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
melts.

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
presence.

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?

1 comment:

Michael Gormley said...

Once we become members of Christ’s family, he does not let us go hungry, but feeds us with his own body and blood through the Eucharist.

In the Old Testament, as they prepared for their journey in the wilderness, God commanded his people to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood on their doorposts, so the Angel of Death would pass by their homes. Then they ate the lamb to seal their covenant with God.

This lamb prefigured Jesus. He is the real "Lamb of God," who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

Through Jesus we enter into a New Covenant with God (Luke 22:20), who protects us from eternal death. God’s Old Testament people ate the Passover lamb.

Now we must eat the Lamb that is the Eucharist. Jesus said, "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life within you" (John 6:53).

At the Last Supper he took bread and wine and said, "Take and eat. This is my body . . . This is my blood which will be shed for you" (Mark 14:22–24).

In this way Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist, the sacrificial meal Catholics consume at each Mass.

The Catholic Church teaches that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross occurred "once for all"; it cannot be repeated (Hebrews 9:28).

Christ does not "die again" during Mass, but the very same sacrifice that occurred on Calvary is made present on the altar.

That’s why the Mass is not "another" sacrifice, but a participation in the same, once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

Paul reminds us that the bread and the wine really become, by a miracle of God’s grace, the actual body and blood of Jesus: "Anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself" (1 Corinthians 11:27–29).

After the consecration of the bread and wine, no bread or wine remains on the altar. Only Jesus himself, under the appearance of bread and wine, remains.