I remember – as a little girl – imagining God as an oooold man. With a big long beard. And flowing robes. Probably I got this image from a coloring book. The picture of this old man in a window – above the clouds – looking down. Needless to say – my image of God has changed a bit since then. But as Jesus reminds us – none of us have ever seen God. So it does lead the mind to wander a bit…
Who is God? What does God look like? Sound like? Our first reading, from Acts, tells us a little bit about who God is not. Our God – who made the world and everything in it – does not live in shrines. Not in gold, silver, or stone. This God cannot be contained by earthly material – not even by the wood and stone that makes up this building. God does not live here. God visits – and saturates the air here – and sweeps through this space when you are here. When we gather to worship – or when a single one of us is here to whisper silent prayers – or play the organ. But God is not contained by stone and mortar – by gold or silver. No image or thing we can imagine or form we can create is capable of showing us who God is. God cannot be limited – by the limits of our imagination – the limits of our reason and intellect. Which means God cannot ever be fully captured or expressed – or summed up – in anything we create. Not in words – so not in pronouns – like “him” or “her”. Not even in words like “love” – for God is much more than just “love.” So…we know what God is not. But what – or who – is God?
We know that we are made in the image of God…So that tells us something, too. If we are made in the image of God – then surely we look like God, right? But that presents a problem too, doesn’t it… Because we’re all different. We have different skin colors – eye colors – hair colors. Some of us are tall. Some of us aren’t. We’re built differently. Like the stones and the wood in this place – we don’t contain God either. But God’s presence saturates us. And each person around us – shows us another little piece of who God is.
If we imagine the world as one big painting – then we see God most fully – most clearly – in a gathering of all of God’s people. When every color – and race – and sexuality – and class – and kind of person is gathered together. Into one body. This is what God looks like. Are you wondering where I’m going yet?
Flip back, if you will, to the collect we prayed at the beginning. “Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire.” That we loving you in all things – and above all things… Loving God above all things – first requires that we love God in all things. That we love the expression of God – that we recognize God – in the people around us. Loving God above all things – first requires that we work at loving our neighbors. That we learn to honor the piece of God – the expression of God – that is in each one of the people around us. Loving our neighbors in this way is hard. But it is the one of the best ways to come to a deeper understanding of who God is – of what God’s love looks like. And it is that deeper understanding – that closer walk with God and Jesus Christ – in the presence of the Spirit – That leads us to a place where we can truly say that we love God above all other things. Above ourselves. Above our own needs. Our own ambitions. Our own desires.
Knowing that what God has planned for us – is so much more interesting – so much more inviting and fulfilling – and wonderful than anything we could dream up for ourselves. It is in practicing this love that we actually find it – that we actually find ourselves able to do it. So if you want to get to know God better. And to love God better. You can begin by loving the piece of God that is revealed in your neighbors. And…for what it’s worth – this isn’t just about the neighbors we love who love us back. This isn’t just about loving and caring for our friends and families – our spouses and partners and children and parents. This is also about looking for – and nurturing – and calling out the divine that lives in people that we struggle with. People we are afraid of. People who frustrate us or make us angry. Real love for our neighbors is about this – the recognition of God – and the calling forth of the divine in everyone we meet. Not just the folks who make it easier for us to see God and to feel affirmed. It also means – that we have to work at letting the divine inside us be expressed. So that others can see it. And this is a dual path. There’s the part that we do – the choosing to live a faithful life. The choosing to show care and respect for folks around us. The choosing we do when we come to church – and make time to pray and to serve. There’s another important piece.
And that’s about what others see in us. And nurture in us. And call forth from us. And to do that – we have to be in Christian community. We have to be willing to get to know each other. To be deeply invested in each others lives. And to allow others to see – and to invest in our own lives. In safe ways – to make ourselves vulnerable to one another. To learn to trust each other. So that our neighbor – can see the divine in us – and can also call forth in us righteousness and faithfulness we didn’t even know we had. There is grace on both sides of this equation.
And this is what Christian community is all about. Loving. And listening. And calling forth the divine in someone else – even as we allow others to support us – and nurture us – and challenge us to be better and more faithful disciples, too. This community is one of the reasons God saw fit to create the Church. Because in order for us to work at getting this right – we need each other. We need each other in order to see and know God better – and we need to share this journey with each other. There are saints in history – mystics – and monks and anchoresses – who look like they made this journey by themselves. But very few of them actually did. Very few saints experienced this life as a holy one – without sharing it with at least a few other Christians. As Christians, we need to be in community. It’s part of who we are.
And so we come to church – to worship, to learn about God, to experience God’s presence in perhaps more apparent way – at least for some. But come to this place also to be strengthened and loved by other travelers on the road – and know that each one of them has the potential to show you something about God that you haven’t yet seen.
So. Who is God? Take a look around. And see the collage – the moments, the glimpses – of who God is smattered all over this place. But be sure you look too for this collage in the world.
Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
And we know – there are two commandments he focused on – two commandments on which hang all the law and the prophets. Love the Lord your God with all your heart – and all your soul – and all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.These are the two great commandments. Look for God in the people around you. And practice loving those people – because in that act – in that practice – you will in fact find yourself coming to know God more fully. And coming to love God more – and above all things. Amen.