Sunday, June 11, 2017
Readings: Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:11-13
Suppose someone shows up at church
and hears me make reference to “Fr. Marty”
and, unfamiliar with the person to whom this refers,
asks who it is I’m talking about.
I can, if he’s standing nearby, point to him
and say “This is Fr. Marty.”
It is relatively easy to explain,
not least because there is nothing particularly mysterious
about how I and others use the name “Fr. Marty.”
But what if someone shows up at church
and hears me make reference to “God” or “the Lord”
and, being unfamiliar
with who or what these terms refer to,
asks what I’m talking about.
I might do something like pointing to the sky
and saying “That’s the Lord,”
but that would be misleading,
suggesting that I mean by the word “God”
something like “Zeus”—
a sky-god armed with lightning bolts.
It maybe would be better if I pointed
to a series of other things,
saying, “not this,” “not this,” “not this,”
until it suddenly struck the person who was asking
that words like “God” and “Lord”
must be a way of speaking about
something beyond our direct worldly experience,
something that is of crucial importance
to the existence of the universe,
without being any one of the things in the universe.
I dare say that, proceeding in this manner,
the whole matter would remain pretty mysterious.
We might think that the problem
causing this mystery
is simply that we do not have
enough information about God,
that God is behind some sort of veil
and that if that veil could be pulled back,
if only a little bit,
then who or what we are talking about
when we use words like “God” and “Lord”
would become a little bit less mysterious.
And indeed, as Christians we believe
that the veil has been pulled back.
We believe that in knowing God
we are not restricted
to what our human efforts
can discover about God.
We believe that, because God desires
to be known by us,
God has acted in history
to reveal to us who God is,
and that this history is recounted for us
in sacred Scripture.
But here’s the thing:
we discover, when we turn to Scripture,
that God grows more mysterious,
because the God who is revealed in Scripture
is an abiding mystery
that no human mind can grasp.
In the book of Exodus,
the Lord is revealed to be a God of justice,
who destroys the Egyptians
in liberating the Israelites
whom they have enslaved.
The Lord is revealed to be a God of law,
who gives commandments to the Israelites
so that they might live as his people.
The Lord is revealed as a God of righteous anger,
whose holiness will not tolerate sin,
but consumes it like a burning fire.
We might therefore think
we have a pretty good idea
of how such a God will react
when the Israelites break his law
by worshiping a golden calf.
But in our first reading today,
this God of justice and law and righteous anger
is revealed also to be a God
of forgiveness and compassion.
God proclaims his name once more to Moses:
“The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God,
slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.”
God’s name is revealed as kindness and grace,
a mercy that is somehow a deeper form of justice,
one whose depth our minds cannot plumb,
the mystery of divine compassion shown to a sinful people.
The veil is pulled back,
God shows himself more fully,
and the mystery grows deeper.
In our Gospel reading from John,
the identity of the one we call “God” and “Lord”
is revealed more fully still when Jesus says:
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.”
The Lord, who in the Exodus is revealed
as the mystery of merciful justice,
is here revealed as the one
who does not simply forgive sins,
but who gives his Son
to save those who are perishing,
to bring light and life
to those in a world of darkness and death,
to make them in Christ heirs to eternal life.
The veil is drawn back to reveal
Jesus as God’s Son,
dwelling in eternity
with the Father and the Spirit,
but now born in time
for us and for our salvation.
God is revealed not as a lofty deity
bestowing justice and mercy at a distance,
but as one who in Christ dwells among us,
sharing our life so that we may share God’s life,
suffering our injustice so that we may be justified,
dying our death so that we may be freed from death.
To be a Christian is to believe that in Jesus
the identity of God is fully unveiled.
In Jesus we now, at last,
have one we can point to and say,
“this…this is my Lord and my God.”
The veil is drawn back,
God is revealed,
but the mystery grows greater still:
the more you see, the less you comprehend.
For God is the mystery of a love
beyond any we can imagine:
a love that gives itself
without reserve to the other,
and receives itself back fully
in the bond of love returned.
And as if this were not mystery enough for us,
we see that in a world marked by sin,
a world in need of God’s justice and mercy,
the love that is God
shows itself under the form of the cross,
a scandal and a folly;
it shows itself as the invitation
to take up that cross and follow,
surrendering ourselves to the mystery of God’s love,
the mystery that we name “Trinity.”
May the merciful grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
and the faithful love of God the Father,
and the eternal communion of the Holy Spirit
come to dwell with us this day.