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  • The Rev. Arianne Rice

What is Your Picture of God?

A kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they drew pictures. Occasionally, she would walk around the room to see each child’s work.

“What are you drawing?” she asked one little boy who was working diligently at her desk. The boy replied, “I’m drawing God.”

The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.”

The little boy replied, “They will in a minute.”

What does God look like? Its an important question – because the way you describe God says everything about what you believe God to be. Imagine someone came up to you – and asked – please describe God – what would you say?

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Would you start with attributes – all knowing, all powerful, all present?

Would you use verbs – loving, judging? Would you recite the words that come from your faith tradition – God is mercy, love, forgiveness?

I’ll bet most of us would go about it in this way – and then the person would probably say – ok but I still don’t understand who is God? Because mercy, love and forgiveness only make sense when they are specific. If we want to describe God – we have to make it personal. To describe God – is to describe our experience.

That was quite a first lesson this morning, wasn’t it. Ehud – and Jabim – Nephtali – lots of Hebrew words and names that are unfamiliar to us. Deborah, is a name we’re more familiar with. She is the first woman judge and prophet in scripture – and perhaps you know what’s going on in this story – but if not….you may remember that we have been traveling with Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt for the last several weeks – more like 2 months – and now time and distance have past – and there isn’t an Abraham – and there isn’t a Moses – and there isn’t a king – there are Judges.

One of the themes of this book is people trying to figure out who did God put in charge? And this brief exchange between Deborah and Barak – are both of them unsure of what to do – and who is supposed to do it. And unfortunately – for us – our excerpt ends before a most important sentence.

You see – Deborah is a judge in terms of arbitration – mediation. People come to her and ask her to help them decide what to do. Is this how the people are to picture God? As one who determines what is fair and right? Is that how you picture God?

Or is Barak the one God wants to lead – through battle. Is God a warrior who will win victory on the field? Is that how you picture God?

So Deborah tells Barak – as a prophet would – Go, and the people you are trying to defeat will be delivered. And Barak’s response – which isn’t in the lectionary is - “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”

And that is such an important line – because that’s the true theme of that book’s experience of God – we are far better off trying to picture God when we do so hand in hand. Presence is what matters.

And this echoes what Moses said to God – and what God said to Moses. At one point God was so fed up with the people that he said – you know what, I’ll make a way for you in the desert – I’ll send an angel to get you to the promised land – but you people make me too angry, so I’m not going.

I hear people paint that picture of God these days – look at the world and what’s happening – clearly God has given up on us.

But faithful, persistent Moses – intercedes – but God, that’s not you, he says. You are a God who goes with the people. That is what makes us different. We are a people who live knowing and believing - God with us.

I shared with some of you not too long ago – the words of a woman named Kathleen Dowling Singh. She is an author and teacher – The Grace in Living, The Grace in Dying, The Grace in Aging – she has accompanied thousands of people as they make the transition from this life to the next – and she says – almost always – people fall in love with God as they near the end. There is no fear. Except, sadly, the ones who most often are scared – are people who are religious. Who have a picture of God as separate – apart, sitting on a throne of judgment.

The Church – over 2,000 years – has done a good job of making people feel that they are not worthy – that we can never be enough like Christ. But it is not that we are like Jesus or not – it is that we – each in our own unique and beautiful way – bear the image of Christ – in our context. And the ways we bear that image in our world – matters tremendously

In this morning’s parable Jesus is not describing God. He is for the very last time in Matthew’s gospel describing the kingdom of heaven – or the ways in which followers can choose to live, to see the kingdom of heaven on earth.

And my wrestling with it – leads me to hear Jesus say – your life is the gift. What are you going to do with that gift? Are you going to live in fear about getting it right? Are you going to hedge your bets – and not take risks? Or are you going to wholeheartedly try and enter into joy.

In a favorite song by Mumford and Sons – in these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die, where you invest your love, you invest your life.

We’re about to enter into a season – where stewardship is very important – and I don’t mean our pledge campaign (although yes, that’s important) – but I mean the stewardship of our lives – of who we are – and what we do with what we’ve been given.

Because this is the season of – TOO MUCH. Too much to do – too much to prove – too much family – too much socializing – too much stuff – too much comparison – too much stress.

So I offer you a practice – which could be a gift to yourself – or actually I think would make a very meaningful, certainly priceless and precious gift for someone you care deeply about….write, or draw, or do a collage – of your picture of God.

And the only way I know how to share my picture of God is to share my spiritual autobiography. The ways in which – hand in hand with someone else – or with a community of hands – I have felt and seen the presence of God – which wakes me up to the gifts that are all around. ALTAR – PICTURE.

Tell someone – tell yourself – who God is to you? If there is anything that will actually bring meaning to the season of Emmanuel – God with us – then name your experiences – how grace has overflowed in your life. Perhaps this will spark new insights – new visions – new callings for you. Perhaps it will help you see the kingdom of God that is all around us.

Or maybe someone you know needs to hear – needs to be reminded in the midst of difficult life experiences that the God we believe in – the God we picture is a God of love – of overflowing second chances – of challenges that become opportunities. Maybe someone can only move forward if you choose to go hand in hand with them.

What does a child draw when they draw God? In my experience they draw the beauty of the earth – or the people that love and care for them – because that is how we know God – and that is how we are inspired to care for – be stewards of the gifts that matter most. May we be a people who courageously invest the gifts of God so that we ourselves are a picture of that divine love for all the world to see. Amen.

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