Since so many people requested a copy of the sermon mentioned in yesterday’s post “The God You Don’t Believe In“, I’m happy to be able to share it courtesy of Rev. Lynda Hodgins of Millbrook United Church. Thank you for your beautiful and enlightening words.
The God You Don’t Believe In
Who is the God you don’t believe in?
In the passage we shared this morning we see Moses having a close up encounter with God.
meeting God on the mountain top to establish a new covenant or partnership between God and the people of God… a covenant renewed in Jesus and still in place today.
A partnership in which, God stated…’You will be my people, and I will be your God.’
But who is this God we are in partnership with?
What is God like.
Even Moses does not really get to know.
Moses is allowed to see God more up close than anyone else has ever been able to see,
-but still, Moses was only allowed a fleeting glance from the back as God passed by.
So we really don’t know what God is like
We each have our ideas;
-for some God may be that grey haired old man in a white robe
-for some maybe there is no visual image so much as an idea… you might understand God more as the energy that lies behind the creation of life.
– maybe others of you have had a sense of God when you have stood on a mountain top.
-I spent a week in Alberta in the Rockies over new years and I know I understood when I stood there why since ancient times people have written word such as ;
I lift my eyes to the hills …
In those mountains I understood why the ancient people understood God to dwell on mountain Zion -…a high holy place.
… there was for me a real presence of the Holy in the mountains.
Or. Maybe for you it is the ocean… or a newborn baby, or in certain music .
We all see glimpses of God in many different places
but my question today is who is the god you don’t believe in?
There are many in our communities and our families who do not believe in God in any form.
I suspect there are many among you who have friends or children or grand children or neighbors who have said something like;
– I don’t believe in God,’ or
– I would like to believe but I just can’t… to many rotten thing happening in the world today
I have had several interesting conversations with my own sons who delight in telling me why they do not believe.
I was always at a bit of a loss for words when that happened.
To believe in God is a choice .
We must each decide if we believe, or not.
and should someone choose not to believe, I find it is very difficult to prove the existence of God.
Maybe that is why I was so intrigued when I read a story of the theology professor and well known preacher Harry Emerson Fostick who was teaching a university religion class.
At the end of a lecture a young student came up to Rev. Dr Fostick and asked to speak to him.
Fostick was pleased to speak with the young man who then made his pronouncement ;
-You know, I don’t believe in God.’
Fostick looked calmly at the young man for a moment. Is that so’ he said.
Yes’ reiterated the young scholar, I have thought about it and I decided I do not believe in God
Well’ said Fostick, Please tell me about this God you don’t believe in, chances are I don’t believe in that God either.’
Isn’t that brilliant.
No fighting, no convincing, no proof being offered.
…Just tell me about the God you don’t believe in.
since I heard that story I have used that response a few times and ended up in really interesting conversations .
– once the conversation gradually revealed in the person I was speaking with, an image of God who was a sort of old grey haired warrior of a man sitting on a thrown in heaven,
– armed with a lightening bolt and super x-ray vision and watching eternally for lowly humans committing sin so that lightning bolts could be hurled their way.
As those images of God were looked at more deeply, I was able to say in each case, well no I don’t believe in that God either.
Sometime the God we do not believe in tell us as much about our faith as the God we do believe in.
What is the character of the God you don’t believe in,
-and what is the character of the God you do believe in?
The bible passages that has been treasured and handed down to us contain a collection of images, writings and experiences of various people who have, just like us, struggled to come to understand God.
So I guess it should come as no surprise that such a collection of writings would contain different images and understandings of the character of God, just as if we were to each write about our experience or understanding of God we would likely not all write the same thing.
For some, God was and is the vengeful warrior.
-the angry God who calls for slaughter of enemies and was there jubilant as the battlefield soaked up the blood of enemy woman and children…
– and in one particularly nasty little psalm God even calls for the people to smash the heads of the enemies children against the rocks… not hard to imagine the image of God the writer of that psalm believed in.
For others, God is understood more like the mother hen working to comfort and protect her beloved chicks in the warmth and comfort of her wings… yes, that is another image of God we read in the bible
or a rock, strong, solid , immovable.
Even when we come to the new testament we have from the different writers somewhat different viewpoints about who God is or what the character of God is.
I believe the best insight into the character of God is Jesus.
It seems to me if we really want to know , we look at what Jesus said about the nature of God
and it seems to me Jesus did not seem to worry so much about the God with the lightning bolts, or God the vengeful warrior
God is much larger than any of our words and any of our images
God may be a father like figure for you, or a grand fatherly.
.. or God may be a motherly figure for you. I have known many people who had very difficult and abusive relationships with their own fathers and could not trust a Нfather’ God, when they imagined god as a more loving grandmother , they could believe and trust.
So it is not so much the gender of God, Who I strongly suspect has no gender at all, but the character of God that is the issue. And the character of God Jesus can teach us much about.
The God Jesus speaks of is a God defined by love.
In fact when you read carefully in the old testament, it is also a God of love who is defined there but so often it was the punishing, raging judging God we all learned about.
But Jesus talks about a God who is not sitting there waiting to punish us for sin.
Jesus speak of a God who is overcome with love for us;
… a God whose parental right it is to simply delight in us as children.
well after many, many years of thinking deeply about this issue, years of study and prayer this now t my image of the God I do believe in.
My image of God is a holy parent so in love with us that he or she can hardly wait until we come to understand and then turn and climb into the lap of love and just allow ourselves to be loved into wholeness and well being.
God waiting for us to return to the arms of a love that waits for us .. in times of prayer, in times of relaxation, in time of doing nothing but simply being and resting in the presence of a love so great we can feel it enfold us… .
The God I do not believe in is the God sitting waiting to punish me or anyone else for the mistakes we make each day or to control all the events that happen each day in our lives. .
We will have times when we fail, when we make mistakes, when we sin
Just as our children fell as they were learning to walk and just as they made mistakes a they grew , so we will fall as we try to live following the path Jesus came to show us.
But just as we did not stop loving the little ones we loved when they fell trying to take their first steps, so the God I believe in does not fall on us with punishment when we fail.
God waits in love, calls us to listen to Jesus message and to try again.
– to turn again toward the light of love and maybe, next time, get it right
-to love our neighbors, share with one another , and do what we can to build a better and more fair world for everyone.
and the God I believe in, waits in eternal love for us to understand and of our own free will draw close , ask if we can just rest in holy lap of love and have a chat about all the worries and burdens and fears we have.
So what is the character of your God?
What God do you believe in , and what God do you not believe in?
And the next time someone says to you that they don’t believe in God, ask them to tell you about the God they don’t believe in, for I suspect there are many who have discarded a God of vengeance and punishment , but would be very happy to be introduced to the God of love , understanding and grace,
maybe you can even introduce them to one another.
and in the mean time I invite you to get to know the God I do believe in a bit better. Some day just curl up for a quiet rest, imagine yourself climbing into God’s lap, or sitting down under a shady tree beside God, and just rest, have a quiet gentle chat, don’t worry about a big fancy prayer, don’t worry about getting all the words just right… Just tell God about how the kids and grand-kids are doing, about how you are worried about your next doctors appointment, how you are lonely or worried or way too busy.
Or do nothing at all but just rest and imagine God holding you close .
It is God’s parental right to simply delight as you as a beloved child,
but for that to happen, you need to find the time and the inclination to return to that divine lap and to trust in that divine love .
The God you believe I n , and the God you don’t believe in. Think about it . And may you come to know your God and Your God’s love for you. Amen