Rev. George Miller
Psalm 29 & Matthew 3:13-17
Jan 12, 2014
As we ended 2013 and begun 2014 we talked about various topics: letting go of the ornaments that cause us pain, the reality that we are not the light, but reflections of the light, and last week we were encouraged to share our spiritual bouquets with the community around us.
Today we talk about the complexity of how we envision and experience God.
To do so, we start from the very beginning. I’m not sure how many people realize this, but there are at least 2 creation stories in the Bible. It’s true: you can turn to Genesis 1 & 2 and see for yourself.
Genesis 1 starts off with the notion of God being far away and completely other. A wind from God sweeps over the waters and God says “Let there be light,” and it is so.
God creates by speaking, like a king who gives an edict that is followed.
In Genesis 1, creation occurs in this order: there is night and day, there is sky, there is land, and sea. Then there is vegetation and fruit trees. Then God speaks and there are stars, sun and moon.
God speaks again and there are sea creatures and birds. Next are wild animals of every kind. Then, after all else is created, God makes humanity, giving us dominion over all.
In Genesis 1 God is magnificent and far away. Then…we have Genesis 2. God is more like a master gardener. There are no plants or rain from the sky, only a stream that would rise from the earth and water the ground.
The first thing God does? Forms man from the dust, breathing life into our nostrils. Instead of giving a kingly edict, God is close by, an artist who works with his own hands.
Then, after man is created, God plants a garden with every tree that is pleasant to look at and a river that runs through it.
Once God realizes it’s not good for man to be alone, then God creates, out of the ground, every creature of the land and bird of the air. Then perhaps the pinnacle of creation: God creates woman, and God walks in the garden in the evening breeze.
Two different creation stories that not only contain different chronologies, but also feature two different ways of creating as well as two different images of God.
Genesis 1 features God as a king who is above it all, who speaks and it happens, and is a bit impersonal.
Genesis 2 features God as an involved artisan, a personable potter who gets his hands dirty and strolls amongst creation.
These two creation stories have existed side by side for millennia. There is no way around it: they tell completely different stories, they give completely different images of God and though we can debate their facts…we can appreciate and embrace their truths.
There is a world of difference between something being a fact and something being true. There is a world of difference between the world being seen in only blacks and whites, or in the world being seen in shades of grey.
And the Bible doesn’t give us just one image of God, it gives us many. The Bible isn’t filled with just one kind of deliverance story; it is filled with many deliverance stories.
Who is God? How does God act? Exodus has God speak from a burning bush and parting the Red Sea.
But then in 1 Kings 19, God acts through sheer silence and the hushed whisper of a still speaking voice.
As Americans we tend to like things one way or the other, but we discover that’s not how the Bible portrays God.
As we just heard in today’s readings, Psalm 29 features that majestic, loud and lordly aspect of God: a voice over the waters that is powerful enough to break cedars and make mountains skip like calves.
The voice of the Lord flashes forth like fire and shakes the wilderness to its core; the oaks are in a whirlwind and the forests are stripped bare.
This is a mighty image that can empower one if they are about to embark on a journey or wage a war. But it can be a scary image for anyone who has withstood a natural disaster and knows what happens when the earth shakes and trees come crashing down.
Then…we have this image of a quieter, subdued, personal God in Matthew 3. Jesus goes to be baptized, and as he emerges from the waters, the heavens are opened and he sees the Spirit of God, descending like a dove. A voice says “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
If read one way, the story of Jesus’ baptism can be seen as gentle, even quaint. The heavens opened, but we don’t know what that means. Was it like soft, billowy clouds coming apart like pieces of sweet cotton candy, or being torn in two like a garment?
And a dove; so nice, so gentle, so full of peace…so different from a bald eagle that comes swooping down with talons extended ready to snatch up its prey.
And a voice that says “I am pleased.” A very different version of God then Psalm 29.
If the images of that psalm had been applied there would’ve been thunder and waves the moment Jesus entered the waters of baptism.
Not only would the heavens have parted, but we would have had flashes of thunder and the earth shaking. As the voice said “Behold this is my Son” we would have had oak trees and cedars whirling about.
But we don’t. Instead…we have a dove, the sign of peace, gentleness and purity, fluttering down and alighting on Jesus.
Here is the dichotomy of Christian faith; our ability to hold various truths together; the challenge not to see our God and Savior in black or white, but to see and to welcome the spectrum of all shades.
John wondered why Jesus felt the need to be baptized. Scholars have been wondering the same thing. Was it so Jesus could lead by example? Was it so Jesus could stand in eternal solidarity with us? Could it be that Jesus… just wanted to?
Again, in Jesus, we see the complexity and the simplicity that comes with our faith.
We say that if we want to know who God really is, all we have to do is look towards Jesus and we will know.
So we look to Jesus and see the complexity and the simplicity that exists within God.
We call Christ King, but then…we state that Jesus was born not in a palace but a manger to two poor peasants.
We call Christ Lord, but then… tradition teaches us that Jesus spent a good part of his life as an artisan, a carpenter.
We claim Christ to be without sin, but then… Jesus spent his life fellowshipping with and being surrounded by the dregs of society.
We claim Christ to be gentle, meek and mild…but then John the Baptist prepares the way for someone who is to be more powerful, who will baptize with fire, and someone who will clear the threshing floor with a winnowing fork.
We proclaim Christ to be the one who is resurrected…but then in order to do so we also have to proclaim the shame that Jesus died crucified.
We are Christians, believers in God, followers of Christ, bestowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
In 2014 let us proceed forward, knowing we may not have all the answers, realizing that no one can ever grasp the full picture, knowing that there is not just one side, one trait, one view of the Holy Trinity.
We have a spectrum of realities.
That God speaks loud…but then God also speaks soft.
That God is mighty as a king…but then God is also meek as a servant.
That God may descend upon the waters like an eagle seeking prey…but then God may also alight on us like a dove.
That God can be found in the tambourines of a Pentecostal church…but then God can also be found in the hushed silence of a Quaker meeting.
God may rip apart the skies like a rigid piece of paper or God may part the clouds like a soft piece of cotton candy at the state fair.
And it’s all good, because it’s all God.
We just have to continue to discern, to look, to see and to listen.
Amen and amen.