April 3, 2016
Prayer: God who knows our heart and empowers us to see what cannot be seen allow us the experience of meeting Jesus.
In 1949 a program started its run on radio and then in 1951 it transitioned to television. Unlike the shows of today there was no character development and no emotional commentary. It was a police drama called “Dragnet”. Each episode involved the discovery of evidence. The focus was on the facts. It played out like a case file. Even though Sgt. Joe Friday never said the words “just the facts ma’am just the facts,” this tag line very much represented how this drama unfolded.
The Gospels, in many ways, are somewhat similar to that old TV show. These are firsthand accounts of the events of the life of Christ. The Gospels of Matthew and John are the product of two of Jesus disciples. The Gospel of Mark is said to contain the eyewitness account of Peter. The Gospel of Luke is a result of a research project completed by Dr. Luke from interviews done with those who had actually met Jesus. However, the Gospel of John is a little bit different because John states very clearly that his writing is more than just an eyewitness account. It is a polemic or rather an account with an intended purpose. John writes, “But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.” In other words, John’s desire is that those reading his gospel will remain in or enter into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But how is that possible?
In the third chapter of John a religious leader named Nicodemus comes to see him at eight. Nicodemus is a good man, a religious man, a righteous man. He has questions for Jesus but before Nicodemus could ask his questions, Jesus told him that in order to be right with God he needed to be born again; that he needed to be born from on high. In other words, having a relationship with God was something that only God could instigate. Let me explain.
There is a very real sense in which every human being ever born is a child of God. If we are all children of God the creator, we are all connected. But just because we have this connection does not mean that we have a relationship. There are about 3 million people living in Toronto but I am not aware of having a relationship with any of them. So, how could I enter into a relationship with any of them? By beginning a meaningful conversation. I say “meaningful” because we can talk to a lot of people and all that’s really conveyed is information. That kind of conversation does not affect us. It doesn’t change who we are. A relationship implies far more than just the exchange of information. And having a relationship with God implies that we become believers. Now, a believer is not someone who simply agrees with certain facts. A believer is someone who, because of the facts, changes their conduct. Thus when we hear Peter preaching on the Day of Pentecost he talks about repenting, changing direction, of living one’s life in accordance with God’s will.
As I’ve said before, when we hear the word repentance, we normally associate it with feelings of regret. But that is not repentance. “Repenting” means making a drastic change in course.
Of course we often read in the Scripture and hear in some settings the whole business of repenting connected to “confessing your sins”. These statements are aimed at those who knew the Law. But I want to ask you how many times have you walked up to a complete stranger and the first words out of your mouth was an apology for all of the things that you have ever done that may somehow offend that person? I dare say never. Why would you apologize to someone that you have never had any sense of offending?
Jesus met all kinds of people and I cannot think of an instance when Jesus put a requirement of confessing one’s sins as a precursor to establishing a relationship. Jesus met people where they were Jesus met the people who they were. He was even chided by the religious leaders for hanging around with sinners and tax collectors. But Jesus did call people to repentance: to changing the direction of their life. He told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more. He told the rich young ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. Now with that said, if there never comes a time in our growing relationship with God that we do not have a sense that we need to apologize for the harm that we have caused other people or our self and for the offense against God that we have created, there is something seriously wrong. How can we as human beings be keenly aware of the holiness of God, the otherness of God, and not also be aware of our failings.
So what I’m saying to is essentially this. Number one, entering a relationship with God is not something that we can do on our own. Number two, there is a difference between having a connection to God by virtue of God being our creator and having a relationship with God. And number three, entering a relationship with God assumes a change of course.
I want to go back to the point number one for second, that entering a relationship with God is not something that we can instigate ourselves.
In the book of Proverbs it says that God hass put a taste of eternity in our hearts. This is true of all humanity. By that, the writer of Proverbs is suggesting that there is a knowledge of, a hunger for, an openness to and an awareness of something greater than ourselves. The problem that we face in having this hunger is that we try to fill ourselves by spending our time engaging in really unhealthy actions and attitudes. Some look for fulfilment in drugs or alcohol, some look for it in gambling, some look for it in illicit sex, some look for it in self-achievement, climbing the ladder of success, seeking power fame and fortune.
The Bible also talks about the Holy Spirit working in all of creation. I’m not just talking about amongst the people of God. Part of the responsibility of the Holy Spirit is to lead those who do not have a relationship with God towards God and to lead those who do have a relationship with God towards a deeper one. So, while it is not within our power to instigate a relationship with God, the fact that we might want to is a reflection of God already working in our lives. It is God nudging us gently towards God’s Self. However, it is important to always remember that God has promised to honour God’s giving us free choice. God will never force us into a relationship. God will never force us to be obedient. God will never force us.
It’s also important to remember that God only wants what’s best for us and that when we insist on doing things our own way ultimately, we are doing ourselves harm.
Now, even though we have this sense of something more within us and even though the Holy Spirit is nudging us towards God, we are naturally resistant to God. And so, it is possible to sit in church for decades, to hear sermon after sermon, to engage in conversations about God and to never hear what’s being said. Yes, we hear the words but the message escapes us. However, when we do hear, when the question arises within ourselves about having a personal relationship with God, the time to act is now. Please do not let that question go unanswered. Take this opportunity to enter into a relationship with God by responding to the conversation that God has already initiated with you. Ask God to help you to hear more. Ask God what God would like of you. And when you think you have received an answer, regardless of how simple or difficult that answer may be to follow through with, just do it.
Next week, we are going to consider how we hear God’s side of the conversation. It’s interesting that almost anyone facing a difficult situation is willing to cry out to God for help but few ever expect God to answer back. In fact, many consider it admirable when they hear someone say that they ask God for help but many will question a person’s sanity if that person says God talked back. But Jesus said that his followers know his voice..
So come back next week as we consider how we hear God’s part of the conversation.
Prayer: Gracious and loving God, make us all like the boy Samuel, who heeded the instruction of the elderly priest Eli. When you called Samuel’s (1 Samuel 3) name the third time, Samuel no longer ran to Eli but rather answered you by saying, Speak Lord, for you servant is listening. Amen.