Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What Kind of God? Lectionary Readings for July 26

For those who have asked the audio from this past Sunday's message on the 2 Samuel and Mark 6 readings is available on Christ UMC's website.

This week's lectionary readings are 2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; and John 6:1-21.  They can be found at Vanderbilt's lectionary page.

The psalter begins, "fools say in their hearts 'there is no God'". In college I remember my evangelical friends quoting this verse as a way of scoffing at people who didn't share their theological convictions. I thought that was a strange attitude to have if your stated goal is to get everyone to believe the same things you do. I can't begin to count the number of times I've heard people in Bible study groups say things like, "I'd be a horrible person if I didn't have God in my life, I just don't know how other people make it!" Really? If your doctrinal beliefs are the only thing holding you back from harming other human beings, you may have bigger problems.

I've encountered many people who are professed atheists or agnostics who are wonderful, loving, morally grounded people. And some of the worst behavior I've ever seen human beings engage in has been in church. Belief in God can't be the deciding factor as to whether one is a moral or immoral person.

Actually, maybe we should make the distinction between belief in the idea of a divine being and commitment to the God who is made known to us in Jesus Christ.

Let's take King David's story as an example. David certainly believes in God. God chose him to be king and was with him every step of the way on a very long journey to the throne. Right before this week's reading, David got the notion to build a Temple for God. The man was no atheist!

David's actions don't suggest that he stopped believing in the idea of God, but that he has a functional change in who he believes God is. He acts on a very base impulse, and does everything he can to cover it up when other people might find out what he's done. In other words, David acts like no one is watching. Or at the very least, that God doesn't care what David does once he's in power.

David may be operating with a belief system that today we call Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, or MTD. In this way of thinking, God is primarily there to solve our problems, to help make us "nicer" people, and generally to help us feel good, but isn't really all that concerned about how we live our lives. David may not have yelled out "there is no God!" in bed with Bathsheba (that would be creepy), but he's acting as if the God of his ancestors doesn't exist, preferring the god of MTD.

The God who is described in the Old and New Testaments wants much more for us than to simply feel good and be nice. God cares deeply not only about what actions we take, but how we feel in our hearts, how we view every other human being around us. When David looked over to the rooftop, he didn't see Bathsheba as a whole person created in God's image, he saw an attractive body and nothing more.

In contrast, when Jesus sees a large group of people who followed him out into the wilderness, he doesn't simply see a bunch of dummies who weren't smart enough to pack a lunch. Following the god of MTD allows us to shrug our shoulders at people without food and say, "not my problem". MTD god even gives us bonus points if we give someone a dollar or a PBJ!

The God who is made known to us in Jesus leads us to view every single person as our brother or sister, for our hearts to break when we see them suffering. Following the God of Jesus means feeling bad sometimes! Jesus sees people who are so hungry for God that they just went, not bothering to prepare for the journey. So he invites them to a miraculous meal instead of letting them go hungry as a lesson to "be prepared next time". Caring for those who don't have access to the basic means of life is a baseline requirement of the God of Jesus, not a nice extra.

Choosing the God of Jesus over the god of MTD or countless other ideas of God out there is a constant, intentional choice, and it's extremely easy to adopt other gods without even realizing it. We're not strong enough by ourselves to get it right, so we pray with Paul that we "may be strengthened in our inner being through the power of the Spirit" so we can choose to follow the God of Jesus, even when it doesn't make us feel very good.

No comments: