This is a transcript from the February 3, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
Today comes from Proverbs 8:22-36 and after I get done reading this we're going to have a time of silent reflection, this is a way for the living word to dwell within you rather than just hearing it but that it may dwell inside you this week and the coming weeks as you continue to grow in faith. "The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there was no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth. When he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world's first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep. When he assigned to the sea its limits so that the waters might not transgress his command.
When he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him like a master worker and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race. Now my children listen to me, happy are those who keep my ways, hear instruction and be wise and do not neglect it. Happy is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors for whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, but those who miss me injure themselves, all who hate me love death.
There are some experiences that stay with you and one of mine that has stayed with me over the years, in part because it's just emblematic, was in my first church we were across the street from a university. We had a lot of young adults, college kids and they would come almost with regularity, I could almost time it which week it would be when the new semester started, when somebody was starting off or had taken their first Anthro 101 class or their first Biology class or something.
Suddenly they were hearing things that rattled the cage of their faith and they would come and they would ask, they were hoping that I would solve it for them. They would say things like, "Oh my God, Russ, you can't believe what they're saying." This particular instance the class was astronomy and seeing not even some of the amazing things that we get to see here, that was too long ago. Said, "I was listening to this and I thought oh my God. Then I thought I don't even know what I mean when I say oh my God anymore."
I wonder if you ever had that experience? I know I have and I honor that, I think that's the great work of faith that at some point the things that used to work don't work anymore. Now what do we do? We can either throw the faith away, we can as some do decide well then I'm just not going to pay attention to that, I'm going to section that off and I won't pay attention so that I don't have to be disturbed or do we push ahead?
I want to push ahead with you, I want to push ahead with you in this series that I'm doing, that I've decided it'll be a fun way to do and it's called Reason to Believe. Why do we still believe? Why do we still believe in the face of questions that are really hard questions? Why do we still believe? I thought I would personalize it even more so it's not just a theory, why do I still believe?
Why do I still believe in the face of all the advances of science? Where it looks like you can exist in this world just fine without God. Maybe science has made God irrelevant. Why do you believe with all the doubts that people have? Why do you believe given that the Bible seems to have so many inaccuracies and it doesn't seem to hold up anymore? Why do you believe in the face of so much suffering that's in this world?
Why do you believe? I wonder if you've ever asked that question. My guess is you have. My guess is you have because we have those conversations but often they get wrapped up with, "I know I shouldn't have this question but--" or, "I'm sure I'm the only one who has this question but--" Let me just start this way, this is a place for questions, the idea of having questions and having doubts is universal for anyone who takes their faith seriously, that's part of the deal.
You want to know who else has questions and doubts? Just look around. Now they may not want to admit it, at least not here, because sometimes people think church isn't the place, you're supposed to have all these affirmations and proclamations, I'm not supposed to doubt, I'm not supposed to wonder if this whole thing is a hoax, I'm not supposed to wonder if maybe this is just superstition that got blown up large, I'm not supposed to wonder about any of that stuff but you are because that's a part of faith.
What I want to do is not answer all these questions as much as address them and talk about. Why do I believe? Maybe that becomes a bridge I know that has helped me. We think through some really hard questions. I want to start with this question this morning and it has to do with science, with all the advances of science, has science made God irrelevant? Do we really even need God anymore?
Has science made God irrelevant?
I thought just right upfront, without being coy I will just give my definitive answer. It depends. Is God irrelevant?
Well, it depends, depends on which version of God
you're carrying around.
There are some versions of God that have indeed become irrelevant and by that I don't mean that there isn't the time in a place where those kinds of images and things are helpful.
Then they become a time when my questions outgrow my understandings of God and I can either just be quiet and not voice them but harbor those doubts or I can ask them or I can reject the whole thing. I'm hoping that we'll find somewhere in between where we get to lean in on these questions. There are some versions of God that should be and will get eventually irrelevant.
That version of God is the God that most of us grew up with, most of us in humanity grew up with, it is the God who is the old guy in the sky, the sky God. It is the one who is up in heaven and intervenes and there's heaven above, there's earth below and then there's a place of the dead. It's a three-storey universe that was ambiguous that was just part of the common understanding of people and in that we have put God.
