Oct 31, 2010

Seeing the Invisible God

Invisible God

Sermon preached by the Rev. Robert A. Arbogast
Olentangy Christian Reformed Church
Columbus, Ohio
October 24, 2010

* I include this sermon with permission from the good Reverend Bob Arbogast.

"But you, man of God, ought to avoid [false teaching and the love of money]. Instead pursue
righteousness and piety, faith and love, patience and gentleness. Put up a good struggle for the faith; and take hold of the eternal life you were called to and declared your allegiance to before many witnesses. Before God, who gives life to everything, and Christ Jesus, who testified “under Pontius Pilate” about his allegiance, I order you to keep your commission pure and beyond criticism, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which will be brought about at the right time by the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the only immortal One, living in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or is able tosee, to whom be honor and dominion for ever. Amen."

 I Timothy 6:11-16

“Seeing is believing,” we say. But we also say that God is invisible. That’s one of the attributes of God
listed in Article 1 of our Belgic Confession. And we didn’t just make it up. More than once, Scripture says
that God is invisible. More than once, Scripture says that no one can see God. But those are not the same thing necessarily. To say that God is invisible is to say that, looking at God, there’s nothing to see. That’s apparently what Scripture means. Something about the nature of God or something about the nature of our sight — or both — means that God is invisible to us, that with God there is nothing for us to see.
To say that no one can see God, though, is to say something different. When Scripture says, “No one can
see God,” it usually means that no one can get a look at God and live through the experience. God is a blaze
of pure light, brighter than a thousand suns. Look at God, and your eyes melt. Look at God, and all of you

But if God is invisible and unseeable, and if seeing is believing, then what hope is there for faith?
Actually there’s plenty of hope for faith, because truth be told God is not invisible, God is not unseeable. This is not to deny the biblical testimony. God lives “in unapproachable light,” and no one is able to see God (1 Timothy 6:16). The sight of God would instantly overload our visual system. It’s a window we have no choice but to keep minimized.

Leaving aside the question of the visibility or invisibility of God, there is the question of our ability to see
God, to discern or to perceive God, at all. Among other things, the story of Balaam and his donkey is a story
about vision. What the donkey could plainly see, Balaam himself could not see. Only when the LORD
enabled him could Balaam see the angel of the LORD, which is the LORD making himself available and known.

Somehow it is beyond our ordinary capabilities to see God.
But there is other biblical testimony. Jacob spends a night wrestling with the angel of the LORD and is
shocked when he figures that out. “I’ve seen God face to face,” he says, “yet my life is preserved!” (Genesis
32:30). Moses and Aaron and seventy-two others “saw the God of Israel, and they ate and drank” in his
presence (Exodus 24:11).

Then, of course, there is the ultimate visible, seeable expression of God: Jesus Christ. Jesus is the
“image” — the visible representation — “of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). “No one has ever seen
God,” the Gospel says, echoing the rest of Scripture, but Jesus, the Word, “who is at the Father’s side, has
made him known” (John 1:18). And when Philip wants to get a look at God — “Show us the Father,” he
says to Jesus — the response is decisive, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9).

Granting everything the other biblical testimony says — that God is invisible, that no one can see God
— nevertheless, God has become visible and seeable (and even more) through Jesus Christ. 1 John begins
this way: “We declare to you what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands” (1:1). Jesus is “Immanuel, God with us” (Matthew 1:23), God with us in a very visible way, so visible as to be seized and abused and mocked and crucified. No invisible, unseeable God dies on a cross!

So there is plenty of hope for faith. Except that, besides not seeing God, we don’t see Jesus either. Matthew’s Gospel says, “Immanuel, God with us.” John’s Gospel says, “The Word became flesh” (1:14). That is “God with us” such that we see his face, we hear his breathing, we smell his sweat, we feel the grip of his hands. But Jesus is not with us in the flesh, not now. He has left us. He has ascended. No, he did not leave us orphaned; he sent the Spirit to us as promised (John 14:16-18). But the Spirit is like the wind. We can’t see the wind. We see its effects, but the wind itself is invisible to us.

“Faith is being sure of what we hope for, certain of what we don’t see” (Hebrews 11:1). And we do “live
by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). But we are creatures of the earth who live by our senses. For us,
seeing is believing. What then? Without seeing, how can we have faith? Without seeing, how can we be sure?
How can we be certain?

