God is Near You – Sermon – 10 May 2020

Welcome ? Marvleen Hamilton

Pastor?s Welcome

Happy Mother?s Day to all of the mothers on this second week of May. For most of us, we will not be spending today with our mothers. Some are no longer alive, but that isn?t the only reason. This physical isolation we are experiencing has made it so that most of our visits today will be by telephone or through the internet. No matter how you are able to do it, I hope that all of you have the opportunity to express your love and gratitude to your mothers and to all the women in your life who have loved and nurtured you.

The focus of the worship service this week is the reminder to us all that God is near. We may not be able to see or touch Him, but His presence in our lives guides us, comforts us, and if we let it, will change us.

Call to Worship

Breathe Deeply into Us (by Ted Loder, from ?My Heart in My Mouth?)

O unwearying One
  who stalks us down all our days,
 bring us up short, now,
  and breathe deeply into us
 for we come breathless to you
  from fretful times and frangible relations,
   our attention distracted,
    our energy drained,
   our intentions splintered,
    our love glazed over,
   our hopes unmet,
    our faith frayed. (continued in the Benediction)

Song: Knowing You

Message: God is Near

At a pastor?s retreat a few years ago, the speaker was Dr. Phil Zylla of McMaster Divinity College. In his talk, he said something I will never forget. It was one of those rare messages that are so timely and powerful that they never leave you. After sharing his personal testimony of how God had been a very powerful and healing presence in his life, he closed his eyes and said, ?Never forget the nearness of God.? It is a moment in time I can return to at any moment by closing my own eyes. Dr. Zylla?s vulnerability and honesty allowed us to witness a moment of pure and spontaneous worship.

As followers of Jesus, our faith can all too easily devolve into knowing things about Jesus and trying our hardest to follow the rules. Those are not bad things, but they are certainly not all there is. They are not the heart of the gospel we will read about in John 14:1-7. That heart is this: in Jesus, God came near to us, and calls us to Him.

Passage: John 14:1-7

Jesus Comforts His Disciples

1   ?Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me. 2   My Father?s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you 3   And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4   You know the way to the place where I am going.?

John 14:1-4

Jesus the Way to the Father

5   Thomas said to him, ?Lord, we don?t know where you are going, so how can we know the way??
6   Jesus answered, ?I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.?

John 14:5-7

This is a passage I have gone to many times over the past 21 years as a pastor, but almost always when preparing a message for a funeral. The reason for that is fairly obvious: Jesus was reassuring His disciples that heaven was real, and that trusting Him was the only way anyone was going to get there. The pastoral implications for the occasion of a funeral are powerful and timely, but there is really so much more to this critical passage than even this truth.

Unity of the Father and the Son

Our doctrine of the Trinity is a very helpful image that enables us to speak of the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is true that the word Trinity never appears in the Bible, and that all of our attempts to describe it fall short, but it remains a critical truth. The nation of Israel was eagerly expecting God to send them a Messiah, but they were not expecting the ?God in the flesh? Jesus turned out to be.

As good Jewish men, this would have been a concept that would only have became clear to them slowly over time, and then not fully until after the resurrection. To this day, ?God as a man? remains a stumbling block to both Jews and Moslems.  Eventually though, the disciples would recall earlier teachings and conversations with their Rabbi that had pointed them to this truth all along. Jesus was the Son of God who had a unique and intimate relationship with His Heavenly Father ? and through Him, they were being invited into the midst of that relationship. True, it was a relationship that totally challenged their understanding of the nature of God, but it was a shift of theology that brought them so much closer to Him.

And so, if we know Jesus, if we put our trust in Him, if we belong to Him; then we too have become part of the family!

Reflection

When you think of Jesus and pray, do you think of Him as more human or more God? The truth is that He is both ? to know the man Jesus of Nazareth is to know God! As incredible as His words and wisdom was, He was far more than the greatest teacher. He was the one and only Son of God!

Spend a moment in worship, thanking God for the incredible way that He revealed His heart for us by sending His Son.

The Father Invites Us to Live with Him

I believe it is true that for most of us, even though we love our children very much, it is not our deepest desire that they move back home with us! We may welcome it for times of transition and perhaps during special situations (like now), but it isn?t a long-term dream for most of us ? and it most certainly isn?t a long term dream of our children!

