Is Your God Masculine or Feminine or Nonexistent?
Today I want to talk about changing and growing perspective.
Read Jeremiah 4: 11-12 and 22-28
Read Luke 15: 1- 10
In this poem from renowned and wise Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, we learn of Yahweh’s, God’s, displeasure with his people. The I speaking is the voice of God through the prophet. “For the people are foolish,” God says. “They do not know me.”
God is fiercely angry that the people of Judah have not worshipped him and followed his laws, but gone their own way, doing evil, not knowing how to do good. God is going to turn the whole land into desolation, which is thought by scholars to imply that the Babylonians will conquer Judah and destroy the nation. Which of course happens much later.
It is not easy to discern God’s law especially when we try to use the Bible literally, picking and choosing what suits us, rather than seeing the Bible in its entirety as a spiritual book of wisdom with multi-faceted interpretations.
One thing that seems significant to me is Jeremiah’s awareness of God as so powerful that he can crush a whole nation, and certainly can end my life and yours. That is frightening. Yet I take comfort in the words about the people not knowing God. How many of us do know God?
My perspective was changed after I attended my father’s and mother’s funerals in England. I’d always remembered this conversion experience as something that happened on my way back from my dad’s funeral but that was not possible. I flew back from his funeral with my mum. So I now realize that this experience that convinced me of the realty of a spiritual power greater than myself had happened after the loss of my mother.
My dad was a working-class guy who drove a lorry for Sainsbury’s. He had a strong sense of justice. He’d fought in WWII under Montgomery who he had no use for because while the general ate steak, the soldiers got the crumbs. He also despised the royals because he thought they were entitled and all their wealth ought to belong to the British people.
In my early years I agreed with his thinking even though I knew nothing about the royal family. But over the years as I watched the queen and learned of her steadfastness and her decency, my perspective changed. I realized she was a great lady and a great leader, an icon for women.
When I first experienced this conversion after the loss of my mother, I felt quite smug. I felt so special, but I understood very little. Then one night, I experienced a crushing and overwhelming power all around me like an octopus with tentacles of energy, and a voice told me, “I am not what you think!” I was truly terrified to realize just how small and weak
I was in the face of extraordinary and overwhelming spiritual power. It wasn’t that I thought of God as the Big Father Guy in the sky, beaming down upon me, but I’d not thought of this ineffable mysterious force as dangerous. Clearly, Jeremiah did think God was a dangerous force, something beyond our control, something that would bring justice to his sinning nation.
I am not about to tell you that you are all going to hell unless you get right with God, but rather that awe, wonder and fear, of the ineffable mystery of life and death is one step on a spiritual journey to deepened awareness.
My experience had me looking nervously up at the sky, not knowing what to expect, perhaps a lightning bolt. I did not and do not believe I was such a sinner that I deserved to be snuffed out or cruelly punished, but this awareness of spiritual power beyond my control led me to seek a way a fresh perspective about God through Christ.
So what does Jesus teach about God’s power in the passage we read from Luke. He is being criticized for letting sinners come near to listen to him, but Jesus is not harsh on his critics. Perhaps they are simply echoing what they have learned all their lives that God will judge sin and there will be consequences. Jeremiah tells us that God judges the whole nation of Judah because of their corrupt officials.
Tax collectors int those days were corrupt. So welcoming them according to the limited perspective of the pharisees and scribes could bring on a fearsome judgment. Not that they cared about Jesus. They probably wanted to make it known that they were righteous and proper and could justify their power. But Jesus does not strike them down. Instead, he tells them parables to teach them that what matters to God the most is to help those who are lost. One sheep is worth 99 of those who are righteous. Since the pharisees and scribes consider themselves righteous, this must confuse them. And a widow who loses one silver coin when she has nine more but searches diligently and upon finding it rejoices with her neighbors suggests that God is not about retaining wealth, but about wanting the best for everyone.
When we are convinced that we are right in our religious understanding of God, and everyone else with other beliefs--Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, other Christian denominations, and secularists--are wrong, then we might be just like those Pharisees and scribes grumbling about Jesus because he is challenging their religious dogma.
The truth is none of us have all the answers. Sin brings about judgment not because of a wrathful God but because of our choices.
But God’s judgment is from a perspective of love.
We all need to stretch our perspective and be open to grow. And we can all move beyond our earliest ideas about God to something new.
Joan Chittister, who is a Benedictine nun, was deeply trained in her early Catholic ideas about a patriarchal God, and yet her perspective changed after much personal struggle that ultimately enabled her to claim her own power in wholistic ways: her concept of God got bigger.
In her book, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope, she says this, “To the patriarchal mind-set God is mighty warrior, stern judge, law-giving father, under whose dominion all things fall. To grow spiritually in the image of this God is to be in control, to conquer what is unacceptable in us and around us. To dominate at all costs. To get what is our due.
There is very little give in a life bent on conquest. It is a psychological straitjacket, a spiritual dead end. Once I’m in control, either of me or the world around me, I have neither the need nor the ability to continue growing.
But there is another way to think about God. To the newly retrieved feminist mindset of nearly every spiritual tradition, God is not only caring father, but birthing mother as well, who brings new life with the rising of every sun and the descent of every inner darkness. To grow spiritually in the image of our mother God is to be open to newness, to expect surprise, to understand pain, to soothe hurt, to nurture difference rather than to deny it.”
So who is your God?
Perhaps you are like I was before my conversion with no thought of God.
Perhaps God is known to you through preachers who use the Bible as a weapon to justify their thinking and often financially enrich themselves.
Perhaps you see yourself as God and wish to be in control and dominate everyone and everything else.
Perhaps your God is a wrathful God who is going to judge and punish you.
Can you accept the God, both gentle and tough, known to us through Christ who will birth you into wholeness of spirit?
Jesus, in our passage from Luke, tells us about lost sheep and lost money being found, but he is really talking about the need to seek what is best for everyone and share our good fortune in ways that will restore and enrich people’s lives in ways that matter. Jesus is our hope of gaining greater understanding, a fresh perspective, that leads to spiritual growth and selflessness.
To be open to the teachings of Christ, and wise others, will help us see things freshly like little children so that we can help bring about unity and peace in our lives, communities and ultimately the world.
We followers of Christ are called to make disciples of the whole world. Why? Not so they’ll be like us and affirm what we think. But because we want everyone to have better lives and by sharing our time and stories, wealth and insights with those not like us, we all gain fresh perspective.
You are invited, in person and virtually, to explore and learn fresh ideas about Jesus that may well change your perspective about how best to live: come here to First Congregational United Church of Christ in Huntington, WV. You will be welcomed.