Summary: 1. People often miss the presence of God. 2. The Kingdom of God comes in simple ways. 3. We are called to live in awareness.
“How do you expect me to believe in God,” asked Woody Allen, “when only last week I got my tongue caught in the roller of my electric typewriter?” There are many people like Woody Allen who focus on the annoyances of life rather than wonderful things of life. It always seems that the troubles of life define their view of the world, rather than the great blessings of life. If the present isn’t bad enough, the future is sure to be full of trouble or bring some fresh disaster. In an interview for the Boston Globe, Woody Allen confessed: “It’s hard for me to enjoy anything because I’m aware how transient things are… Yes, there are times when you think, ‘My God, life is sweet, it’s nice,’ and thoughts of mortality are in abeyance. You know, watching the Marx Brothers or a Knicks game or listening to great jazz, you get a great feeling of ecstasy... But then it passes, and the dark reality of life starts to creep back in.”
But it is not just Woody Allen, and others who reject the reality of a loving God behind the universe who is directing the course of the world. I have known many professing Christians who always seem to be living on the dark and sour side of life. In fact, as I read the Bible I discover that many of the major characters in Scripture were focused more on what was wrong in the world than what God was doing to make the world right.
The major focus of Jesus was the kingdom of God and what God was doing in the world all around him. The power of Rome and its occupying army was hardly a blip on the radar for Jesus, even though it was foremost in the minds of almost everyone else. He was not afraid of Pilate, even though he was the governor of Judea and held the power of Caesar. When Jesus was being questioned by Pilate at his trial, Pilate said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” But Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:10-11). Jesus’ focus was not on the power of the government, but on the power of God. He stood before Pilate in complete confidence. What was it that freed Jesus from fear and gave him such confidence in life? It was the constant awareness of the presence of the kingdom of God.
As we consider the kingdom awareness of Jesus, let’s look first at the fact that: People often miss the presence of God. It happened all through the Bible. This happens first with Adam and Eve in the Garden. God has told them they can do anything they want and eat anything they want, except one small thing -- don’t eat from the fruit of one particular tree. And then, as soon as they think God is off somewhere resting, they proceed to eat the fruit of the tree, as though he is not present and does not know what they are doing. Somehow they seem to be unaware that the presence of God is all around them all the time, whether they can see him or not.
Then we have Abraham and Isaac. God breaks into their world and makes special promises to them. But apart from these special visitations, they seem to be unaware that the Lord is still with them, and they doubt the reality of the promises he has made to them.
Then there is Isaac’s son Jacob. Jacob is on the run from his brother when God breaks into his world in a dramatic way. As he falls asleep, God opens to him the reality that earth and heaven are not two separate places ) they are connected. Jacob sees a ladder connecting the dwelling of God with his dwelling on planet earth. The point is that this is not some supernatural, mystical vision, this was the revelation of what was real and had always been real. It was not that something happened to Jacob that was an unnatural, one-time event, it was that the kingdom of God was always there waiting to be discovered. And it was not just in that particular place which Jacob named Bethel where God lived, but God lived everywhere. Bethel was not an unusual experience of one man far back in history, but a reality for every person, in every place, in every time. I have had many experiences of discovering the presence of God and his heaven on earth: canoeing on a wilderness lake, looking into a night sky with the stars popping out of the darkness, seeing the birth of a baby, watching the love shine between two older people. I have had Bethel type experiences in prayer or when reading the Scripture, and I have had them when I least expected them. The point is, God is always trying to break through our world ) if we will only be aware of him. I believe God was trying to speak to Jacob many times in his life, but he was not ready to experience God until he was desperate enough.