(a sermon by Mark Parent)
(delivered at the Pereaux Baptist Church)
(August 28, 2011 – Exodus 3:1-15)
James Fowler, a professor of theology at the Chandler School in the United States, has done some fascinating studies on the faith experiences of various people. Out of his many interviews he has postulated that there are six different types or stages of faith.
Listen in while Freddy a six year-old boy from a Roman Catholic background, who Fowler labels as being in the intuitive-projective stage, responds to questions concerning his image of God:
INTERVIEWER: All right. Can you tell me what God looks like?
FREDDY: He has a light shirt on, he has brown hair, he has brown eyelashes. (At this point Freddy brings in two small statues of Christ which he shows to the interviewer).
INTERVIEWER: (After commenting on the statues, the interviewer asks) Does everybody think God looks like that?
FREDDY: Mmmm, not when he gets a haircut.
A ten-year old girl in what Fowler labels the mythic-literal stage responds in this fashion:
I imagine that he’s an old man with a white beard and white hair wearing a long robe and the clouds are his floor and he has a throne . . . he has like – I guess I – he has a nice face, nice blue eyes. He can’t be all white you know, he has to – he has blue eyes and he’s forgiving.
Linda, a fifteen-year old Lutheran at the synthetic-conventional stage responds to the question, “what do you think God is?” with this answer;
God is different to a lot of people. I don’t exactly go by the Bible. I think you should try to make the world . . . you should try to make people happy, and at the same time enjoy yourself, you know?
A seventy-eight year old women at what Fowler labels as the conjunctive faith stage speaks of God with these words:
The Quakers call it the light within. I don’t think it matters a bit what you call it. I think some people are so fed up with the word ‘God’ that you can’t talk to them about God. Call it Reality – all these things would be spelled with a capital – let us say Reality or Cosmic Flow or Love. And nobody can tell another about it. It has to come from within the individual because. Of course, everyone has the same inheritance.
How would you answer the question, “who is God?” At the risk of oversimplification may I suggest that my answer to this question would be that God is the Knowable One, God is the Suffering One, and God is the Uncontrollable One.
Consider, in first instance, that God is the Knowable One. When God calls to Moses out of the burning bush, God states, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”
We can know who God is.
Of course we do not know God in the same way as one would study and know a chair, or a plant or an animal. God is not an object. We do not discover God instead God reveals himself to us. It is God’s self revelation which allows us to claim that God is the Knowable One.
A college student once asked me, “What proof is there for the existence of God?” I rambled through the classical proofs of God’s existence; the teleological proof, the cosmological proof, the ontological proof, the moral proof, the historical proof and then concluded that in the end one could not proof God’s existence in any logical any scientific fashion.
And thank God for that! If God could be proved in the way one proves a scientific experiment then God would be impotent, powerless, a thing to be examined under a microscope or through a telescope, and not the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, and the God of you and of me.
God is the Knowable One, not because God is scientifically provable but because God in love chooses to reveal himself to us. And the pre-eminent way in which God chooses to reveal himself is through the process which we call history. When God commissions Moses to free his people Moses asks, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” And God replies, “I will be with you.” We can know God because God is at work in history revealing himself through the Exodus event, through the Davidic dynasty, through the eighth-century prophets, and dearest of all through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
José Miranda, a Mexican priest, comments:
To know God directly is impossible, not because of the limitations of human understanding but rather, on the contrary, because God’s total transcendence, his irreducible and unconfused otherness would hereby disappear. Transcendence does not mean only an unimaginable and inconceivable God, but a God who is accessible only in the act of justice.
This struggle for justice is a struggle which is played out within the arena of human history. Moses knew who God was only by responding to the revelation and throwing himself into God’s call to free the Jewish people from oppression, to free them from service to Pharaoh and free them for service to God.
Consider, in second instance, that God is the Suffering One. In the book Conversations with Kafka we find this account:
Kafka suddenly stood still and stretched out his hand.
“Look! There, there! Can you see it?” Out of the house . . . ran a small dog looking like a ball of wool, which crossed our path and disappeared around the corner. . . .
“A pretty little dog,” I said.
“A dog?” asked Kafka suspiciously, and slowly began to move again.
“A small, young dog. Didn’t you see it?”
“I saw but was it a dog?”
“It was a little poodle.”
