"Seek My Face"#88-14
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 6, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2021 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Daniel 9
Have you ever gotten to know someone by hearing their voice before you got to see their face? I have a friend who works at a Roman Catholic university, and he told me about sister Veronica. Sister Veronica's job is to help facilitate the spiritual life of the faculty and staff at the university. One of her ideas was to start a podcast for the faculty and staff there. My friend said to her, "Hey, you should meet my friend, Mike. Maybe he could give you some podcasting tips." My friend knew that I had helped start a podcast with Lutheran Hour Ministries. And so he told me, "Hey, you should meet sister Veronica," and I agreed to meet with her.
And then I started thinking, never in all my life have I ever, to my recollection, had a conversation with a nun. What would she be like? And then I thought about how I had seen nuns portrayed in the movies that I had seen. It's not a favorable portrait. I thought about those mean girl nuns in The Sound of Music, trying to solve a problem like Maria. And I thought about that belligerent nun in The Blues Brothers who beats the living daylights out of Jake and Elwood with her yard stick, and I was starting to get a little nervous about meeting sister Veronica.
So, I called her on the phone and I heard her voice, and just hearing her voice changed my perception before I ever met her face to face. She didn't sound angry or judgmental at all. Sometimes a voice is enough to do that, to change your perception. There is a God, and He wants to meet you face to face. He wants you to know Him and He invites you to seek His face. And even though you're not able to see Him now, He's given you His voice. He's given you His Word, and His Word is enough. That's a lot to ask you to believe. Maybe you're not ready to believe it.
You might even consider yourself a religious person, and still you have a hard time believing it. You might even be a Christian, and at this moment you have your doubts with everything that you've had to deal with and are dealing with in this year of our Lord, 2020. It might be difficult to believe that there is a God who created you, who knows you, and who wants to be known by you and says to you "Seek My face." And right now you can't even see His face. And so, you'll have to trust that His Word is enough.
Why can't we see God's face now? Let me tell a story to try to answer that question. It's just before midnight, and my friend Alex's dad has just dropped me off at my house. He rings the doorbell to our house and my parents answer. I remember this night very well, but I do not remember the expression on my parents' faces because I was not looking at my parents' faces. I was looking down, and I continued looking down as Alex's dad recounted the sequence of events that had transpired that very evening.
"Apparently, our sons were out joy-riding in Bill's convertible with the top down. And from what I can gather, John was sitting on top of the car with his feet in the back seat and he was holding a trash can, one of those big plastic ones with the wheels on it, dragging it along as they were driving. And my son, Alex, and your son, Michael, here were egging him on. And Bill, apparently wasn't watching where he was driving and drove off the road and into a brick fence post. And John still sitting on the top of the back of the car was thrown forward, hit his face on the dashboard and the windshield —and they think he's going to be okay. He's in the ICU in surgery right now."
Before I go on with this story, I want you to know that John made it through okay. Though we did have to drink his food through a straw for the next six weeks with his broken jaw being wired shut, and everything. I want you to know that to this day, I still thank God because I know it could have been so much worse. And I also want you to know that while Alex's dad told the story, I never once looked at my parents' faces. I can't remember if I was more ashamed or defiant or just absorbed in my adolescent brain. But whatever it was, I could not bring myself to look them in the face. Because I didn't want to see that look on their faces.
The Bible tells a story with important similarities to this story. The Bible is a story about God and the people He calls to seek His face. In one of the Bible's inspired poems, Psalm 27, God calls to His people, "Seek My face." And the inspired poet gives us the line, "Your face, Lord, do I seek." God says, "Seek My face," because at heart, He is a loving parent, a Father, and He wants to be the adopting Father for all people. God wants all His children to seek His face. But there's a problem. These would-be children of God, ran off the road and crashed into a brick post. And when God calls them to answer for their actions, they are too shamefaced, self-absorbed, and defiant to look at Him. They don't want to see that look on God's face.
People who study human faces have noted a diversity in facial expressions among people groups, and individuals. Every human face is unique, but they've also observed some surprising similarities. They've identified seven universal facial expressions. You could probably think of them if you tried; you could probably close your eyes and imagine them. There is happiness and sadness; there is fear and anger; there is disgust and surprise and contempt. Well, what about love? Love as a facial expression isn't always a single emotion. It's not just happiness, because how can you put on a happy face when the people that you love are hurting themselves or degrading themselves or distancing themselves from you?
In the Bible, this is the idea behind the wrath of God, the anger of God. God describes Himself as slow to anger in Exodus 34:6. And the Hebrew expression is actually put in terms of a facial expression. It says, God takes a long time to "flare His nostrils." And even when God's nostrils flare, we're told in Psalm 30:5 that His anger lasts but a moment, but His favor is for a lifetime. And maybe you got this idea in your head that God is just angry. And He's angry at the world, and He's angry at us, and He's angry at you. But, this isn't the portrait of God portrayed in the Bible. Even God's angry countenance corresponds to His deep compassion.
