Proximity Matters

A few years ago, I was leading a group of high school youth on a one week trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  A couple of days into our trip, we had arrived at the south arm of Knife Lake and decided to set up camp.  There were 5 campsites on this lake.  4 scattered around the shoreline, and one on an island in the middle of the lake.  It was fairly early in the day and we had our pick of sites, so we took the island.  In the next couple of hours, other groups came in and took the other four sites.

We cooked dinner, hung out and went swimming, and had a campfire.  Somewhere between 10 and 11pm, we went to bed, pretty tired from our day.

At 1am, we were suddenly awakened by the distant sound of yelling, and the banging together of pots and pans.  I hopped up and climbed out of the tent to see what the deal was.  The sounds were coming from one of the sites across the lake.  People who have been to the Boundary Waters, when you hear yelling and the banging of pots and pans, it means what?  Yep.  Clearly, a bear had wandered into their campsite, foraging for food.  There wasn’t much I could do, so I went back to bed.

At 2am, we were again awakened by yelling, and the banging of pots and pans, this time from the next camp site down the lake.  At 3am, it was the campsite behind us.  And at 4am, the remaining campsite on the shoreline got hit.

So now, it’s 5am. I laid there in my tent.  Wide awake.  Listening intently for the sound of bears wandering into our site.

Two hours later, I was still listening.  Our food packs had survived.  We were sleepless, but the food was safe.

At breakfast, I was cooking our eggs over the camp stove when Aaron, one of the group members, started talking about the night.  “Why do you think the bears didn’t come after our food packs?” he asked.  “Because proximity matters,” I said.  “What?”  “Well, to get to us, the bear would have to climb down those bluffs, swim the quarter mile to our island, climb up on the shore and look for our food packs.  It was much simpler to just walk to the next site over.  Proximity matters.”  “Ahhh…”  said Aaron.  That makes sense.  Then a long pause, and he looked at the eggs.  “Or it could be that they had better food than we did.”  “Could be.”  I said.   “Here, go scrub this frying pan.”

I am going to stick with my theory.  I believe it is a fundamental truth of life:  Proximity matters.

  • It’s the laws of physics that mean that when you take a rock at room temperature and put it next to a rock that is hot, the heat will transfer and the cooler rock will warm.  Proximity matters.
  • It is why when I wake up on a winter morning, I find our cat sprawled over a heat vent.  Proximity matters.
  • It is why families gather to celebrate holidays to spend time together.  Proximity matters.
  • It is why social media is a thing.  Because even those we haven’t seen in years, or who live a long distance from us, can feel close even though they’re really not.

It is because proximity matters. 

Today’s Gospel lesson is complex, and difficult to get one’s head around.  But if you unweave all of the strands, there are three threads that emerge, and all of them connect to this idea of proximity.

First, Jesus calls God “Father”, implying an intimacy, a closeness and a familiarity to a powerful presence much greater than we are.  The word, Father, is not suggesting a gender, but rather the relationship between a parent and a child.

The second thread is that God’s Holy Spirit comes to live in us and we in it.  Jesus says in verse 17 that “you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”  The Greek word here for “live” can literally translate to “abide” or “dwell within. “ Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit, he calls it the Spirit of truth, will come and literally dwell within us.

The third strand:  as a result of God’s Spirit dwelling within us, there is a perfect harmony and peace that is available to all of God’s people.  Because of the presence of God, we become people of peace.  And wherever we go, we bring God’s peace.

So, we have these three threads to unpack:  intimacy with God, living in God’s Spirit, and experiencing and sharing God’s peace with others.

I have these strange moments.  You might have experienced these moments as well.  There are moments when I see something in myself, and in it I recognize my parents.  I’ve had these moments occasionally in the morning when I am shaving or brushing my teeth, and I quickly glance up into the mirror, and notice my gradually growing forehead, and in my hairline, I will see my Dad’s hairline.  Or occasionally, I will be sitting at the computer, and I will glance down and see my hands, and for just a second, I will see my Dad’s hands.  There is a connection there, borne of the genetic and biological relationship that I have with my Father.

But it goes beyond biology.  Sometimes I will say something, especially to Nathan or Samuel, and in those words, I hear my Mom or Dad.  And I’ll catch myself “oh my gosh…that is totally something that my Mom or Dad would say.  I am becoming my parents!”  Does that ever happen to you?

I’ve been told that my laugh is like my Father’s; and that my sense of humor is similar, (though I really hope that I’m not that cheesy.)  And that I have some similar mannerisms as both my Mom and Dad.

The truth is, if you know me, you probably know a lot about my Father and my Mother.

Why is this?  Proximity.  Over 18 years of living in the same household, their qualities were transmitted to me.  It just happens that way.  Proximity matters.

This helps us understand what Jesus means when he says: “My father abides in me” I get that.  I get that because there is a certain level to which Jerry and Kathy Buegler, abide in me.  And there is a certain level to which I will abide in the lives of Nathan and Samuel Buegler.  (Sorry about that boys!)  Jesus is saying that the same mannerisms of God the Father live in him:  the Father’s gentle love, the Father’s patient forgiveness and the Father’s compassion for everyone around him.  All these qualities that Jesus had in him, he received from his Father.

Proximity to God matters to us as well.  Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will come and live in you.  God’s Holy Spirit is a gift that blows into our lives and into our souls. With the Holy Spirit comes the same love, the same compassion, the same forgiveness, the same gentleness, the same kindness that was and is in God.  It comes to each of us.  I’ll say it again:  Proximity matters.

By spending time in God’s presence, these holy qualities gradually seep into our lives, even when we aren’t aware of it.

Folks my age and older might remember Chuck Colson as one of the instigators of the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration.  After his arrest and imprisonment, Colson had something of an epiphany and turned his life around, committing his life to his belief in God.

In later years, Colson said that after his life had fallen apart, he began to associate with a group of men of faith.  These were men, Colson said, in whom it was clear that God’s Holy Spirit dwelt.  One of them, was Harold Hughes, a Senator from Iowa.  The other was Minnesota’s own Governor, Al Quie.

As these three men spent time together, a gradual change came over Chuck Colson.  Like water seeping underground, the Spirit of God was flowing beneath his life.  One night after a conversation with Hughes and Quie, Colson ran out of the house and into his car.  He sat there behind the steering wheel and cried like a baby.  As his strong emotions burst out, he realized that God’s Spirit was in his life, and had, as he described it, “already taken up residence in my heart.”

All that was left, was for Colson to begin living as if God was inhabiting his heart.  And as he did, his life transformed. It was just a matter of proximity.

What Jesus is telling us today is that God’s Holy Spirit has already taken up residence in your hearts.  You are given God’s love.  It is pure love.  Absolute, unconditional love.  The love of Christ.

We choose how to respond to that love.  We can respond with distance, or we can respond with proximity.

If we choose proximity, then we are making a choice to participate in the relationship that God wants to have with us.  We draw close to God, and we spend time, and we allow the characteristics of Jesus to seep into our lives.

What comes of this relationship that God desires with us?  Jesus says in verse 27 that it is peace.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you…do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

While our lives can feel troubled, God wants to bring peace and wholeness to those parts of your life that feel broken.  Jesus seeks to restore your spirit and to bring you healing.

Open yourself to the relationship that God offers and be the light and warmth of Christ.  Recognize the grace and peace that God brings into your heart, and welcome it.  It is a promise that God makes for you.  Spend time in this relationship.  Worship.  Read scripture.  Pray.  Why?  Because we know that in the relationship that Jesus hopes for each of us, proximity matters.


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