“A poodle? It could be a dog, but it could also be a sign. We Jews often make tragic mistakes.”
“It was only a dog,” I said.
“It would be a good thing if it was,” Kafka nodded. “But the only is true only for him who uses it. What one person takes to be a bundle of rags, or a dog, is for another a sign. There is always something unaccounted for.”
We walked in silence . . . . I said: “Bloy writes that the tragic guilt of the Jews is that they did not recognize the Messiah.”
“Perhaps this is so,” said Kafka. “Perhaps they really did not recognize him.”
But it is not only the Jews who have failed to recognize the Messiah. We who claim the name of Christ have made similar mistakes. We claim to follow Christ Jesus as the Messiah but too often we have changed Christ to suit our image of who the Messiah should be. Like the Jewish people of Christ’s day we do not want a suffering but rather a conquering Messiah. As Martin Luther would claim we have substituted the “teologia Gloria” the theology of glory for the “teologia crucis”, the theology of the cross. And when we do so, we miss seeing God and end up seeing only a small poodle scampering across the road.
God is the Suffering One. This is not something to be feared, but rather a cause for rejoicing. When we skin our knee on the sidewalk of life, God is not like some authoritarian school master who barks out, “get up you fool and don’t be so clumsy the next time!” God is like a loving parent who runs to us, puts an arm around our shoulders and asks us where it hurts. Because we know that God has suffered with us in the person of Jesus Christ, we know that God understands.
Some who are sitting here today suffer from the fear of failure. Others suffer from the threat of the loss of job; from the fear of economic insecurity. Some suffer from broken relationships with the people who you love, from your children, from your parents, from your friends. Some are suffering from a marriage that has disintegrated, while others suffer from a marriage that is disintegrating. Others suffer from depression, from the awful feeling of helplessness of meaninglessness, of sorrow. Some suffer from the death of a loved one, an empty chair which once was full, a face in a crowd, a familiar song reduces you to tears. At one stage or another we echo Job’s comment on life, “man was born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards.”
At such times remember that God suffers with you. When everyone else is gone and you are all alone, God does not desert you, God understands. Whatever else there may be in your life, there is always this, there is always God.
God is the Knowable One, the Suffering One, and then consider, in third instance, that God is the Uncontrollable One.
I suspect that most people when they think of God view God as either a cruel dictator who is out to get them, or as a celestial Santa Claus waiting for letters of request. The trouble with both portrayals is that they try to manipulate God, to force God to act, to behave in a prescribed fashion. It is wrong to think that we can control God.
Moses wanted to know God’s name before he went out to do God’s will. In Jewish thought to know someone’s name was to have power over them. No doubt Moses thought, “if I know God’s name than I’ll have Him right where I want Him, ready to pull out like a lucky rabbit’s foot whenever I need His help.” But God refuses to give Moses an answer. God responds, “I am who I am, say this to the people of Israel, I am has sent me to you.”
In C. S. Lewis’s book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Aslan has finished conquering the wicked Queen and in her place has installed Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy as Kings and Queens. At the coronation party Aslan suddenly slips away. Although surprised Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy say nothing for they remember Mr. Beaver’s comments:
He’ll be coming and going. One day you’ll see Him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down – and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press Him. He’s wild you know. Not like a tame lion.
Because God is the Uncontrollable One God cannot be manipulated. But, consider this; because God is the Uncontrollable One, God is also the hope-bringer. God reveals himself through history but God is not confined by history. God is Lord of history.
The Swiss build nuclear bomb shelters to house their entire population. Environmentalists warn us that we are on the edge of environmental collapse. Some economists say the same thing about the economy and survivalist magazine and websites are everywhere. Many people think that this is the end. And one is almost inclined to agree, but for one fact, the fact that God is the Uncontrollable One.
You see, God’s answer to Moses’s question concerning a name was on one level a non-answer, but on another deeper level it was an answer of hope. “I am who I am” can also be interpreted as “I will be who I will be.” God is not bound by the cause and effect of history. God can choose to intervene to re-direct the flow of history.
Our ultimate hope as Christians is not in the strength of the economy or the wisdom of politicians, it is in God who is not defeated by our human follies and failures, not limited by our worries, not defeated by our concerns. And so we do not despair, we do not give up but we continue to hold fast to the good news, to the gospel of Christ as something which is good news not only for the life to come, but good news for the here and now as well.