Psalm 19/Acts 4:32-37 How do you know God is real? 8.21.16
Different generations ask different questions about the way we connect to God. Some of you remember the decades when the question was: “So where do you go to church?”, with church attendance being the way to God and assuming that church attendance was the norm. Then the question became: “Do you have a church family?”, no longer making an automatic assumption, but still expressing the belief that belonging to a church is the way to God. The generations under 35 or so are asking a question which requires more reflection. It has nothing to do with church attendance, but it gets at the core of our faith. “How do you know God is real?” If you don’t know God is real, what sense are the songs, the prayers, the sermons, the church building, the church programs?
How do you know God is real? I can’t tell you how to answer that question. You must answer it for yourself. I can point you to several different ways humans have identified God as real, found in the two passages we read this morning. The psalmist points to the created world around us as evidence that God is real. It is the sky and the earth, the daily course of the sun which never falters, which point to the Creator God who has to be real. You will find multiple psalms extolling God as the creator. A real God on a cosmic level.
The psalmist also points to the written word of God, the laws, decrees, precepts, ordinances, and commandments which come from the mouth of God to the people of God. The psalmist sees the written word of God–for him it is the Old Testament code of law, but for us it is also the New Testament law of love in Jesus Christ– as the guide for how we must live, as the rule by which we are measured, as an external code giving us internal standards. A real God active in history.
Another way to know that God is real is to see the actions of God-inspired people. Look at the description of the life of the early church in the book of Acts. Why would First Christian Church of Jerusalem have created their community of faith based on pooled resources, including housing? They created a community where poverty and income disparity were erased. The apostles shared their own personal testimony about God as real in the form of Jesus being raised from the dead and that God’s grace filled them all. Their actions tell me that God was real to them. On a community level.
How do you know God is real? I want to invite Janice Sabb, a member of our Sunday morning language class, to share a testimony about her perspective on how God is real.
I want to share a couple of recent “God is real” incidents in my own life. One was four years ago, when I “happened” to meet a Presbyterian pastor from Myanmar at the multicultural conference. When he learned I was from Baltimore, he shared that a Falam-speaking congregation of recent immigrants was looking for a place to worship, as they had outgrown meeting in an apartment. We met with several session members and leaders of the Falam congregation, and made a decision to share space here in this building, and to share educational opportunities for children, to worship, work and fellowship together at times. The rest is history.
The other was just this past week. We took a whirlwind trip back to Hickory, NC (we were there about 20 hours on the way home from our family vacation at the beach), to visit a few friends and to see our old house and the church we left behind when we moved to Baltimore. I did not make a lot of appointments, but trusted that a facebook post and word of mouth would get the message out to people who might be interested in having lunch at a particular restaurant. An amazing cross section of people came who we knew in a variety of capacities. A fellow pastor, who is also moving out of NC, just happened to be in the area last week, finishing her ministry there. Members of the Latino congregation which I helped to found. Church members who are still active in the congregation and some who had moved to other churches in the last 5 years. But the best “God is real” incident was the opportunity to say good bye to a saint of the church who is dying of cancer in her home, surrounded by her adult children and grandchildren. We talked, prayed and sang with her. A friend of mine calls these “the little miracles” that happen in our lives– surprise connections, being in the right place at the right time, something working out that you did not expect to work out. To me, these “little miracles” are evidence that God is real. On a personal level.
I know God is real on multiple levels: in the creation I am a part of , in the history of my people of faith, in the daily life of a community of believers, and in my own personal experiences. I know God is real in my head and in my heart. As a good Presbyterian, I believe we need both.
How about you? I encourage you to reflect on your own answers to this question. When you can tell others how you know God is real, you are answering a question that eats at many people today who are really not sure God is real at all. You become a witness, an evangelist, a bringer of good news. Amen.