Feeling closer to God

Rev. Chris Spruill
Incarnation United Church of Christ

I love summer. It is definitely my favorite season. Maybe itís because I was born in the summertime. It might be because my favorite sport is baseball. Perhaps it is because life just seems to slow down a little bit. The days get longer and it is almost like there is more time to get everything done in any given day. I realize thatís just an illusion Ė that every day has the same number of hours Ė but something about summer makes me feel younger and filled with possibility. Like most people, I spend more time outdoors in the summertime. Even though I am the type of person who canít be outside in the sun for ten minutes before my skin begins to redden and crisp like a lobster I love being outside.

I have always felt closer to God outside. Donít get me wrong. I have worshipped in some lovely sanctuaries and have seen some of the grandest temples and cathedrals but nothing speaks to me of the glory and majesty of God more fully than being immersed within the gift of Creation. Trees lift their branches in what almost seems a worshipful way toward the heavens and the awesome power of nature is displayed in the ways that rivers carve their way through the landscape. The blowing of the wind can almost sound like the whispering voice of God coming to us from all around us.

When I was growing up, my father and sister and I would take long walks in the woods near our home. Our father would point out different kinds of plants and trees and he would always tell us that if we were quiet we would see all kinds of animals that we didnít get to see wandering around on our neighborhood streets. We saw foxes and deer and even came upon some beavers working on their dam in the creek. I remember those walks with fondness not only because I was outside, but because I knew that I was safe. My father walked beside me and I was never lost Ė always finding my way home.

As I have grown, I have come to realize that my relationship with God is very much like the one I had with my own father as a child. No matter where I go in this world I know that I am not alone. God walks beside me and even when I do lose my way, it isnít long before God shows me the way back to safety. The Bible is filled with references to the authorsí recognition of the presence of God in their lives. My favorite is near the beginning of the book of Joshua. Moses has just recently died and Joshua has been chosen by God to lead the wandering descendants of the Israelites who had been slaves in Egypt into the land that had been promised to them in the days of Abraham. Three times in the first nine verses, God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous. In the ninth verse, God makes a promise to Joshua Ė "Öthe Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Whenever I lose my way in this life I remember that verse and am comforted. The Lord, my God, is with me.

Sadly, not everyone has that kind of relationship with God. For some, thinking about God brings up visions of judgment, harassment and pain. They might have had an experience in church where they were judged because of who they were or what they wore or how they lived their life. Perhaps a family member has used cherry-picked passages from the Bible to cast dispersions on their lifestyle. Maybe a pastor or another church leader has ostracized them because of their behavior or their past. Instead of seeing these kinds of behaviors as representative of how some people might act within a church setting, they attribute them to God instead. They tell themselves, "If this is how Godís people treat me, than this is how God must feel about me."

While it is true that God is the ultimate judge of humanityís actions it is also true that God loves each one of us as we are. God sees in us the potential to become whatever we feel called to become, but it isnít our potential that God loves about us. God loves us because we are all children of God. From the lowliest among us to the most powerful we all stand on level ground before God. Not one of us has done anything to deserve the love that God has for us, however despite the ways in which we feel we disappoint God (or the ways in which others point out that we have disappointed God) there is nothing we can do to stop God from loving us. And thatís good news!

I remember a particular Sunday School lesson I learned as a young adult. The teacher was talking about human nature and Godís love for us. He said that it would have been easier for God to have created humanity as automatons - to simply follow the rules and automatically love God in return for all of the gifts we have received. But thatís not how God works. The teacher told us how wonderful it was for one of his children to come into the house from playing outside, all dirty and grubby and climb up into his lap and hug him and say "I love you!" God wants each of us to come to the realization that we love God on our own terms. We donít have to be "ready" to approach God, cleaned from all of our sins and in our Sunday best. Whatever the path that we travel, God is always right there with us, ready to assist us. While we may spend a lot of our time doing things our way, God is always ready to provide us with the tools we need to do things Godís way.

As you travel through this summer, remember that God is always with you. No matter where you go, you are never alone. As you celebrate the longer and warmer days, spend some time in Godís creation, focusing on the gifts that we have received from a loving God. Donít let other peopleís actions dictate how you see God. And have a great summer!