I’ve told the following story before, but I think it bears retelling for this morning’s sermon:
A couple had two little boys, ages 8 and 10, who were excessively mischievous. They were always getting into trouble and their parents knew that, if any mischief occurred in their town, their sons were probably involved.
They boys' mother heard that a clergyman in town had been successful in disciplining children, so she asked if he would speak with her boys. The clergyman agreed, but asked to see them individually. So the mother sent her 8-year-old first, in the morning, with the older boy to see the clergyman in the afternoon.
The clergyman, a huge man with a booming voice, sat the younger boy down and asked him sternly, "Where is God?"
They boy's mouth dropped open, but he made no response, sitting there with his mouth hanging open, wide-eyed. So the clergyman repeated the question in an even sterner tone, "Where is God!!?" Again the boy made no attempt to answer. So the clergyman raised his voice even more and shook his finger in the boy's face and bellowed, "WHERE IS GOD!?"
The boy screamed and bolted from the room, ran directly home and dove into his closet, slamming the door behind him. When his older brother found him in the closet, he asked, "What happened?"
The youngest brother gasped for breath and replied, "We are in BIG trouble this time dude. God is missing and they think WE did it!"
I laugh nearly every time I hear that joke, because of the absurdity of it. I mean how can God go missing? Is it even possible? For many of us, the thought is almost unreal.
Yet, for some people, the thought is a very serious one. For some people the thought that God has gone missing isn’t just a joke but a reality. Sometimes, folks find themselves surrounded by circumstances they don’t understand; circumstances that drag them down; circumstances that blot out all forms of hope and happiness. Sometimes when faced with such circumstances and such crisis, people scream out, "WHERE IS GOD?" And they really, really mean it.
When someone asks such a question, it is not to be taken lightly or dismissed altogether. It demands an answer.
Most of the time, my default answer heads straight to the crucifixion of Jesus. Most of you know the story. Most of you know how Jesus was the Son of God who lived out God’s will perfectly. You know how He healed the sick, raised the dead, gave hope to the hopeless, fed the hungry, and brought God’s Word to the people. You also know the reward He got from humanity: being hung from a cross. Perhaps you also remember one of Jesus’ seven last words from the cross? Perhaps you remember when Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?" The ironic piece of that cry is the fact that Jesus is God incarnate. The ironic piece of that cry is God is hanging from the cross crying out such a thing.
The ironic piece of that cry is at the time when it seems like God is most absent, God is actually most present, hanging, suffering on that cross. When I point this out to people, I try to inform them that even though they perceive God’s absence, He is actually most present with them. Sometimes this helps.
But not always. Sometimes, they can’t fathom this understanding of God’s presence in the midst of their suffering. So, then I pull out another standby. I remind them of Jesus’ teaching of the last judgement in Matthew chapter 25. I remind them how Jesus informed His followers that on the day of judgement, they would be brought before Him. They would be informed that they would enter paradise for the times they had cared for Jesus. Remember how that one went? The saved would ask, "Lord, when did we care for you?" And Jesus would reply, "Whenever you fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited those sick and in prison–whenever you did such things for the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me." I remind folks that Jesus is those who suffer. Therefore, they may be Jesus to others at that moment which is a humbling thought indeed. Sometimes this works. Sometimes, it doesn’t.
But there is one other thing that must be breached. There is one other topic of conversation that must be brought to the front when people scream out, "WHERE IS GOD?" It is the topic of the sacrament.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus says, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever."
As I said last week, either the person who said this is indeed God or He is a nutcase. We as people of faith believe the former. We believe Jesus is God. We believe He has left us a gift of unbelievable power–a gift of unbelievable strength. He has left us His body and His blood in the sacrament of Holy Communion.
Now, in one manner, this might cause us to cringe. I am reminded of the movie Gandhi were a Catholic priest is riding on top of a train with a bunch of Hindus. One of the men strikes up a conversation with the priest. The priest informs the man he is a Christian.
The Hindu replies, "Ah, yes. My sister is a Christian. She is a cannibal."
The priest says, "What?"
"Every week she eats the flesh of her Lord."
That’s a show stopper right there for some for eating a person’s flesh is very much outside the norm of acceptable human behavior. Which is why we as Lutherans believe in a little thing called the real presence of Christ in, with, and under the bread and wine. We do not believe the bread and wine in Holy Communion actually become the body and blood of Jesus–instead we believe His real presence is there in the Sacrament in a way we simply cannot explain or understand. When we eat, we eat and taste bread. When we drink, we drink and taste wine. Yet, somehow, in the midst of doing such things, we also believe we are receiving Jesus Himself. We believe He is entering into us: forgiving our sins and strengthening our faith.
This is a very important thing for us to remember when dealing with those who scream, "WHERE IS GOD?" For if all else fails, we can say, "Come with me. Come to worship with me, and when we have Holy Communion, come to the table with me. Have an open heart and mind when you head forward for you will find God. You will find Jesus. Come and receive Him and allow Him to strengthen your faith and forgive your sins. Come to the table and receive Jesus for He is God and He is longing to reach out to you in your pain, in your suffering, and in your questioning. No longer ask, ‘Where is God?’ for He is here in the bread and in the wine. Come, receive Jesus." Amen.