Posts Tagged ‘God’s presence’

A prayer for Good Shepherd Sunday, after singing “Fairest Lord Jesus“.
Scriptures: Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9 -17; John 10: 22-30

We sing our praise to you, fairest Lord Jesus,
Ruler of all,
living among us,
moving in our neighbourhoods,
bringing your salvation and blessing
your beauty and grace.

We sing our praise to you, fairest Lord Jesus,
for You shepherd us like a good shepherd:
you lay down your life for us;
you protect us from the powers that would
take us from you;
you come looking for us when we get lost.

We sing our praise to you, fairest Lord Jesus
for you lead us to living waters,
immersing us in love
that is deeper than our fears,
inviting us to drink deeply
at the fountain of your mercy;
filling our hearts with your courage and strength.

We sing our praise to you
even as we bring to you those times
when we were stumbling through
the valley of the shadow of death
and could not feel you near us;
we bring to you those times
when we were in the presence of enemies
and not at all sure that
you knew what danger we were in;
we bring to you those times
when our prayers seemed only to echo
in a vast emptiness.

It is mystery to us
that you are present
even there.
It is mystery to us
that you care
even for us.
It is mystery to us
that even now
you are seeking us out,
calling us by name,
yearning for us to
and answer
and come to you.

It is mystery to us
but we lean into that mystery
and sing our praise to you.

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A prayer emerging from 2 Corinthians 4: 13 -5:1 and the hymn “Let us with a gladsome mind”.

We  praise you, God,
for you are faithful and kind,
your mercies endure through all that life brings us.

We bring to you the week that has passed:
the moments when we were hungry and thirsty
for a greater sense of your presence with us;
the times when we were troubled and anxious
and could not hold on to your promises
to be our rock and our strength;
the experiences of joy and gratitude
when we knew ourselves deeply cared for by you.

We lay all that before you
and we open our hearts and minds and spirits
to your Holy Spirit.

Renew in us the confidence that
you are always at work,
breaking into our lives with
newness that is the abundant Life
that Jesus promised.

Renew in us the trust that
not a day goes by without
your unfolding grace.

Renew us so that we gladly declare:
your goodness is stronger than evil;
you love is stronger than hate;
your light is stronger than the darkness;
your truth is stronger than lies.

We pray in the name of Jesus
who comes to us
in this time together,
in both our weakness and our strength,
in the bread and in the drink
we share in his name. Amen.

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This is the day that you have made:
you have filled it with signs of your presence;
your Spirit’s breath permeates every moment;
your grace fills each experience;
your promises move within event,
pulling us toward hope.

Receive our thanks.
Receive our praise,
through Christ our Lord
for in his love
we know your deep love
your faithfulness
your grace.

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A prayer after having wrestled with Exodus 15.

We are a people of enormous privilege
and we know we shouldn’t complain, God,
but you know the hungers that haunt our souls —
hungers that cannot be silenced by our many possessions.
You know the emptiness that our young people
fill with computer games and binge drinking
and sometimes violence
against themselves and against others.
You know the loneliness that fills the days and nights of our elderly.

And, we are grateful
that you are a God who hears our complaints —
such as they are.
You give your Living Bread for our hunger
and holy purposes for our emptiness
and your presence in our loneliness.
You show us your glory
even in the midst of our wilderness times.

Your gifts are often not what we expect
but they are surprisingly enough:
Enough to trust you for the next step of the journey;
Enough to risk following where you lead;
Enough to share with others.

So, give us, we pray, our daily bread.
Rain it down from heaven and teach us, O Lord,
to live by your “enough”.
Bread of heaven,
feed us,
fill us,
use us.
We pray in the name of Jesus
whose body was broken for us and for the world.

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2 Corinthians 4: 7-17
John 3: 1-10

Why do you participate in the life and mission of your church? There are lots of other things you could do with your time and energy. It is a difficult time to be the church. You could be giving your time and energy to something easier, something that looks more successful, something more popular. Yet, you show up; you give what you feel you can. Why do you do that?

