Sermon: February 25, 2018 – “God is Love?” – part 3

“God is Love?”

Part 3

Text: Romans 1: 19-20

19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse

For the past several weeks we have been exploring the topic of the love of God. It is difficult to recap everything we have talked about, but essentially I have suggested to you that it is often helpful to think about God in non-human ways. When we look for evidence of God’s love, it isn’t unusual to begin to ask questions about what appears to us as the absence of God’s love. Human struggling, suffering, natural disasters and school shootings are just a few things that come to mind right away. There are many others. By forming an image of God that is non-human, it helps us to begin to answer some of these tough questions.

I also mentioned that we would be breaking the topic of “love” into smaller, more manageable pieces. One way to do this is to treat the word as an acronym. Last week we started this process and I looked at two words that I thought were helpful descriptors of love that began with “L”. Those two words were “limitless” and “luminous”.

Today, that means we will be moving on to the letter “O” for words that broaden our perspective and help us to understand this thing called God’s love. The two words I have chosen for today are “obvious” and “optimistic”. So let’s take a closer look, shall we?

I want to begin today with the word “obvious”. This may seem a little odd to you that it takes an entire sermon series and 6 weeks of study and conversation to define something that should be obvious to us. Well, that is sort of the point. If we were to look in the right places and understand from at least what I consider to be a healthy perspective, then the love of God is obvious. But if we fail to perceive and we fail to look in the right places, the love of God becomes elusive, indeed.

I want to reference the text I read a few minutes ago. If we are to understand the context of this text, a little background might be helpful. The first thing you should know is that Romans is considered by many theologians and Bible scholars to be the pinnacle of all the written work that is available to us from the Apostle Paul. Romans is a huge collection of theological discourse and one could spend a lifetime studying just this one letter from Paul. I don’t think it would be possible to read all the commentaries or books about this particular letter.

Having said that, a basic understanding of why the letter was written in the first place, I think, will help us understand not only the text I read a few minutes ago, but also help us with the broader understanding of our topic of God’s love.

When the letter of Romans was written there was great political strife present in Rome. There were many who hated the Jews. There were Gentiles that had become Christians, there were Jews that had become Christians, there were Jews that had rejected Christianity and almost everyone was suspicious of Caesar and the political leadership of the time. Most scholars agree this was in the mid 50’s of what is now called the “common era”. In other words, about 50 – 60 years after the execution of Jesus. Much of the letter of Romans was written to try to heal the divisions among all these different groups and the hatred and suspicion that was present among them.

With this very brief description of part of the reason Paul wrote to the church in Rome in the first place, it is understandable that Paul begins his letter by stating that God’s presence and God’s love should be obvious to everyone. Paul makes no division among Greek or Jew or Gentile or Christian or non-Christian, the emphasis in this opening passage seems to me to be about the universality of the presence of God.

So, Paul states it very plainly, and very concisely, by simply stating that the presence of God should be obvious to everyone. Because God has revealed to everyone who and what God is and that revelation has been available to everyone from the dawn of creation. It is universal and available to all. This revelation of who God is comes to us through what God has made. In my mind, that is creation, the earth, the universe, and all that is in it. God’s creation is obvious, so the love of God should also be obvious. It is everywhere we look.

So when we are looking for evidence of God’s love, we need to look no further than what surrounds us every day. The sun rises, the trees and the flowers grow, the birds fly through the air and the insects crawl around; all of this is evidence of God’s love and it is obvious. It really can’t be missed. Learning to recognize creation as evidence of God’s love may be a new experience for you and you might not think about beauty in that way at first, but with practice, it becomes a part of your own spirituality.

Learning to recognize creation as evidence of God’s love also creates within you a greater appreciation of our earth and all that is in it. That is why when we pollute or harm creation I find it so offensive. To not care for the earth is a rejection of God’s love.

The other word I mentioned a few minutes ago is optimistic. To truly understand what I mean by optimistic, you first need to understand creation and how things work in the natural world. In nature nothing ever really dies, it is recycled. Everything is useful and everything contributes to the greater good. When a plant or an animal ceases to be in the form that it once was, that doesn’t mean its usefulness has ceased. It simply means that it now has a new purpose. In this way, nature is very optimistic because with every ending comes a new beginning, with every event comes a change of purpose and with every death comes new life.

To fully comprehend this, a walk through a forest is a good teacher. As you walk through a forest, you see a number of trees that are dead, both fallen and those still standing. If you observe closely, you will discover that the dead fallen trees serve a different purpose that the dead trees that are still standing. From both kinds of dead trees, new life springs and life is sustained. The energy present in any living thing is never destroyed, it is only recycled from one form into the next. This is what eternity looks like in nature.

