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Deuteronomy 7.6-11

Psalm 36.5-10

I Corinthians 1.3-9

God Believes in You

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

In his 1987 anthology of short stories Leaving Home:  A Collection of Lake Wobegon Stories, Garrison Keillor tells the tale of a dedicated schoolteacher named Corinne.  “Corinne has a gift to teach,” he writes,

“a sacred gift.  Fifteen years in dreary bluish-green classrooms, pacing as she talks, this solid woman carries a flame.  She cares what she says, if it is precisely truthful and if it can be heard correctly; her dark eyes flash, her hands flutter, she lifts her head and stands on tiptoe to give the sentence coming out of her mouth a little arc.  She looks fresh and lively, and had just come from teaching poetry class.  Corinne doesn’t believe in God, but there is some evidence to believe God believes in her.”

It is an intriguing suggestion Keillor leaves us with, one that turns traditional ideas of belief and faithfulness on their heads.  Corinne doesn’t believe in God, but there is some evidence to believe that God believes in Corinne. My first reaction after I read the paragraph was a detached one, that this is a clever literary device, a nice way of saying that Corinne has been blessed with certain gifts, regardless of whether or not she is aware of the source of her blessing.  My second was more personal though.  It is Keillor’s story, after all, and I suppose he can say whatever he wants about his characters; but what about us?  Can I say that God believes in me?  Can we say God believes in you?  One possibility, which Keillor himself raises, is that an abundance of talent, understood as a kind of blessing, is evidence that God believes in us.  So to the extent that you or I possess certain talents, or gifts, we might say that God believes in us.  But I am not entirely comfortable with this, for obvious reasons.  What about the person who has few discernible gifts or talents?  Well, first, I’m not certain this is possible – I think every one of us has something to offer, something important, and even if their talent is not something the world would readily recognize, like musical or artistic or professional or social talents, everybody has something to offer.  But what of the person who doesn’t believe they have any gifts or talents – are they the unblessed of God?  Does God not believe in them?  It may be that I’m trying to make Keillor’s description of Corinne do too much heavy lifting, but I am left with the question, How do I know that God believes in me?

Before I can answer that question, it might be helpful to consider what we mean when we say we believe in God.  Some of us find it easiest to believe when creation is at its most resplendent:  when the trees begin to show their brilliant autumn reds, oranges and yellows; when a fresh blanket of white snow blankets everything in sight; when the birds return in spring and fill the air with their song; when the sun is bright and the sky cloudless, or when a refreshing rain falls from the sky.  These are times when we find it easy to believe in a benevolent creator.  Or when our lives are running smoothly, when we’ve got all our family together and our proverbial ducks in a row, when we have time to spend with family and good friends, we have a sure comforting sense that God is present and watching over us.  On the other hand, many folks believe most firmly in God when we’re in need, in trouble or in illness, or when someone close to us is, or when we feel we’ve lost control of things and seek desperately for a dose of a higher power to take over for us when we’re spent; this too is a time when we earnestly and fervently believe in God.  Even if we go for a while without thinking about God, however long it may be, most of us will still say we believe in God.

So could this possibly be one of the ways God believes in us?  When the sun shines and the leaves are pretty?  Does God believe in us when God’s in a good mood, or when God needs us for something?  Does God pay more attention to us when we pray in desperation and bombard the heavens with urgent petition?  Would it make any sense at all to say that God believes in us even when it doesn’t even seem God knows who we are, or when it seems that God goes for weeks without thinking of us?  It was Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who once wrote, “It is so impossible for [us] to exist without God that if God could forget us would instantly cease to be.”  But I prefer Augustine’s belief that “God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love.”

So we try to be faithful, and we know one place to find the answer which fits us best is in the scriptures.  The Bible has quite a lot to say about faith and belief.  And the way we generally approach it is that faith is a matter of our devotion to God.  And yet as were heard this morning from all three readings, much, if not most, of what the Bible says about faithfulness has to do, not with our loyalty or devotion to God, but rather God’s loyalty and devotion toward us.  In Deuteronomy we learn that God is faithful to those who love God and one another.  Psalm 36 declares that God’s faithfulness extends to the clouds and God’s righteousness is as mighty as the mountains.  And Paul wrote in I Corinthians that God has blessed humanity with every spiritual strength and gift, because “God is faithful, by whom you were called into fellowship with Christ.”  And, lest it appear that I’m simply cherry-picking my doctrine this morning, consider what John wrote in his first letter, “God is faithful and just and will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  The anonymous letter to the Hebrews reads, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for God who promised is faithful.”  And in his first letter to Timothy Paul insisted, “Even if we are faithless, yet God remains faithful.”  Even if we are faithless, yet God remains faithful. 

If we find it easiest to believe in God when we most need God, then God must think of us all the time, because God is faithful, as the scriptures put it, for a thousand generations.  We may tacitly assume we believe in God even though we don’t always show it, but God shows divine devotion to us in countless ways and invites us to feast on the abundance of grace and to drink deeply from the river of mercy.  Then again, there are some who find it easiest to believe in God when God behaves the way we expect, when God fulfills our personal assumptions and contingencies, but when God believes in us, every contingency is satisfied and every spiritual gift fulfilled.

What you and I believe about God will always continue to change and evolve.  And if change and evolution lead to growth, then I think that’s a good thing.  But if it depends on our mood, or our attention span, or what we had for dinner last night, it is in danger of becoming tenuous and yes, contingent.  And this is true of any relationship.  There will be ups and downs, highs and lows, but at the end of the day it is good to know that even when we forget to be faithful with God, God continues to remain faithful toward us.  The foundation of the divine human relationship is less our belief in God and more God’s belief in us.  This is a big part of the notion of grace, when God does for us what we sometimes cannot, and other times neglect, to do for ourselves.  At those times our faith is tested, and it is often tested, God’s dependability creates and maintains a firm foundation.  Our readings this morning say it all:  God is steadfast, God is faithful, God is abundant, God is true.  God believes in you; God believes in us.  And because of God’s faith in us, we have the freedom of multiple ways to find and express our faith in God.

It is in this sense, I think, that Garrison Keillor’s description of Corinne makes sense.  “She doesn’t believe in God, but there is evidence God believes in her.”  God believes in us long before we come to the realization that we can believe in and depend on God.  And like Corinne, there is abundant evidence that God believes in every one of us.  When we admit that evidence, and come to the understanding that God stands by us in all things, when we can admit that God believes in us, then we know what it is also to say we believe in God.

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United Church of Chester, 29 West Main Street, Chester, CT 06412. (860) 526-2697


From the North: Take CT Route 9 South to Exit 8 (old exit 6) (CT 148). Turn left; we are 1 mile on the right.


From the South: Take CT Route 9 North to Exit 8 (old exit 6) (CT 148). Turn Right; we are .8 miles on the right.

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