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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

You Are CREATED By God

Come as you are... be empowered by the Spirit
You are CREATED by God
Genesis 1:24-31
Ephesians 2:1-10
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Today's the first Sunday of our Summer Sermon Series, called, "Dear God, Can It Get Any Hotter?"
Actually, the series is called, "Come As You Are, Be Empowered By the Spirit."
This is the first time we've intentionally and strategically linked a sermon series to email blasts, Facebook posts, a tactically focused community life of prayer, and a systematic plan of evangelism.
To that end, I've got to thank the Session and especially the Evangelism Team, led by God's #1 Cheerleader, Sharon Gerkin.
These sermons are just a small part of a lot of things going on at the church these days, and that's really exciting for me as the guy who gets to sermonize.
A lot of the time, I feel like I'm off in my own little preacher-world (which is not surprising if you know me... I'm off in my own world a lot), and then there's everything-else going on in the church.
But now we've got the everything-else, kind of pulling the preacher, bless-his-heart, back into reality.

The theme of this six-part series is, "Come As You Are, Be Empowered By the Spirit."
We have printed, daily devotionals on the table outside, and we also have all these cool tweety broadcasts going on to help us all focus on the idea that God invites us to Come As You Are and to Be Empowered By the Spirit.

A lot of those hip, modern churches that meet in bars and grocery stores take a very physical approach to, "Come as you are."
Which means if you wear anything more formal to church than flip-flops, torn shorts, and a Hawaiian shirt you're way overdressed, and people will think you're - I don't know - Presbyterian.
A few months ago, someone suggested that we have "Pajama Day" at church, which is fine with me: I already wear a robe.
Some of us will never by comfortable with a physical "Come as you are" approach to church attire.
That's just not the way our mothers raised us.
Some of us are still uncomfortable coming to church in pants.
Women, I mean.
It would be interesting to study how the way we dress for church reflects our view of God.
I'm guessing it also reflects the people sitting down the pew from us, too, maybe more than God.
If you want to get really biblical about how you dress for God, remember, the first children of God wore fig leaves.
And, remember, God got mad at Adam and Eve for being so overdressed.
Imagine if the Evangelism committee came up with that idea.
I'm thinking about a billion hits on YouTube.
Makes Pajama Sunday look like a White Tie dinner.

The Bible tells us not to judge by outward appearances, that it's what in a person's heart that makes the difference.
So there is no written dress code for church.
Whether you wear a three-piece suit or flip flops isn't important.
A physical approach to "Come as you are," is fine.
It might be a step along a path to something meaningful.
But it's not the point.
When the church invites you to come as you are, it means something deeper, richer, and heartfelt.


So, in order to get to the point of "Come As You Are," I have to ask you one question.
And the question is, "How are you?"
And like clothing, that seemingly simple question has layers.

When you meet someone for the first time...
when you go into a business meeting and meet a client...
when you introduce yourself to a new teacher...
when you meet somebody at church you've never met before, what do you say?
Well, in our country, we say, "How are you?"
In this part of this country, we might say, "Howyadoin?" (It's all one word.)
If you're Dolly Parton, you say, "Hey Y'all."
In Louisiana, it's, "How y'all be?"
On the Jersey Shore it's, "How ya' toin'?"
And the answer we give back is, what?
"I'm fine. How are you?" or some cultural variation.
That's it.
Top layer.
We don't expect truth.
We expect, "I'm fine. How are you?"
"Fine, thank you."
"Would you care for a pastry?"
"Certainly. They look delicious."
Surface level stuff.
It's the nylon poncho of politeness.
Nothing wrong with it.
Keeps us all on the same level.
Keeps us all talking, acting, and behaving the same.

But take it a level down, and it can get really uncomfortable.
You meet someone for the first time.
You say, "How are you?" and you don't expect honesty.
Honesty is uncomfortable.
Especially if it's a complete stranger.
You say, "How are you?" and they say, "I think I'm getting a rash."
You back away.
They say, "My husband left me for some 25 year-old singer with green hair and a nose ring."
You say, "Oh. I'm getting a call."
They say, "I just saw the violent boy next door put his mother in the hospital again."
There's nothing you CAN say.  
The truth is unexpected.
The truth is weird.
But it's closer to the real answer to, "How are you?"

