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Identity Search

Identity Search: Who is God?

1 John 4:7-12

August 9, 2015

Epworth United Methodist Church

Linda Loessberg-Zahl

“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

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