The Knowing that Counts
Psalm 14, Ephesians 3:14-21
A few days ago, I was walking through a mall. There was a kiosk, set up in the middle of the walk-way. The kiosk displayed a seemingly endless variety of cell-phones, but it was a large poster that caught my eye. On the poster was a map of the United States, with a maze of points connected by lines – I presume they were trying to show all the places that their cell phones could reach. Printed across the poster were just two words: “total freedom.” Apparently, one can obtain “total freedom” just by purchasing one of their cell phones.
Of course, the slogan is ridiculous, as so many slogans are. Surely, no one really believes that they could buy total freedom (whatever that means) for the price of a cell phone. For some reason, the image of those words has been on my mind these last few days. Yes, the slogan is ridiculous, but I can't help but wonder if perhaps it isn't a sort of mirror, showing us a reflection of who we are, and what we value.
It seems to me that we live in a culture where most things can be bought. It's not just that cell phone ads suggest that phones come with freedom. Security, prestige, and peace of mind are regularly offered by those who advertise all sorts of products – everything from clothing to various household gadgets to mutual funds to cars. Every time we go to the grocery store and stand in the check-out line, we are bombarded by magazines that promise to give us the secrets of low weight, wrinkle-free skin, and healthy relationships – all we have to do is buy that issue.
It is, at times, as if we lived in a world where the truly good, important things in life all have a price tag on them, and those who are willing to pay the price will come out on top. It is as if the most valuable things in life could be obtained on our own, without any consideration given to the well-being of our neighbors. It is as if we were autonomous individuals who have the right to act first and foremost in our own self-interest. We may laugh at the cell-phone poster, but maybe we laugh too quickly. After all, how many good things in life have we tried to purchase?
Of course, our inclination to buy our way to a happy life is only one of our problems. On our better days, I suspect that most of us could name a number of ways in which we fail to live up to the things we claim to believe. But I begin this sermon with our bent toward consumerism because I think it's one way that we can connect with what's going on in Psalm 14.
In Psalm 14, the author grieves the lack of spiritual insight among the people. He writes, “fools say in their hearts, 'there is no God.'” The psalmist goes on to say that these fools are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, they have gone astray, they “eat up God's people as they eat bread,” and they do not call upon the Lord.
The people of Israel have turned away from God, and so they seek the good life in other places – they have gone astray. This wreaks havoc not only in their individual lives, but in their relationships with other people in the community. Rather than treat their neighbors with respect and kindness, they “eat them up as they would eat bread.”
Trying to buy a happy, secure life is just one of the ways that we go astray, one of the ways that we turn from God. It's also one of the ways that we do harm to our neighbors, as we invest in our own well-being rather than that of the entire community, and participate in a cut-throat economy that treats so many people as if they were expendable.
What is interesting about this passage is that the actions of the people are what lead the psalmist to reach certain conclusions about what they say in their hearts. Who knows? Perhaps the people claim to believe in God, perhaps they attend worship on a weekly basis. And yet, their actions speak louder than their words, and it is painfully clear to the writer of this psalm that, in spite of what they may say with their mouths, in their hearts, they say there is no God. In spite of what they may claim to believe, these people might be called practical atheists. They live as if there were no God – as if they were autonomous individuals, free to do whatever they want.
I titled this sermon “the knowing that counts” because the people described in Psalm 14 seem to have forgotten something they once knew, and in this forgetting they have become foolish. In forgetting the God who had created them, liberated them from slavery and formed them into a new people, they ceased to be what God intended them to be. Instead, they became a people who did not seek God, and who did no good.
Perhaps there are times when we are prone to the same kind of forgetfulness. Whether we show it in trying to buy happiness or in some other way, there are times when we forget who it is that God has called us to be. Rather than trusting in God's abundance, we worry about whether we have enough, or whether we are enough. Rather than accepting the freedom and grace that the gospel proclaims, we look at the world through the eyes of cynicism, or despair. We act as if we do not know who God is, we forget that our lives belong to God. And yet, this is the knowledge that really counts, the stuff that we know by faith, and not because we've seen it in the commercials.
