Text: Deuteronomy 31:23-27a; 1 Kings 11:35-39; John 14:23-27
:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft
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:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Prepare Ye the Way" (Caedmon's Call) - GSPC worship team audio
Hymn of Praise: "O Come, All Ye Faithful" (ADESTE FIDELES)
The Word in Music: "The Yearning" (Craig Courtney)
Offertory Hymn: "He Leadeth Me" (HE LEADETH ME)
Song of Sending: "Joy to the World" (ANTIOCH)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf):
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
Today we are continuing the theme of Immanuel (God with us) that Kathy introduced last week. She gave us an overview that stretched from Creation to Revelation and she focused on the covenant – God’s promise to a people and to the world to be with them.
Today I want to look at three related passages in which God says in one way or another, “I will be with you.” Over the past number of weeks we have talked about experiencing God’s presence – His GOODNESS and GREATNESS. I realize that many of us – and all of us at one time or another – struggle to experience God in a tangible way.
Each of the passages about God’s presence also includes some kind of challenge to obey God’s Word, so I also want to look with you at the relationship between our attentiveness to that Word and our experience of God’s presence.
Mobile Home (Deuteronomy 31:23-27a)
23 Then He commissioned Joshua the son of Nun, and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you.” 24 It came about, when Moses finished writing the words of this law in a book until they were complete, 25 that Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying, 26 “Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you. 27 “For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness… (Deuteronomy 31:23-27a)Last week Kathy talked about the word ‘tabernacle’ – both the noun and the verb which describe God “pitching a tent” among His people. After Creation, when God walked with humanity in the Garden, and before the Temple of Solomon, God was understood to travel with the Israelites and dwell in the Ark of the Covenant. At the end of Deuteronomy, as leadership of Israel was passing from Moses to Joshua, God commissions Joshua, saying, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you.” (v. 23)
This is a reminder and renewal of the covenant promise – both for land and for God’s presence and blessing. God is telling Joshua (and all Israel) that the covenant is still good and God is still with them. What immediately follows that verse is the account of Moses completing the writing down of the Law and instructing the Levites to put the written Law/Word beside the Ark of the Covenant, that it may remain there as a witness against you. (v. 26)
Moses has seen the tendency of the people to stray from God and says so out loud: “For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness…” (v. 27a). So the written Word serves the purpose, among others, of testifying or witnessing to God’s will and purposes. I appreciate the physical proximity of that Word, as if to underscore that “if you set your minds and hearts on this Word, you will be setting your minds and heart on God, who is present here with you.”
This is the first indication, with more to come, that if we want to see and experience God (who has already promised to be with us) that we are more likely to do so if we are following His Word, written in the Scriptures.
An Enduring House (1 Kings 11:35-39)
35 … I will take the kingdom from his son’s hand and give it to you, even ten tribes. 36 ‘But to his son I will give one tribe, that My servant David may have a lamp always before Me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen for Myself to put My name. 37 ‘I will take you, and you shall reign over whatever you desire, and you shall be king over Israel. 38 ‘Then it will be, that if you listen to all that I command you and walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight by observing My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build you an enduring house as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you. 39 ‘Thus I will afflict the descendants of David for this, but not always.’ ” (1 Kings 11:35-39)Last week Kathy indicated the progression from the “mobile home” of the tabernacle to the fixed house of God which was the Temple. The first Temple was built by King David’s son, Solomon, yet this passage is not about what you might think. At this point (1 Kings 11), Solomon has been unfaithful to the Lord and this passage describes God speaking to Jeroboam (through the prophet, Ahijah) with an invitation to obedience and blessing. The Kingdom is about to split and God tells Jeroboam that he will be king over 10 tribes and prosper if he will “listen to all that [God] has commanded and walk in [His] ways.” (v. 38)
Nonetheless, unfaithful Solomon will retain one tribe (and Jerusalem, which includes the tribe of Benjamin) for the sake of God’s promise to his father, David. Here’s where it gets complicated, yet also amazingly gracious.
The beginnings of those consequences are seen in Jeroboam’s rise to power, introducing an interesting dynamic that we will see played out in the New Testament again. God never abandoned the promise to David, though there were certainly earthly consequences for David’s children completely abandoning God’s Word. Yet the unfaithfulness of God’s chosen people (or King) did not stop God from blessing those who would be faithful and obedient.