When I have asked that question, the most common response I get is that people participate in their church because of the friendships they have there. The relationships keep them coming.

Those relationships are very precious gifts. We live in a time when many people are profoundly lonely. They are thirsty to feel welcomed in a community. They are looking for some place where they are treated with dignity and kindness. They want to believe that they matter to somebody.

Some of you have found those things among the friendships you have developed in your church community. Those friends have seen you through some of the worst times in your life. You have shared some of the best times together. You speak readily about how grateful you are.  “Why do you participate in the life and mission of your church?” Many of you answer, “Because of the friends I have here.”

Yet, as true as that answer may be, something more needs to be said. The Church is not just a social club. As William Willimon is fond of saying, “The Church is not just the Rotary Club meeting at an inconvenient time.” We gather in Christian communities not just for the friends we have. Lots of people have good friends without the trouble of being part of the Church.

We gather in Christian communities because something more in happening in and through your relationships with each other. Often God meets you through these other people. Someone says something at just the right time that helps you find your way forward and you discern that it is the Spirit of God working through that person. You are on the receiving end of some undeserved kindness or generosity and you realize that you are catching a glimpse of the grace of God that permeates all our days. Someone sits with you when you are going through a dark time and you feel God’s steadfast love and faithfulness flowing through him or her into your life.There is more to the church than just friendships with each other. Our friends become channels, conduits, through which the living God reaches out to you.

As great a treasure as all of that is, there is something beyond even that going on. Jesus promises, “When two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20).  It is not just that other people are channels of God’s grace. It is that, when we gather together, the risen Christ is here. He shows up. He joins the gathering.

Often we do not recognize that he is present. Seldom do we acknowledge his presence. Yet, he is here, with us, beyond our ordinary human sight.

When the apostle Paul tried to describe this, he said, “In Christ, there is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17)  In Christ, there is a new world: a new dimension to this world. Now that God has raised Jesus from the dead, there are two worlds that exist in the same continuum. It is like two notes playing at the same time. The one world is the visible world that we are used to seeing and touching and hearing — the everyday world. There is another world as well. It is invisible to our ordinary senses but it is still real and it has its effect on us.

A new creation came into being when God raised Jesus from the dead. This new creation is teeming with God’s mercy and God’s grace and God’s resurrection power. Because it is not visible, many people tend to overlook it or dismiss it. That would be a mistake. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, “It is the invisible that moves the visible” (John 3: 5-6).

Much of living by faith is a matter of developing eyes to see and ears to hear God’s work. There is more going on here than what we are in our own selves and in our relationships with each other. There is the risen Christ saving and healing and bringing us into the power of the resurrection that is at work in our world. The risen Christ is bringing new life in places and situations that we have given up on as dead, as hopeless.

That is why in our lives and in our churches, we always need to remain open to surprise. We need to be supple, ready to change direction, ready to consider new possibilities. Our resurrecting God keeps showing up.

Often, when the risen Christ show up, he breaks open things that we had nailed down tightly. There are things in our lives that we have tried to keep so tightly controlled that all the life in them has been shut down. Jesus shows up and breaks them open so that there’s room for the Holy Spirit to blow through our lives again and bring new energy and new life.

That can be a very painful process. We like things the way they are. We have organized them that way. They work for us that way. At least, they did. Even when they no longer do, we hold on to them because they are familiar. There is a certain comfort in that.

God will not let us settle for comfort. God has something far better in mind for us. God wants to give us life, real life, abundant life. God want that abundant life not just for us but for our children and grandchildren and for the children of this neighbourhood and this city and the whole of God’s beloved creation. God’s Spirit moves against structures that stand in the way of God’s good purposes. The Spirit is in the process of dismantling them, of letting them die and disappear.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “When God’s Spirit shows up, it’s like the wind that blows where it will. You don’t know where it is coming from or where it is headed next.” The Spirit is a wild and powerful presence. Sometimes the Spirit-wind is like a hurricane that clears out the present order and makes room for something new to come. Sometimes the Spirit-wind is the kind of wind that catches the sails of a sailboat and takes us on new adventures.

