Happy 95th Anniversary, Parkview United Church! These many years throughout the decades have been a time to celebrate God’s Presence, truly a time of wonder and joy. Can you even imagine all the changes, world events and challenges that have happened in 95 years? And throughout all this time, God has been with us, seeing us through. God has been close. In our scripture reading, God says to us: “Here Am I.” It is a profound statement, then and now. For all time. It is an eternal relationship of wonder and joy.
God’s Holy Spirit has been, and continues to be, in our midst. The bubbly, joyful, prodding, effervescent, caring, loving and humorous Holy Spirit has filled us with laughter and vision, joy and sharing, wisdom and goodwill throughout all these years. We have reflected, worshipped, celebrated and conducted the business of being Parkview United Church in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. God planted us here, and God knows exactly where we are. And what we’re about. It is a reality that in the presence of God’s Holy Spirit, we are filled with awe, wonder, and joy. And, it is a wonder that God comes so close to us!
In our Bibles, there are so many stories of God coming close. Remember Moses kneeling before the burning bush, a bush not consumed by natural fire but consumed with God’s Presence? Moses is told that he is standing on holy ground. God is speaking directly to Moses. It is the wonder of God coming so close. Abram and Sarai travel through the vast desert wilderness of Mesopotamia to the new land of Canaan, and God speaks to Abram, asking him to look up – see the stars in the night sky? So shall your offspring be. God comes so close to Abram. It is the wonder of Sarai giving birth to Isaac when her natural child-bearing days were over, the wonder of this miracle, and we hear Sarai’s laughter and joy naming her newborn son “Isaac,” whose name means “laughter.” God comes so close to Sarai. We recognize the wonder of so many others in our scriptures – the miracles, the visions, the messages given to the prophets, the disciples, and just ordinary people like you and me. God comes so close to people. We witness this interaction throughout ancient biblical times, throughout Jesus’ time, and throughout all history. This interaction, this closeness, never ends and it continues to happen.
In 1373, Julian of Norwich experienced a vision. She wrote about it in Showings or Revelations of Divine Love – the earliest surviving book by a woman in the English language. “And in this he showed me a little thing,” she wrote, “the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God. In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.” Her most famous line may be her most consoling (and a good word for our times today!): “But all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.”
As Christians, we believe that God came to us in Jesus Christ, the most tangible presence of God on earth. Could God get any closer to us than this? Christ’s presence literally lived among us, equal in our humanity and yet divine in origin. God planned it to be so, so that God could get as close to us as God could, so that we could tangibly get to know this divine presence right in our midst. Jesus Christ on earth experienced everything there is to be human, and Jesus after his ascension sent us his divine Spirit in the Holy Spirit, our Comforter and Guide. Jesus gets as close to us today as he did all those centuries ago when he walked among people in the Galilean countryside. God planned this. God provided. God tangibly touched humanity then, and God gets close to us today. Jesus says to us: “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you,” (John 14: 20). Can we get any closer to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit than this?
Parkview United Church, we must remember that Jesus Christ is the head of our church. He is our cornerstone. He is at the helm. Our allegiance is to Him. We are the collective Body of Christ, members of His church. We are connected to God, Jesus God’s Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are connected to this divine Presence and this divine closeness. The “Here Am I.”
So, to experience the awe, wonder and joy of this divine closeness, we must commune with it. Trust that it is there. It is. Open yourself to the Spirit. Pay attention to the Divine Order speaking. Meditate, pray, read your bible, read Christian literature, and continue to find Christian fellowship. God wants to bless our church, we the members of the Body of Christ. Pray for God’s visions and revelations. Pray for God’s blessings. Dare to imagine, to wonder, to feel led – open yourself to God’s guidance. God says to us: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19). Ask yourself: if God presents newness, revelations and infinite possibilities, what is God speaking to me right now? Answers may not come immediately. But I think the important thing is to be ready for newness! Be prepared to move! The Spirit is never stagnant or static. God is always on the move. The Spirit is always moving.
As we celebrate our 95th Anniversary Sunday today, despite the fact that we are not gathered together in our church sanctuary, we are gathered together, held together, embraced together, in the Spirit of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is close. Remember Julian’s vision: God made us, God loves us, God keeps us. We are part of God’s family, and God cares for each one of us. We are part of God’s presence here on earth, and God cares for our church, we the body of His Son. If we stay close to the foundation of our church – Jesus – and embody his Spirit, God will honour that. Jesus says: “My Father will honour those who serve me,” (John 12: 26). Let’s celebrate our church family, let’s celebrate the wonder and joy of God’s presence, the closeness of God, and let’s celebrate God’s eternal promise to us: “Here Am I!’ Amen.