God is Life

South Coast Convocation Beach Eucharist
August 17th, 2019

The readings for this service are:
Job 12:7-12
Psalm 98
Philippians 4:4-7
Matthew 19:13-15

       We heard a lot about God’s hands this morning, didn’t we? In the Old Testament, we heard how all life, every living thing, is in God’s hands. In the Psalms, we heard how God’s right hand has worked salvation. And in a little bit, we’ll pray together the Prayers of the People, where we will give thanks that God fashioned us and this beautiful place with his life-giving hand. This all reminds me of a song we used to sing as kids: “He’s got the whole world, in his hands.” Do you know that one? As a kid, I imagined this big set of hands, cupped around, and a bunch of people, or even the Earth itself, just sitting there in God’s open palms.

       Now, hands signify something really important in the Bible and for us Christians; they signify the life-giving presence of God. Think about the Bible, where people are always reaching out and touching Jesus with their hands; and when they do, they’re healed. Or that Jesus, and the disciples with him, lay their hands – physically touch – the sick and the injured, the lonely and the destitute, folks no one wanted to be near, much less touch. Some of these people are suddenly healed, miraculously, though others are shown, rather simply, that they are not alone in their pain, that someone cares for them and loves them. For some, that’s healing enough.

And our practices at church continue this focus on hands. At the passing of the peace, we shake hands or hug one another, all in the name of Christ, welcoming them into our hearts and our lives. Or in the sacraments: In Baptism the pouring of water and the anointing on the forehead with oils, or Reconciliation, where at that most beautiful moment, when we are reminded that we are loved by the God of all things, the priest puts his or her hand on the head. Or in the Eucharist, the simple and vast depths of the Eucharist, where a small wedge of wafer or bread, the very Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, is placed in an outstretched hand. And all this, all these moments, signify something: a presence, a life, a depth within the world that is far beyond ourselves.

       And God, and our church, and our Christian lives extend out beyond the four walls of our worship space, don’t they? I think also of the hands that I have seen in my own life, as well. I think of the hands of my father, who was a woodworker. His hands are like anyone’s hands who works with wood all day: they’re nicked and scratched, they have deep callouses and are scarred, but they’re also deft, able, skillful, and sure. Or I think of my daughter’s hands and my own when we go out to play in the sand. After just a few minutes of building castles and burying each other in the sand, our hands are grubby and dirty, and they most certainly have to be washed before we can eat lunch – but even so, they are full of the life and joy of digging about in the earth. And I think of the hands of Jesus, which I have seen in paintings and statues and in my own heart (and surely you have, too): the hands of Jesus, our God and our Savior, human hands but holy hands as well, as they were lifted to heal and as they were laid on the cross and nailed to its hard wood.

       And all these images – hands in healing, hands full of dirt and grime, hands giving bread, hands bleeding at the palms – these images all point to one thing: not just of some vague presence but the presence of Life and it’s advent into this world. Now, our own hands, our fallen, human hands, can bring other things, too. Sure, we can bring life into the world, we can be God’s hands, but we can also work death, destruction, and pain as well. But God’s hands are different. God’s hands are life. In God’s hands is life, not sitting on the top but deep down inside them, like a bit of salt baked into a cake to enhance all that flavor; or, if you’ve spent some time in the South, you’ll know sweet tea, where the sugar isn’t just added in later but brewed into the tea itself to make it, oh so delicious. And all these are just more small, partial images, because that goodness and hope and life of God’s hands are deep down at God’s core, who he is; because God is Life. God is Love.

       And all this love, all this life, it’s not away on some mountain top. It’s not locked away in secret somewhere so that only smart and adventurous people can find it. It’s not something that only our great spiritual ancestors can find because they were just more special than we are. It’s right here. As St. Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I will say, Rejoice!” And why? Because the Lord is near to you, or, as in the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord is very near to you. This Life, this Hope, this Goodness, and this Love, they are here for us, because God is here among us. Whether we’re under the church roof or out here on the side of the beach, whether you’re in a hospital room or on the other side of the door, waiting in anxiety, God is with you.

