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Sermon: Do You Want To Know God?

Sunday's sermon worked pretty well, I think. The parts where I asked a question, I waited for the congregation to answer before going forward. That was pretty different than what usually happens and the congregation didn't know what to think of it at first, I think. By the final time I asked the question, they were mostly right on board. I didn't think of it very much beforehand, but that's the aspect of the sermon that I got the most comments about. People seemed happy to "mix it up" a bit and have some back-and-forth during the message.

We had some technical difficulties with the laptop that is used to project the song lyrics and scripture on the wall. The youth running the laptop weren't able to get it working 'till just about the time I was ready to start my sermon. So we didn't have lyrics up for the songs except the reprise, and the scripture wasn't on the wall, either, until the very end. Once the laptop was working, and before I started preaching, I had a short back-and-forth with the youth running the laptop, which I think actually worked pretty well to help set a more laid-back, informal mood.

I decided to work from the lectionary scripture this time instead of choosing my own. I used Peterson's paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, for the text. That's something that I'm usually hesitant to do, preferring to use a translation. But, occasionally, something really jumps out at me from The Message. This time, it was how he rendered Hosea 6:6 -- "I'm after love that lasts, not more religion. I want you to know GOD, not go to more prayer meetings."

I mostly stayed with the prepared text, but I did end up ad-libbing a bit here and there.

All in all, I think it went well.

Do You Want To Know God?
prepared by Greg Cohoon for delivery on June 8, 2008
Mount Pisgah UMC Praise & Worship Service

Scripture: Hosea 5:15-6:6

Do you want to know God?

He wants to know you.

The scripture we read today makes that fact plainly clear: "I'm after love that lasts, not more religion. I want you to know GOD, not go to more prayer meetings."

If we want to know God, one of the first questions we might ask ourselves is, "How do we get to know God?" It’s very tempting to list a handful of so-called easy answers to that question: we get to know God by coming to church, by participating in Bible studies, and so forth. But does that really get us to a point where we know God? Look at our scripture again – "I'm after love that lasts, not more religion. I want you to know GOD, not go to more prayer meetings." Yes, things like going to church and participating in Bible studies are important – but doing these things alone will not get us to a point where we know God. Instead, I think these are things that help us know about God. It’s close, but it’s not quite the same.

So we come back to the question: "How do we get to know God?" As we look for an answer to that question, let’s step back a minute and think about how we get to know anyone.

What's one of the first things we do when we start to get to know someone? We introduce ourselves to each other! Sometimes these introductions are quite formal, but usually the introductions are informal. It’s the same way with God. Sometimes our introduction to God is a formal introduction. Picture, for example, being introduced to God in a teaching or preaching situation. For some of us, our first real introduction may have been attending a worship service or a Sunday School class. Now think what an informal introduction might look like – your parents or grandparents tell you Bible stories, a coworker or a friend talks about what they believe about God, etc. Either way, formal or informal, the point is that there are many ways that we are introduced to God.

Now that's only half of the introduction, though. Just as God introduces himself to us, we need to introduce ourselves to him. Now how on earth do we do that? Introducing ourselves to another person – that’s easy. We just go up and shake hands, tell the other person a little about ourselves. How do we "shake hands" with God? Let's keep this question in the back of our mind as we think about the other things we do to get to know someone.

After we've introduced ourselves to each other, what's the next thing we do to get to know someone? We hang out with each other. How do you get to know people in your family? You spend time with them. Your friends? You spend time with them. Your coworkers? You spend time with them. It's the same with God. We’re faced with the same question we just had when talking about introductions – how do we "hang out" with God? The obvious answer is to come to church. The standard formula goes like this: the church is God’s house, God is in the sanctuary, when you come to church, you are in God's presence. While all of that is true, it's far from complete. As I mentioned before, all to often, church turns into a one-way process – you get to know about God, but you don’t get to know God. I think that’s what this morning’s scripture was alluding to when it says "I want you to know GOD, not go to more prayer meetings."

This isn't to say that going to more prayer meetings (or worship services, or Bible studies, etc.) is a bad thing. There is a lot of value to be had with these organized activities. But if you really want to know God, you've got to go beyond that.

Do you want to know God?

He wants to know you.

What can we do to take that next step – to step out and move beyond "more religion" and move toward "love that lasts"?

We need to rethink what it means to "hang out" with God.

