Sermon for Sunday, May 17th, 2020
God does NOT need you.
God does NOT need you. Not for anything. God doesn’t need you to save the world. God doesn’t need you to save the church. God doesn’t need you to defend him or to DO anything for him. God does not need you.
So if you are coming to worship and you think that God needs you or is depending upon you for something, then you are starting out on the wrong foot. Because God doesn’t need any of us.
We are the ones who need God.
Now some of you may already be forming counter-arguments in your head saying: but, but, but…
Hear me out. Because there is a big difference between God needing us, and God loving us or God wanting us, but I will come to that in a bit.
In the book of acts today we find Paul on one of his missionary journeys and this journey has brought him to the great Greek city of Athens. Now, I’ve never been to Athens, it’s on my bucket list, but whenever I think of Athens I think of the Acropolis and The Parthenon, the great temple to the Goddess Athena. But there were lots of temples and shrines in Athens. The Athenians were, as Paul says, very religious in every way.
Well, the idea of a temple or worshipping God in a temple was not foreign to Paul, after all, at this time the followers of Jesus were still worshipping God at the temple in Jerusalem. So worshipping God in a sacred place didn’t bother Paul. But Paul sensed a difference in attitude between how these Athenians approached their Gods and how he and the other followers of Jesus approached the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There was something transactional about this pagan worship. Transactional worship is about giving this and getting that.
I will build this God a shrine and this God will grant me favors and protection. I will make this offering and this God will owe me something. On the surface these Athenians appeared to be worshippers of something divine, but looking at how the Athenians treated their idols, Paul began to question what they were really worshipping. Were they really worshipping the creator of the universe, or were they worshipping their own skill and creativity?
So Paul says to them: Let me tell you about the God that we worship. Let me tell you what I know about God. I worship the God that created the universe and everything in it….out of nothing. This God built his own home: it’s called heaven and earth. This God that we worship doesn’t need anyone to build him a shrine or a hut, or to carve some idol for him to inhabit. This God, Paul says, is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath to all things.”
This idea that God, as the sovereign creator of the universe, doesn’t need humans runs deep in Paul’s faith. It was a part of his faith before he was a follower of Jesus. One of the oldest books in the Old Testament, the book of Job, has Job at one point questioning God and God responds by saying: “where were you when I created the heavens and the earth?” Where were you, little human, with your plans and your schemes and your big ideas, where were you when I created the universe and everything in it? Did I need you then?
God said something similar to King David, when he got the bright idea that God needed him to build him a temple. God says to David: really? You think you need to build me a house? Did I ask you to do that? I am the one that made you king. I am the one who saved my people and planted them and protected them, and God says to David and I will bless you too, I will bless you, but NOT because you think you have done something for me.
And One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 50, because it really smacks you down to size. And God says there: “I am God…all the beasts of the forest are mine….I know every bird in the sky, and the creatures of the fields are in my sight. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the whole world is mine and all that is in it.”
So the idea that God is sovereign and doesn’t need our help running the world runs deep in our faith. So when Paul sets out to evangelize these people in Athens he begins by explaining to them what his relationship is to the God he worships. And it is not quite the same as their relationship to their Gods. Paul worships a God that doesn’t need him, but loves him. That is what makes God’s love for us so amazing: he doesn’t need us in any way. God has nothing to gain from this relationship. And Paul, who in his life did amazing things to spread God’s kingdom, regards all of his efforts as nothing compared to what God has done for him. It was God that did all the saving.
The first step to having a relationship with God and the most important thing we have to always remember when worshipping God is the understanding that it is God who saves us, and not the other way around. We need God, God doesn’t need us. The moment we start to think that God needs us, we start worshipping something else entirely.
