Sunday, March 11, 2012

Third Sunday of Lent - 2012

"Let the words of mouth and the meditation of my Heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer"

“I mean why does God rely on Jesus as his defense attorney? Can't God do all that on his own? Could it be that God really needs help from everyone else because he is supposed to have a certain amount of power. You know like Checks and balances? So if I could convince Heaven that I was better than God could I overthrow him? Anyways if Heaven is a dictatorship then how did Satan convince 1/3 of Heaven to join him? Can't God use his magical powers to silence Satan? Or could it be that he doesn't have that type of power?”

These are the words of Alex S in a recent post on the internet. Readers voted Kate’s response as best:

“May luck be with you when you are denied entry into heaven.

poor dumbass.”

Is it really that simple: ask dumb question - be denied entry into heaven. Likely if that is true -- than I am in big trouble.

I propose that simple answers to tough questions often limit of our view of God - often confine God to neat little boxes that are comfortable to you and I.

When tornado’s ravage the midwest week before last, Pat Robertson was quick to say that “if people had only prayed hard enough, God would have intervened.”

Two years before he stated that Hurricane Katrina’s devastating hit on the Gulf Coast was God’s judgement.

Recovering from Surgery a year ago I read Stephen Hawkins’ “A Grand Design” where he explores the world of quantum physics and the question of a creator of it all. He dismisses the need for a creator of the universe, by concluding that the complexity of quantum physics can explain it all.

It is not just Pat Robertson or Stephen Hawkins who readily box God in. You and I do it with regularity. “God took her home” or “why didn’t God answer my prayer” or “God knew you were strong enough to handle it”.

Tough questions --- simple answers. My guess is that, like me, you have real questions that are not easily dismissed.

In his 1961 book “Your God is too Small”, JB Phillips explores the ways in which we limit God - the ways in which we put God in a box that we can deal with -- that we can comprehend -- that fits into our world view.

Some of these boxed-in-Gods that Phillips outlines may be familiar to us - either in ourselves or someone we know or have listened to:

  • The resident policeman
  • The Parental hangover
  • The grand old man
  • A meek and mild savior
  • The Heavenly bosom
  • The managing director

Any of these sound familiar? The reality is that most of us put God in a box --- expect God to respond the way we want, and then we read scripture to fit God into our mold.

Some of these gods sound more like the mythical figures of the gods of the Greeks - of Atlas, Zues, Thor, Posiden, Hades, Hestia, and Hera. Or gods of our own creation - Money, Power, Status, Success, Sex, Alcohol, or dozens of other things that might rule our life, or take precedence over God.

Instead, listen again to the opening words of todays Psalm:

The heavens declare the glory of God, *

and the firmament shows his handiwork.

One day tells its tale to another, *

and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language, *

and their voices are not heard,

Their sound has gone out into all lands, *

and their message to the ends of the world.

It is hard to fully appreciate what this means - unless we get out of the city at night - in a really dark place - and then look up at a perfectly clear sky. Most recently I had this experience in my trips to South Sudan. The planets, the multitude of stars, the galaxy, that is our island home.

When almost 15 years ago Nancy and I visited Dinosaur National Monument - on the boarder of northwestern Colorado and Utah, with the girls, on one of our first trips together as a family; we marveled at fossils from 500 million years ago, and dinosaur bones from 150 million years ago. We are mer specks on the timeline of this tiny speck of a planet in our immense universe.

The reality is that if this is a simple representation of the power, breadth, depth of God - than there is no way that my brain can handle imagining the fullness, the complexity, the immenseness of a God who created it, and rules over it all.

Paul acknowledges this in todays reading from 1st Corinthians: “For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.”

Even Jesus - walking the earth takes this tact according to Michael Battle, an episcopal priest. Michael says that in the gospels Jesus does not speak in parables “to confuse us, rather the parable is the judgement against confined ways of our thinking of boxing in God. Jesus (through these parables) is trying to cox us away from our limited way of understanding reality.”

We get stuck in answering the questions - in trying to understand a God that that is bigger than you or I can ever comprehend.

So how then do we cope? How do we understand? How do we comprehend?

Certainly it is not in the simplistic answers to the tough questions - for I will likely never understand why a tornado hits one house and not another - why a young mother dies of cancer while an apparent evil person lives to 90 disease free - why some are born to wealth and others destined to live lives in poverty? Why earthquakes and tsunamis are allowed to kill tens of thousands? Why some are born with multiple mental or physical disabilities?

Surprisingly for me -- it is in the simplicity, that I can find a way forward. I know I said that “simple answers to tough questions are often limiting of God”. But I also think the right “simple answer” can be immensely freeing.

We listened to the reading of the law this morning and I propose that our clue comes from Jesus’ summary of that law. Listen to Jesus words from Luke, it as it has been translated in the Message:

“Love the Lord you God with all your passion and prayer, and muscle and intelligence --and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

The simplest answer in all the complexity of Theology may lay in this very simple word -- LOVE

This incomprehensible God - loves you and loves me -- and what we are called to do is to love each other. Because it is in loving each other that we learn how to love God - how to understand how much God loves us - you and I, tiny specks on the the timeline of this tiny speck of a planet in an immense universe.

In 1st John, John writes:

“If we won’t love the person we can see, how can we love the God we can’t see?”

You and I are called to make a difference - at this moment in time - on this island home. That is what we mean when during our renewal of baptismal vows we say that we

“will SEEK and SERVE Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself”;


“will will STRIVE for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being”

Seek, Serve, Strive they are the active words of loving our neighbor.

It is here that we can put away our own gods - it is here that we can take God out of our box and honor that first commandment:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”

During this lenten season I encourage you to reflect on--

What box have you placed God into?

How can you release the immensity of God into your life?

Who are you being called to love?

Where and how are you being called to seek, to serve, or to strive?

What gods have you you placed before the One God that keep you from doing this?

Let us pray:

O Divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love. Amen

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