Love is a facial expression, is a mixed signal. But even if you can't read love on someone's face, you can still hear it in their voice and see it in their actions. It was this insight that once drove a Jewish man named Daniel to pray an impassioned prayer for his people. Daniel was around 80 years old when he prayed this prayer. He had lived most of his life under the shadow of God's angry countenance. Daniel and his people were called to be a people who live to seek the face of God. And the temple, their sanctuary in Jerusalem, was the epicenter, the place where God's face would shine to everyone who looked to Him in faith. And God called Israel His firstborn son. And God had a plan to send His son into the world to break through everything that would pull human faces downward and inward away from God. But Israel hopped on that joy ride with the rest of humanity and careened into the brick post that was the Empire of Babylon.
And after the crash, with Jerusalem and the temple in ruins, some of them could still sense God looking at them with that face. So Daniel, he studies the Scriptures, the story of God with His people, and he notices something. He remembers that even if you can't read love on someone's face, you can still hear it in their voice and see it in their actions. Listen to these excerpts from Daniel 9, and see what you notice.
In the first year of Darius, who is made king over the realm of the Babylonians, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the Word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, that the devastation of Jerusalem would last 70 years.
So I turned my face to the Lord God to seek Him in prayer and petition with fasting and sackcloth and in ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God, and confessed saying, "O Lord, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commands, we have sinned. We have done wrong. We have acted wickedly and rebelled. We have turned away from Your commandments and standards. We have not listened to the voice of Your servants, the prophets, who spoke in Your Name to our kings and our princes, our fathers, and all the people of the land. Lord, You are in the right. This day, our faces are covered with shame, the people of Judah and those who live in Jerusalem and all Israel and all the countries into which You have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to You. Lord, our faces are covered with shame. But the Lord our God is deep in compassion and abundant in forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him. We have not listened to His voice. By walking in His teaching that He set before us by the hand of His servants, the prophets, all Israel has transgressed Your teaching by turning aside and not listening to Your voice. And so, You have poured out this curse upon us, the oath, the warning that was written in the teaching of Moses, and this disaster has come upon us. We did not seek the face of the Lord our God by turning from our guilt and giving attention to His faithfulness. And so, the Lord watched over this disaster and brought it all upon us.
"Now, Lord our God, You who brought your people Israel out of Egypt with a mighty hand, who has made for Yourself a Name that endures to this day, we have sinned; we have done wrong. But by all Your righteous actions, turn away Your angry expression. Turn Your wrath away from Your city, Jerusalem. Listen to the prayer of Your servant and his plea for favor, for Your own sake, let Your face shine upon Your desolate sanctuary. Extend Your ear, O Lord. Open Your eyes and see our desolations. Because it is not because of our right actions that we are casting our plea for grace before Your face, but because of Your compassionate actions. Lord, listen, Lord, forgive. Lord, give attention and take action. Do not delay for Your own sake because Your city and Your people are called by Your Name."
I think about that car crash almost 30 years later, and it seems ridiculous to me that I would keep my parents at a distance because I didn't want to admit my guilt. They kept asking me, "What were you thinking? What were you doing?" "It wasn't my fault," I kept saying, trying not to look at them. "I wasn't the driver." Why wouldn't I just look them in the face and admit it? Because as I saw things, it was me against them. It was a face-off, and I had to do everything in my power to keep hold on my miserable little adolescent rebellion. Now, I can see how ridiculous I was being. My parents are some of the most wise, interesting, fascinating, experienced people that I could ever hope to meet, and knowing them and seeing their faces, having a relationship with them, blesses me and my wife and my children in countless ways
Why would I delay seeking their faces? Because I didn't want to deal with some momentary angry look? Why would I delay seeking God's face? Why would you delay? Five hundred some years after Daniel died, a Jewish Rabbi came into Israel saying, "Whoever sees Me has seen God, the Father." He said, "I and the Father are One." And some people believed Him, but others thought it was too much for any human being to make such a claim to say that you could look at this man and see the face of God. They arranged to have Jesus crucified. That event was to be the ultimate expression of God's wrath and anger against this crucified Man, for the sake of all who would look to His face. And it was that, and more.
It was a loving God's momentary nostril-flaring "No!" It was God's no to everything that would come between Him and His children. It was God's shining countenance breaking through the darkness by the resurrection of Jesus. Sometimes it's hard to read love on a person's face. The night after the car crash, as I was lying awake in my bed, my parents both came down to my room to tell me good night and to say, "I love you. I love you." I hadn't much looked at their faces all night, and I couldn't see them then because everything was still dark. But I heard their word and a word is enough. And you have this Word from God in Jesus: "Seek My face," says the Lord. "And though you die, yet you shall live."
Would you seek His face with me in prayer? Lord God, our Father, You told Your servant, Moses, no one can see Your face and live. And so, let us die in Jesus, so that we might rise with Him under Your compassionate countenance. And so, at His coming, see You face to face, because He lives and He reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
NO Reflections for December 6, 2020
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"On Jordan's Bank" arr. Malcolm Archer. From Hills of the North, Rejoice by the Wells Cathedral Choir (© 2002 Hyperion Records, Ltd-London)
"Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending" arr. Robert A. Hobby. From Hymns for All Saints: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany (© 2005 Concordia Publishing House)