When Jesus was in ministry here on earth and he spoke of God’s love and the connection of that love to our own eternal presence, I’m pretty certain he didn’t mean we would never die physically. There is a rather famous scripture in John, you may have heard of it that speaks of eternal life. John 3:16 states that our acceptance of the love of God leads us to eternal life. In my mind, that also means that through an understanding of the eternal nature of creation, we can also see our own mortality, not as an ending, but rather a transformation from one purpose into the next.  This is an extremely optimistic point of view. We are eternal beings and as such we are engaged in one particular type of purpose at this time, but when that purpose is over, we transition into the next purpose.

When we consider the forest again and we see a fallen tree or a tree stump that is covered in moss and lichen and mushrooms and perhaps a few new shoots of new tress are growing from the fallen tree, do we think to ourselves, “oh, how sad that the tree is no longer standing”? I don’t think we do. We view the fallen tree as a natural progression of how things work and see the fallen tree serving its new purpose to sustain the life and growth of other things in the forest. This is optimism defined.

When we consider the trees in the forest we know and understand that in a storm for example, some will stand while others may fall. Both are necessary and both are expressions of God’s love. We may view the fallen tree as somewhat tragic or perhaps a calamity if it happens to fall in the city on a car or takes down some power lines, but that is our human context projecting onto the tree an emotion that really isn’t present. A tree that is standing or a tree that has fallen are both expressions of God’s love.

Here is why this matters. As we go through life we often wish for a different circumstance or we pray things will turn out a certain way. When they don’t, we are disappointed and we question God’s love. Why is this happening to me we may ask in desperation, doesn’t God hear my prayers? What is wrong with me that God is punishing me? What did I do to deserve this?

To understand the fallen tree in the context of eternity and in the context of a new and renewed purpose is the beginning of understanding the answer to some of these hard questions. Can you imagine a tree having feelings about whether it stands or falls during a storm? Is there any emotion present in what happens in a forest? And yet, the forest is a shining example of God’s love.

Let me remind you of one other text that I believe is speaking to this level of understanding. It is found in Philippians, chapter 4, verse 16.

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

We are to be thankful in all circumstances because when our circumstances change, it may mean a change of purpose and a change of service for us and that is all part of the eternity in which we participate. Without a change of purpose, without the recycling of energy present in nature, without the cycle of life displayed in the plant and animal kingdoms, eternal life would not be possible.

When God promises eternal life, God also promises that your circumstances and your purpose will change and change again and again and again. God’s love is obvious if you walk through a forest; it is also optimistic when you consider that nothing in that forest ever really ends.

Food for thought. Go in peace, Amen.

 

Sermon: Feb 18, 2018 – “God is Love? – Part Two”

“God is Love? – Part Two”

Text: Psalm 136: 1-9

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 O give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
3 O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

4 who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
5 who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
6 who spread out the earth on the waters,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
7 who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
8 the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
9 the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

Last week I introduced to you some thoughts about how we search for and find evidence of God’s love. I suggested that many of us search for the love of God in human ways, looking for evidence of love as an emotional response. I also suggested that we look for this evidence of God’s love in human terms because of the human-like image we hold of God. I challenged you to begin to think about the Divine in non-human ways. To move away from an image of God that resembles a human being.

I also suggested that many of us struggle with the level of suffering in the world and this leads us to question the validity of God’s love. Once again our country has been rocked by another mass school shooting. Beyond the obvious questions we can look to events like this and legitimately ask the question where was the love of God in those classrooms while people were being shot? How could God allow this event to take place and so many others just like it?

The answer to that question can be a little unsettling, if you answer the question with an image of God that reflects a human point of view. I mentioned last week that with a human perspective, we are really left with only two possibilities. Either God chooses to not stop the shooter in Florida, or God would like to stop the shooter, but cannot. Neither of these alternatives is very appealing, at least not for me. I need to look deeper into this thing we call the love of God and find answers that seem to fit the image of God that I hold in my mind’s eye.

One of the ways I have decided to do this is to break the topic of love into smaller, more manageable pieces. One way to do that is to consider the word ‘Love’ as an acronym, and then find descriptive words that help you sort out all the aspects of God’s love. In that spirit, we are going to look at the first letter of love today. Two words that I want to focus on that I think are helpful descriptions of God’s love are ‘limitless’ and ‘luminous’. Let’s consider limitless for starters.