Family life in the 21st century is much different than it was in the 1st one. In that day, it was customary for men to bring their bride to the family home and live in a place set aside for them. If you were wealthy that could mean your own room, but for the vast majority it meant, ?Put your mat in that corner over there.? Either way, generations of families lived together in tight quarters, experiencing a closeness that I am sure presented all the same issues it would if your whole family were sharing a bedroom today.

But Jesus is telling His disciples that God is a Father with many resources who wants to lavish His love on His family. Older translations of this passage often talk of God owning ?Many Mansions,? but that rendering totally changes the meaning. God isn?t preparing a big house for us to live in all by ourselves ? God is calling us to move in with Him!

Reflect

Spend a moment considering the intimacy God is inviting you to experience here. One day we won?t be going to a church or temple or even a palace to see our Heavenly Father, we will see Him every day! He will be at the breakfast table with us; He will spend the day with us, fully present and available; and He will be there when the day is done.

Have you ever thought about what heaven will be like? Spend a few moments considering just what God is offering you when He asks you to move in with Him! Perhaps even imagine Jesus sitting at the breakfast table with you and your family as you talk together about the new day. Think of how this nearness of God could radically alter your attitude toward prayer!

We Don?t Have to Wait for Moving Day!

The last good news from this passage I want you to consider is that God is calling you to this intimacy with Him right now ? you don?t need to wait until you die!

?If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. FROM NOW ON (my emphasis), you do know Him and have seen Him.?

This conversation took place 2,000 years ago around the table at the Last Supper; the day before the crucifixion; three days before the resurrection; a few weeks before the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. God?s plan is clearly not just about an eternal ?some day,? but eternal life now! We are not to be spending our lives working hard so God will find us acceptable ? because we are accepted by God right now, as we are. We are loved. We are already part of the family!

Reflect

Do you live as if you are already part of God?s immediate family? Is your experience of Christianity revealing to you more and more that God loves you unconditionally and extravagantly ? because you are family! Do you live your life experiencing the intimacy and nearness of God?

Before we pray, spend some time imagining God loving you in the unique way that touches you the deepest. That could be anything from a hug, to an attentive ear, to a hearty handshake!

Pastoral Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

We confess that too often our relationship with You is distant and can even become cold. We also confess that we sometimes even blame you for this separation.

But you are the God who loves us and calls to us. You are the God who sent Jesus to us so we could know you so much more clearly. You are the God who sends us the Holy Spirit so that Your transforming power can live in us and do it?s work in our character and in our souls.

Soften our hearts so we can respond to your gracious intentions toward us. Give us the desire to open up our souls to You. Forgive us when we turn our faces from You and from each other. Grant us Your forgiveness and peace, even in the midst of our own confusion and pain.

We lift up to You those who are hurting; those who are alone, misunderstood, forgotten; those who are feeling afraid, directionless, hopeless; those who are broken, sick, in pain. Even as faces come to mind right now, we ask You to fill them with Your healing Spirit, that they would experience health in their bodies and in their souls. We especially pray for those who are suffering from this virus, and for those who jobs call them to serve others despite the precautions we are all called to observe. May they know our gratitude and Your peace.

And finally, this morning we give thanks for our mothers ? those alive and those with You. We give thanks for those who cared for us the best they could, and whose love for us helps us to begin to understand Your love for us. Fill them with Your peace, even as they continue to worry for the safety of their children ? no matter how old those children may be.

You have drawn near to us Lord, help us now to live in that intimacy and to continue to draw ever nearer to You.

In Jesus Name we pray, amen.

Song: Knowing You

Benediction

(Continued from, ?Breathe Deeply into Us? by Ted Loder)

Still, we gasp to thank you
  for this undeniable impulse
    to thank you,
  for this insistent yearning
    to know you,
  for this throbbing desire
    to love you back;
  for this quick, trembling,
    sensuous sense of all your gifts
      showering like rain on lives
        long parched by inattention:
    bread to empower our bodies,
      beauty to quicken our pulse,
        night to show off the stars
          and put us in our awesome place,
    problems to summon our talents,
      love to link our lives,
        laughter to nurse our wounds,
    passion to shape our maybes
      into a brighter day for
        the whole human family;
  and for this mystical, magical moment
    of peace and shimmering power,
      of grace and prophetic stretch,
    in which you work the miracles
      of gladdening our hearts yet again,
        in spite of painful patches,
          sobering losses, and puzzling trials;
      of balming our souls with a touch of joy
        because we are,
          and are yours,
            and you are forever;
      of heeding our prayers beyond our words
        in the spirit of Jesus.
 Amen