Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Sermon Extra - 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Loaded for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Year A - 19th October 2014

The Backside of God

Written: July 30, 2006

Centennial United Methodist Church

Linda Loessberg-Zahl

 A mother wanted to talk to her young son about his behavior in
kindergarten. One day she picked him up from school, put him in his booster
seat in the back seat and started for home. This would be the perfect time.
She often used the time in the car to talk with him. “Jeff, I want to have a
face-to-face talk with you about school.” They talked about the concerns his
teacher had about his behavior. After he agreed to stop chasing the girls at
recess, she said, “Do you have any questions?” He said, “Yeah… how come
whenever we have a face-to-face talk, all I ever see is your back?” Jeff
ended up with a different perspective than he expected. Have you been
there? Have you ever ended up with a different view than you expected?
 Have you ever wanted to see a particular play or concert, but you put
off getting tickets? You finally call Ticketmaster, (the box office, ticket
sales company) and you’re surprised and excited to hear that they still have
reasonably priced seats left. You think they are probably way in the back of
the audience. The salesperson says, “Actually these are pretty close to the
stage.” You figure they must have cut the price of the most expensive seats
at the last minute so they could fill the place. You get to the auditorium and 2
the usher takes your tickets and leads you from the back all the way down
toward the stage. You go up a few steps and there are your seats. You
realize that you are sitting to the side and almost behind the stage - with a
perfect view of the huge speakers. If you lean to the left and peek around
the speakers, when the performers come on the stage you have a great view
of their backs! Jilted! You wanted a front and center seat, so that you could
view the performers close-up, face-to-face, and take in the full meaning and
glory of the experience. Instead, like little Jeff, you end up with the
backside view.
 Moses was hoping for a face-to-face experience with God in the story
from Exodus that you heard today. Moses says to God, “I know you say
you’re with us, but could I see you in your glory?” “Couldn’t you just show
me your face?” I’d like to sit down for a tête-à-tête with God, a face-to-face
conversation about the meaning of life. How about you? Wouldn’t you like
to see God, face-to-face?
 In the tradition of the Old Testament, God tells Moses, “To see my
face would be too much for you, but if you’ll stand in that cave in the rock,
I’ll put my hand over you until the last minute, then take it away and let you
see my back.” 
 I wonder if Moses felt a bit jilted. He had a front row ticket, but
ended up seeing only the backside of God. That’s the best the rest of us ever
get as well.
 Now God promises Moses, “My presence will go with you.” This
conversation we overhear between Moses and God points to the great
mystery that surrounds God’s presence. That’s God’s promise to us too.
God’s presence goes with us as well. Often we also just catch a glimpse of
the backside of God, as God walks by. Sensing God’s presence is like
catching sight of someone passing by, out of the corner of our eye. Have
you experienced that? Have you experienced God’s mysterious presence in
your life?
 We don’t always recognize God’s presence for at least a couple of
reasons. First, we may be suffering from what they call inattention
blindness, and secondly, we may not recognize God from the back.
 Have you heard about what they are calling ‘inattention blindness’? It
has come up again in the whole debate about using cell phones while
driving. At first the experts thought using a cell phone with head phones or
a speakerphone would decrease the probability of having an accident while
talking on a cell phone, because it frees up your hands. But they found that
this wasn’t the case. Instead, it’s your attention that needs to be freed up to 
more safely drive a car. Scientists have found that our conscious minds only
perceive a fraction of the information that is coming into our senses.
 In an article from the Monitor on Psychology (Volume 32, No. 4 April
2001, “Sights Unseen”) Siri Carpenter writes “studies of visual perception
have demonstrated how startlingly little people see when we're not paying
attention.” Cognitive psychologist Brian Scholl, PhD, from Yale University
says, “This research is showing us something that we didn't think was the
case—that we can fail to perceive very major things going on right in front
of our eyes.” Several fascinating studies have been done that support this
startling fact.
 For example, Simons and Chabris showed people a film of two
basketball teams, one wearing black shirts and the other wearing white. The
researchers asked participants to count how many times a basketball was
passed between members of one team, ignoring the other team. Many people
in the study didn't notice a woman who walked through the scene carrying
an open umbrella, even though the woman was on the screen for several
seconds. The participants were so focused on their counting task that they
missed what was right in front of them.
 Sometimes we may have ‘inattention blindness’ when it comes to
