April 22, 2018: God Cannot be Defined

Posted on : Apr 19th, 2018 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Our ancestors of the faith, dating back to the time of Moses and the Exodus, had a very strict prohibition against naming, defining or imaging God.  In fact, that prohibition is set forth at the very beginning of the Ten Commandments as recorded in the book of Exodus:

And God spoke all these words:

“I am your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

  1. “You shall have no other gods before me.
  1. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Why should that be?  If you’re going to believe in a God, why not name her or him?  Why not define her?  Why not make a representation (image) of him?  WHY?  Why is this such an issue for us as people of faith?

The simple answer is this: We’re sure to get it wrong!  We’re sure to image God as we see God instead of as God is.  We’re sure to define God as we want God to be instead of as God is.  We’re sure to name God wrongly, as we have done for generations.

The post resurrection appearance of the Risen Christ to the disciples as told in John’s Gospel, builds on this same theme.  Why is it in all these stories that the Risen Christ is not at first recognized as the person, Jesus, whom the disciples loved and followed?  Why is it that Jesus enters rooms that have locked doors?  Unlike today, doors that locked were rare in the ancient world.  Even doors themselves were rare oddities.  Most houses had no doors and few had locks.  Clearly these details are included to heighten the drama of this story.  The disciples thought they were safe, hiding behind locked doors but then suddenly Jesus breaks into their presence.  And how does Jesus greet them?  Not with fear but in peace.

The Gospel writers are very careful to not let us confine Jesus to the limits of our own minds, imaginations and beliefs.  Why?  Because just like our earlier ancestors of faith, if we were allowed to do that, we would surely get it wrong.  We would surely limit Jesus to what we think he should be.  We’d surely create Jesus in our image, after our likeness (as we have with all images of Jesus that present him as a Caucasian with blonde hair and blue eyes) and we’d surely limit Jesus by confining him to one group of people over another.

On this fourth Sunday of Easter, we’ll explore one of the reasons that the Resurrection still changes us today.  That reason is found in the mystery of these ancient traditions and stories.

Blessings to you in this Season of Easter,

Dan

~This Sunday’s scripture~

Exodus 20: 1-17

The Ten Commandments

 

Then God spoke all these words:

I am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Holy One your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God, for your God will not acquit anyone who misuses this name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days God made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore God blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

 

John 20: 19-31

(from The Inclusive Bible)

 

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were locked in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Temple authorities.

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Having said this, the savior showed them the marks of crucifixion.

The disciples were filled with joy when they saw Jesus, who said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As God sent me, so I’m sending you.”

After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said,

“Receive the Holy Spirit.

If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.

If you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.”

It happened that one of the Twelve, Thomas – nicknamed “the Twin” – was absent when Jesus came.  The other disciples kept telling him, “We’ve seen Jesus!”

Thomas’ answer was, “I’ll never believe it without putting my finger in the nail marks and my hand into the spear wound.”

On the eighth day, the disciples were once more in the room, and this time Thomas was with them.  Despite the locked doors, Jesus came and stood before them, saying, “Peace be with you.”

Then, to Thomas, Jesus said, “Take your finger and examine my hands.  Put your hand into my side.  Don’t persist in your unbelief, but believe!”

Thomas said in response, “My savior and my God!”

Jesus then said,

“You’ve become a believer

because you saw me.

Blessed are those who have not seen

and yet have believed.”

Jesus performed many other signs as well – signs not recorded here – in the presence of the disciples.  But these have been recorded to help you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Only Begotten, so that by believing you may have life in Jesus’ Name.

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