A ten-year-old, under the tutelage of her grandmother, was
becoming knowledgeable about the Bible. But one day, she surprised
her grandmother by asking, "Which virgin was the mother of Jesus?
Was it the Virgin Mary or the King James Virgin?"
Translations of the Bible abound and can be confusing some
times. But today's Gospel lesson is quite clear in all of them:
God came to earth and became one of us. The title of today's
sermon is "In Your Face." It's an expression used to mean that
something is right in front of your nose. It is also used
sometimes as a phrase of irritation, that someone is getting in
your face, that they are closing in on your space, sometimes even
that when they speak to you they are so close to your face that
your inclination is to take a step backwards.
In the lessons today from Jeremiah, the Psalms and the Gospel,
we have instances of God being in our face. Right here-involved
totally with us. Right here-trying to make us aware, trying to
make us learn, trying to make us appreciate, trying to make us be
compassionate, caring, loving. Right here, assuring us, loving us,
caring for us, redeeming us, comforting us, sustaining us, giving
us sustenance, supplying abundance, offering us peace, giving us
things to rejoice about, giving us things to dance about, turning
our mourning into joy.
This is a God who is "In Your Face."
And yet, in the face of enormous tragedy, perhaps the greatest
known natural disaster, the earthquake and tsunami of South Asia
of a week ago today, people of faith wonder "Where is God?" People
of NO faith are reassured of their position that the loving God we
believers speak of does not exist. What loving God would allow
such things to happen, they offer. There is no such thing as the
infallible, perfect God we believe in, they say, because the
natural world was created with flaws-flaws so that earthquakes and
tidal waves can wreak havoc upon the rest of creation.
But we believers don't have to struggle with such questions; we
don't have to feel that we are on the defensive because we believe
in and witness to a loving God who is here, now, in our face. And
here's three ways in which we know that.
First, we know that God created a perfect living planet. God's
earth is continually changing. God created a living planet. A
living planet is not static, is not stagnant. A moving earth is a
living, changing earth. Even as we humans grow to maturity and
beyond, we realize life is constant change, and there is recurring
death and life: skins cells die and are replaced; blood is
renewed; infected cells die and are replaced with new ones.
As we look around us, one type of vegetation replaces another.
In the cycle of seasons life dies, is transformed and is reborn.
Life and death are part of our journey as human beings. When we
look at ourselves as human beings we know that the Bible teaches
that we were created perfect, but somehow we messed that up. We
started acting like God, thinking we knew how to care for
creation. But instead of being stewards, we abused and continue to
abuse creation. We humans not only created negativity for
ourselves, but we brought that negativity to the environment: to
the land we use and need; to the air we need to breathe; to the
water we need to drink and to nourish life forms on this earth.
We don't know what God's original design was for the earth. If
we say it was created perfectly, we don't know that earthquakes,
tornadoes, hurricanes, cyclones, tidal waves whatever, were part
of the original natural design.
We do know that there are great forces in nature. It takes
great force for something in nature to be born. Even as human
beings we are born against incredible odds, incredible forces
working against us. Think of the force it takes for a blade of
grass to break through an almost cement-like earth to find the
sun. Or how far some roots have to reach to find water. The
process of on-going life and on-going creation is not some
sentimental process. It's a process of enormous forces. Once we
ARE alive, we must, every single moment, fight off disease. We are
bombarded incessantly with germs and viruses and our bodies are in
a constant state of fighting them off.
Sometimes we are weakened in our ability to fight this battle
because of factors that are in the environment-negative factors
placed into the environment by humans today and over the course of
history as we mistreat, abuse, pollute and kill the very things we
need to sustain life on this planet.
Second, natural disasters are not God's doing. God is not
wreaking havoc upon us. They are either a natural part of the
on-going changing life of the planet or they are of our own
making. That is, we have altered, and continue to alter, the
environment in such negative ways that the balance of nature is
continually being upset. Yet we choose to ignore this or deny
this. Even in the face of actual photographs of the shrinking ice
masses at both ends of the earth, there are still spin specialists
who represent the greed of governments or greed of individuals or
corporations who will denounce global warming as a myth created by
Even we right here in Maryland recognize that the climate is
changing, weather patterns are changing. There are more extremes.
Record colds and record high temperatures are recorded. The number
of tornadoes increases, the number of devastating hurricanes
increases. On and on. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to
recognize things are changing. And every one of us, as we live our
lives, thinking that it doesn't matter if we recycle, it doesn't
matter what fluorocarbons we put into the atmosphere, it doesn't
matter what we burn or what we exhaust our cars put out-we think
we have nothing to do with it. We hardly try at all in our
And yet God, in our face, calls to us over and over and over.
What will it take to make us realize that what we do, the way we
live our lives affects the planet on which we live, from which we
are nourished, sustained as human beings? What will it take for us
to realize that we are indeed a global village? What we do or
don't do on this side of the world affects the other side of the
world. And what happens there affects us here.
We humans have created and continue to create conditions that
will only bring about more devastation. Not only corporations or
government, but we as individuals in what we do each day that
hurts the environment.
