9/24/2000, P15, Year B
How Can I Get 'a-holt' of God?
ethodist preachers do not start out at the biggest church in the conference; in fact, we have so many tiny rural churches (the average size is less than fifty) that we practically must fill these slots with recent seminary graduates, students, and Lay Speakers. Our heritage as "Circuit Riders" has set a wonderful pattern to "take the gospel to the people," no matter how far out, up in the hills, they may live. The strength of our denomination continues to be the small churches. There are some unforgettable characters in "them 'thar hills!"
One fellow that comes to mind was a rural farmer of limited formal education, but one who possessed a keen mind. Although he brought his wife and children to Sunday School and Worship every Sunday, I soon noticed that he never stayed himself. I found out from the membership rolls that he had never joined, nor had he been baptized. I asked his wife if it would be OK if I stopped by during our next weekend at our student charge.
The next Sunday afternoon we drove down the dirt road to their farmhouse. Marilyn visited with the family while I went out to the barn to see Hobart. After the handshake and pleasantries, I asked why he did not stay for worship with his fine family. His answer was, "Well Preacher, I just never have." I said, "Well you can start coming at 7:00 o'clock tonight!" "Well, nobody's ever asked me before, and I just might!" We both laughed, and became friends right there in the barn.
After a few times attending church services, Hobart asked me, in his direct South Georgia style, and around a covered-dish church dinner on the grounds, "Preacher, how can I get 'a-holt' of God?" It was a question that preachers want to hear. This quest every person's first step in a lifetime of spiritual growth.
In the fourth chapter of his cyclical letter to the early churches, James, the brother of Christ, relates human interpersonal relationships to our potential friendship with God. Just as there were folks who could not get along with people, or God, in James' day, so there are individuals today who can not establish a close friendship with humans, or with God.
In order to understand James' metaphorical explanation of how we can get to know God, we must first look into how we make friends? Basically we could say that we make human friendships by showing ourselves friendly. We develop fraternal relationships by stepping out of our staged performance, and false makeup, and by allowing others into our lives. Potential friends want to know us before mutually opening the doors to friendship. Either knowingly, or just by human instinct, they want to see behind our masks. People are not interested in becoming friends with the character we portray in our pretend lives.
For example, lots of young men come to admire strong athletes, so they take on a "macho" role; thus, learning to mask their true personality. Some young women have fallen in love with Cinderella, so they tiptoe through life disguising their strong athletic interests and aptitudes. Lots of young people at the malls try to form an instant personality by attempting to look like rock stars. Today's children want horn-rimmed glasses just like those of Harry Potter.
Certainly there is nothing wrong with having admirable mentors; but somewhere along the line we need to uncover our own unique self which God created. God wants to love us into being our best and authentic self. It is that honest, unmasked, vulnerable person that friends are seeking. Likewise, our Heavenly Father, "The Hound of Heaven," seeks friendship with His Creation, but he will not burst uninvited into our closed doors. All of us have experienced the fact that we can hide from knowing Him; we can lock Him out.
But when we get ready to allow God entry, the process is very simple. As James puts it, "Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you." (4:8, NLT). This is the one-liner that came to my mind out in the barn thirty-two years ago when Hobart asked me how he could come to know God. This promise of God made sense to him.
In coming to church on that Sunday night, Hobart was yielding himself to the powerful presence of the Spirit. Although he was considered by all to be a good man and had many friends in the community and church, he later talked to me about several sins that he had asked God to forgive: Although they were not major sins, he seemed very sorrowful and relieved that they had been taken away. His wife was joyful about the changes that were occurring in his life. He seemed more sensitive to her needs and found more time for the kids. As verse ten of our text says, "When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor." (NLT).
Another thing that began to happened in that little church was that Hobart's newfound joy began to rub off on the entire church. Several little squabbles seemed to disappear. Looking at today's text we hear that the occasion for James' letter was partly to a church hurt by "quarrels and fights.." (v.1). Church people had "the wrong motives.." (v.3). They seemed to be trying to be Christians, but would not fully make friends with Christ and His Church, because of their continuing practice of placing friendship with the world above new allegiance with God. (v.4). James even refers to God as being "jealous" of the peoples' continued friendship with the world. (v.5).
Common in all who seek true friendship with God is a desire to overcome sin. "He gives us more and more strength to stand against such evil desires." (v.6). Our new friendship with God opens a treasure chest of tools that we can use to keep our new relationship with Him in good shape. Just as a friendly neighbor will lend you a mower when you need it, God gives us strength to overcome sin, as we humbly ask Him. In today's world there are meaner and more addictive agents available to entrap us than in the first century. However, the power of God is still able to help us, "Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw close to God and God will draw close to you." (v.8).
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor