presence of God
By Linda Rex
August 22, 2021, PROPER 16—This morning I was reading an article about the consequences Christian churches in North America are beginning to face due to past mistreatment and genocide of first peoples. These are issues which cut deeply into the heart of our psyche as believers. Too often we have been influenced by our culture, by our generational prejudices, and undoubtedly, the evil which lurks in human hearts and is often manifested under the guise of Christian beliefs and practices.
Every generation, within the Church and without, faces the reality that it must deal with the consequences of the choices of their forebearers. And it must choose whether or not to continue on that same path, or to choose a new one, more in line with what is holy, just, and good. Will our children, and their children and their children’s children, make better choices? Or will they continue the systemic dehumanizing of their brothers and sisters? How can better choices be made within the current structures and systems at work in this world today—or do they need removed, or changed?
As I read the Old Testament passage for this Sunday (Joshua 24:1–2a, 14–18), I felt conflicted. Joshua was near the end of his life, having after many years of battle brought his people into their promised land and gotten them settled. They were finally experiencing peace so he wanted them to recommit themselves to God. He was committed to leaving behind the idols of the past and worshiping God alone, and he invited his people to do the same. What is left unsaid in this account is how his people would deal with the consequences of all they had done in conquering that land. How many people were killed or displaced so that God’s people could move in and settle? And isn’t that what many of our forbearers did right here in America centuries ago, believing it was God’s will?
Bringing this forward to today, I’m watching something similar happen here in Nashville right now. Someone owns a rental property with many apartments or trailers or homes. They decide to sell the property to a developer because they receive an offer they can’t refuse. All of the people renting there are summarily evicted. They cannot afford to rent a place similar to the one they had in that neighborhood, prices being too high, so they end up on the street, in sub-value housing or moving far away from their work. The developer puts in a new facility with even more apartments or condos, or homes, but none of them are affordable for all these people who got evicted. Over and over, people are being displaced, others are moving in where they used to live—the dynamics of human civilization at work for better or for worse.
Where is God in the midst of all this? We put such a great value on what we own, where we live, our homes and properties. We like to keep what is familiar and comfortable. When life becomes difficult—and for many it is constantly difficult—we can lose faith, lose hope, and even lose our love for one another. We can wonder where God went, because it may certainly seem as though he has left us. But we still have a choice: we can focus on the physical or we can raise the level of our view to heavenly heights to see that God is still present and active, redeeming, restoring, healing, and working through all of these things to bring about a greater purpose and plan.
The Spirit reminds us that God’s where he’s always been—present in and by his Spirit, at work in all these circumstances and situations to bring about his kingdom life. The apostle John liked to use the word abide to describe our intimate connection with God in Christ by the Spirit. To abide is to dwell, remain, stay in a place. Jesus left the benefits of heaven to join us in our darkness by taking on our human flesh. His purpose in joining us at our worst was to bring us up through death and resurrection into his best. What he calls us to do is to find our true residence and dwelling not on this earth but solely in him alone.
In John 6, Jesus had extensive conversations with the crowd about how he was the bread of life, the only source of true zōe life, eternal life, which he received from the Father. He said that “it is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.” We can be so obsessed with the life of our flesh, our human existence, that we miss the spiritual realities which are right in front of us. Or, like the people of Jesus day, we are so scandalized by the possibility that God has made room for each and every human being to have a place in the presence of God now and forever as his very own child that we want nothing to do with Jesus or the Christian faith.
It seems that for generations, for millennia, people have set claim upon spaces on this earth—owning a spot of land or living in the same place as their ancestors, or they have traveled, moved from one place to another. Some have always lived in the same place. Some have never known a stable home. Some have been welcomed to new lands, some haven’t. But God’s heart has always been that each and every person have a home to return to—that home in the Father’s arms which is solely their very own. Our heavenly Abba longs to embrace each one of us and is constantly looking expectantly down the road watching for every one of his prodigals to come home.
To eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood is figurative language. Eating and drinking cause what we are consuming to, in a sense, become a very part of us. To take in Christ, is to participate in a real and personal way, in his very existence by the Holy Spirit. When we, by faith, realize that Christ is in us and we are in him, that he died our death and lived our life, and lives in us—we are connected with God in a way that is unbreakable, a union and communion that is very real and very eternal. We are intimately known by him and we come to know Abba’s heart and mind as he reveals himself to us through Christ by the Spirit.
Our spiritual house can be shaken though. These experiences of life which are so destructive and unsettling can so disrupt our peace that we lose sight of what is real and true and holy. But the apostle Paul says “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” He calls us three times to “stand firm”—taking a position against such spiritual opposition that we cannot be moved away from our foundation in Christ. He tells us to put on the spiritual armor of God, all elements of Christ himself—the helmet of salvation, breastplate of righteousness, belt of truth, shield of faith, and so on. We put on Christ, and we give attention to the Word of God and prayer in the Spirit as valuable weapons in this spiritual struggle (Eph. 6:10–20 NASB).
Our assurance is not in our ability to fight well, but in the reality that Jesus has already fought and won the battle. We rest in his finished work, for he has already defeated the evil one, death, and sin in his death and resurrection. We are in the process of moving from our own feeble strength to finding our strength in him alone (Ps. 84:5-7). We abide in Jesus, resting in him, living in complete dependence upon him, turning to him in faith.