I wish that I could say that Paul settled this argument once and for all, but we all know that’s not true. It is so easy to slide into thinking that God needs us to defend him. Or that God needs us to do this or that ministry to save the church or the world. We either fall into that transactional way of thinking: believing that we do nice things for God and God will do nice things for us. Or, what I think is far worse, we start thinking that the future is in our hands: we start thinking that God needs us to save the world; we think that God is depending upon our technology, or ingenuity, or creativity, or our moral superiority to save this world that he created. And likewise, we start thinking that the future of the church is in our hands. We think that the church needs us more than we need it. We think that in order to be successful Christians and vibrant parishes that we all need to be doing something. We expect our priests to be little CEOs or entrepreneurs, or effective middle managers, and we keep shifting the focus on to what we are doing for God, or what we think we are doing for God, and away from what God has already done for us. We don’t hold up simple faithfulness as an ideal or a value anymore. We put more energy into being innovative than we do into just being faithful. We find new ways to convince ourselves that we are saving God and God’s church, rather than just resting and rejoicing in the knowledge that it is God that has already saved us. And the more we try to save ourselves, to save the world or to save the church, the more obvious our failure becomes.
You know, we believe, or we say we believe, that the Church is an institution founded by God in Christ. It is inspired by God and has been given a mission by God to tell the world about what God has done in Jesus Christ and to proclaim to all the hope that that gives us. But we also know that it is an institution that has always been led by sinful, sometimes pretty horrible, human beings. It is the place where divine truth comes into close contact with human baggage. Maybe that’s the point. Sometimes those of us that are very active in church life can fall into the trap of thinking that the future of the church is in our hands. We start thinking that the church needs us more than we need it. Then maybe we start thinking that God is relying upon us to get things right or to figure things out. In the end it seems like the God we are worshipping is the product of our labor and not the object of it. And that doesn’t seem all that different from the Athenians that Paul was talking to that were worshipping idols carved with their own hands.
So much for progress. I will let you in on a little secret. I am not much of a believer in human moral progress. The idea that human beings are becoming progressively more enlightened and morally superior to their ancestors…I don’t buy it. Circumstances change, and we are good at doing amazing things with technology, but I am not convinced that we have actually figured anything out that is going to save us from the evil that lies within us and from our own sinfulness. It’s 2020 in America, more than 2,000 years since the crucifixion and what does human progress look like? Well now, we can watch a lynching on the internet from the comfort of our own homes. If that is what human progress looks like, you can have it. If the future of the world, or of the church, or of our own souls is in our hands then we are all in deep trouble. I’m sorry, but I don’t think any amount of programming is going to put an end to sin in the world. And while good laws and good leadership is something we need to strive for, and work for, laws and elections don’t usually win hearts. And it is only when hearts change, that real change begins to happen. So maybe the church’s job is to try and spend a little less time trying to win every argument, and a little more time trying to win every heart.
Jesus said: “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” You know, even after your heart is converted or turned to Christ you are still going to make mistakes, but I can also promise you that if you spend enough time with Jesus, he will show them to you. And when Jesus does that you can decide to either hold on to your sin, or you can hold on to Jesus. If our hearts are truly converted, if we truly love Jesus and believe that the future is in his hands, we will turn to him. It is in Jesus’s forgiving, loving heart that my hope lies, not in any plans or schemes of my own. So being faithful to Jesus will always mean more to me than being innovative or clever or powerful.
What I see when I look at the world, is a world that desperately needs God, not the other way around. God doesn’t need us; we need God. We need conversion of heart. God cannot be a hobby, or a project. The church cannot be something that you come to, thinking that you are going to fix everything that is wrong with it. And we Christians can’t go out into the world thinking that we have the answer to every problem, because we don’t. We cannot fix the world. Only God can do that. We have a message to share about what God has done and is doing to change the world, and we need to be prepared to share it, but we always need to share it with gentleness and reverence, because ultimately it is hearts that we need to win, not arguments.
Let me be clear, as citizens I think we absolutely need to work for good laws and good leadership. But as Christians, I don’t think we can ever settle for anything less than winning hearts. Winning hearts to a savior that doesn’t need us, but still sees in the eyes of every human being, someone worth dying for.
We are the ones who need saving, and the message of our faith is that God has done that. The message of our faith is NOT that God needs us; it is that God WANTS us. God Loves us. And despite our sinfulness is willing to suffer for us and to forgive us. Sure God can use our imagination, God can use our creativity, God can even use our technology, but let’s just remember that God created the whole universe out of nothing; it is God that gives breath and life to everything and in the end it is God in Christ that will judge the world with righteousness. The future is ultimately in his hands not ours. So we need God and Jesus a whole lot more than he needs us. He doesn’t need us at all.