       But sometimes, truth be told, it’s hard to remember all this. We live in a troubled world. Each day, it seems, we are met with new tragedies, news that awakens our anxiety or anger or even our hatred. And it seems that we have just two choices: to push it all away and hide from it or else enter into it and risk becoming that pain and anger ourselves. But whether we go out or stick home, whatever we do, we Christians don’t begin there. We don’t begin in pain or anger or despair, but in Life. We begin in Hope, even if (or especially if) there doesn’t seem to be any. We begin in community, in listening to one another, in the seeking out of all people, regardless of who they are and how different their cultures or thoughts or politics are from our own. We begin in Love because God began in Love. God created the world, we believe, not because he was bored and needed something to do, or that God was incomplete and so needs a world; no, we believe that God created the universe, this world, and all the creatures in it, for Love. And that Love is the foundation of all things, from the grains of sand out there on the beach to the planets and stars out there in their courses.

       And we, too. We have been created anew by that Love. It is a Love that we have long yearned for, long hoped for, and that Love found us and is bringing us home. And our work now, we pilgrims on a journey to our true Home, is to shower the world with that Love. To open our hearts when it’s easy and when it’s tough, to listen to those we agree with and those we think are fools, to seek God in all people, no matter who they are. For Love was at the beginning, Love is now, and Love forever shall be the beating heart of Creation and the center of all our lives.

 

Faith

the 9th Day of Pentecost
Proper 14
August 11th, 2019

The readings for today are:
Genesis 15:1-6
Psalm 33:12-22
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Click here to access these readings.

        This past Tuesday was the Feast of the Transfiguration. It’s one of the really important days of the Church Year, and so it would be a pity to skip over it without much comment. But, apart from the good Christian work of following the Church Year, the story of the Transfiguration is one that says some important things about the theme of our readings this morning. And that theme is: Faith.

        The story of the Transfiguration is quick to tell: in it, Jesus takes three of the disciples up to a mountaintop with him. There he is suddenly changed: his whole presence, from his face to his clothes, becomes radiant. Standing on either side are Moses and Elijah, and a great voice comes from the sky that says, “This is my Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him.” You can imagine the disciples’ surprise and alarm as they witness their teacher suddenly changed so drastically. There’s great light, loud, booming voices, prophets of old, and sight to the true nature of all things. And then, just as suddenly as this vision appears, it fades, and there is Jesus, just Jesus, alone.

        What do you do with a vision like that? How do the disciples go back to their normal lives? Isn’t everything changed? Well, in a way, not really. After the Transfiguration, after they see Jesus in all his glory as the Son of God, the Foundation of the world, the disciples follow him back to their normal lives. Jesus continues on the way, doing miracles, surely, and preaching the Kingdom of peace and love and the Glory of God – and the memory of that vision, of the Transfiguration, becomes, perhaps, just that: a memory. How do the disciples know that they weren’t dreaming when they saw Jesus suddenly revealed? How do they know that it wasn’t just some sort of trick of light, that they only thought they heard a voice, or that the sun didn’t just come out at just the right time? How did they know that what they saw was really Jesus revealed and not just some part of their imaginations?

        I’m not sure if the disciples asked these questions, but Christians have been wrestling with these sorts of questions for our whole history. We read the Bible, and we come to Church. We learn about our traditions and teach them to our children. We talk about God’s love and God’s hope and build up our faith. But then tragedy happens. Pain and suffering come our way, and we may wonder: is all of that true? Is God really a loving God?

        Or, perhaps, we may be gifted with a religious experience, moments or periods of time when God comes right up close to us. These experiences can look different, and have looked different, all throughout our history: they could be sudden flashes of insight, or times of great peace and comfort. I once had one while walking on the campus at the University of Oregon. I felt the palpable presence of God the other day while: everyone in the house was napping one afternoon, I sat at the kitchen table writing a letter and listening to the wind in the trees. Others have had much more dramatic experiences of God. St. Paul got knocked off his horse and was blinded. Julian of Norwich, a medieval mystic, had visions of Christ on the Cross while she laid dying. Religious experiences can take many forms, but at the end of the day, they always fade away and we return to normal life. How do we know that these experiences were true? How do we know that they weren’t just dreams or, as Scrooge says in A Christmas Story, weren’t just undigested pieces of beef or a fragment of underdone potato?

