September 15, 2019 Sermon
Back to Basics:
First Scripture Reading: Genesis 2:4b-9, 18-23
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5 when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6 but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7 then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”
Second Scripture Reading:
12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Message – “Back to Basics: God”
Information overload is a BIG deal in our society today. We’ve got more information coming at us from more different directions that at any other time in human history. Want to check it out for yourself? Just type “information overload” into your computer’s web browser:
- You’ll find study after study revealing that too much information is stressing us out;
- You’ll find all kinds of opinion pieces on the dangers of information overload;
- You’ll find countless articles about the history and sources of information overload;
- You’ll even find advice on how to deal with information overload, including a Forbes article offering “10 Steps to Conquering Information Overload” and a WikiHow article entitled, “How to Avoid Being Overwhelmed by Information.”
Why am I telling you this? Well, it turns out that when it comes to our faith, we’re not exempt from this information overload thing:
- Wayyyyy back in Christian history, when very few people could read and there weren’t any printing presses to make Bibles widely available, most Christians had but one source of information about religious stuff: their priest.
- Contrast those days with today, when people can read the Bible in English in hundreds of different translations that are instantly available at their fingertips, when people can read a seemingly infinite number of books and journal articles about Christianity without leaving their homes, when blogs and podcasts and vlogs about stuff related to Christian faith are, perhaps, as numerous as the stars in the heavens or the sands on the seashore.
Y’all, this change in our access to information about Christian faith has been absolutely WONDERFUL. Everyone, EVERYONE, has access to information about Christianity…which is great. However, even as this change has been wonderful, I fear this change has also been disastrous. With access to soooooo much information, Christians don’t necessarily know what of that information is good and reliable and what of that information is just plain bad, even heretical (to use an ancient term.) And so, with such an overwhelming amount of information available, a great many Christians appear to metaphorically place their hands over their ears and shut off all the noise…and just stop learning and growing in Christian faith altogether. That’s information overload.
And it’s exactly why I’ve chosen to start this nine-month September-May cycle with a sermon series entitled “Back to Basics”. Y’all, there are a great many nuances to our faith. Really, there are. That’s how/why we can have Christians on both sides of just about every significant issue of our times. But, even though there are a great many nuances to Christian faith, there are also some basics. To use the term employed by the founders of the movement that became our denomination, there are some “essentials.” And what I’ll do throughout September and October is help you – and hopefully the friends you invite to hear these messages – what I’ll do is help you focus your attention on the big picture stuff to help you discover what you believe about these most fundamental, most basic, most essential aspects of our Christian faith. In the process, I hope you also discover how important these faith basics are to how and how well you live your life.
Today’s basic: God. Doesn’t get more basic than that, right? And yet, the topic of God is a pretty big topic. I imagine I could start talking right now and continue for years – without stopping – and still not fully cover this topic. So…I’ll focus. Today, I’ll address just a few aspects of God’s core nature. And in the process, I encourage you to do the same. Consider for yourself what you find God’s core nature to be.
But first, why focus on God’s core nature? In his book that provides the topics for this sermon series and the conversational Sunday School class that accompanies it, author and seminary professor Ron Allen writes, “What we believe about God is basic to what we believe about all other things…(and) informs how we understand ourselves as human beings…”
In other words, if you perceive God’s core nature to be loving, you will approach life a certain way; whereas, if you perceive God’s core nature to be hateful or despising, you will approach life in a very different way. What you believe about God’s core nature MATTERS…actually makes a significant difference to your life, every day.
So, let’s consider a few aspects of God’s core nature.
Aspect #1: God is creating and creative. At the very beginning of the scriptures and also very regularly throughout the Bible, God is presented as creating. God made the sun, the moon, the sky, the water, the birds, the land animals, the fish, people, and, well, everything. I’d call this one a given; I’ve never met a Christian who I imagine would refute that God is creating. The same goes for “creative”. If you don’t think God is creative, do some research on the human body. I read this week that in an average adult human body, 50-70 billion cells die each day, and another 50-70 billion cells are made to replace them. Imagine that! Or imagine the processes required to sleep and dream, or to eat and convert food to energy, or to heal a cut. And then consider the creativity required to make processes like those required to keep the estimated 8.7 million different animal species on earth functioning.
But why does that matter? How does that affect us? As Christians, it should matter a great deal, if we understand at least part of our task in life as being participants with God. It means we should participate with God’s efforts to create instead of to destroy. How does it impact your life to imagine yourself a co-creator with God..at least in terms of what God is trying to create today? And, as Christians, it should matter to us that the God who created us in God’s image is so incredibly creative. Doesn’t that tell us something about our potential? Doesn’t that call us to do…MORE? Doesn’t that call us to do something creative, something imaginative, something wonderful and world-changing in/with our lives?
