Beliefs to Believe In: God Made Me
A rabbi once remarked to a minister, "Itís tough to be a Jew here. We are forever telling our children, `Thatís fine for everyone else, but itís not fine for you. You are special. You are different. You are a Jew. You have a different story. A different set of values.í" In order to preserve their identity, and gain a sense of confidence, direction, and integrity as a Jew, Judaism has developed strong family units, an extensive educational system known as Hebrew schools, and distinctive liturgies and celebrations.
We United Methodists have a 60-minute per week Sunday School that is attended irregularly and rarely includes homework, i.e. work with parents, and liturgies and celebrations that have become so secularized we can hardly find Christ among the Santas and Easter bunnies.
My plea this morning and through this sermon series which I am beginning today is that we Christians stop assuming we live in a Christian society, recognize we are aliens on this planet, and begin telling our children, telling one another, and telling ourselves, the words of the rabbi, "Such behavior may be fine for everyone else, but itís not fine for you. You are special. You are different. You are a Christian. You have a different story, a different set of values."
For too long we have yielded, surrendered, to the worldís values and beliefs. The church has become a microcosm of middle class America giving a nod to God. Some may feel this identification with the world was appropriate two or three generations ago, but it is not working today. There is just too much going on out there to which Christians must say, "NO!"
In the last analysis, we are aliens in this world. The church is a colony. In order to survive, we need--and our children and grandchildren need--a clearer understanding, a clearer theology of what we believe and value. Yes, we live in the world and we participate as citizens of the United States, the state of California, and our respective communities. We go to the public schools, we support the Childrenís Theater, we read library books, we take dance lessons and go to movies, we root for Stanford, the 49ers and the Aís!! Yes, we live in this world and we participate, but we Christians need to know what is right and what is wrong, we need to know how to choose between what is good and what is bad, we need to know to what we can say "yesí and to what we must say "no." We need to know what can remain the same, and what needs changing. Itís not a question of how similar we are to the world, but how different we are. Itís not a question of how we fit in, but how we differ.
My current heroine is C. W. Roddy of East Palo Alto, who stands up to the drug dealers. She sees herself as a Christian alien. She puts her faith into action. She knows what she believes. She knows what is right and what is wrong, and she has courage. The other day she was quoted as not being afraid to die. She said, "When God says itís your time, thatís it!" Thatís it, indeed. When youíre not afraid to die, then you are truly free to live. You are free to serve God, free to live as Christ calls you and the Holy Spirit empowers you. You are free because no one and no thing can touch you when youíre not afraid to die.
Iím calling this series of sermons, BELIEFS TO BELIEVE IN, beliefs of the Christian colony, beliefs that help you understand who and what you are. I began this sermon series this morning when I baptized Scott. I decided to expand the blessing printed in the hymnal. Do you recall what I said? It was something like, "Scott, today God has reached out and claimed you. You are special. You are different. God made you. Jesus loves you, and the Holy Spirit is with you. Your life will be an adventure, filled with surprises, as God leads you to become a disciple of Jesus Christ."
This morning in particular, let us consider God, what we believe about God, what makes us distinctive. What is the nature and the work of God? The answer begins with what God is not. God is not a man. God is not an old man in the sky who coincidentally looks like Santa Claus. God is not the man upstairs, nor is God a woman. God is neither male nor female, but because we are human beings we use human language when we speak of God. We can do little else, because we are limited as humans. Some of the language we have used about God has been detrimental and not helpful.
We are beginning to use less masculine language in reference to God, knowing that God is not a he with masculine tendencies. Did you ever take those horrid tests in school that supposedly told you how masculine or how feminine you were? If you liked football, cars and construction work, you were masculine. If you liked music, art, and poetry, you were feminine! Can you imagine the harm done to a young man to be told he is feminine? We have tried to do the same with God, and done considerable harm using words and concepts that suggest God is masculine--macho, tough, harsh, unapproachable, judgmental, rather than caring, warm, and compassionate.
