Over the last two weeks we’ve begun to explore the topic of God—not a theological definition or explanation of God, but one in which we ask the questions of “how do we believe” and “what does it mean to believe” and “who really rules my life.” Each of these questions has to do with our perception of God in our lives. And each of these questions asks us to respond to God in our own way.
My wife, Chris, and I have a variety of art in our home. Art is a very personal thing, and what looks wonderful and beautiful to one person is not necessarily the taste for another person. We enjoy having pictures and a few paintings that mean something to us and this art has given us much pleasure over the years. In order to enjoy these pictures, we have to hang them up and someone—a friend of ours here in Portland—told us how to hang pictures. “You have to squint.” What is the squint? Well, after the picture is up you squint and move your head from side to side, back up, move forward, in order to change your perspective—to get a different view, to change the overall perspective and effect of what is seen.
Try that for a few seconds. Pick a spot in front of you—the organ, or stained glass window, or the altar, or candles up here in the chancel. Look at these objects with your head straight, your eyes wide open. Now, squint your eyes and move your head and look at the same thing.
What happens? Do you see the object a bit differently?
The lesson for us here is when we look, what do we really see? When we listen, what do we really hear?
Often we have problems with our own perception. Our minds and eyes and hearts trick us into seeing things that are not there. Or, we ignore things that are there.
So, when we raise the question of God, and when we ask the question, “how do we believe,” or, “what does it mean to believe,” or “who really rules my life” or when we try to discern where we are as Christians in relation to our faith, we have to do so with our eyes wide open—at least some of the time—and at other times we need to squint. The way we interact with these questions has to do with how we discern what God is doing and saying to us in our lives.
I’m committed to believing that God speaks in and through the many interactions between what is happening to us and through the tradition of God’s revealing, communicating, saving and guiding acts and encounters in the past.
In other words, we know about God because God touches and empowers and directs us—and—because God got in touch with our ancestors –the Hebrews—who despite their disobedience, inadequacies and betrayals, were enabled by God to be a people of revelation.
We, too, are God’s people—God is with us now—God’s presence is all around us and with us and within us—and we know this because God has always been with God’s believers throughout all of history, throughout all time.
This concept of God’s always being with us—and with Gods people throughout all of time—can be difficult for us to understand. The powerfulness, the grandeur, the presence of God is not something that we find easy to comprehend.
But let me dazzle you with a bit of God’s reality—I’m at least dazzled by it—or more truthfully, let Steven Hawking in his book A Brief History of Time dazzle you. Hawking says, “The general theory of relativity describes the forces of gravity and the large-scale structure of the universe, that is, the structure on scales from only a few miles to as large as a million, million, million (that’s 1 with 24 zeroes after it) miles—the size of the observable universe. We know that our galaxy is only one of some hundred thousand million that can be seen by using modern telescopes, each galaxy containing some hundred thousand million stars…We live in a galaxy that is about one hundred thousand light years across and is slowly rotating…our sun is just an ordinary, average-sized yellow star….”
Now that’s dazzling! But where does God come into this. Where is God located in relation to all of this? Where are we in relation to this huge and magnificent universe?
In answering these questions, it’s important for us to understand our own lives and our own behavior. We want to believe that we are in charge of everything—we control it all. We want to believe that we are responsible for all that happens to us. We take great strides in pointing out, “I built that. I made that. I did that. That happened because I made it happen.”
But if we change our perception—“who is God, where is God, who rules my life” we begin to see that our work is really God’s work. God’s strength, God’s power, God’s victories are really what endures. And we begin to learn to perceive God’s eternity, not just our human finiteness. It’s good for us to begin to come to grips with the reality that what we have is from God’s hand and when we open the eyes of our hearts to see God’s graciousness, God will “give us wisdom and knowledge and joy” as scripture tells us.
You may remember, also, the text about Jesus going to his own hometown. And he begins to preach in the synagogue. What is it like to go home? What happens to us when we go to visit family and relatives? Fascinating things can happen to us when we return home. I remember that until I was about 40 years old every time I went home my mother would ask me when I was going to law school!
Jesus went home—but his family and neighbors and friends had a problem of perception. The Good News of God’s truth was enfleshed in their friend, their neighbor and their own school classmate. But the questions: “who does he think he is? Where does he get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?”
They couldn’t get beyond their old perceptions. They couldn’t see how this preaching was pointing to God. They couldn’t hear the Good News. They couldn’t accept his acts of healing. They couldn’t perceive God working in their midst.
Our perceptions of the world around us, of family, friends, neighbors, and strangers—of God’s very presence among us, are often clouded and incomplete. We need to learn not to always trust our first perceptions. We need to look more closely, to listen more intently, to put behind us the prejudices and preconceived ideas that keep us from understanding who God is in relation to each one of us—to you—and to me.
Squinting, which is an invaluable tool, might just become an important part of our search for God. It might just become our God vision. We may want to learn to step back and squint at our lives. When we squint we make a critical assessment, we see what is still awry, what we may have missed.
In that moment, we see differently--experiencing the wholeness of the moment, accepting our limitations and finitude, by blurring the boundaries between God’s creation and us. Squinting forces us to see that there are other perspectives, other connections and other patterns possible.
The Good News is that we do not have to remain limited by our problems of perception. The Good News is that the grace of God, working in and through us, opens our hearts and minds to perceive God in our midst, so that with the Psalmist we may declare:
This God is our God forever and ever;
This God shall be our guide for evermore. Ps. 48:13
We don’t worship, or serve, or represent a minor or optional God. We are called to know God intimately, to love God urgently and to allow God to call us forth from this world. AMEN