2 Corinthians 13:5-14
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority God gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings.
May the grace of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Creator and of the Redeemer and of the Sustainer, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Will you pray with me? You who are, who encompass every time and place, we open our hearts to you. Change us to whatever you would have us be, teach us to offer others a way to you, strengthen us to be beacons of your light and love in the world. In all your many names, amen.
“Strive for full restoration.” “Our prayer is that you may be fully restored.” “All authority has been given to me.” “Teach them to obey everything.” “Make disciples of all nations.” “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Such words and images of completeness, of fulfillment. There are no half-way measures here. God in Christ doesn’t sort-of do things. On the contrary. God’s grace leads the writers to use words like full, complete, all, every, always. Complete restoration--not almost or nearly==but fully. All nations--not just the ones we are comfortable with, not just the ones who are friendly or like us. All nations.
And here is the one that is most comforting, and also most worrisome--I am with you always. Not just sometimes, when we pray, or when we call on Jesus, but all the time. Whether we are consciously thinking of it or not, God is with us. Which is comforting in some ways--God has also heard the words used to hurt us, or belittle us; God knows what we have been through--the pain, the fear, the abuse, the abandonment. God is with us even when we feel lost and alone. That is comforting. But--and here's the part where we may begin to squirm a bit--God is there when we act out, when we behave in ways that are not part of our best selves--when we deliberately hurt someone, or ignore a plea for help, or pretend we really can't do something when the truth is we just don't want to. But even though God is fully aware of our shortcoming and errors, God doesn't turn away; God isn't disgusted or angry and punishing. God remains with us, even in that place of errors and arrogance and fear. There's an old-time gospel saying--there is no spot where God is not.
Always and everywhere, God is present with us. We are not alone, even though is sometimes feels like it. God works through the friend who calls for no reason; the co-worker who takes you to lunch when you're having a terrible day; the partner who just holds you when there's nothing else to be done.
And this is so wonderful--to never feel abandoned, never alone, never unwanted or cast out or despised--because God loves us, and is never apart from us. God is with all people, whether they are aware of it or not--the new dad holding his son for the first time, the sex worker shivering on the street, desperate to turn one more trick so she can go home where it is warm, at least; the surgeon preparing to operate; the prison inmate who wishes she knew another way to get by in the world; the couple who can finally legally marry, after 20 years together.
But do they know it? Can they feel God with then? Do they even know it is possible? I think we tend to be more aware of God's presence when we are happy or celebrating--we are so happy, God must be happy too. But when we are in pain or struggling, we seem to feel that the mess is God's fault, that we have been abandoned by God. But this is also when we can feel closest to God-God who weeps with us, shares in our burdens. Remember, Jesus was poor--he wandered from village to village, homeless. Hid family didn't understand, not until close to the end. He was condemned as a criminal and executed. He knew what it was like to have doors slammed in his face because of who he was--a poor Jew in a country occupied by enemies, a teacher who went against the received wisdom, a rebel against the system. He knew what it was to have a chosen family of his disciples because his birth family didn't understand or accept him. He has been where despair and grief are overwhelming.
Wherever we are, God is there with us--celebrating or grieving, in joy or struggle, in anger, in loneliness, in contentment, in love, in safety or in danger, God is always with us.
And not just now, not just in the moment, but at all times. We can look back, and see that God was with us--we may not have been aware of it at the time, but God's presence is clear to us now--we can see how God acted in that place and time. If we open the eyes of our hearts and spirits, we can be aware of God's presence with us now--that loving presence, offering guidance and hope, a path when there seems to be no way.
Knowing that God was present in the past, that God is present with us now, we can be confident that God will be with us in the future, too. No matter what may come our way, good or ill, God is always present. Hang onto that; when things get desperate or painful or seem hopeless, remember that God is with you through it. When you are celebrating, when everything is going your way, when you feel like you have won the lottery of life, remember--God is with you. Take it with you, write it on your heart and soul--"There is no spot where God is not."
In all God's names, amen.