(Message for Northern Christian Fellowship‘s Worship Night on 1/31/2016)
As we’re gathered here for this worship night, I do know that Sunday night is a hard time to do anything really when you’re in college. And more than that, I remember how hard it was to keep any kind of active spiritual life in college, to find Jesus and to find rest for my soul in the midst of everything else I had to do. Anybody feel me on that? Maybe you know God should be important-there are all of these songs, Scriptures, stupid platitudes. Maybe you have some inner sense that there is something or someone out there who is bigger and more important than anything or anyone and you ought to pay attention and connect to this being.
But maybe you don’t have time. Or maybe you’re thinking that as long as I get through this class or this year, or as soon as I graduate, it’ll get easier, then I’ll have time for Jesus. Maybe you keep trying to tend to your Spirit and connect with God, but you keep failing, and you think that you just have to… figure it out on your own.
Maybe… you think you’re damaged goods. Maybe you wonder “How could God love me? Why should I even try to connect to this God?” Maybe you just don’t think you’re able to connect to God, maybe you think you’re too far away.
I think there’s some Scripture that can help us out with this.
“‘God, the Master, says: From now on, I myself am the shepherd. I’m going looking for them. As shepherds go after their flocks when they get scattered, I’m going after my sheep. I’ll rescue them from all the places they’ve been scattered to in the storms. I’ll bring them back from foreign peoples, gather them from foreign countries, and bring them back to their home country. I’ll feed them on the mountains of Israel, along the streams, among their own people. I’ll lead them into lush pasture so they can roam the mountain pastures of Israel, graze at leisure, feed in the rich pastures on the mountains of Israel. And I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep. I myself will make sure they get plenty of rest. I’ll go after the lost, I’ll collect the strays, I’ll doctor the injured, I’ll build up the weak ones and oversee the strong ones so they’re not exploited.” (Ezekiel 34:11-16, MSG)
Ezekiel is a great book. Not one of the most popular, but it’s great. Ezekiel was a priest and a prophet from thousands of years ago who was speaking to a people who were once known as God’s Chosen People. Now these people have been thrown out of their homeland, taken captive to a foreign country, away from everything that made them who they are, away from everything their faith said was important: away from their Temple, the Ark of the Covenant, their Holy Scriptures, the Promised Land. They believe that they are cut off from God, that their God has left them. And the message Ezekiel had for these people is the same message God has for you tonight: Whether you feel close to this divine being we call God or whether you feel far away, God is reaching out to you, no matter where you are.
Like how Ezekiel said it, we’re all like sheep that got scared by a thunderstorm and ran in a thousand different directions. And a good shepherd does not wait for a runaway sheep to come back; if they do that, they’re screwed. No, God sees us running in every which direction, rolls up his sleeves, and sets out to find us and bring us back.
That’s our relationship with God in a nutshell, ladies and gentlemen. God is always reaching out to us. God does not wait for us to come to God. God doesn’t wait for us to be good and ready to come back, or for us to have worked hard enough and gotten our relationship with God right. God does not wait for us to put God first on our priority list. God does not wait for us to start reading our Bibles or praying or gathering together as a faith community. God doesn’t even wait for us to believe in or accept or trust or make any kind of movement toward God in the first place. In any relationship with God, God is the first and primary actor. God does not wait for us. God claims us and enables us to take each and every step toward God.
We might not think that we are able, we might think we are too far, but God has already claimed us. We might think that we are damaged goods, that we’re too dirty and broken. We might think that we’ve scratched that outstretched hand too many times, but God has already claimed us and is already working to restore us. We might think that we need to reach out to God first, but the truth is that God has been reaching out to you ever since the day you were born, and has been preparing the way since before you were born.
This is the truth that I came over here to tell you tonight. Because this is important. I want you to know that any distance we feel between us and God has already been crossed. God is already reaching out to us and has been reaching out to us and forming us and shaping us and making us able to know and love God. We just need to reach back.