Family

Family
Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Friday, August 21, 2015

Intimacy with God

This week's lectionary readings include Psalm 84. A few week's ago I was asked to preach at Meadow Way Chapel in Norwich and they asked me to use Psalm 84 as my text and to preach on Intimacy with God. I am thus preaching the same sermon this Sunday at AMC.


 Our subject today is Intimacy with God and the common elements of the definition of intimacy are a close, familiar, affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person ... in our instance, God, our God who has revealed Himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The text I've been asked to preach from is Psalm 84:
(Note: In copying and pasting some important elements have been lost, most importantly LORD has pasted as Lord throughout and as will become clear, this is very important. So, where ever you read Lord in the following, it should read LORD) 

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord Almighty!
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
    for the living God.
3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
    they are ever praising you. 
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength,
    till each appears before God in Zion.
8 Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
    listen to me, God of Jacob. 
9 Look on our shield, O God;
    look with favor on your anointed one.
10 Better is one day in your courts
    than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
    from those whose walk is blameless.
12 Lord Almighty,
    blessed is the one who trusts in you.

As with all things in the Christian faith, intimacy with God begins with God. ALL things begin with God ... "In the beginning God" Gen 1:1
ALL things begin with God: The apostle John reminds us that "We love because he first loved us" 1Jn4:19
ALL things begin with God: your relationships, marriages, children, career, the coming week ... and who knows what that holds?

Our intimacy with God begins with God's intimacy with us --- and God's intimacy with us began way back, way back in the womb: "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb" Ps 139:13.
So ... God is intimate with us, with you, long before we ever choose to be intimate with Him. And, that really is good news, isn't it, because it means half the work is already done ... we don't have to woo Him!

So when our Psalmist says "my heart and my flesh cry out  for the living God", the Living God is already crying out to him ... to you, to me. The cross of Jesus Christ was God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) crying out to a dark, lost, broken world, a dark, lost, broken you and me ... saying: "I love you, intimately." Hear Him, this morning.

The Psalmist has discovered that God has "set eternity in our hearts" (Ecc 3:11) and no earthbound person, position or possession can truly satisfy us. We are created for something higher than these, we are created for intimacy with God which Augustine was describing when he said: "You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You" ... do you know that rest? A number of years ago a song by Plumb had these words: "There's a God shaped hole in all of us, and a restless soul is searching; There's a God shaped hole in all of us, and it's a void only He can fill"

Is that void in you being filled, do you know that rest? Are you intimate with the God who desperately longs for more and deeper intimacy with you?

Intimacy begins with God, has begun with God, but seeks to find a welcome, a home, a nesting place, ... in your heart.

                                                       Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.

Has our Lord, who once likened Himself to a mother hen (Mt 23:37), found a nesting place in your heart? Sparrows and swallows find a place in His heart, so that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing and caring about it (Mt 10:29) --- sparrows have a place in His heart, does He have a place in yours?

And for many of us, the answer is YES! ... Yes, I have responded to God's desire for intimacy with me shown to me on the cross, but begun with me while I was still in my Mom's tummy, and to such the Psalmist proclaims blessing.

He proclaims beatitude on those who choose intimacy with God:
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
  Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
   Blessed are those  whose hearts are willing and longing to journey with you


In our intimacy with God we can know, should know, blessing, which is a kind of cocktail of   happiness mixed with joy and contentment ... shaken, not stirred. Jesus will later of course describe the blessings or beatitudes of the Kingdom of God that begin His Sermon on the Mount ... seven of them and then the dark 8th one, "Blessed are the persecuted," ... persecution shakes us, which is why I suggested the cocktail is shaken rather than stirred. And our Psalmist has a hint of darkness as well as he makes clear that those who dwell in His house, whose strength is in God and whose hearts are set on pilgrimage --- those who are intimate with God --- will not have a trouble free and problem free journey --- No! --- the blessed, the intimate, will find that the journey of intimacy with God often leads through the valley of Baka, a place of dryness, barrenness, danger, death even ... the Valley of Baka ... a place to be avoided. 
 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
    ...
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,

Another Psalmist will point to the same truth, that those whose Shepherd is the Lord, will find themselves in the valley of the shadow of death (Ps 23). Baka, the intimate with God cannot avoid it and won't be spared it --- ask Job --- but you will find that even that place can become for the blessed, the intimate with God, for you and for me, a place of refreshment which paradoxically, like most things in the Kingdom of God, takes us from strength to strength, even as it drains and dries us. Are you in a valley of Baca this morning?

As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,


Are you in a valley of Baca this morning? Remember, in the beginning, God ... At the beginning of your Baca, your valley, even in the shadow of death, in that valley and all the way through it ... is God.

"In the beginning God": The word used for God in Genesis 1 is Elohim. Elohim is a plural; if you want to say one god, you say El; two gods is Eloha; three gods is Elohim. So in the very first verse of the Bible we have the Trinity, God in plural, but (not surprisingly for us Christians) always mentioned in the singular. So throughout the Old Testament, we always have Elohim is, not Elohim are. God is, not Gods are. Behold Israel, the Lord your God the Lord is one (Deut 6:4). And as we now know, One God, Three Persons, Trinity.