        These questions, and others like it, are some of the things we find in the letter to the Hebrews. The author, whoever he or she was, was concerned with teaching about Faith, what it is and how we are grounded in it. And what is this thing called “faith”? It’s something we name our girls, sometimes, along with felicity and hope, and it’s something we struggle, at times, to have. Sometimes we use it as a synonym for “hope” or as another way to say “belief.” And sometimes we misuse the word and pretend that it’s a blind acceptance of something that we have no control over or any assurance of.

But faith – true faith – is sight. It’s sight to the bottom of things, that underneath all the changes and suffering and worry and pain that there is something else, something good, something firm and hopeful and trustworthy. Faith isn’t the assurance we might find in direct proof, but it’s not counter to that kind of proof, either. Faith is continued assurance, through thick and thin, through joy and pain. Faith is a lot like what we talk about in our marriage ceremony when we promise to love the other person “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health.” We don’t love our spouses because every day is a rollercoaster of joy and fun. We love them because we love something deeper than times of fun and joy, deeper than times of the snotty noses of sickness and the disagreements, even deeper than that thing that, for a time, parts us all: death. We love, or at least we hope to love, our spouses because of the core of who they are, something that is often, but not always, played out in the world. That “not always” doesn’t speak for who they truly are. We have faith that they are more.

        This faith that we hope for in marriage is an image (sometimes a pale image, sometimes a broken image) but an image of the faith we are called to in God through Jesus Christ. And marriage is an image of faith and a sacrament not because it’s something we can learn like our multiplication tables, or something we can exercise by going to the gym, but because it is a relationship. And that’s one of the points that the author of Hebrews tries to bring forward. All through this letter, the author isn’t trying to define “faith” as a technical term or in an equation but as a relationship. Here in our reading he points to Abraham, and elsewhere in the letter he writes about the faith of other great figures like Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Moses. He writes, look at the prophets, (or for us) look at the saints, look at the Church and all those who have come before. We learn about faith through stories about them, through who they are as people, their struggles and their hopes. We learn about faith, in part, but learning about the saints and the Church, in who these people, who once lived and often died, for their faith.

And, from them, we learn that when we ourselves have faith, we don’t have it in abstract principles but in a person, and that person is alive and living and full of life: Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Redeemer, who walked around with folks in Israel, who tied his shoes on every morning and ate dinner every night, who hiked up mountains and whose very clothes caught the transcendent light of his Being.

        We live in some turbulent times. After weeks like this, and with a rather contested election coming up, we can wonder how to muster up our faith in a God that loves us and sticks by us through thick and thin. Well, the good news of our readings this morning is that we don’t have to muster it up. There’s no button inside our hearts, or muscle that we can flex, to get more faith. To increase in faith, we are called to live with one another, to live with the Church and the world that we serve, with the light and life and hope that is given to us in the Holy Spirit. And we are to live, quite simply, with Jesus Christ, our friend and our savior, in war and in peace, in sorrow and in hope. For in that relationship, in that companionship and friendship and Daughter- and Sonship, there is where we will find our salvation.

God’s Abundant Love

The Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
Proper 12
July 28th, 2019

The readings for this week are:
Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-19
Luke 11:1-13

Click here to access these readings.

I’ve never really been a fan of the novels of Charles Dickens, but there’s one scene from Oliver Twist that I know decently well. You might call the scene, “I want some more.” In this scene, we find Oliver, a young boy who was orphaned as a younger boy, in a workhouse. He and his fellows are treated poorly and barely fed – just three bowls of oatmeal a day. The boys know they have to do something, and so they draw straws, and thus elect Oliver, to ask the master for more food. The film versions of this scene are what I know, and in them, this small, innocent-looking boy, dressed in rags, walks up to the master, who’s usually large, well-fed, and wearing fine clothes. And Oliver asks, very simply, “Please sir, I want some more” and offers his empty bowl. And the master’s response is, “WHAT!? MORE!?” and Oliver is punished. That idea that these workhouse boys should get more food, and the very audacity of even asking for more, is simply beyond belief for these people. The word “more” just doesn’t seem to be in their vocabulary; that is, at least for anyone but themselves.

