When You’ve Found Him, Bring Me Word – Not in Shrines of Our Making

We know the story. The little Sunday School kid is asked the question, "Where is God?" The answer, "I don't care what my sister told you, I don't have him!" Well, suppose we ask more deeply. What would our place and time have to say? We would hope, in these post-Christmas days, the answer is, God is in Christ. Truthfully, only about 1 person in six would say that. And only 1/2 that number worship or pray through him with any regularity. In fact, there is doubt in many quarters whether God is anywhere, and from whence God springs. We've been asking, since coming to the manger ourselves, what is our response to Jesus? And what is the world's. Matthew was perhaps the first to ask and answer. He reports, on the one hand, those who want to worship and adore. (We Three Kings!) On the other hand (please hiss for Herod…), there's the do-Jesus-in approach, literally or just by isolating, ignoring or misrepresenting him. Last week we traced the response of those who choose to follow David's more than Bethlehem's Star. And we spoke of the relationship between Christ-ians and our Jewish parents in the faith. Today we look at the way the secular world looks on God/Jesus. And the way we who follow Jesus relate to the secular world. Allow me this counsel. Don't fret over the dialogue between church and synagogue, or even mosque, near so much as the mall. Our souls and our children's, the souls of all the earth's children, are in far dearer peril from the commerce of the market and the market of the secular mind, than at any other turn. (All other faith journeys notwithstanding!) The bedrock purpose of this message is to help us see this. God does not live and is not to be praised in shrines of our own making. God reveals himself. And most and best of all in Jesus Christ. My purpose is to have us, help us, witness to that word everywhere we work, study and play. And to prepare and train our children to know and do the same.  

This subject's too big for one message. But we can point the way. 'Start the conversation. 'Sound the alert. WE declare that God is God, revealing Godself in Christ. God doesn't need to be found, invented, boundried, bought. 'Not possessed, or persuaded. God is God, good all the time, on our side, not our back. Cue Paul.

"The God who made the world and everything in it does not live in shrines made by man. Nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything. He gives life to all, breath, everything. He made from one every nation … that we should seek God, hoping we might feel after and find him. Yet he is not far from us. 'In him we live and move and have our being for we are indeed his offspring.' So we ought not to think God is like gold, silver, or stone, represented by our art or imagination. God has overlooked our ignorance. But now he commands us all everywhere to repent, because he's penciled in the day he'll judge the world. He'll do it by the One he's appointed. If you doubt it, consider this. He's already raised him from the dead!" Wow! If there's a briefer way to say what we believe and contrast it to the Unbelieving World, it's not in Scripture. And I don't know it.  

Not in shrines of our own making. That's the key insight that distinguishes us from (shall we say) the UNChristmas, regular world. The culture of our times often pretends to no God at all. In fact, it is in the business of inventing god(s) every day. The very word God decribes what we hold as ultimately true, valuable, important, lasting. What would you list as the god(s) of our age? [Power, money, influence? Our closets would shout clothes, our parking lots, cars. Our schools, test scores and grades. Our "shrinks", happiness, self-actualization. Depending on your age, our parents might say good jobs, good mates… and don't forget grandkids! Our bankers want collateral. Our financial advisors a great 401K. And everybody with health issues might just bow down to a Rx plan, low deductibles and co-pay! And by the way, youth is an idol all its own. We are told we are perfectible by some, and thus our own god. Or that we are hopeless, except for them, and therein is the religion that makes tyranny its church and terror its most visible means of evangelism. All in all, some list!] 

Jesus himself offers the best and most direct critique. When those Greeks come a lookin' for a WAY they can trust, here's what Jesus counsels. "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him." Christ sees himself a correction to the way of the world. But the world sees Christ as a goad or an inconvenience. [Sorry Al (Gore), you invented neither the Web nor the original Inconvenient Truth.] Jesus, and the Father he presents, come to challenge what the culture would tell us of ourselves (and of them), every day.  Hear this, as we inaugurate a new government and renew the clashes between conservatives and liberals. [Think BIG.] The hallmark of liberalism is, down deep, it assumes the perfectibility of humankind. It lacks a serious doctrine of sin and therefore has little desire to hold the sinner accountable. Instead, it holds him or her rehabilitatible. 'Drives me nuts! Conservatives, on the other hand, have a woefully inadequate doctrine of humanity. They lack appreciation of ourselves as made in God's image. They're suspect of redemption. (God's power to convert appears limited. "He'll never change!") They find lesser import in community than individuality. Since there's less confidence in saving all, best we save ourselves. Now, if this seems pretty heady, pray on this by this comparison. Who here does laundry? OK, who separates by color? Who doesn't? If you don't, you're a liberal. (At least in laundry.) You trust it all comes out alright no matter what. 'Nothin' a little good detergent or some unchlorinated bleach can't handle! If you separate, you're a conservative! Bad color (like karma) rubs off. Better keep 'em in their own good company. Besides, they just don't make clothes like they used to and they're all bound for the dust bin eventually. God in Christ Jesus offers a startling third way. "Though their (very real) sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow." And again, "Look, I send my messenger to prepare the way. The Lord whom you seek will come suddenly… who can endure the day? He is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap, a refiner and purifier of silver. And he will purify till they (Levites) present right offerings to the Lord." (Mal.3)  Says Jesus, "Woe to you who tithe every mint and rue and do not do the love of God."  And at the last (as we lifted a week ago), "Father forgive them. They don't know what they're doing." To choose God in Christ forever sets us apart from the way of the common world. 

Mid-century theologian Richard Niebuhr wrote famously about how we believers understand and respond to what's around us. Christ and Culture lays down 4 basic ways to see this:

Christ above culture, Christ within culture, Christ against culture, Christ transforming culture. Across the ages believers and the churches have favored one or another of these as basic. [Read the book to get the details, this is just a sermon headin' for its ending. I'm not lookin' to lecture, but to offer some practical advice.] Our time has compacted and compressed everything. So now, we just may find any or all of these helpful at turns, depending where we look. Here are a few hopefully helpful words to guide us as we hold onto Christ and make our way through a largely unbelieving world. Try the Great Eight.

      1. Pay attention. Actually look at the messages the world sends about truth, value and what lasts. And actively ask yourself how that stands up to your faith. Teach your kids the difference between advertising and explaining what surrounds us.

      2. Beware the places of your praise and worth. Religion teaches us what to value, and from where our value comes. Many are the choices the world offers for both. Remember what your Sunday School teacher taught you, "Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth." And remember what Jesus says and does, "while we were yet sinners Christ died for us."

      3. Seek others who seek to follow Jesus. Seek out the young to come along. If the fires that innately burn inside [our] youth are not intentionally and lovingly added to the hearth of community, they will burn down the structures of culture just to feel the warmth(Michael Meade.)

      4. Place the eternal beside the electronic, wisdom beside information, and caring for others beside minding myself.

      5. Remember the Psalm is right. It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves. Feel free, even compelled to correct the culture. And be brave enough to do it out loud.

      6. Support what is faithful in the culture. Celebrate it for the culture. (From the store closed Sunday to the Web site clean all week.)

      7. Say NO when you think Jesus does. And YES when Jesus would join you.

      8. Use your faith to better your little corner. It can change everything! Christians are never defeated when they remain faithfully engaged!

God is in Christ, not in shrines of our making. The world has trouble with that. God reveals himself. And most and best of all in Jesus Christ. Know it. Show it. Share it. Grow it. Amen!

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