June 11, 2017 God Is…by Rev. Sarah Fanning ( Genesis 1:1-2:4 ~ Images of God

Old Turtle is a delightful and beautifully illustrated children’s book which has won several prominent awards. It is a book about God’s creation and God’s call for all of creation to live in peace and harmony. It is also a book about God. The book is a myth in the best sense of that word, a story with deep meaning that seeks to explain things as they are and teach people how to be in the world. In this story all of the birds, animals, trees and rocks could speak and understand one another. An argument broke out about the nature of God and of course each thing saw or experienced God in a different way, and each tried to convert the others to their way of thinking. Finally after a loud argument an animal referred to simply as “Old Turtle” spoke up and said that God was all of these things they spoke of and God was also much more, Old Turtle said “God is”. Then Old Turtle told the animals and other things that a race of beings called people would come and remind them of God and be God’s messengers. The people came but soon they too argued about God, about who knew God and who did not. Eventually they suffered and creation suffered. Finally the silence was broken and the stars and the rocks, and the ocean spoke and took to the people the message of Old Turtle and what they had learned from her of God. The people began to see God everywhere: in one another, in creation. And God smiled. This wonderful children’s book depicts the reality that there is so much to know about God that we can never comprehend it all. But we keep on exploring and discovering new and wonderful things about this great God of ours – through creation, animals, and one another. People through the ages have written about their experience of God. In Christian terms we have come to acknowledge that experience as the Trinity. That is the essence of this Sunday as we celebrate the attributes of our wonderful and mysterious God. Through the ages we have tried to define God. It has never been an easy concept. I have had people point out to me many times, “You’ve never seen God, so how can you presume to try to prove the existence of God to me.” And no! I can’t prove it to anyone. But through faith I can prove it to myself because I come to an understanding of God, not only through the doctrines of the Church and through the study of Scripture, but especially through my own very personal experience of who God is and how God has worked in my life. But we come up against a real problem when we try to explain God using the doctrine of the Trinity because it is an intellectual way of expressing something that needs to be experienced to be understood. We make analogies to help ourselves understand how God can be three persons and yet one God. We get ourselves tied up in semantics and Greek philosophy. We get nowhere.  Yet when you come down to it, isn’t the doctrine of the Trinity simply an emotional exercise that explains our relationship to God? ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ are all relational terms. They are not about how we think. They are about how we relate to God. When we speak of God in human terms, we are relating God to ways in which we experience and respond. And isn’t that what people are really hungry for? We want to be in relationship to God. Today’s readings remind us of the connection between all living things. The Genesis passage expresses the story of our relationship to God as creator of the world. This is a story about God, particularly the God of Israel. It is a story about God’s actions, God’s nature, God’s power and God’s will for human existence. It is a very well written, hymn-like work, in which the order is carefully and liturgically balanced. You see, we must remember that this story was put down on paper at a time when the people of Israel were being held captive in Babylon. This God has confronted chaos and created order. This God has brought life from nothingness. This story proclaims to them that they can believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt that the creator of the earth is not the god Marduk or any of the Babylonian gods, but YHWH, the God of Israel, the God of Abraham and Sarah, the God of Isaac and Rebecca, the God of Jacob and Rachel. This was the God who had led them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. This God guided them in all the times of their lives as a chosen people. At the time of God’s creative action, this Spirit hovered over creation like a vigilant mother bird watches her young, this Spirit was like a mighty yet gentle wind, this God’s power was so great and all encompassing that mere speech was truly creative. This God simply willed things into being. This God willed the creation of humans in this God’s own image and in the end this God looked upon creation and saw that it was GOOD.

To a group of people in despair and in exile this text proclaimed ‘trust in the power of your God to bring you to life in all of its abundance’. This passage depicts a very human God who whimsically yet methodically goes about the task of creating and then rests. God has a special on-going relationship with creation. God does not create and then abandon. God creates for a purpose, for God’s purpose. The ending to Matthew’s gospel is familiar and loaded with significance for the church. Here, Jesus gives to his followers what has become known as the great commission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Within these words is another Trinitarian formula. Here is our mandate for Christian baptism, Christian community, and instruction in Christ-likeness. The disciples were, at this time in their faith journey, struggling with their faith and their doubts. Pentecost has not yet arrived. They know the risen Christ to be special yet they aren’t ready to stake everything on these claims yet.  It is interesting to note that it is to these very normal people, with a mixture of faith and doubt that the great commission is given to. It was not given to those who had it all worked out. It was not given to those who had memorized the entire Catechism. It was not given to those who were 100% sure. It was given to normal folk, like me and like you who walk on the way and seek truth amidst doubt and uncertainty. We must affirm then, that the doctrine of the Trinity is not some great truth that God has put in stone for us to believe. It is rather a metaphor developed over the centuries for how we experience God’s presence. The concept of the Trinity allows us to explore our experience of God in our lives. It calls on us to turn to God to satisfy our hunger. In the midst of anguish and trouble we experience the God who walks with us. In the beauty of nature, we experience the One who created us with wisdom and care. When life gets too serious, we experience God joyfully dancing at the thought of creating the human race. When we are filled with guilt, regrets and anxieties, we experience a God who justifies us, not like Judge Judy – in black and white according to some rule book – not because we are worthy, but because we have claimed it and are significant to God. Where have you bumped into God in the last few days? I’ll wager it wasn’t just in church this morning. Was it at the breakfast table? Or during a walk in the woods when you saw the beautiful spring carpet of flowers? Was it when a friend apologized for an unkind word spoken in haste? Or when memories of good times came flooding back to you during a phone call from an old friend? Or was it with the warmth of the sun after the cool days we have been experiencing? Are those not the kind of events that we translate as love? Are they not ways in which we relate to our loving God?

Admittedly in some ways, that can only leave us hungering for still more. Can we ever be satisfied of that hunger for truth? What we need to discover during this season is that the hunger is the Spirit itself drawing us into the truth, guiding, teaching, interpreting so that we may come to a deeper understanding of God. We need to allow ourselves to experience God in new and wonderful ways. Together with the words from the end of Matthew’s gospel, our reading from Genesis speaks of some of the main but certainly not all of the ways in which we can experience God and the many ways in which God relates to the world. The same God who has created the world is still active and is still creating through the power of the Word. This God is with us is ways similar and different from the ways in which the people of Israel experienced the divine presence. This is the same, the constant: God calls us to respond where we are with all that we are. We believe that God has come in Jesus as an embodiment of that powerful Word of creation and power and love. God is present to us through the Spirit of Christ who has said “I am with you always”. Thanks be to God! Amen.