Your God is Too Small
Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
Tom Sawyer’s Sermon Notes, August 28, 2011
Over fifty years ago I read a little book by J.B. Phillips entitled, “Your God is Too Small”. It was a real eye-opener for me because it helped me to see that whatever concept of God I held, it would be inadequate to conceptualize God. God, unlike us, is not confined to time and space, but is rather part of both eternity and infinity.
In my engineering studies, before I began training for ministry, I learned a few things about time and space. I learned that’s according to Einsteinian relativity, the faster you moved, the slower time moved. Experiments have shown that elapsed time for astronauts travelling rapidly around the globe many times a day, is less than elapsed time by milliseconds for those of us remaining on earth. Mathematically, if you travel faster than the speed of light, you actually move backwards through time. You may recall that in the first “Superman” movie, after Lois Lane was killed, Superman spun around the earth at speeds faster than light, thus moving time backward to the point before she was killed so that he could prevent her death.
This has tremendous implications for our understanding of God, yet it affirms what the ancient Hebrew people discovered. We hear biblical concepts such as, “God the same, yesterday, today and forever”. From our 21st Century perspective, rather than saying God is unchanging, we know that God exists in the past, present and future simultaneously. There is no confining to time and space.
Many of us have an image of God as a grand old man up in the sky, something like a loving, yet intimidating grandfather figure. I know my image as a child was formed by a picture of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting with a finger reaching out to created man. Such a view is reinforced by Jesus reference to God as “Father”. Actually he used the informal word that would be more accurately translated “Dad”. But the Bible is also full of references to God that use female imagery.
In the first creation story in the first chapter of Genesis the Hebrew uses the same word describing a hen brooding over her eggs to bring them to life, when it talks of God, brooding over the chaos before the creation story begins. That is very much a feminine activity.
There is another Hebrew word used of God in the Old Testament that we were taught in Seminary fifty years ago meant “mountain” and brought up images of a storm god on the mountain. Then women theologians began to examine that assumption and realized it was the same word that was used for “breast”, a little mound rather than a storm mountain. Now the word brings up images of a nurturing, feeding God.
Some examples of the inadequate images J.B. Phillips talked about sixty years ago often still are alive and well today:
· Resident Policeman
· Parental Hangover
· Grand Old Man
· Absolute Perfection
· Pale Galilean
Now here is where the great insights of the ancients shines through. Moses was challenged to return to Egypt where he was a man wanted for murder. He was to convince hundreds of thousands of illiterate slaves that he had experienced God who in turn wanted Moses to confront Pharaoh and demand that Hebrews be set free to return to their home land. The people would want some kind of proof that God existed, and that Moses had encountered this God. They wanted to know what God was like. A person’s name, in the Old Testament tradition, disclosed the nature of the person. Abraham, for example meant “father of the people”; Jacob meant “one who follows”, the second born twin, but it was changed after his wrestling all night with an angel to “Israel”, “one who wrestles with God”.
What was the name of God given to Moses? It was YHWH, that simply means “I am”, or “I exist”. YAHW states that God exists but does not attempt to describe God. As soon as we begin to describe God, we come up with something short of the mark.
We know there are all kinds of disagreements in church life, often based on our different understandings of God and what God is calling us to do. We can often see the shortcomings in some else’s perspective but are blind to our own. Remember Jesus commenting about us being concerned about the speck in our neighbour’s eye while we walk around with a log in our own. In another he suggests we not worry about weeds in our midst for if we try to remove the bad, there is collateral damage to the good crop as well. We are to leave judgment to God, especially when we realize our own view of God – of necessity – is too small.
Therefore it is incumbent upon us to be gentle with those who are different from us in outlook and understanding, because we know there are ways that our own views are short of the mark, are too small. As followers of Jesus we must be kind and gentle, even to our enemies. We can close with the translation of Paul’s words we heard in today’s epistle lesson:
19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’20No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans12:19-21)