Much of the New Testament was written to small Christian communities that we hanging on by their finger tips. Yet, Paul writes to them with amazing hope:
Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we are not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we are not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The thing we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4: 7-17, The Message).

We are not on our own. Our life together draws its energy and vitality from the greatness of God’s power. So, the church lives on tiptoe. The church is a community that is open to the impossible becoming possible. It is determined to live in the impossible possibility of the reign of God in our midst.

Why do you keep showing up? Thomas Long tells of being part of a spiritual formation class in a church where the question was asked, “Why have you stayed as part of the Church?” One man replied, “I’ll tell you what keeps me coming. it’s strange, I know, but I get the feeling here, like nowhere else, that something is about to happen” (Something is About to Happen, p. 9)  That, my friends, is a great gift. Thanks be to God.

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A sermon for Transfiguration Sunday based on: 1 Peter 2: 1-10; Psalm 42; Luke 9: 28 -36

One of the abiding convictions of Christian faith is that God often works in hidden ways. God is alive and active in human history. God is working salvation in our world. We don’t always perceive it.

In fact, we can go for long periods of time largely unaware that God is present. Sometimes, our life is so filled with sorrow and suffering, that we cry out in anguish, “Where is God?” What is even worse, says the Psalmist, are the taunts of unbelievers who point to the suffering of the innocent, or to a horrific tragedy, and then jeer at God’s people, “Where is your God now?” In all of that, we are experiencing what someone called “God’s holy hiddenness.”

Those are not just poetic words that cover over the anguish. They give voice to the longing in the deepest part of our being for glimpse — just a glimpse — of God’s unmistakable presence in our midst. We thirst for a sign that God is healing the world’s brokenness; that God is healing our own brokenness.

The Bible does not answer the question, “Where is God?” directly. It asks the question often. Newly liberated Hebrew slaves find themselves in the middle of a large desert without food and drink. They ask, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Job loses his home and his family and his healthy in a cascade of tragedies. He asks, “Where is God? Let God show Himself and I will confront Him with the injustice of all that has happened to me!” The Psalmist cries out, ‘My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” The question echoes from Jesus’ lips as he hangs on a Roman cross. The Bible asks the questions many times. It does not give a direct answer.

What the Bible does is tell stories. Those stories draw us into God’s presence in the world. In the stories of Israel, Jesus and the early Christian Church, we become participants in God’s actions — healing, saving, transforming, comforting. Even in situations where God seems most profoundly absent, we are drawn into the surprising actions of God.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It is the last Sunday of Epiphany’s light before we enter Lent’s shadowed time. Just before this morning’s scripture, Jesus has told his disciples that the Messiah — the one anointed by God to be Saviour of the world — was going to suffer and be put on trial and found guilty and killed and, on the third day, would be raised up alive. The one who had come to save the world was going to be destroyed by the powers he came to destroy.

The disciples are still reeling from this incomprehensible juxtaposition of “Saviour” and “suffering”, of “Lord” and “killed”, of “sacrifice” and “salvation”, when Jesus pushes them even further. Those who want to belong to him, who want to participate in God’s saving work in the world, he said, will be led into a life of suffering and sacrifice as well. You can imagine that the disciples had more than a few questions — fundamental, profound questions, not least of which would be, “Where is God in all of this?”

The reply Jesus gives is to take Peter, James, and John up a mountain to pray. Actually, Jesus prays. The disciples sleep. Jesus’ appearance becomes dazzling bright and two great figures of the faith — Moses and Elijah— join him. They talk about Jesus’ departure, Jesus’ exodus, that he was about to complete in Jerusalem. The disciples, jolted awake, find themselves in the midst of glory.

Peter, always the one to blurt out what everyone else is thinking, says, “Let’s build a shrine. Let’s mark this as a holy place of God’s presence.” Before the disciples can start a fund-raising campaign or call an architect, they are interrupted by a cloud (which in the First Testament is a sign of God ’s presence) and by a voice which says, “This is my Son, the Chosen. Listen to him.” There is divine confirmation that, in spite of all that is going to happen that will seem to deny God’s presence and saving power, Jesus is to be trusted and obeyed and adored.

