by Elaine Maust
Part of “7 Core Convictions Mennonites Share”
January 30, 2005
(symbol for table: 13 donuts)
We say we’ve given our lives to God. We say that we want to be like God. But who is this God we keep making promises to?
Some people seem afraid of God. Their God is a do-better-try-harder God who is never quite satisfied with their accomplishments or attempts to please him. They spend their lives looking over their shoulders for fear they will displease God and they will get whacked. Or worse.
Other people seem to think the Holy Spirit is like a gumball machine, put in a request and out pops anything you want. They behave as if God were created to meet their needs.
Others (none of us of course) seem to think of Jesus as simply nice. “What a nice guy, that Jesus.” They transform Jesus into a baby-kissing, head patting do-gooder. A persona I’m sure the Scribes and Pharisees would find astonishing. (Mark 3:22)
What do we think God is like? Who is the God of good-hearted, hard working Jubilee? How has what we think of God formed us into the type of church we are?
Maybe our God loves parties. After all, it was God who came up with the idea of feasting in the first place. Multiple holidays with weeklong festivals (Leviticus 23). And wasn’t Jesus accused of going to too many parties? (Luke 7:34) And the Bible ends with the colossal marriage supper of the lamb in Revelation. (Revelation 19:6-9)
Maybe our God is a singer. Didn’t God call David, the songwriter, a man after God’s own hymn-loving heart? (Acts 13:22)
Maybe our God is a family. After all, God is three persons, the Father, the Son and the Spirit. (I John 5:7) Jesus came as a baby, born into a family. (Mark 6:3) And listen again to the words of Isaiah 40:11. What does that remind you of? Maybe our God is a family.
What is our God like? Is. 40:18 asks, “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?”
That is what I hope to do in the next few moments, talk about what God is like. Stay with me while I try to describe an infinite eternal Spirit in twenty-two minutes. It will be nearly impossible. So hold on and Lord have mercy on us, as I attempt to describe the One I love the most.
God is a mystery.
That’s our God, all right. Past figuring out!
Zophar, one of Job’s friends, asked Job, “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?” (Job 11:7) God says things in the Bible and does things in our lives that we find confusing.
So, can we know him at all? Some say it’s not worth trying. They think God is too distant, too difficult. Anyone who undertakes a relationship with an eternal spirit, better have a taste for mystery.
Is 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” God is very different from us. No wonder we have trouble understanding sometimes.
But we believe it is both possible to know God, and worth it to try. Isaiah 55: 6, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.”
We find comfort in simply admitting that we don’t always understand. God is a mystery.
That can be hard to accept for a bunch of logical, “explain it and attain it” North Americans. How might our spirits stretch to embrace a God who we admittedly can’t always figure out?
That we know our mysterious God at all, is because God came looking for us. That the God of the universe would come to us, would allow us to get to know him at all, is positively mind-boggling.
One of the first verses we memorized in Sunday School was I John 4:19. “We love him because he first loved us.” God loved us first and took the initiative to look us up.
Jesus told lots of stories about God the searcher. (Luke 15) There’s the story of a lost sheep. A lost coin. And a lost son. In fact, Jesus described his mission (Luke 19:10) like this, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Some of my favorite stories about God the searcher are from the last two books of the Gospel of John. Where Jesus is gone looking for his friends.
Jesus could have just appeared after the resurrection in downtown Jerusalem. Come up with a little demonstration to clarify that he was in fact resurrected and then gone back to heaven and on about his business. But instead in John 20-21 he spent those days after the resurrection, looking for his friends.
1) Mary Magdalene – If you died and came back to life, who would be the first person you would want to tell? The very first person Jesus looked up after he rose was Mary. He found her in the garden crying so hard that she couldn’t see straight. Then he said her name, “Mary.”
2) The disciples
4) Peter and a bunch of the other disciples went back fishing and you know the story about “throw the nets on the other side.” And then 153 large fish (don’t you love the specificity of the Bible?) And then they get to shore and Jesus has made breakfast for them. Grilled fish sandwiches for breakfast. Like a mother who got up early to make grits and biscuits for her children, Jesus cooked breakfast for his friends. Here’s my question, did he clean the fish himself or did he buy them already cleaned?
Well, we could go on and on with these stories, because the Bible and life is filled with examples that God is a Searcher.
Can you remember a time when God came looking for you?
How has God been looking for out these days?
God is brilliant
We are talking about the one who created the brain surgeon’s intuitions and the rocket scientist’s logic. The God who devised photosynthesis, the water cycle and the Smoky Mountains. We are talking about the Spirit of God, whose hovering over the depths flung the earth, with its Himalayas, water moccasins and red blood cells, into being. (a phrase from a hymn describes God in creation as, “genius at play”)
Is. 40:13-14 asks, “Whom did he consult for his enlightenment, and who taught him the path of justice? Who taught him knowledge, (where did God go to school?) and showed him the way of understanding? Imagine having nothing to learn. God knows everything about all the fields that all of us know anything about. Imagine that!
God could rebuild a Harley Davidson or a database. God could write a cookbook or a college physics text.
Dallas Willard writes about Jesus, “He knew how to suspend gravity, interrupt weather patterns, and eliminate unfruitful trees without saw or ax. He only needed a word. Surely he must be amused at what Nobel prizes are awarded for today.”
Jesus was the most intelligent being ever. Jesus wasn’t just nice, Jesus was brilliant.
Again quoting Willard, “‘ Jesus is Lord’, can mean little in practice for anyone who has to hesitate before saying, ‘Jesus is smart'”.
Those of us who value intelligence and making useful things might be glad to know God can be respected in those departments. In fact, he is even smarter than we are. Imagine that.
God is a poet
Jesus came telling parables, stories he didn’t seem too worried about explaining. God is such a risk taker. He sends his only son to earth to announce and explain the kingdom and Jesus spends his short life walking around telling stories. In Luke 8 Jesus had just finished up the parable of the sower. You know the story, “A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it…” It’s a story we’ve heard told and explained often.
Well, the first time it was told, when Jesus finished, the disciples asked what he meant by that story, as in, “What in the world are you talking about?” (Luke 8:9)
God is such a poet. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit blew into town with a sound like a tornado. As we might say in Lost Gap, “It sounded like a freight train!” (Acts 2:1-2) Those who were paying attention and looking for hidden meanings in the group surely considered that the word for wind and Spirit were the same in the Hebrew language: Ruach.
God is always telling people things in ways that requires them to consider the meaning. Why not just holler out of the sky, “Moses, lead the people out of Egypt”? No, God sets a bush on fire. (Exodus 3:1-10) Why not just tell Peter, “Give it up, man, I’ve accepted all people and you should too.” No, God gives Peter a vision of a sheet full of animals and lets him figure out the rest. (Acts 10:9-16)
God sends dreams and visions. God assumes, according to Romans 1:19-20, that the things he made are the best explanation and illustration of his invisible qualities. God tells us how the whole thing will end with a colossal dramatic vision. Pages and pages of horses and dragons and candles. The Revelation.
Our God the poet seems to constantly invite us to consider the meaning. God remains unobligated to explain himself. He gives us plainly far more than we live up to, while also giving us enough nuances to captivate us for a lifetime.
God don’t play
Well, at least that is how some kids might say it. God don’t play.
When we make him a promise, he assumes we intend to keep it. Ananias and Sapphira might speak to that! (Acts 5:1-11)
When we say we want to follow him, he assumes we are more serious than the rich young ruler was. (Luke 18:18-23)
Given the stupendous God that we have, it seems natural that we should understand that God is in charge. But somehow, sometimes, we begin to think that this love affair between God and us is about and for us. We twist life with God until “God is good” means “God is good to me.” We transform church from Kingdom work into, “meeting my needs,” and if my needs aren’t met, I’ll go somewhere where they are.
Of course none of us would be like this. Of course not!
God is holy and perfect and he don’t play. Ps. 135:6, “The Lord does whatever pleases him.” And he has every perfect right to! It is not about us!
James Carvell is credited with winning the Clinton presidential campaign with the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Big signs with these words plastered on them were hung in campaign headquarters. Maybe at Jubilee, we should have signs up at the church that say, “It’s the Kingdom, stupid.” In case we forget.
If we claim to follow God then we better get in position behind God. God is in charge and God don’t play.
One last picture of God. And if you think I could go on like this all day, well, I couldn’t, but there would be more than enough snapshots of God to fascinate us for days. God is the Lagniappe God.
Like lots of words that evolved in south Louisiana, Lagniappe is a blend of Native American, Spanish and French. It means a little extra. An unexpected gift. Like a baker’s dozen of donuts.
This phrase crawled up the Mississippi River to central Mississippi the way crawfish, gumbo and red beans have and it began to name the small generosities of southern life. Have you ever been out at Pine Lake Camp when the cooks from South Louisiana are there? There will be Lagniappe for every meal. “Of course”, they will say, “we wouldn’t need both boiled potatoes and potatoes salad, but we thought we needed a little Lagniappe.”
When we leave the homes of our neighbors and friends, there is always a little Lagniappe then too, something from the garden, a plate of cake from the meal, a start of flowers from the front yard. A guest never leaves with an empty hand. Like the 12 baskets full left after the feeding of the 5,000, there should always be a little Lagniappe. (Mark 6:30-44)
Well, that’s what God is like. If God had faults, he would be generous to a fault. (Psalm 68:19) Always giving us everything we need and something a little extra too. As if this magnificent world with its mountain laurel, dragon flies and sunsets are not enough, we get to go and live forever with him. Talk about Lagniappe! As if forgiveness of our sins, thank God he forgot about my latest mess when I asked him to, were not enough, we have peace and hope too. Amazing.
Eph. 3:20-21. God can do more than we ask or imagine. (stories of Zoe Clymer and God’s provision of funding for Community of Hope)
That’s our God, all right, always giving us more than we can imagine or ask for!
Our God, who invested his only Son into a world that has been largely unimpressed, could be considered downright recklessly generous. And we just love him for being like that, don’t we?
Well, I came with a semi-load of a sermon today. And all I spoke about God was that He don’t play and that he is the Lagniappe God. And that God is a searcher and brilliant. And that our God the Spirit is a mystery and a poet. You got a little Lagniappe this morning too; pieces of six sermons. But I didn’t even begin to talk about this amazing God of ours.
So, how can we respond to God?
If we really believed God was the Lagniappe God, would we live differently with the people we love? If we were convinced that Jesus was brilliant, would we talk about him differently?
Most of us have heard about God all our lives. Maybe it is time for us to turn and look at God with fresh eyes and open hearts. And then to consider that this God, this God, loves us. What is he thinking? What can we say back?
Close – (poem by Troeger, from “A Spendthrift lover is the Lord”.)
“How shall we love this heartstrong God
who gives us everything,
whose ways to us are strange and odd
what can we give or bring?
Acceptance of the matchless gift
Is gift enough to give.
That very act will shake and shift
The way we think and live.”