July 1, 2012 “The God Who is There”

Wednesday evening this past week, when we had wrapped up our Bible study and were chatting and all getting ready to head home, Karen couldn’t find her keys. We all began to search everywhere we could think of, and she dumped out her purse; we retraced her steps, trying to remember every possible place the keys could be, and then finally, standing in the sacristy, we stopped and prayed about it, asking God to lead us to the right place so that we could find the keys.

And it might seem that that was a trivial thing to pray about. We could reason that God has bigger fish to fry, redeeming the world and all, and that we ought to handle the worldly details of our life ourselves and let God take care of our spiritual needs. Can it be true that the God who created the universe cares about the petty details of our individual lives? Are we making our God too small when we pray about the small things in our lives?

Our God is certainly not small. Have you ever read descriptions about the size of the universe that make your head ache because the numbers are so impossibly large and the concept of all that expanse of space is unimaginable? Our God is infinitely beyond all that; he could hold all that infinity of space in the palm of his hand, or on the tip of one finger. There is a wonderful psalm that pictures the immensity of God, psalm 33. The psalmist writes that all the heavenly hosts were made by the breath of God’s mouth. Imagine the breath of God the way your breath looks on a cold morning, all frosty, and then think that that shimmering breath filled the whole expanse of the heavens with the stars and moons and planets that we see when we look up into the sky at night. And the next verse says that God gathers up the waters of the ocean as in a water-skin. I love that image; you can imagine all the waters of the earth, all the oceans and seas and lakes and rivers gathered into a leather flask and the God of the universe striding along with that flask swinging from his belt. It’s a wonderful picture to give us an idea, however inadequate, of how infinitely immense our God is. The psalm goes on, “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all who dwell in the world stand in awe of him.”

When our daughter Emily was about four we began teaching her from a children’s catechism, and one of the questions was, “where is God?” And the answer, of course, is “God is everywhere.” It really puzzled her that God was everywhere, but that she couldn’t see him. But we told her, “You can’t see him because he’s so big; God is too big for our human eyes to see.” And that is true. God is here, he is present at all times, but we couldn’t see him until Jesus came to make him visible to our little human eyes. When Jesus walked on the earth, people could look upon the infinite God of the Universe, because he took humanity upon himself; he made himself accessible to our finite senses – just like John wrote in his letter, “That which we have seen and heard and our hands have touched, we make known to you.”

Jesus changed everything for us, the way we see God, the way we communicate with God, and maybe especially the way God relates to us. Because when God took our humanity into himself he entered into our way of experiencing his creation. As infinite God, he stands outside of time, he sees the big picture, the full meaning of all that is. But as Jesus, the man, he walked on the earth one step at a time. He lived each day from the rising of the sun to its setting. He knows birth, and growth, and death. He knows the burden of time: the way that suffering weighs us down over days and weeks and months and years, like the woman who had suffered for twelve years with the flow of blood. He knows the way we carry the memory of sorrow with us. He knows the pain of grief, and the sorrow of losing the future we had hoped for, like Jairus and his wife whose daughter died when she was still a child, for whom they had had so many hopes, of watching her grow up to womanhood and to be married and have children of her own. On top of the immediate pain of loss, death tears so much more away from us. Jesus understands that, because he has felt it.

God never had to know any of those things, but he chose to know them because he loves us. And even when Jesus had completed his work of opening the way for us to belong to him, to be adopted as children and heirs of the Father, even when his human body had broken out of the grave, he didn’t just leave us behind. He carried our humanity with him. It is very important to us that after the Resurrection Jesus’s disciples could see him and touch him and talk to him; even more important, that he still bore the scars on his hands and feet and side –  those scars mean that God chooses to remain connected to us in our human experience; he chooses to share in our daily walk from birth to death, with all that comes in between.

Remember when Jesus’s friend Lazarus died, and Martha came running out to meet him, and she was a little angry, I think. She said, “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” And Jesus asked her if she believed that the dead would rise. She did believe, she answered, “I know that he will rise on the last day.” She had her theology correct. But Jesus wanted her to know something more; he wanted her to know that her hope didn’t rest in future promises, but in the living, breathing presence of God, who was standing right in front of her. “I am the resurrection and the life.” If Jesus is with us, we have everything – no matter what happens. And he is with us.