Now interestingly, Michelangelo when he was painting this, what do you use for a model for God? Well, he just used all the old gods, the Roman-Greek gods, Zeus. He just made Zeus and made him bulkier and made him bigger, our God is bigger than your god but it's still the same God, it's still the same idea, there's still is God who's up there. The religion with a God like that is very specific, it is the religion of, "How do I get God's attention?"
I've got a problem so I will pray and I will try to pray the right prayers so that God will notice me, will pay attention and then maybe come down and address and answer my prayers. If that doesn't work, I will get other people to pray with me, I might offer sacrifices, I might get people who are holy people to pray for me because evidently their prayers are louder or somehow they are more acceptable.
It's the same motion, right? If that doesn't work I'll read the Bible, heck I'll even read it in King James Version because somehow we think God's more impressed with the thees and the thous because that seems fitting for a God like that. I'll do that and I'll give service and I'll go to church for crying out loud. This is the kind of God when you have a God up there, that's the kind of religion that you have.
It is hearkening back to a version of God where images like that are in scripture, fortunately it's not the only ones. In this image there is a particular kind of religion and it is a particular way of viewing God, it is a particular way of thinking about God, it is the God of most of our youth and maybe it holds up throughout most of life. There is a time I'm going to tell you that it will not.
The reason it will not is it's not really even based on the Bible as much, it's based on an understanding of the world that the Bible speaks to. It really is based on the idea that was part of the ancient world, it's part of all human beings at one point and it's epitomized in Greek theater. Greek theater had this, before there was special effects with movies, the great special effect of Greek theater was that there would be this big giant hoist, this crane type affair that they would strap somebody, rope somebody in and then drop them in on the play.
The play would get to this part where it's called deus ex machina, the god out of the machine, the machine would come and then God would drop down. There would be this intractable problem, "We can't figure it out, oh my gosh the world's going to come to an end." Then they would kind of lower God down and God would say something and solve the problem, God would enact something and create that which solves the problem and then we would back up and now we're done.
It became cliche for bad writing because if you can write a drama and if you can't solve it with what's there then you have to bring something from the outside. You have to call on the gods basically to come out and bail you out. That becomes a sign of sloppy writing. If you saw any of the old westerns that we all grew up with on TV and the maiden is tied to the tracks or some bad guys about to blow up the bank and everybody's in trouble and then son of a gun you hear the trumpet and here comes the cavalry.
Then the cavalry comes just at the right time and bails everybody out and everybody gets to go back to life, done. It's calling on something from the outside to bail us out. Monty python with their tongue in cheek and the life of Brian had it where the character back in Bible Times fell off a wall only to be rescued by this spaceship that just happened to be coming by. It was just their way of saying, "Isn't this the way we always solve problems?"
Isn't this the way we solve problems with God? Somehow God is going to come down solve it for us. If we do the right thing, say the right thing. If we can get God's attention and God's favor and then we're done. The problem with that besides being a little too convenient. There's this understanding that with science we don't need that God as often and here's what I mean by that.
Before something would happen and I would pray to God that you've got to fix this but now I can go to a hospital to get a surgery and get an x-ray. I can get a test and that takes care of it. Thanks God. We don't need you for that. You can go back up. We are afraid of the hurricanes that come down and bombard us. We pray for protection. We got the national weather service now so that's okay God we don't need you anymore. We got that one covered.
Unless you live on the front range where none of that matters anyway it just happens just speaking, but it's the same idea. The things that we would ask God for in the past, we don't need to. When a cholera outbreak would come and nobody knew what in the world that was and you would pray that God would solve. That God we need you to come down. Now we know it's in the water. You need fresh water. You need immunology. No. We don't need you anymore. We don't need God for all these things.
We don't even need God to explain the universe because we've got a big bang theory. We have the whole evolution. There seems to be fewer and fewer things that we need God for, but the only thing we need God for is special occasions in Super Bowls. When our team is playing and then you need God to come down. We make God irrelevant, but the problem is not that God is irrelevant, it's how we think about God.
