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Heed the Cry!
September 11, 2022

First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto

JOHN 4:21-24

For years I have been bothered by the plural “are or art” in the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Creator who art in heaven.” Are? Does that mean there is more than one Creator, more  than one Father?  But, the Lord’s Prayer is not about God, prayer is to God. If it were about God, Jesus would have said, “Our Father, who is in heaven.” But the prayer is to God. We will sing “How Great Thou Art” which means “How great you are.” In the prayer, “you” is understood. Try inserting  in your mind “you” (or “thou”). “Our Creator, you who are in Heaven”. The Church of England solves the confusion by praying,  “Our Father in heaven.”

Today is Rally Day, a time to begin again and a good time to remind us of the basics. Let me talk about God this morning.

Harry Emerson Fosdick, a renowned preacher of the 20th century, was told by a young man that he didn't believe in God. Rather than arguing with him, Fosdick asked him to describe the god he didn't believe in. When he finished, Fosdick said, “I don't believe in that god either.”

Fosdick's response must have been very reassuring to the young man. His honest doubts were not dismissed, but affirmed. Hopefully, the conversation propelled him to authenticate his doubts, and get permission to develop his own belief system.

The young man is not the only one doubting. Christianity is in sharp decline in America, according to new research from the Pew Research Center. The number of Americans who identify as Christian has fallen by 13 million over the last 10 years while those who are not affiliated with any religion grew by 30 million, and the trend holds across race, gender, education, and geography. Perhaps increasing numbers find they don't believe in the god they used to, that what they were taught about God isn’t relevant to the world in which they. And the tragedy is they no longer consider themselves Christians.

Over the years, I've heard many parents and grandparents lament how their children and grandchildren no longer go to church. Can you imagine what the attendance would be this morning if all the children and youth who were raised in this church and live in the area were here? They probably don't go so far as to not believe in God but the God they believe in and our church are no longer relevant to them.

Let me talk about God this morning. Beginning with what God is not, God is not a man. God is not an old man with a beard up in the sky who happens to resemble Santa Claus. God is not a woman. In fact, God is not a person. God is not a being. We have been taught that God is the Supreme Being, but God is not a being, not a person, not a thing, not a statue. God is not a place, like Jerusalem. In fact, God is not a noun—not a person, or place or thing.

What is God? God is a verb. God is acting. God is spirit. Jesus said, John 4.24, “God is spirit.” Not a man, woman, being, place or thing. He didn’t say that God is a spirit, but God is spirit, not as a noun but spirit as a verb, energy acting. God is not a spirit off in the sky somewhere. God is in your life “verbing”--moving, acting, energy.

Nikos Kazantzakis, in his book The Saviors of God, calls God the Cry. God is the Cry deep within you, deep within the universe, the relentless, persistent, throbbing, pulsating Cry within all life, crying, "Stand up. Be free. Live. Create." I like the concept of "cry" better than "will." God is not up there somewhere on a cloud, or above the clouds, willing or decreeing. God is not making this decree or that decree—“You shall do this; you shall not do that.”

God is not decreeing that bad things happen to good people. God is not punishing someone by giving them cancer. God is not decreeing that a child be killed in a drive-by or school shooting. “Why is God punishing me” is an irrelevant question. God is not manipulating events to punish you. A pastor asked a man who was suffering what he had done wrong. Blame the victim is a popular American pastime. Another pastor prayed for healing and when the person was not healed, the pastor told her it was her fault because she didn't have enough faith! There are a lot of strange, vicious beliefs about God! 

No, God is not out there somewhere willing, decreeing, punishing . God is not out there demanding blind faith with no doubts or questions. God is totally involved. God is spirit, God is energy, God is that Cry within you, within every being, within every atom, within every molecule crying, “Get up and move.” I believe God is within the cancer bringing healing, bringing good out of evil. The Cry is involved in what you do, how you feel, how you react. God is in every heartache. God is in every child crying for food, crying for love. God is in every youth looking for acceptance. God is in every mistake, in every humiliation, in every pain. God is there, crying, "Get up! You can do it. Follow Jesus into tremendous adventures.”

God is in the First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto crying “Get up! Get moving!” Yes, we have problems. Yes, we have lost members, but don’t live in the past. Today is Rally Day. Let’s rally our forces! Press on! Full steam ahead! Reach out. Invite your children, your grandchildren to church. There are families in your neighborhood who need Jesus. There are children, youths, young adults, young couples who need Jesus, who need the message of this church, who need the love of this church, who need encouraging Christians to stand by them, stand with them. Do you have neighbors who have no church? Do you even know what church they have? It is an easy conversation, “Do you have a church?” Invite them; bring them with you. 

Open your hearts, open your arms. God has work for you to do and God cries for you to do it with faith and courage, knowing that when you do reach out, you might get criticized or clobbered. But, God pushes you. Or, is your god a comfortable old shoe you put on to make you feel good? Is your god a bumbling old fool who loves you anyway, who never holds you accountable, who lets you get away with wasting your life, who allows you to rationalize all your behavior and attitudes, who allows you to manipulate your god around your little finger! 

No, God is that Cry within you—crying “get up, get moving, follow Jesus.” Do you want just enough religion to be respectable, but want little to do with the Creator who made you, the Jesus who loves you, and the Holy Spirit who powers you to do God's work? As we sang in the hymn, “God of love and God of power, you have called us for this hour.”

You have two choices this morning—individually and together as the First United Methodist Church. Two choices: You can stifle the Cry. Tell God to go away and pick on someone else. Lord, leave me alone. Or, you can choose to heed the Cry, and follow. Get outside of yourself and follow Jesus. Yes, Lord. I will follow you. I'll go where you want me to go and do what you want me to do.

Which do you choose? Leave me alone, or I will get up and go.

© 2022 Douglas I. Norris