University Congregational Church
Oct. 11, 2015
“Why Christian… God?”
Isaiah 55: 1-9
A kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they drew. She would occasionally walk around to see each child’s work. As she got to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was. The girl replied, “I’m drawing God.” The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.” Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing the girl replied, “They will in a minute.”
If only as adults we could say with such certainty that we knew something about God. And yet, sometimes it seems that the older we get, the less we know about God. Libraries of books have been written about whether or not God even exists and what or who God is. It was Meister Eckhart who said, “The idea of God can become the final obstacle to God”.
Did you know that in every cell of our bodies there exists a very detailed instruction code, much like a miniature computer program? As you may know, a computer program is made up of ones and zeros. The way they are arranged tell the computer program what to do. The DNA code in each of our cells is very similar. It’s made up of four chemicals that scientists abbreviate as A, T, G, and C. These are arranged in the human cell and there are three billion of these letters in every human cell!!
Just like we can program our phones to beep for specific reasons, DNA instructs the cell. DNA is a three-billion-lettered program telling the cell to act in a certain way. It is a full instruction manual.
Why is this so amazing? One has to ask….how did this information program wind up in each human cell? These are not just chemicals. These are chemicals that instruct, that code in a very detailed way exactly how the person’s body should develop.
Natural, biological causes are completely lacking as an explanation when programmed information is involved. You cannot find instruction, precise information like this, without someone intentionally constructing it.
Jan Linn wrote a book entitled “How to be an Open-minded Christian without Losing Your Faith”. Today’s sermon is on what you can believe about God. As we consider “Why Christianity?” this fall, a primary question is why do we believe in a god at all.
I guess a good place to start is with the question: Does God really exist? Some people, of course, reject the existence of God. And they have every right (and possibly reason) to do so. But there are profound reasons to believe in God. A person who believes in God knows that the physical universe and human life can be observed with science but also believes that there is One who gives meaning and purpose to both the universe and human life. This means believing that there is order to life, not chance, but design. That means that believing in God means affirming that intelligence rather than chance gave birth to creation.
I could point to any number of philosophies or reasons one should believe in God, but the fact is that we must believe in God because we choose to – not because God’s existence can be proved. Ultimately, we choose to believe in God as a matter of faith and that claim changes the way we look at everything else. Sam Keen, wrote, “god is not an object to be known or a problem to be solved by human intelligence, but is the ground beneath our capacity to understand anything, the totality within which we live, move and have our being. In truth we cannot know enough to be either theists or atheists. We have no alternative except to decide whether to trust or mistrust this encompassing mystery.” This is the first thing we can believe about God: that God really exists.
But that is only the beginning. What matters as much as if a person believes in God is the kind of God one believes in. There are some people in the city of Wichita who say they are Christian, read the same Bible I do, preach at Christian churches… and yet, when we sit down and have a discussion about God, I get the distinct feeling that we are not talking about the same God at all. To say this is not to judge whether they are right or wrong, simply to say that the way we understand God is critically important. A scripture from at least 2,500 years ago describes the Holy in this way:
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
“Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
This text, and others from the Bible describe God as personal, omni-present, having a free will, gracious and yet not lenient, and as humble. These are the things Jan Linn suggests we can believe about God. We’ll look at each attribute individually.
We can believe that God is personal. George Barna’s research indicates that 95% of the American population believes in God, but only 35% believe in the various images of God found in scripture. The Bible speaks of God in terms of One who can be known, loved, prayed to, and called upon. The Bible speaks of a personal God who knows us so intimately that even the hairs on our heads are numbered. (For me, that’s a smaller figure for God to remember each day!) The Bible tells us that we were created by God for covenantal relationship with God. Our God is an up-close, in-your-face, family kind of God who wants to know us personally.
Next, we can believe that God is not gender-neutral. I’ve preached entire sermons about this one. There are some people, who believe that language about God used in the church should not be the traditional male-dominant language. Others call that being politically correct. The answer many have come to is gender-neutral language. In fact, that is what is required at most mainline seminaries. But seminaries exist to teach theologians. To place a requirement on every person to never use gender-specific or personal words for God is to take away the personal dimension of the God/human relationship.
One of my pet peeves is when my children call me “Mother”. I much prefer “Mom”, “Mommy”, or even “hey you!” It’s probably my midwestern upbringing, but I hear “Mother” as a formal, impersonal title instead of a familial term. Imagine a mother asking her child to call her “parent” instead of Mom or Mother! That is even more removed. The point is that insisting people refer to God as gender-neutral is to depersonalize our relationships with God.
If you call God “father”, “mother”, or any other gender-specific term, it is okay. At the same time, our worship leaders and I will try to keep our language inclusive to maintain the openness for each person worshipping to experience God in their own way.
Another thing we can believe about God is that it is God’s nature to surprise us. The prophet Jeremiah declares that the Babylonians will be the instrument of God to destroy an unfaithful nation, but almost within the same breath speaks of a new covenant God will make with Israel that will never be broken. Priests throw a woman caught in adultery at Jesus’ feet and with self-assuredness tell him what God expects them to do with her. But Jesus asks them to proceed only if there is one among them who is without sin.
If there is anything we can say about God being consistent, it is that God chooses to act with compassion and forgiveness in precisely those ways and circumstances that are unpredictable. And this is a biggie – there is one thing open-minded Christians can trust without fear – that God always errs on the side of love. There is nothing more important than believing this about God. God has no desire to condemn the world… in fact, the Bible tells us that God loves the world … God loves beyond our dreams, extravagantly, without limit. Whatever we might imagine God’s love for us to be, it is far deeper, steadier, gentler. It cannot be manipulated or bargained with. It cannot be earned or lost.
Many people have been so wounded by their experiences of life that love itself seems to be an illusion. The idea of such love of God is baffling to the person who has never experienced unconditional love. God is not at one time angry with us, at another time in a good mood. God is never arbitrary, and does not act on a whim. Although we cannot predict God, we can be assured that God is always and forever loving. What that means is that we will never know in what form we will meet God’s steadfast and enduring love.
Open-minded Christians believe that God expects us to love in the same way we have been loved. God expects us to listen, to pay attention, to act in ways consistent with what we say we believe. Jesus reminded us that we are “to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul” and that we should “love others as we love ourselves.”
In an age when winning is more important than truth, whether in court or in a political campaign, open-minded Christians can be a witness to another way by believing in and devoting ourselves to God’s kind of radical, never-ending truth and love.
Bondi, Roberta C. “To Love as God Loves”. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1987.
Keen, Sam. “Hymns to an Unknown God; Awakening the Spirit in Everyday Life”. New York: Bantam Books. 1994.
Linn, Jan G. “How to Be an Open-minded Christian without Losing Your Faith”. St. Louis: Chalice Press. 2002.