God’s presence in our lives. We get so focused on whatever we are doing, 
that we fail to see the powerful presence of God in our lives. It’s not that
God is not present to us, it’s that we are not present to God. Did you catch
that? It’s not that God is not present to us, it’s that we are not present to
 Is there something in your life that is taking your focus away from
God’s presence with you? Look for God’s guiding presence with you, and
God can help you with whatever has your attention.
 Is there something distracting you from God’s purpose for you? Like
Moses, God has important work for you to do in your life. Pay attention to
God’s presence with you and you will find a renewed sense of purpose in
your living.
 Maybe you’re very intentional about looking for God’s presence in
your life, but you haven’t seen anything. Sometimes we miss God’s
presence because we don’t recognize God from the back. Did you know that
God looks like other people from the back? Sometimes God looks like
someone from our family or a close friend, who loves us and wants to help
us grow into the people we were intended to be.
 Sometimes God looks like people like Cathy Arends. Cathy is a
minister and nurse who works with pregnant women who are incarcerated at
the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. Wendi, an expectant 
mother in the pastoral care program, says: "Ms. Cathy was the only person
that saw any good in me. I knew from the first time we met at the prison that
she saw me as a child of God with potential. It didn’t matter to her what I
had done. She saw my future and was willing to stand by me. Without her
presence during my long labor I don’t know what I would have done. She
stayed with me throughout the night - she didn’t have to - she wanted to. I
saw the face of God in her. Now I know God loves me, and I’m never
coming back here." The mother of Shawanda, another young woman wrote
to Cathy: “Without your steadfast love for my daughter, I am afraid she
would have tried to kill herself. She told me she can feel God’s love every
time you come to the prison. You have done more positive things for her
than anyone in the past 7 years. I truly owe it to you that she made the parole
board.” Shawanda and Wendi caught a glimpse of God when Cathy Arends
walked by.
 Pastor James Fenhagen found that from the back, God looked a lot
like a group of Israeli and Palestinian parents who he says “came to this
country to bear witness to the possibility of peace in the Holy Land as seen
not by the political leaders, but by a number of grieving parents.” “The first
speaker was an Israeli business man from Tel-Aviv who just several weeks
before had lost his son in the conflict that is tearing the Holy Land apart. He 
was followed by a Palestinian woman who told of holding her daughter in
her lap as her child died of gun fire. ‘We are here tonight,’ she said, ‘to tell
you how we have been brought together by our grief. We have moved
beyond politics. We are together because we care for all our children.’” That
night, as he listened, James said, “I saw the face of God in the faces of those
men and women who had come together to share their lives with us” (From
The Gift Of Pentecost, Pentecost, 2002 - Washington National Cathedral,
The Rev. Canon James C. Fenhagen).
 The scripture (1 John 4) tells us that God is love and wherever there is
self-giving, healing love, we can be sure God is there. Have you seen
someone who looks a lot like God from the back, someone who seems to
bring God’s love when they come into the room? Is there someone you may
not even know personally, someone in the news, someone in the community,
who seems to shine with the love, the compassionate face of God?
 You probably heard in the news this week about Charles Moore, the
homeless man in Detroit who found $21,000 in bonds. He went to his
counselors at the neighborhood service organization for help in finding the
owners. He only received $100 reward money from the family. A lot of
attention in the community and news was focused on the stinginess of that
family, but my attention was glued to the generosity of the strangers who 
learned about it. Charles is a roofer by trade who lost his job and became
homeless. Did you hear that he has received over $4000 which he plans to
use to find a home, and the offer of a job? Those caring strangers inspired
me. I caught a glimpse of God walking by.
 More than anyone, Jesus puts a human face on God. Jesus Christ
gives us a portrait of God’s concern for justice, God’s tender compassion,
God’s healing power, God’s inclusive vision. God’s presence was so
powerful in him, when Jesus walked by people said, “I think we just saw
God.” So, first and last, look closely at the witness of the life of Jesus and
the presence of the risen Christ in your own life.
 Dare to discover God’s presence in your life. Be present to God’s
presence. Pay attention to the ordinary gifts of grace and love you are given,
while you’re taking care of other business. Notice those in your life and in
our world who inspire you, who have a resemblance to God from the back.
Look at the divine features in the face and life of Jesus. You’ll catch a
glimpse of the back of God, as God passes through your life. That’s more
powerful than anything you’ll see through Ticketmaster! Amen

All sermons appearing on the Centennial United Methodist Church