Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, Introduction
We can’t get any closer to god than god is to us …
Right here! Right now!
I was driving back home, the other morning, after livestreaming one more sunrise from Sibley Nature Center. It’s something I started just after we stepped into the wilderness for the first time, last March. Sunrise. Morning Blessing from the Catechism. It’s one way of being reminded that life goes on – pretty much, as usual – even during a pandemic. Anyway, I was on my way back home when I saw the sign. One of those fancy, LED things, out in front of a church building. It caught my attention and it’s kept it, ever since. “Don’t social distance from God!,” it said. “Draw closer” “Don’t social distance from God! Draw closer”
For those of you who have been following the evening study on Wednesdays, you’ll recognize popular American religion at it’s best! Those words are the heart and soul of what we Americans believe about god. The sum and substance of what we Americans believe about ourselves. All in just forty-two characters! “Don’t social distance from God! Draw closer”
You see, here in America, faith – more often than not – is all about us! What we should! What we ought! We talk a good game. About god. About god’s love. But when all is said and done, it’s all about us. Morals. Ethics. Principles. You remember the four laws I’ve talked about over the years. The ones I “met” in college …
“Law One: God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.” Bu-u-u-ut …“Law Two: Man is sinful and separated from God.Therefore, he cannot know and experience God’s love and plan for his life.” Bu-u-u-ut …“Law Three: Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for man’s sin. Through him you can know and experience God’s love and plan for your life.” Bu-u-u-ut …“Law Four: We must individually receive Jesus as Savior and Lord.Then we can know … Then we can experience … God’s love and plan for our lives.”
One part Christianity. Another part rugged individualism. Stir and, voilà, the church in the United States! Revivals! Altar calls! Saved souls! And all the rest! And behind it – beneath it – is that sign! “Don’t social distance from God! Draw closer”
You see, the assumption we make is that there’s only one person doing the moving! Us! Me! God’s up high and far away! Sitting on the throne! Surrounded by angels! Watching! Waiting! For us to wend our way toward heaven! Watching! Waiting! For us to climb Jacobs Ladder! To pass through the pearly gates! And it’s all up to us! To open the door! To invite Jesus in! To make him our personal Savior and Lord! And it’s all there in those half-dozen-or-so words! Softly! Earnestly! Tenderly! Jesus is calling! And only we can answer that call!
But that’s not us! That’s not who we are! And, more importantly, that’s not who our god is! “Don’t social distance from God? Draw closer?” It might be a nice sentiment. And we would do just that … if we could … but … we don’t! We can’t! We believe we are captive – in bondage – to sin and cannot free ourselves! We believe that by our own understanding, by our own strength, we cannot! We cannot, but god can! Can and does! From our vantage point … From the perspective of Golgotha, of the cross … there’s only one person in this relationship who does any moving! This relationship between us and god! This relationship between god and us! And that person is god! That person is god! If god wants us to be a part of god’s life, god’s gonna have to be the one to do it! If god wants us to be closer, nearer, then it’s gotta be god who makes the effort! God’s gonna have to get up off that throne … and walk out those gates … and climb down that ladder … and walk right up to us and make us god’s own! And here in the good old U.S. of A., that kind of thinking is anything but popular! But that’s, exactly, what god does! Because that’s what love does! God sets aside heaven and comes to earth! Comes to earth because that’s where we are! The gospel of the Lord; praise to you, O Christ!
For us, that’s the bottom line of believing! That’s what faith is all about! God coming to us and making us god’s very own! Truth is, we CAN’T social distance from god! God won’t let us! Every step we take away from god, god takes toward us! And we can’t draw closer! It’s impossible to get any closer to god than god is to us! Right here! Right now! Even as we sin … Even as we fall short of the glory … god is ALREADY with us! Whether we want it or don’t! Whether we believe it or not! God doesn’t wait! God NEVER waits! Because god is love! God is love! And that, for us, is the gospel! That, for us, is good news! That is the Word of god! Like I said, not up high and far away, but down to earth and close at hand! Closer than our own heartbeat! Nearer than our own breath!
And funny thing … whatever that gospel touches … with whomever that good news comes in contact … that whatever, that whoever, is changed. Transformed. He … She … It … becomes a gift! Not a gift we give back to god, but a gift that god gives to us! A mouthful of words! A handful of water! A pinch of bread! A sip of wine! Even a roomful of people! A roomful of people who, for a moment, are scattered and strewn throughout the world! It all becomes something god gives us! To save us! To deliver us! To set us free! Not because we’ve don’t anything special! Not because we ARE anyone special! But simple because god loves us! Loves us like god does!
And you know, the same’s true for prayer! Prayer’s not a way to draw closer to god! Prayer’s not a means to get nearer! It’s one of those gifts! One of those things the gospel’s brushed up against. Think about it. God isn’t sitting back. In heaven. Watching. Waiting. For us to report in. For us to let god know what’s happening. God loves us. God comes to us. God is with us. So, prayer – especially this one – isn’t so much about us talking to god as it is god talking to us! Coming to us! Taking us in god’s arms! Holding us close! Just like a loving parent. Mother. Father. And whispering in our ear what we need to hear. “It’s okay! I’m here! I’ve got you!” “It’s okay! I’m here! I’ve got you!”
So, on the one hand, there’s that sign. “Don’t social distance from God! Draw closer” And on the other hand, there’s the gospel! The good news! The love! We can’t get any closer to god than god is to us! Right here! Right now! And my friends, it’s on that second hand, on the other hand, that we stake our life! Stake our life, now! Stake our life, forever!