Sunday, February 01, 2015

Revelation of God Embodied -- Speaking of God Sermon Series

John 1:1-5, 14-18
Rembrandt's Jesus -- DIA

The Psalmist asks: “Who is the King of Glory?” The answer: “The Lord of hosts, He is the King of Glory” (Psalm 24:10).  These past few weeks we have been asking the question: How do we speak of God?  We’re asking this question rather than who is God, because God’s essence remains a mystery to us. But, if we speak of God we do have some idea about God’s identity. Of course, as Christian Piatt reminded us on several occasions last weekend, whatever our conceptions of God, we should hold them loosely. Instead of seeking certainty we live by faith. 

The Gospel of John begins with this declaration:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  John later tells us that this Word “has become flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son” (John 1:1, 14). So, “who is the King of Glory?”  It is, John believes, the God revealed in the person of Jesus.  

I know that theology is often rather abstract and complex. That’s why we usually leave it to the professionals.  Since I have the requisite credentials to be a theological professional, it shouldn’t surprise you that I enjoy exploring the more intricate questions of theology.  That’s why the names of people like Augustine, Barth, Bonhoeffer, and more recently Elizabeth Johnson pepper my sermons and my bible study lessons. You might call me a theology geek! 

As Christian Piatt also reminded us last weekend, belief and faith aren’t necessarily the same thing. Belief tends to rely on certainty, while faith involves trust and hope. When we have faith in God, we’re not simply agreeing to a creedal statement. Instead, we’re entrusting our lives to the hands of a God whom we cannot see, but whom we confess to be revealed in the person of Jesus. 

Although faith and belief aren’t one and the same, the way we think of God does have implications for the way we live in this world. Christian spoke of a three-legged stool, which involves ortho-doxy, ortho-praxy, and finally ortho-pathy.  He suggested that right belief and right action emerge out of right heartedness. I think he’s right.  It starts in the heart  and then moves to the way we think and then to the way we act.  Marcus Borg puts it this way:  “How we image God shapes not only what we think God is like but also what we think the Christian life is about.” [The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith, p. 57].

  So how do you picture God? While the Bible prohibits creating idols, the biblical authors use a variety of metaphors and analogies to speak of an incomprehensible  God.

  In Psalm 24 God is the triumphant king, who reigns over the world.  That is a common image, but it can give rise to imperialistic visions on the part of God’s people.  Remember how James and John asked for seats next to Jesus when he came into his kingdom?  On the other hand, Jesus speaks of God as a woman who lost one of her ten coins. When she discovers that the coin is missing, she lights her lamp, sweeps the floor, and searches until she finds that lost coin. When she finds it, she uses it to throw a party (Luke 14:8-10). Did you notice the difference in the pictures?  Do they each say something different about God?   

Even if we can’t see God, do we not trust that God is present with us? In our prayers and songs, we confess that God has been revealed in Jesus and is present with us through the Holy Spirit. Yes, the Spirit bears witness to the one who has seen God, the one “who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (vs. 18). 

John says that Jesus is closest to the heart of God, and that Jesus reveals to us the nature and purpose of God. In this regard, the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “The living Christ is the Christ of love who is always generating love, moment after moment. When the church manifests understanding, tolerance, and loving kindness, Jesus is there” [Living Buddha, Living Christ, p. 57].   
John uses the word Logos to describe Jesus. Jesus is the Word of God in the flesh. When we attend to this understanding of God, we tend to focus on the mind. There is another word that is applied to Jesus – that is Wisdom or Sophia in the Greek.  According to Paul, Christ is the “power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). You might say that Word and Wisdom, Logos and Sophia, are two sides of the same coin. Both Word and Wisdom are embodied in Jesus.  While Word speaks to the mind, Wisdom or Sophia speaks to the heart, and it is out of the heart that understanding emerges.  As it is said of Wisdom in Proverbs: “All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.”  We are also told: “Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her” (Proverbs 8:8, 10-11).

It would seem that when think about God, it is important to remember that God exceeds our comprehension, and that should be freeing to us. We can’t nail God down. Therefore, it’s good to expand our vocabulary when we speak about God. If we confess that Jesus stands closest to the heart of God, then our practice will reflect that understanding of God.  As Thich Nhat Hanh writes in reference to the church: “make the effort to bring the Holy Spirit in by living deeply the teachings of Jesus” (Living Buddha, Living Christ, p. 69).  In this there is wisdom, whom Proverbs 8 declares to be the first act of God’s creation. 

In concert with Holy Wisdom, God brought all things into being, therefore, Holy Wisdom is close to the heart of God. Of Holy Wisdom it is said: 
“Happy is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD; but those who miss me injure themselves; all who hate me love death” (Prov. 8:34-36). 
So how do we encounter this God whom we cannot see?  John suggests that we can know God by knowing Jesus, who shares in an intimate relationship with God. We can do this through the Spirit who dwells within us and around us. We encounter the Spirit through a process the Buddhists call mindfulness.  I’m not good at being contemplative. I find it difficult to calm mind and body. But I appreciate the message of our Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, who writes that “when you practice mindfulness, you touch the Holy Spirit and become peaceful and solid” (Living Buddha, Living Christ, p. 130). It is through the Spirit that we draw close to the one who stands closest to the heart of God, and by drawing close to Jesus through living out his teachings, we draw close to God. 

When we speak of God, we are often left in the position of saying what God is not. But in doing that, we may begin to find words that allow us to speak of God in ways that make sense to us and help us live transformed lives. We may be left with metaphors and analogies, but they seem sufficient, even if they lack certainty. Faith is sufficient, because it gives us a sense of assurance that as we live in the Spirit we are walking in the presence of God whom we know in Christ – the “power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Epiphany 4B
February 1, 2015

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