Sometimes I wonder if this scene is a bit similar to how we approach God with our own intercessions. Sometimes, I think we have an image of God – an unconscious image, but still an image – that God’s this old man with too much to do and who’s certainly too busy to answer any of our small requests. God is the ruler of Heaven and Earth, after all, and he’s got too much work to bother about us small and insignificant people down in the dust. I know that, when I really need something, my prayers fall almost into begging. “You know God, I’m sorry, I know this is selfish, I know it’s a lot, and I’m sorry that I’m not thinking too much of other people right now, but, look, I’m sorry, but would you be so kind as to just maybe, for a little bit, maybe even just a few minutes so I can catch a breath, be with me, you know, just for a little?” Have you ever prayed one of those prayers before?

Well, Abraham, in our Old Testament reading this morning, he prays differently. Here’s Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities in the Old Testament (and in our day as well) that are bywords for corruption and evil. And God is going to check up on them, to see whether or not they’re really guilty of what is said of them. And when Abraham hears this, that God’s going to look into all these rumors of sin, he’s worried. He’s worried that this will set God off, that God will see all that sin and evil and will destroy the cities right out. And so what does he do? He prays. He prays, “Please God, are you going to destroy the good along with the bad? Surely there are at least fifty people in the whole city who are good folks. So if you find even fifty people in all the bad, don’t destroy them all, okay?” And God says, “Okay, sure.”

Now, this is a good prayer, but Abraham goes further: “What about forty-five? What if you find forty-five good folks down there? Will you destroy the whole city?” And God says, “No, I won’t.” And Abraham goes further: “What about forty? Or thirty? Or twenty? And – oh, don’t be angry with me God, please don’t be angry with me, who is dust and ashes – but what about ten?” And God says, “Sure, for the sake of ten, if I can find ten people who are good, I won’t destroy it.”

Now, in the end, God’s not able to find many more but a single family that is good, and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are in fact destroyed; but look at Abraham’s prayer. His prayer is this: more God, please, more. He brings his empty bowl before a master that is stronger and mightier than he is, who he knows through experience to be stronger and mightier than he is, and who maybe is angrier and more resentful and quicker to use that might and that strength, and yet even so, he lifts that empty bowl towards that God and he asks, “Please God, I want some more.” And God doesn’t say, as the master says to Oliver Twist, “WHAT!? MORE?!” God says, “Yes!” And to Abraham’s eyes, this must have seemed a miracle.

And, in a way, it is a miracle. God is a God of abundance, and such abundance is not often found in this world. God’s love isn’t like a zero-sum game, so that he’s only got just so much love to dole out to his children. God’s love isn’t like a pizza pie, so that if Sally over there takes two slices, then the rest of us won’t have enough to go around. God’s love is endless. God’s love is powerful and deep and fathomless and, well, endless. God’s love doesn’t stop. So when we pray, God, please love me more, give me more love, send out your Holy Spirit, God will meet us there. God will be with us. We might need to be led through some trouble before we can see that love, or experience it, or be healed by it, but that love is present, that love is full, and God is at the ready to give it to us.

And all this is true, but we have to pause and step back for a moment. Sometimes prayers aren’t answered. Sometimes we pray, as Jesus prayed in the garden, that a certain cup may be taken away from us. Sometimes our beloved dies. Sometimes our illness isn’t miraculously healed. Sometimes people don’t make it home. We live in a world where death will come, eventually, for all of us, but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us. God is still present with us in the grief. God is still here, right now, in all of our troubles and in all of our sins and in all of our worry and anxiety – God’s here, with love in his hands, hands stretched out for us to take into ourselves. And that’s because that what God brings to us, that love that God brings, is more powerful than death, deeper than sin, and the miracles of miracles because it is pure and joyful Life.

