"Is Our God Too Small?"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - February 5, 2006
Psalm 147:1-11; Isaiah 40:21-31
This morning I want to talk about our personal relationship with God. Thursday’s Washington Post featured a poll conducted by the newspaper’s staff. They found that 93% of people believe in God. But what do these people believe about the Creator? Answering that question is what fragments believers all over the landscape of religious dogma. This will remain a problem humanity needs to resolve if a world community is ever going to emerge.
This lack of a common understanding of God is what fuels both the Divine Rewards program expected by suicide bombers and the compassion of a growing number of people that are working toward the eradication of disease in Africa. God’s nature has frequently been defined more by perceptions that have been fashioned by historic and cultural preferences, than anything else.
When we look at our own biographical history, we realize how difficult it has been to think objectively about God. Most of our education has come from information found in the Bible. In addition to the Scriptures has come a host of Church School teachers and preachers who have helped frame our understanding of God and the Divine will for us. How many of us have been encouraged to think about God apart from these sacred points of reference?
This morning we may give ourselves permission to develop more independent insights about God when we discover how Isaiah did it. This prophet was born 2,766 years ago when the Bible as we know it did not exist. His understanding of God was not influenced by the visions, thoughts or inspiration of later writers. Is the channel to God’s nature still available to us as it was for Isaiah? You bet it is!
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God; he created the world. He never grows tired or weary. No one understands his thoughts. He strengthens those who are weak and tired. Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak.”
Some time ago, the Director of Nursing at one of the facilities of Asbury Services showed me a note written by a woman who had died of cancer. The patient wrote it while she was still able to do so in an effort to comfort her family. The note said,
I know that when you read these brief words many of you will be gathered around my bed. I may be too weak to speak to you then, so now I write. The time has clearly arrived for my departure. I am not in any pain and I am not suffering. Soon God will send an angel to gather up what is left of me. Heaven knows I’ve been blessed with a great life and a wonderful, loving family. Death will hold no sting. Grieve if you must. However, if you have a party, I will be there long enough to see that you are celebrating our lives together rather than being locked in sadness. Remember to give away the love that we found and shared. Bye for now.
Becky said, “When a patient finds her body ravaged by this much cancer, she should have been on morphine weeks ago. Dick, we were giving her nothing and yet she was totally at peace and pain free until the moment she died.” Isaiah wrote, “God strengthens those who are weak and tired.” How did the prophet learn about this quality of God’s nature?
Isaiah’s common theme was this: “Do not fear!” Repeatedly, Isaiah condemned all efforts to defend the kingdom through alliances with enemies, compromises of faith and the reliance on desperate political strategies rather than on God. He even comforted his own people in exile with the same admonition, “Have no fear!”
When our understanding of God is too small, it may be that the sum total of our knowledge has come from others. Isaiah knew God for himself. Maybe it is time we meet God for ourselves. For some of us, it may be for the first time.
As some of you know, before I came to St. Matthew’s, three ministerial colleagues tried to discourage me from coming. They said, “St. Matthew’s chews up its ministers. Look in the Conference Journal,” they said, “and you’ll see the short time some of them lasted.” This information was not good news. Your former pastor, Bob Paulen, invited me to lunch at Applebee’s. He was the only one who gave me reassurances that I was not doomed.
There was one indelible moment that I will never forget. Lois and I were gathered with Bob Rodeffer, our District Superintendent, and the members of the Staff Parish Relationship Committee. Nedra Evans asked me, “Why do you want to come to St. Matthew’s?” I told her that we did not want to come here because we were very happy at Capitol Hill. I thought the D.S. would fall out of his chair. That is not what we are supposed to say. However, I caught the eye of Janice Romanosky. She smiled at my response. When I saw that, I knew we were coming to a wonderful congregation.
Learning about God from the definitions provided by others may be a wonderful place to begin our faith journey, but staying with secondhand information limits us. Most major personalities in the Scriptures did not have the benefit of the inspired opinions of others. As evidenced by the woman with painless cancer, God has the power to reveal compassion and guidance to us individually when we have silenced our fear and turn to God in humble trust. Always remember to seek God for yourselves with a spirit that has surrendered fear. The result will be nothing short of miraculous. Amen.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Thank you, God, for creating us with the potential for expressing mercy, kindness and peace. We confess that some of our responses reflect a smallness of spirit. We often desire patience as if it were a goal to be achieved. We sometimes look upon forgiveness as a discipline to be mastered. How easily we forget that such qualities flow freely from us when you are at the center of our lives. Help us to learn the art of living so that we do not have to debate – “this for God and this for me.” Guide us to radiate the same spirit in private as we do in public. Enable us to dwell on thoughts that produce peace. May we select words that guide, heal and affirm. Help us daily to discover the joys of faithfulness. Amen.