St. James’ Episcopal Church Jocelyn McWhirter
May 27, 2018
Who’s familiar with the expression, “Your God is too small?”
- book published in 1952; written by J. B. Phillips
- Phillips = an Anglican priest, concerned about prevailing notions of God
- the typical English churchgoer, he thought, conceived of a small sort of God
He starts the book with 16 examples of Gods that are too small, such as
- the “Resident Policeman”; essentially, the proddings of our conscience . . .
- the “Perennial Grievance”; the God who doesn’t make things go my way
- the “Parental Hangover”; just like mom or dad; indulgent, tyrranical, negligent
- the “Projected Image”; “a magnification of our own good qualities”
If Phillips had been writing today, he might have included a concept of God that’s quite popular, especially among young people: God as karma.
- if we’re a good person, then things will go well for us and we’ll go to heaven
Who, asks Phillips, who can worship such Gods? The real God, he says, is bigger than our conscience, our life’s disappointments, our image of our parents, our image of ourselves, or our sense of just deserts for being good. The real God is worthy of worship.
In today’s Old Testament Isaiah sees a big God.
- the setting for his vision is God’s temple in Jerusalem
- a temple = a house for a god → the Holy of Holies, separated by a curtain
- kind of like our sanctuary only bigger, with a space for the people, a space for the priests to offer sacrifices on an altar, and an eternal flame before an inner sanctuary to represent God’s presence
- for ancient Israelites, a model of the universe, with human activity on earth and the divine realm in the heavens, separated by the sky
In Isaiah’s vision, the curtain falls away and Isaiah sees the Lord.
- in the image of the biggest person possible – a king
- God in God’s house appears as a king in his throne room
- high and exalted, and taking up all the available space <v. 1>
- like all kings, God has attendants – other-worldly attendants
- seraphs = winged cobras
- they cover their faces to protect themselves from God’s radiance
- their job = to proclaim God’s holiness and God’s glory <v. 3>
- this God is so big and so powerful, the temple can hardly contain him
- the doors are shaking off their hinges; the interior is filled with smoke
- and Isaiah is overwhelmed by his own smallness and inadequacy
Does Isaiah’s vision of God work for us?
Is Isaiah’s God big enough for Americans living in the 21st century?
- if we were to experience it, we would surely think so
- but without the experience, we might not easily relate to some of the details
For example, when we think “big,” we don’t usually think “king.”
- we live in a democracy
- in our experience, kings are more likely to be seen on chess boards and card tables than in throne rooms
- unless you were watching the royal wedding, with all the big royal pageantry
- until you remember that the royal family is more often seen in the tabloids
Also, we don’t necessarily share Isaiah’s concept of God’s place in the universe.
- we don’t think in terms of us on earth/sky/God in the heavens
- we think more in terms of us on our planet, which is one of many planets in many solar systems in many galaxies in a vast universe
- How vast? I recently read that astronomers are observing a collision of 17 galaxies located 12.4 billion light-years away.
- that’s about 730 trillion miles
- How far have we gone? To the moon, about 240 K miles . . . vs. 730 T
If when we think “big,” we think “universe,” well, it’s a really big universe.
- so big, we can barely imagine how big
- and if God created the universe, it’s not that God is bigger than the universe
- it’s that God exists outside the universe; outside of space and time
- we can barely imagine that, either, because space and time is all we know
- This God is not too small. This God is so big that bigness, which is a concept related to space, doesn’t even apply to God.
If J. B. Phillips were here this morning, he might be telling me, “Your God is too big.”
To which I’d reply, “Let me finish.”
- because for God, “big” doesn’t mean “inaccessible.” It means just the opposite.
- For one thing, God is our creator.
- God is the source of everything that sustains our lives
- “In God we live and move and have our being.”
- and God makes himself known to us
- in the words of the prophets; in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus
- in our new life in Christ; and through the Holy Spirit who guides us, who calms our fears, who assures us that we are indeed God’s own children and heirs of eternal life
Where does this leave us?
- with a sense of our own smallness and inadequacy, yes
- but also with a sense of gratitude, trust, and reliance on God, no matter what
Because God is that big.
Mother Darlene Kuhn
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