So, yes, we have to pray knowing that our prayers may not be answered. And yes, we must pray knowing that all our desires are not good desires. But, even so, we are called on to pray, and to pray fervently, for all life and love and goodness, and for that life and love and goodness to be poured out onto the world in its fullness. Don’t be scared to go to your Father in Heaven and pray with a full and open heart that he opens his beating heart of love to you and to the world more fully. Because our God isn’t like the master in Oliver’s workhouse. Our God is like the grandparent who buys the grandchild another ice cream cone even though the parent said, “No, you’ve had enough.” Our God is like the ground, which, when you put a seed in it and give it some water, grows whole gardens and forests of life. Our God is like the apple tree behind our house here in Coquille, that has so many apples on it that they weigh the branches down to the ground. Our God is like a feast for Hobbits that can eat all day and even then still be hungry. Our God is like our dogs and cats and other pets, who keep on loving us and loving us and loving us no matter how tired or exhausted or worried we are. Our God is like all this and more, because God is a God of abundance, and that abundance is of Love and Life and things like Love and Life never, ever end.

So pray. Pray with a full and open heart. Sing out your praise, weep your worries, let your hopes and dreams be carried out into the world by the Holy Spirit. But whatever you do, pray it and pray it without fear. For in God is all life and all love. And in God all of our prayers may find their true home.

Jesus is the Center

The Sixth Sunday of Pentecost
Proper 11
July 21, 2019

The readings for today are:
Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalm 15
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

Click here to access these readings.

We have before us here this morning a really magnificent reading from Paul’s letters.  I mean, each week we have something magnificent to read here on Sunday morning, as the week begins anew, but today we’ve got something particularly nice.  It’s like that nice, big, shiny apple out of a bushel of really good, juicy ones, or a sandwich that doesn’t taste any different from other sandwiches, but because you’ve used some tomatoes fresh from your garden, and the bread is just out of the oven, and you’re eating it with a good friend, somehow the sandwich just tastes so much better.  Here is one of those good passages from the Bible, and it’s good because it tells us so much about Jesus.

            Now, we often say that we are healed in Jesus Christ.  All the pain we experience, all the hurt or the worry or the despair, all of it is healed in Jesus.  The Bible tells us that we are made whole in him, made fully alive and fully human, when we live in Jesus.  In Jesus we are made who we were meant to be, who God created us to be.  And all this healing happens, all this fullness and wholeness, because of who Jesus Christ is.  Now, Jesus doesn’t heal us as a doctor might.  Doctors work on our bodies – the physical stuff that makes us who we are.  A doctor might give us medicine, operate on us, or tell us to exercise a bit more or eat more fruits and veggies.  And this is good and important to living a healthy life in this body while it lasts.

            Jesus, however, heals us differently than all this.  Jesus is the life at the heart of our lives.  He is the life that helps us heal emotionally and spiritually, the life that helps us forgive those who wronged us, that helps move us from a life of despair to a life of fullness and goodness, even if it’s still tough.  Jesus is that life that brings us away from sin and hatred and into a life where we can see the light of God all around us: in the ground, in the sunshine, in those around us, especially those who we don’t know, and, perhaps most of all, in ourselves. 

And Jesus can do this, Jesus can heal us and make us whole, because of who he is: the firstborn of all creation, the image of the invisible God, the one who holds all things together. Now, this can all seem like theological and mythological language.  It’s all really easy to say, but what does it mean that Jesus is the firstborn of all Creation?  Or that he is the foundation of all reality?  I mean, we all know what a foundation is.  For the past we months we’ve seen that new addition to the First Community Bank go up.  And the first thing they did was dig into the ground and set a firm, flat bed of concrete down.  Then they built up more concrete to create the foundation.  And this foundation is, of course, so very important, and not just so that the building doesn’t sink into the soft mud, but because it dictates all the other pillars and supports of the rest of the building.  If your foundation’s off, your building won’t be straight.  Is Jesus like that?  A sort of foundation to the whole world so that, when we build and live our lives, we won’t get stuck in the mud and our walls won’t fall down?

