The Experience of God

Rev. Jim McLean
August 10, 2014

I Kings 19:9-13; Matthew 14:22-33

Merle Rogers, a Centralia, Illinois, poet, wrote about a Worship Service.
The minister self-righteously intones
About forgiveness of sins – preaching,

An elder articulates prayers in pearl’d
Strings of empty phrases – beseeching,

Yet it is a little child worshipping
Most truly, with innocent glow
Singing “Jesus Loves Me, this I know.”

So, what kind of God do YOU know?

I wonder what kind of God did Adam and Eve know?
A God who created a wonderful garden.
A God who walked and talked with them in that garden.
A God who cared for them even when both refused to take
responsibility for their choices.
A God who remained with them when expelled from Eden.
A God who never left them.

I wonder what kind of God did Abraham and Sarah know?
A God who called them and family to travel to a land of covenant.
A God who said: I will be Your God and you will be my people,
And I will make covenant with your people
Who will number more than the stars in heaven.

I wonder what kind of God did Moses know?
A God who called his name from a burning bush.
A God who introduced:
I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob
But from now you will call YWHW,
the Hebrew meaning: “I am Who I Am”
and now Moses, I have a job for you to do: set my people free…
and I will be with you in the wilderness
as a cloud by day and fire my night.

The Bible is filled with the stories of people
who have experienced God.
When we read these stories it is as if God wants to be known;
It is as if God initiates all encounters
and from those encounters human lives are shaped.

I wonder what kind of God did Isaiah the prophet know.
A God so awesome, surrounded by Seraphim in the Temple singing:
Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord Almighty
A God so holy that the prophet in humility confessed:
Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips
And I live among a people of unclean lips.
A God who would forgive his guilt and sin
and then called him to become a prophet with work to be done.

I wonder what kind of God did the prophet Elijah know.
Hiding in a cave, afraid for his life from a death-threat
from Queen Jezebel…
He discovered God:
not in the wind,
not in the earthquake,
not in the fire.
O how we love to look for God in the big noisy stuff of life.
But it was in the silence that God asked a question:
Elijah, what are you doing here? I’ve work for you to do.

How do people today know God?
The same way people did in the Bible.
Something happens in a person’s life
that awakens
that inspires
and when we realize that it is God’s grace
our lives are transformed.

The Bible teaches:
God is present and wants to be know.
It is God who offers grace FIRST
and waits until humans respond to it.
It is in responding to grace that changes everything.

I wonder how did Mary and Joseph know God?
In the midst of their plans for marriage,
God invited them to something they had not thought of:
To become the parents of a child
who would become the Christ of God,
a savior to the people.

How did the disciples know God?
By a call from a teacher named Jesus from Nazareth saying:
Come follow me. We have work to do.

How did the Apostle Paul know God?
A loyal and faithful Pharisee
on his way to persecute Christians
until, on the road to Damascus,
Paul saw a blinding light,
And heard a voice from the Risen Christ:
Why are you persecuting me?

In all these stories it is God who initiates grace
and waits until it is received
and when received life is never the same again.

So this morning,
I do not ask if you believe these Bible stories of the saints of old.
What is a far more important question to ask you:
Tell me how you know God.
Tell me of such times you have been inspired by something
that happened in your life that could only be caused by God’s grace.
Tell me how your life has been shaped by being visited by
the Holy.

In the Bible,
insofar as God is known,
God is seen as creator of the world,
liberator of Israel
giver of the Law
judge of all people
Savior of the faithful
the Holy One.

In the New Testament
God becomes incarnate in a human being,
and known as shepherd of the flock,
as bread for the hungry,
as healing for the sick,
as forgiveness to the sinner.

In all these encounters,
it is the same God who initiates Grace.
It is the same God who waits for our response.
It is our response that shapes lives.

What kind of God do you know?

