Glennon Doyle Who Is Your God? – A Sermon on Exodus 3:1-15 & Matthew 16:21-28
Uh you’re the first um i think the first canadian church i’ve i’ve connected with uh via zoom um these past couple of weeks and one of the first in toronto. The first cboq church i’m i’m really grateful to connect with you and grateful for your your witness. Um, as somebody who’s been kind of in your family of churches for a number of years. So, thank you so much um and i want to say, welcome to anybody who’s tuning in via zoom or on my youtube channel and and if you want to find that later, um just go to pastorjune.com and you can watch a replay of the sermon um and If you want to hear me preach again in about an hour or so i have a, i recorded a sermon that’s being played for the metropolitan community church of toronto this morning, so you can find their youtube channel and uh. These are interesting days where we don’t get to be together in person, but we can connect with a variety of fellowships across time and space on on zoom on youtube. So i hope you’ll find me there well, between 2006 and 2008, a pair of sociologists at baylor university down in texas surveyed over 3 300 americans and they conducted in depth interviews with another couple hundred people the questions. These two sociologists were trying to answer. The big idea they wanted to know is is this: who is your god, and so they asked people to note their agreement or disagreement with what we might call a list of theological statements.
You’Ve seen, questions like this agree. Disagree strongly disagree strongly agree undecided stuff like that. So some of the statements were, god is critical, agree or disagree. God is angered by human sin. Strongly agree strongly. Disagree, god is directly involved in world affairs, agree or disagree. Maybe undecided god is directly involved in my affairs agree or disagree, god is distant, god is present, god is wrathful, god is merciful, god is concerned with your personal. Well, being god, doesn’t interfere in everyday affairs. All kinds of questions like that, the two researchers asked uh, like i said, 3, 300 or so people, and even though their research was all conducted in the united states uh the questions they designed have since been asked to people all over the world, and you can Actually take the test if you want to, and i can drop the link on in the description of my youtube, video and there’s a website where you can sort of take their inventory of questions. But whoever is answering the questions and wherever they live in the world. There tend to be some consistencies. The ratios may vary from place to place, but what the researchers found was that people generally hold one of four views of god, a more authoritarian view, a more benevolent view, a more critical view and a more distant view. Now those categories on their own are fascinating to me and there’s. A lot to unpack there, but what’s even more fascinating, is how, when the sociologists knew what a person’s concept of god was, they could pretty accurately predict where those people stood on a whole list of social issues.
They could figure out your basic sense of morality. They could figure out how you think about money, how you think about science, how you think about natural disasters, uh, how you think about politics. They could pretty accurately predict a number of things about you all, based on how you respond to the question. Who is your god, and so they put all their research in a book and they called the book america’s four gods, what we say about god and what that says about us that subtitle kind of says it all doesn’t it. What we say about god says something about us: how a person talks about god. The sociologist right will reveal something crucial about how she understands the world and her life. So who is your god it’s? An important question tell me about your god. What is your god like? What is your god’s name and and what does that god care about? What are this god’s priorities to? Whom does your god speak to? Whom does your god listen? Who is your god when you begin to answer that question you’re, not only making a statement about god you’re, making a statement about you? Who is your god now? We have listened today to a pair of scripture readings from what we call the revised common lectionary, one from the beginning of exodus, chapter three in the hebrew bible and the other from the end of matthew 16 in the gospels and if you’re catching this sermon after Sunday morning or watching on youtube i’ll link to those passages below, but we find in exodus a story about moses the the person that gog will choose to lead the liberation of the enslaved hebrew people from egypt.
Moses is busy not making plans to serve as a liberator. He is instead tending the herds of his father in law out in the wilderness and that’s, where he encounters god in the form of a bush that’s on fire, but not consumed and in a voice. Coming from that fire and that voice says to moses, listen, i’ve seen the misery of my people in egypt and i’ve been listening. While they cry out on account of their oppressors, i am going to set them free and you moses you’re, the one i’m sending to pharaoh to tell him all about it. Okay, wait, wait, says moses, who are you again? You say you’re, the god of my ancestors. Oh okay, what’s your name exactly i’m, not sure i understand exactly who you are god. We move ahead to the gospel of matthew and jesus is attempting to explain to his disciples that the cross is in his future that he’s going to be abused by leaders. He’S going to be killed and then raised from the dead, he makes it clear that his way is the way of the cross and that walking in his way means letting go of your own life. For his sake, now to peter jesus’s, most outspoken disciple, a cross does not sound like it has any business being in god’s plan he’s bewildered. Maybe the way that moses was bewildered to learn that god hangs out in the wilderness and listens to the prayers of slaves, and so it is peter pulls, jesus aside to say: hey, listen! You can’t talk like that, what you’re saying about suffering and about a cross? What you’re saying about death that simply cannot happen.
Peter jesus says you are not thinking the way god thinks you’re thinking the way people think now. I want to suggest that these two passages, these two stories touch at least one common theme and that common theme, i believe, connects to those big questions that that one big question that we thought about a couple minutes ago, who is your god that’s? An important question? Remember because that theological statement connects to something personal and practical. What we say about god says something about us who we become is shaped by who we confess, god is to borrow jesus’s language from matthew, chapter 16. How we set our mind on heavenly things determines how our minds approach, worldly things, who is your god and as a result, who are you even though these two scriptural stories have settings that are thousands of years apart? They are set against a similar backdrop, they’re set in worlds where a disproportionate degree of power is located in a single person in the world of the exodus that person is pharaoh, the supreme ruler of egypt, the man before whom moses must stand and say let my People go in the world of the gospels that powerful person is caesar the supreme ruler of the roman empire, of which jesus and his disciples are subject. Now, if we skip ahead a little bit from matthew, chapter 16 to matthew, chapter 22, we will hear jesus saying give to caesar what belongs to caesar and when jesus delivers, this memorable line he is holding in his hand a coin with caesar’s image, an inscription it’s, Probably an image of tiberius who was caesar at the time, and if that coin was like many of the coins circulating around the empire back in those days, the inscription on it proclaimed that tiberius was the son of god.