This is an example, of course, of getting too deep into a metaphor.  I mean, this metaphor of the foundation of a building, it’s a good one, but it’s not enough.  Jesus as the foundation, Jesus as the cornerstone, Jesus as the blueprint – all these metaphors can help us understand how Jesus Christ acts in the world and in our lives, but at the end of the day they’re not enough?  And they’re not enough because Jesus isn’t just some blueprint that you look at everyone once in a while and is important to have.  Jesus isn’t just a rock that gives you a sure foundation.  And Jesus certainly isn’t a set of rules that, if you follow them, you’ll have a happy and comfortable life.  Because Jesus is a person: a full, living person.  So Jesus isn’t just the rules of, say, baseball.  He’s the coach who knows the rules backwards and forwards, who sits with you and teaches you how to play from the time when you’re just old enough to pick up a bat.  He’s the one who watches you and, with a firm and discerning eye, can give you advice on perfecting your swing or change how you’re throwing the ball so that you don’t thrown your arm out.  He’s the coach who, when you win a game, takes the whole team out for pizza; and when you lose, knows why you did and will work with you to improve.  Jesus is the coach who loves baseball so much that he seems like the game itself, that coach you want to impress not because you want to look good but because if you impress him you know that you’re really living the game, because he loves it so much, too.

And this, of course, is just another metaphor for Jesus.  It’s not perfect, but it helps.  It helps us understand what this strange, beautiful, hopeful, founding and grounding presence is in our lives.  Metaphors like these help us to understand that person we encounter in our prayers, that makes our prayers more than just a bunch of requests but a relationship, a communion, with something beyond ourselves.  Metaphors like these help us to understand the fact that helping others, especially those who look and live a lot differently than we do, that helping them is a good in and of itself, regardless of whether we get anything back or not.  And metaphors help make sense of what’s going on in the Sacraments, why we feel the true, reconciling hand of God in the Sacrament of Confession; why a bit of oil on the forehead on Thursday afternoons here at St. James can bring us into the presence of the Almighty God; and why partaking with the whole Church, across time and space, partaking with them in the Eucharist, where we are given the gift of that same Life of Jesus Christ in a little bit of bread and a tiny sip of wine, how all that can continue us on the path to wholeness and oneness with God our Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth. 

Because these things we say about Jesus: we’re not just playing around.  When we stand up to say the Creeds, we know that they are speaking to a truth that is deeper and more profound than any of us.  When we live a life with the Sacraments and the Bible and the Church, we find that at their center, at the center of all we do, is the beating heart of all Creation.  When we look to where all the metaphors are pointing, where all our Christian lives are directing us, where all of Church history is singing and preaching and proclaiming about, we find: Jesus Christ.  In him all things are alive, because he himself is alive.  At the end of the day, all metaphors fail me, because it is not in metaphors that we believe, but in our God, living and true, who breathes upon us Life whenever we turn to him.

 

God is Very Near You

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 10
July 14th, 2019

Today’s readings are:
Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Psalm 25:1-9
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

Click here to access these readings.

            Our reading from Deuteronomy this morning reminds me of how you find good pizza in New Jersey. It’s true. Often, when you’re looking for the best food you go to the best (and that means fanciest) restaurant, right? If you want great Italian food in general, there are a lot of places in New Jersey with cloth napkins and waiters with black bow ties and where you’ll pay, at least, $20 for a plate of spaghetti. Or, when you want a good steak, you’re not going to go to a fast food restaurant and pick something off the menu; you’re going to go to a nice place on a special day like your anniversary. And you’ll get a good cut of beef.

            But if you want a good pizza, you don’t need to go far. I think the best pizza in the world is out of a place called Joe’s Pizzarea in Flemington, New Jersey. It’s a little shop in a strip mall tucked away behind a supermarket where I worked as a kid. And they have the best pizza in the world (and the best cheese-steaks). Helene, though, disagrees. She likes a place in the strip mall in her town, in Middletown NJ, also near a supermarket and of the same, tiny size. These are the guys who, when they heard that Helene’s dad had died, gave us five or six free pizzas because “Lou was such an awesome guy.” You don’t need to go into New York City to find good pizza, and you don’t have to go to a fancy restaurant. These local shops know it best.