The Bible likens God to a father, as in the Prodigal Son story, but the Bible also likens God to a mother. Isaiah 66:12, "You will be like a child that is nursed by its mother, carried in her arms, and treated with love. I will comfort you in Jerusalem, as a mother comforts her child." God is like a mother, not just a father. God is both, neither masculine nor feminine. God is not male or female. In fact, God is not a person. To go even further, God is not a being at all. God is not a heavenly being, in some form none of us could describe. Nor is God a principle, an abstract principle or a theory.
Therefore, if God is not a man, a person, a being, or a principle, what is God? What is Godís nature? I believe God is that power, force, energy, process, dynamic energy from which everything comes and to which everything goes. Jesus said, "God is spirit." God is spirit whom we know in three ways as the Trinity. We are Trinitarian Christians, and this belief is very important, for this belief distinguishes us from other religions. Donít let this belief frighten you. Each of you is known in different ways. Right now, you know me as preacher. Some of you know me as pastor. Three sons know me as father, and one person here this morning knows me as husband. I am known differently, yet I am still one person. We know God in three ways as the Trinity. We know God as the creator through nature. We know God through Jesus who was God in the flesh. We know God as the Holy Spirit who is with us now and who empowers us in special ways.
Furthermore, some of us have the kind of minds that find it difficult to visualize spirit or energy, especially when we pray. Rather than visualizing an old man who looks like Santa Claus, we Christians can visualize Jesus. We believe Jesus is the best picture God ever took. None of us knows what Jesus looked like, but we at least know he was a human being and a Middle Eastern Jew. So, I doubt Jesus had blond hair and blue eyes like some artists portray. Based on your picture of Jesus as you read about him in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you can visualize God, because God chose to reveal himself to us human beings within our limitations by coming to this earth in the person of the human, Jesus.
Because of the experience of the biblical Hebrews who later were known as Israelites, and because of the person, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we believe the chief characteristic, the dominant quality of God is love. The most profound concept we believe about God is that God is love. Whatever God does, it is done in love for the benefit of, for the sake of, for the improvement, for the salvation of his creation. Therefore, to summarize, God is the spirit, the energy from which everything comes, known to us in three ways as the Trinity, whose chief characteristic is love.
Now, what does God do? What is Godís work? God creates, saves and judges. God is the Creator, Savior, and Judge. This morning, we look at Godís creating. God creates. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and God is still creating, still fashioning, all there is. The process by which God creates is not important to our faith. The two creation stories in Genesis were not intended to describe the process by which God creates. The myths do not tell us how God created. The purpose of the stories is to proclaim who is doing the creating. The second story in Genesis which includes Adam and Eve also tells us what went wrong with the creation. There are those today who are intent on making science out of Genesis. As far as I am concerned, I believe that the God of Jesus created and is creating. Let the scientists tell us how.
How exciting to live in a time when our knowledge of the vastness and majesty of Godís creation is expanding. One of the most spectacular examples of Godís creation is you! God made you. God did not choose to make someone else when God made you. God made you. Your life has infinite value and worth because God made you. When you feel discouraged, when you feel disillusioned, when you doubt what you are good for or what you are here on this earth for, when you feel unworthy, when you feel you have no talents or gifts, when you feel ugly, when you are sure that others are more beautiful or more handsome than you, when you feel like junk, then remember, and say to yourself over and over, "God made me." God made me. God made me. God made me.
God, the almighty, omnipotent creator of all there is, God who is creative, dynamic energy called Spirit, and known as the Trinity, made me. God made, with whatever process God uses and that process is not finished, me. God made me, just as I am, with all my wrinkles, blemishes, pimples, warts, problems, failings, shortcomings, sins. GOD MADE ME. Say it aloud with me, like a creed. GOD MADE ME.
ã 1990 Douglas I. Norris