(This was my sermon for June 22. I filled in at church since our pastor was at Synod in Pennsylvania.)
I love the mystery of the Bible. There’s so much literature, poetry, and so many amazing parables. I read a lot, and I love reading to increase my knowledge of God. God is so amazing to me, all the creations He has created; people, animals, fish, plants, the Universe. I also love science, and I am always so amazed when scientists discover new creatures, new worlds, and new galaxies. If you ever get the chance to see the photographs taken by the Hubble telescope, I urge you to watch. The magnificence of the universe is without words. I have no words big enough to describe it. I also have no words big enough to describe the magnificence of God. My perception of God is indescribable.
I believe that’s why the people who wrote the Bible used poetry so much. When they tried to describe God and His amazing wonder, they didn’t have words big enough to use. They compared God to things on Earth, even though God created those things, and He is much bigger than what He created. I also believe that sometimes this is why people have so many disagreements on what the Bible says. There are some literalists out there, who believe that every word of the Bible is exactly true in the form it’s written. But this can be silly, and I’m going to show you why. Remember, its all about our perception.
If you are a literalist, then Jesus is a big rock, and God is a bird, probably a chicken. Psalm 91:4 says “He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge.” And then in Matthew, God is compared to a chicken, a hen who gathers her chicks beneath her wings to protect them. Now, I love chickens, but I don’t believe that God is a chicken. I believe that the writers here intended to show us that God is our protector. Have you ever tried to snatch a baby chick from under a hen? If your answer is no, then I highly recommend you never try. Its not pleasant, and the hen will attack you and defend those chicks with her life. The hen is one of the fiercest mothers in the world. God also will protect us as the mother hen protects her babies from harm.
Now in Act 4:11, the Bible says “Jesus is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.” I don’t believe that Jesus is an actual rock, or piece of stone. He was a living breathing son of God who walked on this earth and is now at the right hand of God. What this really means is that Jesus needs to be the foundation, the most important part, of our lives. He has been rejected by many, however, He is the basis of our faith. If you don’t believe in Jesus, I don’t think you can call yourself a Christian. Jesus is the essential to our faith.
So God’s not a chicken and Jesus isn’t a slab of granite. We can see how the writers use comparison to show us about God. They used their perception of God and compared it to something they thought had similar qualities. We see this throughout the Bible. The primitive people of the Old Testament were violent and war-like, so they assumed God was too. Jesus showed us that God is love. God didn’t change, we did.
I want you to imagine you are taken back in time to the time or Moses, or Noah, or even the disciples. Now, try to describe our technology to them. Try to describe a tractor. How would you make them understand how GPS works? How the computer works, how the planter is told how much seed to plant, and spray to spray, and how this enormous machine drives itself for part of the journey. Could you explain to them how the telephone works? Or how a smart phone works? I actually have a smart phone and I have no idea how it works. Would you start with a wagon or a chariot to describe a tractor? And the telephone? I mean, these people don’t even have soup cans and string to use as an example! Can you see how difficult it would be to explain?
There’s a segment in Dr. Wayne Dyer’s presentations where he asks everyone who has ever tasted a mango to raise their hands. He picks one person who has, and one who has not. He then asks the person who has, to describe the flavor of a mango to the person who has never tried one. Its pretty funny actually, and when they are done, the person still doesn’t know what a mango tastes like. There’s no way to know until you try one.
Its like how God’s love works. I could explain what it feels like to someone who doesn’t believe in God, and I could compare it to the love of a parent for a child, but its so much more than that. God’s love is bigger then that. When you hold your new born baby in your arms and feel that swelling of love and care and joy in your heart, that’s a big kind of love; but that’s still not as big as God’s love. We love because God first loved us.
The Bible also tells us what Jesus told His disciples when He was here on earth, and these are things from the Bible that should be taken to heart as they are written. Jesus told many parables to His disciples: stories that illustrate God’s workings to us. He talked a lot about seeds and how they grow because that was something His followers would understand. In the same way as the older stories, Jesus helps us understand by comparing God to things on earth. But Jesus truly does understand how God works, and He truly does know exactly how the universe operates.
Imagine yourself as a small child with chubby legs and chubby little cheeks. You see your daddy and run to him and he sweeps you up into his arms and you hug his neck. You know you are safe in your daddy’s arms and you are filled with love and joy and happiness. You can feel that sensation of love in your chest. That’s who God is; He is our Abba. Abba is an Aramaic word that literally means “father” as spoken by a child. And we get to call God our Abba. Jesus died on the cross so that we could claim God as our Abba, and we can be that small child running to our Abba with outstretched arms, a smile on our face, and overwhelming love in our hearts for our daddy who loves us. In Matthew 18:3 Jesus tell us that “Truly I tell you, unless you be converted and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Those are words from Jesus Himself. What does that mean? If we don’t change and become like little children, we will never enter heaven. Think about little children. How can we become like small children? Matthew Henry says “Children, when very young, do not desire authority, do not regard outward distinctions, are free from malice, are teachable, and willingly dependent on their parents.”
So we do really need to change our thoughts, and we need to change our hearts into the hearts of children. We must become humble, and not try to rely on ourselves, even though the world tells us that we should. We need to have open minds to absorb the teachings of God’s love, and not have closed minds like the world wants. We need to read our Bibles with the heart like God’s, full of love and joy, not seeking to hurt others or justify our own short comings. The next time you feel disconnected from God, remember to be that toddler with a beaming smile and heart of gold. That’s what He wants. He wants your heart.
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the words of parts of the Bible, we forget that its a story to help us understand God’s love for us. Its the history of how God’s people came to know God better. Its a story of the evolution of people’s understanding of God and how God works. We don’t know it all, and we never will. But have you ever had an “a-ha!” moment where some parable or a selection of verses all of a sudden made sense to you? That’s God’s voice in your brain helping you understand. God’s still small voice; you really need to listen for it. You need to take time in silence to hear it. With all the noise of our modern world, sometimes its hard to find a quiet place. Jesus would retreat into the wilderness to talk to God. When’s the last time you took even a few moments in peace and quiet to just be in tune to God, and to feel His love in your heart? Prayer doesn’t mean you have to talk, or ask questions, you can simply feel with your heart and your mind and offer up the feeling of gratitude to God for all the greatness He has shown you in your life.
I have read several interesting books over the past few months that suggest that God listens more to your heart and your feelings than to words. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit is who interprets for us so that our words are suitable to God, but that God knows our hearts always. So what we feel in our hearts is then our true prayer that God hears.
That was a new idea for me. I grew up where prayer is just asking God for things, and thanking Him for things, and asking Him to not give me things that I don’t want. But this makes more sense to me. God says He knows what we need and what we desire before we ever ask for it, so maybe then instead of just asking for things, we should send our thankfulness for His love and grace instead, and ask for wisdom to know His heart.
The Bible shows the perception of God changing from angry God to loving Abba over the course of those pages. Remember, God hasn’t changed, only our perception of God has changed. Jesus is the one who really helps us understand God’s heart, for us, His little children. So I ask that you go about your week with the goal of changing your heart to the heart of a child; loving, caring, honest, and humble.