Growing closer to God?

21st May 2017 Acts 17:22-31, John 14:15-21 6th Sunday After Easter

Earlier this year you may recall me speaking about attending a licensing of my friend in Somerset. As I read through the readings for today I was reminded of the words from the Bishop on that evening. She spoke about the congregation, their worship and their hope of growing closer to God. It was at this point that my ears perked up and I admit I didn’t really hear the rest as my mind chewed around ‘growing closer to God’. The phrase really stopped me in my tracks. I thought what a peculiar expression. It makes the congregation sound like sunflowers reaching out for the sun. And it makes God sound like he is somewhere far off in the distance, somewhere that has to be reached out to get. Like God is some kind of unobtainable thing that needs striving for. Of course, I have heard this term of growing closer to God used quite often but for some reason it really struck me as odd this time. So, in light of today’s readings, I wondered how many of us still believe our discipleship lives are about growing closer to God? Is this where we really base our hope?

You may have guessed by now that I do not think that our purpose is to grow closer to God. I believe the very idea is a misnomer, it’s quite contradictory to what God actually wants and what Christ showed throughout his life and death.

When we look at the readings together, both of them speak about us being in God and he in us. In fact, Paul speaks of this in response to seeing the Athenian’s altar to an unknown God. He speaks God creating humans so that they would reach out for Him, “though he is not far from any of us, for in him we live and move and have our being”. The Athenians at the time were known as philosophers who spent their days discussing the latest philosophical ideas such as those by Plato and Aristotle. They were either Epicureans or Stoics. Both groups had made altars to Gods as they saw fit at the time with a just in case type attitude as they believed there was simply not enough evidence for them to be able
to tell whether the gods exist or not, and, if they do, what if anything they want from us. As we learn about the thinking behind the Stoics and Epicureans we can begin to understand their attitude of shoulder-shrugging couldn’t-care-less.

The Epicureans believed that the gods were far away and wanted nothing to do with them. This resulted in their lives believing that happiness was about being independent, untroubled by the larger questions and basically to live as quietly as possible with just enough of everything. In other words, never being brave enough to state an opinion that might upset someone. The Stoics believed that the gods were in everything, both in humans and in nature.
Therefore, the epicureans disagreed with Paul on hearing him tell them that the God is close and although the Stoics would have been pleased to hear Paul say there is divine life in all human beings they were dismayed to hear that this life is not the cold principle of rationality that they believed in. The life Paul spoke about was anything but rational as he spoke of the living, breathing life of God which is the impulse that drives us into relationship with God.

Doesn’t this sound familiar to us today? How often have we heard speak of God being up there, or out there somewhere? How many times have we heard people say that god is in everything like some kind of impersonal life force. Do we ourselves sometimes fall into these traps? I wonder….

We now live in a world where being able to measure, quantify and validate personal experiences is the driving force behind discernment. So individualistic has this become that the tried and tested ideas of institutions are now being questioned. Hence the rise in popularity of the return to the idea that the world is in fact flat. I kid you not.

When Jesus speaks to his disciples and us, about God sending an Advocate, he is explaining about himself coming through the Holy Spirit in an experience which a world confined within naturalistic categories can neither discern or measure. Jesus says I will come to you . . . you are in me and I am in you.

There is such intimacy here. That God is closer than we realise. Although we may seek God, He is already within us. Because Jesus died on the cross and rose again, the gulf separating Creator from Creature, God from us, is no more. God now makes His home within each and every one of us.

This is the blessing of the Spirit, that God is within us. Yet, the blessing continues. Now that God’s spirit is within us, we are empowered to follow God, we are supported in our loving obedience to the teachings of Jesus because we are in constant communion with Him. Jesus said “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Such is the intimate relationship that Jesus offers that we no longer have a hidden God because in Jesus, the hidden God is made known, and we love him in response. There is no need to grow closer to God because God is within us. We don’t need to continually seek God because if we follow Jesus in obedience, and trust, then our love for Him will become abundantly obvious. We are then released, not to only help but take responsibility in all the activities that happen here in the church. This is the best news that, as we attempt to do what we are commanded, to love God, each other and ourselves, we come to know the help of the promised Advocate, the Holy Spirit of God.


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