“A near-by God”
“Am I not a God who is nearby?” asks the Lord.
Last week, we were outside the plane looking longingly back inside, and I urged us to “Let go of the plane.” I said that I was speaking “in the Name of the Lord.” But was I FOR God when I urged you to launch yourself into midair, urged you to “let go and let God?”
Our first lesson today tells us how to judge when someone is speaking FOR God, when someone is “channeling” God, as we would say today. Of course, back in biblical times, prophets were the ones who spoke God’s message.
Prophets still speak God’s word today, of course. The problem is that today, as in Jeremiah’s time, EVERYONE claims to be a prophet. We have to decide who’s REALLY speaking for God.
Our first lesson explains how to tell whether the words we hear are God’s, or just our own desires disguised as God’s. Speaking to the discouraged prophet Jeremiah, God declared that HIS word is self-validating, that we will know—will feel—when God is speaking because God’s word overwhelms our senses.
God gives several examples:
- Wheat, not straw: Humans can’t digest straw. When we eat straw we get sick, but most of us can eat wheat. Wheat feeds us in a way that straw cannot. God says his word is like wheat, compared to straw.
- Fire: God’s word energizes us, moves us into action. Without fire we are left content in our own lethargy.
- A hammer: We sometimes try to quench the God-fire. We say, “Who, me?” as Jeremiah himself did, and “Not again? I’m tired!” and “Don’t you have any YOUNGER disciples to rock with the Word of God?” So we put up walls—rock barriers around our hearts. Well, God’s Word breaks rock into so many pebbles. God’s word finds us wherever we are hiding, and breaks down our barriers, moving us into action.
The problem with being a preacher is that we sometimes are afraid to speak for God. We preachers who are prophets do not claim our identity as prophets because we are afraid of your reaction. I suspect that you might ask, “Ho hum, another so-called prophet is claiming to speak for God. Isn’t this Rev. Jo? Who does she think SHE is, Jeremiah?”
Apparently, I am not Jeremiah. I was in a very large department store last week, one I don’t normally enter because they don’t provide their employees with health insurance. But I was there buying back-to-school supplies (using your donated money, you understand). I laid out all 230 items in stacks of 10 on the conveyor belt, only to discover the store’s policy is to scan each and every item. Individually. One at a time. I turned to apologize to the woman behind me in line, a person who was very gracious about the situation. “No problem,” this woman said. “We’re ALL consumers here.”
“Well, no.” I thought, “YOU might be a consumer. But can’t you see that I am a prophet? After all I’m buying way more school supplies than one family, even one school, could possibly use. Don’t you intuit that’s I’m acting for Jesus, motivated by the Holy Spirit, who is moving me into becoming Christ’s hands, voices, and hearts.”
Apparently not. Apparently acting for Christ Jesus requires a voice, requires using our audio capabilities to speak the Name of Jesus as we go about doing God’s work. Otherwise, people will think we are only consumers, worshiping the God of capitalism.
But you know, Christ Jesus keeps showing up in our midst, despite my failures and despite our audio lapses. “Am I a God nearby, says the Lord, and not a God far off?”
Christ Pantocrator, God who is creator and ruler of all good things, keeps showing up. Christ keeps showing up in the midst of our good deeds, keeps urging us to speak, keeps urging us to trust.” If you don’t believe me, look around at all the photos of our recent good works, our recent God-works. Christ Pantocrator is visible in all the photos.
Christ Jesus insists that things happen for a reason, both the good things and the bad things. Not random. Not automatic. And God himself is there. “Am I not a God who is nearby?”
We don’t like God being so nearby. A nearby God keeps kicking us out of the plane, keeps urging us off the couch, keeps making us uncomfortable, keeps changing us from self-congratulatory consumers into sharers of God’s gifts.
We don’t like God being so active in all that occurs, because bad things happen and we know that God is somehow complicit, if not culpable. We know that the rock God shatters is our own hard hearts (ouch!). We know that the fire God kindles to do what is right is our own spirit, infused with Christ’s own Spirit, bent in a new direction (durn it!). We perceive that the wallet that will be emptied is our very own, emptied of the cash that a nearby God puts into that wallet, into that bank account. We know that we need to recognize wheat from straw so that we can give away what will sustain others, not what we ourselves cannot use. Then we will open our mouths and sing God’s praise.
And, lest we decide that God is so near that we can figure out everything about him, so near that we can harness God for our own purposes, God is also so far beyond our comprehension that he fills heaven and earth. We cannot make God so small that we can put him in our pockets.
Today we rejoice with Rev. Randi in her ordination to the priesthood yesterday. We give thanks that God has kindled a God-fire in her, broken her resistance to God’s call, and given her the voice of a teacher and prophet. We are especially grateful that she has used the God-fire here at Church of the Resurrection this past year. Free of charge or compensation, a God-gift to us and our community.
Today we bless 187 backpacks that are filled with back-to-school supplies and your love, backpacks and supplies that Christ Jesus stilled you up to give to children in our community. May these God-gifts radiate Christ’s love, channeled through us, so that those who receive them know that God is a God who is very nearby.
Today I speak FOR God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!