God is not punishing certain people who died or were injured in
these, or any other, natural disaster. It's not God that withholds
food from human beings. It is human beings that do that. There is
enough food and water in this world for everyone. But we have to
share. We have to care about sharing. We have to care that people
are starving. We have to DO something about it. Look at the
response of the world to this recent natural disaster. And yet,
why have we not done anything about the incredible disaster of
starvation in the Sudan where thousands die every day?
Third, God is in our face as our creator, redeemer and
sustainer. God is in our face as our support, our strength, our
comfort. God is SHOUTING to us trying to make us realize that
through Christ and the Holy Spirit WE are God's hands made real in
the world. Even though we have messed up the earth, messed up the
on-going life of human beings, God has not left us wanting, not
left us just to flounder, to suffer from our continual mistakes.
No, God stands by us, stands with us, Immanuel, God with us. God
is there to support us, strengthen us, guide us through the mess
we have made. God is there for us if we will turn to God for the
strength and guidance. God does not take away the consequences of
our actions, but sustains us in coping with the challenges we
create for ourselves.
God in our face, a living God is seen all over the world, as
people of faith, and people with no faith, become the heart and
hands of God as they are motivated and mobilized by basic
instincts, basic God impulses (whether they recognize them as that
or not) to reach out to those in need, whether those needs be
physical, emotional or spiritual.
All over the world, men and women are reaching out to those who
are suffering. We see hearts broken; we see prayers offered; we
see help is volunteered; we see wallets and pocketbooks opened.
The Bible is full of guidance for us as to how to respond. And
if we don't respond willingly, in compassion when God needs our
hands, God will use us whether we are open to it or not. And when
God uses us against our will, we find that our lives take a turn
for the worse. Since we won't give freely, the laws of the
universe that God created will work against us in our selfishness,
our greed, our lack of concern, for others or for the environment.
In a wonderful article I received over the internet from the
editor of a magazine, HOMELETICS, a magazine for pastors and
others interested in studying Scripture, Timothy Merrill writes,
"The point is that in this present crisis, we see that our
hands become the hands of God, our feet the feet of God, our words
the words of God. As my colleague Stan Purdum, a writer and
Methodist minister puts it: 'This is a time to urge the church to
be the church, and remember that when Jesus told us to love our
neighbor, he had a REALLY big neighborhood in mind.'
"And the church is being the church. Every denomination is
gearing up to provide relief and aid to the suffering.
Church-related staffers and doctors are nurses and truck drives
and mechanics and carpenters are on their way to the Pacific Rim
as we speak.
"In other words, we're responding to the tsunami with a faith
tsunami of our own! A tidal wave of love and compassion that will
sweep across the bodies, if not the souls, of thousands upon
thousands affected by this disaster.
"And we're soberly reminded that in our own communities, there
are similar disasters, on a much smaller scale, that occur every
day. People all around us are swept out to sea, hit by tsunamis
they didn't see coming. They're floundering emotionally,
spiritually and financially. Their lives have been shredded to
ribbons. Their relationships are in tatters. They're looking for
help. They're looking for love. And the church must be the
In your face. God couldn't be more in my face and yours. We
just had a reminder in celebrating Christmas that God is with us.
Immanuel, God is here, now, not out there in the sky and at some
distance, not a God of some time ago as recorded just in words in
In your face. Here. Now. Empowering each one of us to be his
heart and hands. Willing or unwilling. If God needs us, he uses
us. Believe me, when God opens our eyes to the needs of others, it
isn't just a matter of sending cash to help those on the other
side of the world; God opens our eyes to see the needs of brothers
and sisters right here in our community, our state, our country
who need our hearts and hands to work for God.
That's how we believers know that our God is a loving, caring,
involved God. God, in the birth and life and suffering and death
and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, is involved with us. Jesus
taught us how to cope, how to meet challenges, how to love, how to
forgive, how to be compassionate, but we so often choose not to
follow what he has taught us. And the more we stray from what he
taught us (loving one another, sharing with one another and caring
for one another and all that God created) the more havoc we bring
about on ourselves.
Believers have to care about EVERONE, even those who are NOT
believers, those of NO faith. Jesus didn't tell us to care only
about those who believe in him, but to care for all of God's
people, all of God's creation.
The tsunamis may have happened in South Asia, but it got our
attention, and God is not going to let us pretend to be unaware
any longer. I know, because just this week I had three instances
of God in my face-as I was asked to help others at a time when it
was totally inconvenient for me to help. I had a full schedule
already. I had appointments to keep-people to see, places to be.
But I had to alter plans, to work around situations, because I
realized that God brought those people to me because I needed to
remember that helping is NOT always convenient or easy. God in
your face is the people all around us who need what we have that
God gave us to share with others.
God in your face when you are becoming more and more detached
or removed because you are relying on your strength alone. God in
your face is not always convenient. But it IS always rewarding,
knowing that as you respond, you are responding as the heart and
hands of God working through you. And it may start small, but it
will build into a tsunami of love.