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.

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