A Two-Way Street
A pastor once told me about a time that he was talking with an agnostic, one who doesn’t believe because it cannot be proven that God exists. The gentleman said to this pastor that he didn’t believe in God. The pastor turned to him and asked: “then what are you going to do with the God who believes in YOU!?”
During this interim time, and in most every sermon, I have spoken to you about our faith in God, in one way or another – what it means, why we need it, how to live it, and how it applies in our everyday life. I believe that to be the most important thing we can do in life – to understand, and continually wrestle with the Word of God, our faith and how it informs and intersects our everyday living.
Today, however, I am going to turn our thoughts around and come at it from a different perspective. Instead of talking about our faith in God, I am going to talk about God’s faith in us. Instead of talking about our belief in God, I am going to talk about God’s believing in us!
Christian faith, then, is a two-way street.
On one side, our faith flows from us to God … and on the other side, God’s faith flows from God to us.
In my study of the lessons for each week, I tend to look for a thread that flows through all three lessons. I suggest then that all of the scripture lessons for today clearly indicate God’s faith in people.
From the Old Testament, we read the Exodus account of the Ten Commandments. Now, we usually think of these commandments as boundaries for our human behavior, necessary boundaries perhaps, but boundaries none-the-less. In our more rebellious moments, we can even view them as limitations to human freedom. But, from another vantage point, they are also seen as the divine estimation of human potential.
Maybe we can understand this perspective a bit better this way. Compare these commandments, for a moment, to the rules with which we all grew up. Every home has a set of rules – written or otherwise – by which the family lives. There was a time in our lives when nothing was required of us.
When we were infants, everything was provided for us, nothing was required of us, and anything was tolerated from us. We were tiny babies with no concept whatever of appropriate and inappropriate behavior. But, with the passing of the weeks and the months, all of that slowly changed. We began to have some things expected of us and certain minimal requirements were imposed upon us, not because our elders were trying to spoil our fun, nor because they were trying to impede our freedom. It was because they wanted us to become real people, living in a real world.
They loved us too deeply and respected us too highly to stand by and watch us squander our human potential. And so, as we became capable of a higher level of living, little by little, we were required to reach for just that. At that point, the household commandments, set before us, were geared to our capabilities.
The Ten Commandments can be understood in that same sense.
Obviously, we do not have time to deal with all of them in detail. But I will mention just the first commandment for explanation. It reads: “I am the Lord your God … You shall have no other gods before me.”
That commandment presupposes that we are capable of spiritual discernment, that we can recognize the highest and the best and give ourselves to it. What a tremendous concept – that we mere mortals, born yesterday, dying tomorrow, can establish – and maintain – a primary relationship with the eternal God of this universe.
God believes that about us. God has that kind of faith in us.
And that, is a tremendous thing to believe about people. Most of the world doesn’t believe it. Sometimes we do not even believe it about ourselves. But God does. God’s commandments are indications of God’s faith in our capabilities.
Our Gospel reading expresses this same truth in a different way. It tells of that occasion when Jesus drove the merchants and moneychangers out of the temple. He was obviously angry that day. I have no doubt that fire was almost leaping from his eyes, as he drove the animals out, upset their tables – and scattered their coins beyond recovery. It is in this text that we see Jesus, himself, actually making – and using – a whip!
You can believe that he was really angry.
And what do you think provoked this gentleman to such a rage? The desecration of a sacred building? No. The use of money in the Temple? I think not. You see, moneychangers were needed in the temple so that these sojourners could purchase animals and birds for sacrifice. The problem was that they were taking advantage of the people by selling them blemished merchandise and the exchange rate for the coins left a large margin to the moneychangers!
The more I study the life of this man, the more I am convinced that, to him, one thing was supremely sacred – not the temple, not the Sabbath, but the people! In his system of values, all institutions existed to meet the needs of people. In that sense, and in that sense only, institutions were sacred.
And, I believe, that was the source of his anger that day in the temple. For, the temple and those who controlled it, were using people instead of serving them. People filled with greed were taking advantage of a lot of needy people. And, I believe, that nothing made Jesus angrier than that.
It also made him angry to see what they were doing to themselves. They held in their hands a chance for greatness, the only kind of greatness that really counts. You see, they could have been servants to the people who poured into the temple at Passover. Those people brought with them a thousand different needs. Their hearts were broken. Their lives were marred by sin. Many of them were sincerely seeking an experience with God.
Those who controlled the temple could have helped them, could have loved them, could have served them. What a golden opportunity for genuine greatness. But with that possibility at their fingertips, they cast it all aside and settled for a few sheckels of ill-begotten gain. And I believe that was the source of Jesus’ anger.
He saw so clearly what people could become. He believed so deeply in human potential that it made him angry to see them settle for anything less. Our God, and therefore God’s son, has that same kind of faith in you and in me.
My final thought this morning is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. It speaks of “Christ crucified”. And that, more than anything else in the world, is an indication of God’s faith in people. The cross is a strange paradox. In it, we see human nature at its worst. Nothing more horrible can be said about people, than that we are capable of hanging a man on a cross to die. If I could change anything in our Christian history, it would be that he would not have to die … especially on a cross!
Yet, the cross, more than any other influence in history, has elevated humanity’s sense of worth and dignity! If Christ died for us, then we know without a doubt, that God will make any sacrifice, suffer on our behalf, and go to every length, to make us God’s own. In other words, if Christ died for us, there must be something in us truly worth dying for.
Now, the impact that idea has had upon the world is beyond calculation. I suspect that it has changed more lives, inspired more charity, built more schools and hospitals than all other influences combined.
The idea is simple – yet very profound!
Christ believed in us enough to die for us!
Yes! Our Christian faith is a two-way street! We believe in God, and God also believes in us. We see evidence of that everywhere, and especially in the cross, symbol of “Christ crucified” — for us!