So I suppose we have reached the point in our relationship that I can be honest with you and say you do not have to be here at worship to experience God. You don’t even have to pay attention to every single word in a sermon to be accepted by God. And in this season of Lent that the church came up with centuries ago as a connection to the forty days of Jesus’ journey through the wilderness and his eventual journey to the cross, where we try to convince you to pray more, read Scripture more, sacrifice some things you indulge on for a few weeks’ time; I have to admit that you can do all of the above and you will not be loved by God any more than God already did before this whole season of Lent started.
Now the church, ranging from St. John’s to the church throughout the world, has many wonderful things to offer not just to the respective members, but to their surrounding communities and beyond. We offer a physical place for sisters and brothers in Christ to gather in giving thanks to God. We provide food for the hungry. We console mourners. We instill hope in the face of worry and fear. We lead community-wide events to bring people together from all walks of life. The church is great, to be sure, but we do not have control over God. We cannot lie to the world and say that the only way to see God is by stepping inside our sanctuary. God is far too active to be limited to a single room, or even many rooms here and there all over this planet for an hour a week. God is alive and well throughout the entire universe, well beyond what we can even begin to imagine!
However, what may be even more difficult for us human beings to grasp is that no matter how much we mess up, not just with not reading the Bible enough, or not praying enough, or over-indulging in the things we said we wouldn’t touch for the forty days of Lent, but with how much we mess up with people we care about: no matter how many times we respond in the heat of the moment that we end up regretting for the rest of our life, no matter how much we mess up and end up feeling lost and alone, God will never ever leave us!
And yet we humans beings, we claimed children of God, have the audacity to think that we have this power over God’s intimate presence in our life. We are actually convinced that God’s love for us can change based on what we do. We are so enamored with our, evidently, amazingly wonderful selves that we absolutely believe that God has to operate the same way we do, including that all love has to be conditional. So when we mess up in this world there are consequences; we face them with all the guilt and shame along the way. And obviously when all of that happens, it also means that God left us behind at some point to fend for ourselves. So part of the recovery, part of the acceptance, and getting back on the right footing, or whatever cliché we want to use, has to involve getting God back into our life. We are so high on our human selves that we actually believe we have this substantial control over the Almighty, omnipotent, omnipresent, God.
How desperately we need reminded from the first reading this morning that not only can we not buy the presence of God in our life through how much we contribute to the church, whether that be money or our time, but we cannot bring God closer to us if we read the Bible more, or pray more, or avoid sweets for forty straight days. And we most certainly do not have the power to convince God to exit stage left from our very life; and we do not have the ability to keep God out until we decide to open the door to our soul to let God in. God does not wait for our permission to be Emmanuel: God with us each and every day. God did not wait for the “okay” sign from all of humanity to send the only Son. And God did not wait for our approval before our Savior died on the cross for the whole world.
So we hear the incredibly important reminder from Isaiah this morning: “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” And that is the only way we can be saved from ourselves, with a love and compassion for all of humanity that we will never fully understand.
Nevertheless, that shouldn’t stop us from trying. We come to worship not because we have to, but because this way we get a glimpse of that awe-inspiring love. We deepen our awareness that God is fully active in our life, no matter how much we try to push God out. We come to worship to be reminded by God how this divine love ignited on a cross and out of an empty tomb that God will, for whatever reason, keep on being smack-dab in the middle of our day-to-day life, no matter what; and we did absolutely nothing to deserve it. That’s just the way God is. That’s just the way God loves, and humanity, no matter how great we think we are, cannot do a single thing to stop it! And so for that, for God’s ways being immensely higher than our ways, we give thanks to God indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Guest pastors will lead us in worship during St. John's pastoral vacancy
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon