Sunday, April 20, 2008

Easter 5 - Year A

NB: With help from Willimon

“Show us who God is,” Phillip impatiently demands from Jesus.

If you could sum up all human longing in one sentence, I think that would be it. “Show us who God is.”

I would guess that’s why most of you are here at church today– especially on this snowy Sunday – is to see who God is.

You come hungry or merely curious, with great need or simply out of habit, but the unspoken words on your lips as you gather here for worship are “Show us who God is.”

“What are you drawing?” a teacher leans over and asks a little girl who was drawing a picture in school one day.

“God,” the little girl responds.

The teacher laughed and said, “No one knows what God looks like,”

“They will when I get finished with this drawing,” said the little girl.

You gotta love that confidence, don’t you?

So what do you think God looks like? If you could draw a picture of what God, what would God look like?

Would you draw a person? A bearded octogenarian with ripped abs scowling on a cloud, lightening bolt in hand?

Would you draw a nature scene, with radiant sunbeams shining luminously through soaring trees, with just the right mixture of light and dark to signify presence and absence, intimacy and mystery?

Would you draw a self-portrait, believing that since we are all created in God’s image, God looks just like each one of us?

Would you draw Jesus? Or at least what you think Jesus would look like?

If you take today’s gospel reading seriously, that’s just what you might do.

“Show us who God is,” Phillip demands. “Show us the grandeur and majesty of divine glory. Show us God Almighty in splendor and magnificence. Show us ultimate cosmic power. Show us God’s brilliant light in a dark and sinful world.”

“Show us what the world and existence is all about. Show us that our lives are connected somehow to Eternal Life. “Show us that God really cares about us. Show us that God is somehow active in the world and in our lives.”

“Show us goodness in world filled with evil. Show us life everlasting in world consumed by death.

“Show us wisdom in a world filled with mere information and knowledge. Show us compassion in a world filled with self-centredness.

‘Show us wealth in a world weighed down with mere riches. Show us something more than what we see in our daily lives.”

Isn’t that really what Phillip was asking? Isn’t that maybe what you came here asking from Jesus? “Show us who God is.”

“Are you really asking me that?” Jesus asks, not really believing Phillip still wasn’t getting it.

“You been with me all this time and you STILL haven’t figured this out? If you want to know who God is, just look at me. Look at what I do, listen to what I say. God is in me and I am in God.”

God is in Jesus and Jesus is in God. Christians believe that in the life, death, and resurrection, we have seen God. That’s the grand claim of today’s gospel. When we see Jesus, how he lived in the world, when we hear Jesus, the words he spoke to his first followers, the words he speaks to us today, we know, by the power of the Holy Spirit opening our minds and tugging at our hearts, that we have seen, heard, and felt God. Emmanuel. God with us.

We have a God who loved us too much to remain distant and unapproachable. “Show us who God is.” Phillip asks.

“If you want to know who God,” Jesus responds, “just look at me. I am the way, the truth, and the life. If you want to get to God, you get to God through me.”

That’s where Jesus loses some people. In our PC world, this often sounds some alarms. (You know what I mean by PC, don’t you? Politeness and Civility, of course).

People often hear this as hopelessly exclusive. And many Christians have taken this passage used it as a bullet to load theological gun with. People have been killed over this verse. Wars fought. Countries conquered. I’m not sure that that’s what Jesus intended when he said it.

Theologian Emil Brunner says that most claims to truth are really claims to power. Sadly, I think he’s right. What he means by this is that when most people demand ultimate, absolute capital “T” Truth, folks usually mean that their truth is THE TRUTH, and therefore, they’re somehow superior to others. Truth becomes a hammer, a weapon used against ‘lesser people’ who do not have THE TRUTH.

Brunner is like the philosophers who tell us that we’ve moved from the ‘modern’ era into the ‘post-modern’ era, where truth is filtered through human experience.

For example, me, as a white, middle-class, educated, male, living in Canada sees the world much differently then a poor, illiterate, female, factory worker living in Zambia.

We all see the world through the eyes of our history, our life experience, the stories we’ve heard and the people we’ve met. How we view the world and truth is filtered through what surrounds us.

This drives some Christians NUTS. “Truth is Truth. It’s absolute, unchanging, eternal, no matter where you are or where you’ve come from,” they say.

To which I always want to respond, “Why do you want to bring Plato into the conversation?” Before your eyes glaze over, let me explain.

Whether we know it or not, much of our western understanding of truth and even God come from Plato, not from the bible. When Plato says, here is truth, he offers ideas and concepts that we can understand without them ever touching our lives.

When the NT says, “here is truth” it points to Jesus. If you want to know what truth is, just look at Jesus.”

That may be hard for some to grasp. I know it was hard for me. Especially when most theology sounds like a page from Plato’s playbook than from the bible.

But I think, like Pilate asked Jesus, the world is asking “what is truth?” And our job is to Jesus and say, “he is truth. He is the way, the truth, and the life. If you want to find your way to God, he will take you there.”

The Way is the cross, the Truth is the God who walked among us, and the Life is Jesus wrapping a towel around his waist and kneeling down to wash the disciples’ feet.

That’s what power looks like. That’s “the way, the truth, and the life.” Three different ways of saying the same thing.

If you want to see God, just look around and see where Jesus is and what Jesus is doing. You may not see him at first.

And you might want him to be doing more than he is. But Jesus asks that we have patience with him, great patience, because the hard work of renewing the world doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and toil.

Jesus is at the hospital bed holding someone’s hand and saying a gentle prayer.

Jesus is sitting with the confirmand and faith mentor sharing each other’s lives, growing in faith – together.

Jesus is at the funeral home, wiping away tears.

Jesus is downstairs teaching Sunday school. He’s setting up coffee in foyer. He’s making quilts to send CLWR. He’s all around us doing the servant work of God. Under the radar. Behind the scenes. So be patient. His work is finished, but is yet to be complete.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus says, “If you want to find your way to God, I can take you there.”

May this be so among us. Amen.


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