I would have to say that one of my favorite subjects when I head outdoors to shoot some pictures are waterfalls. There is something mesmerizing about a good waterfall and I particularly like to experience them early in the morning. Often when it is a cool morning there is a slight mist or fog coming off the water and with just the right light, you can gain some amazing results.

Often when I am alone with a waterfall I get this almost overwhelming sense of gratitude that this display of beauty is happening just for me. After all, I am the only one here. Of course I realize that the water flows all the time whether someone is present or not. But when you are alone with a waterfall, there is that personal connection I experience. The gift of the waterfall feels like it is putting on a special performance and I’m the only one in the theater!

As I consider this experience it occurs to me that I am projecting some human-like qualities onto the waterfall. On a logical level, this is crazy; waterfalls do not have a consciousness nor should they be considered in human terms. And yet, in spite of this obvious knowledge, I still enjoy the feeling that there is a personal connection between the waterfall and myself, particularly when I am alone. I think this is not only normal, but even healthy. To appreciate natural beauty to the point where it moves you emotionally is, I think, a very healthy attitude. Many of us experience God the same way. Our emotional response to the feelings created by the Holy Spirit when we sense the God’s presence is a very normal and healthy response.

I mention this experience because I believe it is an accurate description of why we often hold an image of God that is human like. When we experience God, we have a human, emotional experience. This causes us to create an image of God that also is human-like and a God that shares our emotional response. When we focus on a personal relationship with God, I think these kinds of emotional connections can be very meaningful. But there is a down side.

Back to our waterfall analogy. Imagine if I took my projection of some human qualities of a waterfall and began to actually believe the waterfall was human. Imagine if I began to think that the waterfall had the power to choose if it would flow or not. Imagine if I began to think that the waterfall could decide where it would splash water and where it would not. Now imagine that some toddler perhaps wanders into the waterfall, is caught in the current and washed over the edge and drowns. Tragic as that would be, I don’t believe anyone would blame the waterfall. No one would say “how could the waterfall allow that to happen”. Nor would anyone be likely to say something like what I mentioned earlier about God; either God chooses to allow the suffering, or God would like to stop the suffering but cannot. Can you imagine saying that about a waterfall? Either the waterfall chose to allow the toddler to be swept over the edge, or the waterfall wanted to save the toddler, but could not. Sounds a little crazy, doesn’t it? And yet, we do this very thing with God and no one finds it odd in the slightest. Can you begin to see how easily we fall into this trap?

I mentioned the idea of God’s love being limitless a few minutes ago. I wanted to firmly establish the metaphor of God’s love being like a waterfall before I took on the topic of limitless to avoid any misconceptions later on. You might also remember that I said when I am alone with the waterfall I feel like the drama is taking place just for me. The truth is that the waterfall flows constantly. It is present all the time. The waterfall doesn’t care if it is just me, a crowd of people, or no one, it will flow in the same way, all the time. It is limitless in that way. If you rise at 3 am in the morning, go out to the waterfall, you will find it flowing. Any time of day, any day of the week, it is always there. For most waterfalls they flow through every season of the year as well. The size may change in the spring or winter, but essentially they flow all the time.

This is the love of God. Limitless. Always available. Yet with a personal connection that we can feel and respond to emotionally. But when we do, we need to be aware of how easily we can create and image of the loving God that begins to work against us as well.

Another word that I think helps us to understand this perspective on God’s love is ‘luminous’. If we were to define the word ‘luminous’ I think most of us would conclude that the definition would include something about it glowing or giving off light. I attach this word as a description of God’s love not in a literal sense, but rather a metaphorical illumination. But only with the perspective that the love of God is more like a waterfall than it is like the human experience we recognize as love. Only when we are able to overcome our human image of God’s love can we begin to benefit from the luminosity inherent in this perspective.

The tremendous upside of imaging the love of God more like a waterfall and less like a parent is that the waterfall metaphor relieves us of struggling with so many questions. It is our perception of God’s love that paints us into corners, not the love itself. So if we can deal with the perception that controls our thinking about the love of God, then we can also control the unanswerable questions that are raised by an anthropomorphic image of God. It is in this way that I think the love of God actually brings enlightenment or luminosity to our lives.

There is a relationship that is nearly impossible to define between what we think and what is. I don’t think modern science has even scratched the surface of the impact of what we believe to be true and what our physical experience actually is. As Henry Ford is famous for having said, “if you believe you can or if you believe you can’t, you’re right.”

