“UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH GOD”

MATTHEW 28:16-20

 JOHN 14:15-17

2 CORINTHIANS 13:13

MAY 26, 2013

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     Guest Pastor: Rev Ed Steinmetz

  A few days ago, I stumbled across an absolutely fascinating report on the Internet entitled, “A Study Finds We Do Not Have Many Friends.”

            Most Americans are dissatisfied (75%) and “not confident” (63%) with their friendships.  People are feeling insecure in their friendships; they yearn for deeper relationships. 

            Most Americans have only about four close friends.  This is not enough to fill their basic need for meaningful friendships.  People with at least seven or more close friends experience noticeably more emotional happiness and sense of well-being than those with fewer friends.

            The finding in this study that really caught my attention was that the pervasive and massive use of the social media technologies does not seem to have any helpful bearing on the shaping of close, satisfying, emotionally strengthening, interpersonal relationships/friendships.

            The study notes that you may have 300+ Facebook friends, but this does not count.  Why?  The study cannot find any correlation between the number of social media friends you may have and your very real yearning for close, deep, satisfying relationships.   Your lengthy list of social contacts may seem impressive, but this list seems to translate as merely a catalogue of acquaintances.  This reality does not provide you with a sense of friendship satisfaction or a sense of emotional well-being where you know in your heart that if you are really hurting, you have close friends who will be there for you and willing to care about you and for you in your times of need.

            Let me be clear.  There may be some value in having a lot of social media contacts.  But these often impersonal, anonymous interactions can never replace our need to be with others in person, face-to-face.  Relationships become close, deep friendships that give people a sense of importance, well-being, security when we are with others in person, face-to face where we can look at each other, look into each other’s eyes, talk to one another, see how the other is reacting, see that the other person cares, and where appropriate, touch the other person’s shoulder, or give the other person a hug.

  In 1990, I was called to be the Associate Minister, First Presbyterian Church, Omaha, NE.  My call was evangelism and senior adult ministries.

            The search committee asked me if I like seniors.  I said I love seniors.  One woman asked me if I like to hug seniors.  I said I love to hug seniors.  She said that is good because there are many seniors who come to church on Sundays mornings and the hugs you give them will be the only hugs that they ever get.  And your hugs for them can be for them the love that will help them live another week.

            Technology can be helpful.  But it can never be a substitute for face-to-face, in-person, genuine, caring interaction that leads to close relation-ships that become life-giving friendships.

            Sandra and I have been married almost 28 years.  We met 30 years ago in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  One day she shocked me; she asked me out.  We started dating.  There were many times when we would talk to one another, yes, over the phone, but also in person - sometimes for hours. 

             One thing we did was a difference-maker in our relationship, our friendship.  We would drive to Coronado State Park along the west side of the Rio Grande River just north of Albuquerque.  We would take a picnic lunch, sit at a picnic table or walk along the river and talk.  We would look at the majestic Sandia Mountain Range (highest point, Sandia Crest, about 10,600 feet) that bordered Albuquerque on the east as far as you could see.

  At dusk, the mountains would turn watermelon pink in color and then a majestic purple.  And we would talk and talk about our hopes, our dreams, the future, how God would guide us and help us.  And one day, many months later, too many for her, I shocked her by finally asking her to marry me.  Perhaps she was not too shocked.  She quickly said, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

            Taking time, making time over time - as much time as is needed to get to know each other, to get to know that we could count on each other - we were investing in a friendship, a relationship that would lead to marriage and last for a lifetime - in God’s grace.

            Deep, close relationships that become life-changing, difference-making friendships happen through quality face-to-face interaction where people take time and make time to do what I like to call, in the best sense of the use of these words, where people get “up close and personal.”

            Today is Trinity Sunday on the Christian calendar.  This great occasion has stirred within me the realization that we need to  get “up close and personal with God.”

             We celebrate the amazing, real, and yet mysterious truth that Christianity is a Trinitarian faith.  What does this mean?

    We believe that the one true God has revealed Himself to us in three persons:

              . God the Father who created us;

              . God the Son, Jesus Christ, who redeems us from sin and death; and

                   . God the Holy Spirit, who is our comforter, our sustainer, our guide, who lives within us.

            The word, ‘Trinity,’ is not mentioned in the Bible.  But time and again God has revealed Himself to us in Scripture, in Christ, and in Christian experience as our three-in-one God.

            The three key Bible passages for this sermon may be the three greatest verses in the Bible that speak to the Trinitarian nature of our Christian faith.

             The shortest and perhaps most familiar verse on this theme is what we call the Trinitarian Benediction (2 Corinthians 13:13/14), the very last verse in chapter 13 of the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Christians at the first-century church in Corinth, Greece.  Please note that this verse is 13 in some Bible translations and 14 in others; this is the result of the way some translators chose to divide the verses of the chapter.

             This great verse consists of this marvelous blessing!

