October 22, 2000
"God is Great"
Sermon by Rev. Sherry Parker
Dundee United Methodist Church
19th Sunday after Pentecost
Please note: Because I do not use notes when I preach, the text in the written sermon may vary slightly from the spoken sermon. My prayer is that in both my writing and my speaking the Holy Spirit works to make this message worthy of God's purpose.
Scripture: Psalm 104; Philippians 2:1-11; Job 38:1-7
What does it mean to be great, to be highly regarded, to be worthy of praise? Surely, to survive in the face of terrible odds, to stand firm on one's convictions in the face of persecution and to overcome is to be great. The great rise above the conventional expectations of the world. We understand that people are not innately great, but become great through what they choose to do in specific circumstances.
Paul offers us another definition of greatness in Philippians. Read Philippians 2:1-11. Greatness is in the person of Jesus Christ, not only because of what Jesus did, but because of who Jesus is: Son of God, Word come to earth. Jesus was great in humility, obedience, and sacrifice. Jesus Christ is great and highly exalted, the name above every name. Jesus is so great that at his name every knee should bend and every tongue should confess him Lord of all.
This idea of the greatness of God, one in three, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, is one that we accept, at least in our words.
"God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food. By his hands we all are fed."
"Give us Lord our daily bread."
"The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want."
"Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name."
"Then sings my Soul, my Savior, God to Thee, How great thou art."
It is a blessing that we have words of faith in common in order to express the greatness of God. It gives us the opportunity to lift our voice as one in praise of our Creator. Unfortunately, there is also a danger in our memorized words of worship. Because they come from us so automatically, we may find ourselves using our mouths to say them, but not using our minds to will them or our hearts to know them. We may confess the greatness of God out loud, but are we ready to do so with awe, on bended knee?
Remember when we used to memorize things back in school and in Sunday School for that matter. I don't think it's as much the practice today, but at one time, students had to memorize entire poems and great speeches. Did anyone here memorize the Gettysburg Address or the preamble to the Declaration of Independence? I remember a play that our class performed for parents back when I was in fourth grade. I don't remember the plot, but I do remember that each member of the class was a book. We were dressed like books, a large piece of cardboard hanging down our backs, another in front. The books were painted different colors and each book had a title. I was "Poetry." On cue each book would say something that was between its covers. I, of course, was to memorize and recite a poem. In the days before the play, I practiced the poem I would recite. I said it over and over again. On the evening of the play, with all the parents before the stage I was ready. When my cue came I said, (in a stilted, stiff voice) "'Trees' by Joyce Kilmer, "I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree. . .blah, blah, . . A tree that looks at God all day, and lifts her leafy arms to pray. . blah, blah. . . . Poems are made by fools like me, but only god can make a tree." I knew that poem. (I still do.) By the time I was to recite it, standing on the stage with all the other fourth grade "books", the poem had lost all meaning for me. It no longer possessed a musical lilt or words of any consequence. It was my goal to get through it. To get the words out of my mouth, and to get on with my fourth grade life, such as it was.
Sometimes I'm concerned that the words that we "perform" before God, words that can touch only the surface or be the merest symbol of God's greatness, fall out of our mouths empty of feeling and conviction, devoid of awe. We say "God is great." We know God is great. But is "God is great" in our attitude?
This morning some of us entered this sanctuary greeting friends, other quietly took their seats, the choir and I processed, careful to balance reading the words from the hymnal, picking up the hems of our robes, and negotiating the steps into the chancel area. We all settled into our comfortable seats. In whatever way we approached worship this morning it is fitting for us to consider whether we came to worship really convinced of the mighty power of God. Do we approach prayer and praise with awe? How do we acknowledge that God is greater that we can imagine? Are we really convinced that God can take hold of individuals and this congregation and by God's will make wondrous things happen? If we believe it, it might be more appropriate to strap on safety harnesses and crash helmets. If we believe it, we would come in declaring, I don't know what God will do today, but it could change my life. God could change who I am.
