“Draw Near To God”

Sermon – 09-19-21 – Proper 20 – Cycle B
Scripture – Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 54; James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37
Sermon Title: “Draw Near to God”

How do we do that? We pray, we sing, we try to live according to God’s will. But this may only be on the surface. We pray words in our heads or with our lips. We sing the words in front of us in the bulletin or Christian music we hear on our devices. We try to be kind and loving.

But if it is only on the surface, we only get so far in our attempt to draw near to God. Maybe that is the secret. We can only go so far in our attempt because it is something that our own will cannot accomplish by itself. My daily prayer includes these words: “God, thank you for blessing us, guiding us, protecting us, and drawing us closer to yourself.”

We need to be open to this drawing but we can’t move along the distance by own power. There is a gap which we cannot cross until God extends the bridge toward us. This sounds mechanical, like engineering talk, construction talk. But listen. The next part of the prayer goes like this: “Thank you for opening our hearts and minds and make us more loving and caring.” This is more right-brain work than left-brain. This is emotions more than logic.

Let it happen. Be available for God to extend his hand and his love toward us. That is the bridge. James is saying in our lesson today, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. . . . Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Between those two thoughts are these words, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

So while we are open to God we need to close the door to Satan. We shall not be tempted by the wiliness of Satan. Even our close friends may have opened the door for Satan to draw close. We can’t be friends with Satan and with God at the same time. We will be torn in two pieces. The goal is to face God and turn our backs on Satan. But, take my word, that is not easy. Sometimes we are drawn to what we think will be pleasure. At first, it seems very good and we try to justify our pleasure and the actions that bring pleasure.

But then we find that this pleasure does not work. Life becomes complex. Ultimately, things unravel. How do we determine if things are working? If what we are doing hurts anyone else, it is not working. If we find ourselves going over and over the situation in our minds, it is not working. To use the word “working,” our own feelings should be calm, we can see things falling into place nicely. We should see the people around us being happy, not on edge. We should not have a guilty feeling. We are supposed to be showing wisdom, not selfish, childish behavior. James is saying, “A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” Peacefulness and Satan don’t go together.

How did things work for Jeremiah in our Hebrew lesson? Because he was serving God, he apparently did not catch on that evil was facing him. When Jeremiah becomes aware of the reality, he asks God to take care of Jeremiah’s enemies, which is better than Jeremiah taking revenge himself. In verse 20 in our Jeremiah reading today, we read Jeremiah speaking to God in this way. “But you, O Lord of hosts, . . . “ In our Bible Study this week we spent a bit of time thinking what “Lord God of hosts” means. We have fallen into a habit of expecting Rick to go to the internet quickly to find some answers for us. But Rick was not with us because he was working. Later in the day or the next day, Rick sent information to us about “Lord, God of hosts.”

Rick wrote, “Host comes from the Hebrew word Sabaoth which translates to armies. So the thought is Lord of Hosts is a reference to God’s army of angels.” Then I added, “It is very interesting because Eugene Peterson in The Message version of the Bible uses the term “God of the Angel Armies” instead of  “Lord of hosts.” Also, I did not realize that “Sabaoth” meant armies or that host meant armies.  I had thought “host” was a “gathering” of angels, not that a group of angels would be called “armies.”  Interesting! In the older version of the song that is usually sung during communion, “Lord God of Sabaoth” is used.  In the newer version “God of the heavenly host” is used.

It seems that Jeremiah is thinking of God as a sort of General of an army of angels and this army will take care of Jeremiah’s enemies. The next time the thought of revenge rises in our hearts and minds, we should picture God’s army of angels taking care of the situation.

Let’s think about this. What could happen if this army of angels would not strike our enemies but instead would soften the hearts of our enemies? Bringing them into good relationship with people and God instead of being adversaries.

I need to emphasize the invitation I have placed in our current weekly news which is the loose set of papers in your bulletin.
Immanuel United Church of Christ, Shillington, PA
September 19 and 26; October 10 and 17 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
We Do Not Need To Attend All Four Sessions
No Cost Rev. M plans to attend Meet Me There
Brobst Street or 99 S. Waverly Street in Shillington Close to Governor Mifflin High School
Do We Care About Getting Along With Each Other and the Other and the Other?

Our society has become very antagonistic. We care so much about our own rights, our own freedoms, to the point of losing relationship and the ability to accomplish anything. Let us call on God’s army of angels to soothe and smooth the waters. Let us remember that our freedom stops where the next person’s freedom starts. Instead of asking revenge on the people with whom we disagree, let us seek compassion and understanding. Let us try to understand the source of the other person’s thinking. Why is the person thinking as he or she is thinking? How did we acquire our attitude, our beliefs.

Did our personality arise from a source of hatred and anger? Or were we blessed with parents who lived their lives with love as the basis? Or maybe some other person or another experience planted a closed mind and heart as protection against more hurt? What is our basis of being? Do we need to be protecting ourselves rather than being open to relationships? Were we hurt so badly somewhere along the line that our hearts are shriveled and dry instead of pulsing with energy.

James writes, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. . . . The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”

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