Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | July 10, 2022

Genesis 1:1-5; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Revelation 21:1-5

One day I was walking through the crowded Glasgow city center, and along the way there was a fellow trying to save souls. His message was, “Repent! You’re going to Hell!”

I kept on walking.

Further along there was a guy with a guitar and he was singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I stopped to listen.  

“I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!”

As I walked along, I thought that when there’s a choice between “Hallelujah” or “You’re going to hell,” I’ll choose “Hallelujah” every time.

People are always trying to tell us about God. People saying the Bible is the one true word of God and they in particular have the one true meaning of that word.

It’s funny how people take the bible, which is a collection of stories told and writings gathered over a period of sane 3,000 years containing recipes, building codes, laundry lists, dairies, contract negotiations, business ethics, laws, poetry, genealogies, stories, dreams, visions and prophecies and boil it down to, “If you don’t see things our way and do things our way God is going to make you suffer for ever and ever – Amen!”

“Not interested,” is all I ever have to say.

The bible is a book about life. You could study it up one side and down the other and still find something new every time. It is a “living word.” As life changes, we continually discover how old and familiar texts apply to our lives in new, yet unchanging ways.

The bible in all its complexity, in all its diversity, is essentially one story. Like a piece of cloth with interwoven designs, it contains many different patterns. What you see when you look at it might vary depending on what you’re looking for. But it is one epic story with many characters, plots and subplots. Like all good stories, it leaves you wondering what will happen next.

The story begins with God, as the author of everything which follows. “When God began creating the heavens and the earth….” we can get sidetracked on details, such as, was it seven literal 24 hour days, or countless eons of Immeasurable time? What is important to the story is that God started it.

When God began creating, there was no time. Time is a measure based on our perspective. We are creatures of time, unable to escape its reality. Yet God is timeless. Over time, human beings appeared on the planet.

God created humanity in that the inner spirit we all carry bears the image of God. Were the first people Adam and Eve in a garden of paradise, or were the first people cave dwellers digging under a rock for grubs? More important than who was first, is the fact that somewhere along the line, people began to realize that within themselves there was something far greater than just themselves. Maybe the first real human being was that one who said, “I have a soul.” That one who put some coloring on his or her hand and left their imprint on the wall of a cave as a way of saying, “I was here.” And in that recognition, some longing of spirit reached out to find its source, its beginning.

The story of the first man and woman who fell from grace is the story of us all. We all realize, sooner or later, that we are separated from the source of our being. Yet because the story begins with God, it is ultimately God’s story. Even though we fell from grace, or realized our separation, or acknowledged that we had done wrong, and tried to hide from our Creator, we could not hide from the voice of the one calling out to us, “Where are you?”

So in a way, the whole of Scripture is the story of God the Creator, calling out to us, “where are you?” The unfolding tale of scripture reveals the story of searching for us; the story of God bringing us back to the source of our being.

When Moses was tending the sheep of his father-in-law, he saw a strange sight. A bush on fire, yet not burning up. Curious to get a closer look, he approached the strange sight. When he did, he heard the voice of God. “Take off your shoes,” said God, “you’re standing on holy ground.” In one sense we might see it as, “show some respect.” In another sense we might hear it as, “let there be nothing to separate us“

When Moses tried to capture the spirit of this voice by placing it with a name, he was told, “I have no name. I am who I am; I will be who I will be.” With that, the name of God was born. Yahweh, the nameless one. The Great Spirit who could only be known by the evidence of his acts, by the signs of her holy presence, by descriptions and comparison.

We tend to call God “he.” In terms of gender we are limited in our choices, really. In terms of the Creator, “he” or “she” is but a pinpoint of reality. God is beyond the limits of human gender and more vast than human imagination. Our willingness to put a handle on God should be seen more as a matter of convenience for us, the easy flow of language, rather than a matter of containment.

When the people whom God called, the people whom God blessed, the people called God’s own children were prepared to end their wandering and settle in the land God promised them, they stood on the verge of great change. No longer would be they be a loose-knit tribe of nomads. They would be a people with a place; a people who would become a great nation.

Even positive change can bring fear. The new ways might seem better than the old, but who can ever be sure? To this people on the verge of greatness, God spoke again, saying, “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

The pattern that emerges from the story reveals that there is no place we can be, where God is not present. Sometimes our experience tries to convince us otherwise. By all the evidence at hand, we would be led to believe that God is not with us; the pain tells us that God has let us go; the sorrow speaks to God’ s absence.

Experiencing the absence of God is one of the most difficult things we ever go through. Even Jesus cried out in abject abandonment. Finding God through the experience of abandonment is one of the most difficult journeys we ever make. Those are the times when formulas don’t work and when recipes fail. Those are the times when advice doesn’t apply, and helpful words spoken with the best of intentions can cut to the core.

It’s in those situations when we begin to understand the depths of the words, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death….’ Somehow it is only within the depth of our own spiritual reserve that we discover the outcome, “I will fear no evil, for you, God, are with me.”

After many generations, the people who once wandered in the wilderness built a great nation. The Promised Land became an empire. Yet like all empires over time, it began to crumble. The vision of God was in danger of being lost to the lure of materialism. Even more ominous, the very existence of the people as a nation was threatened by a foreign power. On the eve of their defeat as a nation, a disaster which threatened to erase their very existence from the face of the earth, the people were reminded of God’s presence through the prophet Jeremiah.

The prophet told the people, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will put my law within you. I will write it on your hearts; and I will be your God and you will be my people.”

The very word of God within one’s own heart. But how could that be? Many centuries later, when the nation was but a remnant of its former glory, when a new foreign power occupied the land, there came a new word to the people.

“In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God.”

He lived, he died, and he lived again. Though his body was broken, it was not enough, because he was life itself. God’s word is written in our hearts, because Jesus, the Word of life, lives in us. His message is simple and clear. Love God and love your neighbor. In that love we find the connection of our spirit to the Spirit of God. We find the uniting bond to one another, which empowers us to live as God intends.

One of the early followers of Jesus wrote, “Without love, I am nothing.” And so it is that when God the Creator asked the question, “where are you?” God provided the answer by coming as one of us.

Even now the story unfolds toward that day in time when time will be no more, when all things will be brought into harmony with the Creator. In the last chapter of the Bible, one writer summarizes the story with these words, “The one who testifies to these things says, ‘surely, I am coming soon “Amen, come Lord Jesus” and we draw our courage, our hope from this final promise, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with us.” And the final word is: Amen.

So be it, Lord. May it be unto us, as you have spoken. This is our hope, our courage, the story we live, the story we have to share with the world. Let the final “amen” be our prayer as we leave here today, that as God has promised, so shall it be. Hallelujah!


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