Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7)
June 23, 2019
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, "Here am I, here am I," to a nation that was not called by My name.
Isaiah 65:1 (ESV)
Every Christian, no matter how strong his or her faith may be, from time to time will experience what some have called "the dark night of the soul." This term is derived from a poem written by the sixteenth century Spanish mystic and poet Saint John of the Cross. It is, in a sense, a crisis of faith--not a one-time experience that occurs just once and then is over with, but one that arises from time to time in the life of a Christian. "The dark night of the soul" might best be defined as a period of time during which the Christian believer, despite his or her fervent prayer, does not sense that God is answering or even listening. The believer consequently feels as if he or she has been forsaken or abandoned by God--left to deal with the trials, tribulations, and temptations of life alone. When this experience is finally resolved, the believer is comforted and strengthened in his or her faith.
God's ancient people--the children of Israel--experienced this "dark night" quite often, so it seems. The Psalms, for example, are full of sentiments that make it clear that the psalmist was experiencing this at the time that he wrote. For example, King David laments: "I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes" (Psalm 6:6, 7). And in the Psalm that prophesies in graphic detail the crucifixion of our Lord David prays: "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest" (Psalm 22:1, 2). The passage before us this morning is the Lord's answer to the Israelites who experienced this "dark night" and cried out to God to bring about the redemption that He had promised. As we listen to God's answer, we will learn a lot about human helplessness and God's revelation.
In the text the Lord makes it very clear that this problem is not with Him. but rather with our human helplessness. God makes it clear to His chosen people that He is always "ready to be sought" and "found." The problem is that no one is asking for Him or seeking Him. I suspect that the underlying cause of this problem is that sinful man is unaware of his human helplessness and consequently tries too hard. What we need to understand here is that, no matter how smart and discerning we might like to think we are, we do not--indeed we cannot--discover God. He is beyond our understanding. That's why He advises us in another psalm: "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" (Psalm 46:10). The harder we try to "find" God, the more frustrated we become, and then we turn the whole thing around and act as if God were somehow hiding from us, refusing to be found.
Worse than that, regardless of what the Church Growth experts tell us about "seekers," God in His Word tells us that no one really seeks Him. We read in Romans: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one" (Romans 3:10-12). What those who think that they are seeking God are really doing is looking for a god of their own making. Instead of worshiping the God who made them in His own image, they are trying to create a god in their image. This is the problem that the children of Israel had. Because they had wandered from the ways of God as He had revealed His ways to them, they were calling upon, asking for, and seeking a god that did not exist. Therefore they received no answer from the true God and, consequently, they felt as if God had deserted or abandoned them. But the truth of the matter is that they had deserted and abandoned God by departing from His revealed will. Many people today do the very same thing and therefore experience the "dark night of the soul."
The whole point of the text before us is that God has revealed Himself to us "in many and various ways" (Hebrews 1:1 RSV). If we can't find Him or get the feeling that He has abandoned us, it's because we haven't sought Him where He has promised to meet us: in the Gospel of His grace, revealed in the life and ministry of His incarnate Son Jesus Christ. This Gospel comes to us, by the power of His Holy Spirit, in His inspired Word. His grace in Christ is revealed to us not only in the four Gospels and not only in the New Testament, but throughout the Scriptures. It's been said that the Old Testament points to the cross of Jesus while the New Testament begins with it. The cross is central because it is the intersection of God's Law and His Gospel--His justice and His mercy. Here we find the exposure of our problem, which is sin, and here we find the revelation of God's remedy, which is forgiveness and reconciliation. In the Word of the Gospel God comes to us and has fellowship with us, assuring us that He is with us always to comfort and encourage us with His loving presence.
God comes to us not only verbally, but also in action. The Sacraments are really nothing more or less than the Gospel of Christ given to us in action, through visible elements that we can apprehend with our senses. In Baptism He uses simple water and His Word to claim us as His own and to give us New Life in Christ. In the Lord's Supper He uses simple bread and wine, empowered by that same Word, to come to us bodily and to let us feed on Him for our spiritual nourishment and growth. He comes to us in ways and through means that we can easily relate to and benefit from. The actions of washing and eating and drinking are common everyday experiences that we all participate in. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, God has transformed these commonplace actions to be for us something that is anything but commonplace. In them He comes to us and blesses us with all of the gifts that He has gained for us in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
Are you having trouble finding God or feeling His presence? Don't rely on your feelings. Like everything else about us, they are tainted by sin. Rely instead on what is reliable: the revelation of God as He has given it to us in the Gospel of Christ. Isaiah the prophet advises: "Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near" (Isaiah 55:6). He may be found always where He has promised to meet us and to comfort and strengthen us with His grace: in His Word and Sacraments. There He waits eagerly to meet us, to embrace us with His mercy, and to give us everlasting joy and peace through the mercies of Christ.
May the Lord bless your hearing of His Word, using it to accomplish in you those things for which He gave it. May you be enriched and strengthened in faith that you may leave here today to go out into our world armed with the whole armor of God, prepared to be able ambassadors of your Savior Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.