Sunday, January 8, 2012

Three Simple Questions: Who is God? - Hebrews 1:1-3a and Acts 17:23b-28

I want to begin by asking all of you a question. Why are you here? Don't get me wrong, I am thrilled that you are, but why? Is it out of some sense of obligation? Out of habit? Or is there more? Like a sense of renewal or connection?

For the next three weeks, we are going to focus on this topic by looking at three simple questions, Who is God?, Who am I?, and Who Are We Together? as we seek to flesh out our sense of why we worship God. Today we are going to look at the first question, “Who is God?” Specifically, why do we need to ask this question, how can we know the answer to this question, and what can those answers mean for us.

What's the Point?
So why would we need to spend time asking ourselves who God is? Is it not enough to say God created all things, loves all things, and wants all things connected to him? In a word, no. It is not enough. If this world was full of lollipops, rainbows, unicorns, and sunshine, it would be. But this world is not. We have to deal with tragedy, disaster, war, hatred, and violence. And it is in those things that we divide ourselves. And it is those same divisions that have invaded the church.1 Therefore, we need to go back to the beginning. We need to go back to understanding who it is that we serve and what it is about God that draws us in and makes us want to serve him. Because it is in the answers to those questions that we can be reminded of who God is, who God calls us to be, and reassess our actions to make sure we are being who God called us to be.

Who Is God?
So who is God? What is it about God that draws people in? Over the years I have heard many descriptions from people about God. Some focus on the personal appearance of God. You know, that tried and true description of the tall guy, with the long white hair, long white beard, wearing a long white robe. There is a story of a little girl, we will call her Katie, that was in Sunday school one morning, and her teacher was asking the class what God looked like. Most of the kids started with the white hair, long beard, white robe routine. However, the teacher noticed that Katie was not answering. She asked Katie what she thought, and kind of sheepishly she said, “gray?”. Somewhat taken aback, the teacher asked how she came up with that idea. Well she said, every night we pray before dinner, “God is gray, God is good.”

But since no one has ever seen God, the physical description is not all that useful for us; fun to discuss but not very useful. That leaves God's intrinsic characteristics. For me, God at his most basic level is love. For me, everything that God is and everything that God does is out of his vast ability to love.

Love that is revealed to us though his son, Jesus Christ, not only in his actions but in his words. Words like we find in John 15:9, "As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love" (John 15:9). But this type of Christian love is not easy, in fact, it is quite demanding because of the patience and accountability it contains.

The key to this verse lies in the first sentence, “as the Father loved me, I too love you”. So to understand God's love we need to look at how Jesus loved. First, who did Jesus love? In a word, every one. Just look at the company he kept. Jesus upset many people with the company he kept. Spending all that time with those people that society decided just were not worth the effort. God's love, as shown through Jesus, was given to all people. There was no one that was not worth the effort. Today we have a tendency to avoid the trouble makers, the nay sayers, and spend our time with like minded people. Jesus, though the company he kept, did quite the opposite. He included all people.

But we must also look at how he loved. Not only did he love all people, but he did it with a sense of accountability. In some circles the word accountability could be synonymous with confrontation. To often in this world our first reaction is to confront with violence and anger. Through vile words and hurtful actions we confront. But Jesus confronted many people with neither of those techniques. He used tools such as unending grace and undeserved mercy. When people came to him, people who because of their sin, or personalities, had been segregated from society, Jesus did not ignore their sin. He confronted it, but he did it with love. He talked about their worth, he talked about how his Father loved them, and then he forgave them.

There was no room in Jesus' love for revenge, for violence, for hatred. It was and is too full of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. To understand who God is, we need to look no further than Jesus, God Incarnate, to see love as it is meant to be. Jesus is our proof of what God's love looks like. It is our evidence of what God wants from each of us towards one another. It is the blueprint for a love for all, a love that demands, but a love that will last for eternity.

What Does That Mean for Us?
Knowing that God is love and that through Jesus we can understand the depth and accountability that love contains, what does that mean for us today? It means that we constantly keep reevaluating who we are as Christians. It means that we are never content with who we are as a person, who we are as a church, and what we are doing for God's Kingdom. We strive for change, for transformation, for deeper understandings of who God is calling all of us to be. Reuben P. Job, a retired United Methodist Bishop, once wrote “Far too often we are content with a god too tame and domesticated to shake us to the very roots of our being and send us out of worship trembling in awe and amazement...”2

This year, I want you to rediscover that feeling. I want you to tremble in awe and amazement when you leave this place. Never be content with where you are in your relationship with God. Strive for a deeper understanding, strive for a life of constant transformation, strive to always be in a state of learning. Come to this place, go into your daily quiet time with God, expecting to encounter your Abba, your Father, your God. This morning you have the opportunity to rediscover that awe and amazement. Come to this rail and ask for it. Come to this rail and ask the Holy Spirit to help you rediscover it.

God is bigger than words and bigger than creation. But God does reveal himself to us. Through Christ, through Scripture, and through our interactions with each other. This year rediscover God, rediscover God's love, and rediscover your relationship with him.

1. Job, Rueben P. Three Simple Questions. Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2011. p. 9.
2. Job, Rueben P. Three Simple Questions. Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2011. p. 17.

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