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and

the love of God the Father, and

the communion of the Holy Spirit

be with all of you.”

- 2 Corinthians 13:13 (NRSV)

             This verse tells us that the first generations of Christians under-stood their faith in the one God as involving three persons in what we call the Godhead:

 

                        . The Creator God who loves them;

                        . His eternal Son, Jesus Christ,

      who saves them,

                                    who died for them to save them from the death of sin,

                                    who rose from the grave to save them for life forever with God; and

                         . His Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God,

                                    who lives within them.

                                    who fellowships with them,

                                    who comforts them,

                                    who guides them.

            This has been the experience of Christian believers throughout the more than two-thousand years of Christian history.

             The second Bible passage we use today is what we know as our Lord’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).

           Jesus told His disciples four commands just before he was to return to Heaven:

                        . Go!

                        . Make disciples!

                                    Make disciples of all nations

                        . Baptize them!

                                    Baptize them in the name

                                                of the father and

                                                of the Son and

                                                of the Holy Spirit.

                         . Teach them!

                                    Teach them to obey everything

                                                that I have commanded you.

             See the Trinitarian faith that shines through this command from Jesus!  “In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!”

             This Great Commission was not so much a doctrine that Jesus taught.  We understand this as a teaching that is an accurate description of God’s gracious, wondrous revealing of a cosmic truth that is built literally into the existential and moral fabric of the universe.

             So Jesus spoke!  And so his followers believed!

             So Jesus speaks through Scripture to us!  And so we believe!

             But now is where Trinitarian truth goes beyond the teaching of doctrine and belief.  Here is where the experience of our Three-in-One God gets personal.

             Let us look at our third Bible passage.  It comes from the Gospel of John, chapter 14, verses 15-17 (John 14:15-17).

             Here Jesus promised His disciples that, when he would no longer be  with them in the flesh, he would still be with them through the person, the presence, and the power of God’s Holy Spirit whom he would send to them.

             Jesus said: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.  And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Counselor (Comforter) to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept Him because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.  But you know Him, for he lives with you, and will be in you.”

             I like to say that God made us so that we may

                                                know Him,

                                                            love Him, and

                                                                        live for Him.

            God did not make us so that we would be morally perfect robots or spiritually pure automatons.

            God made us so that, in our own free will, we would choose to love Him and fellowship with Him - so that we may get up close and personal with Him, even as He wishes to get up close and personal with us through Jesus and through the Holy Spirit.

             Soooo!  How can we get up close and personal with God?

             Think with me for a moment!  How do we develop deep, caring, lasting relationships and friendships where we know that another person will be there for us when we may be in need, where the other persons may know that we will be there for them when they are in need?

             One way Sandra and I got to know each other well was through the many hours we walked and talked in our brown bag picnics along the Rio Grande River In Albuquerque.

            Relationships develop that are deep, caring, lasting, and ministry-filled when people make lots of quality time for each other, when they look at one another, when they talk to one another face-to-face, when they can see how the other person reacts with interest and with compassion, when each can begin to sense that the other person is important and that you each want to be there for the other to help in times of need.

             Yes, I know that in our fast-paced world this is not easy.  But the effort to make the time investment in others for your benefit and for their well-being will one day pay big dividends when we each need a close, special friend to be there for us in a time of need.

             God says to us in Psalm 46:10 -

“Be still.  Be quiet.  Listen.

Be still and know that I am God.”

            The men in our church choir have been trying to practice some gospel songs that we might do as a quartet in the future.  One song contains an apt message for our need to get close to God and close to Jesus.  The first verse: “I come to the garden alone when the dew is still on the roses.  And the voice I hear falling on my ears the Son of God discloses.  And He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own.  And the joy we share as we tarry there none other has ever known.”

            How may we get up close and personal with God?

             Getting close to God begins with reaching out to God.  Get still!  Be quiet!  Listen!  Think!  Meditate!  Pray!  Read!  Read God’s Word!  Care!  Share!  Dare!  Dare to care and share with God!  Dare to share your life with others and your care for them in God!  Worship!  Serve!  Minister!

             A few weeks ago, Pastor Meyer used this illustration in a sermon.  When we need to go to our spiritual bank account and withdraw some strength for the struggles of daily living, we must remember that we also must make deposits regularly that are the product, the substance, of our daily walk with God through the spiritual disciplines we exercise to grow in Him.

             God promises to always be there for us.  But our relationship with God is not a one-way street with God doing all the work.  We must also reach out to Him.  We must reach out to God - not just every now and then when we have a problem.  We need to reach out to God as a way of life.  When we need His guidance and strength, we already are in the fellowship of a real, caring working relationship with Him.  And when we see that others have concerns and needs, we are already to respond in the power of God’s love and grace.

             This is what the truth of the Trinity is all about in the Christian faith.

   God reaches out to us through Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.  God seeks to get up close and personal with us.  God longs for us to get up close and personal with Him so that we may know Him, love Him, and live for Him.