. We hear the unbelievable good news. In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all of your sins, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Yet, He gives even more. In Word and Sacrament our God comes near. He locates Himself. He says to you, “Find Me here, where I have first found you.” These gifts, these means of salvation stand at the heart of our fellowship. But even the fellowship itself, created and sustained by these gifts, is another means by which we are found. Look around. Look at these brothers and sisters in Christ. These too have been washed, fed, and forgiven as you have. Our God has seen fit to bring us together at this time, in this place. You speak hope into the lives of each other. You can love, have compassion, and offer guidance and strength. Here we give a testimony to the world about what it means to be found by God.
Sure, it may seem small, weak, or foolish to establish a fellowship like this, with sinners like us, but as we read, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord.” You have been found and gathered together, set apart from the world. This moment matters. This time has been established and blessed by a God who has gotten ahold of us all.