God’s Nearness

In Exodus 17, the Israelites have been in the wilderness for several weeks and the people don’t have enough water. They begin to be afraid that they and their cattle will all die of thirst in the wilderness.  The people are so thirsty they even begin to wish that they were back in Egypt, even though they were slaves. Out of their fear and their longing, they ask a question that gets to the heart of what is going on spiritually for them: “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Have you asked that question lately — or some variation of it? Is God with me? Where is God in all of this?

Now, what they had trouble seeing is the good news that we say nearly every Sunday in our affirmation of faith: “God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.” They had trouble seeing that there are blessings to be had – even in the wilderness times — and that the wilderness experiences can make us stronger and help us determine what is most important.

Even in the times of illness, the time when an accident has left us weakened or broken, even in those times that harm us and hurt us, God is present and God can bring good out of the worst of circumstances. That, in fact, is what resurrection is about:  out of darkness, God brings light; out of chaos, God brings order; out of wilderness wandering, God brings strength and faith; out of dead ends, God brings new beginnings; and even out of death, God brings resurrection, new life.

Is the Lord among us or not? The answer is always a resounding “Yes.”

This Sunday we’ll be looking at Psalm 139, which speaks of the nearness of God: “Where could I go to get away from your spirit?  Where could I go to escape your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there. If I went down to the grave, you would be there too! If I could fly on the wings of dawn, stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean — even there your hand would guide me; even there your strong hand would hold me tight! If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me; the light will become night around me,” even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you! Nighttime would shine bright as day, because darkness is the same as light to you!”

A healthy spirituality for our time reminds us constantly of the nearness of God. And that nearness of God is not always comfortable. Take a closer look at Psalm 139 and you may wonder whether the author wants to flee from the nearness of God.  Was the psalmist doing his dead level best to flee God, but found it impossible? Wherever he went and whatever he did, there God was.

Which way would we rather have God — far off or near? If we’re honest, that depends. Sometimes we want God on our own terms. We want the comfort, but not the challenge. Another way to put it is that God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.

Susan Werner’s Song “Did Trouble Me” speaks to this:

 

When I closed my eyes so I would not see,

My Lord did trouble me.

When I let things stand that should not be,

My Lord did trouble me.

When I held my head too high too proud,

My Lord did trouble me.

When I raised my voice too little, too loud,

My Lord did trouble me.

Did trouble me

With a word or a sign,

With the ringing of the bell in the back of my mind.

Did trouble me,

Did stir my soul,

For to make me human, to make me whole.

When I slept too long, slept too deep,

My Lord did trouble me.

Put a worrisome vision into my sleep,

My Lord did trouble me.

When I held myself away and apart,

My Lord did trouble me.

And the tears of my brother did move my heart,

My Lord did trouble me.

Did trouble me

With a word or a sign,

With the ringing of the bell in the back of my mind.

Did trouble me,

Did stir my soul,

For to make me human, to make me whole.

 

Is the Lord among us or not? The answer is yes — in the greatest times and in the tragic times; in the times of peace and in the times of turmoil; in the times when our direction seems very clear and in the times when our direction is fuzzy; and in the times when our lives are full of relationships and friends and the times when we feel lonely. Yes, God is with us to trouble our souls when we are complacent and when we let things stand that should not be. God is near to stir our souls; to make us human, to make us whole.

The answer is always Yes, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.

Grace and Peace,


Dr. Tim Bruster
Senior Pastor

 

Psalm 139:7-12 (Common English Bible)

Where could I go to get away from your spirit?
Where could I go to escape your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there.
If I went down to the grave, you would be there too!
If I could fly on the wings of dawn,
stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean—
10         even there your hand would guide me;
even there your strong hand would hold me tight!
11 If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me;
the light will become night around me,”
12     even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you!
Nighttime would shine bright as day,
because darkness is the same as light to you!

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