Monday, July 18, 2016

Sermon for July 17, 2016

UCC Beliefs: God Is Still Speaking
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 2 Timothy 3:16 (NLT)
Do you ever wonder if God still speaks to people? I once had a friend who heard the voice of God. His name was Willie. Willie always made me a little nervous because the things God told him were not very pleasant. God told Willie a lot about judgment and death, plagues, and deadly diseases. No, Willie’s God was not a happy God, and Willie let us know it. For the most part, the messages he shared made me nervous for selfish reasons. I was afraid God was going to tell Willie some secret detail of my past, and I didn’t want to be around if the voice of God was going to embarrass me, with Willie as God’s mouthpiece. Let’s just say I haven’t always been the angel I am today.

Now, when people say God spoke to them, I wonder if they just heard what they wanted to hear, or whether those voices and visions were the product of all that spicy food the night before. We walk a fine line when trying to figure out whether God speaks. If someone claims to hear the voice of God directly, we usually consider the person to be a fanatic or demented. The other side of the line is that we want to hear from God. In our age of competing spiritualities, we want to know that the God we worship is real and involved in our lives. We desire God to communicate a message of love directly to our hearts.

T.M. Luhrmann, an anthropologist trained in psychology had the same questions. She wondered: How is it that otherwise rational and logical people are convinced they hear from an invisible being—in the face of profound and vast evidence to the contrary? Luhrmann took her research into the field. She attended services and various small group meetings at a local charismatic church. She interviewed worshippers, sat through prayer vigils, watched people do bizarre things in attempts to communicate with God, and walked away with a profound sense of mystery and awe in people’s experience of the divine. About a third of the people she interviewed reported an unusual sensory experience they associated with God. While they found these experiences startling, they also found them deeply reassuring. After her experience, Luhrmann said she was impressed with the thoughtfulness with which people talked about hearing from God. They were acutely aware they might be wrong. In her research, there was a sense of discerning God's voice, which meant that people were not to take what could be hurtful to other people or to oneself as a word of God.

In the UCC, we have a slogan that sums up how we think about God’s willingness to communicate with us. We say, “God is still speaking,” Now, there’s a punctuation mark in our motto. God is still speaking {comma} … not {.} … not {!} … not {?} … but {,}. In grammar, a comma places a badly needed pause between parts of sentence.  It’s a moment of brief suspense, a quick rest to prepare for the next clause. In the UCC, that comma summarize how we listen for God’s action in the world.

Many of us were taught that God stopped speaking to us when the Bible was closed to any additions around 390 CE. We were taught God placed a firm period on any new revelation. Everything we need to know about God’s will is found in the Bible. Period. In the UCC, we say, “Everything we need to know about God’s will is found in the Bible, comma ... but there is still more light and truth to break forth from God’s word.” When we think that God only ends sentences with periods, we get ourselves into the old Christian habit of excluding people.  The continuing witness to Jesus Christ that we proclaim today is that the old prejudices that functioned to deny God’s grace for some people are false and sinful, even when they find some isolated, flimsy textual support in the Bible. We proclaim that love overcomes legalism every single time. God’s love is universal and unconditional.  All are welcome at God’s table regardless of gender, race, sexual identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, or any other feature of a person’s particular humanity. Once we shift how we punctuate our faith, we have hope and inclusion instead of an immovable boundary. Have there been times when you punctuated your faith with a period rather than a comma? I’m sure we are all guilty of that….many times guilty of that. The UCC believes we should never put a period where God has put a comma, because God is still speaking.

Here are three quick reasons why I think God still speaks to us today. First, God is not done with you yet. There's more good news to be heard in your life!
  • No matter how old you are, God is not done with you yet
  • No matter how insignificant you think your problems are, God cares about them and is working within you to work them out. God is not done with you yet.
  • No matter what your limitations, there is a way for you to participate in fulfilling God’s aims for the world. God is not done with you yet.
  •  No matter how uncertain you are about what comes next, God knows there is hope for your future. God is not done with you yet.
  • On those days when you think you are a lost cause, even if you have given up on God, that’s when God does her best work. God is working in the waiting, in the silence, when it seems that nothing is happening. God is not done with you yet.
Second, God is not done with the church yet. There's more good news to be heard in our life together! There are no perfect churches and no perfect pastors. But God who is love, God who is good, is not done with us yet. God’s love is changing our lives and building us into a community of love and faith. It’s the example of Jesus that keeps us going. It’s the Spirit who stretches us and empowers us to be lovers of all, healers of hearts, channels of peace, seekers of truth, and laborers for justice. Each of us here – we are imperfect people who’ve experienced God’s love and chosen to follow God’s way through Jesus. We’ve seen God’s love and work in our own lives and in our church, and we can’t wait to see what she will do next. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin reminded us, “ … trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability — and that it may take a very long time.” In other words, be patient. Have hope. God is not done with us yet.

So, God is not done with you. God is not done with us. Lastly, here is an important, wonderful, confusing reason why God still speaks today. God is not even done with God yet. God has more good news for God’s self.

Some of our Christian ancestors handed us an untenable orthodoxy. They taught us that God is omniscient, omnipresent,  and omnipotent. In other words, God is all-knowing and all-powerful, everywhere, at all times. When we use words like almighty and omnipotent, we almost always connect that with controlling everything. We start confusing God’s power with the power of force rather than the power of love. At best, we experience god like an over-functioning parent who never leaves a child alone, but constantly hovers, over-protects, guides, and counsels. The intimacy of this omnipresent god is stifling, as this god plans every detail of our lives without our input. That’s the best scenario.

At worst, the all powerful, all knowing, every-present god we’ve been taught to fear is silent to tears of injustice and the venom of violence that poisons our world.  If god is all-powerful, then god sees injustice and chooses to ignore it. How could there be suffering if god really does care about us and has the power to make it better?  When I see someone I love suffering I want to make it better and will do what is in my power to help.  Why doesn’t god? I think the all-powerful god failed us. It’s time for us to abandon the adolescent belief that god gives good to the good and sends the plague upon the wicked.  An omnipotent deity is not capable of genuine relationships or love.  Loving relationships require mutual openness, shared vulnerability, and shared risk.  The god of unlimited power always asks us to yield our selves, but doesn’t seem to give much in return for our unwavering obedience.

The God I worship is a God of relationship –a God who shares power with us instead of using power to punish us. My God is present in all things, but God’s presence leaves room for growth, creativity, freedom.  In my experience God is that creative and transforming power in my life, ever new, ever leading me to put my faith and trust in the beckoning future.  And if our relationship is truly mutual, then God grows as I grow, as you grow, as we all grow into a more compassionate, peace-building humanity.

As people of the still-speaking God, we affirm the ways that God still moves through our world, even through us—opening new possibilities, bringing healing to places of violence and despair. With God we can transform the dominating culture of death into a life-sustaining community of grace and peace. God still leads us to places where hope, faith, forgiveness and justice have been abandoned.

In other words, God is not done with you yet. God is not done with us yet. God is not even done with God yet. We are, together as God and humanity, still listening, still growing, still changing, still speaking.



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