Always Close

Always Close


X my god my god  For the second Sunday in Lent we turn to Psalm 22 what I think of sometimes as the Good Friday prayer. “My God, my God why have you forsaken me,” rings out as one of the last words from the cross. Jesus who knew the Psalms, found the words for his anguish and despair.


Crucifixion was an ingenious method of execution that maximized the pain and torment of its victims. In order to expand their chest to breath, the victim would have to pull down on the nails through their wrists and push down on the nail through their feet. After agonizing hours of hanging from the cross, torn muscles spasming, they could no longer pull themselves up enough to take a breath of air. The X CRUCIFIXIONcrucified person died from asphyxiation.

Psalm 22 also inspired many of the details of the passion narrative.  For instance the mocking of Jesus at the cross. “All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; ‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’”

Or the description of the Roman soldiers casting dice for Jesus’ cloak. “They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”


X FALL ASLEEP & NOT WAKE UP   Despite the opening expression of utter abandonment Psalm 22 seeks to assure us that even in our darkest moments God is always close. The Passion of Jesus presents a picture of terrible suffering. And while I believe we are called upon to focus primarily on the love of God and the joy of life, the power of faith, I believe spending some time with the Passion narrative can strengthen our faith. For at some  point most of us will experience pain in our lives. I have this wonderful fantasy of living to be 95 years old in perfect health, sitting down in my rocking chair on the front porch on a warm Fall afternoon, falling asleep, and just not waking up. Ideally that is how I would like to leave this life. This last six months, however, has cured me of the fantasy of living another 30 years in perfect health.


X HE LOOKS GOOD FOR HIS AGEAlthough I am reminded of when Woody Allen was asked what he wanted people to say about him 100 years from now and he responded, “I want them to say, ‘Doesn’t he look good for his age?’” No, we are all going to die. We will all leave this life, and most of us will experience some pain before we go.


X PAIN  Life is good. Life is a gift. But pain can drain the joy right out of life. Pain alters our senses and perceptions blocking our appreciation of beauty and joy. Intense pain can be crippling, long term or chronic pain is demoralizing, interrupting sleep, draining energy, covering life with a gray haze of depression. And yet Psalm 22 tries to tell us that even in the midst of pain and suffering, God is always close.

“For God does not despise the pain of the afflicted; she does not hide her face from us, but hears when we cry to her. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek God shall praise the Lord. May our hearts live forever!”


God is always close. Our problem is that spiritually we wander. We are like the sheep who wander astray in Isaiah 53 one of the great suffering servant songs:

X SPIRITUALLYIsaiah 53:3 He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain first hand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum.

4 But the fact is, it was our pains he carried – our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures.

5 But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him – our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we are healed.

6 We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him.

7 The suffering servant was beaten, he was tortured, but he didn’t say a word. Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared, he took it all in silence.

8 Justice miscarried, and he was led off – and did anyone really know what was happening? He died without a thought for his own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of our people.

9 They buried him with the wicked, threw him in a grave with a rich man. Even though he’d never hurt a soul or said one word that wasn’t true.


X ALL WE LIKE SHEEP           All we like sheep have wandered. God is close, but we do not sense the divine presence near, for we are intent on what we want, not what God wants. We insist on going our own way ignoring the hints the gentle nudges God provides in trying to shepherd us in the way of Jesus. And especially, when we are in pain, we can turn in upon ourselves wondering how could God be so far away, so far from bringing relief to our suffering?


X CRSIS Admittedly, if we have not sought a relationship with God. If we have not cultivated any kind of prayer or devotional life, when pain and suffering come, we can very readily feel ourselves abandoned, and give into despair.


X REPENTANCE     In his book What Return Can I Make? Scott Peck writes about repentance.   He says that repentance means “turning,” turning around to walk with God. Scott Peck then asks the question, “who were we walking with before we turned around to walk with God?”


X GOING OUR OWN WAY The answer, no one. We were going it alone, because we liked it better that way. Maybe we could glimpse God occasionally at a great distance, but mostly we ignored God preferring to go our own way. Some of us have drunk the heady wine of the enlightenment and we have even convinced ourselves God is not there at all, for then we are truly captains of our own fate, accountable to no one except to ourselves, and we are free to do whatever we like, because we are the center of our own universe.


