Identity Search: Who is God?
1 John 4:7-12
August 9, 2015
Epworth United Methodist Church
“Who is God?” How’s that for an ambitious sermon title? It’s arrogant to think we will
ever fully answer that question in our lifetime, much less in one sermon. Yet, the question of
God comes up eventually as we live our lives, trying to determine what is real, what has
meaning. When have you wondered about God? When have you asked, “Who is God –
really?” Lucy started asking as a child, writing: “Dear God, Are you really invisible or is that
People are seeing invisible things these days. It’s true. Through virtual reality goggles.
You can make your own. All you need is your smart phone and a $6 piece of cardboard from
Google. Time Magazine2 surveyed new investments being made in companies exploring Virtual
Reality. They are exploring all kinds of possibilities: VR interfaces that will create different
video game experiences, allow you to virtually hang out on a cliff with climbers in Yosemite,
look out from the international space station, or even seem to sit on the ground next to a Syrian
refugee in Turkey. Fascinating! Author, Joel Stein, says we won’t want to wear those virtual
reality specks all the time. Besides, those cardboard goggles are a little awkward! Stein says
VR will never replace authentic reality, or what they call RR, real reality.
What do you see in the RR, the real reality of your life? What is visible in your life?
Look there to find the reality of God. Look at those moments that are beyond words, which
defy description: moments of wonder, intellectual discovery, moral outrage against injustice,
experiences of mystery, profound joy, deep compassion, healing love, awesome beauty. What
moments in your life are more than your words can describe?
Our images and ideas for God rise out of an attempt to communicate insights from those
moments. Yet, all that we say about God is a metaphor, meant to illuminate something we
don’t and can’t ever fully understand. A metaphor tries to shed light but it itself is not the
reality. People have used many descriptive metaphors to describe God: Spirit, Power, Creator,
Father, Mother, King, Flame, Lord, Light, Source, Energy, Breath, Wind, Life.
Often we concretized those metaphors and create our own virtual reality when we speak
of God. Systems of power and oppression have created virtual reality views of God – a God
who controls all, looks like whoever holds the most power, and has favored children. Rev. Dr.
Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan3 cautions that instead of remembering that we are created in the image of
God, often we have created God in our own image. Rulers have acted like gods, have been
treated like gods, and even have been called god.
That oppressive virtual reality pales in comparison to the authentic reality. God is so
much more. Instead of judging and controlling, the authentic reality of God always moves
toward healing, toward freedom, toward affirmation of diversity. Jeffrey says, “God is beyond
gender, race, and sexuality. All of this is part of reflecting who God is.” The authentic reality
of God is present in and through every life, all of life. Acts 17:27-28 says that we live, move
and have our being in God. Theologians have talked about God as reality, existence itself.
Biblical scholar Marcus Borg defined God as “a reality, a ‘more,’ a radiant and luminous
presence that permeates everything that is” (most often called “panentheism”).4
When have you experienced a moment of radiance or what Borg calls “radical
amazement”? We don’t always identify those as mystical moments or experiences of God.
Yet, any movement toward freedom, any movement toward justice, any encounter offering
healing, any moment of love is a real, divine movement.
Many years ago we took our children to Orlando, Florida on vacation. We did the usual,
taking them to Disney World, to Epcot Center, and they couldn’t get enough of the virtual
reality games at Disney Quest in Downtown Disney. We had to pry them away to take them to
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center near Cape Canaveral. We told them, Disney Quest has fun
space games, but this is real! These space ships really flew! This is the real deal! Today, as
young adults I think they would realize that authentic reality is much more awe-inspiring than
How have you encountered the authentic reality of the divine? Those experiences are as
unique as we are, filtered through our personality, seen through our individual and communal
history, interpreted though our social location. The diversity of the experience of people at
Epworth are reflected through the images, words and art on the slides, on the panels on the sides
of the sanctuary and the easels. These are just a small sampling of Epworthians.
What would capture your insights and experience of wonder? How would you describe a
moment of clarity, direction or inspiration? When have you paused and thought, “Wow. What
was that?” Drawing on that experience, how would you define God? Who is God for you?
What does that image tell you about the world?
The reading from 1 John 4 comes out of a community torn by schism and a controversy
over the definition of truth. Although the author (who is likely a teacher from the tradition of
the Gospel of John) talks about judgement he says something beautifully inclusive: Love is
from God and anyone who loves knows God, because God is love. I couldn’t say it better. God
is love and Paul in the letter to the Romans says nothing can ever separate us from that love.
Anyone who loves knows God. How have you loved and been loved? How have you
experienced God in the love in your life? Let that experience guide your understanding of God.
God's unconditional love is beaming at you through the buds in the trees, through a loved one
who has a word of encouragement, through a friend at the Veteran’s Memorial building, in our
youth learning and reaching out at Sierra Service Project, through our Epworth team deepening
friendship in Nicaragua, through the movement toward justice, in the colleague or student who
calls you to action. How have you experienced the reality of God? Cynthia Heimel says that
we can connect with God in the very ordinary moments of our days, "... sometimes (God) is
found in the way the tailor at your corner lovingly stitches up the hem of your [garmet], other
times in the way a child sings along with a toothpaste commercial. Do not look for [God] in the
heavens; [God] only keeps a small locker there, only goes there to change."5
Our most profound understandings of God rise out of our experience of what is real.
What is so real that it has moved you at your core to do something loving, something
courageous, something selfless, something playful, something joyful? What has moved you not
to virtual Turkey but to actually sit down with a refugee, to talk to someone who is away from
family, needing a meal or a friend? There’s nothing virtual about living out the reality of love.
Authentic love calls us to move from remote control to personal connection. When has your
work risen out of love for life and others? When has your passion led you to work against
oppression and walk with those whose daily struggle to survive is far too real?
Barbara Brown Taylor, priest, professor and theologian says, “No matter how hard I try
to say something true about God, the reality of God will eclipse my best words.” Even our best
words will never be enough. They only offer a virtual reality of God.
Lucy, God is not invisible. God is visible whenever you and I live out of the authentic
loving reality in our own lives. How can you make the love you’ve received more real for
someone else today, this week? Live out of the reality of that love and others may pause and
wonder, “Wow! What was that?” Amen.
1 Children’s Letters to God, E. Marshall, T. Bloom
2 “Inside the Box,” Joel Stein, Time Magazine, August 17, 2015
3 Speaking to the Board of Ordained Ministry, June 2015
4 Convictions, Marcus Borg, p. 45
5 But Enough About You, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1986, 70