The first in a series of homilies titled “Becoming Like Children: A Joyful Path,” based on the curriculum for children from The Center for Progressive Christianity (www.tcpc.org), preached at Douglas UCC by Rev. Andy DeBraber on Sept. 25, 2011
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
“Who is God?”
That was the question the web site Patheos put before seven bloggers on spirituality. “Who is God?” in 100 words or less (http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/God-in-100-Words-or-Less.html). Here’s my go at it:
God is that love that will not let us go. God is the one who sits in divine and human council arguing for those who have no voice. God is the beauty that catches us up in divine rapture and timeless moments. God is the one who wants the best for us and all the world. God is always within all parts of creation and is so much more than all the parts of creation added together. God is evolving with us and all the world. God is Mystery. God is the Love that will not let us go.
For those counting, 99 words.
Two major traditions in the Christian faith when it comes to describing God are the kataphatic and the apophatic. What I’ve just done is the kataphatic - try to describe God’s attributes and what God is like. We say what we can about God. The apophatic approach is to say what God is not, acknowledging that the Divine is Mystery. So let me expand on the 99 words above with two sentences about what God is not.
God is not....
Wait a minute. I’m not sure you’re ready for this. Remember that in the UCC tradition, what is spoken from the pulpit is meant to be discussed, argued, debated. Preachers have the right, the necessity some would say, to be provocative. So now maybe you’re ready to hear this.
God does not know the future. Let me say that again. God does not know the future. Second, God does not control the weather.
First, God does not know the future because God is in intimate relationship with the creation. In cooperation, in a call and response form of liturgy, we are creating the future together. Everything we do and say has an effect on God. All that has been and all that is in this moment are within God. The future is within each of us in collaboration with God and one another: the kingdom of God is within you. God feels with us, reacts to us, and works to move us to a future that is more loving, beautiful, complex, kind, just, and gracious.
When I grew up, I was taught that God was omniscient, that all of time past, present, and future were within God. This raises serious questions about fatalism and whether our actions, prayers, and lives have any effect on God. I find the God who is moving with us into the future a much more exciting, alive, creative, and interactive God.
Second, God does not control the weather. We seem to have a hard time letting go of the idea that natural disasters are acts of God, as if God were somewhere “up there,” controlling some kind of mega-thermostat. God has set the universe in motion and science helps us explain most of what happens within it and is learning more all the time.
What this really gets to is that God is not all-powerful, omnipotent. While God is omnipresent, everywhere, all the time, God is not omnipotent. If God was omnipotent, we would be puppets. We are not. God’s love and power are not coercive, but rather persuasive. God tries to love us into being, not beat us into being. If God was omnipotent, then we must believe the corollary that God allows senseless suffering. Rather, God does everything divine power can do to defeat the world’s pain and suffering.
This God, as we read in Psalm 82, has a particular concern for those who are powerless, poor, and without adequate human protection. This God is, to quote Bruce Epperly, “the ‘most moved mover,’ shaping all things and, consequently, being shaped by all things.” This is a progressive God, a God who is evolving over time -- or at least our understanding is evolving and progressing over time to take in all we have learned and are learning. We see this evolution happening in Scripture itself.
What we are describing, to get technical, is a school of thought known as Process Theology. God is in process with us. This God is relational. And this God is, you might say, slippery.
It’s our human nature to want to grasp on to some little piece of God we know and declare that to be all of God. Our certainty and truth should be everyone’s certainty and truth! The invitation to us today is to continue to hold on to our knowledge of God, but to do so lightly. Let us hold to our sacred center while remembering there are other parts of God we may not yet see. And let us listen to others so that our picture of God might become more complete.
Let me conclude with Christine Valters Paintner’s response to the Patheos invitation of God in 100 words or less. Paintner is the founder and director of Abbey of the Arts, a non-profit ministry integrating contemplative practice with the expressive arts.
The One who pulses through the ancient blood of our ancestors,
and births newness in holy ecstasy.
The ticking of time through each mundane minute,
and the spilling open into eternity's wide expanse.
The long naked branch, black against the winter sky,
and the petaled profusion of spring's blossoming.
The beggar's bowl
and the fountain overflowing.
The aching arms reaching out in lonely longing,
and the tingle of skin against skin in a lovers' tangle.
The One who draws us to the sacred center of the world,
and lures us far beyond the fertile edges of our imagining.