Rev. Kurt Onken
1 Kings 8:22-30
Where do you go to find God? Where do you go to learn about him? To find out what he really thinks about you? To find out what your status is Coram Deo … that is, “before God.”
Nature? Some people search for God in nature. The power of ocean waves. The splendor of mountain peaks. A starlit sky in the desert.
You can certainly see evidence of God in nature. After all, in Psalm 19, David sang, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). There is beauty in creation. Order. Signs of “intelligent design.” Life.
But what do you do when things become disorderly and full of death?
For those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest, what do you do when a mountain blows up in your face, like Mt. St. Helens did a number of years ago?
For those of you from California what do you do when the ground starts to shake, and buildings and overpasses begin to topple down on your head?
For those of you from the plains states and the Midwest and the South, what do you do when a tornado tears through your neighborhood and demolishes everything in sight?
And what about those people on the seacoast of Japan, whose homes and lives were swept away by a wall of water following an offshore earthquake?
Creation is not always a happy place. It’s broken. It’s fallen. If you didn’t know the whole story of Adam and Eve – how rebellion against the Creator brought death and destruction into creation – you might not like the One who created the cosmos. You might not like the God you were searching for in nature. You might find him to be capricious. Arbitrary. Unpredictable. Downright mean.
So where else might you go to find God? Where else might you go to learn about him? To find out what he really thinks of you? To know what your status is Coram Deo?
How about your heart? Some people search for God in their hearts. They base their opinions about God on their feelings, their emotions, their inclinations. They meditate in solitude, trying to listen to God’s voice speaking from within. They may feel that their heart is “strangely warmed.” They imagine that there is a “burning in their bosom.” But how do you know it’s not the burrito you ate yesterday? Or perhaps it was the Double-Double cheeseburger with grilled onions from In-N-Out.
When you look inside your heart, you might not like what you find there. Jesus knows what you’ll find there. What did he say about the heart? “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). Our hearts are deceptive. Your sinful nature will either cause you to deny what’s in your heart and make you think you’re okay before God. Or it will cause you to despair when you recognize the ugliness there.
Dear Christian, God does indeed dwell in your heart. “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15). Jesus “dwell[s] in your hearts through faith” (Eph. 3:17). And Romans 8:11 says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Yes, the Triune God does indeed live in your heart.
But that’s not where we are directed to find him … that is, if you want to know for certain where he is, in particular where he is for you, with his grace and mercy and forgiveness.
Not nature. Not your heart. But a house! “God’s House.”
Remember when you were children in Sunday School, and you called the church building “God’s House”? Perhaps you even thought the pastor was Jesus, and that he lived there. But then you got older and you realized how silly that was. God cannot be contained in a building. Even wise King Solomon knew that. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27).
God cannot be contained in a building. But he can certainly will to be present in a building with his grace and mercy. He willed to be present in the temple. He appeared there in a cloud. He promised to be present on the mercy seat between the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. The temple was indeed “the house of the LORD.” His Name was there. His Word was proclaimed there. He listened to the prayers of his people offered there. He forgave the sins of the people there. Wherever God’s Name is, there he is with his grace and forgiveness.
God cannot be contained in a building. But there came a day when “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The temple in Jerusalem was replaced by the divine presence of Jesus. The temple and all its bloody sacrifices found their end in Jesus, the Lamb of God, whose bloody sacrifice on the cross is the once-for-all payment for your sins and mine.
So now where do you find God? You still find him wherever he has placed his Name.
His Name was placed upon you when water was poured over your head “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
His Name is placed upon you each time you confess your sins, and your pastor says, “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
And the Crucified and Risen Jesus is truly present at every altar where he gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink.
All these things most often take place in a church building. And so, it’s not so silly after all to call it “God’s House.” Sometimes it’s elaborate and ornate. Sometimes it’s simple and plain. Sometimes it’s rather shabby and rundown. Sometimes it’s a college theatre. But if God’s Name is there, then he is truly present with his grace and mercy. Wherever God has placed his Name, that is the best place to go to know where you stand Coram Deo. You are a sinner who deserves nothing but wrath and condemnation. But Jesus suffered and died in your place. Through baptism you are united to your Savior’s death and resurrection. You bear the holy Name of the Triune God. You are a part of “God’s house of living stones, built for his own habitation.” God listens to your cries and your prayers. His eyes are open toward you night and day. And your sins are forgiven.
Rev. Kurt Onken is pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Marysville, Washington. He also served as Catechist for the Coram Deo Conference in Las Vegas.
Created: July 12th, 2011