Monday, January 29, 2007

01/28/07, Sermon

Don’t look for God the way you look for your checkbook. That’s my best advice. God isn’t hiding like your car keys, or your reading glasses. God isn’t tucked away in a hard-to-get-to location like Alamo Rental Car Return in Las Vegas. You don’t get to God by asking someone, “Do you know where God is?” Or, “Can you tell me how to find God?” Or, “Can you give me directions to God?” Getting to God isn’t like “hide and seek” or “lost and found,” because God isn’t like a “thing” that is hidden or lost, even an “invisible thing.”

Think of God as a frame of mind. As a quality, or way, of being. As “godliness,” or “god-like-ness.” As an orientation of heart and soul. As the transforming attitude, or spirit, of existence. “God” is the way we see which grounds, guides and directs the way we live and the way we are. “God” is the foundational perspective which governs our lives. We do not “see God.” We “see as God.” And, in so doing, we “become as God,” and then we “see God in us, and all things.” At that point, we are as close to God as we are going to get, and “at one,” you might say, with all that is.

The task is not “to find God,” but “to cultivate Godliness.” To see with the eyes of God. To live as those who are “of God” in the world. One of the 10,000 spiritual laws states: “The way to God is the way of God.” If you want to know God, the way is simple. There is nothing to it. You have to live in godly ways. God comes to life in those who are living godly lives. But, that is asking a lot of us. More than we can manage, it seems. Certainly, more than we can manage on our own.

In order to “be as God is,” we have to set aside our personal agenda, personal ambition, the idea of personal gain and personal advantage. The problem is that we don’t know how to live without an eye on what’s in it for us. The profit motive keeps us going. You could call it “sin,” if you liked. Sin is the profit motive, the “What’s in it for me?” orientation. Sin is being wrong about what is important. That’s what separates us from God.

We cannot be as God is and think about what is in this for us. God is not in this for what God can get out of it. We think of God as an invisible entity, a being apart, a personal, separate, self with a plan, a will, flipping switches, pushing buttons, pulling strings to make happen what God wants to happen and have everything work together and turn out exactly as God has in mind. “God is working his (sic) purpose out,” you know, as the old hymn goes, “as year succeeds to year.” We think God is all wrapped up in the results and does everything with the outcome in mind, because we know that doing the loving thing in the moment plays Whaley with the outcome.

But, with God, the outcome does not govern the moment. God does not live with one eye on the outcome. God is not determined by the outcome. God is who God is, how God is, no matter what. God is, “Compassion without purpose,” without agenda, without plan, without design. God doesn’t care about the outcome. About the payoff. About the results. About what happens next. God cares about being God. “God loves,” says Jacques Ellul, “because God is love, and not to get results.” God loves, because God is love, in spite of the results!

Of course, this makes quite a mess of things. When you live lovingly, no matter what, you live without an eye on what’s in it for you. You don’t take tactics, or strategy, or timing into account. You just respond to the needs of the moment out of your sense of what is called for. And, you violate protocol, shun proper procedures, transgress boundaries, and set in motion an unmanageable series of events that quickly create tsunamic destruction on an infinite scale just because we did the loving thing without thinking. You can’t do anything without thinking in this world. You have to go through channels in this world—the right channels in the right order—or else. You can’t just “be loving.” You have to “be smart” first. You have to “be smart with your love.” Because love unleashed from reason’s moorings is a wild, reckless, wasteful thing—a monster destroying the structures and systems of the world, and creating horrific messes wherever it goes.

And, yet, if people loved one another, loved their neighbor as themselves, loved their enemies, did unto others as they would be done unto… If compassion ruled, justice would be done, and the outcome would be livable for all concerned. Trying to arrange a propitious outcome sets compassion aside and makes the real mess—the mess that is the world of order, and reason, and carefully prescribed practices, and ways of getting things done.

The world as it is, is the mess God has to break into, and transform, and redeem with messy acts of love, or it is all over, and we lose our souls serving the systems that regiment our lives, keeping things carefully in place and the machinery running smoothly. You see the problem. We deal with the mess by making a mess of the mess. It makes no sense, but don’t leave until I’ve really muddled your mind.

It’s like this: You think people are searching for God, are seeking after God, want to find God? Try living as God in the land. I dare you. It will go much better for you if you talk about God, discuss God, debate with others the whole matter of God, read books on God, take pilgrimages to holy sites to see if God is still there. But do not practice being God. Everyone who has ever done that has come to a bad end. The world, it seems, does not cotton to God (And, if you don’t understand the term, you have not lived in the south long enough. Ask someone who has). God is not welcome in the world, all the money that is made in the “God business” notwithstanding. We pay a price for knowing God, for living in ways that bring God to life in the world.

That leaves us with knowing what the deal is and going forward with our eyes open. That leaves us with understanding the importance of being God without shock, surprise, and consternation when we are not well-received by those we come to deliver. The task is to be God, no matter where we are, no matter how things are, no matter what—without regard for the outcome, with no concern for what happens next.

Of course, to live like that is to die. Jesus was God all the way to the grave. The world is not a friendly place if you are God. And so, it takes us all. Together we create small pockets of God, small parcels of the promised land, small kingdoms of God here-and-there throughout the world. We create a space in which it is safe to practice being God together—loving one another, welcoming one another, creating an environment in which we all belong—in which we all may be received, accepted, heard, seen, understood, known, loved, touched, cared for, enjoyed, appreciated, relished, celebrated—in which we all have a place in one another’s lives. When we are able to do that, even in short segments of time, in the most inconspicuous of ways, we bring God to life in our lives, in the lives of one another, and in the life of the world.

There is some carry-over into the world. We cannot cultivate the gifts associated with being a part of the right kind of company, the right kind of community, without living somewhat differently in the world. We cannot see as God sees here, and not see as God sees there. When we see as God sees, everything changes.

We are never more than a slight shift in perspective away from seeing as God sees, from seeing God everywhere we look—from living godly lives, from being God in the world, from bringing God to life in the world. To be as God is, we only have to stop thinking about what’s in it for us or what we are going to get out of the deal, of what’s the advantage, of where’s the gain. The attitude of God is to not dwell on, or contemplate, or consider what’s good for God. “Whose good is served by the good we serve?” is the question. The attitude of God is to do what is good whether it does any good or not.

We cannot live like that for very long in this world. But, we can live like that from time to time. We can generate momentary flashes of God in the world. We can give the world a glimpse of God, a taste of God. We can shock people awake to the narrowness of their own self-interest and aspirations of personal gain. And, when they turn away, and go back to serving their own ends at the expense of someone else, we can shock them awake again.

No comments: