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Close Encounters

July 14, 2016

Our souls thirst for God. We long to be enveloped in his love, and to find refuge in his embrace. At times, we are so weak that we need to be carried.  But how do we access the comfort and love of the God of the universe? Sarah Young suggests that God is closer to us in our weakness and in times of need: “The weaker you are, the more gently I approach you. Let your weakness be a door to My Presence. Whenever you feel inadequate remember that I am your ever-present Help . . .” (Psalm 46:1) (Young, Jesus Calling (2004) Thomas Nelson, p.9). “As you live in close contact with Me, the Light of My Presence filters through you to bless others. Your weakness and woundedness are the openings through which the Light of the knowledge of My Glory shines forth. My strength and power show themselves most effective in your weakness (2 Corinthians 4:6; 12:9) (Jesus Calling, p.24). Scripture tells us that God is within each one of us, we need only seek him. This week’s Scripture texts describe how ordinary people experienced God as they opened their hearts and minds to him.[1]

David’s Encounter with the Preincarnate Christ

Many books have been written about the joy of being in God’s presence, including a little classic describing a humble 17th century monk’s experience (Brother Lawrence, Practicing the Presence of God.) Like Brother Lawrence who regularly found himself in the presence of the Spirit of Jesus, David had many encounters with the preincarnate Christ that whetted his appetite to remain in God’s presence every day of his life: “This only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” (Psalm 27:4) (Life Application Bible note, Tyndale and Zondervan, p. 929).

Abraham’s Encounter with the Preincarnate Christ

The Old Testament recounts the changed lives of Abraham, Hagar, Isaac, Jacob and Moses through their personal encounters with Christ as the Angel of the Lord. (Rhodes, Ron, Christ Before the Manger: The life and times of the preincarnate Christ (1992) Wipf and Stock Publishers, pp. 101-102). In Sunday’s Old Testament reading the Lord engages Abraham in conversation, and promises that his wife Sarah will bear a child within a year. (Genesis 18: 1-10).

Encountering Christ within us

Paul’s epistle to the church at Colosse is within a series of letters called “The Prison Letters.” Paul wasn’t actually in prison when he wrote them. According to Dr. Bill Creasy, he was in Rome, living in his own rented home, free to come and go as he pleased, while he was waiting for his court case to be called up. When his case was finally heard, the charges didn’t stick and it was dismissed. In this week’s epistle lesson, Paul described how the mystery of God is revealed through Christ in us: “. . . the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of this mystery which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:26-27).

N.T Wright emphasizes this point: “Every individual Christian, in fact has this hope within his or her own self. The reason is simple: Jesus the Messiah, the king, lies by his spirit within each one.” (N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters (2002) Westminster John Knox Press, p.160).

Young encourages us to “Learn to live from your true Center in Me. I reside in the deepest depths of your being in eternal union with your spirit. It is at this deep level that My Peace reigns continually. You will not find lasting peace in the world around you, in circumstances or in human relationships. The external world is always in flux—under the curse of death and decay. But there is a gold mine of Peace deep within you waiting to be tapped. Take time to delve into the riches of My residing Presence . . . I am Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Jesus Calling p. 53).

Mary’s Encounter with Jesus, the Son of God:

The gift of hospitality is a special gift, and one that God values. Welcoming others into our homes is a wonderful way to express our love and concern for them and to enjoy each other’s company. But in this week’s gospel lesson, Jesus makes it clear that we are not to get so tied up and distracted by work that we don’t take time to spend with God. First things first. Jesus, the Son of God, the second part of the Trinity was visiting Mary and Martha. When Jesus said “Mary has chosen what is better,” (Luke 10:42) he didn’t mean that hospitality isn’t important. But a big part of hospitality is spending time with your guests, and there was no more important a houseguest than Jesus. “Are you so busy doing things for Jesus that you’re not spending any time with him?” (Life Application Bible note, Tyndale and Zondervan, p. 1824).

Dorothy Sayers, an author of detective stories, translator of Dante, and lay theologian, wrote a pair of witty essays in the 1930’s and 1940’s about the role of women in society. She confirms that “Mary’s, of course, was the better part—the Lord said so, and we must not precisely contradict Him. But we will be careful not to despise Martha. No doubt he approved of her too . . . Martha was doing a really feminine job, whereas Mary was just behaving like any other disciple, male or female . . . Perhaps its no wonder that the women were the first at the Cradle and the last at the Cross.” (Sayers, “Are Women Human?” Unpopular Opinions (1947).

When life throws you or a loved one a curve ball in the form of a job or relationship loss, family dissension, a scary diagnosis, challenging health issues, an addiction problem, or any one of a myriad of life challenges, what do you do? If you are in touch with the Spirit of Jesus residing in you, the answer is that you trust in him to carry you through the current challenge. Horatio Spafford, a successful nineteenth Chicago lawyer, penned the words to a hymn, “Peace Like a River,” as he crossed the place in the Atlantic Ocean where his four daughters were drowned weeks before. Only his wife survived. But even in his grief he was able to write “When sorrows like sea billows roll–whatever my lot,Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

Jesus told us not to be anxious about anything. That is not to say that you should give up and not use the tools that you are given to address a problem, but once you have utilized those tools, turn it over to God, and let him carry it for you. He has strong shoulders.

Consider taking a few minutes to have a close encounter with the God of the universe. Stop for a few minutes and pray  from the depth of your soul to God’s ears: “Lord, help me,” and rest in his presence. (Matthew 14:30b). That prayer is called the shortest and most effective prayer in the Bible. If you make contact with the God of the universe on a regular basis, you will be able to say with confidence when the next wave of challenges hits: “It is well with my soul.”

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan




[1] The Scripture texts for the Ninth Sunday After Pentecost are Psalm 27: 1-14; Genesis 18: 1-10a; Colossians 1: 21-29; Luke 10: 38-42.

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