But can we go a level deeper?
Is there an answer to the question, "How are you?" that sticks?
Is there an answer that does not change?
Is there an answer that goes beyond politeness?
Is there an answer that doesn't depend on our moods?
Is there an answer that's always true?

How are you?
For a lot of us it's our heritage that makes us how we are.

Our name starts with "M-C". We're either Scotch or Hip Hop DJ's.
Who drink scotch.
We look good in kilts.
And we enjoy fisticuffs.

You have red hair and green eyes.
Oh, you must be Irish.
You know how to riverdance.

As for me and my house, we live in Blount County.
OK, right there, a lot of you have a mental image.
Many Blount Countians embrace that mental image.
They decorate their pickups to perpetuate that image.
It's how they are.

We were in South Carolina last week.
It's a lovely state.
But you think the Tennessee government has issues?
They're still arguing about whether to fly the rebel battle flag at the state capitol.
To a lot of South Carolinians the rebel flag helps define how they are, and how they came to be how they are.
And they're proud of that heritage.
To a lot of South Carolinians the rebel flag helps define how they are, and how they came to be how they are.
And they're deeply troubled by that heritage.

But heritage can be changed, or at least, diverted.
Don't like being Scotch?
Marry a Croatian.
Don't like looking Irish?
Get color and contacts.
Don't like being a South Carolinian?
Move to a more progressive state.
Like, Alabama.

How are you?
Maybe it's determined by genetics.
How are you, deep down?
For a lot of us how we are is determined how our parents were.
And how their parents were.
And whether the deep end of the gene pool was really that deep.
How we are is hardwired into our genes.

Family reunions can be really entertaining.
Especially if you've come into the family by marriage, or adoption.
Get a box of popcorn and just watch.
For years, you've wondered why your husband always does a certain thing a certain way.
For years, you've asked why your wife can't change.
Why do your kids act that way?
And then you go to the reunion.
And you see a whole herd of people who do exactly the same things.
They think it's normal.

One of my colleagues at the presbytery office has gone this weekend to her family reunion.
It's in Amarillo, Texas.
I predict she will discover that everyone in her family is sweaty.

Every year, scientists discover new genes for traits and tendencies.
There are genes for intelligence.
Genes for survival skills.
Genes for longevity.
Genes for a host of conditions, diseases, and personality quirks.
I saw an article that they're doing a study on Ozzy Osborne's genes.
They're trying to determine how in the world he's still alive.
(I'm thinking Sharon's genes for care-taking may have something to do with that, too.)

But even then, is that it?
Even at the genetic level, is that all we are?
A collection of cells and chemicals that predispose us, predetermine us, that make us how we are?
Are we not more than this?
Are we not more than the sum total of our clothing, our manners and our moods, our feelings and our truthfulness about them?
Are we not more than our culture and customs, our heritage, our genes?

The Bible knows about clothing.
The Bible knows about manners.
The Bible knows about moods and feelings.
The Bible knows about culture and customs.
The Bible knows about heritage.
And while the Bible may not have known about biology and genetics, it does know a lot about ancestry.
It certainly knows a lot about the traits, the habits, the sins, that are visited upon our children's children's children, to the eighth and ninth generation.

But in answer to the question, "How are you?" the Bible goes deeper than all of these layers.
Beyond the manners, moods, and feelings.
Beyond the heritage and the inherited.
Beneath all the answers and all the definitions that get piled upon us, telling us who we are, and how we are, and how we ought to be, the Bible gives us one final word.
And this final word comes "in the beginning."

Before you can "come as you are" you have to know how you are.
And from the very beginning, this is how you are:
You are CREATED by God.
At your core, this is how you are:
you're created by God.


There are actually two creation stories in Genesis.
The one we're reading today comes in chapter 1.
However, people who study language are pretty certain it was written long after the Adam and Eve story in chapter 2.

Genesis 1:26-28 says,

Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
  So God created humankind in his own image, 
    in the image of God he created them; 
   male and female he created them.
  God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

If you take Genesis literally, it says that God created men and women (simultaneously, because he's God and he's good)
for the purpose of
(a) taking care of the earth and every living thing in it, on it, and above it,
and (b) creating little humankinds.
We could ask, "How are we doing?" but that's a different sermon.
Today, I want concentrate not on what we're created to do, but the simple fact that we – that you – are created by God.

