Scripture: 1 Peter 3: 13-17
Date: May 3, 2015
You might know the old story of the little boy in school who was very busy drawing a picture during art class. And so the teacher asked him, what he was drawing and he said, I’m drawing a picture of God. But, the teacher said, How can you draw a picture of God? No one knows what God looks like. Without hesitation the little boy said, they will when I get through. I guess I’ve always wondered what the little boy’s picture might have looked like. Because a child’s picture of God is most often based upon the pictures that we adults paint. And so the real question that might arise from this story is not what the boy’s picture of God looks like, but what What does our picture of God look like? Max Lucado contends that for many believers as well as nonbelievers today there are at least three prominent images of God that we often draw. Maybe you can find your picture of God in one of these, or a combination of these.
And so one of the pictures that we paint, he says, is God as a “genie in the bottle” . This picture of God as a God of miracles who is there when we need him to grant our wishes and desires. That God controls every aspect of our life, no matter how trivial. For instance, if we’re in a hurry and need to find a parking place, we take the top off the bottle: “Please God grant my wish.” You’ve probably heard about the man who always stopped at the bakery that he passed by on his way to work. Well he had come under conviction and had resolved to cut out those trips to the bakery. But one morning he was driving to work and he had the urge for a jelly donut. And so he prayed, Lord, if it be your desire that I should have a jelly donut, make a parking place open up in front of the bakery. And he said he only had to drive around the block four times before someone pulled out in front of the bakery.
I once heard a radio preacher painting this kind of picture of God. He said that he wanted a new car and so he began to pray to God for a new car. But not just any car. Before he started to pray, he went and found the exact car he wanted and so he began to ask God to give him that make and model and even color. Because, of course, you wouldn’t want to trust God for those details. Now I’m not so sure that this picture is a really accurate picture of God because I’ve been praying for a little sports car for many years with no result.
Now, of course, many times our needs are not so trivial. There are times when we need a true miracle in our lives and so we summon God. Maybe it’s healing we “wish” for, or divine intervention with our children, or peace in our city and world. And when those things don’t come as we think they should, we sometimes pop God back in the Genie’s bottle and choose to go on without Him. Or if we don’t have any wishes to fill, then we start thinking, What do I need God for? I can navigate through this life on my own. I can achieve my own wishes. We don’t feel as though we need him at this particular time, so we can just pop him back in the bottle and put the top back on until we need Him because we’re in control. Maybe save our wishes for another time.
Then the second image of God that we sometimes paint, Lucado says, is the kind, grandfatherly God. A God who has a lap big enough for all of us to crawl up on. He is a warm fuzzy God, and his grandchildren can do no wrong. The favorite scripture to go along with this picture is when Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me” and we picture children sitting on Jesus’ lap as he teaches them about life and faith. But Lucado says, like all grandparents, a grandfather God isn’t as strong as he used to be and likes to take naps and so when trouble comes to us, He might not be able to help us much.
And then the third picture we often paint, he says, is of the work-a-holic God. This is a God who is always buried by His work in the world, a God who is so busy with all that he has to take care of: billions of people, the complexities of creation. War. Division. Disease. Famine, that He hardly has time for me. And so He meets us in church on Sunday morning, but the rest of the week He leaves us alone, to deal with the complexities of this life on our own unless our need becomes so pressing that He is forced to deal with us one way or another. And, of course, if God is too busy to pay attention to us, it stands to reason that we are probably too busy to pay much attention to Him. A couple of weeks ago I talked about a favorite singer of mine by the name of Harry Chapin. There is one Harry Chapin song that some of you might be familiar with. It’s called “Cat’s In A Cradle” and it tells the story of a father who was too busy to pay much attention to his son when he was growing up. He doesn’t have time for him. And then when he gets old and retires, he longs to spend time with him, but the son is now too busy with his life to spend much time with his dad. And Chapin, reflecting on this writes: It occurred to me. My son was just like me. He’d grown up just like me. Those who picture God in this way are content to just meet Him for a couple of hours on occasional Sundays, just a long as he doesn’t interfere with our everyday lives. And frequently we get so busy with our own work, or our children, or – or -or – the list goes on of all those things that we put before God, that we don’t really have time for Him. Don’t talk to me about being more regular in my attendance at church. Or giving much to the church or serving others. I just don’t have the time. But our work a holic God understands. Those who paint a picture of a work- a -holic God, tend to grow up just like Him.
And I suspect there are other images of God that we portray. Some picture a God of wrath and judgment. Others paint a picture of an absentee God, who created the world and brought us into it, but now leaves us alone to fend for ourselves.
