Fear Not, For I Am With You – August 13, 2017
August 13, 2017
As we come to communion for today, I wanted us to think about the passage from I Corinthians, where Paul explains to the Church in Corinth the beginnings of this sacrament. In the 11th chapter, we read, “I have received of the Lord, that which I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night in which he was betrayed, took the bread, saying, ‘this bread is my body broken for you…’” And remember, we’re use to those words! They were hearing them for the first time! Try to think what that was like! Body… Blood… those things would have sounded very strange!
We’ll hear those words again as we get to the celebration of this sacrament. But as it turns out, (in one of those “non-coincidences!”) we now have reached the place in Paul’s “First Missionary Journey” where he actually visits the city of Corinth! And it turns out that it was one of his most important stops along the way. One of the reasons I say that is because he stayed there for a year and a half!
Corinth was a city in Greece. And it was located on the little spit of land, that little isthmus, where southern Greece is nearly sliced off the bottom of the country. (It’s a good thing it was there! Otherwise Southern Greece might just be drifting around the Mediterranean Sea!) That did two things. It made Corinth an important cross-roads for both land and see traffic, and that made it a very wealthy city!
Well, Paul came into Corinth – and this never jumped out at me before, but when he first arrived, he stayed with, Aquila and Priscilla. And they were fellow tent-makers. Paul was a tent-maker. In fact, to this day, smaller churches who need a pastor to have a secondary job, are referred to as “Tent-making” positions. That comes from Paul. And it appears here that Paul went to work with Aquila and Priscilla while he was in Corinth… making tents! Just a little “factoid” there.
When he wasn’t doing that, though, he was in the synagogue, arguing “with both Jews and Greeks.” But it wasn’t all success with him. He was opposed, and “reviled” by some, as it says. And Luke tells us that it got to the point where Paul “shook out his garments against them.” That was a very Jewish thing to do. It was essentially like saying “ I’m washing my hands of you!” (If they were really angry about something they would tear their garments – like the High Priest did in the trial of Jesus!)
So, Paul is upset here! Or at least he’s very frustrated! And he says, “I’ve had it! From now on, I’m going to the Gentiles!” I like how Paul shows some of his “human-ness” here. He was not a stranger to frustration and fear. In many ways, he and the others truly were “just like us.” But then, God comes to him and he shows Paul some hope. And God tells him, “Be not afraid, for I am with you.” I like that. It reminds me of Jeremiah 1:9. “The Lord, your God is with you where ever you go.” I have a little sign with that verse right in front of me on my desk.
So, do we know that? Do we know that God is with us? No, God doesn’t often intervene in our lives in tangible ways, despite what Facebook might tell us. “Type ‘Amen’ and you will receive a financial blessing in 48 hours!” It doesn’t work that way. God doesn’t often speak to us openly and audibly. But it’s the glimmers of hope that God gives us, it’s the hints that he is with us, it’s those things make the difference.
And because they are glimmers and hints, and not so easy to see, we have to look for them, don’t we? Well, I believe that’s what God wants. He told the people of old to “seek after” him. “If you seek me you will find me,” he told Jeremiah, “if you seek me with your whole heart.” (Jeremiah 9:23) The idea is that we have an attitude of searching for and concentrating on God. That takes us out of the complacency that often makes us miss out on seeing God. It keeps our minds on him.
That’s what I often ask you to do when you come here on Sunday morning. Take time to set aside the many burdens and concerns you bring with you to this place. First, concentrate on God’s presence. Then you’ll be able to have a better perspective on those burdens! That’s the seeking God told Jeremiah about.
Think about it. Do we not sometimes neglect those relationships with people we see the most? Do we sometimes lose our appreciation for those closest to us? Why would we think the same thing would not happen if we were able to see God face to face every day? I believe it’s the seeking after him that changes things for us – if we do that!
I’m sure the people I talk to about marriage sometimes get sick of hearing me say the word, “choice.” But I think that’s such an important word! Love is the choice of how we treat each other. Appreciation of others is something we must choose to do. If we simply wait for a “feeling of appreciation” to come over us, it won’t happen all that often, will it!
God wishes for us to make that “choice,” to seek after him – intentionally! And not just here when we’re together, but every day! And he wishes for us that we would seek to recognize when he is with us. He might not audibly say the words he said to Paul, “Fear not, for I am with you.” But we can rely on his promise to be with us! And we can pause and listen. We can take a breath, calm our spirits, and seek an awareness of his presence. I’m sure I’m safe in saying that we don’t do that often enough. And we probably don’t even think about it, often enough!
Well, this is a good time to do that! And again, it’s a good time to practice it – when we are together! But it’s really about doing that every day! When we come to this sacrament, to this table, we do the same thing. We seek to know God’s presence. And it’s not a matter of “hoping a feeling comes over us.” That can certainly happen! But it’s more a matter of pausing, of quieting our spirits, and intentionally seeking the awareness of God’s presence, in this special ceremony. For in this, he is surely with us, and in this is the promise that he is always with us!
Eternal God, we seek your presence. We seek an awareness of your presence! Help us to know, whether we feel like it or not, that you are with us! Help us to remember, here in this place, to seek your presence every day. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.