Deep & Wide - Week 4: "Divine Anticipation"
This week we are continuing the sermon series that we started last week--a series that is going to take us all the way through the month of May. The series is entitled, Deep & Wide.
We need to be the kind of church that is both deep and wide. We want to be deep in our faith, and our love of Scripture, but we also want to have a wide embrace, welcoming everyone to journey with us.
What we've been doing as part of this sermon series is studying the four biggest reasons that people give as to why they don't attend church, and then we've been turning those negatives into positives. Our goal is to identify the ways that we, as a church, can overcome the objections that people might have as to why they don't want to go to church.
Over the last two weeks we've discovered the two biggest reasons people give as to why they don't attend church: They feel judged, and they feel lectured, and they feel the church if full of hypocrites.
We've also learned that the best way we can overcome those objections is by practicing Radical Hospitality (welcoming people just as they are) and having Fearless Conversations (not being afraid to listen, engage and be open to people with real issues), and being full of Genuine Humility.
And yet, overwhelmingly Americans say they believe in God--over 90% of them, in fact. Even people who don't ascribe to the idea of organized religion, or who have been wounded by church, left church or never want to attend church again seem to believe in God.
Or at the very least, they are comfortable with the idea that their might be a God. They just don't think that the God that the church is promoting is the kind of God they want to believe in...
Today we're going to take a look at the fourth biggest reason people give as to why they don't attend church: That the God we are telling them about is irrelevant in their life.
Before we jump too deeply into this, I need to ask a question. What is it like to experience God? How do you know if whatever feeling that is washing over that feels like God, is really God. Is there a way to differentiate between emotional highs brought on by circumstance--and the real presence of God? Is there such a thing as the real presence of God here among us?
I'll answer that question indirectly with a couple of examples from my own life. Because telling your own story is basically the only way you can do this properly.
In 2001 Merideth and I visited London for a week. Up until that visit, I had been struggling to know for sure if God was really calling me to become a pastor. One Sunday afternoon we were visiting the National Gallery when suddenly Merideth said to me, "We have to go! We need to go to church right now! We need to get to St Paul's Cathedral." We immediately left, got a cab and took a short ride to St. Paul's. We arrived just as the hymns and readings of the Evensong service were ending, and the preacher was about to preach. She happened to be the pastor in charge of helping young men and women who were starting the process to become ministers for that region of England. At one point in the sermon she said, "I just sense that there is someone here struggling with God's call on their life to go into ministry."
Yeah, it kind of freaked me out. I so fully felt the presence of God in that moment it wasn't funny.
When my wife and I first started serving as youth leaders in our church we took our kids to Disney's Night of Joy. At one point we wandered over to where the worship band Delirious was playing a short concert. They were singing what was then a new song, "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever." As we stood there in wonder, the entire crowd full of teens with their hands in the air sang the chorus acapella, over and over again. "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever..." It was more beautiful than words. We were filled with such hope and joy---we felt God all over the place.
Or the time I was visiting with man who had been paralyzed from the waist down for his entire life, who told me about the incredible vision he'd had once when he was dying---in the dream he was walking with Jesus who told him that it wasn't his time to go, and that he was needed here on earth to be a blessing to others.
Then the man asked if he could pray for me---and he did, as I sat there squeezing tears through my tight shut eyes.
I could sit here all day and tell you story after story of why I know what it's like to feel the presence of God. But what about you? Have you ever had any God sightings? Have you ever felt God's presence in your life?
I want you to turn to the person next to you, or the persons next to you and to take just a couple of minutes to share with them a moment when you felt God's presence.
A recent Barna poll--Barna is like the Christian Gallup organization--uncovered that only 44 percent of people who attend church regularly say that they feel the presence of God there. Only 44 percent.
The misconception that a lot of people share is that God is sort of in the past. That God spoke "then" in the Bible and that there is a period at the end of the sentence. But what if there wasn't? What if instead of a period, there was a comma?
Now this is the moment when someone says, "Oh no you don't! It says in the Bible that not one tiny little bit of the Scripture should be changed or tampered with---that the grass withers and the flower fades but the word of God lasts forever... " and so on.
The Bible also says in many places that there would not be enough books to tell all of the things hat Jesus said and did. So why did those get left out? Maybe it would have been helpful to have them! In addition, there are scores of writings that were considered sacred for centuries but then didn't make it into the version of the Bible we use here in our church.
Don't get me wrong. The Bible is authoritative to be sure. It is the written and revealed word of God, to be sure. But let's not mistake what we say when we say the "word" of God. There is only one Word of God with a capital "W" and that is Jesus Christ, the creative, eternal, saving, expressive Word of God.
So then-- is an almighty and powerful, all-knowing, unknowable God limited to merely speaking through the Bible? And which version? The Catholic version? The Protestant version? The Coptic version? The NIV? King James? New King James? The Message? The ESV, RSV, NRSV? Some of you blessedly have no idea what I am talking about--stay that way!
I love the Bible. I have given my life to the study of the Bible and how it helps us draw closer to God and to his Son Jesus Christ. It is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path as the Psalm teaches. But the moments when I have experienced God leading me into something new, drawing me into his presence--have not all been moments when I was reading the Bible.
Granted, reading and studying the Bible prepared me for those moments.
But what I've come to understand is that God speaks and moves and creates----all of the time, all around us. We just have a problem seeing and feeling what God is doing. Mostly because we are focused on all the wrong things.
If the Church is going to overcome the objection that people have about our God being irrelevant in their life--we need to open our own eyes first. We need to practice Divine Anticipation. We can't become so consumed with what we've always done, and always expected that we miss the moments when God is doing new things, moving among us, calling us to new places.
I want you to watch this video entitled "Right Before Your Eyes." I think it will help to teach this a bit better.
Okay, now that we've had a chance to see the video... let me ask you a couple of questions:
How is this like or unlike how we fail to see God at work in the world around us?
What can we learn about Divine Anticipation from this?
In Matthew 18:20 Jesus gave his disciples one of the most amazing promises that he could have given them. He said, "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
The phrase in his name means that we are thinking, doing, acting, feeling, desiring, praying, loving--just like Jesus, as if we were Jesus. In his name is a phrase used by an ambassador for a ruler who has the authority to make treaties, peace, trade deals, whatever as if he was the king himself.
We gather here today desiring to be like Jesus. And so according to his own words, his presence is among us. The presence of God in Christ is here right now. What if we embraced this?
Brothers and Sisters, the world is changing. People are being confronted on a daily basis with the fact that Science cannot answer all their questions, and in fact the universe is becoming more and more mysterious all the time. There is so much uncertainty in the world. People are ready to feel the real presence of God. They are looking for ways to make sense of it all.
And we can help them.
But first we need to learn to practice some Divine Anticipation. We need to realize fully and completely that God is not stuck in the past. God has never been stuck in the past. The Bible is an account of how God has been leading God's people into the future since the beginning of all things, and continues to do so now.
God is relevant, here and now and moving us into the future--a future full of hope and promise, a future filled with the shalom, the peace of God on earth, a future Jesus commanded us to pray for every time we say the Greatest prayer when we say, "let your will be done here on earth--as it is in heaven."