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Friday, 16 September 2011

Sermon, 28 August 2011, Understanding God

Bible Gateway passage: Matthew 16:21-28 - The Message

Bible Gateway passage: Exodus 3:1-15 - New King James Version

God said to Moses, "I-AM-WHO-I-AM. Tell the People of Israel, 'I-AM sent me to you.'"
Do you think that was the answer Moses was looking for?  Does, I am who I am, explain who or what God is?
We are about to meet some talking animals who are experiencing a similar problem – they are trying to understand God.  Are you ready for a story?  No, we don’t have any kids here today, but I’m sure we all like a good story.  So get comfortable and our resident storyteller, Alan, will read you a story…
As you know I have been studying theology and I have to admit it is not easy – at all!  As theology is basically thinking and talking about God – it can get a little overwhelming.  How on earth are we supposed to understand who or what God is?  It’s just too big for me.  I admitted that I felt I wasn’t really succeeding in this understand God stuff to a friend of ours who is a Methodist minister.  He encouraged me by saying “those people who claim they understand God – don’t understand him at all”. 
That is why I found the story of the Old Turtle so endearing.  God is difficult, if not impossible to comprehend.  There is a danger, just like the animals were inclined to do, to pick and choose the characteristics of what we want God to be like – onto God himself.  Instead of God moulding us – we would rather mould him.
I can also relate to Moses in the first reading today too.  Interestingly, Moses didn’t even know God’s name – he had to ask.  He wasn’t too familiar with the God who had just handed him the mammoth mission to lead the people out of Egypt.  Moses urged God to tell him who he was.    The answer “I am who I am” would NOT be the answer that suddenly fill me with confidence!  To me it sounds more like a riddle.
It didn’t really work for Moses either.  Moses and God have quite a discussion and Moses at one point even says “Oh, Master, please!  Send somebody else!”
I read a great commentary on this passage which gives us insight to how God deals with Moses’ fears.  Remember, Moses pleads with God by saying, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”  But, God, AGAIN, doesn’t answer Moses in the way Moses probably would have liked.  Instead of God saying, “come on Moses, you’re fantastic, you are just the man for the job and I am absolutely sure you’ll be fine”.
Instead he says, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’
In other words God basically says …  “You want to know who you are?  Don’t worry about that so much – just know who I am”.  Don’t focus on having confidence in yourself what you really need is need confidence in God and know that he’ll be with you the whole time.   
But to have confidence in someone, something or in God, as humans it’s pretty natural to trust what we know, what we have tested.  Moses didn’t know God.  But he got to know God and went on to be a faithful, dedicated servant of God and together they achieved amazing things.
Poor old Peter in our second reading today seems to be having the same issues.  He just doesn’t get it.   Jesus breaks the news to his closest companions, that soon He will suffer and He will be killed and He will be brought back to life.  Peter reacted in a way that I think most of us would react.  He was shocked and didn’t want to believe a word of it.  He seeks to console himself and Jesus but saying "Impossible, Master! That can never be!"
Jesus responds … "Peter, get out of my way. You have no idea how God works."
Jesus goes on to explain that God is about turning things upside down.  We are not in control, we must let God sit in the driver’s seat.  We are to embrace suffering, instead of running from it.  It’s not about self-help but actually it’s about self-sacrifice.  Those who preach a prosperity gospel must conveniently miss out this passage!  According to a 2006 Time Magazine Poll, 17 percent of Americans claim to be Christian and 61 percent agree that God wants us to be prosperous.  It’s not saying, put on your “Jesus loves you” badge and convince yourself that everything will come up roses. 
The more familiar translations read, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”.
But Jesus’ cross wasn’t metaphorical one.  It was real and he would die an agonising death on it to make it possible for you and I to have a meaningful relationship with God.
God sent Jesus to bridge the gap.  We cannot ever hope to grasp the greatest of God.  But as we are lucky enough to know, he made himself human for us.  We can relate to the human side of Jesus, his relationship with his friends and family, his frustrations, his oppression, his happiness and his suffering.  This is much easier to comprehend that his divine moments, when he heals, walks on water, transforms people and speaks of the Kingdom of God.
But like Moses and Peter, we don’t need to understand it all at once.  God knows us inside out.  God is all knowing.  We need to start putting our trust in him instead being obsessed with figuring God out.  It sounds like a cop-out but it’s not.  Because the more we get on with life, trust and walk with God, the more we will get to know him.  But we have to keep moving with God to do that.
For me the gospel isn’t about an easy ride.  But it is about being able to live life with a confidence that we are God’s children and he loves us – whatever life throws at us.  Yes, we will still grieve, we will still be hurt by other people and ourselves, we will doubt and we will still get sick - but we are never alone.  We too have to take on board what God said to Moses – don’t worry about yourself and your own weaknesses – focus on me – I am with you always.
This quote I have borrowed from Luther sums it up well: 

Even if my faith is weak, I still have exactly the same treasure and the same Christ as others.  There is no difference ... It is like two people, each of whom owns a hundred gold coins.  One may carry them around in a paper sack, the other in an iron chest.  But despite these differences, they both own the same treasure.  Thus the Christ who you and I own is one and the same, irrespective of the strength or weakness of your faith or mine.
Let us pray:
Lord, help us to focus on you, on your strengths and your greatness.
Help us to understand that your love is often not what we expect it to be. 
And when we forget – remind us of your love. 
Let us enjoy our journey together and we thank you for revealing yourself to us step by step.

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