What kind of picture of God is the way you live your faith and your life painting for the world? You know I think that was the underlying question that Peter was wrestling with as he encountered the post resurrection Jesus. And in some ways, he wrestled with it for the rest of his life. Most scholars believe that 1 Peter was written in the early 60’s A.D., not too much prior to Peter’s own death by crucifixion, some 30 years after the resurrection of Jesus, and yet this passage that we read a few moments ago, indicates that Peter is still wrestling with his picture of the resurrected Jesus. Was the Jesus who appeared to Him by the shores of the lake, a physical manifestation or a spiritual one? Was He man or spirit or angel? Peter is not quite sure. And some years later John would express this same uncertainty when he wrote in his first letter to the churches: How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are! The reason the world does not recognize us is that it did not recognize Him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, but what we will be has not yet been seen. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
When Jesus was raised, there was a great deal of confusion about how to picture Him. Some who saw Him recognized Him immediately. Others, like Mary, recognized Him when He spoke. The Disciples on the road to Emmaus recognized Him by His actions, the breaking of the bread. Thomas recognized Him through His woundedness. To some He appeared to be physical, eating breakfast for instance, but to others He appeared to be a spirit, appearing and disappearing in an instant. Moving through closed doors and walls. And theologians down through the century have spent a great deal of time and effort, debating and deliberating, over which of these pictures of Jesus is the correct one. When the answer that both Peter and John point us to is that all may be correct, but none are completely accurate. They don’t give us the whole picture. Because no matter how we picture Jesus, all of us, even the most pious among us, portray God to be less then who He is. He is so awesome, so immense, so all pervasive, that we only grasp glimpses of who He is and it is those glimpses, that incomplete portrait that we share with the world. Our pictures of God always fall short of His complete image. The scriptures clearly say that we are children of God, but what Peter and John, and even Jesus Himself, constantly warned of was being children of a lesser God. Because we are willing to settle for a lesser God when the testimony of scripture, and the evidence of creation, and the life of Jesus, point to a God who is so much greater than anything we can conceive. We sometimes think that if we can capture Him on paper, or confine Him to only certain aspects of our life, that we can come close to understanding all that He is and wants to be in our lives. And so sometimes that’s how we picture the resurrected Jesus. Matthew and Luke and John seem to paint a portrait of the Resurrected Lord that’s more business as usual. There isn’t really that much difference between the way Jesus interacts with them after the empty tomb as He did before the Cross. Only Mark paints a different picture. He says that first Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, but he adds the fact that Jesus had exercised seven demons from Mary when she first came to him. By adding that, Mark is placing Jesus in a spiritual realm. But then Mark says Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them. That different form places Jesus in a more physical realm. And Mark says that resurrection faith will change the Disciples portrait to the world.
That we will drive out demons, and handle snakes, and drink poison and not be harmed, and speak in tongues. Mark paints a very different picture of Discipleship. So different in fact that eventually the ending of his gospel became discredited, scholars say is was tacked on many years after the gospel was complete by some unknown editor. Why? Because he had a very different picture of Jesus that he thought the church needed to see. Someone thought Mark’s picture was too limited picture. A picture of a lesser God.
And so Peter, knowing a time of great persecution was coming, was concerned about the kind of picture Christians would paint of God in the midst of that, He was concerned that children of a lesser God would fall away in the face of pain and even death. And so he sets out to tell us what God should look like in us.
First, he says that our picture of God should reflect the hope that is within us.
As Christians we must paint a picture of a God of hope in a world that too often sinks into hopeless despair. But sometimes, even those of us in the church can seem so hopeless and lifeless. In one of his letters, Paul lists the persecution and trials he had endured, tells us that no matter what comes our way, we should count it all as joy. I’ve got a friend who says that what Christians have in their hearts and in their heads is meaningless unless it shows in their face. It is so easy to paint a cynical picture of life today. Recently I received over the internet something called “A Cynics Guide To Life” and here is some of what it said:
Into every life some rain must fall — usually when your car windows are down.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt and a leaky tire.
I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows. And a foundation leaks and a ball game gets rained out.
Always take time to stop and smell the roses.. . and sooner or later, you’ll inhale a bee.
Now don’t we all know some who go through life like that. What kind of a picture do we paint of God if we show the world such a cynical picture of life, always quick to see the darker side of human nature. We know that evil is present and active in our world, and as Christians we are certainly not immune to that. There will be times of pain and discouragement. But we also know that the forces of death and decay and destruction and immorality will not prevail. That the victory has already been won through the resurrection. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, our God is a God of hope and Peter tells us that because of that, no matter what may come to us personally or to our world, we should not be fearful, but rather our lives should reflect the hope of resurrection and new life.
Last year around the anniversary of 9/11 I read an interview with a young woman who had lost her husband in the World Trade Center that day. She said the hardest part was in telling her young daughter that her daddy would not be coming home again. And she said to the little girl that daddy was in God’s hands now. And the little girl, aware of how many people died on that horrible day, asked her mother, “Does God have enough hands for all those people?”