It's our understanding of God that becomes irrelevant and fortunately while there are images of God in heaven and doing those things that speak to that universe. It's not the only one. In our passage today is a wonderful example of a whole different way that the scripture talks about God and it has to do within Proverbs and has this wonderful Ode to wisdom. It's an account of creation.
How the world came to be and I know we usually get in arguments about the accounts in Genesis and how those line up with science and we forget that there's actually about four different versions of creation in the Bible. There's two of them back-to-back in Genesis. There's this one in Proverbs. The book of Job has another one and the very number of them should tell us that these are just all different ways of trying to grapple with this and in this one, this poem, this great Hebrew poem, it's this thing called wisdom.
The Greek is logos, wisdom, the logic, the inherent essence of God and it's speaking. It says, "The Lord created me at the beginning of his work. The first of his acts long ago, ages ago, I was set up at the first, before the beginning of the earth," so before there was anything before there was any word before across the deep, anything happened. There's this sense of wisdom, logic that is built in to this universe.
It makes sense of things. There's this interior logic that is embedded in every cell, in every particle, in every tree and every animal and every star. It is all against this fabric. Even when he established the heavens, I was already there and it talks about this wisdom that is divined that got us through everything and everything that makes sense in this wisdom. That is the handiwork. It is the right hand partner. It is the foreman for creation.
It's actually forewoman because the word wisdom in Hebrew is feminine. Sophia is the word that is the name we have today. That is the same word. It gets to this idea of God herself. That is all through and sometimes we get hung up on the language, but we do. We do great damage to God but we only use one part of it. When the scripture uses all parts and all expressions but this wisdom is in and through and that means whenever you are pursuing, whenever you are seeking truth and wisdom, you are seeking God.
It is not just that God is transcendent and other and beyond us. It is also that God is imminent. God is woven into and embedded into every bit of this universe for whoever finds me finds life. Whoops, I've got to jump back. It's not just that. It's in the scripture by the way. It's also in our tradition in our shorter catechism of all places. 400-500 years ago and they said, "Who is God? What's God?"
To make sure that we didn't get focused in on this kind of idol type God, this God in the sky. It's bigger than that. God is spirit, infinite, eternal, unchangeable in his being. Wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, truth. That's where you find God. God is all of those things. Whenever you're seeking truth, you're seeking God. Whenever you're dealing with beauty, you're seeking God.
Whenever you're dealing with goodness or justice or holiness, you're participating there with God. Because God isn't just the God who comes down on special occasions when you need God. God is the one who is embedded in the very fabric of and it's still manifesting in this world and that's why we can get to the part where it says, "Whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord. Those who miss me, those who don't seek me, injure themselves and all who hate me, love death."
This idea of science of been something that's out over here, something separate. No, it's the most theologically based thing you can do. It's a lot better discovering and trying to seek this universe, the mystery of who we are. It is when you're doing this, this is the good and holy work that God has given us to do because that's the universe that we have. That's the people that we have and that's how God has wired us by the way, to be curious. It's part of the way that we get to participate and wonder about all of this.
It is far from being irrelevant is the most relevant thing of our faith. It is the conversation between faith and reason. Religion and science. They are good partners. Together we come at this differently but it is the same mystery. It is the same universe. The task of religion is now not how do we get God's attention so God will come down here. The task of religion is understanding that God is trying to get our attention.
How do we open ourselves to the God who is right here to the wisdom, the presence that is embedded in everything that we've got. How do we do that? Oh my goodness is that a good question? Oh my goodness. Does that begin to open things up? That begins to put us in a whole different place and it begins to change the question. The question is not whether is God irrelevant? The question is are we? Are we when we keep God in a box that worked at one point and may have been very helpful at one point, but we refused and we hide back here and we are afraid or have we become irrelevant when we are the ones because of what we believe about God should be at the forefront of all of this.
We should be cheering the way, we should be endorsing, embracing, informing, and conversing because this is God's world so the first task is how do we begin to pay attention? How do we pay attention? How do you pay attention to the sacredness of your life and everything that's in it? Because if God's only relevant on Sundays and just the Sundays you happen to come to worship, then you've got a very, very small God.
