Contemplation by Naomi Wenger
at Florence Church of the Brethren Mennonite – July 28, 2013
Deuteronomy 32:1-4, 10 – 47; Matthew 23:37
In 1989, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a small book entitled Who Needs God. This was a continuation of his thought in When Bad Things Happen to Good People, which he wrote after the agonizing suffering and death of his son. Rabbi Kushner intentionally omitted the question mark in the title of his book about God. Likewise, I have intentionally omitted that punctuation from the title of this meditation; who is god. Why? Because it allows the accustomed question of a person, who may be in a great deal of pain, to turn into a statement of hope for all people. Who - each who of us no matter who we are and what we have been through - who needs God.
Like that statement of Rabbi Kushner’s, who is God begs that we consider God as a person. “Who” is a word that wonders and as it wonders tells you all it knows. We have been exploring this summer, a creation about which God is actively caring. But who is this God? Many of us, when we think about God, we use pictures or images of God that describe an attribute of God. Take our text today, the overwhelming image of God is a Rock.
|photo by Jerry Warstler|
I have not talked much to rocks. Yes, back in the 1980s at the same time as Rabbi Kushner was writing his book about needing God, there was a pet rock craze and people actually bought rocks, named them, “fed” them and talked to them – even took them for walks – but I am not sure how many of those pet rocks are still friendly with their owners. We now laugh up our sleeves at the silliness of owning a pet rock.
But, here at the end of his life, Moses thought quite highly of this image of God. This Rock is a powerhouse who is perfect and just and without deceit. This rock is greater than the rocks of the other nations’ gods, who are not able to protect them from the vengeance of God. Where does Moses get this idea? From early in his life, Moses had encounters that were unusual; maybe even divine. The book of Exodus begins with God noticing that the children of Israel are suffering in slavery. After 430 years of living in Egypt, God hears the cries of his people and begins to act. The conniving midwives, his enterprising mother and an unsuspecting princess save Moses from certain death. Not yet certain of his calling, Moses is curious enough about his kinsmen to come and observe them at work in the slave labor camps Pharaoh has established in Goshen. Seeing an Egyptian mistreating one of the slaves, Moses strikes him, kills him and hides his body in the sand. Sure enough, Pharaoh hears of it and Moses flees for his life to Midian, where he hires himself out to be a shepherd in the wilderness for one of the priests of the place. Now Midian is in the northwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula, beyond the gulf of Aqaba. Later, after Moses has married the daughter of his boss, Jethro, he sees a bush burning but not consumed on a rocky hillside in the wilderness. Out of this bush, God speaks to Moses, telling him to go and set his people free by talking to Pharaoh about their plight.
Later, when the children of Israel are in the wilderness, Moses strikes a Rock and water comes gushing out. And because of this action, striking rather than talking to the Rock, Moses’ experience of the land of promise is reduced to sight only.
Also, Moses ascends a great rocky heap, a mountain, to meet with God and receive the law of God for the people. Here God gives to him two rocks inscribed with laws for the people. After he breaks these first two rocks over the hard heads of the people, Moses prepares two more rocks to receive the law of God. And God says an amazing thing.
34:5The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, “The Lord.” 6The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped.
It is instructive to notice that God is slow to anger and abounding in love to the thousandth generation while his judgment on those guilty of sin only lasts for three or four generations. Yes, God is abounding in love an faithfulness.
|photo by Deborah Haak|
It is here, on the same rock, Moses asks to see God and God says that no one can see God and live. So, God hides Moses in a rock and passes by whereupon Moses looks and sees God’s backside. Moses and God have a “rocky” relationship. In fact, it is interesting to note that if you or I had been a lizard in the pack of any of the travelers in the company Moses is leading, our unstinting view would be of rocks. It is therefore not surprising that at the end of Moses’ life, he calls God a Rock. This is an image that every Israelite would have interpreted as ubiquitous, difficult, unmovable, useful, and holy.
Each of them would also have understood the image of God as mother eagle, feeding her young in the crags. That’s exactly what they felt like, out there in the wilderness. Manna and quail on schedule; just when they opened their beaks, God dropped in the food. This is the image Jesus repeats when he wants to gather Jerusalem like a mother hen her chicks.
|google image -- The Prayer Book to Guide Christian Education site|
models for these word pictures. So who is god? Who is god!
God responds: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” There is something about this that is definitional to God. God is the one who rescues. God is the one who hears the cry for justice. God is the one who acts to correct injustice. He is patient with his anger and long-sighted in his mercy. God does remove the Egyptian’s slave laborers, on which they had become dependent, to whom they were cruel, of whom they had ceased to think, “these are fellow humans.” God leads the children of Israel out of Egypt by a way they did not know to a place they did not know among a people they did not know and it was justice. It was also love.
Much later in human history, God says this to the descendants of the people of the Exodus through the prophet Ezekiel (ch. 36), “You profaned the land I gave to you. Then, when I sent you into exile, you profaned my name among the foreign people. You don’t know how to ask forgiveness or even that you need to ask forgiveness. You are so hopelessly lost in your willfulness that you don’t even know who you are. So here is what I will do for you. First, I will forgive you before you ask for forgiveness. Then, I will bring you back to the land that is your inheritance. I will give you a new heart, removing your old one. Then, I will breathe my Spirit into you, like I did in the Garden of Eden to the first man and woman. I will make you completely new. I will even renew the land that has become desolate from the battles and the taking of spoil. Then, you will understand who you are. But more importantly, you will understand who I am.” Who is God; god is a god with a desire for relationship with humans.
Again much later in human history, God determined to come to earth and be born and grow up and live among the people. And God did that. Jesus was born: the God-Man. And when he grew up, he told people this: my prayer for you is that you will be one with me as I am one with God. Be with us. Be part of us. We want you. And he gave us word pictures of relationship like the vine and the branches, shepherd and sheep, lost and found. He painted word pictures of belonging and connection. God wanted us to know that we are desired and desirable.
And through our own histories, we have desired god. So many of our disappointments of god are because god does not answer our expectations. And yet we our very expectations lead us to god. We desire. We long for god.
Barry Lopez, a profound observer of the natural world, in an essay entitled, “The Language of Animals” writes, “My sense is that the divine knowledge we yearn for is social; it is not in the province of a genius any more than it is in the province of a particular culture. It lies within our definition of community.
"Our blessing, it seems to me, is not what we know,
but that we know each other.”
And I would add to Lopez’s observation that a great portion of that blessing is that we can and do know God.
Who is God. God desires to be in relationship with you and with me. And how do I respond? I respond by weeping with God as two men and two machines eliminate 4 acres of trees and brush in 16 hours.I respond when I hope that the deer, turtles, squirrels find new homes, realizing that God made
|photo by Kay Bontrager Singer (07-30-13)|
them to do just that.
I respond by receiving the gallons of wild blackberries that grow without my tending with gratitude. I respond by recognizing that the government under which I live is human construction and I am responsible for it whether I like it or not. I respond by clearing unwanted plants, commonly known as weeds, from garden, field and woodland.
I respond when I talk to friends about how our wants for what is new, latest and greatest in personal technology creates injustice in places like the Congo and when I curb my own desire for this technology.
In short, I respond every time I recognize and act on the reality of my relational existence in the universe.
How do you respond?
Jesus showed us that God wants to be with us. God is a personality who cares. This does not make the World perfect. But it makes it relational. We need each other. We need all the creatures, growing things and the rocks of the earth. We need God and God needs us. And that is the blessing. If we can receive this blessing, the blessing of relationship, we can, with God, bless the world with loving kindness to the thousandth generation of those who come after us.