Our opening hymn, "I Sing the Almighty Power of God." If we believed it, we'd be singing it shaking in our shoes. We read Psalm 104. Look at the words again. "Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great, You are clothed with honor and majesty, wrapped in light as with a garment." God made the sky and set the earth on its foundations. God makes the wind the Spirit messenger. At God's commands the waters roll, the mountains move. The earth is full of God's creation. And we stand and politely sing, "Glory be to the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost" We sit down and get on with the service. Is it just more words?
You'll remember from last week that Job found himself in a bad situation, through no fault of his own. He had lost all of his property, his children, and his health. His wife was telling him to just curse God and die. His friends were telling him to figure out what he'd done wrong and repent. Job laments to God about God's abandonment of him, "Oh, that I were in the months of old, as in the days when god watched over me." (Job 29:2) Listen to how God replied to Job's lament.
Read Job 38:1-7
These are rhetorical questions, certainly. Job had questioned the Almighty, and God, speaking directly to Job let him know where all the power for all time lies. God is controller of all things in heaven and on earth. In the chapters that follow, God lays it out. Who controls the heavenly bodies and the seasons, who shaped the earth, who created and cares for the plants and animals of the land and the creatures of the deep? Job is awed by God's majesty. When God finishes instructing Job, Job responds this way, "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. . . Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know."
How do we retrieve in our lives the sense of awe we should have in the presence of God? We certainly have the capacity for awe and wonder.
I made my pilgrimage to Cabela's this week. I will call it a pilgrimage without hesitation. A pilgrimage is a journey with some difficulty. I rode my bike, and if you haven't noticed the brand new five foot wide sidewalk is missing a big section out by Ann Arbor Road and the gravel is really loose. It's also a challenge to cross freeway exit and entrance ramps with a bike. Go only if you're brave or foolhardy. So I rode out to Cabelas. And I did what a great many people do when they enter the store. I stepped in the door and stood there gaping. There's a lot to look at in there. I liked the fish best, probably because they're alive. I liked the people second best. They were alive, too. One employee walked around looking at the floor, wiping up heel marks. I saw people in camouflage and business suits. I met a woman in the clothing section who had come 153 miles with her husband to visit the store. Her husband showed me a warm face mask he'd bought for hunting. He was so excited he modeled it for me. He looked to me like a hunter orange "Jason" (a very scary character from the movies), but I didn't tell him. Mostly, as I walked around Cabelas, what I saw were people in awe. People wandered around looking up, cameras in hand or slung around their necks.
I've been in awe before at things I've seen. The first time I saw Niagara Falls (actually, every time I see Niagara Falls) I am in awe. I say, "This is really big." What things on this earth have made you stand in awe? (answers from congregation)
I am also in awe of things that aren't so big, brand new babies and the parents who care for them. I am in awe of people who can make fancy Christmas cookies, build useful things out of wood, or pluck perfect eyebrows. There is a lot to wonder at in this world.
Funny what we have decided to declare great. I think we've set our mark for greatness too low. Take all the great things we've mentioned this morning, picture them and listen to this truth: God is bigger. God is greater.
This is what God is: Creator. In the beginning there was nothing but God, and out of that nothing, the void, the chaos, came all that is. And God's creating power continues. It is in the land, the water, the seasons, our bodies, our relationships, our faith. God is the good, loving, creating presence.
This is what God is: Savior. Through Jesus Christ, God reached this world in an impossibly, simple and profound way. God appeared as us. In humility, obedience and love, Jesus demonstrated the greatness of God. In death he was the love of God. In resurrection, he is salvation and hope for all time.
This is what God is: Sustainer. Through the Holy Spirit, God is in conversation with us, guiding, assuring, moving us to acts of faithfulness.
This is what God is: Great. Whether we believe God is great or not, God is. No opinion we hold, no amount of apathy or detachment, will change who God is. And I concede that the words I use this morning are wholly inadequate to capture God's greatness. My prayer can only be that by God's Spirit you and I might come each day to know God's greatness in our lives. My hope can only be that we will consider God with awe and wonder, deserving of God's presence and power, at all times.
When we sing the praises of God, let us say the words like we know God is listening. (That's who worship is for, after all.) React in this world as if God's will has meaning. At the sight of God's work, acknowledge it in wonder. At the name of Jesus bow. At the touch of the Holy Spirit move.
God is great. All praise and honor is due our Creator, our Savior, the One who sustains us.