Now I mention all this because our Psalmist uses Elohim a number of times in this Psalm:
 How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord Almighty!
 My soul yearns, even faints,
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
    for the living God.
 Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
    they are ever praising you.
 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
 They go from strength to strength,
    till each appears before God in Zion.
 Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
    listen to me, God of Jacob.
 Look on our shield, O God;
    look with favor on your anointed one.
 Better is one day in your courts
    than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
    from those whose walk is blameless.
 Lord Almighty,
    blessed is the one who trusts in you.

But he also uses another name for God ... in our English translations Lord. In Hebrew the word is YAHWEH, the holiest of names in Judaism, so holy that they won't write it or say it ... rather than say it they will say The Name, and rather than write it they will only write the consonants, YHWH.

YAHWEH ... Lord ... the name that God gave to Moses on Mt Sinai when Moses asked God "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?"  God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’Yahweh is the Hebrew for I am who I am ... the word is actually a verb, our God is being rather than a being, but that is beyond our scope for today.

Yahweh, Lord, is the personal, intimate name of God. You know you are getting close to someone when they say you can call them by the name that their nearest and dearest call them. Where Elohim implies the God who is above, beyond, different, omnipotent ... Yahweh (Lord) implies intimacy, closeness, relationship, love. Now, our God is of course all these things, but we are often tempted to emphasise one element at the expense of the other. So for some He is all powerful, fearful even, His ways and thoughts are way above our ways and thoughts ... and with such an emphasis, intimacy becomes difficult. Likewise others just emphasise His love, kindness, gentle friendliness and forgiving character ... but they lose the perspective of His otherness, His Kingship and Lordship over us.

We need to have the right balance if we are to be intimate with God. He is both Elohim and Yahweh, God and Lord. And in the Psalm before us, He is not only God, but also Lord:

 How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord Almighty!
 My soul yearns, even faints,
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
    for the living God.
 Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
    they are ever praising you. 
 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
 They go from strength to strength,
    till each appears before God in Zion.
 Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
    listen to me, God of Jacob.
 Look on our shield, O God;
    look with favor on your anointed one.
 Better is one day in your courts
    than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
    from those whose walk is blameless.
 Lord Almighty,
    blessed is the one who trusts in you.

In this Psalm, the Psalmist uses both God and Lord

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord Almighty!
 My soul yearns, even faints,
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
    for the living God.
 Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
    they are ever praising you. 
 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
 They go from strength to strength,
    till each appears before God in Zion.
 Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
    listen to me, God of Jacob.
 Look on our shield, O God;
    look with favor on your anointed one.
 Better is one day in your courts
    than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
    from those whose walk is blameless.
 Lord Almighty,
    blessed is the one who trusts in you.


And with such a balance, intimacy with God can cause us boldly and with confidence to cry out to God, either from our Valley of Baka or from our nesting place in the arms of our Lord:

Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
    listen to me, God of Jacob.
 Look on our shield, O God;
    look with favor on your anointed one.


And with this boldness born from our intimacy we discover:

Better is one day in your courts
    than a thousand elsewhere;


Better is one minute with our God than a thousand elsewhere ... is that your experience?

And so we get to the key in this Psalm to intimacy with God:

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of the wicked.


Desire and pursue the things of God --- even if it's the lowest or the smallest thing.
A short prayer rather than a long prayer because I just don't have time right now for a long prayer. Just one chapter of Scripture this morning because I don't have time for more ... baby had me up all night, that presentation took so much longer than expected. Just one small act of love or random kindness ... remembering that inasmuch as you do it for the least among you, you do it for Me, says Jesus (Mt 25:31-46). Our approaches to God don't have to be grand ... doorkeepers can be intimate with Him.

So, Intimacy with God:
       You and I are created for and invited to, intimacy with God;
        Intimacy begins with God, who has already taken huge steps of intimacy toward us;
       We just have to respond to our God's intimate overtures toward us, all centered on and flowing from, the Cross of Jesus;
       God's invitation is to know Him and call on Him by name;
       We become more intimate with Him through His Son and empowered by His Holy Spirit, through Prayer, through Scripture, through Service (amongst others).

Let us pray:

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord Almighty!
 My soul yearns, even faints,
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
    for the living God.
 Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
   they are ever praising you. 
 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
 They go from strength to strength,
    till each appears before God in Zion.
 Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
    listen to me, God of Jacob. 
 Look on our shield, O God;
    look with favor on your anointed one.
 Better is one day in your courts
    than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
    from those whose walk is blameless.
 Lord Almighty,
    blessed is the one who trusts in you.

1 comment:

Eldon Clayton Dicks said...

Hi Rev. Cedric,

Looking forward to your sermon.

Regards

Eldon and Connie