In some ways, Psalm 14 paints a pretty bleak picture. But even so, it reminds us of what can be, and helps us to recall what we have known in the past. Psalm 14 calls upon us to acknowledge something about the way the way the world works, the way life works:
is a God, a God who sees us and judges us, a God who wants to be sought
It is good for us to remember these images of God, and to express these things in our own living. But how can we do that? After all, this is a tall order, an image that we are often hard-pressed to live up to. It is at this moment that it helps to turn to the text from Ephesians. This text asks us to acknowledge something that goes on inside us:
in experiencing the love of Christ, we are filed with the fullness of God, our
These two texts from Psalms and Ephesians deal with two aspects of our faith that are intertwined, and intimately connected. We can't understand one without the other. We are capable of doing what God calls us to do because God is at work within us. This is the other piece of knowing that really counts: it's not enough to know who God intends us to be if we don't also know that God is inside of us, continually recreating us in God's image.
Last week, I had the great privilege of spending time with many of the high school youth as well as some adults from this congregation as we traveled to Tijuana, Mexico to serve a family there. In my experience, these youth witnessed to the love of God as they have experienced it – a love that extends to all people, and does everything in its power to serve all neighbors.
Before we began the house, I asked them to consider why they had come, what they hoped to do in Mexico. Their answers were not identical. Some thought about building community, both within the youth group and with the family whose house they were to build. Some thought about easing the poverty of that family, as much as they could. Some wanted to be open to what they might learn from the family, and not simply to see them as recipients of help. Still others wanted to cross the divide of language, and make every effort to communicate, even when conversation was difficult. In all cases, they were there to offer a part of themselves, in order that someone else's life might be better. No one would have looked at this group and thought “they say in their hearts 'there is no God'.” Rather, their words and actions made clear the love of God that they had experienced in one way or another.
At the end of the trip, with the house completed, we spent some time reflecting on the work that they had done. They felt good about what ha been done, but they also recognized the daunting challenge of showing what they'd learned and experienced when they returned to their day-to-day lives in the U.S. They had experienced compassion, genuine sharing, and the joy that comes from making a meaningful connection with other people. Moreover, these were gifts that they both gave and received. But it is difficult to bear witness to those good gifts in our every day life, even when they are always available. In spite of the difficulty of doing so, the youth affirmed that they wanted these values to be a part of their lives here, and not limited to a one-week mission trip.
Here, the youth of this church have provided us with a good example of a way put our faith into action, and to live our lives in a way that expresses what we have experienced of God. But their own honesty also reminds us that this is not always easy. And it is here that we must remember the good news that we find both in Psalm 14 and in Ephesians. God is here to deliver us from self-centeredness and fear, if only we will seek after God. Moreover, God is at work within each of us, restoring us to God's image.
Knowing that it is God who creates, redeems, and sustains us should make a difference in how we live. Knowing and experiencing God's love within our own lives makes it possible to live out our faith in the way that we have been called to do so. This is the kind of knowing that counts most, even though it may, at times, put us at odds with our culture. Living in a way that acknowledges our faith in God: this is a standard that seems strange in our world. Indeed, the world may consider it foolish. But unlike the foolishness described in Psalm 14, loving God and loving our neighbors is a faithful kind of foolishness.
As I begin my ministry at this church, the thing I most want to say to you is this: I think that the most important work that the church does is to remind all people that they were created by a good and loving God, and to encourage people to consider the ways that God's love has been experienced in their own lives. For it is only as we experience this love that we are able to translate our faith into meaningful action. Where have you experienced the fullness of God, the love of Christ, within your own lives? And rather than say with our hearts that there is no God, how can we witness to the love that we have experienced? I look forward to pondering those questions with each of you during my ministry here.
Materials on this web site are owned by PUMC,
or used with permission,
and cannot be used elsewhere without PUMC permission.
Go to Top of Page
Copyright 2003 Prescott United Methodist Church
505 West Gurley Street
Prescott, Arizona 86301
E-mail us at
Web Problems or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Internet access provided by Cableone