About Me

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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

John 14:6-14
I was talking with a first-grader last week about God.
If you want to know about God, talk to a first-grader.
Because they know about God.
First-graders aren't so evolved and so educated that they're afraid of offending someone by what they say about God.
They don't worry about being politically correct.
They don't worry about sounding dumb.
You talk to a first-grader about God and they'll tell you about God.
So, I'm talking with this first-grader last week and he tells me he has a question, and I say, “OK, what's your question,” and he says, “I'd like to know – what does God look like?”
OK. I've been doing this minister thing for a few years now.
I know that a lot of the time when someone asks me a question like this, it's not really because they want to hear my answer.
It's because they've been thinking about this question and what they really want is for you to ask them what they think.
It's like when you go to work on Monday and someone asks, “Did you have a fun weekend?”
They don't care.
They don't want to hear about your relatives dropping in unexpectedly.
They're just dying for you to get to the part when you say, “I guess that's about it... how was your weekend?”
“Oh, you won't believe this,” they say. “I was stuck in an airport for six hours and do you know who sat beside me the whole time? Tony Campolo.”
So, this first-grader asks me what God looks like, and I can just tell by looking at him that he's been thinking about this a lot, so I say, “That's a really great question. What do you think God looks like?”
And he says, “I don't know. That's why I'm asking you.”
Forget about that “Fifth-grader” show. I'm not even smarter than a first-grader.

To his credit, the Apostle Philip was about as smart as a first-grader, too.
Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us."
Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?
What does God look like?
And why does it matter?
One of the Ten Commandments says we shouldn't make any graven images of God.
Of course, that hasn't stopped us, any more than those other commandments have stopped us from murdering, stealing, or coveting our neighbor's... donkey.
And what's more, some of those violations of the commandment against images are inspiring, and even work to build up our faith.
Take, for example, Michelangelo's portrait of God in the Sistine Chapel.
The white-bearded, Caucasian God stretches forth from the cloud and stretches out his hand to the earthly Adam and where their fingers meet, there is life.
It's a graven image, one that's inspired countless worshippers, art-lovers and tourists, an image that's made them think about that first-grade question, “What does God look like?”
Some of them may have even grown in faith because of that image.
The images may not be graven, but we all have pictures of God we keep inside our heads.
It might resemble Michelangelo's vision.
Or we might think of images of God from film.
A lot of us grew up wondering, What if God really does look like George Burns?
These days Morgan Freeman gets the recurring role.
(You know, when you get to play God in not just one, but two or more movies... That's got to look pretty good on a resume.)
Or, it could be you think God looks like a clear, star-filled night sky.
Or, God might look like a brilliant sunset.
I don't think we're really violating any commandments until we start confusing the art (or the artist) with the subject.
God is not a brilliant sunset, or a star-filled sky, or George Burns, or a bearded man reclining on a cloud.
And yet, an image can make a very positive imprint on our impressions of who God is.
We just have to remember any rendering of God is infinitely inadequate, and far less than first-grade.
Jesus said to Philip,
"Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?...
How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?.....
I'll bet there are first grade teachers who say things just like that all the time.
“Jimmy Ray Barack Bob. Have you paid attention to anything I've said?”
After all this time, Jesus has been with Philip this whole time during his ministry and Philip is still asking, “Show us the Father. (“What does God look like?”)”
Jesus gives him the answer.
Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.
I'll admit that's not the easiest answer to wrap your head around, but there it is.
If you have seen Jesus, you've seen God.
If you know what Jesus looks like, you know what God looks like.
God looks like Jesus. Jesus looks like God.
There you go.
Of course, then you get right back to the problem that none of us has ever seen Jesus, face to face, in the flesh, so how do we know what HE looked like?
Ironically, the Apostle Philip did see Jesus face to face, and he didn't get it, either.

