Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Here is the sermon preached August 17, 2008 at the Church of the Ascension in Upper Saranac Lake New York. I will be preaching there again this coming Sunday August 24th as well.

Summer Theology 101

1. "Where Is God?"

2. "What Does God Do?"

Psalm 139

Phillipians 4:10-14

This morning I have two simple questions for you - they're simple only in how they're worded - they're as complex in their answer as each of us is complex. They're questions that I would encourage you to lift up with thoughtful imagination - as if you were running to lift a kite into the air. And if I lose you to even one of those thoughts - and you don't return back to planet earth for the duration of this whole sermon - thinking about these two questions will more than justify your "drift time".

So here's our questions:

1. Where is God in your life?

2. What does God do in your life?

Now set your mental kites flying while I explain.

First; where is God in your life? Social scientists are beginning to recognize that there is a very basic sense in the human spirit which acknowledges and even seeks out a "higher power". After all the arguments of the steadfast atheist - that he or she is it - that this is it - that my here and now and who is all there is - that what I can now touch and taste and smell is the full extent of life - when the atheist has fallen back into his or her chair breathless from making the point - there around in the corner of his or her mind are still those nagging questions - those powerful realities - of who created, of what created the stars in the sky - the fingers of a newborn baby - the delight of human love - and the frightening questions of what happens past the dark doorway of death. I believe the only difference between the thoughts of the atheist and a person of faith is the degree to which these questions are answered such as: where is God in your life?

A person who is convinced that God is not in their life or for that matter that God doesn't exist at all - still lives with the constant prick of the question - through all the experiences in life and let me be clear - I'm not talking about this view negatively. I respect other people's opinions and beliefs - and in fact - believe many atheistic thinkers where created by some very genuine responses to religious people. Contrary to a great deal of religious paranoia about things like teaching evolution in the classroom or school prayer - these are not the primary instigators of a person believing that God is nowhere. These sorts of thoughts are more commonly planted by dysfunctional religious practice. Things like claiming God is the creator of the earth and then watching God's created beings treat this creation like a trash heap. This sort of thing comes from watching those who claim to be religious and specifically claim to follow a God of love - act with bitterness and hatred. It comes from observing those who follow a compassionate savior, judging and criticizing the behavior of others - as if they were chosen as judge and jury on behalf of that savior. In other words - those of us who claim God is . . . somewhere and somehow hold an awesome responsibility to live lives consistent with our claim. And that those who claim to believe that God is not - have likely come to their answer because of the bad press so called "believers" have lived out in their lives. But even here I believe the door isn't completely shut but I warn - it also doesn't open wider simply by words - but by the witness of faithful lives.

Where is God in your life? Most of us gathered here obviously believe God is present somewhere within the universe of our lives. But where?

For some this is so very personal and for some this is so very abstract - again - one way isn't necessarily better than the other - they're just different in perspective. But where or how was it - or is it - that God has felt most real to you in your life?

There have been a number of occasions in my life where I have felt God quite present. I'd like to share one simple and quite innocent remembrance in order to set our kites flying a little higher.

It was a beautiful summer day when I was about 15 - full of idealism and still a little unsure of who I really was. That day I had just had my fill of my parents who didn't know anything [just the way I don't know anything these days]. We were camping for two weeks which for most families is a bit beyond the limit - and so after having had enough I decided to take the day and go for a hike. I needed my "space" and Mom and Dad didn't object [obviously they needed space from me as well]. In retrospect they were probably relieved! [not that I wasn't a model child mind you]. As I hiked I mulled over my annoyance - my anger - my frustration. The walking seemed to pump it all up with the physical exhaustion of climbing which that caught up with the mental exhaustion of my emotional churning.

I had already come to know those Catskill Mountain trails as old friends so that when mind and body began to rebel - I found a favorite ledge called Artist's Rock and there I dropped my day pack - leaned against a large boulder - sipped some water from my water bottle and drank in the absolutely gorgeous panoramic view which that ledge opened to me beyond the trees. I looked out to see other majestic mountains - the Hudson River snaking through the valley - small villages of homes which looked like they came from a Monopoly set. The sun was bright and the breeze was warm. My body began to relax. My mind began to let go of the small things which had been cluttering it. Slowly the thoughts began to progress - remorse - "I really do love Mom and Dad - even those two brothers [dumb as they are]." I began to let all of that go [any of this sound familiar?]. As I emptied myself [unintentional as it was] new thoughts began to emerge. I thought: "My God, how awesome this world is."

I meant that literally: "My God - God who I had known - my God - creator of beauty - you made all of this."

I began to think about my thoughts: I always knew I believed in God - but I hadn't been thinking about it too much - too busy piecing an adolescent life together - but that afternoon - I was conscious of how solidly I believed God is.

In the gift of that beautiful view - which had inspired artists for generations before me - and in the gift of being alone - my thoughts drifted into prayer - prayer that was deeper than particular words - prayer that became communion - God was present - not physically - like the angel who wrestled with Jacob by the brook and not just present as a distant creator - the master artist of this glorious canvas before my eyes. God was present in a real and personal and unexplainable way - I knew God was there. I felt heard and known - kept and comforted. I knew then - God was and is and ever shall be present in my life.

This is what the Psalmist wanted us to know. He or she was trying to express this kind of experience of God - not to convince someone who would later read this poem - but simply because it was an experience to be told - to be shared. I think it's why Allison chose this Psalm.

"Where ever I go - O Lord - you know me - sitting - sleeping - arguing - hiking - crying - praying - you are there - you created me - you walk with me through the dark times - and through the pleasant places. It's an awesome thought. You - O God - not only exist - but you are active in my life.

Our question: where is God in your life?

Our second question: what does God do in your life and mine is? - by it's nature - dependent upon the answer to our first question. Only as we recognize God as present. When our eyes and hearts recognize God's presence - then we can see God's activity.

Come back to that mountain ledge. I slowly began to physically feel uncomfortable. The rock backrest began to feel like rock - my hindquarters began to feel numb from the hard seat. It was clearly time to get up and move. So I did. The walking felt good. My thoughts had changed. There was this strange eagerness to see my family again. The other - deeper thoughts - which weighed on my teenage mind - began to lighten. I felt better about myself. Some of the worry and doubts receded. I felt a bit like the Apostle Paul when he wrote [also Allison's choice] in his letter to the Phillipians 4:13: "I can do all things through him who strengthens me". He knew what tough times were like - and he knew what being in the presence of God was like - and Paul knew that even the toughest of times and circumstances would not hold back the power of life which we come to know through God's presence - especially God's presence in the person and spirit of Jesus.

Where is God in your life?

What does God do in your life?

Keep those kites flying - those hearts open - those minds thinking - those spiritspraying - and may your landing be graceful, comforting and empowering. Amen.

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