Why God Doesn’t See You
February 09, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
Isaiah 58:1-9a Matthew 5:13-16 1 Corinthians 2:1-6
Have you ever felt like you were invisible to the people around you? You raise your hand in class and no one seems to notice. You share your opinion in a meeting with your co-workers and no one seems to hear. But then five minutes later another co-worker says exactly what you said, and everyone thinks that it’s a great idea. We call, or write, or email our elected officials and we don’t get anything in return, or we get a preprinted form letter or postcard that has nothing at all to do with our original message. And it happens in church too. Sometimes we feel like we come to church for years and no one knows our name or acknowledges that we have skills that we can contribute.
It’s frustrating, even infuriating, to feel invisible when we desperately want to be known and appreciated.
But what happens when we feel as if we are invisible to God? What happens when we cry out to God in prayers or in our frustration, or grief, or anger, and it seems as if God really doesn’t care? We know that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. That means that God knows everything, is present everywhere, and knows everything that there is to know. But sometimes, it seems that if God hears us, and knows us, he must not really care.
But is that true?
And if it is, how can that be possible?
As we consider those questions, let’s begin by reading Isaiah 58:1-9a, where God explains to the people of Israel what was happening when they felt exactly that way. They prayed, they worshipped in the Temple, they brought sacrifices, they fasted, they did everything that they thought they were supposed to do to make God happy. But still, it seemed as if God was ignoring them. And this was God’s reply:
58:1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
In the time of Isaiah, many people were going to the Temple, making sacrifices, studying scripture, praying, fasting, and, by all appearances, trying hard to please God. But after all their hard work, they end up asking God why he hasn’t noticed them. Although they knew that God had heard their prayers and seen their worship, they felt like they were invisible.
But God did notice them.
God did see the things that they did. And God replies that the problem wasn’t with the things that they did, but with the things that they didn’t do. Yes, they prayed, and they fasted, but while they were trying to show God their devotion, they were also mistreating their employees at the same time. When they finished their fasting, they argued with one another and started fistfights with fellow believers. It is as if God says, “Do you want to know why you are invisible? It’s because this kind of “churchy” stuff that you are doing is not the important stuff that I expect you to do.” The most important part of following God is not putting on a show by going to church, and praying, and fasting, and looking good to the people around you. The most important part is living your life the way that God wants you to live and treating others the way that God would treat them by fighting injustice, freeing people who are oppressed by substance abuse, or by governments, or by corporations, or by anyone who is treating them unfairly, by sharing your food with the hungry, offering shelter to the wanderer, clothing the naked, and caring for your family.
God says that these are the things that make you truly noticed and visible to him. It is when we do these things that God hears our prayers and brings healing to our brokenness. It is when we do the things that are important to God that God watches over our steps, and that is also when the community around you really beings to notice that God is making a difference in your life.
And if you want a second opinion, in Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus says pretty much the same thing when he says:
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Two thousand years ago, salt was valuable. If you lived near the ocean, you could evaporate water and make your own, but most of the world can’t do that. As a result, in the ancient world, salt was sometimes used as a form of currency and Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt. (Which, incidentally, is how the phrase “worth his salt” came in to being.) In any case, when salt was collected, or mined, and then transported over long distances, it was sometimes stored in the open where it could get rained on, and the “salty” part of the salt would be lost, leaving behind something that might look like salt, but which was no longer “salty.” So, what Jesus is saying is that you are intended to be salt. When we follow the commands of God, and when we live the way that God has called us to live, we change the way that our community “tastes” just like salt changes the flavor of food. It’s a concept that we understand by experience. French fries are awesome, but without salt, they’re just kind of “Meh.” Popcorn is one of my favorite foods, but without salt, it’s just kind of okay.
Jesus says that’s the effect that we are supposed to have on our relationships with other people and in the world around us. Without us it’s okay, but with us it’s clearly better. But, if that salt loses its saltiness, then it really isn’t worth anything anymore. And it is our connection to God that makes us different. When we do the things that God calls us to do, when we live the way that Jesus taught us to live, it is only then that we become “salty” and can bring God’s flavor to the world.
Many of us don’t to be the center of attention. We don’t want to be evangelists. We’re afraid that we’re not good enough. We’re not good at public speaking. Won’t being “salty” and bringing God’s flavor to the people around me be hard? Honestly, as intimidating as it might sound, no. I know that I’ve said this before, but it’s always worth repeating, God is always the one who does all the hard work. The Apostle Paul explained it to the church in Corinth this way in 1 Corinthians 2:1-6:
2:1 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.
Paul reminds the people of the church that he wasn’t good at public speaking and he wasn’t always very street smart when he was there sharing his story about God. He arrived in Corinth “in weakness with great fear and trembling.” But, despite his weaknesses and shortcomings, he lived a life that demonstrated God’s power.
He lived a life that demonstrated God’s power.
What do you suppose that means?
Here’s the picture that I have in my head: In high school, a few weeks before prom, there were one or two guys who got a job working for local tuxedo rental shops. These guys were usually football players and not experienced or skilled salespeople. But their “job” was to demonstrate the products of the tux shops. Every day they would show up to school dressed in a different tuxedo.
That was it. Just put on the tux and go to school. Okay, maybe they passed out a flyer or business cards now and then, but they weren’t really offering a sales pitch or anything.
And I think that’s exactly the kind of thing that Paul is describing. Our “job” is to “put on” Jesus and live our lives. What God wants us to do is to live the way that he has called us to live, and to do the things the he taught us to do, to just “put on” God and live our regular lives. We don’t need to be eloquent or well-spoken evangelists, we just need to wear God’s tux and let God do the rest.
The most important part of following God is not putting on a show by going to church and looking good to the people around you. The most important part is living your life is to be “salty”, to live and to love the way that God wants, to treat others the way that God would treat them, by fighting injustice, freeing people who are oppressed, by sharing your food with the hungry, offering shelter to the wanderer, clothing the naked, and caring for your family.
God doesn’t require us to be brilliant.
He just wants us to be faithful.
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