Sermon 9/11 Who or What is God?

Scripture Lessons:  Luke 14:25-33 and Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18                           

Sermon:  Who or What is God?

Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Smoke.  Fortress.  Fire. Hen.  Warrior. Wind.  Light. Silence. Nursing mother.  Love. And yes, father. These are just a few of the imaginative ways humans have envisioned God in the Bible.  And there have been many more imaginative renderings of God since the Bible was written. And we note that God is not confined to Christianity or Judaism, so there are many, many more examples of imaging God in other religions and spiritual expressions.  This should not surprise us because G-O-D is a three letter word that is a symbol. A symbol points to something. It is not the thing itself. And symbols often have multiple meanings. 

In addition, the many images and descriptions of G-O-D should not surprise us because we are told in our foundational origin story that humanity was created in God’s image:  The creature made in the image of the creator. So, the creature has creative powers. We are meant to create. Among other things, we are meant to create meaning. And so we create words and symbols that imply meanings.  

As we think about the long tradition of our Christian religion, we see that the symbol G-O-D functions in many different ways.  We are given images of God creating, punishing, forgiving, liberating, sustaining, destroying, saving, nurturing. There are many ways of describing the impact and influence and character of the concept G-O-D.  This is because people have created the meanings associated with G-O-D according to what was needed at the time or in a given circumstance. So the concept G-O-D has always been changing and evolving. This is nothing new.  When we read the Bible, it should not surprise us at all that there are many different renderings of G-O-D. And some are contradictory and conflicting. Why? Because people construct meaning for the symbol according to the context.    

So, as a people of faith gathered in this sanctuary this morning, what are some of your thoughts about who or what is God? 

Here among us today, in this context, we associate many different meanings with the symbol G-O-D.  It’s not surprising because we are tasked with making meaning for this symbol. That is part of what we are to do as creatures created in the image of a creating God.

In the scripture lesson that we heard this morning from Luke, there is reference to building a tower and preparing for battle.  The one who is going to build a tower assesses the site, as well as the materials and labor needed for construction. There are many factors to take into consideration when building a tower.  Much money is needed. The builder needs to have everything in place to complete the project. 

The same kind of assessment and preparation is referenced regarding battle.  A commander evaluates the circumstances, the strength of the enemy, the weaponry and soldiers and supplies that will be needed for battle.  This is part of being strategic and prepared and effective.  

We can apply this kind of thinking to our circumstances today and the symbol G-O-D.  In today’s world, with the circumstances and problems that we are facing, what kind of God do we need to move forward?  To make this world a place where life flourishes for all? What kind of meaning needs to be associated with the symbol G-O-D to create a peaceful, nurturing human community that protects the planet and the cosmos?  Our scriptures task us with this kind of creative endeavor and it has always been part of human culture since the creation of the symbol 

G-O-D.  

Here, again, we think of the scripture that we heard this morning.  We heard a story of Jesus telling his followers that they have to be willing to give up family and even life itself, leave all behind, to follow him.   Moving into the future on a path that is consistent with the way of Jesus means leaving things behind and being willing to pay that price.  In thinking about creating meaning for the symbol G-O-D, we want to keep in mind that we may need to leave some ideas and associations behind that may have served us well in the past.  As we think of what is needed now from the symbol G-O-D to address our current circumstances and the situation ahead, we may need to let go of some past images and concepts. This is to be expected.  And it may be very difficult; as drastic as the call to leave behind family to follow Jesus.  

This work is very important.  As we noted, Jesus tells people it is more important than family.  The implication is that the meaning associated with the symbol G-O-D is the most important thing in our lives.  As we heard in the Psalm our very beings are enmeshed with the Divine. So our concept of God is part of who we are.  It’s significant because it is the thing that we orient our lives around. G-O-D is to be the symbol for what is of ultimate significance in our lives.  So we want to be very careful about how we image God because God is to come before all else in our lives including family. How we conceive of God will inform our family relationships and all of our relationships.  

Our concept of God defines who we are and determines our choices, behavior, priorities, and values.  So Jesus encourages his followers to be very intentional and conscious of how they are defining G-O-D.  What they are making most important in their lives.  

Jesus confronts people about their concepts of God.  Some have a concept of God that ties in to greed. Some associate God with their power and status.  Some feel entitled by their God to lord it over others. Jesus talks about people who associate their money and possessions with God.  How we define and envision God makes a difference in our lives and is of ultimate importance.  

Jesus makes it clear that we are all spending our lives, giving our lives away.  He wants us to think about what we are giving them to. What are we devoting ourselves to?  When we look at our lives, what does our behavior show us about what really matters? Jesus wants us to think seriously about this and consider committing our lives to the God that he shows us.  This is not a God promising wealth or status or power or comfort.  

So, we are to think about how we are making meaning associated with the symbol G-O-D.  Given what we know of the God Jesus shows us and considering our current context, we are to create meaning for G-O-D that serves the needs of our lives and our world today.  We are living in a context where tribalism is rampant and global warming threatens life as we know it; where people feel alienated and powerless, and greed increasingly threatens lives and communities; at a time when we need to work together globally and we have the capacity to do so, so, what kind of God is needed?  What attributes and characteristics are needed to create constructive meaning for the symbol G-O-D?

What are some of your thoughts about that. . .

There are some people who argue that the whole idea and concept of G-O-D is outdated, archaic, primitive, and no longer suits our contemporary circumstances and future needs.  I am not going to argue against atheism or agnosticism. They have their place and certainly people have the right to their individual beliefs.  But here is why I think the concept of G-O-D is important. The symbol G-O-D not only helps us to honestly see ourselves but it takes us beyond ourselves, outside ourselves, and connects us to a greater whole.  Given today’s fragmentation and alienation, I think that is very important. I believe the concept G-O-D can have a very positive, healing, reconciling influence in our world today that is desperately needed.  

Eighteenth century French philosopher Montesquieu said, “If triangles had a god, they would give him three sides.”   Yes, we have made God in our image. We know that. So we can use that knowledge and turn it around. We can create meaning for G-O-D that meets the needs of the world today.  Leaving behind what needs to be left behind, we can imaginatively create meaning for the symbol G-O-D for our context and for the future. It is our responsibility, created in the image of God, to construct meaning for G-O-D which promotes the flourishing of all life, the planet, and the cosmos.  Amen.  

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

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