I believe that our Book of Common Prayer is a gift God has given us to remind us that he is with us in our step-by-step, breath-by-breath lives. It’s almost all taken from the Bible – 80% of the Book is Scripture, along with prayers that have been part of our worship for centuries. And it is all arranged so that as a church and as individuals, it helps us to walk along in our faith. We have the forms for Morning and Evening Prayer, and for Compline, that we can pray just before bed, to help us remember to begin and end each day in God’s presence. We don’t need to use these words to be in God’s presence, but they are there to guide us. Morning Prayer opens with these words: “Open our lips, and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.” It reminds us to take our first breath of the day in praise of our Father. And if we pray Compline, every night we echo the prayer of Simeon, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see.” And we go to sleep in the knowledge that in having Christ we have all.

And the Prayer Book also lives with us through all the milestones of our lives. There are the prayers for our baptism into Christ, whether we are infants or adults. There are prayers for reconciliation when we find that we have turned away from God and need his forgiveness, and to be restored into a relationship of trust and obedience with him. There are prayers for healing when we are sick. There are prayers to confirm our faith in the presence of our brothers and sisters or to come together in ordaining people for specific callings. There are prayers for the joining of husband and wife in marriage. And there are prayers at the time of our death: prayers for those whom we leave behind to be comforted in their grief, and prayers to commend us into God’s hands. This book is one way for us to walk in the presence of Christ throughout our lives, even as he walks alongside of us.

Obviously, we don’t have to have a Prayer Book to live as Christians, and there are many denominations who don’t use anything like our Book, but I think it is a great gift that we have in our Catholic and Anglican traditions, (and I know that the Amish and Mennonites also have a prayer book that they use), and I think it is something we can share with other Christians, too. At its worst, the Prayer Book can become an empty ritual, just words that we speak without feeling or faith. But any prayer can become like that, no matter how spontaneous we think we are being. But at its best, the Prayer Book is a way of walking and breathing and eating and sleeping in the presence of Jesus.

As long as we remember that we are in his presence at all times, we know that he is sharing the journey of our lives with us, the little things like losing our keys and the big things like sickness and broken relationships and death. Every step we take, every breath we breathe, we are in the presence of God. And just as the woman with the flow of blood felt his power when she took hold of the hem of Jesus’s robe, we are also touching him when we lay hands on one another for healing prayer, or when I anoint you with oil, because he has made his home in us and when you or I touch someone they are being touched by the Creator of the universe. I don’t think that is something to be taken lightly. That woman risked her life in the crushing mob of people to touch even the clothing that Jesus was wearing, and Jesus’s power went out to her. That same power is there for us when we pray for one another, the power that restored the woman’s body to wholeness and the power that restored life to the little girl who had died –  power to heal and restore that is there whenever we are in the presence of God. We don’t know if we will be cured in the way we are hoping for, but we can be sure that his power is working in us for our healing, for our good, and to bring us nearer to being the person God created us to be.

So often I think we are afraid to reach out and grab for Jesus’s help; we are afraid to ask because we are afraid to hope. We’re afraid that we aren’t worthy, or that God doesn’t love us as much as he loves other people, or that our problems aren’t important enough – and sometimes in our darkest times we’re just afraid that he’s not there at all –we’re afraid that prayer won’t “work”. But that is why he gives us so much to hold onto –  the promises of his Word, the daily rhythms of the Prayer Book, the encouragement of our brothers and sisters in the Church, and the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. And he also touches us in so many small ways so that we will know he’s there. Last Wednesday, very soon after we prayed, we found the keys in a pocket that had been overlooked. We could say that we’d have found them anyway, eventually, and that may be true, but just the act of reaching out and asking for his help helped us to know Jesus was there with us, as he always is. As Brother Lawrence said, we need to practice the presence of God, and that means to always in all things remind ourselves that he is there with us. We can offer everything we do and everything we say to him in worship, no matter how small it is. And we can expect him to be there for us in our every need, not like a genii-in-a-lamp to do our bidding, but as a faithful and loving and powerful Father to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

I invite you to stay after the service for prayer today if you have need of any kind of healing in your life, or in the life of someone close to you.

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