So, How are you?
You are CREATED by God.
That's how you are.
And that's at the very beginning of the Bible, so I'm thinking it's really, really important.
It's something we ought to think about, and not just shove into the file marked, "Sunday morning."

So, when I ask, "How are you?" you answer, "Created by God."
(Try it.)
This week, when someone asks you, "How are you," what are you going to say? "Fine. How are you."
But you'll think about saying, "Created by God."
I hope.

Fast forward to the New Testament.
In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul, who came along after Jesus revealed the fullness of God's plan, turns the pages back to Genesis for the rest of the story.
He writes, "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

"We are God's handiwork..."
When I think of "handiwork," I think of people who sew, people who stitch, people who make quilts.
Potters and sculptors produce "handiwork."
People who build homes and then decorate them with colors and fabric produce "handiwork."
Handiwork is something made by hand.
Which sounds self-evident, until you think of all the stuff in the world these days that isn't.
God doesn't have some kind of mass-production people-maker machine, stamping us out like cars or circuit boards or the toys in Happy Meals.
God is more like a craftsperson, like an artist, who takes pride and who sits back and examines his work, and who thinks his work is very good.
He's not bragging; he's just being honest.

Paul says, "For we are God's handiwork... created in Christ Jesus."
Now, I don't know how that "created in Christ Jesus" part works, exactly.
When Paul says we are God's handiwork created in Christ Jesus I don't know if he's talking more about Jesus being always with God from the beginning (even though we didn't know it then),
or if he's talking more about us.
I don't understand the creative process;
I just know the process is creative.
But what's really, really important is that not only are we – are you – the work of God's hand, but that there's something of God – something of Jesus – baked into your ingredients.
And it's done that way on purpose.
With intention.
God did not reach 4:45 on Friday afternoon and say, "Oh, I'm so ready for the weekend. I'm out of original ideas.
"But I have a quota so I think I'll just slap together another Kevin and clock out."

How are you?
You are created by God.
You are God's handiwork.
How are you?
You are put together with Jesus.
Again, I don't know how God does it, I just believe that God does, and you are.
You ARE created by God.
You ARE created carefully and lovingly, and with a purpose.

You might present an image with your clothes.
You might have certain manners and customs.
You might be a South Knoxvillian or a Blount Countian, or a French Canadian.
You might have genes that predispose you to certain traits.
Your parents may have messed you up.
Your nose might be too long.
Your job might be too boring.
But all of those things can be changed.
You can move.
You can get a makeover.
You can have cosmetic surgery.
You can get a new job.
OK, maybe not in the current economy.
But you know what I'm saying.
Beyond all the things that can change – and just about everything does change – beneath all that is how you are, really deep down.
And sorry, it's something you can't change, and something you can't control.
You are created by God, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works, which God prepared in advance for you to do, and yes, that's how you are.

How are you?
You are created by God.


But here's the thing.
When I say, "You" it sounds like I'm talking about just one person.
A lot of times that happens when we're reading the Bible, too.
The Bible says, "You" and it sounds like it's talking just to you.
And you.
And maybe you, too.
It sounds like You is singular.
But You is not singular.
You is plural.
When the Bible says "You" most of the time it means, "Y'all."
It's just that they weren't so sophisticated in their language back then to know better.

How are y'all?
Y'all are created by God.
All y'all.
And that IS a big thing.
Because it means that while you (singular) are unique, you are not alone.
God did not create a person here, and another person there.
God created the church, in Christ, through Christ, and by Christ, to go and do good works with each other, for each other, and for the world.

So in answer to the question, "How are you?" if you're part of a church - and you are - then you also have to turn to the person near you (your neighbor) and say, "I'm OK. But how about you?"
Because if they're not OK, then you're not totally OK, because we're part of one another, created in Christ Jesus.
And if there's a part of Jesus in your ingredients, then there's part of him in your neighbor's, too.
You can't be totally fine unless they're totally fine.
You're conjoined at the soul.
Because you're all created by God.

How are you?
You are created by God.
You people are created by God.
All y'all are created by God.
That's how you are.

Come as you are.
Be empowered by the Spirit.


- James