We need to recognize that getting to know God is more, much more than the "religious" things that we do.

We need to think of our relationship with God in the same ways that we think of our relationships with our friends.

Now, that's a scary thought. I don't know about you, but I'm much more comfortable thinking of God as the holy creator of everything. I'm much more comfortable thinking of God as someone much to big to be concerned with the little things that I do. When I think of the God of today’s scripture passage – the God who wants me to know him – not just know about him – that's a scary proposition. But we can't escape it. The God who created the universe, the God who created each and every one of us – this same God wants us to know him. He wants us to "hang out" with him.

So, we come back to those unanswered questions: how do we introduce ourselves to God? How do we hang out with God?

I think both of those questions have the same answer.

Prayer.

It's almost too simple an answer, isn't it? That’s OK, it's not supposed to be hard!

I think that one of the things that keeps us from knowing God like he wants us to know him is that we try to make it too hard. It's easy to put up roadblocks. Maybe we don't think we're good enough to know God. Maybe we're scared that if we knew God too well, he'd make us change the way we’re living our lives. We can come up with excuse after excuse, but that’s all they are – excuses.

It's time we quit making excuses and started getting to know God.

If it's been a while since you've introduced yourself to God in prayer, take some time next time you're praying to reintroduce yourself to him. Let him know what you’ve been doing lately. Let him know what you've been thinking about lately. God wants you to tell him about the things that are going on in your life. Sharing these things with him is one way that you get to know him.

One of the great things about prayer is that you can pray anytime and anyplace. You can pray right here at church. You can pray when you’re in the car on the way to church. You can pray at home. You can pray at work or school. You can pray out loud. You can pray silently. The more you pray, the more you get to know God.

Here's another thing to keep in mind about prayer: you shouldn't be doing all the talking. Just like when you get to know someone else, there's a lot of back-and-forth. You talk about yourself for a bit, then you listen to the other person talk about themselves. It’s the same way with getting to know God: you need to listen to what God is saying to you.

There are lots of ways to listen to God. The obvious way is to see what he's revealed about himself in the Bible. Again, participating in worship services and Bible studies, etc. will get you part of the way there. But only part of the way. If you really want to listen to God, you need to take time as part of your prayer life and just be quiet.

I don't know about you, but that’s really hard for me. So often, when I'm praying, I just want to rush through whatever I have on my mind, say my “Amen”, and get back to whatever I was doing. In the fast-paced world that we live in, it can be hard to take the time to simply stop and listen to what God is saying to us. Sometimes, in prayerful meditation, you’ll be able to sense God's presence. That’s listening to God. That’s getting to know God.

Do you want to know God?

He wants to know you.

I've got a homework assignment for you, to help you know God. Sometime in the next few days, take some time to spend with God. Introduce or reintroduce yourself to him. Tell him about the things that are on your mind. Listen to what he has to say to you. Go outside and check out the things that he's doing. He is God, after all – even though he's available to spend a lot of time hanging out with each of us, he’s still got time to do all that stuff he does in nature. Look around at the flowers, the trees, the stars in the sky, all of nature. Do you want to know God? If so, pay attention to the things he is creating every day.

The more you hang out with God, the more you will get to know him. That is exactly what God wants from us. Yes, you can hang out with God here at church. But you’re only here a few hours a week. Are you hanging out with God when you’re not here?

As we hang out with God like this, our relationship with him will naturally become more personal. More like the relationships we have with each other. We'll spend less time thinking of God as some sort of abstract concept, and more time thinking of God as our friend. And when we see and treat God as our friend, we’ll start to develop that other thing that our scripture talks about – "love that lasts."

Think of how powerful that is. It's not a fleeting infatuation. It's not something temporary. It is love that lasts. The only way to maintain love that lasts is to work on it. We're not going to develop love that lasts if we're on fire for God on Sunday mornings, but don’t hang out with him at all during the week.

Sadly, that's what we tend to do. That's a common thread in the history of God’s people. It's recorded in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, we see the Hebrews gripe and complain as God is leading them out of slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. In the New Testament, we see Peter deny that he even knew Jesus. If we're honest with ourselves and examine our own lives, we will find numerous examples where we have drifted away – or even run away – for whatever reason. We say that we love God, but do we show it?

God wants us to have love that lasts, not more religion. The only way to foster love that lasts is to spend time hanging out with God, and if the only time you're spending with God is the few hours a week that you’re at church, that's not nearly enough.