One of my favorite authors is the now late Dr. Wayne Dyer and one of his favorite sayings along these same lines in this: “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” I believe this to be a true statement. So when we change the way we look at God’s love, there will come to you a level of enlightenment that will change your experience of God’s love. It is in this way that I think the love of God is luminous, because with a different perspective comes spiritual enlightenment.

We will continue our discussion of God’s love next week as we take a look at descriptive words that begin with the letter “o”. In the meantime, I invite you to consider the limitless and luminous waterfall of God’s love and how that waterfall flows into your life and into your experience. May you flow in peace.

Amen.

Ash Wednesday Service Sermon: February 14, 2018 – “Redwoods, Ashes & Energy”

 

“Redwoods, Ashes & Energy”

Text: Isaiah 61: 3 – “The Voice” translation

As for those who grieve over Zion, God has sent me to give them a beautiful crown in exchange for ashes, To anoint them with gladness instead of sorrow, to wrap them in victory, joy, and praise instead of depression and sadness. People will call them magnificent, like great towering trees standing for what is right. They stand to the glory of the Eternal who planted them.

Often when I begin to work with a particular text I look it up on the computer and read the text in a variety of different translations. Every once in a while the different translation will offer a new perspective or a new word that sends my thoughts in a new direction. That is exactly what happened with this text. When I read my text from “The Voice” translation I got to the part about the great towering trees and it reminded me right away of the giant redwoods in northern California. Has anyone else been there and seen these great towering trees?

Well, I thought a short field trip might be one of the best ways for us to appreciate the sheer magnitude of these trees. Now I think it is important for us to recognize that some of the other translations refer to the trees in this text as giant oaks. There are some good sized oak trees out there, but they are not giant redwoods and simply cannot compare. So when I read in the text “great towering trees”, at least for me, they had to be redwoods.

So what we are going to do is take a virtual field trip. Northern California is a ways away, so we are going to experience the redwoods in another way. One of the first things I want to point out about these trees is that a mature redwood at its base can have a diameter of up to 24 feet. I just happened to bring a tape measure with me, so I want everybody to get up and form a circle. We are going to make a circle that is 24 feet in diameter so we can see just how big around these giant redwoods really are.

Ok, now for the really amazing part. Not only do the redwoods grow to be 24 feet in diameter, they also grow to a height of 350 feet tall. I don’t have a tape that reaches 350 feet and we don’t have a building that could accommodate that anyway. So we will have to use our imaginations. We are going to stretch this tape out 50 feet. Now we can see what 50 feet looks like, but we will have to use our imaginations to visualize a tree that is 7 times higher than this 50 feet. These are big trees.

One of the unique things about redwoods that allow them to grow to such great heights is the way they process the environment that surrounds them. You see, most trees absorb water from the ground. They have tiny capillaries beginning with the root system that runs all the way to the leaves on the tree. These capillaries fill with water and when the leaves give off moisture and some of the water evaporates, it new water moves into the capillaries at the roots and everything moves up a little bit. It is the water that brings some of the nutrients to the rest of the tree. But there is a physical limit to the height that the tree can lift all that water. For most trees, the height limit is around 60 to 80 feet in the best of conditions. But the redwoods are different. They have adapted to their environment in an interesting way.

During the summer months in northern California, it is usually quite dry and there isn’t a lot of rainfall and water is a bit scarce. But there is a heavy fog almost every morning. The redwoods have adapted to be able to use the moisture in the fog, and spread nutrients to the rest of the tree through a capillary system that almost works in reverse of most trees. The water flows from the top down, and this allows them to grow to such giant proportions, because the tree doesn’t have to lift the water 350 feet into the air, it allows gravity to do the work as the water flows down from the crown of the tree all the way to the roots. It is a magnificent example of adapting to a particular environment.

You might be thinking about now that is all very interesting, but what in the world do giant redwoods have to do with Ash Wednesday? Well, I’m so glad you asked!

The text indicates that we are to exchange ashes for a crown. The text says that we will replace sorrow with gladness and rather than dwelling in depression and sadness, we will experience joy, and praise and victory. The redwoods, I think, teach us how to do that. They adapt to their environments and use what is useful and they absorb the positive energy that is available to them to grow into such magnificent creations.

So here we are. We have a choice. We can choose to be redwoods or we can choose to be weeds. The primary difference is how we receive the environment that is around us. We have a choice about what energy we are going to absorb, what nutrients we are going to feed ourselves and how we will use the environmental forces around us to either build us up, or tear us down.

