Jan 17, 2016 – Jesus’ Work: Where Is God?

by Pastor Cherie Johnson

This week our scripture passage comes from the Gospel of John. It is the most mystical of the Gospels. Scholars think that it was written last, about 15 to 20 years after the last of the others, around the year 80 A.D. The author has had more time for reflection and consideration. Many people say that this is the Gospel that they like or connect with the best, but it can also be the most difficult to understand. It draws a lot from the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, and there are times when its form draws a parallel to the Hebrew Bible.


Our Scripture passage this morning does that. The first several verses of John draw their inspiration from the first chapter of Genesis. Let me read a little bit of that as a reminder, beginning with the very first verse of Genesis.


     1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
     3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5)


Genesis goes on to poetically describe the creation of the earth and everything on it including animals and people. One more thing to know is that Jesus was often referred to as the Word, in other words, the walking talking word of God.


As we read today’s scripture, keep these two ideas in mind. Jesus is the Word, and John is drawing parallels in his opening verses to the opening verses of Genesis that we just read. Starting in John 1: 1


John 1:1-5, 14
     1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
     3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

     14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.


Today, we’re talking about Jesus’ Work: Where is God? People ask that all the time. Tragedy strikes, and people say, “Where is God?” Has God left the building, so to speak?


That is certainly a question the Jewish people were asking the three to four hundred years before Jesus’ birth. There were no new prophets. The area of Israel, which became known as Palestine, was conquered over and over. And, as we looked at this during Advent, God promised a kingdom without end under a king from the line of King David, and it just wasn’t happening.


Jesus was born, and there was some renewed hope, at least among the people who were told about it. Jesus began his ministry about 30 years later, and there was a lot more hope. That faded a bit at the crucifixion, but it grew to overflowing at the realization of Jesus’ resurrection, as the church began to grow.


But now, a couple of thousand years later, we see what’s happening in the world and to the world, and it’s a natural question. Where is God? Believe me, it has been asked countless times in the past two thousand years.


[There once was a young mother at her] wit’s end with her two boys, ages 8 and 10. The boys constantly engaged in mischief. Through the grapevine this mother heard that a [local pastor] had great success in disciplining children. So she asked him if he would speak with her boys. [The pastor] agreed but asked to see them individually. The next morning the mother sent her 8 year old to see [the pastor], with the older boy scheduled to see him that afternoon.


[The pastor], a huge man with a booming voice, sat the younger boy down in the sanctuary, then asked him sternly, “Where is God?”


The boy’s mouth dropped open, but he made no response. He just stared at the pastor, wide-eyed, with his mouth hanging open.


So the pastor repeated the question in even a sterner tone: “Where is God?”


Again the boy made no attempt to answer.


So [the pastor] raised his voice even more, shook his finger in the boy’s face, and shouted, “WHERE IS GOD?”


The boy screamed at the top of his lungs, bolted from the church, ran home, and dove into his bedroom closet, slamming the door behind him.


His older brother rushed to the bedroom and said, “What happened?”


The younger brother gasping for breath replied, “We’re in big trouble this time. God is missing, and they think we did it!”


It’s a funny story, but the question is important. Where is God, [or another way to say it is] where is God at work in the world? Is God at work in the world? [1]


Yes, God is at work all over the world. The way that God often works is revealed a bit in our Scripture passage today if we can see past the poetic description and look at what it really says. The most of vital part comes from verse 14, “The Word,” that is Jesus, “became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The theological term for this is “incarnation.” God in human form. With Jesus, God chose to act or work in the world as a person.


Though Jesus is the most direct way, the Bible is full of examples of God using people to do God’s work. In fact, most of the Bible is made of examples and stories of humans working on behalf of God. Joseph saving the Israelite people from famine. Moses rescuing Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Through the prophets he talked to Israel’s and Judah’s kings and people. God still uses them to talk to us. When it was time to appear in human flesh, God worked through a young woman named Mary.


When Jesus began his ministry, he gathered people together, taught them, and sent them out to do God’s work. After his resurrection, he sent them to the whole world. And we, as their heirs in the faith, are a part of that.


Obviously, in some of these events God also took direct action whether we are talking about the parting of the Red Sea with Moses to allow the Israelites to escape or the miracles that Jesus and the apostles performed. God is sovereign. God can choose to act directly if God wants, but most often God acts through people. It matches perfectly with what we talked about a couple of weeks ago when we considered what matters most in following God. Jesus said, loving God first and also loving others. This is relational, and God working in the world through people is also relational.


When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, His Spirit lives in us and work through us. That is part of what it means to say that the church is the Body of Christ. The church is not this building. This building is where the church meets. We are the church, and through us we are called to be the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus, literally. We have become a part of this incarnation of God through Jesus! As I mentioned with the servant blessing a couple of weeks ago, we are God’s agents. Just as James Bond is an agent for Her Majesty’s Secret Service, we are agents for a much greater power. We are quite literally on a mission from God.