Two things stand out for me about this. First, we don’t have to see. We don’t have to see.
I amaze myself sometimes. It’s so easy for me to picture God as far away; to imagine God in ways that are
cold, distant, abstract; to think of God in terms of categories and ideas. Yet any time I want to, any time I
choose to, I can quiet myself, move away from distractions — turn off the TV, close the book, excuse myself
from the conversation — and invite God to be close. “Draw near to God,” James writes, “and he will draw
near to you” (4:8). I can spend minutes, hours, a whole day even, in quiet communion with God. I don’t
necessarily have to say or do anything, but only be still and be attentive, only invite and expect God’s

What amazes me about myself is that I don’t do it. I’ll be sure to watch my favorite TV shows. I’ll be sure
to eat all my meals on time. I’ll be sure to talk about God or the Bible or the church. But to spend time with
God? the God who promises to come near? the God whose presence creates and forms my faith? the God
whose presence is real life? I let that opportunity, that privilege, slip by again and again.

My faith is not weak or shallow because God is distant, because God is absent, because God is invisible. I
am the invisible one, who doesn’t show my face to God. Here’s the other thing. Maybe we don’t have to see, but Christ is visible. Christ is visible. What’s the visible part of any person? The body! In this case, the body of Christ. Do you want to see Jesus? Then, when the bread is lifted up here and broken, look at it! “This is my body,” Jesus said. Not this represents my body; this is my body. See it, smell it, touch it, taste it. “It’s real,real as I am,” says Jesus. “It’s visible, visible among you as I am among you.” Do you want to see Jesus? Then, when the cup is lifted up here and shared, look at it! “This is my blood,” Jesus said. Not this represents my blood; this is my blood. See it, smell it, taste it. “It’s real, real as I am,” says Jesus. “It’s visible, visible among you as I am among you.” Take the bread and the wine in faith, and through the Holy Spirit, you receive the body and blood of Christ. Can Jesus be any more visible than that?

Actually, yes he can. Do you know the Michigan state motto? Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice.
“If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you.” Do you want to see Jesus? Look around you! In this
room, look to your left, to your right, look in front of you, behind you. Scripture says we are the body of
Christ. We make Christ visible. For some reason, I think of this most often at Wednesday prayers — probably because we’re small in number — but Jesus promised to be where two or three gather in his name. So I sit at Wednesday prayers and smile, picturing Jesus there among us, next to us, in front of us. But that’s not quite right. Jesus is there.But he’s there in the person sitting to my right or to my left; he’s there in person in front of me or behind me. Seeing them, I see Jesus with me, with us.

Now I don’t for a moment imagine that I’m seeing Jesus this way in all his perfection and glory. No
doubt seeing Jesus here, in each other, we see through a glass darkly. Nevertheless, somehow, by God’s grace and according to the Word of Christ, this is the body of Christ, this* is God, somehow, made visible.
That, of course, puts a certain burden upon us. If we are a visible representation of Christ, then it must
be Christ that we represent. So Paul says to Timothy, “Avoid false teaching and the love of money. Instead
pursue righteousness and piety, faith and love, patience and gentleness” (v. 11). He’s urging Timothy to
follow Jesus closely, and to be like Jesus. And he reminds Timothy of his allegiance, an allegiance to eternal
life, an allegiance he declared when he was baptized (cf. v. 12), the same allegiance that Christ himself bore
witness to by suffering and dying “under Pontius Pilate” (cf. v. 13), an allegiance to eternal life, an allegiance,
in other words, to the great work of God to redeem and renew his broken world, a work of God that would
take Jesus to his cross, a work of God that requires sacrifice from every follower of Jesus.

It’s an article of faith among us that God is invisible. But we have ways of seeing God. Jesus Christ has made God known. And we see Jesus: in the holy Sacrament and in this gathering, this family. That is an awesome reality. And a question that flows from it, a question to take with us, is this: How will we make Christ visible? How will we make Christ visible to one another and to our neighbors?

Oct 30, 2010


"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." Matthew 25:41

. . . "No one chooses in the abstract to go to hell or even to be the kind of person who belongs there. But their orientation toward self leads them to become the kind of person for whom away-from-God is the only place for which they are suited. It is a place they would, in the end, choose for themselves, rather than come to humble themselves before God and accept who he is. Whether or not God's will is infinitely flexible, the human will is not. There are limits beyond which it cannot bend back, cannot turn or repent. One should seriously inquire if to live in a world permeated with God and the knowledge of God is something they themselves truly desire. If not, they can be assured that God will excuse them from his presence. They will find their place in the 'outer darkness' of which Jesus spoke. But the fundamental fact about them will not be that they are there, but that they have become people so locked into their own self-worship and denial of God that they cannot want God.

