What is God?
Week of Sunday August 18 - Pentecost 18
Gospel: Luke 12:49-56
Deuteronomy 11:1-3, 8-15
You shall love the Lord your God, therefore, and keep his charge, his decrees, his ordinances, and his commandments always.2Remember today that it was not your children (who have not known or seen the discipline of the Lord your God), but it is you who must acknowledge his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm,3his signs and his deeds that he did in Egypt to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and to all his land; ...
8 Keep, then, this entire commandment that I am commanding you today, so that you may have strength to go in and occupy the land that you are crossing over to occupy, 9and so that you may live long in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10For the land that you are about to enter to occupy is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sow your seed and irrigate by foot like a vegetable garden. 11But the land that you are crossing over to occupy is a land of hills and valleys, watered by rain from the sky, 12a land that the Lord your God looks after. The eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.
13 If you will only heed his every commandment that I am commanding you today—loving the Lord your God, and serving him with all your heart and with all your soul— 14then he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil; 15and he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you will eat your fill.
‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’
54 He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
What is God?
Who is this mysterious figure we worship?
We can make only the barest description before we begin to construct an idol, for God is like this, a bit like that, but never this and never that. God is beyond us. Our language is not adequate... ever.
One scholar suggests that God is the passion or the calling that seizes our lives so that we can never let go. God is the experience of being consumed, of being badgered... even, by this calling which never leaves us alone. We might hop on a ship and sail far away, we might get swallowed by a big fish when we fall over board, and while we are sitting there inside, giving it a stomach ache, the same voice is still calling. God has better coverage than Telstra. God's signal penetrates anywhere, everywhere, and always.
This is why the Hebrew Scriptures say—and Jesus agrees—‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.' Jesus also says, if you are not loving your neighbour as yourself when you love God, then you have not really listened to this voice which keeps calling you.’ We are not loving God if we do not love our neighbour. (Luke 10:17)
We are not too sure about this calling which keeps coming. Psalm 139 is read as a love song to the God from whom we can never be separated. It has always struck me as being deeply ambivalent:
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
What is God?
God is the thing we value most. God is where we put our trust. God is the voice to which we... actually listen. When we reject refugees; when we say Australia is always right; when we say to the government, "You must lower my taxes"; when we ignore the voice of someone in need; we have not listened to the Voice. We have made our own concerns God; other voices and callings have become God.
In Jesus' time the central pillar of society was the family. The family was your social security. Family was your health insurance. Family was your property insurance. Family was the supermarket. Family was everything... in a way we can scarcely imagine in our affluent and individualistic society. Without family you were nothing.
So family got in the way of God. Every time God called there was a father, or mother, or sister or brother or mother-in-law or cousin... saying, "No! No! Listen to me! Do it this way."
When we were engaged to marry, I wrote home from the desert and asked my minister if he could send us some marriage preparation resources. And way up there in the desert we read all these questions about how we would deal with our families... and I laughed. Not a problem! We are a thousand miles from the nearest family. They won't interfere with anything... (This is where the minister writes in the margin, "Pause for laughter.")
We eloped one weekend and were married. And then I really met Wendy's family for the first time, and she met mine. I discovered that for 18 years I had been learning how to behave, and what to expect, and what was right and wrong... and that for Wendy's family the lessons were somewhat different!
I don't know who of us got the bigger shock! The way my family showed its care and concern was completely foreign to the way Wendy's family did it. So when I cared for her, it felt, for her, like I didn't care at all. In Wendy's family you would only do that if you wanted to hurt someone; if you didn't care!
One day, a day when we were not so happy with each other, I realised that what I was really grumpy about was an old argument with my mother! I wasn't responding to Wendy, or listening to Wendy at all! I was listening to the voice of my Mum—who is the best Mum, by the way.
I was most certainly not listening to the Voice we call God.
Old family habits I learned from day one—literally—still try to dictate how I will respond to Wendy, and to the world. It is not Wendy suggesting I do not listen to God. It is all the other voices; how to be family, how to be a father, how to be a husband...
how to be a success....
The voices go far beyond family.
You wouldn't believe how much the Church wants me to listen to it rather than God... or perhaps you would. You know how people get upset when we shift pews, or change service times for the sake of the gospel, and we ask "What is it with these people?! Is it God they're listening to?"
Work wants us to listen to it, not God. Employers pressure us to give them our lives, to cheat, to lie, to cut corners, even to break the law.
Our own souls... want to be safe rather than trust God, so we listen to money, status, security, and do things which are the opposite of what God says!
So when Jesus said I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! he was not kidding! (49) The world is trying to burn God out of our lives... and a lot of the time we are glad to help and let the grass grow long and dry around our spiritual disciplines.
God... is trying to burn the world out of our lives.... not to burn us, but to set us free, to heal us, to purify us, to help us hear more clearly.
Jesus also said I have a baptism with which to be baptized... (50) Listening to The Voice cost him his whole life. In our English history we stopped doing crucifixions, for the most part. Instead, we burned people at the stake when they did not comply with the voice of society.
God is asking for a one hundred percent stake in our lives. Society, family, work... our own desire for security... all these want to own us too. Which one will we go to the stake for?
Seriously... there is no peace on earth... only division... a thousand different voices calling for our attention... and our allegiance. (Ever heard of customer loyalty?) (51) There is no peace this side of heaven. The fires are always burning, calling us to their light like moths, desiring to burn us up; to use us. If we are only singed we are fortunate.
What will douse the flames, again and again when they flare up--
they will always smoulder this side of heaven; the voices will always call us away from God, 'til the day we die--
what will give us relief is to be baptised...
to be immersed in the ways of Jesus....
to be buried in the fire that purifies us rather than consumes us.
Listen to Him; not family; not money; not work...
Listen to Him and follow His example....
It may cost us everything... well, it will! And it will feel like burning.
But it will be a baptism...
a burial in love...
a healing of hearing...
a balm and a salve on the burns and scars of our lives.
Sometimes we have heard the old Law thundering and threatening: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.... or else...'
Jesus is the pleading voice; the healing voice:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind. Love your neighbour as yourself....
and although the flames will seem to flare up—and they will—your healing will begin.
The latter rain (Deut 11:14) will begin the healing of your soul,
and slowly you will begin to hear... the Voice... sing you joyous songs of the deepest Love there is.
Now... is the time.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!