Hide & Seek – God IS Near
Hebrews 1:1-3; 2:14-18
God IS Near! Growing A Relationship with Our Creator
First Baptist Church Laurens
September 9, 2018
One of my favorite games to play as a child was Hide & Seek. While I honestly can’t tell you exactly why that was the case, there are several aspects of Hide & Seek that I remember fondly. For one, I remember that our home had some great hiding spots. When our house was built, the two upstairs bedrooms had closets built on both sides that ran the entire length of the upstairs. They were huge but if you were unaware when you opened the door, it appeared to be a regular closet. They were thus excellent places to hide and always provided a home field advantage if you will. I also remember vividly how we used to count when we were “it” or the person doing the seeking. “I am going to count to 100,” we would say. Then starting slowly, we would continue “1…2…3…4….5, “ before taking off like a rocket and out of control auctioneer while zooming through numbers 6 through 96 before slowing back down with “97…98…99…100…ready or not, here I come…”
The other big thing I remember, and the reason I bring up Hide & Seek this morning, is that occasionally someone was incredibly good at the game and able to find a hiding spot where they almost could not be found. Sometimes, after 5 or 10 minutes of looking, which seemed like an eternity as a child, you would literally begin to wonder if they were even still around. Had they quit the game? Had they left the premises? Were they really still hiding or had they abandoned you to feel silly while looking and looking for someone who wasn’t even there anymore? I bring up this childhood image because I think it relates to our life of faith. Sometimes, we feel as though we are playing a game of Hide & Seek with God. We have been taught and we are reminded week after week in Sunday School, in worship and our devotional readings that God desires to be a part of our daily lives. Yet, sometimes we wonder. Sometimes we don’t sense the nearness of God that everyone talks about, points toward or affirms as simply a given of life and faith. Instead, we feel like we are playing Hide & Seek. We are looking for a God who seems awful good at hiding which leads to our natural questions – has God left the premises? And, is it possible that we are looking for God who isn’t even there?
Let me begin by saying this. If these are your questions or if they have been your questions, they are good, natural questions. They don’t make you unique, unusual or deficient in your faith. They make you normal. If you have not had these questions, you will likely have them at some time. If you have had them before but are not experiencing them now, they will very likely come again.
Sometimes the question of God’s nearness challenges us for the bulk of our lives. Some of us take to faith like a fish takes to water and others of us do not. Being a person who feels as though God is far away rather than nearby, absent rather than present, and an invisible Deity that we are constantly in search of is simply where some of us live out much of our spiritual lives.
For others of us, life’s circumstances have led us to a place of feeling that God is absent. Our spouse has gotten sick and we have begged for their healing only to get no response. Or, we have been swimming in debt while trying to be faithful in our stewardship and committed to our church and we can’t figure out why God isn’t helping us fix things or offering a solution. Or we are depressed, grief stricken and overwhelmed by family challenges and we cry out and ask for God’s help night after night and we don’t feel like we are getting anything in return.
Our spiritual ancestors have termed it “the dark night of the soul” which is to say the moment when we need God most and when God seems most absent. These can certainly be moments where our spiritual lives feel at a point of crisis.
I don’t want to minimize these feelings for they are real and I have heard them uttered by parishioners just like most of you for all of my ministry. I have also struggled as a friend with ministry colleagues who have lived through their own moments and I have had such moments myself. But, I want to say there is help. It is not the magic bullet type of help that offers three easy steps which guarantee to make it all better. Instead, the help scripture gives us comes in the form of foundational truths, things to remember and principles to lean into. No, they may not erase all of our doubts about God’s nearness but they do help make the way better and they add insight.
The first and most foundational is this – God is near. Even when we don’t sense God’s presence, even when we wonder, even when we don’t hear God’s reply to our prayers in the night, if the Bible says anything, it says that God is near. Relationship with you and I and close proximity to us as his children is of primary importance to God.
Hebrews 1 says is well. Hebrews is an interesting little book in the New Testament. It is not a place we often land or quickly go to in our reading of scripture. Yet Hebrews makes one point above all others – in Jesus, God comes near in a way that had never happened before and has never happened since. Hebrews uses the imagery of the Old Testament High Priest to get at this. In the Old Testament, the High Priest was the intermediary, which is to say the “go-between” or the “middle man” between the rest of the Israelites and God. The High Priest entered the Holy of Holies on the people’s behalf. The High Priest offered sacrifices on the people’s behalf. The High Priest represented the people to their God.
In Jesus, however, the world experienced the ultimate High Priest. In Jesus, was both a priest and God. Jesus with his life offered a one time sacrifice for our sins. Jesus spoke to God the Father on our behalf. But, more than that, Jesus came as God, in the flesh, so that we can know God ourselves, in person and through relationship. God is no longer defined by what someone else tells us, God is defined by our very own relationship with God through Jesus. As John says in that wonderful verse in Chapter 1 – “the word became flesh and dwelt among us”…”God pitched his tent in our midst”…”God bought a house and moved into our neighborhood”. Further, this was only the beginning, once God established this nearness in Jesus, God refused for God’s relationship with human beings to ever go backwards. Instead, as Jesus departed the earth, the Holy Spirit takes over as God’s presence living in our lives and dwelling in the world. Over and over again the New Testament establishes the idea – God is near.
The famous Christian writer Eugene Peterson was speaking at a conference I once attended at Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina. One morning, he and his wife Jan were at breakfast in the cafeteria. They were sitting at a table by themselves. When a friend and I passed by with our own trays, the opportunity came for us to take the empty seats and join them. We were not about to pass up such a chance and we thoroughly enjoyed the conversation that unfolded for the next thirty minutes or so. That moment took place over twenty years ago but I can still rarely read Peterson’s writing without thinking about that moment. Being in his presence and in conversation even for a few minutes completely changed how I thought about and perceived him.
Proximity, conversation, nearness, keeping time together, presence… they all matter when it comes to relationships. The Bible says that this is what God wants for us. God wants to be near us. God wants to invite us to sit at the table, to be in conversation and to allow that time to forever change our perceptions and feelings. Jesus’ coming to earth was the ultimate example of this and now the Holy Spirit’s presence remains the daily reminder of this and primary way that God interacts with us.
Again, this doesn’t change the fact that we sometimes struggle to sense God’s nearness. Yet, our ability to sense God with us in a closer way begins with trusting the affirmation that God wants to be and is near even when we do not recognize it. Just like in the game Hide & Seek, our inability to see God is not necessarily proof that God is not there. The is the conclusion we have to do our best to avoid even while not minimizing our struggles.
Brother Lawrence was a monk who lived in a monastery in the 17th century. He remains an influential figure today because of his little book The Practice of the Presence of God. The book is a simple guide for people of faith seeking to experience God’s nearness in their lives. It begins with a basic premise that God is there and that our job, in ever task, is to find God in our daily affairs. When Brother Lawrence died, it was said at his funeral that he was faithful to his belief. “Lawrence found God everywhere…while he was repairing his shoe as while he was praying…” (as told by Philip Yancey in Reaching for the Invisible God, pg 205).
Like us, Brother Lawrence all of those years ago was trying to find God and to experience God’s nearness in his life. But, he began in the exact opposite fashion than we often do. Rather than starting by assuming God’s absence, Lawrence started by assuming God’s presence and then went in search of finding God.
This is a good beginning. It is where scripture invites us to begin and where I think we all should begin on this day as we seek and search and claw for the God that often feels invisible or absent. We begin not by giving into God’s absence but by once again assuming and living into God’s nearness. God, scripture says, is and wants to be near. God wants to be in relationship with us. Amen.