Then, it is over. The glory fades. Jesus is standing there alone. The disciples are left speechless, not knowing what to make of what the have just seen and heard.

Most of us do not often receive such a blinding vision of God’s glory. We do not often get such profound assurance of God’s guidance. We may long for it deeply, but most of the time, we are left with only our deep longings. I suspect that, most of us, if we were to be given such an epiphany, would be like Peter. We would want to capture the moment. We would want to memorialize it in some way. We would want something we could hold onto to so we could keep God’s presence near and certain. Then, in those long stretches when God seems absent, we could go back to it and find God there the way we did once.

Peter does get to build his shrine to the glory of God shining in Jesus’ face. He does get to build a temple; he just does not get to build it on Mount Tabor. He does not get to build it with bricks and mortar. After the mountain-top experience, Jesus leaves the place where God’s glory shone out so clearly, and takes Peter and James and John with him down to the valley below. There, they encounter a boy in the midst of a convulsion, his distraught parents and the prayer-less disciples who are unable to rescue or help him. The road from that place leads to Jerusalem and to suffering and to death on a cross, just as Jesus said it would. The road led to Jesus’ cry on the cross, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?”

That is the last time the question “Where is God?” is asked in the New Testament. It is asked over and over again in the First Testament. It is not asked in the New Testament. (thanks to Philip Yancey for this insight) It is not asked in the New Testament after the cross because Jesus is God’s answer to the question. Jesus, God-with-us, leaving the glories of heaven, entering into our suffering, experiencing our abandonment is God’s answer. Jesus, descending into the darkest place so that, when life takes you through the valley of the shadow of death, you will not be alone. Jesus has gone there ahead of you. He will meet you there. He will restore your soul with resurrection power.

Where is God? Not in some place you can point to. Not in a building we call the church. Where is God? The only answer we have is Jesus, crucified, risen and present with us through the Holy Spirit.

After the resurrection, God sends the Holy Spirit to the Church. Peter begins building a temple made out of people who want to belong to Jesus, who choose to worship and obey him with their lives. The cornerstone and foundation of this living temple is Jesus.

“Welcome to the living Stone,” he writes, “the source of life. The workmen took one look and threw it out; but God set it in the place of honour. So, present yourselves as building stones for a sanctuary vibrant with life, in which you’ll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God.” (1 Peter 2, The Message)

You and I are the temple of God. In our life together: in our caring for one another and for the world; in our speaking out against injustice and brutality; in our creating a space where the small and the weak are cherished along with the great and the strong; in a community where the gifts that each person brings are treasured and nurtured, where souls are nurtured and restored and made new, and where we learn together to walk in the paths of righteousness that lead to abundant living. In our life together, we are the temple of God. In our life together, we host God’s presence in the world.

“You are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do God’s work and to witness to God’s goodness and to tell others of the night-and-day difference God makes for you — from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.”

It is hard to believe, isn’t it? There are times when we are not very good at hosting God’s presence. We hurt each other. We remain silent when we should shout out. We look for easier ways to follow Jesus on his way to the cross. We try to get by with cheap and comfortable discipleship. Yet, for all that, God does not abandon us. God’s Holy Spirit calls us into worship in the company of God’s people. The Spirit stands us under these stories that tell of God alive and active and present in the most unlikely of circumstances. These are stories of God who marvellously works salvation in places that we are certain are utterly profane. In places that we are certain are utterly bereft of God, God is surprisingly bringing resurrection power.

So, week after week, we confess that we have fallen short of the glory God intends for us. Week after week, Jesus meets us in the emptiness that we offer to Him and He fills it with grace. We become again what He has made us to be: a holy people, a temple of God made to shine the light of God’s glory seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

We don’t deserve any of it. It is utterly a gift from our Holy God. When, in those moments when we do catch a glimpse of the glory of God, and in those stretches of time when we live by faith, we join with saints throughout the ages who, in awe and wonder, stammer out their praise. To God alone — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be all honour and glory and praise, age after age after age. Amen.

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