How did you come to faith? Is there a concrete moment you could recall as the one important moment? Maybe it was more of a longer process or it happened that early in your life that you can’t remember.
Anyway, it is an interesting question: What does it need in order for a person to come to faith, to start to believe? Personally, my break-through moment is so ridiculously insignificant that I have never ever told someone about it, so don’t ask. I am aware, of course, that this was just the little drop after a long process. I know that there were other moments before when seed had been sown that suddenly could start to bear fruit. Still, I am a bit embarrassed remembering my moment. However, when I prepared today’s sermon, I was suddenly consoled.
Nathanael comes to faith in Jesus because Jesus tells him that he had seen him sitting under the fig tree before Philip called him. I read Jesus’s response with a slight ironic tone: You believe in me just because I have told you this. You will see much bigger things, you will see the heavens open and the angels as- and descending on the Son of God. Just in case you were wondering when the angels would come in, here they are.
It is widely assumed that Jesus had a moment himself when he started to realize that this was the beginning of his ministry on earth. Many believe it was the story from Revelation, the big clean-up in heaven. St. Michael and his angels throw out Satan, ban them from the heavenly tribunal. The end of Satan’s role in heaven is also told in the gospel of Luke where we hear Jesus saying: “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” (Lk 10:18).
Bible scholars think this fiery star falling to earth might have been the sign for Jesus that the time was ready, that the time to make the Son of God known on earth had begun.
I wonder, does it strengthen you, when you think back to that moment or process when you came to faith, or closer to faith? Me, personally, I get much more strength when I remember my most intense moment in my vocation process to ordained ministry
Or when I think back to the many moments, days or months when God seemed to be far, seemed to be absent, not listening, maybe even gone and suddenly I found HER again, maybe like a soft wind or like a thundering storm with might. When I recall these moments in my life, I feel how my relationship with God has grown stronger.
I am quite sure that many of you have experienced such times or maybe you are experiencing them right now. When you think back, have you gone through such a time before? What was it like when, after a long silence, God sent you a small light again? What was that like?
Where was God in the dark and heavy time, I wonder? Where was HE when I was calling out for help, when I wanted to stop praying?
Our texts today are connected by today’s Holy Day theme: the Angels of God. But they are, as I see it, also all going around the question: Where is God?
There is Jacob in our Old Testament reading. At night, he saw the angels climbing up and down a ladder to heaven. He knew that the place the ladder touched the ground was holy ground, was a sanctuary. Bethel he called it: the house of God, marking God’s presence on earth.
Jesus says to Nathanael in our gospel reading: You will see the heavens open, the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Men. Jesus is introduced to us as the new sanctuary, the new Temple, in fact.
Where is God? The answer given by our readings today: in Christ.
It was a reformed theologian called Jürgen Moltmann who spelled that out for us. After the holocaust, he was wrestling with the question: Where was God in all this and where is God in our personal difficult times?
Right there, he says, right there in the heavy burden, not next to it, above it or away, right in the midst of it. God is carrying it with us, God suffers with us, sometimes silently but never from the distance.
Where is God in the suffering of this world? Right in the midst of it.
It is the God who went to the cross for us, right into the midst of suffering and thereby HE overcame death and made new life possible.
God always was seen as the unchangeable. Consequently, it was strongly believed that God couldn’t suffer because suffering changes you. Suffering doesn’t let you go unchanged.
Moltmann broke with this belief. We believe in the God crucified.
In the passage from Revelation we read that Satan was thrown down to earth but was “conquered … by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their (the believers’) testimony” (Rev 12:11).
Satan’s chaos making on earth doesn’t achieve its goal, it doesn’t separate us from God. Quite the opposite, every pain and suffering Satan brings up here on earth brings us closer to God. Because this God goes with us, through heights and dark valleys, this God, the lamb even goes all the way to death to be closer to us and to let us participate in God’s mercy and love.
God is making the impossible possible and lets us be partakers, seeing the heavens open already here and now and the angels ascending and descending.
When we celebrate the Eucharist together in a moment, we remember this. God is often still in our lives but never far or absent. God is in us and shares with us Happiness and Sadness.
So SHE showed Herself to Jakob, close like never before in the very moment when Jakob was in deep despair, running for his life, running away from his brother.
The heavens were open, God’s angels surrounded Jacob and God speaks into his distress:
וְהִנֵּ֨ה אָנֹכִ֜י עִמָּ֗ךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּ֨יךָ֙ בְּכֹ֣ל אֲשֶׁר־תֵּלֵ֔ךְ
“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go” (Gen 28:15a).