Every one of us is exposed to both positive energy and negative energy every single day. We have the ability to choose which energy we will absorb into our beings and what energy we will allow to simply bounce off. We don’t have to take it all in. We can choose to allow some of what we hear, some of what we see, some of what we read and even some of what we experience to just move on past us. We don’t have to absorb everything that is around us. We can adapt to what is available, just like the redwoods have adapted. We can choose to absorb the joy, the victory, the praise and the gladness that surrounds us every day. We just need to watch for it and recognize it when we see it.

One of the fascinating things that I like to think about when I consider trees of all kinds is that from a tree comes firewood. When we go camping and have a campfire or when we light a fire in our fireplace or the fire pit on our deck, we use firewood. This firewood comes from trees. I like to think about firewood as stored sunlight. Have you ever thought about it in that way? You know the sun is essentially a big ball of fire, and when that light reaches the earth, the trees absorb that energy and store it in the form of wood. When we burn the wood, we release that energy once again in the form of heat and light that makes fire. Firewood is stored sunlight.

Once all that energy is released, we are left with ashes. There is some energy still in the ashes, but not much. Ashes represent for me the ‘ground zero’ of energy. Ashes is where energy begins again, ashes are often used as fertilizer or compost and the upside of a forest fire is the ash that is left once the burning is over. Forests recover remarkably fast from a forest fire because of the ash.

Tonight we will be using ash once again as a symbol. As we offer the ash to you this Ash Wednesday, focus on the idea that all the negative energy has been released. Everything that holds you back has been burned up and all that remains of the old is just the ash. This is a new start, a new beginning, the ash is what remains of all the old energy that is now gone. From this moment forward allow the ash to remind you that you can choose what energy you wish to absorb and nourish yourself with only that energy. Become the towering trees you are called to be. Grow to be the spiritual redwood that lies dormant within you. Absorb the energy that surrounds you.

The ash you receive in this moment changes everything; as the scripture says, old things have passed away and look, all things have become new. Your redwood moment has arrived. Grow in peace.

Amen.

Sermon: February 11, 2018 – “God is Love?” Part-1

“God is Love?” Part-1

Text: Romans 8: 31, 37-39

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It’s almost Valentines Day! I know it probably doesn’t seem like it, but Valentine’s Day does have a Christian heritage, at least within the Catholic church. There was a St. Valentine who was honored around 270 CE and there are other theories about Valentine’s Day replacing a pagan holiday and there were other people named Valentine even earlier in Christian history. Fact is, no one really knows the full history of Valentine’s Day or how the association with love and affection ever got started. But it is popular; it is estimated that about 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards will be exchanged this year around the world. That is second only to the exchange of Christmas cards, which is about double that number.

It seemed appropriate to introduce a new sermon series about love close to Valentine’s Day. Of course, I’m going to be focused on the love of God, which is entirely different than the kind of love we celebrate on Valentine’s Day. That being said, I do think it is important to point out how different these two types of love really are and how easily we blur the lines that divide the two. In the English language, we have a bit of an inadequacy around the word love. It seems we have only one, while other languages have words that are more descriptive. I think most of us have heard about the Greek word agape and so on, so I’m not going to take any time chasing that idea. To know they are very different is enough for now. What I really want to focus on is the evidence of love.

Because the kinds of love we express are very different, the evidence of that love is also different. I think that many of us, and many who currently are not a part of Christianity, are confused about this thing we call God’s love. That confusion is a result of not acknowledging the right evidence of that love and blurring the lines that divide God’s love from other forms of love. Over the next few weeks we will be exploring this idea. It is my intention to run this series from now all the way through Lent as we prepare for the Easter celebration. It is also my hope that through the process of clearly identifying what the love of God actually entails, it will transform and enlighten our Easter celebration.

I mentioned that many of us fail to acknowledge the evidence of God’s love. This is not because we choose to ignore it or we want to deny its existence, I think it is primarily because we don’t know where to look. Here’s the problem, at least as I see it, the only experience of love we have as human beings is between human beings.

Think about this. When we are children, at least for the vast majority of us, we had parents that loved us. This is a unique kind of love experience, but it is still a human experience. As we grew up we may have had a “crush” on someone in Junior High or High School, but eventually we found someone that we actually fell in love with and we got married. I know that many of us are no longer married or are married a second time or more, but the idea remains the same. When we fall in love as adults and decide to marry, it is a love that exists between two human partners. This is also true of same gender marriages and relationships, the love expressed is a human love.

