In the Beginning…

Hebrews 1:1-4, John 1:1-5

Over and over again, I have made the point that how we talk about God is really important.

This is because I firmly believe that how we conceive of that which is the ultimate, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end- God, in other words- has a great impact on how we see the immediate. The immanent reflects the transcendent. 

One example of this would be the fact that Christians are called on to forgive because God forgives us. And as the Gospel of Matthew reminds us in the parable of the ungrateful servant, who would we be to not forgive the meager debts owed to us, when our Lord has forgiven us much more.

What God accomplishes, we attempt. It is true that our forgiveness and will never match up to what God forgives- in sincerity, scope and scale, but we do what we can, muddling through life. But even if what we do is a pale imitation of what God does- and it always is- no painting or beautiful car has ever matched the purple pinks of a mountain sunset- how we talk about God matters.

We know that how we speak matters for another reason too- Pop quiz- how did God create the world according to the first chapter of Genesis?

God spoke the world into being. Our Gospel of John reading tells us that Jesus Christ is The Word of God. And just as God’s speaking created reality, how we speak creates realities too.

They do so not in the literal sense- I’m not talking about magic or anything like that. But how we speak and hear does change how we view the world.

I will use as an example my approach to preaching, which I’ve borrowed and adapted from my mentor, the Rev. Dr. Adam Tierney-Eliot.

In our modern world, in our strange American lives, the world seems to be covered in a mist, it feels difficult to see anything profound or real or permanent or ultimate or true, or yes to see God.

We live in a time that values flash over substance, that wants us to buy, buy, buy, that we are what we consume, yet when we find ourselves trying to grasp that mist, we find out that it is, in the words of Ecclessiasties, a vanity of vanities, or if you prefer the words of 70s supergroup Kansas, Dust in the Wind.

But sometimes, the mist fades and we can catch glimpses of God. Those are those God moments that we have- and we all have them, in as many ways as there are people.

Even people who aren’t Christian, or even religious will talk about moments when they feel a presence of something beyond them, or the binaries of the universe are resolved, or everything shifts and makes sense for a brief moment.

My job as a preacher is to hold up a lamp in the mist.  That hopefully I have seen something, and with the bible as the great illumination, I can point the way toward something I saw through the swirling shadows.

I can’t make you go there, but hopefully with the word of God lighting the way, I can point you somewhere and the Holy Spirit can guide your feet there. And it doesn’t happen every week, to every person. 

But I hope that at some point, I have held up the lamp of the word of God to point you toward something that is true. It might be through a joke, serious bible exegesis about the meaning of Greek or Hebrew, or a children’s message.

These are very different things and that is ok, for we know that God speaks to us in many and various ways. Our scripture passage today from the book of Hebrews tells us that this has always been the case!

“Long Ago, God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets.” Let’s try to think- think back to your bible stories- what are some of the ways that God has spoken to the people of God- either literally, or metaphorically?

Let’s brainstorm a little bit: what about Moses- Burning Bush! But what about the 10 commandments? What about the Manna from heaven or the parting of the Red Sea?

What are some other ways that God speaks?

To Samuel and Ezekiel God speaks in a dream.

God sends a storm and a whale to eat Jonah, who then proceeds to have an argument about who God is allowed to love with the example of a withering vine.

And of course, there’s Jesus Christ.

But even in Jesus Christ, the word of God, we have four gospels- three that are pretty similar to one another with different emphases and one really different one (Matthew, Mark, and Luke are the similar ones, and John is the different one)

And inside those Gospels, Jesus tends to teach in parables, stories that are often open to interpretation! So even in the word of God that we consider truthful and definitive, we read and perceive Jesus Christ and his teachings differently.

Rev. Dr. Thomas G. Long, Presbyterian pastor, professor, and widely considered one of the best living English speaking preachers, reflected on our reading from Hebrews and had had this to say about the many ways God speaks:

God also speaks “in many fashions.” The metaphor of divine speech encompasses, of course, the infinite ways that God’s presence, activity, and will are made known to human beings. Sometimes God speaks through visions and by stimulating flashes of insight, at other times God speaks through political movements and the shaking of the powers. Here God speaks in a dream or a waterfall, there in a prophetic oracle or a pillar of fire, or again in the still small voice, the commandments of the law, the stories of kings, the restless and brooding Spirit at the heart of the creation, or the journey of the sun across the noon-day sky. God speaks in the quietness of prayer and the noise of honest debate. God sometimes speaks in powerful moments of spiritual wonder and also in the seeming humdrum of committee meetings. God’s speech can be heard when nations make peace and when neighbors speak kindness across the backyard fence. God speaks through the Bible and also through the touch of a caring hand at bedside. God speaks in the voices of the choir, the beauty of art, the spangling of the heavens with stars, and the cries of the hungry for food, the lonely for companionship, the sick for healing, the pressed down for hope. God speaks in “many fashions.”

How beautiful the sentiment- the naming of all the different ways that God spoke to us, and still speaks in the world.

The United Church of Christ has a campaign going on called, “God is Still Speaking.” To be honest, it’s not my favorite slogan, but it does have a point.

How odd it would be of God if He spoke through the prophets, spoke perfectly through Jesus Christ, and then stopped speaking through prophets?

What then about those God moments that the Rev. Dr. Long reminds us of: the quietness of prayer and the humdrum of committee meetings? When nations made peace and neighbors peak kindness? Through the Bible and the caring hand, the voices of the choir, the beauty of art, the spangling of the heavens with stars, and the cries of the hungry for food, the lonely for companionship, the sick for healing, the pressed down for hope.

It is not wrong for us to recognize these ways that God is Still Speaking to us, and that God’s Word as revealed in Jesus Christ is the ultimate truth. 

Both of these things are true.

Just as Christians we believe that the prophets of the Old Testament point forward to Jesus, so too can we believe that God’s speech to us now points back toward Jesus Christ.

That’s one of the hard parts, and joys, of being Christian: we interpret everything through Jesus Christ. There is no good, no truth, no love outside of him, and where ever there is good, truth, and love, he is there, whether we recognize it instantly, or if the mist around us is simply too thick to let us see it.

As our reading last week from proverbs told us, and as the Gospel of John tells us, before the creation of the world, Jesus Christ was there. As creation was happening, Jesus Christ was there as a master craftsman. 

We can try to be away from God’s presence, but as much as we want to run from God sometimes, the story of the prophet Jonah tells that that is impossible.

For God’s reality is impossible to escape; our attempts to create our own are but pale imitations of the truth in Christ. So where are you finding God speaking to you? I hope its in church, in prayer, in the words of scripture.  But I hope its in other places too, for God spoke, and God speaks, in many different ways.

Because every little thing we can do to dispel the mist is good, for it lets us see God and the light of God in the world. And on our Christian way, what else can we do?