The ultimately lost person is  the person who cannot want God. Who cannot want God to be God. Multitudes of such people pass by every day, and pass into eternity. The reason they do not find God is that they do not want him or, at least, do not want him to be God. Wanting God to be God is very different from wanting God to help me."

Dallas Willard in Renovation of the Heart pp.57-58.

Oct 25, 2010

God or Idolatry

As quoted by Philip Yancey in A Skeptic's Guide to Faith formerly titled Rumors of Another World:

"Dostoyevsky had predicted this in his novel The Possessed: 'The one essential conditon of human existence is that man should always be able to bow down before something infinitely great. If men are deprived of the infinitely great they will not go on living and die of despair. The Infinite and Eternal are as essential for man as the little planet on which he dwells.' Simone Weil adds, 'One has only the choice between God and idolatry. There is no other possibility. For the faculty of worship is in us, and it is either directed somewhere into this world, or into another.'"

Oct 24, 2010

Three Important S's in Spiritual Formation

I am tired and exasperated today, and for no good reason. I was up until 2 a.m. So, I was tired and of course Iliana woke up earlier than I would’ve if I were childless. But I wouldn't trade her for anything. And she is sick. So it was hard for me to be awake. We watched a few cartoons and played.

I have been slow in realizing how important sleep is for my spiritual formation. If I don’t sleep, I am grouchy and tired…not the wife, or mother, or worker, or friend, or follower of Jesus I should be. The best thing I can do for myself, my family, and those around me is to sleep. Get enough sleep. That means I have to train myself to go to bed early. I need a lot of help. God help me! I need solitude, silence, and sleep.

Last week on retreat I had lots of solitude and silence, this week very little. May the Lord give me grace to be disciplined that I might receive more grace! Solitude, silence, and sleep are very important if we are to grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ...if we are to live well...to live like Jesus would live if he were we.

Oct 20, 2010

What We Should Be Like As Disciples of Jesus

I spent over a week away from technology and immersed in life with many faithful disciples of Jesus at the Renovare Spiritual Formation Institute's Denver Cohort retreat. I highly recommend applying if you would like to learn better how to be a disciple of Jesus and make disciples as Jesus commands us to do. Words cannot describe my experience. Yet, I'll throw a few out: refreshing, invigorating, full of grace and truth, walking around in wide-eyed wonder with mouth agape, thankful for God and his Kingdom and his people, overwhelmed with goodness and beauty, full of Jesus, immersed in Trinitarian love and reality. I so appreciated all the teachers (Glandion Carney, Jan Johnson, Keith Matthews, Dallas Willard, Gary Moon) and the hospitality of Pam Stewart and Regina Moon. And I appreciate all the "teachers" in the form of brothers and sisters from throughout the United States and two other continents. There are people, all over the Kingdom of God, that live like Jesus. And I am so thankful that I spent a solid week with some of them in community and will do so again.

Here I will include the link and some notes from one of Dallas Willard's talks.

Based on the Sermon On The Mount we realize that trust in Jesus will make us into the kind of persons who:

1. Live lives free of contempt and anger (Matthew 5:21-26).

2. Live lives free from the domination of sexual lust and disgust .

3. Live lives free of the desire to dominate and control verbally (Matthew 5:33-37).

4. Live lives free from grudges and 'fairness' and paying back evil.

5. Live lives where we are able to love our enemies (for most of us, difficult people) and those who 
    curse us  (Matthew 5:43-48).

6. Live lives where we do not perform for human credit (Matthew 6:1-18).

7. Live lives where we do not trust in physical substances (ex. money - Matthew 6:19-34).

8. Live lives where we do not manage others by condemnation or what Dallas Willard calls  
    condemnation engineering  (Matthew 7:1-2).

Through the grace of God, lives and love in the Christian community, and with practice of the spiritual disciplines, we can over time become such people. I have many more notes from the institute retreat, but these are the first I thought I'd share. Blessings and I hope to hear from some of you soon!

Oct 8, 2010

The Beloved ~ Nouwen

"Jesus has made it clear to me that the same voice that he heard at the River Jordan and on Mount Tabor can also be heard by me. He has made it clear to me that just as he has his home with the Father, so do I. Praying to his Father for his disicples,  he says: 'They do not belong to the world, anymore than I belong to the world. Consecrate them [set them aside] in the truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world, and for their sake I consecrate myself so that they too may be consecrated in truth.' These words reveal my true dwelling place, my true abode, my true home. Faith is the radical trust that home has always been there and always will be there. The somewhat stiff hands of the father rest on the prodigals shoulders with the everlasting divine blessing: 'You are my Beloved, on  you my favor rests.'

