A sermon by Graham Agnew
It’s one of the most interesting moments in the life of the great Apostle Paul! As an academic, thinker and philosopher we find him “mixing it” and pitting his wits against his Greek counterparts in the ancient city of Athens.
It’s recorded in Acts 17 and at one point Paul is being quite shocked by the vast number of gods depicted in the city, in the form of idols and statues. Toward the close of the chapter he makes a bold claim on behalf of all Christians and he asserts that, far from worshiping gods of wood, clay and stone, Christians enjoy a personal relationship with the one true God – it’s intimate and it’s very personal.
He puts it this way: (verse 28) “God is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live, move and have our very being…” It’s a beautiful way of describing the richness, the closeness of the relationship that is possible with God our Father, through Jesus Christ his son.
The extent to which our life counts…the extent to which we make an impact is inextricably linked to the strength of our relationship with God.
I mean, that’s how it is with people of faith! If God is the one who is never far from us…if he’s the one in whom we live, move and have our very being – any impact we have on the people we associate with and the situations in which we find ourselves, is going to be a reflection of what we think and feel about God – how we’re travelling with him.
That’s assuming we want to make a positive impact. Think for a moment of the people whose impact on the world has been negative and destructive – and it’s been a reflection (at least in part) of how they have viewed God.
Many racists over the years (and now) base their views on the belief God has created some human beings superior to others. Many fundamentalist believe God is all about rules, judgment and condemnation and this is reflected in their tendency to arouse huge levels of guilt and anxiety within those whom they try to reach.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have the extreme liberal Christian whose view of God is that of a doddery, benevolent old man, pretty much oblivious to what’s going on around him…doesn’t have any definite views on any issue…is happy to accommodate virtually any moral or ethical view point – as long as nobody “appears” to get hurt!
So what we believe about God plays a vital role in the shaping of who we are, as disciples and the subsequent impact we are likely to have on those around us.
In Psalm 8 we get a very strong impression of how David, the Psalmist, viewed God – the sort of relationship he had with him – some of the convictions he had about the nature and character of God. It’s a striking and compelling Psalm. Firstly, David has an understanding of the vastness of God…the expansiveness of his creation. Listen to verses 1, 3 and 4:
Oh Lord, our Lord, your greatness is seen in all the world. Your praise reaches up to the heavens. When I look at the sky, which you have made, at the moon and the stars which you set in their places – what are human beings that you think of them; mere mortals that you care for them?
Here’s the thing: if we can believe God is incomprehensively and unimaginably vast, that is potentially going to have a profound effect on our approach to life in so many areas. For one thing, when it comes to the impact we make, it means we can influence people to aspire and not expire…to step out in faith…to take a risk…to face the future with optimism and confidence – knowing that our great God will sustain us, uphold us and enable us to push through even the most adverse of circumstances. Now there’s a very positive impact to have on someone…
When we believe in the greatness of God and his power to work miracles, our approach to challenges, opportunities and adversity is changed forever – and with that conviction, we can have a positive influence on others; we can point people to the God of the miraculous!
Of course, belief in the vastness of God and his miraculous ways is a far cry from the belief held by some people, who seem to think God is like Santa Claus – you simply present all your requests and desires to him in the hope he’ll miraculously deliver on all counts. Just recently I drove past a church which had a chalk board in its front yard with the heading “I wish God would…” I was fascinated to think a church would provide a facility like this for its local residents. The comments were very predictable: “Help me pass my exam”, “Please make Grandma better”, “Help my team win the footy match”.
Making long lists of requests is not the basis of our relationship with God. The prophet Micah (chapter 6 verse 8) asks the question what does the Lord require of you? His answer: to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. The most important list in our relationship with God is not the one we give to Him, but the list of requirements for our spiritual lives He gives to us!
But as we look closer at Psalm 8 there’s another way in which David viewed God and it comes in verse 2: “Safe and secure from all your enemies, you stop anyone who opposes you…” This is not meant to convey the idea of a vindictive, revengeful God who aggressively crushes anyone who opposes him. It’s more the notion of a God who is impregnable – one who cannot be defeated by evil; one who will prevail – even though it may appear he is on the back foot and losing ground.