It is a faith that's a version of God that's pretty irrelevant, but when you have a faith in a religion that says, "This is how I would pay attention to your life." Pay attention to the people in it. The conversations. Pay attention not just to the stars in the sky, but pay attention to the wonder of it however you see it. Our astronomer at the beginning, Grace Will Chase says, "I think the heart of both science and religion is this wonder about it all." What do you do to nurture wonder?
Part of that means you begin by opening your eyes and begin to see again whether it's just the stars in the sky or whether it's the snow on the ground.
It is all part of the wonder and it all belongs to God and it's all part of seeking and pursuing and reveling in this divine that is everywhere. I spent 15 minutes and I think I've solved it all for us. We've got that one. We can go on to the next one, probably not.
This is bigger but then again, the point was not to solve it. I'm trying to explain how is it we can believe in the midst of this and I think part of it is our version of God that can change and then we begin to have this conversation in a different way. I think faith in God makes a lot more sense and I think whether it is over here in the church, in the work of theology, whether it is over here in the work of science, whether it's over here in the work of the arts.
These are all different ways that people are grappling with this mystery, this wonderful world that we belong to and trying to make sense of it and trying to get glimpses into it, it's the same world and it's the same divine that is all throughout. That doesn't mean we solve everything and so the thing that I want to close with before we come to the table this morning is one last thing for myself that was compelling- that is compelling.
That over the years I've become more and more grounded if you will in one particular passage, it's in the book of John, new testament this time, "In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God." That's the words we use at Christmas every year and beyond and this word called word that the Greek word is logos. It's the same thing that's being talked about in Proverbs.
What logos is in the new testament, Sophia is in the old testament is in the beginning was this wisdom, in the beginning was this logic, in the beginning was this unity of the universe and it was with God and it was God and then that word, that unity, that logic became flesh and that flesh dwelt among us full of grace and truth and that's why we're here. It is the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
It is somehow in ways that we can't explain somehow felt completely-- it is not because we can explain it but because there is something about Christ 2,000 years later that is still unbelievably compelling and we may argue about the words and the how it happened but we look at Christ and we go, "Somehow this is the one who is completely so drenched in divinity that when you look at Jesus you see God."
More than that when you see Jesus you all see what it means to be human. This is the fullest expression of a true human and this is the one who compels us and it says, "Follow me." Follow me in the way I do life, follow me in the way I connect with God, follow me in the way I live my life, follow me in the way I forgive enemies, follow me in the way I reach out and care for those who are on the fringe and who are the neediest, follow me.
It's in Christ that we see the full embodiment of the wisdom, the unity, the logic of God right there and that's why as we come to this table this day, I want to close with this final picture. Salvador Dali put it together and what I love about it is somehow he has captured all of this. He has captured the idea that there is a solid material table and yet somehow that solid material table is what connects us to the spiritual. It is the particular that becomes the doorway to the universal.
It is this table here that somehow becomes the very logic of God. This becomes the very heart of what God is trying to do. Here again at this table with bread and with juice, this is the particular that gets to the spiritual. The material, the spiritual in particular the universal. This is the one that opens everything up because it is in Christ that everything resides and in so doing Christ is inviting us to participate, participate in the ongoing creation because this world isn't done yet and at that spirit, that logic, that unity of God gets expressed in the lives of you and me or at least it's supposed to.
If we have a faith, a religion that is relevant when we stop trying to imagine that we're trying to get God's attention down so God will do what you want God to do and it's God that's trying to get our attention so that we become the means by which the same logic and unity and wisdom continues to create. Man, that's exciting. This day you're invited to this table and this table becomes the means by which we remember, recall and participate in what God is yet to do.
Would you join me in prayer and so that is our prayer O God, that somehow that you would continue to capture our attention. You would startle us, you would rouse us, you would help us recognize, you would make us uncomfortable with the versions of you that are too small. That we might live into that which is large enough not only for our life but for this world. We pray this in the name of Christ, amen.