(Isaiah 40:21-31, Psalm 147:1-11, 20c, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23)
29As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
There’s a story about these two brothers that were terrible trouble makers. They were always breaking things, stealing things, lying, and making all kinds of trouble. The parents had tried everything to get the boys to change, to no avail. Finally, out of options, they asked their pastor if he could help. He said he would talk to the boys, but only one at a time. The parents dropped off the youngest and went home, promising to return to get him soon. The boy sat in a chair across from the pastor’s desk and they just looked at each other. Finally, the Pastor asked, “Where is God?” The boy just sat there and didn’t answer. The pastor began to look stern and loudly asked, “Where is God?” The little boy shifted in his seat, but still didn’t answer. The pastor was starting to get angry at the boy’s refusal to converse and practically shouted “Where is God?” To the pastor’s surprise, the little boy jumped up out of his chair and ran out of the office. The boy left the church and ran all the way home, up the stairs and into his brother’s room. He shut the door and panted, “We’re in BIG TROUBLE. God’s missing and they think we did it!”
We, as the faithful people of God, want to laugh at the boy’s silly deduction. We, as the faithful people of God, believe God never goes missing. We, as the faithful people of God, know that no one person could cause the disappearance of God, let alone a troublesome young boy. Underneath our laughter there is a deep and abiding faith in God’s everlasting presence in our lives. We KNOW God never leaves us! We KNOW our bad behavior would never cause God to abandon us! Or do we? Do we actually know this about God? There are probably some among us who have felt that God has left them at some point in their lives. And they likely have told themselves it’s because of some bad things they’ve done. This is because guilt and doubt are powerful feelings for many people. It’s so easy to get ourselves wrapped up in our sinful natures. The longer we dwell on our sins, the easier it is to believe that God hates us and wants nothing to do with us. Our guilt eventually leads to doubt in God. After so long, we’ve told ourselves that God couldn’t still be with us because of our sins. These thoughts couldn’t be further from the truth. God hates the sin, not us. God always wants to be a part of our lives whether we’re terrible or not. We are God’s beloved children. God never leaves us because God loves us so much. It is the guilt and doubt that tells us otherwise, not God and Scripture.
In fact, Scripture witnesses a God who is always in relationship with His people. It might not be a healthy relationship at times. Yes, God gets angry at the sin His people allow to overtake their lives. We can get angry at God for not being happy with the sin in our lives. But God’s abundant grace always welcomes us back when we’ve finished with the sin. We eventually come to our senses and realize that our sin holds us back from a truly happy relationship with God. Whether God or we are angry, we’re still in relationship with each other. God wants nothing but the best for each of us. It’s US who think we know what’s best for us! We allow sin into our lives and God is angry at our sin. God knows we’re susceptible to letting sin in our lives. God created us that way! But God also knows we’re capable of resisting sin as well. God created us THAT way too!
The terrible brother wrestling with the question of where God was is not unlike our own wrestling with the question, where God is in our lives. Our passages from Scripture this week and the last couple weeks have also wrestled with where God is. More specifically, they’ve wrestled with WHO God is. Last week, we heard Moses cautioning his people not to heed the words of false prophets. God holds false prophets accountable and will destroy them for speaking words that don’t help people understand who God is. Paul cautioned the Corinthians not to view food restrictions as the key to understanding the one true God. Jesus encountered a man possessed by an unclean spirit who claimed Jesus had come to destroy the man and others in the synagogue. Jesus hadn’t come to destroy but rather to save, first by exorcising the unclean spirit and eventually all of humanity on the cross. God hates the sin, not the sinner. To know God is to realize this along with His profound love for us. God loves us so very much and wants nothing to get in the way of our loving Him, including unclean spirits.
This week, we also heard the exiled people of Judah being reminded of who God is in Second Isaiah. In their misery and desperation, they had allowed guilt and doubt to overcome them. They believed the Babylonian captivity was the direct result of their sin. God was angry with them and punishing them, or so they believed. Isaiah offered words of hope and consolation in reminding the lost and disoriented people of who God is. Isaiah proclaimed, “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.” A little further along we heard, “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.” Like the lost people of Judah, we also need to be reminded of who God is. We are to know the same God that the Judeans knew: an everlasting, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-creating God.
David sang on the same note as Second Isaiah in his psalm of praise except he sang his words of hope to the people of Israel. He sang, “The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” Just as Isaiah sang to the exiled people of Judah, so too did David sing to the lost and confused people of Israel. They help us to better understand the goodness of God, the mercy of God, and the grace of God.
As he wrote to the Corinthians, Paul understood the importance of the gospel in its ability to give anyone a better understanding of God. Indeed, Christ lived, died, and was resurrected so that ALL people might be saved. God is not interested in saving only a select few people. God is interested in saving ALL people. God wants to be in relationship with all of His people. Paul understood this and made it a priority to adapt the gospel message so that it might be received by all people. As he wrote, “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” The gospel message of the Son of God coming to die for our sins reveals the deep love of God for us. If we can understand this gospel message, we understand God better.
This deep love of God is illustrated in our gospel text assigned for this week. We hear of how Jesus healed the fever of Simon’s mother-in-law. Word got around and later that evening Jesus healed many more people who were sick or possessed with demons. The next day he rose and went throughout Galilee, healing and casting out demons along the way. Again, God is willing to heal ALL people whether they deserve it or not. We are to mimic such universal kindness as mentioned in our children’s message. No one deserves grace and mercy yet everyone can receive God’s grace and mercy. This is because God so generously makes it available for ALL people. Unclean spirits and demons don’t define who people are, they simply take over their lives. God recognizes this and wants people freed of the unclean spirits and demons so that they can get back to loving God and being loved by God. Remember, God hates the sin but loves the sinner.
We could believe in a God that gets so angry with us that He wants nothing to do with us. We could believe that God goes missing, as the little boy in our opening story believes. We could believe that our sin is so pervasive and so unforgiveable that God would abandon us. Or we can believe that God always wants to be in relationship with us. We can believe God doesn’t want anything to harm us or get in the way of our relationship with Him as sin does. We can believe that God wants to save all of us. We can believe in an all-powerful, all-creating, all-loving God as witnessed in our Scripture. You see, it comes down to a simple question—what God do you know?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.