Tell me all your thoughts on God...

NOTE: We are just back in town after being in Western New York after Dianne's mother died. We rejoice in her life, grieve her death and entrust her to God's grace forever. Here are my sermon notes for this week - a few days late - and not fully fleshed out. Still, if you are in town at 10:30 am on Sunday, please stop in. We would be blessed to share Christ's feast with you.


This morning, rather than begin this portion of worship with scripture being read to you, I want to task you what scripture or Bible story informs your understanding of God?

+ I mean that quite seriously: can you think of a passage from the Bible that helps you understand or grow closer to God?

+ In all honesty: what speaks to you about the holy?


For most of my life Psalm 23 has been a favorite – and over the years the Shepherd’s Psalm has matured with me – it was lovely as a child and has continued to resonate with me as an adult. Can you say it out loud with me?

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Sweet, isn’t it? This psalm tells me that:

+ God is a provider…
+ God is a comforter…
+ God is a protector…
+ And God is a helper…
+ It also speaks to me of how God brings meaning into my life – takes away my fears – and shares cleansing and refreshment with my soul

Our tradition is clear that scripture is an important place to learn about God and God’s nature. It is not the only place – we value both tradition and experience, too – but scripture is vital. It gives us a common language – poetry and symbols, images and stories – to talk together about something that is mysterious and really beyond words.

+ Has that been true for you: has the Bible been one of the places where you have learned something about God?

+ Where else did your insights about God come from: parents? Family? School? Friends? What?

We live in a spirit-saturated culture and throughout our whole lives we are bombarded with spiritual images and ideas. And while it is increasingly true that more and more people claim no single religious identity – secularism and multiculturalism are simply facts of life – that does not mean that people aren’t thinking about God.

+ In fact, in the most recent Pew Research study into the religious habits of Americans, what is most interesting is that while more and more Americans choose NOT to affiliate with any one religious traditions, even those frustrated with organized religion say they are hungry for help in figuring out their real spiritual needs.

+ People want to know what God has to say about their fears and needs – their health and love life – what it means to lose your job or even how to die well. Interesting, yes?

One of my favorite theologians, Douglas John Hall, framed this challenge like this:

If earlier ages of Christendom were particularly fixated on the afterlife and heaven, it was at least in some considerable part because this life was for most people extraordinarily brutish and short. But in a context in which the average life endures well into the late seventies and it is not unusual for people to live to be ninety or a hundred, offering heaven and immortal life as the answer to earth’s sorrows speaks in a direct way only to the infirm and the aged – if even to them! At least in our realm, the astonishing postponement of mortality that has taken place in the 21st century and beyond means that life itself – not death (not, at least, in the same immediate way) – has become our great question.

So the challenge for us in this generation is not figuring out how to reply to the question, “If there life after death?” but rather, “What can we do to enhance life before death?” And here is one of the real problems for me:

+ All too often most of us don’t have the time to evaluate how to best respond to this challenge.

+ Many of us are incredibly busy – even people in retirement, yes? – so we tend to share the spiritual truths we claimed when we were children. They may not fit nearly as well now that we are older, but that’s what happens a lot of the time.


+ Or else we stay quiet and unsure how to reply to the very real spiritual questioning that is taking place all around us. God knows we don’t want to sound like a fundamentalist – but so many times we just don’t know how to talk about God as an adult.

And that’s a problem because there are a whole lot of other people out there filling up the vacuum with noise – and fear – and sometimes even hatred. So what I want to do today is what St. Paul spoke about when he said, “When I was a child, I thought like a child… and I used child-like images when I spoke. But now that I have grown up and matured… I have put childish things away.”
In Ephesians Paul put it like this: There can be no prolonged infancies among us, please. We can not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

St. John put it like this at the end of his gospel: Jesus asked a third time: "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was upset that he asked for the third time (but he was a slow learner so Jesus had to keep asking, "Do you love me?") And Peter replied, "Master, you know everything there is to know. You've got to know that I love you." Then Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I'm telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you'll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don't want to go." And then he commanded, "Follow me."

Are you with me? I’m talking about exploring some biblical insights that will empower us to be compassionate disciples who can follow Jesus in the 21st century rather than wander around as confused children. And there are 5 texts I want you to think about with me for just a moment.

Isaiah 55: 6-12: Seek God while he's here to be found, pray to him while he's close at hand. Let the wicked abandon their way of life and the evil their way of thinking. Let them come back to God, who is merciful, come back to our God, who is lavish with forgiveness.
"I don't think the way you think. The way you work isn't the way I work." God's Decree. "For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think. Just as rain and snow descend from the skies and don't go back until they've watered the earth, doing their work of making things grow and blossom, producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry, so will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed. They'll do the work I sent them to do, they'll complete the assignment I gave them. "So you'll go out in joy, you'll be led into a whole and complete life.

What do you hear going on here? What is this telling us about God and our connection? How does this differ from a childlike understand of the holy? Try this one on...

Matthew 7: 6-12: Don't be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don't reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you're only being cute and inviting sacrilege. Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn't a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing. You're at least decent to your own children. So don't you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better? Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God's Law and Prophets and this is what you get.

Talk to me about what you hear in this? What is at the heart of it for you? If we had lots of time I would want you to play with:

+ Genesis 1 where we learn that we are created in the image of a Creator so our imagination is one of the ways we commune with God.

+ And Luke 17 where Jesus tells us the kingdom is not far away but within and among us – so we need to be careful about building community and taking time for quiet reflection.

But the last one – which I will play with next week, too – is II Corinthians 12 where Paul tells us: I was given the gift of a wound to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan's angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn't think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, My grace is enough; it's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the wound and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness.

Most of us tend to see God only in the light and the blessings and the joys of life, but an adult understanding is that God is present in the darkness, too. What’s more, God can use the darkness and our pain and even our wounds to advance the cause of the kingdom if… we are willing to get out of the way.

+ That’s what the story of Jesus tells us: that even death on a cross is not the end of the story.

+ Rufus Jones said: God’s life and our lives are bound together, as a vine with branches, as a body with members. So corporate are we that no one can give a cup of cold water to the least person in the world without giving it to God.

+ And Kenneth Gottman said: The rhythm of life for a kingdom dweller puts chronos in service of kairos – that is we put chronological time in service of God’s sacred time table – the cyclical in service of the directional, the calendar in service of the kingdom… and as we submit our anarchy to a rhythm, in a sort of earthy, mystical way, all of live is lived lucidly, intentionally and the glory of God: every washing becomes a baptism, every eating a communion, every sleeping becomes a dying and every rising a resurrection.

We are adults living with and searching for the God of life – we are pilgrims on a journey – and for now that is enough to say, ok? God’s strength comes to us in our weakness… so let those who have ears to hear, hear.

Comments

Luke said…
freak'n sweet dude! and that's a great song and a wonderful live version of it.

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