And in a God-sized move, even when humanity seemed to have wrecked the enduring temple in Jerusalem and the enduring house of David, God rebuilt the Temple and redeemed the kingly line through Jesus. Both of those are themes Jesus speaks to in his ministry!
Let me summarize all that another way: God promised to be with us – to never leave us and never forsake us. Our unfaithfulness cannot thwart, derail, or sidetrack God’s holy promise; it can only get in our own way of experiencing that blessing and presence. Let’s look at one more text and then we’ll take a look at our own experience of these things.
Home With You (John 14:23-27)
23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. 24 “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. 25 “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. 27 “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. (John 14:23-27)In John 14, Jesus has told his disciples that he is about to leave them. He is offering words of comfort before his impending crucifixion. And now the promise is not just to be near them in a moving tent or established in a fixed Temple. Now Jesus promises that He and the Father will “make our abode” – make their home – WITH us. But again, the experience is rooted here in obedience… even more strongly this time: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.” (v. 23) He goes on a few verses later to speak of the Holy Spirit – the “Helper” – who will abide with those who believe and listen to him.
The promise of presence is even stronger now: God in Christ through the Holy Spirit promises to make a home with you and in you. How will we experience this? We experience it through love of God and keeping His Word.
Does that mean God goes away when we are bad? No indeed; it does mean that we can get deceived and distracted and lose sight of God and God’s best. But God is still near.
Sent With You
I called the sermon, “Sent with you.” That may seem like an odd title when so much of this has been about God being with us. But here’s the thing: all along, our experience of God is tied to our listening to and following His Word, from the time of Moses and Joshua to the time of the Kings to the time of Jesus and to today.
What does God’s Word say about this God who pledges to be with us? It describes God as having a huge heart for the world that He made. It describes God who did not turn away from disobedient children, nor even one that reluctantly receives them back if they are really, really sorry; rather, God is pictured by Jesus as the foolish father, running to look for and welcome home the disobedient child. Indeed, God moved Heaven and earth to come after us, travel alongside us, give us commandments, dwell in a Temple, work through Kings, call together a people, and more. And even when we wrecked almost all of that, he gave His Son to do all that in a personal and perfect way. Even when we tried to wreck THAT gift, crucifixion, torture, and death were not enough to defeat God’s reach of love.
So what do we hear when we listen to God’s Word? We hear about that God who still has the world on His mind. We hear about loving our neighbor and going to teach the Word and share the Good News. We hear about doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly with God.
The point is that God is on the move. So if we listen to God, we follow after Him. Sounds like Jesus’ teaching, right – “Come, and follow me!” In a word, we are SENT because God is at work. And all the promises of God meet that obedient act to remind us that we are not sent alone, but we are sent with God. God is present with you and known most fully when you go with Him.
Let me paint one last set of pictures:
Our spiritual development is not unlike our physical and emotional development – and not necessarily tied to those things. There is a spiritual immaturity (or even lack of faith) that doesn’t listen, doesn’t follow, doesn’t care; if we think of God at all, we wonder, “Where is He? Why can’t I see or feel Him? Does He care at all?”
There is a kind of spiritual adolescence that does listen from time to time, though more in terms of what God can do for me than the other way around. So, in times of need, we might be aware of God’s peace or presence or strength or help, particularly if we are looking and listening and asking for it.
But there is also a spiritual maturity that still listens, but begins to discover that God isn’t just waiting around to feed us and clean us and respond to our every need; rather, God is at work all the time in a God-sized way. And it begins to cross our mind that if all of history and scripture points to a God like that, and God does delight in our presence and our participation, then maybe we should be asking if and how we can be a part of what God is doing.
Ponder that. And ponder it with these two disclaimers: 1) You can be 10 years old and have spiritual maturity, and 50 years old and be starting out in faith; 2) Just as in other areas of our life, we can revert to immaturity at any point. Just like I can stub my toe and turn into a big 46 year-old baby, I can whine at God or even question and doubt His whole existence when I get shaken up. That’s okay; that’s human. But be drawn onward to the promises we’ve heard today: God is with us and we know it best when we are listening to and following God’s Word to us.
So listen; God is nearer than you know.
Trust and love God; He lives in you through His Spirit.
And go with God in obedience; you will know Him best when He is working in and through you. Amen.