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Draw Near

Date: 29/09/2019/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Luke 18:18-25
Philippians 2:1-8

In one of our call to worship liturgies, we pray to God, saying, “Draw near to us, as we draw near to You.” This is an indirect quote of James 4:8 “Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.”
Do we seek to draw near to God?
I think most of us want to say yes.
Yet, there are times we run away. There are times we try to avoid God. And then there are obstacles and barriers between God and us.

Like the ruler who kept all the commandments, yet felt sad after Jesus told him “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money[c] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
Like Jonah, who ran away from God when he didn’t want to do what God commanded him to, which was to preach in the city of Nineveh, the enemies of his people, and save them!
Like Adam and Eve who hid be among the trees in the garden after they ate the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden.

What is the barrier between the rich ruler and God?
What drove Jonah to run away?
What made Adam and Eve hide in the garden?

What is the barrier between the rich ruler and God?
The ruler was attached to his riches – what he had, and all that came with it – comfort, pleasure, respect, power. While the accounts in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew said that the ruler or the rich young man went away in sorrow, the account in the Gospel according to Luke leaves the ending open. “But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Are we attached to riches – or other material things – that we are unwilling to give up to draw closer to God? It is not the things – riches, possessions, comfort, pleasure, power – that is the barrier to God. The obstacle to God is our heart – our unwillingness to surrender.
There may be some things that are material that you are unwilling to let go of – and there are some things that are not material. Pride and ego are often things that we are reluctant to let go of. Pride and ego are two things I often struggle with that keep me away from God.
Some of you may struggle now – there are things that you are attached to you are reluctant to let go of – your partner, your possessions, what gives you pleasure (which includes sex). But what you are attached to may not be what you are asked to let go of. The question is – “are these things hindering you drawing closer to God?” The truth is – what you are attached to may actually be drawing you closer to God! I don’t think God will be asking David and Wendy to give up Emmet and Sofia to be closer to God. I believe that David and Wendy, loving and bringing up Emmet and Sofia as their parents – draws them closer to God. To many of the couples here – I hope your relationships do draw you closer to God. I would be exploring more about how to draw closer to God as a couple in an upcoming sermon.
So when we declare that we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, are we willing to let go of what we are attached to – riches, possessions, pleasure, comfort, power, what we are clinging on to, and then follow Jesus?

What drove Jonah to run away?
Jonah’s unwillingness to live out his calling drove him to run away. He did not want to do what God asked of him – to preach to his enemies the Ninevites and offer them an opportunity to repent and be saved.

Not all of us are going to be called to preach to our enemies and tell them to repent. But there would be times we would be prompted by God to seek reconciliation, to ask for forgiveness, to forgive, to check in on a friend, to reach out to someone, to give of our time and resources to others. And most of the time, our unwillingness to act on what God is prompting us to do is less dramatic than Jonah running in the opposite direction of Nineveh. It is more likely that we fail to do what God is inviting us to do out of neglect or say “I am too busy. I just don’t have enough time, energy to do this” or think someone else would do it.
Let us pause for a moment.
Are there things God is prompting you to do? How do you factor that into your life? How do we draw closer to God as we respond to God’s invitation and prompting?

What made Adam and Eve hide in the garden?
Adam and Eve heard God walking through the garden, and they hid from God among the trees. God called to Adam, “Where are you?”
Can you picture this scene in your head? How do you imagine God sounded when God called out “Where are you?” Do you hear God as an angry parent, looking for a child who has done something wrong and hid away?
Or do you hear a worried parent, concerned because the child is missing?
The passage doesn’t state clearly God’s tone. We project onto God what we imagine to be God’s reaction to Adam and Eve hiding from God.
Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” What was Adam afraid of? He wasn’t afraid because he did what he was not supposed to. He was afraid because he was naked.
Adam and Eve hid because of shame.
In a sermon some time ago, Pauline cited Brene Brown’s research on shame and guilt. Guilt is feeling bad about something we have done. Shame is feeling bad about ourselves. So when we have done something wrong, guilt is when we tell ourselves “I feel bad for doing this” while shame is “I am a bad person for doing this.”
In Adam’s reply, he didn’t express guilt for his actions, but shame for being naked. The barrier between God with Adam here is Adam’s shame. The shame creates a disconnect, a breakage in the relationship between Adam and God.
How does this apply to us? When we have done something wrong or failed to do something – do we feel ashamed, or do we feel guilty?
When we feel shame, then we would feel that we are unworthy of God’s love. When we feel guilt, then we would be moved to take the necessary actions to make things right again and restore the relationship – repent, seek forgiveness and make restitution.
Have you allowed shame to separate you from God? Should you instead recognise your inherent worth in God’s eyes, that you are God’s beloved, and seek ways to restore the relationship? Have you allowed shame to separate you from the people around you, your friends (your ex-es), your community? Is God prodding you to restore those relationships as well – to take actions to make things right again?

“Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.”
The good news – the Gospel of Christ – is this – that God drew near to us first. Even as we stumble, lose our way, run away, God sought us out first. God did not just wait for us to make our way back like the father in the parable of the prodigal. God sought us out even before we turned around to find our way back.
Jesus emptied himself, “taking the form of a slave, and being found in human form” – to be in relationship with us.
“Jesus incarnates, makes real in the flesh, the relationships into which we are called as human beings: our relationship with God, with others, and with the cosmos itself.” – David Jensen

Philippians 2:1-8
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
We are called to empty our selves – so that we become more Christ-like – so that “not our will, but God’s will be done.”
What did the rich ruler need to empty of?
Not his riches, but his unwilling heart.
What did Jonah need to empty of?
His unforgiving heart towards his enemies.
What did Adam and Eve need to empty of?
Their shame.
May we overcome ourselves, and draw near to God as God draws near to us.