Summary: Sermon on a biblical view of God based on Acts 10:34-43
FIRST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY
January 9, 2011
St. Andrew’s Church
The Rev. M. Anthony Seel, Jr.
“America’s Four Gods”
Who does the grocery shopping for your household. I admire those who regularly wage the grocery store battles. Last year, I was part of the MOVE weight loss program at the Binghamton V.A. Health Clinic. Now, I know that you’re saying to yourself, “why would Fr. Tony need to be involved in a weight loss program?”
One session of the MOVE program was devoted to a video that explained grocery store marketing. The video took us through a typical grocery store beginning with the produce section. About every grocery store I’ve ever been in gets you started with the produce section, and this is a good thing since produce is good for us. The video explained how endcaps generate increased sales of the items placed in them and how eye level placement in aisles also increases sales. Folks, with all the marketing expertise that is employed at the grocery store we don’t have a chance!
Honestly, for me, a grocery store is sensory overload. They’re almost as bad as a Chucky Cheese, although Chucky Cheese is sound and sight and a grocery store is more reliant on sight alone. There are so many choices between similar products it can be baffling. Similar products come in different sizes and weights with different prices and nuances in ingredients. It’s all too much. How do you regular grocery shoppers do it?
There’s a similar complexity in the American religious landscape. Roughly 90% of Americans believe in God and about 85% of Americans believe that God is loving. However, after that the homogeneity of belief vanishes.
Baylor University professors Paul Froese and Christopher Bader looked at the wide range of beliefs about God in America and determined that this hodgepodge of ideas could fit under four headings. In America’s Four Gods, Froese and Bader offer two questions that they believe lead to the four most prevalent conceptions of God in the United States.
Question #1 is “To what extent does God interact with the world.” [Note: quotes and information on America’s Four Gods is from the Christianity Today book review by Matthew Lee Anderson, “The Divine Divide,” which can be accessed at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/november/21.65.html]
Question #2 is “To what extent does God judge the world?”
From the answers to these two questions Froese and Bader teased out America’s four Gods.
God #1 is “the authoritative God, who both judges and is closely engaged in the world.” This God is like the stereotypes God the Cop and God the Judge.
God #2 is “the benevolent God who is ‘engaged but nonjudgmental.’” This is the Santa Claus God or God the Loving Grandfather.
God #3 is “the critical God, who happens to be judgmental but disengaged. I call this the bad mother in law God. Before you throw things, notice that I said bad mother in law. I’m sure that there aren’t any bad mother in laws here.
God #4 is “the distant God, who is neither engaged nor judgmental and could care less about how humans muck about.” I call this the Slumlord God.
Who is God for you?
The typology of Froese and Bader is helpful for getting us beyond the usual liberal-conservative over-simplification, yet it clearly lacks the subtleties and distinctions that we find in Scripture. The God who is revealed in the Bible is both loving and just. The God who is disclosed in Scripture is both transcendent, that is, way beyond us, and immanent, that is, near to us.
In our Old Testament and New Testament lessons we see God engaged in our world. In our Psalm we see the promise of even greater involvement in our world by God than we find in much of the Old Testament. In our Gospel lesson we see the beginning of God’s greater involvement being revealed at the Jordan River.
After Jesus is baptized a voice from heaven declares “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Could there be a clearer sign that God is involved in our world? I don’t think so. God at Christ’s baptism identifies Jesus as His Son. Jesus is the One the prophet Isaiah spoke of in our first lesson; God sent His Son to be a light for the nations (Isaiah 42:6). That’s our Epiphany theme today.
Our God is the benevolent God who has come in Jesus to show Himself to the world. This is the message that the Apostle Peter proclaimed to non-Jews in Caesarea as recorded in Acts chapter 10.
vv. 34-35 So Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”