The Rev'd Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 2, 2018

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him?

 For ancient Israel, the knowledge that God seeks to be close to those who follow God’s commandments, who obey the law, is a sign of God’s faithfulness. It’s a sign of God’s constant presence and involvement in human life.

For Ancient Israel, in freedom or bondage, at home or exile, in peace or chaos, God is present. The God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, seeks to be nearby. In a burning bush, in a pillar of fire, in the spreading of the sea, God is present.

For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him?

 The manifestation of Jesus as the messiah, as the Son of God, expands the scope of God’s desire to be nearby. While God chose Israel to be a beacon for the world, the light that shines through Israel cannot be contained by a sole nation or a single people. There is no doubt that God’s holy covenant with the Jewish people remains intact, and at the same time, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God makes a new covenant with the world. A covenant that invites all of creation into union with God. A covenant, a promise from God that grants us who follow Christ a new identity. An identity that cannot be limited by any human standards. Neither by nationality, class, or status. An identity that seeks to unite us, even across our differences.

After all, our differences are in fact a good thing. I give thanks to God that I don’t belong to a Church filled with 2.2 billion versions of myself. God’s new covenant in Christ, affirms what has already been revealed to ancient Israel – you and I have a God so near that he is able to hear us when we call.

Jon Levenson, professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard University, compares this morning’s text from Deuteronomy to the words of the Psalmist who proclaims, “God is near to all who call upon him, to all who invoke him in truth. (Psalm 145:18).

Professor Levenson goes on to write, “The Psalmist appears to be saying that the presence of God does not depend upon one’s location, but upon one’s willingness to call him from a stance of truth. However, the Deuteronomistic homilist goes further. He implies that God’s ubiquity, [God’s faithful presence,] differentiates him from the would-be gods of the nations [that surrounded ancient Israel], who are not able to draw near in answer to the call of the heart because they are somehow spatially confined.”

Our God is not only capable to hear our prayers of gratitude and supplications, our shouts of joy and our deep cries, but God desires to hear our voice. God desires to hear us for our voice is a sweet melody to God. Our God is not some abstract and impersonal being, somewhere out there, detached from us and from this present reality.

Our God is here.

Our God is made known to us in the physical world. As Christians, God is made known to us in Jesus, who in the words of Saint Thomas, is our Lord and our God.

As some of you know, I’ve had the chance to visit Cuba twice since 2017. A truly unique place to be a Christian. It is probably the only country in the entire Western hemisphere in which being a Christian is not the norm. Yes, this modern reality in Cuba is tied to the communist government’s pledge to a militant atheism, and a once proactive and even violent persecution of the Church.

In 1961, the Episcopal Church in Cuba was left with eight out of its 43 clergy, and with no Bishop. Most of the Church’s clergy fled for the United States and Europe, while some were arrested. Over 80% of its laity fled or fell in line with the government.

But those remaining eight clergy and the small handful of laity, carried the Episcopal Church in Cuba as it operated on the margins of the empire and facing near extinction.

Just a month ago, I was with a growing and vibrant Episcopal Church in Cuba. Surrounded by screaming teenagers and children running around in a field. Surrounded by mothers and grandmothers who for decades preserved the words of the Lord’s Prayer if just in their families. Surrounded by young men and women committed to serve as leaders for the Church of God.

While their earthly nation has condemned and persecuted them for their faith, they know they belong to a greater nation. Empires, kingdoms, governments, and nations have persecuted countless Christians who are now numbered among the noble army of martyrs. Now belonging to a greater nation than this world has ever seen or could ever produce.

As we journey ahead through this thing called the Christian life, let us not forget that our identity is defined by water. Through the waters of baptism, we affirm our status as children of God, and we claim our citizenship as members of the Body of Christ, that mystic sweet communion that challenges and frightens scribes, empires, and rulers.

For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him?

Thanks be to God who gives us the Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.