We can see God at work in many places through many people. In the Methodist Church, God works through us around the world. David Cook tells you many things each week, but really, they are just the tip of the iceberg. We build schools and hospitals. A major achievement is Africa University in Zimbabwe. It has more than 1,200 students from 22 African countries. Through Imagine No Malaria, we have helped to cut new cases of malaria in half. That still allows millions of new cases, so there’s still a lot of work to do. Through our apportionments and other donations, you are a part of these ways that God works in the world, demonstrating God’s presence in the world.


Another way God works through us is in disaster relief. Through the United Methodist Committee on Relief, UMCOR, we help people in all kinds of disasters. It is supported through donations, but it is also a way that this church becomes directly involved. In just over a month of group will visit the UMCOR Depot in Salt Lake City to help put together disaster kits and other kinds of kits that help people deal with the aftermath of natural disasters.


Where is God? God is in the face of someone putting together a disaster bucket. God is right here in our Wallowa County community. God is providing meals for our neighbors when they are sick or recovering from injury. God is collecting things all year so that children can go Christmas shopping. God is driving 1 ½ hours to pick someone up who is stranded because their car broke down. God is giving a hug to someone because they feel blue, and they are not sure they can take it one more day. And again, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I see God every day through all of you!


I certainly see it work in the Magic Garden and with our new fellowship building. One of the extraordinary things about the Magic Garden, in addition to all the food that produces for people in Wallowa County, is the way that it helps people from outside our church to interact, see, and be used by God. When we talk about evangelism, we often think of inviting people to worship services. Don’t get me wrong, I do want you to do that, but every time we invite someone outside of our church to participate in the Magic Garden or the help with the Children’s Christmas store or anything else we might do in the community, we are evangelizing. We are showing God to them and inviting them to be a part of God’s work, to be God’s agents.


But to what end? We can make a list of all the things God does through us, but what is the point? It is when we see the face of the delighted child who has planted his first seed or harvested her first bean. It is the excitement of a boy who has presents for everyone on his Christmas list, completely wrapped, and in a special red bag for the grand total $2.75. It is for the person who is going to have fresh nutritious produce for the first time in weeks, maybe months. It is the person receiving that hug at just the right moment. Jesus is working through us, and we become Jesus for that child, that man or woman.


Where is God? Jesus teaches us through his life and his work that God works incarnationally through people. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Jesus passed that down through His apostles, all the way down to us, you and me!


There was the story about a woman who locked her keys in her car in the rough part of a big city. She found an old coat hanger laying on the street and tried to break in, but with no success. Feeling desperate, she finally prayed, “Dear God, please send somebody to help me.” Within five minutes an old rusty car pulled up. A rough-looking, tattooed, bearded man wearing a biker skull rag walked towards her. She thought, Great Scott! This is who God sent to help me? But she was desperate. So when the man asked if he could help, she said, “Can you help me break into my car?”


He said, “Sure, I’m good at that. He took the coat hanger, walked over to her car, and in 30 seconds flat opened the door.”


She hugged him and said, “Thank you so much. You are a very nice man.”


He replied, “Lady, I’m not a nice man. I got out of prison just today. I served two years for auto theft and have only been out for about an hour.”


The woman hugged the man again and shouted with great enthusiasm, “Thank you, God, for sending me a professional!”[2]


Where is God? God is everywhere and can work through anyone, even you. Where is God prompting you to get involved? What are you good at? What do you enjoy? That is often where your gifts and talents lay. In your bulletin, you will see our list of our Top Five Ways to Serve this week. Is there something there that resonates with you or captures your attention? There are also your Spiritual Gifts, broader categories that can help you know what to consider or say “yes” to. Unsure about your Spiritual gifts? Did you know that your Spiritual gifts can change? They are based on the needs that the Holy Spirit perceives. On your insert there is a website where you can take a Spiritual Gifts survey. You can do it at home or on the computer here. If you’re more of paper and pencil kind of person, you can do that too. Know that we are the right people with the right gifts to do what God would have us do here and now!


One of the things we believe as Christians is that God is present.  In Proverbs 16:9 it says, “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps” (NSRV). We think we are in control, but God knows or directs what will be put in our path, whom or what we will encounter. It is a part of what we refer to as God’s Providence. Through most of time, God has chosen to work incarnationally, through people. Through the persons of Abraham and Sara, God created a great nation and a way through whom all the peoples of the earth would be blessed (Gen 12:2-3). Through the person of Jesus, God saved the world (John3:17). God still works through people, each and every day. How is God going to work through you?




[1] Martin Thielen, “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?”: A Guide to What Matters Most (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 204-205.
[2] Thielen, 98-99.
Categorized as Sermon