When I listen to people talk about a God
who is condemning and judgmental,
who will send sinful people to fires of an everlasting hell. . .
When I listen to people talk about a God
who is racially selective,
gender preferred,
intolerant to the masses but blesses a select few…

I don’t know a God like that.
That is not the God I have experienced.

Here are First Christian Church
you will not hear of a God who will condemn you to hell.
We human beings create our own hells;
don’t blame that one onto God.
Rather you will hear that God always provides a way out of our hells –
a God who wants to love us all the way into eternity.

You will not hear in this church of a God
who calls only men to ministry…
Rather you will hear about a God who calls all people to faith and ministry
Men and women
Adults and children
Young and old
All people who have had a life transformed by grace
that is our credentials for witness and service.

You will not hear in this church about a God
who is racist or sexist,
but rather you will hear about a God who joyfully and purposefully
created color,
as if unique beauty pleases God.
God so loved the world. . .

You will not hear in this church about a God
who sits back shaking the head
of apathy and resignation
about what we humans continue to do with a good and blessed earth,
what we do with people we don’t like,
how we bend truth as long as it fits our purposes,
how we use violence in disagreements. . .
how we abuse people for our own pleasures and desires…

Rather you will hear about a God who redeems us from death to life,
from shame and guilt to forgiveness, so we can be forgiving,
from falsehood to truth,
from greed to generosity
from violence to justice
from our own misuse and spoilage of the earth
to being menders of what is broken,
to be good news to that which is bad
to be peacemakers in our warring madness.

God’s grace is given because God IS grace.
And when given God offers us a treasure. . .
then waits until we receive it as gift,
then joyfully begins to reconstruct our lives
for the purposes God intended.

Now that is a God we can give witness to.
That is a God we can become church for
That is a God whose power of grace can change all things.

I grew up in a church family.
My father was a Disciple minister.
HE died suddenly when I was 12 years old.
I was so angry at God for doing that,
I stopped any and all church related activities.
I was going to show God I didn’t need a God who would kill my father.

But then in college, something happened to me – God happened to me.
I discovered a God who had been with me
even when I did not know it,
or welcome it.
I experienced one night a God who could love even me…
In the words of John’s Gospel: it was as if God was saying:
“As many as receive my grace in Christ…
to you I will make a child of mine,
even to those who believe.” (Jn. 1:12)
God’s grace given…
Until I received it,
that grace has changed everything in me
and continues to direct my life even now.

We can know a lot of information about God
UNTIL we know God personally by experience.
That experience inspires, and transforms
Not only human life, but also the world in which we live.

Our Gospel reading for this morning:
Something happened the evening after the feeding of the 5,000.
Jesus had gone away to a quiet place to pray.
The disciple had left by boat on the sea,
when a terrible storm came up.
In the morning, as the sky began to shed its dark storm cover,
there in the foggy dawn light. . .
“What is that you see?
Over there…there is something moving.
What is it?
Is a ghost!
No; that is not a ghost it is Jesus!
Peter shouted:
Lord, if it is you,
Command me to come to you on the water.
Out of the dawn mist came the invitation:

And there it happened again--
It is Jesus who comes to a boat filled with frightened men,
and then invites grace,
waiting to see who would respond to it.

Peter starts out walking on the water.
He obeys the call and begins.
Matthew tells us,
when Peter saw the
water and the wind,
he began to sink…
calling out Lord, Save Me.
And the saving hand reached out to Peter
willing to believe it would be there.

In grace, God wakes us up to possibilities.
In grace God invites our response,
then waits to see what we will do.
It is GRACE FIRST; obedience FIRST,
then FAITH comes after.

Is that you, Lord?
That is the question we ask every morning,
every evening,
in every experience of our living.
Is that you, Lord?
Then call me.
Come on and I will be there for you.

That’s what we talk about here at FCC.
God is always present,
even in this troubled world.
God is always inviting grace and then waits
UNTIL we receive it…
And then life is never the same again.

How do you know God?

Yet it is a little child worshiping
Most truly, with innocent glow
Singing “Jesus Loves Me, this I know.”


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