[Texts: Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31]
In today’s New Testament reading, St. John talks about who we are and who we will be. He says that “we are God’s children now” and then goes on to say that we will be further transformed in the presence of God, when we see God face-to-face.
Is John talking about seeing God face-to-face in Heaven? Is that what he means?
That’s certainly when we’ll get the fullest and truest look at God.
But I think we get to sneak a peek during our mortal lives sometimes, too.
Where do you catch a glimpse of God here on earth?
Have I ever told you the story of how I met my best friend? Last June, April and I were both attending the Wild Goose Festival—a four-day progressive faith and justice festival that’s held on a huge campground just over in Buncombe County every summer. The whole festival is held entirely outside—you camp out, and all of the events, panel discussions, performances, workshops, vendors, and such are outdoors, set up under tents and awnings. Its name comes from the Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit being like a wild goose. Both April and I were attending “the Goose” for the first time. I was there with my friend Becca, and she was there with her husband and their two young children. I met her after a panel discussion on homelessness.
I sat down at a picnic table and we started talking, and we clicked instantly. It was one of those things where you just know it’s meant to happen. I found out that April is a pastor in a Protestant denomination I’d never heard of before, which piqued my interest immediately. We had such a good time talking about theology and God and the differences and similarities in our beliefs and practices. (What can I say; we’re both huge nerds.) We ended up hanging out for the rest of the day, and I helped her out with her kids as we talked and got to know each other. The afternoon culminated in the two of us getting our faces painted together, which was a little out of both of our comfort zones, and I don’t think either of us planned on it. But I told her I’d do it if she would, and the next thing you know, we were both sporting brightly-painted faces.
Did I mention that, pretty much the entire trip, it rained cats and dogs? Because it was so incredibly muddy, April and I had been joking about how we—and everyone else present—looked like “swamp beasts”. Nobody had showered, everybody had been sleeping outdoors, and no one particularly cared. We were all having way too much fun.
Unfortunately it was around that time that my endometriosis—a debilitating chronic pain condition I’ve had for almost a decade—started to catch up with me. I had been uncomfortable for a while, but it was quickly becoming unbearable. By the time the sun set, I was all but doubled over in pain.
“April?” I asked. “Can pastors in your denomination lay on hands and heal?” I explained my situation, and she said yes, definitely, and agreed to do it.
Now, usually, this sacrament would be administered by a vested priest or deacon, and a vial of consecrated oil would be used, as well as the words in the Book of Common Prayer.
Well, we didn’t have any of that.
What we had was a pastor in a muddy t-shirt, a cooler for me to sit on, and instead of a little chrism of consecrated oil, we used a tub of the extremely potent-smelling coconut oil that I use to condition my hair.
April anointed my head and began to pronounce the blessing. “O God, you healed a woman bent over in pain…” We didn’t use a rubric or a prayer book. She just cried out to God for relief and healing for me.
And there, I met God.
I met God while I was sitting on a cooler outside of a tent in the woods, in the rain. There was mud everywhere. I certainly didn’t look my “Sunday best” that day. My hair was a mess, and I was barefoot. The oil hadn’t been blessed. April wasn’t wearing a stole. We looked like swamp beasts, remember? And we still had some pretty obnoxiously-colored face paint all over our faces, too, distorted by the rain.
But God met us there.
God met us there in a way so powerful that no memory I have of meeting God while I was vested in lace or swinging a thurible or surrounded by stained glass can compare to the time I met God in the mud. April met God there, too. It’s a story that will always be precious to both of us, I think.
I think the reason we’re still telling this story a year later—and with such awe—is because we caught a glimpse of God—and of ourselves, and each other—in a new way.
When have you encountered the face of God here on earth?
Where do you catch those precious little glimpses that remind you who you truly are?
I challenge you, each of you, to keep your eyes open for those moments.
I challenge each of you to look for God in tiny grains of sand and in the massive sea.
I challenge you to look for God in the night sky, or as one of our Eucharistic prayers says, “the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, and the planets in their courses” and in “this fragile earth, our island home.”
I challenge you to look for God in the breaking of the bread and in the sharing of the cup. I challenge you to look for God in the innocence of children, and in the wisdom of your elders.
I challenge you to look for God in the beautiful colors of fall, in your breath on frosted window glass and each snowflake of winter, the first green things springing up, and the warmth of summer.
I challenge you to look for God in your family, your friends, your neighbors, and your coworkers.
I challenge you to look for God in the glory of cathedrals and old, chanted liturgy and the smell of incense, and in humble, simple things like mud and face paint and slimy coconut oil.
I challenge you to look for God in the person sitting next to you, and in someone you’ve never met.
And I challenge you especially to look for God in the poor, the sick, the lonely, the hungry, the imprisoned, the oppressed, and the marginalized.
We live in a country where it is now illegal in 33 cities to feed the homeless, where bakeries and mechanics’ shops have become battlegrounds for basic human rights, and where people are killed by the police for no discernible reason beyond the color of their skin.
Look for God in the ones who are hungry. Look for God in the ones being denied dignity and justice. Look for God in the ones being gunned down in the name of prejudice. Look for God anywhere that healing and resurrection and restoration are happening, and anywhere those things are needed. Look for God everywhere you go, because it is when we see God that we truly see ourselves—as we are, and as we ultimately will be when we stand face-to-face with our Creator. Look for God, beloved ones.
Look for God, and never stop. Stand face-to-face with him every chance you get, and be transformed. You never know– none of us know– what glory might be revealed to us in God’s presence.
Even if that glory is hidden under a whole lot of mud.