Following 9/11, and Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike certain Christian leaders suggested that these events were orchestrated by God. I read in the Houston Chronicle Saturday that some of them still see AIDS in the same light. America, it seems, is guilty and in need of punishment. Terrorists, devastating storms, and debilitating disease were simply the tools used by God to perform God’s will.

These are all examples of where people claim to see God at work.
But, funny thing is, I don’t see God in any of those. Or in sports victories, great parking spots, or robust stock portfolios.

What does it mean to see God at work in our world? If it’s not those above, what is it? What is something we can look at and confidently say, “God did that”? Or, “God was in that”? How do we know when we’ve seen God? What kind of activities are worth God taking the time for?

I bring this up, because it’s Advent, the season of waiting and watching. This is the time we’re supposed to be like those ancient kings trying to read the signs of the times to know when and where the Messiah is going to show up.

And I bring this up, because I think our world needs more of God. If the material is all there is, I think we’re out of luck. But Christianity has always said that God is real, and that God acts in human history, and that we as humans can benefit from and praise God for his actions in our midst.

But I bring this up, mostly, because I want to know what God’s up to this year, and where I can go to see it! I want to see God! It’s been a brutal couple years in this department for me. A reality that’s completely changed my faith and my theology. So I don’t mention this lightly.

But I’m not sure we can see God. Or rather, I’m not sure we’ve been taught how to see God. I, for one, have for too long looked in the wrong places and events. I need to be trained to see.

Some texts, such as Isaiah 61:1-11, absolutely assume the possibility of God acting in the world. And it clearly assumes that we will know it when we see it.

Our bold, brash author starts off saying, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me.” Oh yea, we’ve heard that before from the syrupy sweet piety of those we’ve learned not to trust. Like those  religious leaders, or politicians. HOW DO YOU KNOW GOD IS WITH YOU??? Sounds pompous, arrogant, and proud.

But he says that for a very interesting reason. He says it not because he’s special, or blessed, or recently inherited a nice piece of property. No, he says it because the Lord has anointed him to do something that is not in his own self interest. It wasn’t about him, but about the people God has called him to share his life with.
The author knows he has the spirit of God upon him, because no one would come up with this stuff on their own. Seriously, check this out. He’s asked to do seven things:
1. Bring good news to the poor
2. Bind up the brokenhearted
3. Proclaim liberty to captives, and release to prisoners
4. Proclaim the year of Jubilee, and the day of vengeance
5. Comfort all who mourn
6. Provide for those who mourn
7. Give them (the mourners) good things in place of their bad.

Who wants to spend their days with the poor, the brokenhearted, with prisoners, and those who are in mourning? Sounds depressing doesn’t it?
He’s saying, “I know I’ve got the spirit of God in me, because I’m doing these strange things.” He’s claiming to be blessed like Henri Nouwen, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero: those called from their success to live and learn among the least of these.

You know what? Maybe he’s right. Maybe when we see people doing these things, God is there.

Let’s be clear about something. We’re not looking for angels, miracles, or storms. These are things the prophet has done, not God directly. God didn’t suspend science and nature to pull this off. No! God worked through a willing human being. Like you, like me.

But it doesn’t end there. We’re just getting started. These actions,… these actions actually work!
They accomplished something pretty spectacular! They led to a change in the identity of the audience. Those who once were poor, sad, broken, locked up, marginalized, outcast? Now they are called “Oaks of Righteousness.” No longer losers, now they are “The Planting of the Lord.” Now we see this picture of them as stable, healthy, empowered and now empowering. Something’s happened, something has changed for them!
Like John the Baptist last week, who not only proclaimed Comfort, he made it so that the people actually experienced and lived Comfort.

Maybe he’s right. Maybe when we see people stable and transformed, God is there.

And still there is more! Not only do we see the prophet doing these great things. And not only do these things actually work. Those who were once in terrible need, are now serving others. Those served, have become the Servants! It’s the domino effect right before our eyes: God acts on the prophet (by anointing and sending him), the prophet acts on the people, and now the people act for the sake of their city. Their transformation is so complete they’re pictured not as eking out an existence via sharecropping. They are freed to serve others through the blessing of immigrants who serve them! And they go on to rebuild their city.

So, maybe he’s right. Maybe when we see those served become servants, God is there.

I want to see God. To do so, I need to take off my ancient glasses of personal piety and blessing that focus on the grab-bag of goodies God provides with the wave of “his” magic wand. Instead, I’m training myself to see God in this big beautiful new city of mine: Houston. Following the prophet’s lead, I’ll look in new places and events, new neighborhoods and people, for the face of God at work in our world. I hope I’m courageous enough to join in with what God is already up to.

One Response to “Seeing the Face of God in the City”

  1. Lawrence J. Hasenour Says:

    Great Website

    I am looking for information on mennonite imprisonment. When America locked up mennonites then made them suffer in prison for wearing buttons on uniforms.

    Any information would be appreciated

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