It was a different world back at the time of the exodus i’m, pretty sure that the people of egypt weren’t minting coins in those days. But history suggests that much like caesar pharaoh would have been regarded as divine a god on earth or, at the very least, an agent of god on earth. Someone who, by virtue of his political power and military strength and vast wealth, represented god’s highest approval and purest ideal for humanity, who is your god? Well, if you had asked a typical subject of the roman empire, five thousand uh the egyptian empire rather five thousand years ago, or a typical subject of the roman empire two thousand years ago. They may well point to the man in charge. God they might say is like caesar is like pharaoh. It’S like the powerful, the wealthy, the strong god is with those who have the power to enslave the power to crucify. God is with the armies, god is with the rulers, god is with the type of people whose impression is printed on the money. The type of people commonly memorialized in bronze and stone. God is with the people that can buy and sell anything. They want any time they want. God is with the people who win wars and win elections. Now the world has changed in in countless ways, since the stories that we’ve read today were first told our ways of thinking about god, and our attitudes about religion in general have shifted.
I think we may not consider our leaders to be supreme anymore, although i think some of my fellow americans do make me wonder about that. Sometimes we don’t tend to think of our leaders or our hero rose or our influencers as manifestations of god on earth, not uh, explicitly or overtly anyway, but we cling to some of those same ideas about who, god is, and what power means and that’s. Why we need to hear scriptural stories, like the ones we’ve heard today, stories about a god who listens to the prayers of slaves stories about a god made manifest in a man living in occupied territory, hanging on one of the empire’s crosses these stories? Have the power to change how we think about god, which means they have the power to uh, to change us to to transform us to save us. Even i recently finished reading glenn doyle’s new book untamed, um it’s, one of the best selling books on earth. Right now, because of the powerful and relatable ways that it invites women um well people, but women in particular to reconsider some of life’s, most important questions about personhood and power and possibility. Glendon’S life has involved plenty of transition. In recent years. She has overcome addiction gotten out of a painful marriage to her ex husband and and into a thriving and life, giving marriage with her wife abby along the way she’s had to deconstruct and then begin to reconstruct her faith.
I love the way she writes about this process because i think a lot of us are on similar journeys. I think it reveals one of the deep truths behind stories like those in the exodus and the gospels. Listen to this passage from the book she writes. I don’t know if i call myself a christian anymore, that label suggests certainty and i have none. It suggests the desire to convert others and that’s. The last thing i want to do it suggests the exclusive belonging and i’m not sure i belong anywhere anymore. Part of me wants to peel that label off and to set it down and try to meet each person soul to soul without any layers between us. But i find myself unable to let go fully because to wash my hands of the jesus story is to abandon something beautiful to muddy hungry hijackers, and so i’ll say this. I remain compelled by the jesus story, not as history meant to reveal what happened long ago, but his poetry meant to illuminate a revolutionary idea, powerful enough to heal and free humanity. Now there was a time on earth like every other time on earth when humanity had turned against itself a few hoarded unspeakable riches, while children, starved people raped and robbed and enslaved one another and waged wars against one another for power and money. There were a few. There are always a few wise enough to see this order of things as unjust and untrue and unbeautiful.
They saw that killing one another for money is absurd, because what lies within each person is more valuable than gold. They saw that slavery and hierarchy are evil, because no one is born more worthy of freedom and power than another. They saw that violence and greed destroy the powerful just as they destroy their victims because to dishonor another’s humanity is to bury one’s own. They saw that humanity’s only hope for salvation was a truer, more beautiful order of things, and so they asked themselves what kind of story might help people see beyond the lie? They’Ve been taught that some are worth less and others are worth more. What kind of story might return people to their wild to what they knew of love before they were trained to fear one another? What kind of story might inspire people to revolt against and live beyond the religiously dominated hierarchical machine that was killing them here? Was their idea, let’s rethink the stories that we’ve been telling about god, let’s! Dare to imagine that god is less like the powerful men who run the world let’s. Imagine that god is actually like the person that those rulers just killed. Let’S. Imagine that god is a vulnerable baby, born to a poor, single mother among the group, most despised by the religious and political elite. He was the least of these back then, and they pointed to him – and they said god is in him. Had these wise storytellers lived in modern north america, they might point to a poor black, transgender woman or an asylum seeking toddler alone in a detainment center and say god is in this one.
This one, this one on the outermost ring of the rankings that we’ve made up about who matters this one, the one farthest from those we have centered. This one is made of our same flesh and blood and spirit. When we hurt her, we hurt our own kin. This one is one of us: this one is us, so let us protect her. Let us bring her gifts and kneel in front of her. Let us fight for her and her family to have every good thing we want for ourselves and our families. Let us love this one as we love ourselves, it’s, a beautiful passage, so let’s go back one more time to the question we asked at the beginning.