            Our reading in Deuteronomy is saying just this same sorta thing, though here we’re not talking about pizza but about God’s love. We desire God’s love. We long for it and hope for it like a man from New Jersey desires some good pizza, or a woman from the shore longs for good seafood, or someone from the great plains dreams of long, waving fields of grass, or when you’re out on a business trip and all you want to do is sleep in your own bed. And when we are out in the world, and we wonder how to act, and we say to ourselves: should I speak up? Should I keep my mouth shut? Should I take the job? Should I move to be near my grandkids? And we lift our eyes up to God and we say: “God, what should I do? Please, give me your commandments. Send me your love, your love that I long for every day and every night.”

            And what we hear in Deuteronomy this morning is, hey, you don’t have to go to New York City to find a good piece of pizza. When you want to hear a word from God, you don’t have to go up to heaven so you can listen in on the talk of angels and God Almighty. You don’t have to go across the sea to learn from a guru on a mountaintop. For the Word is very near you: it is in your mouth and in your heart to observe. And what this means is that we have God’s word, God’s answer to our questions and our longings and our hopes, right here. And not just here in at St. James, but that God is speaking to us, individually, in each of our hearts and in each of our prayers. So be with God in our questions. Talk to God about our hopes and dreams. Long for God in thought, word, and deed, and you shall find him beside you.

Well, that’s all very nice, but, at the end of the day, is it true? Is it true that all we need to do is listen to ourselves – listen to the thoughts of our hearts and God’s own personal word to us in prayer – and with that alone, we’ll find God? Well, in a way, no, it’s not. Or, at least, it’s not the only way to find God. There’s also the church – little ‘c’ church that’s here at St. James in Coquille, little ‘c’ church again in our diocesan life, and little ‘c’ church again in the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the Anglican Communion worldwide. It’s also the big “C” Church, the universal Church that stretches across time and space. We are part of a community that lives in everywhere from Oregon to New Zealand to the northern tip of Scotland; a community that has thrived for two thousand years; and in which we’re still the Church whether we call ourselves Episcopalians, Baptists, or Catholics. And as Christians, we are called on to take part in that community. We’re called on to study the wisdom of Church tradition, to be in communion with other Christians whose practices and theologies look pretty wacky to us, but even so they’re still worshipping the same God and living and believing in the power of the Spirit (and at the end of the day, little more really matters). Part of our life in Christ is that, while we listen to the call of God to us in our own lives, our own loves, and our own hopes, while we continue to develop that personal relationship with have with God through Jesus Christ, we also open our ears to the Church (big ‘c’ or little ‘c’). For we alone are not enough.

But when we hear, and when we ourselves say, that God is very near us, we don’t mean that he’s only with us, or that he’s with us and certainly not with those guys over there. When we say that God is very near us, what we’re saying is that we can stop looking around all over the place for God and, instead, simply start loving. Don’t go to some far away country or search out some higher form of prayer – those things are good in themselves, of course, and we can learn a lot about God in other countries or from deeper forms of prayer. But God isn’t just at the end of the journey, waiting there and checking his watch because, you know, we’re really taking our time and we’re pretty late coming home. God is at the end of the journey, surely, but he’s also with us at the beginning of the journey and all throughout. God is very near us. And that nearness, and realizing that nearness and living into that nearness, that’s the point of all this. That’s the point of being a Christian. And yes, of course, realizing this nearness will lead us to do good things in the world around us and it will help us grow into more virtuous, God-loving people. But the point of living the Christian life isn’t just to do some good things and be virtuous for our own sake. It is to grow in Christ, to be open ever more fully to the breath of the Holy Spirit blowing through all of Creation. The point is to be near God, to be very near to God, and to invite and bring others into that life.

And this living, this living near to God, it does something to us. It builds us into people who are like Jesus Christ. In theological language, it makes us Sons and Daughters in the image of Jesus, the first Son of God Almighty. Like him, we will become truly human. And living such a life, we will then, like Jesus before us, go out into the world to continue his good work, be it at the county fair, at the food bank, at the barber shop downtown on Mondays, or in our normal, day-to-day interactions with the people of this world. But it all starts from living a life with God. It all begins, lives, and ends, with God.