Sometimes, I have a hard time finding God outside of church.
This probably sounds like a strange confession, coming from someone in the pulpit, someone who is in training to be clergy in the church.
But there are many days when I leave these four walls and mentally check church off the to-do list. “Okay, done for the day, God. It’s time to go take a nap, or go see a friend, or do some homework… or do whatever else is next on my calendar”
It’s amost too easy for me to relegate God to a list of things to do, or places to be… even when my life involves church almost every single day.
It’s too easy to compartmentalize, to put church and God in a box, or even just forget about God, as I get caught up in busyness and the cares and concerns of this world.
It’s too easy to forget the question that God asks in today’s lesson from Jeremiah, where God asks “Am I a God near by, and not a God far off?”
Am I a God near by, and not a God far off?”
This rhetorical question is a bit confusing. We all have different conceptions of God and where God is present for us, but I think it’s fair to say that many of us draw from an image of God as friend. An image of Jesus sitting beside us, of Jesus healing the little children. Of soft, friendly, Jesus who loves us and died for us and wants us to be with him.
So it’s a little bit shocking to be confronted by this question. “Am I a God near by, and not a God far off?”
“Am I not bigger than you think I am?”
“Am I not able to see everything that goes on in the world?”
“Do I not fill heaven and earth?”
In this reading, God is telling the people of Israel—“don’t underestimate me”.
And as I think about how easy it is to put God in these four walls and move on with my day, what God says here is really challenging. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” Do I not fill your days, your schedule, your busyness, even when you forget I’m there?
I forget sometimes that God is bigger than all of this.
Psalm 82 says that “God takes his stand in the council of heaven; he gives judgment in the midst of the gods”. God takes God’s stand in the council of the heavens as we go through our daily lives, as we go to work and class, as we make choices as communities and nations about the poor, the captive, and the immigrant.
Jeremiah and the psalmist tell us repeatedly that the God who is near enough to be in our hearts and minds, is also able to see all our choices, our joys, and our failings from the highest reaches of heaven.
The God who stands in the council of heaven, who parted the Red Sea, who shut the mouths of lions, who sent Jesus to be our savior and redeemer, wants us to know this: God wants to be part of every moment of our lives.
Three years ago, I was getting ready to move to a monastery for an internship. There were a lot of people who were giving me advice about what I should make sure to do in Boston, or how to cope with being newly graduated. But one of the most common pieces of advice I received was from people saying “read Brother Lawrence”. “Oh, you’re going to a monastery, you have to read Brother Lawrence”.
I had no idea who this Brother Lawrence fellow was, but I took their advice anyways. Brother Lawrence, it turns out, was a medieval monk who wasn’t literate, but was so profoundly spiritual that someone bothered to interview him about his spirituality and write it down in a book called “The Practice of the Presence of God”.
What I love about The Practice of the Presence of God is that Brother Lawrence is completely honest about his failings as a good Christian. He starts out talking about how he’s really a bad person, and that he thought that he should become a monk as a way of apologizing to God, and to live a life of penance. But as it turns out [the book says] “GOD had disappointed him… he having met with nothing but satisfaction in that state” [of being a monk].
Lawrence’s actual point though, is this. I quote “That we should establish ourselves in a sense of GOD’s Presence, by continually conversing with Him.” What does this mean? For Brother Lawrence, this means talking to God constantly throughout his duties in the kitchen. He says “That our only business [i]s to love and delight ourselves in GOD”.
Our gospel reading makes a big point of talking about how following Christ must necessarily create division between us and others.
This division doesn’t always look like family arguments and battle lines and political parties. What I know from my own life is that more often that not, this division happens in my calendar, and in the thoughts I have throughout the day. What we do with our time matters.
We can make a choice, like Brother Lawrence, to be faithful to the presence of God in each facet and moment of our lives, even if it’s a moment of prayer while peeling potatoes in the kitchen or standing by the copier at work, or simply remembering why we’re doing this really good outreach work in the first place. That choice is ours to make, and that’s what we’re being invited into right now.
Faithful ones—God is very near to us, but this is a gift that we can’t be complacent about. Discipleship requires focus and dedication, not just in one part of our lives, or on one or two days of the week.
We’re called to work for justice for all people, and to lead faithful lives with our whole being. This is the call that we promise to live into in our baptism— to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to strive for justice and peace among all people.
As we do this work, we need to know that this too, is where God is. Not just in these four walls, near us, but in the council of heaven, calling us continually, to make time for the presence of God wherever we are in this world.