On communion Sundays, I have started offering an extended Message for All Ages (“Children’s sermon”) in the place of the regular sermons. So I preach this interactively with the youth and with everyone–not exactly as written. And I substituted the Exodus reading for the contrast of being able or unable to see God.
Exodus 33:12-23; Matthew 2:1-12
Silas asked me some questions a few months ago: Where is God? Can we see God? I thought that they would be perfect questions for Epiphany, which is a celebration of God being visible or manifest at Jesus’ birth. Not many were there: Jospeh, Mary, the animals, the shepherds according to Luke, and on Matthew’s telling, the wise men.
The Wise Men learned of Jesus’ birth because they saw a star in the sky. Notice that no one came to Jesus and said, ‘I knew I’d find you here because I saw in the Bible where it predicted your birth.’ In other words, the good religious people of the day were surprised by Jesus’ birth. But the Wise Men were not Jews. They were from another land and practiced another religion. But who studies the sky in our day? –Scientists. They found Jesus using their own wisdom and studying. And they were very humble. They believed the truth they discovered even though it might have sounded strange. Notice how there were only a few Wise Men—there weren’t hundreds. Not many were wise enough to find Jesus by their own smarts and study. But something about Jesus allowed some people to find God without the benefit of the Bible at all. So the first lesson is this: The truth that is shown to Jesus is so much a part of creation, even the stars in space, that anyone who looks carefully can find that truth. And we can learn about Jesus from wise people even if they’re from another religion.
Now, why can’t we normally see God? God almost never appears in the Bible. God speaks a lot in the Bible, but almost never as a voice from the sky. God fills someone with a message—those are the prophets—and they tell people what they hear God saying in their mind. So why do you think God doesn’t appear and speak like you and I appear and speak?
Well, we get a clue from our first Bible reading; it’s a conversation between God and Moses. God tells Moses, You can’t see me face to face and live. I don’t think that means you would die if you saw God. (Or it would say, ‘if you see God face to face you’ll die.’) I think it means that you can’t see God and live like you normally live. So, normally, What do you live for? Usually, I’m living to do well on my history exam, or I’m living for our family vacation, or I’m living for Christmas to come. Or you just relax and play and watch the world go by. The things we live for our people-sized. So the purpose of my day today is to make it to church and back without freezing, go home and eat and relax and read.
Now what do you think God’s normal day looks like? God sees all the things people are living for, all their plans, and God also sees what they ought to be doing but aren’t. Imagine if you could see all the purposes of all the people in the world, and all the animals and plants and other planets. And you could see what they should be doing but are not. If you could look into God’s eyes and see all of that, the purpose of everything, could you still go home and be excited for spaghetti with meatballs tonight? Or your favorite show on tv? So you can’t see God because if you knew everything God knows and what the purpose of all of life in all its variety was, your own little life would seem so small. But that’s not what God wants. God wants you to live your own life, in the way only you can, but in a way that is a part of God’s really big purpose. So God knows that you can’t see God directly, and God protects us from a vision of God that is too much for us.
So God comes down to our own level, for we cannot see or imagine what it would mean for God to be in everything, and everything to be living God’s purpose. God shows us what it looks like when one person lives perfectly according to God’s purpose. You know who that is? … To see God, we aren’t able to look for God as the ruler of the universe, because then we’d say, “Well, I can’t rule the whole universe. How can I help God with that?” But in Jesus we can see just one person perfectly living out God’s purposes. And even there Jesus might seem to great for us; you might say to yourself, I can’t be like Jesus. Well, we have much to learn about how Jesus lived, and how he died, and how he rose again and became the eternally living head of the church; we have much to learn about Jesus and what he means for each of our lives. You don’t have to be Jesus. Because no one can take Jesus’ place. It takes a whole church to fills Jesus’s shoes, to take his place. Only Jesus could look to himself and know, truly God is in me, completely, perfectly. I can’t say that, and I think everyone eventually realizes that I’m not perfect like Jesus. But together as the church we can make up for each other’s imperfections and together do the good work that Jesus did for God.
So Jesus’ friends saw God in him, but then he left the earth and is with God now. So where can we see God now? … Not in any one of us, or in yourself; we’re all very human. But you can see the Spirit of Jesus here in this church, living and working among all of us, in good actions of kindness, love, and forgiveness; in a great desire for justice and for all things to be right. God is visible here, even though God is much bigger than this church.
So that’s what communion is all about, especially today on Epiphany. We see God—but we can’t see God the ruler of all. We see God because God appeared as Jesus, in a size that is right for us. But even though Jesus was the same size as us—he was even a baby—none of us quite lives up to Jesus’ perfection. But Jesus doesn’t ask any one of us to do what he did. He leaves it to the whole church to carry on what he did. In us, in the very best we do, Jesus lives and reigns forever. All of us acting together and in loving unity can continue this life for God—so that when the church really is faithful, it’s once again like God being visible on earth—acting and speaking and loving.
[Moving toward the table] And so we take the bread, which we call the body of Jesus, and the cup of grape juice, which we call his life, his blood, and we eat it together just like your family eats together around the table. Because in our sharing and loving and learning and acting together, Jesus lives within us and among us. And so we see Jesus here; we see God here.