For those with a longer commute to Mass, I want to inform you that right before Mass started, the Mizzou score was, 38-7 at halftime.
With college football back we are all reminded of our allegiances to alma mater or our local school. Sometimes we even refer to a collective fanbase as a “nation.”
In fact a few weeks ago when I preached about Cardinal nation, things didn’t look so good, but we are all enjoying the recent surge and excitement.
Of course in a more traditional sense when we speak of nations we refer specific geographical boundaries of modern political city-states, such as our great nation, the United States of America, whose glory, pomp and circumstance was on full display this morning at the funeral of Senator John McCain.
One way we don’t use the word nation very often is in relation to our faith. We don’t say, “I belong to the Catholic nation.” Or, “I belong to the I.C nation.” Yet in today’s reading from Deuteronomy we hear Moses speak to the Israelites as great nation belonging to God. So what does that word mean for us as Christians, as Catholics?
To begin to understand, we must look a few lines earlier to the beginning of the reading, to the name of God. At the time of Abraham and Moses it was common for a particular region to profess faith in their own particular God. Each locale had their own. Some would even refer to their God as a kind of local king. So imagine that Jefferson City had it’s own God, Columbia had it’s own God, St. Louis had it’s own God, Kansas had no God. However the God of Israel was quite different. By the very Hebrew word they used to speak of God, EL, he was not tied to a particular place, a nation as we would use it now, but rather to a people.
What does this mean? It means that we have a personal God. We don’t have a God who is some far distant ruler or puppet master, uninterested in us silly human beings. Rather we have a God who deeply cares about each one of you and desires a personal relationship with you. A God who will remain faithful and travel with you not just across physical borders, or sports allegiances, but all travel with you through all of life’s ups and downs, its challenges and blessings.
While this all sounds nice, and maybe you say, “Yes, Father, I believe that, I know that God is personal, but I want to FEEL that personal relationship. How can I make that happen?” God as personal is fundamental to his nature. He’s here with us, whether we realize it or not. So the question becomes what might I need to change in order to better recognize his presence in my life and his desire for a personal relationship with me. Thus we arrive at the challenge of today’s reading. What do I need to change? What are the stumbling blocks that are keeping me from developing and growing in a personal relationship with God?
Maybe it’s a past hurt or trauma, which is in need of healing instead of being left to fester. Perhaps it’s a relationship with a family member, friend, classmate or coworker? It could be a personal struggle with sin and temptation that’s getting in the way of that deeper connection with God.
Thankfully the same reading does not leave us empty-handed, but rather gives us a clue as to what we can or cannot do to develop a more personal relationship with God. The reading tells us to “not to add nor subtract” from God or his commands. For as important, real, and difficult all those other roadblocks I just mentioned may be, the reading points us in another direction.
It begins with how we even start to think about God. How do we understand who God is? What is our attitude towards God? If I say that God doesn’t care about me because something bad has happened, then I am turning God into a distant God, I’m subtracting from his “personalness” or closeness. If I say that it doesn’t matter what I do, God shouldn’t care about my moral decisions and actions, then I am pushing God away, making him distant, adding to the separation between God and I. In summary it’s not for us to make up or decide who God is, to pick and chose the parts of God and his commands that we like, leaving behind the others. God is not a Chinese buffet. Developing a relationship or understanding of God is not a Build-A-Bear workshop.
Our closeness to God is the source of our unity. It is our closeness to God that makes us a, “nation.” Not a nation of the geographical sort, nor one united by a sports team, but rather united by God. A God who is not distant or uninvolved in our lives. But rather one who is deeply personal and close to us. The challenge is to ask ourselves what obstacles are we adding, what things are we subtracting away from God, that prevent us from realizing that deeper relationship with him.