Isn’t that the way it seems sometimes? You look at this world and it appears like the forces of evil have the upper hand: there’s warfare in so many parts of the world; the exploitation of children, the tragic dilemma of boat people, the constant threat of terrorism – and so it goes on. But the Bible reveals a much bigger picture of events – it gives us an eternal perspective and it talks about love, truth, mercy and justice being the values that will ultimately prevail.
The apostle John, in his vision of the future, recorded in Revelation (chapter 21 verse 4) says: “He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.” Yes, this picture of ultimate victory relates to our eternal future – but that victory starts here and now! Every time someone shows kindness in the face of despair – there’s a victory. Every time someone shows courage in the face of fear – that’s a victory.
When someone shows compassion in the face of cruelty – that’s a victory; hope in the face of grief; faith in the face of doubt; forgiveness in the face of hate. These are all moments of victory over the forces of evil – all indicators that the ultimate victory has already been won. And here’s the point: if we can believe God has already won the victory, over evil and death because of what Jesus has done in his death and resurrection, we can more confidently and convincingly support people in a crisis (large or small). Why? Because we can offer the one thing people need more than anything in a crisis – and that’s hope!
In Psalm 8 we receive powerful insights into how David viewed God… his belief about God. It’s clear he saw God as unimaginably vast and has having already won the victory over sin and death. Then in verses 4 – 6 we receive another insight: David asks – what are human beings that you think of them: mere mortals that you care for them? It’s the most logical question to follow David’s declarations about the vastness of God and the victory of God because it’s basically saying: God, why on earth would you be interested in the human race? They’re so fragile: so unpredictable; so unreliable; so vulnerable…
And yet, God has placed us at the pinnacle of the Creation order with enormous capacity… enormous potential for good…..and he has demonstrated an intense interest in humanity not just en masse but individually. The ministry of Jesus (God in human form) provides us with numerous examples of this truth. So much of our Lord’s dealing with people was on a one to one basis. Yes, there were the vast crowds, but there was also Matthew the tax collector; the rich young ruler; the man at the Bethesda pool; the woman at the well; Zaccheus and the woman who touched the hem of his garment.
Now it follows: if we can believe God is intensely interested in every person…treats us all as treasured individuals – we will be more inclined to treat others with dignity and grace because we’ll see them as children of the living God and this realization will determine how we extend justice, mercy, forgiveness, understanding and love. You know, down throughout the centuries and even til now, Christianity has always been at the forefront in initiatives in these areas.
Christianity has played a key role in the establishment in welfare programs for the poor; care facilities for the aged; Chaplaincy services in prisons; orphanages for children in crisis and hospitals for struggling people in developing nations. I’m not suggesting for one moment the Christian Church has exclusive rights in the areas of justice and compassion, but if the influence of Christian Aid organisations and charities were to be suddenly and surprisingly removed, the results would be disastrous.
The final indicator in Psalm 8 which tells us what David thought of God, comes in verses 6 and 7: “You appointed them rulers over everything you made”. There’s proof our God is a trusting God! He’s one who is into delegation in a most dramatic way! As the ones at the top of the Creation Order we have authority and if we can believe God has given us authority…. If we can believe he trusts us to that extent…we can feel empowered and in turn empower others! What was one of the last things Jesus said to His disciples: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses.
As followers of the living Christ, we are meant to walk with a strong sense of poise, purpose and confidence – ready and resolute about fulfilling our mission to be the light of the world.
The extent to which our life counts…the extent to which we make an impact, is inextricably linked to the strength of our relationship with God…what we think of God…how we see our relationship with Him. Based on David’s view of God in Psalm 8, it’s clear we also can become someone who inspires….someone who cares deeply…..someone who treats people with grace and dignity….someone who is empowered and empowers others. Now that’s a description of someone who’s making an impact – someone who’s making their life count for something – someone who’s learning to be like Jesus…. And that’s what a disciple is…
Father, help us to make a positive impact on those with whom we have contact day by day. Amen.