Summary: First in the Back to the Basics series, exploring the foundational principles of the Christian faith. This sermon addresses the question, "What do Christians believe about God?"
Several years back, N. T. Wright, who is now a world class New Testament scholar and a bishop in the Church of England, was a young chaplain at a university. His responsibility was to care for the spiritual wellbeing of all the students at the college.
Pretty often, He’d encounter students that (knowingly) weren’t real interested in talking to the chaplain. And they’d figure they’d get rid of him for their four years there by simply telling him right off the bat, “I don’t believe in God.” But he wouldn’t let them off the hook so easily. Instead, he’d respond, “Well, Which God don’t you believe in?” And that usually took them by surprise enough that they’d stop to think about the subject for a moment. Then they’d usually describe the God they didn’t believe in – almost always an bad-tempered, white-bearded grump who sat up on a cloud and hurled thunderbolts at anyone who seemed like they might be having too much fun. Wright would listen politely to their distorted description of God and then respond, “Well, I don’t believe in that god either!!”
And he would then use that opportunity to engage the student into a deeper conversation about who God really is… and who God is not. Who we believe God is makes a big difference. It makes a difference who we believe God is. And it makes an even bigger difference who God really is!
That’s why we’re taking time to tackle the question, “What do Christians believe about God” in our worship today. It’s the first in our “Back to Basics” sermon series. During the months of July and August, we’ll be going back to the basics of the Christian faith, exploring what it is we believe about foundational topics like God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, the Church, and we’ll talk about United Methodist beliefs and practices.
You know, whether we’re brand new to something or even if we’re seasoned pros, we often just really benefit from revisiting the basic, foundational issues from time to time.
Most of you know I went with 20 others from our church to Biloxi, Mississippi his last week for their third mission trip to rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. While there, we did basic home repairs for two families.
Now, at one time, I knew the basic construction procedures down pat. You see, I was on staff at a home repair project for four summers. By my final year, I was the Center Director, meaning I had ultimate responsibility for all the home repair work done in an entire county during the summer. With nine or ten home repair projects being worked on simultaneously, I could be overseeing work on replacing a roof, hanging drywall, installing new windows, laying a vinyl floor, constructing a handicap accessibility ramp, installing a septic tank, and residing a house – all at the same time! And, we often were doing repairs on old, decaying mobile homes or on self-built homes that involved all sorts of, well, “creative” construction? I had to know the construction basics backwards and forwards so I could teach them to other people, would know that our repairs would meet our high standards, pass government inspection, and hold up so that people stayed warm, safe, and dry and gave our ministry a good reputation in the community.
But, you know, the last time I was on staff was almost 10 years ago, and “ well “ I’m afraid I’ve gotten a little rusty on a lot of those construction basics. So, as I was getting ready for the mission trip, I thought “maybe I’d better brush up on those basics.” So, I pulled the ol’ construction manual off the shelf, dusted it off a bit, and started sorting through it, focusing on the sections I thought we might be using on this Biloxi mission trip. I needed to simply revisit the basics, remind myself of the core construction principles involved, and refresh my knowledge and skills. And, you know, I went out to the work site feeling far more prepared to be a productive member of the mission trip team this past week! By going back to basics, I had a strong foundation on which I could build, quite literally.
We are going “back to basics” with this sermon series for the same reason, to refresh our knowledge of the core beliefs of the Christian faith. But we’re not simply filling our heads with knowledge about Christian beliefs. We’re also building the foundation on which our faith stands.
Jesus talked once about the importance of not only listening and believing his words, but also acting on those words. Jesus said, “I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”