Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sermon for Sept 2, 2012; Deut. 4:1-9

Rev. George Miller
Deuteronomy 4:1-9
“A God So Near”
Sept 2, 2012

Last week during the offering, Judy Vekasy invited us to fill out cards, stating what kind of action we would do this week.

Here are some of the responses:
-“visit a friend I haven’t seen nearly as often as I should”
-“(write) 3 notes for away folks”
-“Feed the Willing Workers”
-“Forgive others”.

While none of these actions may seem earthshaking, they are ways to think beyond oneself, to reach out to another and to express the presence of God.

In other words, they are ways to say “Emmanuel.” Yes, Emmanuel is the name of our church, but it is more then that: it’s the Greek work that means “God with Us.”

To say “God with Us”, to say “Emmanuel” is to say “A God So Near.”

That’s the phrase that stands out in today’s reading, taken from the Book of Deuteronomy, a series of speeches given by Moses.

The people of Israel are at an interesting place. They have been wandering the wilderness for many a year and are soon about to enter into the Promised Land.

And here they are, located between two significant bodies of water. Behind them is the Red Sea which represents the past they have left behind; all those terrible years in bondage and humiliation.

Just ahead of them is the Jordan River which represents the future they have been promised: a bountiful time of freedom and jubilation.

In other words, they are in the “now.”

Moses, knowing he will soon be dead, gives them these words of encouragement, referring to their past so they can better embrace their future.

He reminds them of all they’ve been through, all they have accomplished through God.

Then in verse 7 he makes the claim “For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God…?”

This was not a simple one-off statement, but a continuation of the revolutionary experience of the Lord.

To claim there was one god and to state that God was close by was not what everyone else believed.

There were people who believed in many gods, worshipping different deities they thought responsible for things like fertility, serenity, economy.

There were those who worshipped idols; things they had created with their hands or grown in the field. Objects like statues and trees.

Others thought their gods lived in the sky, above the moon, behind the sun, governing things from far, far away, never truly interacting with any of them.

Others believed that their gods only cared about the rich and famous. Only kings and princes mattered; the poor and destitute were simply sawdust to be ignored and swept away.

So in essence, they were people whose faith rested in gods that could easily break; gods that were impersonal and distant; gods that were merely extensions of their selves.

But not Israel. For they understood God was not something you could see or control, but a holy experience. God was beyond the reach of the stars yet as close as one’s breath.

They believed that God cared not just for the mighty, but for all; that God cared for them. That even though they were a small group, that even though they were the underdogs of all underdogs, they mattered to God and God was near to them.

Because of their belief that God is so near the Israelites were able to face and overcome their enemies, they were able to accomplish more then anyone could imagine.

Because of their belief in a God so near they were able to survive and thrive.

And so now they stand, in the present moment, in the “now”, no longer shackled to their past, ready to step into their future.

Not alone, but together, and with God.

The simple claim that God is so near is part of what made the Jewish people, and later the Christians, so unique.

The belief that our God is mighty and worthy of awe, but that our God also knows who we are and is never too far away.

We experience this in the Garden of Eden when God came to walk with Adam and Eve in the coolness of day.

We experience this as Elijah flees with fear into the wilderness and God ensures that he is given bread and drink for the journey.

We experience this when we encounter Emmanuel, Jesus at a wedding and just as the celebration seems sure to stop, he turns water into wine so people can continue to celebrate the joy of family and friends.

And we experience this at the Last Supper when Jesus turns both wine and bread into signs of grace when he says “This is body and this is my blood, given for you.”

In the garden, a God so near.
In the wilderness a God so near.
In community a God so near.
In the shadow of the cross a God so near.

…Although, I’ll admit, this week had made things a little difficult to pronounce that God is near…

Across the Gulf, in places like Mississippi and Louisiana, we have our brothers and sisters who are dealing with the after effects of Hurricane Isaac, just two years after the BP Oil Spill and 7 years after Katrina.

With nearly a foot of rain poured down upon them, hundreds of thousands right now are without power.

Because of a levee break southwest of New Orleans, there are places where the water is over 12 feet high. Over 100 residents needing to be rescued, some stranded in their attics because the water was so high.

I wonder how many of them feel that God is so near.

Then in preparation for our Global Missions Fair we’ve been talking about the world’s water crisis. The sobering reality that 1 out of 6 people do not have access to clean water; that every 20 seconds a child dies from contaminated water.

Makes you want to get into a boat and just sail away, doesn’t it?

Here we have a reading in which Moses and the people are standing between two bodies of water celebrating the nearness of God, and yet in our nation and in our world, water has become an issue to reckon with.

So now that we have been placed before the cross, where is the Good News? What are the words that can speak into life the Resurrection and promise for new life?

The Good News comes from remembering our very name. That we are members of a church called “Emmanuel.” And that Emmanuel means, literally “God With Us.”

And that as Emmanuel there are many ways we can address the storms in people’s lives,

One way was through the cards Judy asked us to fill out last week. The acts of care and kindness that we enact upon another.

Visiting, feeding, forgiving.

They may not seem like much, but they do make a difference. The calls we make, the cards we write, the hands we hold, and the prayers we offer all embody the presence of God to others.

And next week we get to address the fact that there are others in the world with not enough water.

We get to do this through communally and playfully, by gathering after worship, by sharing at table, by eating a meal.

We get to do this by various forms of fun and fundraising from cake walk and bingo to some competitive cake auction.

We get to do this through education, by reminding ourselves that we are not the only ones in the world that matter to God, by not emotionally shutting ourselves off because we think there is nothing we can do.

By realizing we are not called by God to do it all, but we are empowered to at least do something.

In conclusion, as the people are poised to go from their past into their future, Moses uses the present moment to remind them of a simple truth:

God is near.

And that an appropriate response to God is to live a life that represents the goodness of God to others: justice, compassion, love.

And next week we have a way, a chance to show to others that nearness of God, even though they may be an ocean away.

A chance to show how God’s ways are not about death or sickness or scarcity.

But God’s ways are about life, liberation and enough for all.

What an honor that we get to play a role. How awesome that we, as members of Emmanuel UCC, in the little ol’ town of Sebring, FL get to show that “God is with us”.

God is with us indeed.

Amen and amen.

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