The Drawing: Nearer to God
by Jacob Juncker
This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church by Peter Hancock, a Lay Servant and member of Lee Memorial United Methodist Church, on Sunday, April 26, 2015.
Reading: Deuteronomy 6: 4-9
This morning we’re going to continue on the series which Pastor Jacob began last week on the purpose of the church. As a reminder, so that you know where we’re going, you can find the reading for each of the weeks in this series in your bulletin. You’ll also find there a question to “think about” this week: a question that goes along with the reading for today.
Last week, Pastor Jacob began with the question, “(w)hat is church”? He used this diagram (below) to help to illustrate a simple description of church and its purpose.
To love God and neighbor is to be drawn closer to God. Recall that the closer we are drawn to God, the closer we are drawn to our neighbor. Likewise, the closer we are drawn to our neighbor, the closer we are drawn to God.
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray. Amen.
How do we get nearer to God? Since God is the great Divine; meaning that he is the infinite and intangible source of all that is, was and ever will be, providing directions to a specific singular location to be nearer to God seems like an exercise in futility. From the beginning, God is everywhere which defies our human understanding of time and space.
If one was driving to a new location and wanted to know how to get there, one would use a roadmap or more likely with current technology, one would use GPS with a mapping application such as MapQuest or Google Maps. If our destination is to be nearer to God, much like MapQuest or Google Maps, today’s scripture reading provides us with clear instructions on how to get nearer to God.
God instructs us to first acknowledge that He is who he says He is—He is the One—He is the Lord alone. Let’s refer to Pastor Jacob’s drawing to help illustrate what it means that the Lord is our God (i.e., He is the One), that He is the Lord alone. Look at the drawing: we are the many (multiple points) around the circle and the center of the circle (i.e., the singular point in the middle) is the focal point—the One–God.
God next instructs us to keep our focus on Him. We are to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, with all of our souls and with all of our might. Continuing with the use of the GPS metaphor, this is like having a strong satellite signal—it’s like having four bars on your cell phone signal indicator. If we want to get nearer to God, we need to keep our gaze upon Him. In other words, we need to keep God in the center of our lives; not just for the hour or so while we are in church on Sunday mornings, but in our everyday lives. Living a God-centered life means that He permeates our thoughts, our language and our interactions with others every day and everywhere.
Because God does not want us to get lost, God emphasizes that His instructions are a commandment. In military terms, God is giving us a direct order! Verse 6 reads: Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. In other words, we are to follow Gods direct order with passion. Isn’t it funny that whenever we do something—anything with passion, it doesn’t feel like it takes any effort. You know the age-old advice about choosing an occupation. Don’t do something for the money; do something because you love to do it. That way when you are doing your job it won’t feel like work. When we want to get nearer to God and we are truly passionate about wanting to get nearer to God, then it will not feel like it requires much effort. Thinking and talking with and about God should feel as natural as taking your next breath.
God next tells us that we are to share His instructions with others—especially our children on a daily basis. We are to: [r]ecite them to our children and talk about them when [we] are at home and when [we] are away, when [we] lie down and when [we] rise. We are to [b]ind them as a sign on our hand, fix them as an emblem on our forehead, and write them on the doorposts of our house and on our gates. Extending the GPS metaphor one more time, God is telling us if we have an important and specific place we want to be on a regular basis, we should learn the route by memorizing the driving instructions. In fact, we should even teach the way to our passengers (like our kids) so they know how to get there also in case we lose our way—especially us men because we never want to stop to ask someone else for directions!
Parents with teenaged-children who eventually want them to drive themselves to wherever they need to go, must first teach them how to drive. So it is with us who know what it is to be in relationship with God, we must teach our kids (and others) by example. We must show them how to live a God-centered life by living God-centered lives ourselves!
In the book, The Church of All Ages: Generations Worshiping Together, the author, Howard Vanderwell makes reference to today’s Scripture lesson in Chapter 2: Biblical Values to Shape the Congregation. Referring to a common discussion between children and their parents during the Passover celebration, “[c]hildren ask what the event means and parents explain the Exodus so that the young learn and the older family members don’t forget”. The author adds that “Moses directly addresses this need” with today’s Deuteronomy passage and describes this scripture as “a bold plea for people of all ages to remain involved in each other’s lives”. Mr. Vanderwell also points out a parallel between our reading from Deuteronomy and Psalm 78 where the psalmist warns us not to repeat the disobedience of previous generations. (p. 25)
The psalmist admonishes us:
1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3 things that we have heard and known,
that our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
5 He established a decree in Jacob,
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach to their children;
6 that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and rise up and tell them to their children,
7 so that they should set their hope in God,
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
8 and that they should not be like their ancestors,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.
To get nearer to God, we as disciples of Christ must become role models to teach our children (and others) what needs to be done and how to do it. We must also teach our children (and others) what not to do so that they may learn and so we may not forget. Christians of all ages must remain involved in each other’s lives.
How do we get nearer to God? God’s directions to get nearer to him are quite simple. First we must acknowledge that it is by God’s grace that we were created to Love Him—it is in our DNA. This is our point A. Our point B on the Google map is to be nearer to God; in other words, it is to be in relationship with God. Although we are not worthy on our own due to our sinful nature to be in relationship with Him, it is by His gracious gift through his Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ, that we are truly reconciled that we may be in relationship with God.
How do we get nearer to God? Brothers and sisters, Jesus knows the way. In fact, Jesus is the Way! Jesus said (John 14:1-7)…
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe[a] in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?[b] 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.”[c] 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know[d] my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
We are drawn to be nearer to you because we know that we were created to love You. We want to be in relationship with You. Despite our sinful nature, it is by your grace, through your Son, Jesus Christ, that we have clear directions on how to get nearer to You. Christ has shown us the way. Christ is the Way! Jesus tells us to love You and to love our neighbor. To love our neighbor, we must be drawn nearer to our neighbor. To be drawn to our neighbor, we know we must get and remain involved in each other’s lives. Help us to be nearer to you, oh God. Help us to be nearer to our neighbor. Amen.