Sermons

Sun, May 27, 2018

Worshipping the 'true' God

Series:Sermons

What sort of image do you have of God?

How do you picture God?

 

Perhaps you don't have a mental picture at all.

Perhaps God is somewhat vague and distant...

indiscriminate...

formless...

simply there.

And yet, I suspect that many of us do think in terms of particular images or metaphors.

We may think of God as Creator...

as a companion...

as a guardian or guide...

as a provider or protector.

We may picture God as--

or use the language of-- 

king, lord, or judge.

Many of us probably picture God in parental terms--

in particular, as Father--

which may, of course, have different connotations for each us...

depending on what our own fathers were like.

But I suspect that, for many of us who have grown up in the church...

and who have listened to pulpit-thumping and finger-shaking preachers...

our image of God is perhaps of a strict, old-fashioned, disciplinarian-

a sort-of cosmic head-master--

threateningly standing over us with a big stick...

forever telling us not to do this or that...

stifling our spirits...

our natural curiosity...

and our enjoyment of life.

Because, for many of us who have grown up in the church... 

we have been constantly reminded that we stand in need of God's forgiveness.

After all, that's why Jesus supposedly died--

because we're all sinners.

And the do's and the don'ts--

the list of sins--

that we have been warned against or told to repent of has been long and detailed...

encompassing almost every part of life.

And, whether we're conscious of it or not, that whole scenario-- 

that we're all sinners in need of God's forgiveness,

and apart from the death of Jesus and our faith in it...

we're destined for eternal damnation--

that's largely been based on Paul's letter to the Romans.

And yet, I think that it's been based on something of a misconception.

In reading Romans, it's clear that Paul is concerned with the human plight--

for which he does use the term "sin".

But he's not speaking, essentially, about what you or I do.

For Paul, sin isn't about getting angry with someone...

or telling a little white lie...

or living with someone before you're married...

let alone being gay and in a committed relationship.

Rather, for Paul, sin is about humanity getting it wrong.

It's about us worshipping and serving the created rather than the Creator.

In other words, for Paul, sin is humanity turning in on itself.

It's about us putting ourselves at the centre of our world.

It's us thinking and living as though everything revolved around us.

It's us treating ourselves as gods--

to be reverenced...

worshipped...

and served...

at the cost of everything else.

In short, sin is self-idolatry. 

And that's what Paul is talking about in our reading this morning.

When he contrasts 'flesh' and 'Spirit'...

he's not talking about two aspects of human nature. 

Rather, he's talking about two orientations--

two modes of existence...

two ways of living.

"To live according to the flesh" is to live in sin...

that is...

to be turned in on ourselves...

to live with us at the centre...

with everything revolving around us...

with everything revolving around me.

And, Paul declares, such a way of living--

focussed on bodily, creaturely existence...

centred on us...

on me--

inevitably leads to death. 

Because, when our existence is centred on self...

then everything centres on my needs, my desires, and my wants.

And when each of us is turned in on ourselves--

centred on self...

worshipping self--

then death rules our life.

We kill--

physically... 

socially...

emotionally...

spiritually.

We turn other people--

other creatures...

other things--

into sacrificial victims for the god of self.

We sacrifice others on the altar of our selfish needs and desires...

of our fulfilment...

and of our security. 

We all do--

individually and collectively.

We have done it throughout history, and we continue to do it...

be it Nazi Germany and the Jews...

Apartheid in South Africa...

ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda;

or, closer to home, the treatment of Aboriginal people...

the mandatory detention of asylum seekers...

and, of course, domestic violence.

And, left to our own devices, nothing would change.

That's how we would remain--

turned in on ourselves...

worshipping and serving the god of self...

and sacrificing others to that god.

But, Paul declares, through the person of Jesus Christ-

symbolically, sacramentally, God among us, God as one of us- 

we discover what it really means to be human.

We discover what human life was meant to be.

We discover how we were intended to live together:

not with violence and death, but with peace;

not with manipulation and exploitation, but with love.

Through Jesus, we perceive how we were intended to relate to God, the Creator--

without being turned in on ourselves;

without being self-absorbed or self-centred;

without sacrificing others to meet our needs or to prop up our privileged way of life;

and without living under the fear of death.

Paul describes this way of living as being "led by the Spirit".

In other words, the God who dwells with us--

the God who dwells in us--

invites us to discover a re-directed and re-oriented life;

not a life oriented toward self...

but a life oriented towards God.

We're invited to see ourselves in a new way.

We're invited into a new relationship with God;

a renewed relationship with God--

not as some ill-defined or distant force;

not as someone or something to be cajoled or bargained with;

not as someone or something to be feared...

standing over us with a big stick...

ready to smack us if we say or do the wrong thing.

That's only reflecting our own image back onto God.

That's creating a God in our own image.

Rather, we're invited to enjoy a relationship with God not just as a Creator--

however we conceive of that--

but as a loving, caring Parent in whom we can trust.

We're invited to see ourselves as God's children.

We're invited to learn... 

to grow... 

to become more Christ-like--

in other words, to become truly human...

truly alive.

We're invited to reorient our lives...

and our thinking...

and our values...

and our behaviour--

our whole way of being human, both individually and corporately.

 

And it's only when we do--

it's only when we reorient our lives to God's way of thinking and seeing--

that the greed...

the hatred...

the self-seeking...

the grasping for power...

the creating and maintaining of divisions...

the exploitation and abuse of others...

the victimisation of the weak and expendable...

the sacrificing of others for our self-fulfilment and self-interest...

will be put aside.

It's only when we reorient our life toward God--

when we see in Jesus our true identity and our true destiny...

and when our existence is shaped by the 'Spirit'--

that we will truly experience life;

life as it was intended to be.

And only then will Paul's great hope--

for reconciliation...

for restoration...

for peace...

not just for humanity, but for the whole of creation--

be fulfilled.

And it's only then that we will truly worship God--

and worship the true God.

 

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