God, Where Are You?
Bradenton-Sarasota Congregation Online Service
August 9, 2020
Opening meditation – It May Not Be on a Mountain’s Height / Tenderly
It is common in our religious tradition for us to “find God” while walking the paths of one of our reunion grounds, perhaps even while humming one of these hymns. Some of you will recognize some of the places in the video.
Prayer for Peace
God of Peace and Justice,
We pray today for those who have known injustice; And for those who have experienced deep betrayal due to greed, jealousy or hatred. Theirs is a deep pain that begins to heal through the reconciling power of your Spirit.
Allow your Presence to be evident for those hurting and feeling alone. Grant courage to those who are witnesses of reason, who serve with hands of friendship. Open our eyes to understand more responsible choices. Soften our hearts to seek compassion and reconciliation. We pray for healing and wholeness for all of creation.
In the name of the One who taught of justice, reconciliation, healing and wholeness— Jesus. Amen
Message by Elder Rick Lindgren
Words, words, words in that old Bible,
How much of truth remains?
If I only understood them,
And if my lips pronounced them,
Would not my life be changed?
Words, words, words on cracked old pages,
How much of truth remains?
If I only understood them,
And if my life pronounced them,
Would not this world be changed?
— Pete Seeger
The rousing old hymn “Crown Him With Many Crowns” is number 39 in our newest hymnal, but we have sung it for many years. Since childhood I remember the strange words of the last verse that says, “Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime!“ What in the world, I thought, does ineffably sublime mean? You can pause and sing this great hymn along with the Queen of England from Westminster Abbey, if you wish, by clicking here.
“Ineffably sublime” simply means that however you try to define the Ultimate of creation, “God” is more than human words can express. But ironically, the rest of this hymn, like many other hymns and scriptures, attempts to be “effable” anyway and describe God in detail. Since our earliest days on this planet we have been searching for the words to describe the small piece of what Paul Tillich called “the Ground of our Being” that we can comprehend.
I have to admit that I have lost patience with many Christian leaders in recent years who claim to know infallibly the will of God, and who tell me that I cannot be “Christian” unless I see God exactly the way that they see God. I often do not.
Instead, this old hymn has helped me to look at this gap between us in a new way. If God is truly “ineffably sublime,” in other words, cannot be adequately described in human words, then when any of us are talking “God language,” we are more often talking instead about ourselves.
By this I mean that, when we really get worked up and use that “God language” from our scriptures and our tradition, we are selecting, from among those thousands of written pages and thousands of years of history, our own very small “slice of the Gospel Pie,” the piece that tastes best to us right now. The words we express are unavoidably the expressions that tie our personal experience to the “ineffably sublime” that the hymn talks about.
So when I listen to someone talk about “God’s will,” especially someone with whom I may disagree, I try to imagine that I am listening to that person talk about, usually in this old language gifted to us from our forebears, what they really, really Hope for with a capital H, or perhaps what they really, really Fear with a capital F.
Even within our own congregation, we do not all hope and fear the same things in our personal search for God. We are each living out our own story and relationship with God. The words are often just going to be different because we have walked different paths to get here. Just like we can hear a person’s accent and know where he or she grew up, our “God language” often reveals the path we have taken from “there” to “here.”
And I accept that this also goes for me. My own greatest hopes have changed over the years, and I no longer fear the same things. I still read from those “cracked old pages” and I can say that I really, really hope, in following my reading of Jesus, that Justice will prevail in the long run over the forces of greed and violence, as Jesus said, and this Justice will come “on Earth, as it is in Heaven.” I also really, really hope that we will be together soon back in our church building, representing our own small part of the Body of Christ.
One of the tenets of our faith tradition is that God continues to reveal the reality of this world as we confront life challenges that did not exist in the Bronze Age world of 4000 years ago, where many of these “old words” came from. This gives us some ever-new language to use in our personal search for Truth, language that we can mesh with our long tradition. And we can also learn of the words from other religious traditions that might tell us that sometimes all of God’s children are seeking the same thing.
How about you? What do you really, really hope for? What do you really, really fear?
Just like Dusty Springfield sang many years ago, may we all be “Wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin.'” And remembering that Jesus came to cast out fear:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” 1 John 4:18
Disciples’ generous response
Outreach International, our church’s primary arm for addressing extreme poverty in ten countries around the world, has an eight-year service limit for its board members, and my time is coming up in September. In my first year with them, I traveled to this ridge top at 12,000 feet above sea level in the Andes of Bolivia to view the valley 1000 feet below. In the preceding year, it would have been a dry brown after an early harvest. A $5000 grant for pipe from Outreach and church members, plus a lot of “sweat equity” by residents hauling that pipe up the mountain, provided irrigation for this valley and its residents for the first time, extending their growing season by several months. (Rick Lindgren)
Your gifts of money and time are your stewardship of “tangible love” that changes the lives of people around the world who share your hopes and dreams. You can send your tithes and offerings to Dick Kramer or contribute directly via eTithing.
Closing worship – Whenever God Shines His Light on Me by Van Morrison and Cliff Richard
Irish songwriter Van Morrison is still recording after almost 60 years, and many of his songs have spiritual themes. He recorded this song with British singer Cliff Richard in 1989 and it still has a powerful message about our personal search for God.
“Support one another in love, confident that my Spirit will be with you even as I have gone before you and shown you the way.” – Doctrine and Covenants 154:7b
This service was prepared by Rick Lindgren.