Saturday, August 30, 2008

Meeting God Again for the First Time

Exodus 3:1-15

In the movie Evan Almighty, God appears in the form of Morgan Freeman to a newly elected Congressman named Evan Baxter. Like many politicians Evan ran on a grandiose platform. His was: “To Change the World.” God seems to have been paying attention to the campaign and asks Evan if he’s serious about his agenda. When Evan says yes, God tells him to build an ark. I won’t go into the details of the movie, but this movie, and others like it, raises an interesting question: What would you do if God appeared to you in human form and asked you to do something that seemed kind of outlandish? Like build an ark and gather the animals up – two by two.

We Americans say that we believe in God – in fact pollsters tell us that 95% of us are believers in God. But, who is this God and what does that belief mean for our daily lives?

Recent studies suggest that our view of God can be broken into four categories –A Benevolent God, an Authoritarian God, a Distant God, and a Critical God. Of course these categories overlap each other, but what this study says is that when we say we believe in God we’re not all on the same page. Our views of God have been shaped by our religious training, our cultural and ethnic background, our gender, our age, and our education. Besides that, a growing number of Americans say they’re spiritual, but not religious. In other words, they’re believers but they don’t have an institutional home.

I. THE VISIT FROM GOD

When Moses saw the burning bush, he wasn’t out looking for God. No, Moses was tending his father-in-law’s sheep after running away from trouble in Egypt. He didn’t go to check out the bush because he thought he would find God there, but because bushes don’t normally burn without being consumed by the flames. His curiosity, however, was rewarded by a visitation from God. As he drew close to the bush, a voice called out:
“Don’t come any closer. Remove your sandals from your feet. You’re standing on holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father. The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob” (Ex. 3:4--5, The Message)


When Moses heard this, his curiosity gave way to fear. After all, Moses wasn’t a religious person – he was a fugitive from justice. He drew back in fear, because he wasn’t used to God speaking to him, and he didn’t know what to expect.

I don’t think that Moses is that different from us. Like him, God isn’t always on our radar screens. Because God is Spirit and not flesh, we can’t see or touch God. And as they say: “out of sight, out of mind.” But Moses’ experience reminds us that there are times and places where God breaks though and becomes present with us in a tangible way.

God doesn’t appear just so Moses can have a relationship with God. No, God has a job for him. God tells Moses: I’ve heard the cries of my people in slavery, so go tell Pharaoh: "Let My People Go!" When Moses heard this, he replied: “Who, Me? I’m not eloquent enough – besides I’m a fugitive. If I go back to Egypt, they’ll kill me.” But God wouldn’t hear of it, and said: Go to the people and tell them “I Am who I am” sent me!” And he did. Moses led the people out of slavery and to the Mountain of the Lord, so that they might worship God.

II. MEETING GOD AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME

When Moses asks for God’s name, Moses is asking: Who are you? And, what do you want from me? He asked the question because God really wasn’t part of his life until that moment, and Moses wanted to know who it was that was calling him to service.

Most of us here, believe in God, but do we really know who God is? We may have an idea about who God is. We pray and maybe read the Bible on occasion. We go to church and give our offerings. We may invoke God’s name to curse our enemies bless our nation. But who is this God we proclaim?

Marcus Borg is a biblical scholar who has written several insightful books, including The God We Never Knew and The Heart of Christianity. Borg has written about his spiritual journey in a way that is very helpful. He writes that the God of his childhood, the one he encountered at home and at church, was distant, dark, and judgmental. This was a God you might fear, but never love. As time went on, he grew disenchanted with this God and began to leave behind his childhood faith and drift off toward atheism. The old understandings, the ones he had grown up with, no longer made sense. He went on to seminary and graduate school, became a biblical scholar, all the while God became a distant memory.

But at some point, he began to discover another way of looking at God. As he studied the life of Jesus, he saw in the life and teachings of Jesus a vision of God that was very different from the one he inherited from his family and church. Instead of being cold, cruel, and judgmental, the God he found to be revealed in the life Jesus, was loving, compassionate, and life-giving. And as this happened, it was as if he was he was “meeting God again for the first time.”

III. THE RELEVANCE OF GOD

Borg’s journey isn’t unique. Back in the 1960s a Time Magazine cover story declared that God had died. Time reported that a group of young theologians had concluded that in this new age of political and social ferment, the God of traditional Christianity was dead, along with the God of the status quo and civil religion. And if this God was dead, then why bother with the church? It wasn’t long before young people began to leave and Mainline Protestantism began its slow decline.

That obituary for God was a bit premature, but the question remains: "Who is God?" And what does that mean for my life?

Over the years I’ve discovered, with the help of people like Marcus Borg, that how we answer that question – who is God? – will determine how we live our lives. What difference does it make if I believe that God is a Holy Warrior or a stern and distant judge, or if I believe that God is compassionate, nurturing, and gracious?

When I read the Gospels, I see in its pages a God that is revealed in the life and the teachings of Jesus. And in those pages, I see a God who cares about the suffering, lifts up the down trodden, and brings down rulers and authorities. I hear in Jesus’s words a call to love my enemies and do good to those who despise me. I see him embracing children, even though society at that time often shunned them. And when I pay attention to this witness, I too meet God as if for the first time.

This question about who God is, is an important one for us as a church. If we’re to be a missional church that embraces the call to share our story of faith with our neighbors, then it’s important that we know God intimately. By our confession of Faith, God is Creator, Redeemer, Healer, and Reconciler. Yes, God is our judge, but not in the way we usually think of a judge. God isn’t interested in punishing us, because we step over the line. No, God wants to make all things new so that we might share our lives with God. And when it comes to encountering God, it’s more likely we’ll meet God in our neighbor than in a burning bush.

Of course that puts a burden on us, because when our neighbor wonders about God, they will see in our lives and in our words the true nature of the God we worship and serve. If we declare Holy War in the name of God or make ourselves judges, then that is the God our neighbor will see. If, on the other hand, we befriend the friendless, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the home bound and the hospitalized, then that’s the God our neighbor will encounter instead.

Moses, says: Who should I say is sending me? And God says: “I am who I am.” The question that stands before us is this: who is the God we proclaim? Marcus Borg suggests that there are two very different alternatives: the “God of requirements and rewards” and the “God of love and justice” (Borg, Heart of Christianity, 75). He goes on to say that whichever one we choose, will likely determine how we live with each other. As I ponder this question, I look to Jesus, and in him I believe I see the presence of the God of love and justice, and I pray that I might live accordingly, as one who seeks to follow Jesus.


Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, MI
16th Sunday after Pentecost
August 31, 2008

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