Yet over and over agian I have left  home. I have fled the hands of blessing and run off into faraway places searching for love! This is the great tragedy of my life and of the lives of so many I meet on my journey. Somehow I have become deaf to the voice that calls me the Beloved, have left the only place where I can hear that voice, and have gone off desperately hoping that I would find somewhere else what I could no longer find at home."

p. 39 The Return of the Prodigal Son

Oct 7, 2010

Illness of the Soul - By Lazarus of Hyacinth

I post this with permission from Lazarus of Hyacinth at the Oasis Blog (http://lazarus-oasis.blogspot.com/).

He is very insightful and I appreciate the manna God provides through him.

The three main characteristics of the illness that has entered the human soul:

1. Ignorance. Cut off from the Uncreated Light. Existence in darkness and delusion. Inability to rise to contemplation and communion. Existential alienation, no personal relationship with God. Things of God seem foolishness, even a torment. Movement of Grace resisted.

2. Forgetfulness. No remembrance of God, no remembrance of contemplation, prayer, or communion. The soul is not directed towards the Divine and the spiritual life, but only towards the things of this world. For these, God exists as intellectual "idea" only, there is no existential experience of God and there may even be outright denial.

3. No desire to remain in a constant state of prayer. The "normal" state of man, as intended by God, is to be in a state of unceasing prayer, a state of contemplation and communion. True theology (theosis) comes from unceasing prayer, from the practice of the spiritual life and virtues, which, finally, results in existential encounter, and not from philosophical and metaphysical ideas.

When we speak to others about the spiritual life, it is necessary that some degree of Grace precede us in order to prepare the ground. This is why it is said to not give what is holy to the dogs, or to cast pearls before swine. There are some who will simply not receive the Gospel.

Unless God has given us the ability (as He often does with the Saints and Elders) to see into hearts, we cannot know for certain how prepared that ground is. In a personal situation with someone, we are wise to proceed, then, with a certain compassion and delicateness, and not just hit someone right over the head with a bat, expecting a real "come to Jesus" moment will happen immediately. Arm twisting is not the Christian way, and we cannot know but that someone must first go through certain things on their path to Grace. It may be that the seed we plant today will only sprout and grow in time, perhaps watered by another. The proper approach is to pray ahead of time that your message will be well received, and then to keep on praying! Then, doing all that we should have done, and in a proper manner, we leave the ultimate outcome in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, those who express a genuine desire to listen, who may even eagerly seek our help, are likely already benefiting from a certain amount of Grace. Again, prayer is our best chance for success, for we can only strive to be humble vehicles, and are certainly not ourselves the source of Grace. Everything must be done with compassion and love.

Posted by Lazarus of the Hyacinth at 10/05/2010 01:16:00 PM

Oct 5, 2010

Jesus Still Controversial Even on the Heels of Death

A Meditation on Mark 14:1-31.

The passage opens with Jesus at the home of Simon the Leper. Who is Simon the Leper? Was he a leper Jesus had healed that couldn’t shed the name leper because that is how people knew him? Or was he full of leprosy, but maybe rich enough to get a societal pass because of his money? We don’t know. But apparently Mark’s audience knew of Simon the Leper. Simon the Leper had some sort of reputation, enough of a reputation to be specifically identified. So, we find Jesus reclining in his home. That is, Jesus is hanging out with a leper right before his death. And of course, his disciples were too…even if before following Jesus they never would’ve of dreamed of it. Now, they don’t think twice about hanging out with a leper, at least it’s not recorded that they do.

Most of us have either heard of or read this account before. And we don’t think twice about it either. But I want us to. Scripture always beckons us to think once, twice, a thousand times, because it always has something to say to us. So let’s pause and think of what it might have meant for Jesus to hang out at the home of Simon the Leper.

I tried to put myself in the position of the religious people present at Simon’s home. And I couldn’t. It seems like I've grown used to Jesus hanging out with tax collectors and sinners. I’ve read it and heard it a bunch of times and so that seems quite characteristic of Jesus. Nothing surprising or disturbing there. And today, at least in the United States, there is no stigma associated with leprosy. Frankly, we don’t see the disease or its effects around in these parts, although when I was in India I did. Still, really, there is no stigma associated with it in our minds.