Remember that homework assignment I mentioned a few minutes ago. Make it a point in the next few days to spend some serious time hanging out with God.

Do you want to know God?

He wants to know you.

He's after love that lasts, not more religion.

Let’s give him what he's looking for.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
prester_scott
Jun. 10th, 2008 12:58 pm (UTC)
Obviously I wasn't there, so I can't comment on anything except your text here.

...enh. Sorry, I hope this doesn't come across as haughty or belittling, but I wouldn't have done it this way.

I dislike Peterson's rendering, for one thing. It's not out-and-out wrong, but it's so breezy. It risks missing the obedience-to-the-Law angle: contemporary evangelical "religion" and "prayer meetings" are sometimes what you do out of emotional or social need, not just a legalistic sense of obligation. Had I preached on Hosea 6:6, I would have connected it to the other prophets (e.g. Micah 6:8) and to Jesus (Matt 9:13,12:7). Jesus' expectation of righteousness is "all of the above" (Matt 5:20). I suppose it depends on your audience. If they're the sorts that are "super-Christians" and in church every time the doors are open, then your angle would be good, though I think you could have struck a lot harder -- God did.

I did not care for the first half. The P&W culture is already super-informal, treating God as an equal that you "hang out" with. I think intimacy with God can be approached just as well from the standpoint of God as sovereign Father, e.g. Isaiah 49:15-16.

The second half, the primer on how to pray, was good. I'd have gone a lot further and deeper on that topic.

I have to know: were these seasoned believers you were preaching to, or new believers, or a mixed group of folks off the street? That makes a big difference.
drmellow
Jun. 10th, 2008 03:04 pm (UTC)
Sorry, I hope this doesn't come across as haughty or belittling, but I wouldn't have done it this way.

Not haughty or belittling at all. The concerns you raise are pretty much all the concerns I had while working on the sermon. It's also why I'm still not completely sure if I'm happy with the way it all worked out.

As I mentioned, I don't usually like working from Peterson's paraphrase. Usually I don't even look at it. I don't know why I looked at it this time, and I don't know why his rendering struck me like it did, but that's what I decided to go with. I especially don't like basing a message on a particular set of English words a translation uses, especially when the translation isn't even a translation, but a paraphrase. I think that's too much of a gimmick and too easily prone to error. Still, that's what what I ended up doing here, too.

I think I mostly agree with your concerns about being super-informal. However, I think that an occasional message that challenges a stand-offish attitude has its place. If I had only one opportunity to deliver a single message about humanity's relationship with God, is this the message I would have delivered? Goodness, no. But combined with the other messages that come from the pulpit each week, I think it can have a place. Mostly, I was trying to make the point that our relationship with God should be constant, not just reserved for going to church.

I have to know: were these seasoned believers you were preaching to, or new believers, or a mixed group of folks off the street? That makes a big difference.

Mostly youth, and they're mostly there for the music. A handful of the youth are the super-on-fire type, but most of them are the typical moderately-to-well-involved type. Of the non-youth, the congregation is fairly mixed: probably all believers, with a few seasoned believers but the majority in the middle.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments. For improving my craft, I'd rather have well-reasoned criticism than the polite responses I typically get. This is easily the sermon that I'm least happy with, and some of the things you mentioned probably help explain why. I ended up treating the whole subject with "kid gloves", and that might have been a mistake.
prester_scott
Jun. 10th, 2008 03:28 pm (UTC)
Just one further thought:

However, I think that an occasional message that challenges a stand-offish attitude has its place.

My point was that God's majesty does not and should not mean that He is stand-offish. Quite the contrary: He desires full communion with each and every one of us, and gave His Only-Begotten Son to make this possible. We can rejoice in intimacy with God, but as a submitted child, not as an equal.

Mostly, I was trying to make the point that our relationship with God should be constant, not just reserved for going to church.

That would have been perfectly fine, but I don't think you homed in well on that point.
drmellow
Jun. 10th, 2008 03:35 pm (UTC)
Ah, gotcha. Thanks for the clarification.

I did a handful of things wrong preparing for this one, and it shows in the final product. Next time will be better.
arcticturtle
Jun. 10th, 2008 06:04 pm (UTC)
Yes. There's so much about God that can tie you up in knots of theology if you forget that it's a relationship, and we already understand relationships pretty well.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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