For some of us the marriage then begins to produce children. This is another experience altogether. It seems like it should be a rare thing to experience the desire to strangle someone you love, but while our 3 boys were teenagers, it seemed like it happened several times a day. Still the experience we have as parents that love our children is a human experience.

Our entire lives have been an experience of love from one human perspective to another human perspective. It’s no wonder that when we look for the love of God that we seek the evidence of that love in human terms and in human ways. That is what we have been taught that love is. That is what our experience has been.

When we look for evidence of God’s love in human terms it is little wonder that we are disappointed a good share of the time. I think most of us have a strong enough faith that these disappointments don’t become huge stumbling blocks, but deep down I think every one of us have had thoughts or questions about the love of God. For example, all the suffering in the world would seem to indicate that the love of God does not exist for a large percentage of the world’s population. If we think of God as a parent, a father or a mother, it seems inconceivable or completely out of character to allow the kind of suffering we see around the world. As parents of our own children we would not allow that level of suffering, or at least we would do what we could to mitigate the suffering.

So we are faced with some important questions about the collective suffering of God’s children. Some of those questions sound like this: Why does God allow this kind of suffering? If God loves us then why are children starving? If God loves us then why are people born disabled or disfigured? If God loves us then why are there wars and ethnic cleansing campaigns and human trafficking?

The conclusions that one can easily come to seem to fall into two categories. Category number one is that God could change all these things but chooses not to. I don’t know about you, but that is not the kind of God I know or understand. That is not the God I am in relationship with. Category number two is that God would like to change these things, but is powerless to do so. Now we have a God that isn’t really a God because that God has limited power. A God that wants to but can’t is a limited, handcuffed God that is of little value. What kind of a God is a powerless God?

About this time in our thought process we have a tendency to begin to recite all the old clichés we have heard ever since our first year in Sunday School when we were five or six years old. Old clichés like “God works in mysterious ways” or “you just have to have faith” or the one that really bugs me is “God will never give you more than you can handle”. I’m sorry but platitudes like this simply are not helpful. We take hard legitimate questions and just sweep them under the rug. To rely on clichés to answer some of life’s toughest questions is a very dismissive attitude. The truth is that if God didn’t ever give us more than we can handle, then no one would ever commit suicide. That is obviously not the case. Mental illness and suicide rates, particularly in Idaho and our part of Idaho are significantly higher than the rest of the country. Once again, we are faced with tough questions. Where is the love of God when someone takes their own life?

I spent some time earlier talking about how our perspective and experience of love has always been from a human point of view. When we begin to think about the love of God, it is easy, even natural for us to interject some human qualities into that though process. We project our humanness onto God. I know I have used this word before and I wish there was a different word that was less intimidating, but there is not. When we project our humanness onto God it is called having an “anthropomorphic” image of God. We change God into a human like creation. I think most of our struggles to understand God stem from this anthropomorphic image of God that most of us maintain.

For example, a few minutes ago I was talking about the suffering in the world. I said that the evidence of that suffering left us with two choices; either God chooses to allow the suffering, or God would like to eliminate the suffering but is powerless to do so. Without you realizing it, what I presented to you were two very human choices. Language like God “wants to”, or God “chooses to” are uniquely human responses. They are emotional responses. God “wants to” eliminate the suffering is an emotional response. It is a human response. God “chooses” to allow the suffering is also a very human response.

If God is not some sort of glorified super-human being, then those choices for God become invalid. If we look beyond our anthropomorphic image of God to something else, then some of our struggles to understand God are diminished. When we attach human emotions and human responses to God, then we begin to set ourselves up for trouble. The trouble we encounter with this super-human image of God is most apparent when we begin to talk about the love of God. Because our experience of love is so deeply steeped in the human experience, it is hard for us to look at the love of God without the human emotion attached to it. Our human experience of love is deeply emotional. What if God has no emotion? What does the love of God look like that doesn’t have any emotion? What does the love of God look like that doesn’t make choices? What does the love of God look like that doesn’t say yes or no when we pray?

There are those who claim to be agnostic or even atheists that say the love of God is non-existent, it is all in our imaginations. I think they reach this conclusion because they are looking for the love of God in all the human places you would expect to find it. It’s an easy mistake to make.

So for the next few weeks we will be exploring this idea of the love of God, but we will be exploring it from a non-human point of view. I would invite you over the next week to explore your own thoughts and your images you have about God. Are they human in nature? Do you attach human elements of varied emotional responses to God? How often do you refer to God as he, or him, or his or even her?

Stay tuned, there is more to come. For now, that is enough food for thought.

Go in peace.

Amen.