Pentecost 13 (Proper 17)/08/30/09/Fort Q & IH/Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
A rhetorical question is a question that is to make us think. The answer is, in fact, meant to be obvious – the asking of the question is only to bring the answer to the mind of the hearer. In the text for this morning we have a rhetorical question being asked of us. Deuteronomy 4:7 reads: “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to is, whenever we call upon him?”
And what is the answer? There is no other nation! God has promised to be near to His people.
Do you feel that God is near to you? Do you feel that God is near you when you come into this church building? Do you feel that God is near you when you are in your home? Do you feel God is near you when you go about the daily routine in your life? Do you feel that God is near you?
Sometimes we do, don’t we? Sometimes we feel like God is right by our side. Maybe when we were going through a difficult time in life and we leaned heavily on the Lord. Maybe at the birth of our children when we came face to face with the mystery of life. Maybe at some particularly joyful event in the past we felt as if God was near us.
But it is not always that way is it? We don’t always feel like God is near us at all. In fact, there may be times in life when we feel nothing. When we feel nothing but coldness, like God has abandoned us. At times in life we may feel like God is a million miles away and we have no road map showing us how to find Him.
Do you feel God? Is He near or far? How do you know? What does He feel like?
There is a lot of talk about feeling God’s presence in the Church of our day. I have been to some non-Lutheran church services when I was a teenager and have been asked questions like “Can’t you just feel the Spirit of God here today?” or “God is present here, can you feel Him?” Not wanting to be outcast I lied and answered “Yes.” But the truth is I didn’t feel anything particularly special. And truthfully, how would I know what God’s presence is supposed to feel like anyway?
I had been conditioned by the culture of our day and by these non-Lutheran churches to seek God in my feelings and emotions. After a time I recognized that what the Lutheran church taught was what the Bible taught and I began going through adult Catechism classes. After quite a while of study and after becoming a member of a Lutheran church I was welcomed to receive the Lord’s Supper. It was a big deal for me. I still recall going forward to receive the Sacrament for the first time – excited, nervous, not entirely sure what to expect. After I received Holy Communion for the first time I went back to my pew – rather disappointed. That was nothing special – I didn’t feel anything miraculous at all! I didn’t feel God – I just tasted some stale wafers and rather poor wine.
What should have been a faith strengthening experience turned out to be a disappointment because I was looking for God in my feelings. Is that where we are really supposed to look? Is that where you look for God? Is that how you know if God is near you? By your feelings?
Do you feel God is near you? Dear friends, that is the wrong question. If someone asks you that question don’t answer it. It is the wrong question. It is not a question a Christian can or should answer. The question is not “can you feel God is near you?” but “Is God near you?” And the question makes all the difference.
You see to answer the question “Do you feel God is near you?” turns you to rely on your feelings – your spiritual antenna, so to speak. And if you are anything like me, and I know you are, sometimes that antenna is tuned in to God and sometimes it is not. Sometimes God comes in loud and clear and sometimes He seems very fuzzy and full of static. The question is not whether you feel God is near you – your feelings in this are irrelevant. The question ought to be: IS God near you? And the answer is: YES! God has promised to be near to His people.
God came near His people most especially in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Jesus, true man and true God, came near to us. He came to us because we cannot go to Him. Our sin prevents us from being able to go to God. Our sin prevents us from knowing God. God must come near to us, we do not go to God. The gift of our Lord and Saviour Jesus at Christmas is the gift of God coming near. God came near – because we could not.
Is God near you? How do you know? It is so important for us to know how and where God is near to us. It is vital to know how God walks with me and talks with me. It is not in some unspecified way or in some experiential way but in very concrete and certain ways. Is God near you? How do you know?
You know because He has promised to be near you in His Word. He has promised in His Word to be near His people. When we hear or read the Holy Word of God He comes near to us. He comes to us and speaks to us in the Word of God written in the Bible. Through the Word of God the Holy Spirit works in us, drawing us to faith and trust in Jesus. In Christ’s Word of Holy Absolution He speaks His Word of forgiveness and peace to you. God is near you in His Holy Word.
He has promised in His Word that through the waters of Holy Baptism you are made part of His people, you are made a child of God. In Holy Baptism God came near you. In Holy Baptism God promised to always be near you. This is not a conditional promise. God did not say: “I will be near you if…” and then rattled off a laundry list of things for you to do. No, God made a promise to you. He promised to be near you in Holy Baptism.
In Holy Baptism Jesus applied to you the forgiveness He earned on the Cross. In Holy Baptism Jesus gave you the new life He gained for all believers in His resurrection. This is not dependent upon your feelings. It is entirely dependent upon God’s Word and promise. It is not something left in doubt. It is not something left in the shadowy corners of feelings. It is sure and certain. In Jesus God is near you. In your baptism He is always near you.
God comes near you in the Sacrament of the Altar. There Jesus has promised to be for you in His Body and Blood. It is a miraculous meal, a meal that goes beyond our comprehension. But it is not a meal that is based upon our feelings. Our Lord Jesus comes near to us in the Holy Supper not because we feel Him there but because He has promised to be there in His Word! We don’t trust our feelings here but we trust the sure and certain promise of Jesus! There, in this Blessed Sacrament, you can come and be certain and sure that God has come near you. Our Lord Jesus has had mercy on us and given us who often have trouble believing and trusting in His promises this wonderful Sacrament. In this physical and tangible way our Lord comes near to us – forgiving us our sin and strengthening our faith. In the Lord’s Supper He is always near you.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord our God is near to us. It is sure and certain. You will not always feel as though He is. But He is. He has promised to be near you. Seek Him where He has promised to be found. In His Word and Sacraments in the Church. By grace through faith we trust our Lord’s sure and certain Word of promise over our unreliable feelings. When you leave here this morning you enter a world full of uncertainty. But of this you can be certain, dear Christian - God is near you.