Near and Far 
Wednesday of Easter 3
8 May 2019

A thing well started is half done. Or so folk wisdom would have it. Yet, think about it. If you only get half done all the time, if you only get half way there at every opportunity, you will never get there, not ever. You can continue to divide even the smallest increment in half. An infinite number of divisions in half are possible. By getting half done forever, one gets closer and yet remains forever incomplete. The folk wisdom only gets you half way there, and so closing in on the finish line is desperately important in matters significant to a successful human life. Like in baseball, a good closer is essential to getting a win at the end of the game.


Unfortunately, we humans are in this life always and only "getting there," never arriving. Perhaps we are even getting half way, although even this is doubtful. This is why our Christian religion is and must remain "God centered," that is truly theological, and not human centered. God's doing must be paramount when we are so unlikely "to get there" on our own. The older I get the more resistant to genuine change humans seem to be to me. A thousand good resolutions have gone by the board day in and day out in the life of even the most pious and holy human being. A thousand wishes to be more worshipful in God's sight and truly sacrificial in service to others have crashed and burned. A thousand desires have perverted the love which is owed to God into the love of self. And all the while we are deluding ourselves about how far we have gotten in loving God and neighbor. We are progressively getting only "half way there," but never arriving.


We are so self-deceived as to think that half measures will be sufficient in the sight of God, or at least that we are better than the neighbor. But the measure is not the other human, but the eternal God who has become incarnate in Christ Jesus. Closer and farther are of no value before God, whose standard is perfect. Love must be whole to be the love of which our Lord Jesus is speaking: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment." (Mt 22:37-38). "All" admits of no lapses. Oh, dear God, You must rescue.


The more clearly we see this the more clearly we doubt our having arrived, or indeed, having even gotten "half way there." The perfect love of God is yet to be worked by us and then only when all things are brought to completion at the consummation of the age. This is why we live in hope and patience. If there is not something yet to come, we would have nothing for which to hope and patience would be unnecessary. What this means is that the closer I get the farther I am away. It is there and not there; seen and not seen; held and never possessed; lived and never a living; a death that is done and yet never does to death. Under the cross everything is not seen and not given, and yet seen and possessed (Mt 13:13). This is the theology of the cross where as we grow closer we see that we are farther and where as we grow farther we see that we are closer. No synthesis is possible here, there can be no middling for nearer and farther. We live in both. These things can only be drawn together in the person of the incarnate Son of God (Eph 2:16). There can be no resolution except in Him who takes the near and the far into Himself.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Augustine of Hippo
"The Lord, when He summarily and briefly expounded His word on earth, informed us that the whole law and the prophets depend on two commandments; nor was He silent as to what these were, but declared them in the plainest words: 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind' and 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself' (Mt 22:37, 39). What could be more surely true than that, if these are fulfilled, all righteousness is fulfilled? But the man who sets his mind on this truth must also carefully attend to another: in how many things we all of us offend (Jam 3:2), while we suppose that what we do is pleasant, or, at all events, not unpleasing, to God whom we love; and afterwards, having (through His inspired word, or else by being warned in some clear and certain way) learned what is not pleasing to Him, we pray to Him that He would forgive us when we repent.
"The life of man is full of examples of this. But how do we fall short of knowing what is pleasing to Him, if it be not that He is to that extent unknown to us? 'For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face' (1Co 13:12). Who could make so bold, as though advancing far enough, to say: 'I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known' (1Co 13:12), as to think that they who shall see God will have no greater love towards Him than they have who now believe in Him, or that the one ought to be compared to the other, as if they were very near to each other? Now, if love increases just in proportion as our knowledge of its object becomes more intimate, of course we ought to believe that there is as much wanting now to the fulfillment of righteousness as there is defective in our love of it. A thing may indeed be known or believed, and yet not loved; but it is an impossibility that a thing can be loved which is neither known nor believed. But if the saints, in the exercise of their faith, could arrive at that great love, than which (as the Lord Himself testified) no greater can possibly be exhibited in the present life, even to lay down their lives for the faith or for their brothers (Jn 15:13), then after their pilgrimage here, in which their walk is by faith, when they shall have reached the sight of that final happiness (2Co 5:7), which we hope for, though as yet we see it not, and wait for in patience (Rm 8:23), then undoubtedly love itself shall not only be greater than that which we experience here, but far higher than all which we ask or think (Eph 3:20). Yet it cannot possibly be more than 'with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind.' For there remains in us nothing which can be added to the whole. Since, if anything did remain, there would not be the whole. Therefore, the first commandment about righteousness, which bids us to love the Lord with all our heart, and soul, and mind, we shall completely fulfill in that life when we shall see face to face.
"Even now this commandment is enjoined upon us, that we may be reminded what by faith we ought to require, and what we should in our hope look forward to, and, 'forgetting what lies behind, strain forward to what lies ahead' (Phil 3:13). And thus, as it appears to me, that man has made a far advance, even in the present life, in the righteousness which is to be perfected hereafter, who has discovered by this very advance how very far removed he is from the completion of righteousness."

 Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, 1.64
Psalm 25

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. For your name's sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great. Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. His soul shall abide in well-being, and his offspring shall inherit the land. The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net. Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses. Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me. Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you. Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles. (ESV)
Lord Jesus Christ, You do not admit of any half measures in Your person, but rather You love Your Father with all that You are and have, and us without stinting. You offered Yourself for us, while we were Your enemies and reconciled the near and far in Your perfect person. Help us to see that the nearer we get the farther we are and that reconciliation is only in You. Amen.
For Herbert Mueller, who is undergoing brain surgery today, that the Lord Jesus would guard and guide the hands of the surgeon and give to His servant Herb recovery, strength and divine peace
For all doctors, nurses, and other health professionals that they would not become weary in their labor
For Tom Clayton, that the Lord Jesus would grant him peace and strength

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias,  Resurrection (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2019
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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