Does our picture of God have enough hands to hold all of those who suffer in our world today? Does He have enough hands to hold us when we suffer and hurt? Well I think the Apostle Paul answers that for us when he writes to the Romans: I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We show God to our world when we reflect the hope that is within us.
Then secondly Peter says that we are to live a life that pictures a God of grace and kindness. About 20 years ago people started observing every Fall what was called “Make A Difference Day” Now there is some confusion about where it originated but it has caught on and has really grown every year. And now there are given out annual Make A Difference Day Awards. I think it was actually a televised event last year. Probably this year there will be a red carpet for the awards presentation. But out of that has come many stories about people who participated in Make a difference day in the last few years. They were great stories.
There was one about a woman who organized a raffle to help pay the medical bills for a little girl with cancer,
And another about a woman who collected 1400 dollars and 40 boxes of food for the homeless families in her community in memory of her teenage sons who had died in a car accident,
And one about a woman who organized twenty five volunteers and converted an old house into a teen center.
I read that in the state of Ohio alone 37, 753 volunteers helped 413,116 people through 396 different projects on that one day.
But here’s the point.
For the Christian, every day ought to be make a difference day. I loved that our Weds.Comm closing celebration last week was billed as Make A Difference Night as we turned a spot light on the local missions that we are involved in. Our faith cannot be reserved for one day a year, or even one day a week. Our faith is to reflect the way we live our life every day, to picture the grace and kindness and love of God in the midst of the everyday moments of life.
In his book, Heartwarmings, author John King tells of the day several years ago when he learned what grace and kindness were all about. His one day old daughter faced surgery. She had a serious genetic defect that the doctors were going to try to correct. The surgery was at the Children’s hospital and his wife was still in a different hospital after giving birth the day before and so he was to face this alone. But, he wrote, two friends from church came to sit with him. One of them was a man named Terry who worked at a very busy and important job. But he stayed with John through the entire surgery until the doctor came out after several hours and reported that the surgery had gone well. Now John wrote that Terry had no great words of wisdom to offer. Just his presence. And for John it was enough that Terry took time out of his busy schedule to be with him. And when he got up to leave he pressed a role of quarters into John’s hand and said: “I know how hard it can be to find change to make phone calls (it was before cell phones) and work the vending machine to even get a lousy cup of coffee. I thought this might help. “ he said. It was not an earth-shaking act, but the fact that he had anticipated his friend’s need was more than enough to see John through. It made a profound difference in his life.
Live a life of gentleness and reverence and kindness, Peter tells us.
No matter what the world offers, we are to offer Christ. God is reflected by positive, gentle, kind hearts, lived out in the midst of everyday living.
And finally, Peter tells us that our inward self should be reflected in our external self and vice versa. In the midst of persecution, Peter’s is a call to personal piety. There are many in our world today who have fallen into the trap of believing that a social piety, a social gospel, is all that we need. That is, if we help the poor, and fight injustice, and do things designed to make a difference, if we do good things, then it really doesn’t matter how we live out our personal lives. In our world today, we are more concerned with what we look like on the outside, then what we reflect from the inside. So often our actions as individuals and as a society reflect the kind of lesser god that we have chosen to follow. Peter tells us that the kind of life that shows a true picture of God is one that is lived with a clear conscience and a desire to put the needs of others before ourselves. Where the choices we make that look good, are reflections of who is inside of us, and not just those on the outside. And it is often the little things that present the most vivid picture of our faith. In one of the churches that I served, we would give out car license plates to everyone that joined the church that said something like “Follow me to” and then gave the name and address and phone number of the church. Well, one day a man who had just joined the church came into my office and said he needed to talk with me for a minute and he had the license plate in his hand and said he could not put this on his car so he was giving it back to the church. And I said, “Ok, but can I ask why?” And he said, “Well when I drive, I’m afraid I don’t act like a Christian all the time and I don’t want that to reflect badly on the church.” I suggested that maybe the best thing would be to put the license plate on the car and then try to live it up rather than live it down. Well a few months later he came back to tell me that “it had worked. That every time he starts to act in a an unChristian way when behind the wheel, he thinks about that license plate on the front of his car. And so rather than act unChristian towards other drivers who he has disagreements with, he prays for them.” Peter tells us that a Christian witness that is based on public appearance only will crumble when the shifting tides of public sentiment turns in another direction. The God who we picture is never changing and always present with us. He does not change with the shifting winds of society, but rather stands unmoveable in our midst. And so must we if we are to paint an accurate picture of God for our children and our neighbors and our friends, indeed for our world. When we get up from this communion rail this morning and leave this sanctuary and step back into the world, we need to ask ourselves, “What kind of picture am I painting of God by the way I am living my life? For my children. My friends. My coworkers. Am I painting a picture of a Christ who is alive and living in and through me? Or am I painting a picture of God who is still on the cross? Defeated and lifeless? What picture of God will people see in you today and tomorrow and every day?