Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said,
“For we too are his offspring.”
Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’
And when he sees Me in all and sees all in Me, then I never leave him and he never leaves me, and he who is this oneness of Love, loves Me in whatever he sees, wherever this man may live in truth he lives in me.
MESSAGE – “Immersed”
There was deep concern in her voice as she began to speak, after inviting me to sit. A tear trickled down her cheek and I could see her hand trembling ever so slightly. “He doesn’t believe in God anymore…I don’t understand it. He was raised in the church… How can he see a sunrise, wheat field, remember the stories of the bible…? How can all that be and he just not believe anymore? How does one not believe in God?”
After visiting with her for some time I discovered it was really more of a particular image a particular understanding of God her son did not believe … I encouraged her to hear his words more in light of a questioning of “Who” is God rather than there is no God.
As I have journeyed through the ministry that is a common question, it may not come out exactly that way… however, it is a common question, “God Who?” And often times it is in light of a conversation sparked by someone’s disagreement with another over doctrine, “right belief,” etc… I have shared with many persons, “Perhaps it is not God this one is mocking or criticizing, or diminishing, rather a particular understanding, character, and image…
I believe it is an important conversation and journey toward faith and life… In fact, I am inclined to believe it is foundational to the way we live in the world for those of us who follow the way. How do you view God? When you close your eyes and I say the word God… what do you see? Do you see the image of a warrior? God in a chariot… on a stallion… sword drawn ready to vanquish the evil doers? God who seems to revel in war imagery of battle and armor, swords and bloodshed?
Who do you see, an angry God? Sitting on a throne out there somewhere…Kind of like Bruce imagined in the movie Bruce Almighty… “Like a mean kid on an ant hill with a magnifying glass…” just waiting to … zap us!! An image of God who would “take” all you have and chastise you for questioning it all? A God who would rain down fire and brimstone or toss you into a lake of fire for not believing?
Who do you see when you imagine God? An anthropomorphic figure… a male, long beard, flowing robe, sitting on a great white throne, watching over creation waiting to act in one way or another? Or do you see the feminine of God? Sophia, Wisdom… as found in our sacred texts as well. There are the Hindu feminine images of Shiva as well, in the other tradition from which we read today. “Who do you see?”
And how do you understand God? There are a lot of understandings out there. Not just in the churches, synagogues, temples, and other places of worship… but in the news as well… an understanding of God designed to cause us to fear, fear of tribulation, fear of being left behind, fear of rejection, fear of separation, fear of pain, of suffering, a God whom we should be afraid of…all of these aspects… understandings of God are supported in our scriptures …Warrior, Angry, Male, Female, Feared, Vengeful, wrathful. And I believe the peoples and the authors of these stories and images believed it too… and I believe our belief about God is crucial to our being, crucial to our world, crucial/foundational to who we are, who we say we are as human beings, as the church.
It goes back to our beginnings as a people of faith and grace, “Let us make humankind in our own image, after our likeness,” The author of Genesis tells us. If we are to take seriously at the very core of who we are, there is God, if we are to embrace an idea and reality that somehow, some way, at the very center of who we are, is God, then it matters, profoundly matters, who we think God is, for whoever/whatever God becomes, there we are.
Marcus Borg, The God We Never Knew
i writes. “People who think of God as a warrior may become warriors themselves, whether in a Christian crusade, a Muslim jihad, or an apocalyptically oriented militia. People who think of God as righteous are likely to emphasize righteousness themselves, just as those who think of God as compassionate are likely to emphasize compassion. People who think God is angry at the world are likely to be angry at the world themselves.”
Are there consequences to our actions and choices? Certainly! However. they are of
our own making and we learn to own them, embrace them, and move forward. They are not something God “does” to us. From the very beginnings of our story an alternative understanding is there. What if… the uniqueness of our story of faith was not In the monotheistic understanding of God? Such as, according to many scholars, there is evidence even Judaism started out with a pluralistic image of God.
What if… the uniqueness to God in the ancient world was not that there was only one God, rather that God is about relationship, love, compassion, and care? Rather than a God to be feared for anger, wrath, jealousy, and vengeance?
What if… the stories of the Warrior God, the Angry God, are reflections of the religions around them, or projections of their/our own prejudices, anger/wrath/etc as ways to justify our own behavior, to justify our own image?
The alternative is there in the very beginning stories, there is a theological statement of a God who cares for creation and creature, a God who says, It is ALL good! A story that says the disconnect happened when humanity “hid” and did not trust God to be grace-filled, loving, and forgiving. And yet we have turned it into a story with cause for God to ban us from God’s presence and love. The theme is there throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, though sometimes we have to do some digging through the “stuff” to find it.
The “us” in “let us create humankind” is a crucial clue to the image of God, a God of relationship, a God of care, a God of intimacy. It is why the passage we read from Acts is a long favorite of mine. In the text Paul says, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.”
Notice in the passage he doesn’t condemn them for their multiple expressions of worship or God. He simply points to a particular image, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, God who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor served by human hands, as though God needed anything, since God Godself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.”
And Paul gives us a glimpse of how he sees and understands God. “For in God we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are God’s offspring.” Paul points to a creative God, a God who is in whom we are immersed, buoyed, held, filled, and cared for, a God who is compassionate, grace-filled, and loving. I think about the letters and stories we believe come from Paul and while the legalism can be seen, there throughout the stories and writings he is also pointing us ever to this God in Christ who is immersive and grounded in grace and compassion. Again, sometimes I think it takes some digging for us to find it and hear it, yet, it is there, and I believe it is the image and character of God in which we were created.
I believe that is who we are called to be! We are called to be the unique and unrepeatable children of God, immersed in the very presence of the Spirit of Compassion, Grace, and Love. Gathered in and Sent out as we were made, loving and grace-filled. immersed in a love from which we can never be separated. Ever! Not “afraid” of God, rather in awe of this God, Spirit, Divine who loves us so. Who knows us where we are, knows who we are, and giving us unreserved welcome and grace? This is the image in which we are created! This is who we are called to reflect, wherever you are, whoever you are. You are within and without, the very image Of the Divine. This Is So. Amen.
i Borg, Marcus J. (1998), The God We Never Knew, HarperOne SanFrancisco. CA