“Drawing Closer to God”
February 28, 2021
Mark 8: 31-38
The Venerable Ralph Leavitt
Honorary Associate Priest
I speak to you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Here we are truly in the Lent season now. It is time to get serious with our Lenten practices. What have you decided to give up? Or, more importantly, what have you decided to take up? Whatever your discipline in Lent is, I feel there is really only one goal, and that is to draw closer to God. And in drawing closer we discover what God’s will is for each of us and for God’s church.
As I pondered this, I realized that I was missing an important piece. Yes, in Lent, we try to draw closer to God. But let us not forget that at the same time God’s own self is always trying to draw closer to each one of us. God is always waiting for us. God is here. The Scriptures this week look at both these scenarios, God drawing close to God’s people and disciples drawing close to God. And as we have heard, there are some rather surprising results in these actions.
In our Genesis reading we see God draw very close to Abram. We read; “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous”. Talk about drawing close! God establishes an everlasting covenant with humankind. Then in our Gospel reading Jesus literally draws his disciples close to him and tells them; “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again”. Jesus wants his disciples to know that in order to fulfill God’s will, that he must die, but will rise again. In other words, he will conquer death itself. What incredible examples of God drawing close these are.
So, how do humans react then God draws close? In a plethora of ways. To tell the truth, one never knows how humans will react to such grace. The reactions we read of today, I feel, are both very human and quite funny.
What does Abram do? He falls on his face. At first I thought of this as an act of worship, but no, it was because Abram was in total shock. And a bit later, when God says that Sarai will have a child, we read; Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed”. Laughed. Laughed at God. How preposterous! Or is it? Have you laughed at God? I must admit that in my Christian voyage there have been times when God drew close that I too laughed. In my mind I thought “What? You must be kidding! You want me to be a Priest? Ha.”. Yes, as I experienced, it is quite human to laugh when you are face to face with God.
And what does Peter do? We read; “And Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him”. The news of Jesus dying was just too much for Peter. In his human view of things this simply was not at all in the plan Peter himself had imagined. Were the disciples not on their way to Jerusalem in order for Jesus to take over and rule? Peter’s rebuke is all the more shocking because just before this Peter had said to Jesus; “You are the Messiah”. He had it right, but now he rebukes Jesus, the Messiah! Again, how preposterous! Or is it really? How many times have you rejected God’s plans in your life. The phrases that come to my mind are; “Who me? Can’t be. I am a sinner. I can’t do that. Remember Moses and all his excuses? Every time we reject God’s plan for our lives, we rebuke God just as Peter did. It is quite human as we draw close to God, and God reveals God’s plan for each of us, that we reject it, because we don’t understand what is going on at all, because God never lets us go, but rather, through grace, God keeps after us until we are able to see.
In Abram’s case, God changes his name to Abraham. And so Abram, which means “exalted father” become Abraham, which means “father of a multitude” or “father of many nations”. God changes his name to explain and clarify to Abraham what his true calling is. God says; “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you”. It is with this information, that, with faith, Abraham can became our father of faith. As the apostle Paul writes in Romans; “He did not weaken in faith…No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised”. I repeat; “being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised”. Hummm…
It is similar with Peter. After receiving a strong rebuke back from Jesus, Jesus then teaches Peter, and the disciples more about the Kingdom of God. He tells them to set their minds on divine things, not human things. And he says; “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Now, although this sounds somewhat strict, it isn’t. For if you follow Jesus, you must put Jesus first in your life. Not your ego. Not what the world is saying. But Jesus. To deny yourself actually is to affirm God and move forward in faith. And take up your cross? Jesus himself submits to suffering and death in order to save humankind. In the same way, Jesus knows that each one of us will encounter suffering in our lives. We live in a sinful world. However, Jesus also wants us to know that he will be with us in our suffering, and that there is always a way through suffering. With Jesus, suffering is redemptive, we will overcome the crosses that come our way. We learn though suffering and our faith becomes stronger. And as disciples we then continue to draw closer to God.
So today we have seen both some outrageous reactions to when God grows closer to us, and also of when we draw closer to God. Outrageous, yes, but also astounding as Abraham and Peter both become pillars of faith and examples for us all. For in the end it is all about us being transformed more and more into the likeness of Jesus.
Although I know many of you have particular Lenten practices that will enrich you to draw closer, I want to leave you with one more, one that is both the easiest and most effective way for God to grow close and for us to draw close to God. So I finish by reading a poem by Edwina Gately, a well-known spiritual writer and founder of the Volunteer Missionary Movement, an organization to encourage lay people to become more deeply involved in the mission life of the Church. We meditated on this poem in our Spiritual Direction Group. It was a blessing to us, and may it be a blessing to you. It is titled “Let Your God Love You”. Can I suggest that you close your eyes, take a deep breath, and listen fully.
Before your God.
Let your God
Look upon you.
That is all.
God loves you with
An enormous love,
Wanting only to
Look upon you
Let your God