“How Near Is God?”


Easter 6

May 1, 2016

 

Text:  John 14:23-29; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

 

    Almost every Sunday the following statement is read at the beginning of our worship service:  “The presence of the flame symbolizes the presence of God in our midst.  God is alive.  God’s presence with us gives us life...spiritual, eternal life.

    This statement reminds us that light represents God’s presence with us.  Now the primary sources of natural light which we experience are a considerable distance away from us.  Our main source, the sun, is 93 million miles from the earth.  The stars are much farther away.  Even the moon, the light of which is reflected sunlight, is 250,000 miles away.

    Today’s Scripture from Revelation envisions what God’s Holy City, New Jerusalem, will be like.  John’s vision portrays the city as being filled with light. Sun and moon won’t be necessary.  Artificial light sources will have no purpose.  The light of the city will not come from afar.  It will come directly from God and from the Lamb (Christ), who will live among human beings, bringing eternal blessedness and healing.  The light of God will be in the city perpetually, for it will always be daytime, never night.  God will be so near to all who belong to him that they will see his face and bear his mark on their foreheads.

    Of course, this is a vision of the future God has in store for the world.  It is a beautiful vision, to be sure, but it is one that can seem terribly distant from a human perspective.  Sometimes it seems like God is very far away, especially when we observe the violence, hatred, mean-spiritedness, selfishness, and greed in our world.  Sometimes I let these things seep into my life, and when that happens, it often can seem like God is not near to me.  God can also seem far off at times when life is difficult, when things are not going well, when one is dealing with disappointment, loss, and/or sadness.

    In today’s Gospel reading from John, Jesus is teaching his disciples, trying to prepare them for his death and resurrection.  He tells them that although he is about to go away, going to his Father, God is about to become even nearer to those who follow Jesus.  Jesus said, “Whoever loves me will keep my word.  My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”  God has come to make his home with us, to live with us, not merely as a guest who comes for a short time and then leaves, but as a permanent resident in our lives.  Jesus promised to send his Holy Spirit to the disciples to be with them and live in them, teaching them everything and reminding them of all Jesus had taught them.  

Through the Holy Spirit, God is as near as near can be.  We have been given the Holy Spirit in our baptism.  Through the Holy Spirit God is with us and lives in us. Through the Holy Spirit God guides and teaches us.

This matters because:

  • It means that God is involved in every part of our lives.  It is easy to want to let God into some parts of my life and leave God out of some others, especially if I am resisting something God wants me to do differently with those parts.  But God wants to be at the center of every aspect of our lives--not only the parts we look upon as “spiritual”, but the boring, humdrum, everyday parts of our lives.  I am reminded of Brother Lawrence, the 17th century monk who wrote The Practice of the Presence of God.  Brother Lawrence’s job in his monastery was working in the kitchen, and he found he could be just as aware of God’s presence while washing dishes as he could during his order’s daily times of liturgical prayer.  If we translate this to our own lives, it means public worship is not the only time we can recognize God’s presence.  We can recognize God’s presence when socializing with friends; while doing our daily work; while using our God-given gifts and talents to bring joy to others; in serving our community and those in need.  In all these situations and many more, God is near, seeking to guide us in showing God’s love and kindness to all we encounter.

  • It means we are assured of God’s peace, even when everything around us is chaotic and crazy.  The world has strange ideas about peace.  The time of the New Testament was the time of the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace, which began in 31 BC when Octavian defeated Marc Antony and became the emperor known as Caesar Augustus.  For the next 200 years or so, including New Testament times, the Roman Empire was engaged in very little active warfare.  The Roman definition of peace was not merely a lack of war; it meant a rare situation where all opponents had been beaten down and were unable to resist.  It was a peace that was enforced with a heavy hand, for anything that was seen as threatening the peace of the empire was ruthlessly crushed.  The Jewish revolt that happened in AD 66-73, which resulted in the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, is one example.  The persecution of early Christianity, which rejected the Roman imperial cult and insisted that Christ is greater than Caesar, is another.  But God’s peace is beyond anything the world can give.  God’s peace is not enforced on us from outside; it is given within our hearts and lives.  The heavy handed Pax Romana meant some lived in fear.  But God’s peace is rooted in God’s perfect love which casts out fear, meaning we need not be afraid, even when the things going on around us give us cause for alarm.

    God is near to us as near can be at all times, even when we don’t notice or forget to pay attention because we are overly focused on ourselves.  But when we remember God is near and seek to be conscious of God’s presence, we have the assurance of God’s guidance and peace in every situation.

    God is in our midst.  God is alive.  God’s presence with us, not only here in worship but wherever we may be, gives us life...spiritual, eternal life.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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