What does Jesus look like?
If there are countless images of God out there, then there would have to be countless squared images of Jesus.
We have a few of our favorites on the walls of this church.
Every culture, every race, every Christian “tribe” has their own favorite images of Jesus.
Unfortunately – or maybe providentially – no one in 32 AD had a camera, (or a cell phone), or even a sketch artist to make a picture of what Jesus really looked like.
Again, we have to use our imaginations.
But here's something also to keep in mind...
If you take a painting or rendering of Jesus, and if you hold it up next to a picture of the artist who painted that picture of Jesus, you'll be amazed at how much Jesus looks like the artist.
Try it. Get on the Internet and Google pictures of Jesus and then Google pictures of the artists who painted them.
Jesus looks like the overweight, depressive Norwegian who painted his picture. What a coincidence.
I've never tried this, but I'll bet it would be a really revealing experiment to get a hundred people to describe Jesus for a police sketch artist.
My hunch is you'd get a hundred pictures that looked a lot like each of the hundred people – with beards and long hair, of course.
A shocking coincidence? Or are we getting back to the reason God gave us that commandment against graven images?
On the surface there's nothing wrong that Jesus (or God) would look like us, or sound like us, or think like us.
There's nothing wrong with that...
until someone in another county, or another country, comes along, convinced that Jesus looks, acts, and thinks just the same as he or she looks, acts, and thinks.
until you and that person from the other county, or country, or denomination start arguing about why your Jesus is right, and their Jesus is wrong, and everybody starts acting like a bunch of first-graders.
So, back to the original question: What does God look like?
Jesus says God looks like him, but our best pictures of Jesus are at best guesses, and at worst, very stately self-portraits.
And yet, there's something shared, some common yearning to know what God looks like, to see God, and it starts at a very young age, and it stays with us our whole lives through.
Is it some instinctively human need?
Is it hard-wired into our DNA?
The Bible tells us that human beings were created to be in relationship with God.
It's very hard to be in a relationship with someone you've never seen.
Even if it's a pen pal in China, you exchange pictures, or at the very least, you have a mental picture of the person.
I guess it's the same with God.
We have this need, this quest to have a relationship with our Creator God and so from first grade right on through, we mold the image, erase and redraw the lines, color over what we've done, put it on the refrigerator or wad it up and throw it away.
But we never stop imagining how that precious face might look.
Philip speaks for all of us when he says, “Show us the Father, and then we'll be satisfied.”
Yeah. That's all. Show us what God looks like, and then we'll be happy.
Yes. I think in a way we would be, because that life's quest would finally reach a conclusion.
We'd know the face of the one we're made for.
Jesus gives Philip the answer.
Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.
And then Jesus goes on to describe how he resembles God.
If we were describing how someone resembles someone else we might say something like, “She's got her mother's eyes.”
Or, “He's got those ears, just like his daddy, God bless him.”
But Jesus doesn't describe any physical characteristics.
That's not the picture he paints.
Instead, he says,
Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
When you think about it, that's really an odd response.
Philip asks to see God, and it reads as if Jesus is changing the subject.
Instead of talking about resemblance or even pathways to revelation, Jesus talks about his works, his miracles, his actions.
So, according to Jesus, the family resemblance isn't seen in any one person, not even Jesus himself.
What Jesus does is what makes him look like God.
His actions, his acts of miraculous love and compassion, his works, his prayer, his care – apparently, if you see these, you DO see the Father.
But Jesus doesn't stop there, no.
He takes it one incredible step further.
And in this incredible step further, Jesus flips the human idolatry that makes us want to make God look like us.
Jesus says that if you act like he does – watch what he does here, because this is big -
Jesus says that if you act like he does, not only will you see the Father, you'll begin to look like God, the Father, and Jesus the Son.
See the difference?
Instead of us making God in our image, Jesus is saying that by doing the work of God, God will make us more into God's image.
That's the opposite of idolatry.
Jesus says,
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these...

So what does God look like?
God looks like God's acts of love.
God looks like Jesus' ministries of compassion and justice.
The family resemblance isn't in the eyes or the hair or the mouth; it's in the works.
If you want to see God, and be satisfied, do the things Jesus did:
bring good news to the poor,
care for the people who are sick,
invite your friends over for dinner (and invite your enemies, too).
If you want to see God, give of yourself, more and more each passing year.
Teach your kids to start in first grade, or younger; teach them by your example.
And then maybe, when you're old and gray and you look in the mirror, you'll see someone familiar, and it won't be just you.