DEEP – Distant

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[This series of sermons explores some of the challenges people face in their spirituality. This sermon “Distant” is third in a series of four sermons]

Psalm 63:1-8

This week I discovered I have a serious mental disorder. It turns out I have PSTD: Post Synod Tiredness Disorder.

The previous week saw the Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia meet, and delegates like myself worked 12 hour days, with committee work and other responsibilities beyond that. It’s not hard to imagine how tiring that sort of schedule can be.

So, I was sitting in my office the following Monday thinking I needed to get some work done on this message, and I just couldn’t concentrate for that long. I found I was restricted to pastoral hack work: emails, phone calls, catch ups, and stuff like that (apologies to anyone I may have visited or phoned Monday afternoon, as you have now been recipients of pastoral hack work…)

It’s not an uncommon picture. Life is so busy, and when it’s particularly full on, it’s easy to become discombobulated.

Discombobulate |ˌdɪskəmˈbɒbjʊleɪtverb [ with obj. ] humorous, chiefly N. Amer. disconcert or confuse (someone): (as adj.discombobulated:  ‘he is looking a little pained and discombobulated’

As Christians, we need to think about the level of our busyness, and ask whether it’s really helping us live well and connect with God.

Henri Nouwen writes

I wonder if the Word of God can really be received in the center of our hearts if our constant chatter and noise and electronic interactions keep blocking the way of the heart.

All that chatter and noise is actually making it hard to relate, not only to God, but to one another. If you’ve caught a train recently, you’ve probably seen something like this, right?

Passengers

You even see people doing this in restaurants, when they should be connecting and communicating meaningfully. So, what’s happening? The technologies that promise connection, community, togetherness are often at work to keep us apart.

39153_01_smartphone_use_in_the_restaurant_causing_disruptions_and_headaches_full

The writer of Ps 63 is longing for a connection with God, but there is a gulf between what he wants, and what he has:

“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1, NIV) 

In one sense, his words are not surprising. In the Old Testament, God’s presence was restricted to the Temple in Jerusalem, and at this point this writer – King David – had been forced into exile in the wilderness, far away from Jerusalem and its Temple.

But in another sense these words catch us unawares, because this is King David. The apple of God’s eye. The man after God’s own heart. Leader of a people of faith. We would say he is one of the greatest figures of faith in the Bible. And he is distant from God?? So distant he feels it physically??

People of faith will relate to this. Because you’re a card carrying Christian does not immunise you against spiritual distance. It may be life experiences, significant trauma, unemployment, relationship breakdown, overwork – we can come to a point in life when you realise ‘I feel so far from God!’ True?

‘I am with you’ – God

The surprising thing is that while this Psalmist feels great distance, he still takes comfort in God.

Psalm 63:2-8

Surprising, I say, because many think that if there’s distance in between them and God then God will not be happy. And if God is not happy, he gets all stand offish. And a stand offish God won’t mind the distance, or so we think. We see God as one who really couldn’t be bothered with people who couldn’t be bothered with him. But here’s the thing: you may be distant from God, but he’s not content to leave you there. One of the most surprising things about God is that he is with you even if you don’t want to be with him.

Ever thought about that? Even if it feels God is far away, even when you feel you are far away form God, he is still with you?

Hundreds of years ago John Calvin wrote that every person has this sense of divinity, a deep seated awareness that there is a god, a greater meaning to life, a bigger story that makes sense. Now, here’s the astonishing thing: this sense of the divine is not just something ‘religious’ people have. Two thousand years ago Paul the Apostle spoke to a bunch of philosophers and trend setters in Athens. None were Christians.

Even if it feels God is far away, even when you feel you are far away form God, he is still with you?

But this is what he said:

““The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” (Acts 17:24–28, NIV) 

Did you catch that? He is not far form any of us; in Him we live and move and have our being. 

So, you might feel far from God, but God is not far from you.

You could say if you’ve ever found yourself wondering about life’s meaning, wondering whether there’s something, someone that makes sense of life, that gives us meaning, this is really God already at work in you. He made you. He made your world. And in the same way you want to be close to your children, God wants to be close to you. He’s not waiting for you to convert (as good as that might be), or to stop swearing, or start speaking churchy kind of language. His presence in your life does not depend on you doing anything.