X EGO CENTER OF OUR OWN UNIVERSEOur egos like the notion of serving as the center of our own universe, but when confronted by pain, suffering or death, we might want to reach out to something beyond ourselves. And if we have not bothered to cultivate our relationship with God, we may find ourselves unable to make the connection, even though God is close.


X SEEK GOD WHILE SHE MAY BE FOUND         So where and how do we begin reaching out to make connection with God? First, in the words of the prophet Isaiah seek God while she may be found, reach out to the divine before the crisis. I am not saying that God does not respond when people pray in crisis. God does respond. But if we have no practice reaching out to the divine, we may miss the connection, because we do not recognize the signs of God’s presence. Seek the Lord, while she is near in good times so your faith may not fail when the crisis comes.


X GRATITUDE  An important way of establishing a connection with the divine is through gratitude. Life is a gift, and when we receive life as an unearned bequest, rather than as a gimme, then we draw close to God.


Many of you have met our grandson Robert, who spends much of the summer here in Huntsville. Robert has somewhat of a chaotic life. He lives with my son Geoff, who is separate from Robert’s mother, and his mother is not particularly stable. Well, Geoff’s girl friend Tracie texted me the other day and reported. “You have the cutest grandson ever. The other night I made one of his favorites for dinner — baby egg rolls with chicken. After X ROBERT LEARNS GRATITUDE 2dinner he comes and wraps his little arms around my waist and says, ‘I love you Tracie would you like some help finishing the dishes.’ I asked Geoffrey, ‘did you send Robert down here to thank me for dinner.’ And he had no idea what I was talking about.” When children learn spontaneous gratitude, we recognize they have passed a spiritual mile stone. When we adults express spontaneous gratitude to God, we have passed a spiritual mile stone.

So, wake up in the morning and before anything else, say thank you. Start the day by connecting with the divine, and you will find your life unfolding with love, peace and joy.


X OCCASIONAL PRAYER OF CONFESSIONAnother method of establishing some connection with God is to occasionally offer a prayer of confession. Now some of us are so good          at beating ourselves over the head, I only recommend occasional confession, because for some of us it is easy to overdo it. I have provided an insert with some prayers of confession. Find one you like, and pray. Offering confession is a way of making ourselves accountable to God. Accountability through confession also reinforces humility a necessary attribute for our daily walk with God.


X BE STILL  The last observation I would make for turning and walking with God is to be still. Be still and know that I am God. One of my favorite ways of reminding myself of the need to be still is to sing it. If you know it sing it with me. “Be still, be still, and know, I am God. Be still, be still, and know, I am God. Be still, be still, and know, I am God.”


X GOD IS ALWAYS CLOSE    Practice the presence of God in prayer, and when pain, or suffering, or death or some other crisis finds us, as inevitably it will, we will reach out to God, like Jesus on the cross and know that God is always close.



One Comment on “Always Close”

  1. manay clark says:

    Gratitude for blessings and realizing that all good things come from God was what opened the reality of God’s presence to me. I call it the baptism of the Holy Spirit. During this time of repentance, I admitted to God and myself how I had contributed for the crisis. This realization was especially painful because it involved one of my children’s pain. My mind was opened and I was shown how sinful I truly was, without excuses or denial. Thankfully, facing the pain of my sins, like self-absorb tin and selfishness to the nth degree was followed by a flash of a million things I could do for service to people and God. It was like looking in a diamond with each facet showing me in a thousand realities. I had a week of ectacy (sp); I felt loved like never before. I also felt the same type of love for others. I really listened to others, maybe for the first time, centered on other person without a thought of myself. I wanted to know what the person thought and felt. God gave me the gift of uncanny understanding of people and their burdens and motives. My vision, hearing, touch was heighted. Bob, the only way I can description this week was that I was truly awake for testing first time. It was like I had been in a dream most of my life, then suddenly awakened. I was delighted by ordinary experiences. Like a small child, I was fascinated by light through the trees, the sky, music, and people. I had not felt like that since I was a small innocent child. This experience lasted a week. I thanked God to allow m to live to age 50 so I could feel zHis presence. I know I was lucky. Why me? I don’t know, but I will always be grateful. Your sermon reminded me of the steps I took: -true gratitude, followed by incredible pain of repentance, and heaven on Earth for a week. I had kept up time in prayer, meditation, and worship music for at least a year. I am determined to start the practice again. Why did I ever stop? Thank you for reminding me of this incredible experience. I love my church now. Thank you for setting the tone for us followers. Love and gratefully, Manay

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