(Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 46, Romans 3:19-28)
31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”
34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35 A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.”
Perhaps you’ve heard the joke about the atheist who was spending a quiet day fishing. All of a sudden his boat was attacked by the Loch Ness monster. In one easy flip, the beast tossed him and his boat high into the air. Then it opened its mouth to swallow both. As the man sailed head over heels, he cried out, “Oh, my God! Help me!” Just then, the ferocious attack scene froze in place, and as the atheist hung in mid-air, a booming voice came down from the clouds, “I thought you didn’t believe in Me!” “Come on God, give me a break!!” the man pleaded. “Two minutes ago I didn’t believe in the Loch Ness monster either!”
Ah, how quickly the man’s faith changed! He had gone through life not being in relationship with God, not really seeing a purpose for being in relationship with God. And because he wasn’t in relationship with God, he had fooled himself into believing that there is no God. “Well, if I’m not in relationship with God, then God must not exist,” he probably told himself. Sadly, this is the case with most atheists. Just because we choose not to be in relationship with God doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist. No, God keeps plugging away with His creation whether we’re in relationship with Him or not. God wants to be in relationship with each of us but He allows us to choose whether we want to be in relationship with him. He allows us to choose whether we want to know Him and be known by Him.
Atheists choose not to be in relationship with our loving and gracious God. Many of them change their choice once disaster strikes and they cry out for God’s help as the joke so aptly illustrates. To be fair, many atheists do not change their choice even when disaster strikes. And atheists are easy to criticize for their faith, or lack thereof. What about those of us who know God exists but for one reason or another choose not to be in relationship with Him? Perhaps life has dealt them a difficult hand of cards and they are angry with God over it. Perhaps life has dealt them a good hand and they don’t see God’s work in it so they aren’t grateful or appreciative towards Him. Or maybe, just maybe, they don’t know how to be in relationship with God. They don’t know how to be in relationship with anyone, let alone with God. They want to know God better but they just don’t know how to go about it. They want to feel they are known by God. You know, God knows us better than we know ourselves…God CREATED us…but it’s easy to sometimes forget we are known by Him. It’s easy to tell ourselves that we aren’t worthy of knowing God or being known by God. But this couldn’t be any further from the truth!! God LOVES us with all his heart! God loves us more than we love ourselves! God wants nothing but the best for each of us! To know God and to be known by God is to know God’s deep and abiding love for us. There is no better way to know God and be known by God than through LOVE!
So why all this discussion about knowing and being known by God? Well, perhaps because it is a topic that is brought up by all our readings assigned for this morning. In our first lesson, we heard God speaking with the prophet Jeremiah about establishing a new covenant with both the houses of Israel and Judah. Whereas the old covenant was spoken to and written down by their ancestors Abraham and Moses, the new covenant with God’s people took a different form. God said, “I will put my instructions deep with them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” God’s covenant was no longer about rules or regulations, hope or promise. God’s new covenant was about the one thing that underlaid all of those—LOVE. Love…God’s love…is all we need to know. Once we know and understand His love for us, then we know ALL rules and regulations, hope and promise. “And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. LOVE is the key to knowing God’s rules and regulations; the key to knowing God’s hope for and promise with us. When we know love, God’s love, then we know God and all that He has given us since the beginning of creation. Of course the new covenant is written on our hearts…that’s where love comes from!
Now I understand that the statement, “To know love is to know God,” is inherently a difficult thing to understand. How does one know love, let alone God’s love?! Love is a terribly complex force to understand. It motivates us in ways we can’t fully explain. It causes behavior in our world that is a complete mystery. Love is a terribly elusive yet powerful force…much like God himself! But make no mistake about it, we CAN know God…we CAN know love. How? Well, I found an article by Peter Kreeft entitled, “12 Ways to Know God,” particularly helpful in answering this question. Peter was able to clearly define 12 different ways to better know God. Prayer gives us time to listen to God’s voice in our lives. Once we hear it in prayer, actually doing God’s will for our lives reveals Him to us. The saints among us help to reveal God. The collective experience shared through history and tradition and literature is great source of revelation. Our own life experiences will reveal God at work. Reason helps us to better understand God’s mind and conscience can be considered God’s voice. Art and nature are excellent means through which God speaks to us. Of course, the Scriptures are the very Word of God and the church is God’s body in our world. But the single best way to know God is through Christ himself. As Peter notes, Christ is “the final, complete, definitive way” to know God for he is God in human flesh. What better way is there to know God than through Christ, God’s human form?!
Paul understood this all too well as seen by his letter to the Romans. Paul wrestled with knowing God through the lens of righteousness. For Paul, knowing God and being known by God were reflected by being in right relationship with God. When we are in right relationship with God, then we know God and are known by God. And Paul clearly writes, “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.” Righteousness comes from faith in Christ. It is just as Peter suggested…to know Christ and to place faith in Christ is to know God. And who is Christ? As John conveys in our gospel reading, Christ is “the truth, and the truth will make you free.” To know love is to know Christ and to know Christ is to know God. Better stated, to know love is to know truth and to know truth is to be set free. This is the freedom that is our God!
So again, why all this discussion about knowing and being known by God this morning…this Reformation Sunday? Besides our readings focusing our attention on it, we are also celebrating a time when we chose to know God better. Nearly 500 years ago, our church didn’t want us to know about God or at least the love of God. Our church taught us false teachings and kept us in the dark concerning God’s grace and mercy. Along came Martin Luther and several other reformers who opened the Scriptures and helped us to better know God. Let us celebrate the gifts of better knowing and being known by God. Let us celebrate the gifts of church reformation and becoming a healthy body for God in this world. Finally, let us celebrate all the gifts that come from God’s deep and abiding love for us.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.