Why? Because he’s a God of grace. He blesses you with his nearness simply because he is a good and loving God. He gifts you with his presence in your life. Pretty amazing, right? There’s an even more amazing fact: despite weakness of faith, or even an irreligious character, he sent his son Jesus to guarantee his presence in your life, your family and your world.

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:9–11, NIV) 

They didn’t recognise him. They didn’t receive him. But he came anyway! That is what we call grace. Undeserved mercy.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, NIV) 

More: Jesus not only came to be with people, he came to draw these people who neither recognised him nor received him back to God. And he did it through the event we celebrate on Good Friday: his own death on the Cross

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”” (John 12:32, NIV) 

This is what it means when we read “God so loved the world”. God gave his one and only son, who would give his life on a cross to bring you back, to reconcile you to himself.

Here’s the point: God is nearer than you think. He is close to everyone. Believer. Irreligious. Even those opposed. Even atheists like Richard Dawkins – he is never far away from the God he does not want to believe in! See, because Jesus went the distance, any distance you now sense between yourself and God has been overcome.

Isn’t this is an incredible comfort? If God is even close to those who hate him, how much more is he with those who love him!

This is the assurance Jesus gave when he returned to heaven:

“…Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:20, NIV) 

And after Jesus returned to the Father, he gave his Spirit to the church, to live in every one who loves him, as a seal of his presence and nearness:

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—” (John 14:16, NIV) 

It’s all pretty clear: God has done everything he possibly can to ensure there is no distance between him and his people. He even sent Jesus to close the gap completely. Think about that:

God wants you, even before you wanted him.

God sought you, even before you sought him.

And even where you sense a distance, as far as God is concerned, he is committed to you with a faithfulness that we can scarcely comprehend.

Draw Near

So: how do we respond to this? Short answer: Draw near to God!

You’re looking for a bigger picture, a greater story, something that makes sense of your world, something that offers hope. Drawing near to God through Jesus is the way to this true life.

This morning we witnessed a baptism. And when two parents make their baptismal vows, they are actually making a confession of faith: that Jesus has bridged the gap, gone the distance, dies in their place and reconciled them to God. They are saying they will order their lives and witness so their little child will understand there is no other way to find life than with God through Jesus.

Think for a moment about physical hunger. I remember some years ago filling up my car with petrol early one morning. These two school kids – maybe 9 or 10 years old, upper primary – were walking out of the service area as I walked in to pay. One had two cans of V, and the other had a bag of chips and some snakes. The attendant saw me looking at them, and said ‘that’s their breakfast every morning.’ Best diet, much? I can imagine their teacher an hour or to later when these guys are high on caffeine and sugar!

Why do people feed themselves on things that can never bring them to health? In a similar way, why do we keep seeking life when we will only even find it in Jesus? If we’re longing for a connection with real meaning, with true life, we will only ever find it fully in relationship God. If we are distant from God, and feeling a spiritual hunger, why do we try to satisfy it with things that can never deliver?

God is saying to you: I am right here. I am with you. So close. So near! I am the closest friend you’ve ever had (or perhaps the closest friend you’ve never had!). I am the best life you can ever live! I am the hope that sits in your breast. I am the way, the truth, the life!

So, what should you do?

One: quieten yourself. With all the busyness around you, find a place at home where you can think about life and God. I like to find a place where it’s quiet, a place where it is warm and inviting. That’s where I want to sit and read and pray, and have the God who is near speak to me. Or I get out into the bush. Breathe some fresh air. Feel the sunshine. Just take a notebook and a pen, and let my thoughts flow. Sometimes that quietness is just what we need to know that he who says he is near is actually with us.

Two: Pray Simply – you don’t need holy language. You don’t need to be particularly religious. You don’t need to be in a holy place. God is everywhere, so anywhere is holy. Just breathe those simple words

“God, thankyou for opening the way back to you through Jesus. 

God, please draw me close to you. 

Open my heart. Open my eyes. Open my mind to who you are, and how you have removed the distance in Jesus…”

Three: Ask God to accept you in Jesus 

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6, NIV) 

And I am in no doubt that God will do exactly that. He has promised to do so:

“All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37, NIV) 

And here we were thinking we had to bridge the gap. No doubt, God wants us to believe and trust. But the gap is already bridged, the distance is resolved through Jesus’ death and rising. So with in an attitude of thanksgiving for the Jesus who has bridged the gap for you, quieten yourself, pray, and ask that this races God accept you in and through his son.

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