As we face the reality of our broken humanity, and dealing even with the painful reality of whatever history lies behind us, we can have the comfort and assurance that we are at home in the love and grace of God himself. This God, who was present in every century, who knew every decision and its motive and result, is the God who joined us in our humanity, experienced the depths of the depravity of the human heart, and brought us up into new life. Nothing is so horrible or astonishing that he cannot and will not redeem it when it is brought to him. Will we allow him to be our true home, the place where we find true rest and healing, where grace and truth joined together in Christ is ours now and forever?
Heavenly Father, thank you for defending us from our enemies of evil, sin and death, and for rescuing us, bringing us home to be with you forever. We love you and rejoice in your gift of zōe life, being held in your eternal embrace through Jesus in the Spirit. Amen.
“My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD; | My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. … For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God | Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Psalm 84:2, 10 NASB
“‘He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.’ … ‘Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ … no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.’ As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.’” John 6:56–69 NASB
By Linda Rex
When my children were little, I was looking for a way to guide them into healthy ways of thinking and being without being punitive or constantly having to scream at them. I began to read about parenting with grace and found lots of different ideas on how to go about participating with Christ in my children’s growth and maturity.
It was a struggle because I was a single mom. I didn’t have the luxury of saying, “Just wait till your father gets home!” I was the one who had to call the shots and draw the lines in my home if I wanted my children to have the benefits of living in unity with who they are in Christ. I have two strong-willed children who are very intelligent and gifted in their own way. It was a challenge to keep ahead of them on so many levels.
I’ve tried a lot of different tactics over the years, but for a while one of the practices I came upon was that of a family charter. I sat my children down and together we came up with a list of rules for the house that had to do with respect. It was important to me that my children learn to respect God, themselves, each other, the authorities in the world around them, and their belongings.
These house rules were pretty simple and had consequences that the children picked out themselves. Once we had agreed on the important things to bring peace, kindness and harmony to the family, we would each sign the charter.
If I felt things were getting out of hand at home, we would meet again to discuss the charter. Occasionally we might make some changes. The consequences might very from one family meeting to the next, but most just stayed the same.
One of the things we agreed upon was that we would guard our tongues. We agreed that we would not use foul language in our home, or say things that were nasty and hurtful to each other. My children decided the appropriate consequence for violating another family member’s ears and heart with unkind words or foul language was to clean the toilet. My children would take great delight in catching me using a mild expletive because then I would have to do toilet duty. Of course, they didn’t have equal delight in being caught themselves.
After a while my children became frustrated with the family charter and no longer seemed to need it to guide their everyday behavior. So I did not use it in the same way, though I left it up for a while as a way of reminding us of what we valued as a family.
But I have often reflected on the whole idea of joining together as a family to agree to live together in harmony, peace and kindness. Is not this the definition of “koinonia”—of the “perichoresis” that God calls us to live in with the Father, Son and Spirit?
To teach my children to live in harmony with others in a way that involves love in unity, diversity and equality is to teach them to live within the truth of who they are as children of God. This is to teach them to live in agreement with who they are as God’s children, made in his image, redeemed by Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit. To live in harmony with who we are as God’s children is to live in the truth of God’s kingdom here on earth even now through Christ and in the Spirit.
So when we begin to turn the air blue around us with foul expletives, or we begin to slide into some other form of hurtful behavior, we need to reconsider just who we are affecting with our words and behavior. Jesus said that what we do to one another, we do to him.
If indeed we sit in heavenly places in Christ right now, as Paul said, and we already have been brought out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light, then everything we say and do is somehow bound up in Christ. For in God, through Christ and in the Spirit, we live and move and have our being.
Changing the way we act and talk is not a simple thing we can do if we just try hard enough. It is much more effective to begin to grow in awareness of Christ in us and in others, and to come to realize and live in accordance with the reality of the Spirit’s constant presence in us and with us. This is the spiritual discipline some people call “practicing the presence.”
This discipline involves being sensitive to God’s real, abiding presence with us each and every moment of every day, and engaging God in constant conversation as we go about our daily activities. The mundane activities of life begin to have a different tone when we do them in God’s presence, knowing he is aware of every nuance of thought, feeling and desire.
We also become more and more aware of the real presence of God in one another. We begin to see Christ in our neighbor and the Spirit of God at work in people we didn’t used to consider being “good” people. We begin to experience the real presence of God in everyday experiences and conversations. This is the kingdom life.
This is living in the reality that we are already participants in the kingdom of God. We already share in God’s kingdom life with one another—unless we choose to continue to participate in the kingdom of darkness. And we all know the consequences of continuing to live in the darkness of sin and death—because we see them being realized all around us, and even in our own lives. And we know the pain and horror that goes with them.
Jesus Christ is the gate to the kingdom of God, and his Spirit of life flows through us all. May we all live in this truth of our being, in grace, peace and harmony with one another. May God’s kingdom be fully realized here on earth as it is in heaven. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
Thank you, Holy Father, for binding us together with you in love through Jesus and by your Spirit. Grant us the grace to live in the truth of our being, in the harmony, grace and peace you bought for us in your Son. May we live in warm fellowship and love with you and one another forever, through Jesus Christ our brother and by your precious Holy Spirit. Amen.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4–7 NASB