Aspect #2: God is relational. Y’all, God doesn’t need us, as in, God could have handled the universe on God’s own. God could have named and cared for the animals and creation; God didn’t NEED us to do that. You get that, right? God doesn’t NEED us, but God WANTS us. God created people because God is relational. And then, after God created the first person…in God’s image…God knew the person MUST be relational, as well, so God created a slightly different kind of person for relational purposes and relational fulfillment.
But what does this mean for us? Quite a few things…but I have time to focus on one, and it’s this: believe it or not, you have the power to affect God’s happiness, God’s contentment. That’s part of the definition of “relational”. What I mean is that God LIKES it when you keep in good relationship with God. Talk to God. Listen to God. Imitate God. Even yell at God – like Job did – when you’re upset. God made you, at least in part, to relate with God, and God WANTS to be in relationship with you.
Aspect #3: God is steadfastly loving and graceful. The first passage of scripture I studied in great depth in seminary led me to a closer examination of our reading from Exodus 20. It probably says something about me that up until that point in my life, when I read these verses, I focused predominantly on God “punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject” God. I just couldn’t figure out how the God of love I heard people talking about in church could say such a thing. Especially for a kid with the justice issues I had, it made no sense that God would punish me for stuff MY PARENTS did.
In that deep study, I shifted my focus to the rest of the sentence: “but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love [God] and keep [God’s] commandments.” Y’all, I don’t have time to go into all the details about why this is true, but I do have time to share the truth of this contrast in Exodus 20:3-4 with you: this is God’s way of telling us that God’s primary nature is of steadfast love, not of punishment. By a simple mathematical equation, the steadfastly loving part of God outweighs the punishing part of God by about 250-300 to 1.
Why does this matter? For starters, forget all the stuff you hear about God being presented as punishing or mean or smiting in the Old Testament. Even in the Old Testament, God is presented as graceful and loving to the end. Even when people became completely evil all the time, God showed grace. Even when God’s people turned away from God in the time of the judges, God sent judges to lead the people back. Even when Israel broke its covenant with God, God showed grace. Y’all, God had sooooo many reasons and sooooo many opportunities to cut and run, but God never did…because God is MORE than loving, God is steadfastly loving…which means all the way to the end.
Aspect #4: God calls and guides people to the best that’s available. Do you remember the 23rd Psalm?
The whole psalm carries the theme presented in verse 2:
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
Leading people, guiding people, calling people to the best possible stuff, it’s not just part of God’s core nature; it’s what God primarily DOES.
Consider Abram from our second scripture reading. Abram seems to have been doing just fine in life: he had a large family, he had acquired quite a few possessions, and his household included many workers. Abram was what would have passed for successful. Yet, God saw even MORE for Abram. God said:
“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”
Abram was doing fine, but God wanted Abram to do GREAT. Even more, God wanted to bless the whole world. So God guided Abram to some things that would set in motion what has become more than three thousand years of blessing upon God’s people.
Surely, you can see what this means for us. God didn’t stop calling and guiding and trying to bless people with Abram, or Moses, or the prophets, or Jesus, or Paul. As part of God’s core nature and activity, God STILL calls to us and guides us to even MORE than what we have, more than what we know. So we should be watching and listening ALL THE TIME for God’s calling God’s guidance.
A little while ago, I suggested that what we think about God and God’s core nature will significantly impact the way we experience the world and the way we live. How does, how can, it impact the way you experience the world to know:
- That the God who created you wants your participation and has even given you a bit of God’s creative spark?
- That the Almighty lord of heaven and earth wants to be in relationship with YOU, that you can even make God’s day just by talking to and listening to God?
- That God loves you, yes you, so incredibly much that God will NEVER give up on you and will keep showing love to you and giving you every possible chance live into the greatness God wants in your life…even when you fall short?
- That God constantly reaches out to you in some way to show you how to live BETTER?
My friends, I hope you see that this knowledge can and SHOULD impact, maybe even change, the way you live in every single future moment of your life. And I hope you discover in God’s core nature some things that will help you cut out the clutter of religious and secular noise all around you.
- When people try to tell you that “life sucks and then you die”;
- When people try to tell you that God hates some group of people or another, and you should, too;
- When people try to tell you the badness of the world negates the possibility of a good God;
- When people try to tell you God is primarily about rules and punishing rule-breakers;
- When you simply experience some of the badness brought to you by the ways of the world;
I hope, I PRAY, that you will cut out the clutter and get back to the basics, the essentials, of who God is and how God works in the world. God is relational and craves relationship with you. God is loving and good. God creates and causes the goodness. God is loving, graceful, and forgiving…all the way to the end of time. And God calls you to know and enjoy the very best in life.
All that other stuff, it’s just noise. It’s just part of the information overload. Amen.