To understand how disturbing Jesus’ actions were to the people of his time, I started thinking about what I might find jolting or disturbing. And I’ll tell you. I’d be very shocked and quite a bit dismayed if I found out Jesus was hanging out at Hugh Heffner’s mansion. You know, Hugh Heffner, of playboy fame. That wouldn’t sit well with me. I’d probably call Jesus on it. I’d be like, “Jesus, what are you doing? The man is disgusting.” Maybe you would find something different disturbing. Jesus hanging out with greedy unethical CEOs. Or maybe Jesus hanging with either ultra-conservative people  you deem legalistic Pharisees or those you believe to be too liberal to be Christian. If we think about it those terms, in terms that would be deeply offensive to us, we can start to understand why the reactions of many of the religious people in Jesus’ day were those of shock and dismay and even disgust.

What are some other things that even Jesus’ disciples found deeply offensive at Simon the Leper’s home? Well, a woman, who the apostle John tells us is Mary of Bethany, anoints Jesus’ head with oil. Scripture says her sacrifice was more than a year’s worth of wages. So back to our day. In 2005, the overall median personal income for those in the U.S. over the age 18 was $25,149. If we just use that as an example, to get us to see the expense of her anointing actions, we’d see it is like she broke a $25,000 bottle of perfume and dumped it over Jesus’ head. No wonder some of those present were like, “What on earth is she doing? She could’ve sold that and given the money to the poor.” Judas said it.

Couldn’t some of us see ourselves saying that? I sure could. Wouldn’t a year’s worth of any one of our incomes go far in helping the poor surrounding us? You bet. One of the commentaries I read remarked that this woman’s “spiritual insight and generosity are contrasted with the spiritual blindness of the high priests and scribes” and even Judas’. And I think it is contrasted with our own too.

If we look further at this incident that occurred at Simon the Leper’s house, we’ll find something perhaps more disturbing to some of us and to those present at the time: it was a woman who had such spiritual insight. A woman of all things! She knew Jesus was the Messiah. And she acknowledged it by anointing him—an anointing Jesus tells us was also symbolic of his anointing before burial. My friends, every king of Judah was anointed by a prophet before he was crowned king. But here Jesus was anointed by a woman, not a prophet.

Shocking. Shocking. So shocking was her waste of money and her forward actions that those present tore into her. They didn’t come to her defense for anointing the Messiah. They tore into her. Scripture says, “They rebuked her harshly" because it wasn’t her place and it was a terrible waste of money.

But what does Jesus say? “Leave her alone . . . Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."

Jesus wasn’t bothered by her sacrifice to him. He called it beautiful, so beautiful that he wanted it etched in the memory of the Church, and thus the gospel writers recorded it for our benefit this day. It seems that Jesus’ position toward women then and even now is disturbing to those in religious circles.

Well after that, we leave Simon the Leper’s house and we find ourselves privy to a secret meeting between Judas and the chief priests even if it’s just for a historical second. Then we are quickly whisked away to the upper room. Apparently, Judas had had enough of Jesus. Jesus it turns out, didn’t conduct himself in a manner fit for a king. Jesus didn’t live up to Judas’ ideals or his perceptions and expectations of the Messiah or his perception of reality. So he gives up on Jesus, betraying him on the cusp of the single most tragically triumphant moment in all of time. I don’t know about you, but the more I think about it, Judas’ betrayal is disturbing to me. It’s disturbing that someone so close to Jesus, someone who had witnessed his miracles and character, would commit the most treacherous act in history.

Again Mark quickly whisks away to the Mount of Olives. In the opening scene, in this snap shot, Jesus tells his disciples that they will all fall away. Peter couldn’t believe it. Peter wouldn’t believe it. Maybe he thought, “Judas would betray you, but not me. Not me Jesus.” And he said as much. But Jesus told him that he too would betray him in a matter of hours.

Let us not think that we get off the hook either. We too have and will betray Jesus when he doesn’t fit our expectations. Some of us betray him through our behavior and others of us betray him by holding onto ideas he wants us to discard and not picking up others ones he wants us to have. Indeed, many of us would rather hold on to our idea of Jesus than Jesus himself. Put another way, sometimes we are in love with our ideas of Jesus, but not Jesus himself.

To be honest …we are the religious people of the day. Who did Jesus jostle? Who did he disturb? The religious people of the day. Who else did he disturb, jar, shock, dismay…(you pick the word)? His true disciples. If Jesus doesn’t shock us, if Jesus doesn’t dismay us…if he doesn’t have us with our backs up against the wall every now and then …enough that we have to say uncle and change… if we are not disturbed or dismayed, yea even disgusted…I wonder if we’ve been really hanging around Jesus.

* Commentaries used in this meditation were the New Jerome Bible Commentary and IVP's New Bible Commentary.