Rev. George Miller
May 16, 2010
In one of my favorite books there is a character named Shug Avery. She’s one of those earth-mother rabble rousing kind of characters who sings jazz, slings booze and loves hard.
Towards the middle of the book she writes her own set of Beatitudes. They say things like “Helped are those who find something in Creation to admire each and every hour. Their days will overflow with beauty... ”
or “Helped are those who are content to be themselves; they will never lack mystery in their lives... ”
It ends with Shug stating “Helped are those who know.”[i]
I was so moved when I read this, feeling as if I found a kindred spirit, someone who shared my beliefs and reflections and I got it. I felt as though I understood just what Shug was saying.
So I shared it with my friend Fabian. And he said “Know what?” And I say “They know.”
And again he asked “Knows what?” Unable to articulate an answer for something that was not meant to be articulated, I had to give up.
You see, there are those for whom knowing is empirical. It is a fact that can be proven, tested and documented. That was Fabian.
Then there are those for whom knowing is something you feel, you “get” even if you can’t put it into words. That would be me.
“Helped are those who know.” Those words appear in the novel “Temple of My Familiar” by Alice Walker, but they could also be the words that sum up the Gospel of John.
The author of today’s scripture was big on knowledge. For him, knowing was important. How do we experience God? By knowing God.
How do we specifically know God? By looking no further then Jesus Christ. Meditate over our reading and you’ll discover that for yourself.
According to John, these are the last words Jesus says before the soldiers, carrying torches and weapons, come to arrest him:
“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
That’s 4 times in 2 sentences that Jesus used a variation of ‘to know.’
And it is also in the Gospel of John that the resurrected Christ says to Thomas “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.”
“Helped are those who know.”
So, how does one know God? Is God even real?
I think about Friday when we caught 6 feral pigs in the traps we set up. Now, those poor pigs were real.
But God’s not like a pig. You can’t see it. God’s not like a pig, you can’t hear it. God’s not like a pig, you can’t touch it. God’s not like a pig, you can’t taste it. God’s not like a pig, you can’t trap and contain it.
So how do we know God?
One way is through our sacred scripture, the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.
For example, are you the kind of person who likes things neat and ordered? Are you the kind of person who makes a list, checking off each item when you’re through? And if you do something not on the list, do you add it on, and check it off?
Then Genesis 1 is a great way for you to know God.
If you are the kind of person who likes to alphabetize your CDs, showcase your DVDs by genre and put everything into clearly marked folders with the tabs prominently displayed, then you will know God through the revelation of Creation.
In Genesis 1 we have God as the great orderer who clearly marks and separates things according to where they fit and how they should go.
There is day and there is night. There is water and there is dry land. There is a sun and there is a moon. There are birds and there are fish. There are men and there are women.
Very A-personality, very organized. There is a rhyme and a reason. And if that is how you prefer to live your life, then Genesis 1 gives you a way to know God.
But note, that by chapter 2 God calms down a bit and creates the Sabbath, a day of rest, indicating that rest is part of work. And perhaps Sabbath, a time of doing nothing, is actually the truest way to know who God is.
But let’s say you’re not really an A-personality. Instead of the finely orchestrated music of classical you are more into the likes of jazz. You like spontaneity, surprises, organized chaos.
By organized chaos I mean that although your home, your office may look like a mess to others, you know where everything is and everything has its own logic, and if it doesn’t that’s OK.
You see life more as an improv, a jazz riff in which everyone gets to join in with their own bits.
Perhaps you have no problem getting in the car and guessing where you’re going without first checking Mapquest or using GPS. Maybe you enjoy driving along the side roads, excited about what you may find.
Well then the God of Acts may be more for you.
Instead of a God who is so clearly following an organized plan, we have God, via the Holy Spirit, breaking in and doing unexpected, unfamiliar things.
Group of men gathering for a festival? God’s Spirit just enters right in making people speak different languages, appearing like drunken fools.
Plan on going to Asia to spread the Good News? Guess what, you’re going to Macedonia instead to talk with a bunch of women by the water.
This is Playful, Mysterious God, the One who throws surprises your way and although it seems like God doesn’t know what God is doing, in retrospect, it’s clear that in this apparent chaos God knew exactly what was going on all along.
Kind of like the Search and Call process.
How do we know God? The organized structure of Genesis is one way, the organized chaos of Acts is another.
But today’s scripture is from John, and if you asked John he would say “We know God by knowing Christ.”
How do we know God?
By knowing Jesus, but even that is not made easy. Which Jesus are we talking about?
For starters, there’s Jesus as a baby. Although John says nothing about Jesus’ birth, Luke tells us that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling cloth.
Do you know what swaddling cloth is? It’s a way of wrapping a child so you can protect its neck, so the child is not hurt. To be wrapped in swaddling cloth means that you are vulnerable.
Which mean that Jesus, as a baby, was vulnerable. Which means that God is too. Have you ever thought about that? About God as vulnerable?
After all, if we were created in the image of God as Genesis says we are, then that means the emotions we experience God experiences too. So if we can feel vulnerable, why can’t God?
Deep stuff, isn’t it? I mean, have you ever stopped to think that God can be hurt? That God can feel neglected, deprived, alone?
Have we ever thought that perhaps God needs us as much as we need God, that God needs us to come to worship just as much as we need to go for our own sake?
If God is vulnerable, what we have done that has hurt God, and what can we do to lessen that hurt?
How do we know God? By knowing Jesus.
What about the Jesus at the table? The one who sat with outsiders and sinners, the one who turned water into wine, the one who on the night he was betrayed took bread and said “This is my body.”
The Jesus who was hospitable.
If he sat with all people, ate with all people, then who does that make God for us? A host who says “Come on in and have some sweet tea with me?” or a host who says “I don’t have the time and you’re not worthy?”
Organized and chaotic, vulnerable and hospitable. How do we know God?
As Christians, the ultimate example becomes the cross. John would tell us if you want to know God, know Christ. And if you want to know Christ, look at the cross.
It was the cross Jesus willingly journeyed to. It was on his way to the cross that Jesus told the authorities “You have no power over me.”
And according to Luke, it was on the cross that Jesus said “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” and when one of the other crucified men asked to be remembered, Jesus said “You will be with me...”
Who is God? Look towards Jesus on the cross who is willing to go as far as it takes for us, who stands his ground above all worldly powers, who forgives even as we inflict pain, who promises to be with us.
That is who God is. And that is why we gather here today, to praise God’s name and to give God thanks.
We don’t have to understand it all, we don’t have to agree with everything, we don’t have to have PHDs or GEDs. We don’t even have to have the words.
All we have to say is that although so much of our faith remains a mystery, we know.
And because we know, we are blessed.
Thanks be to the God who organizes, thanks be to the Spirit that creates a mess and thanks be to Jesus Christ, vulnerable, hospitable and crucified.
Amen and amen.
[i].Alice Walker, Temple of My Familiar, 1989, pp.287-289.