Uptown: The Loneliness of Hard Times
Fr. Greg Methvin (email)
Recognizing God’s Presence
In last Sunday’s sermon, I remarked what a difference God’s presence makes when we are struggling. If God is with you, He is for you, and will lead you through whatever valley you happen to be shuffling through at the moment. The hard part is noticing God’s presence. Believe it or not, it’s easy to overlook God, even when He is near.
One way that God makes His presence known to us is through, what I call, believing backwards. Our faith is energized not by the new thing God has done, but by recalling the ways He has comforted and cared for us in the past.
That great theologian Barry Manilow sings to his old girlfriend, “Maybe the old songs will bring back the old times. Maybe the old lines will sound new…” The old songs CAN bring a strong sense of the old times, can’t they? We hear a song, catch a fragrance, see an old photo and suddenly the past is present. We’re not time-travelling in these moments, but we are touched and affected by something we assumed was long gone.
Our encounters with God are similar in that our brushes with God can powerfully stir and sustain us in the present. In the Old Testament we find a pattern of marking the physical places where God did something amazing. Stone altars are erected and special names are given to places that seemed completely ordinary.
Jacob is running away from a terribly deceitful and hurtful act that has cost him his relationship with his father and brother. All alone in the wilderness he tries to get some sleep and finds a rock to serve as a pillow. While asleep he has a marvelous dream where he sees angels ascending and descending from Heaven at the very place where he slept. When he wakes up, he builds an altar and names the place, Bethel, “house of God” because of an experience that convinced him of God’s presence.
Why do that? Fear of amnesia? A trophy-place to show others later? Not at all. He will return to that very place repeatedly to find encouragement and spiritual strength.
A young woman was headed to the doctor’s office to get the report on a lump the doctor had previously found. She was very nervous and anxious as most of us would be. Her friends and I reminded her to take her “Bethel” with her. Remember the times when God was near, and when she felt panicky, to mentally go that place.
The doctor delivered the bad news and did his best to comfort. He stepped out of the examining room, and my friend mentally raced to her Bethel. She said while it was hard to explain, she sensed God’s nearness as though He was standing with her, and when the nurse dropped in to check on her, she asked, “You seem so calm and at peace? I’ve never seen a patient get that kind of news and have that kind of response.”
My friend answered, “I feel God is close and everything will be ok.” My friend was telling the truth.
I pray you will find your Bethel, and remember that God has never left you, and loves and leads you still.
Uptown Sermon Series: Jan 13-Feb 3
The Loneliness of Hard Times
Dealing with Regrets
Abraham & Sarah: When Dreams Don’t Come True
Mary of Bethany: Overcoming Grief and Shame