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August 18, 2015, 8:24 AM

Have You Met This God?


Psalm 19 (selected verses, feel free to look up & read whole psalm)
1Heaven is declaring God’s glory;
    the sky is proclaiming God’s handiwork.
The Lord’s Instruction is perfect,
    reviving one’s very being.
The Lord’s laws are faithful,
    making naive people wise.
The Lord’s regulations are right,
    gladdening the heart.
The Lord’s commands are pure,
    giving light to the eyes.
12 But can anyone know
    what they’ve accidentally done wrong?
    Clear me of any unknown sin
13         and save your servant from willful sins.
        Don’t let them rule me.
Then I’ll be completely blameless;
    I’ll be innocent of great wrongdoing.
14 Let the words of my mouth
    and the meditations of my heart
    be pleasing to you,
    Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
 
John 5:19-23
Jesus responded to the Jewish leaders, “I assure you that the Son can’t do anything by himself except what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he does. God will show him greater works than these so that you will marvel. As the Father raises the dead and gives life, so too does the Son give life to whomever he wishes. The Father doesn’t judge anyone, but God has given all judgment to the Son so that everyone will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever doesn’t honor the Son doesn’t honor the Father who sent him.
 
“Have You Met This God?"
Psalm 19! C. S. Lewis proclaimed it “the greatest poem in all the Psalter.” He went on to exclaim that Psalm 19 is “the greatest lyric in the world!” “Heave is declaring God’s glory (Ps. 19:1):” meteor showers, the infinite stars across the expanse, the spinning of the planets and galaxies, the colors of the cosmos as we are able to look deeper and deeper into the universe. “The sky is proclaiming God’s handiwork (Ps. 19:1):” the glory of sunrises and sunsets, the clouds in all their colors, size and diversity, and the rainbows, that hang like jewels in the sky after a storm. The wonders of creation give us glimpses of their Creator. Oh, we know this God!
 
“The Lord’s instruction is perfect…the Lord’s commands are pure (Ps. 19:7, 8).” “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, body, and soul…and love your neighbor as you love yourself (Matt. 22:38).” Page after page of stories depicting followers of God stepping out in faith, and in doubt, getting it right, getting it wrong, but remaining in relationship with God. The prayers and songs of the faithful, not only in Psalms, but across scripture. And, of course, the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…better than much gold…sweeter than the dripping of the honeycomb. Oh yes, we know this God!
 
Psalm 19 ends with the God who forgives. God forgives both the accidental wrongdoings and the purposeful sins (Ps. 19:12-13). God is our Rock and our Redeemer (Ps. 19:14)! We know this God sung about in Psalm 19! Hallelujah! We know this God! Praise God!
 
And then the author of the Gospel of John raises their hand, “Umm, excuse me, hold up a second. There is more to God than Psalm 19. Have you met THIS God? Have you encountered this God, revealed in the trouble-making ministry of Jesus Christ?” Have we met the trouble-maker God? the agitator God? the offensive God? Have we met this God?
 
In the beginning segments of John’s Gospel, Jesus is causing trouble, causing a ruckus. People are talking. The religious leaders are angry. Jesus seems to have some trouble remembering the rules, handed down from generation to generation, interpreted by learned leaders. He forgets boundaries. In chapter 4, Jesus crosses out-of-bounds to the region of Samaria. While in Samaria, he breaks social and religious protocol and speaks to a woman in public, right in the center of town at the well! And not just any woman, a Samaritan woman of ill repute! She has had five husbands and the man she is with now is not her husband. Jesus?!
 
Jesus does then cross back over into proper territory, returning to Galilee, but he then turns around and breaks another rule, healing the son of a Gentile. And not just any Gentile…a government official!! They are the oppressors, the occupiers! I mean, come on Jesus! There are clear and steadfast rules, God’s rules! Get with the program!
 
That brings us to Chapter 5 and maybe things are turning around. Jesus and his rag-tag group of so-called disciples (people no respectable rabbi would ever call) enter Jerusalem to celebrate a Jewish festival. Now we’re talking. Home territory and observing holy days. Maybe now Jesus will tow the line. Jesus and his followers enter Jerusalem through the Sheep Gate, an entrance relatively close to the Temple precincts. Just inside the Sheep Gate is a pool called Bethsaida, which means ‘the house of shame and mercy’ or ‘the house of disgrace and grace’-Bethsaida. There is a legend about this pool, this house of shame and mercy. It is said that from time to time an angel of God comes down and ‘troubles the waters,’ stirs the waters, agitates the waters. When that happens, the waters take on a healing property and any who first enter the water will be restored, made whole. Therefore the five covered porches that surround Bethsaida Pool are crowded; with the blind and lame, the ill and infirm, the crippled. All are hovering, waiting, anticipating the stirring of those waters. In fact, one man has been waiting by those waters, crippled and lying on a mat, for 38 years!
 
It is into this crowd that Jesus moves; a purposeful Jesus, an abrupt Jesus, an almost rude Jesus.  He marches right up to that man, the one who has been laying there for 38 years and says to him, “Do you want to be made well?” Jesus doesn’t want to assume. He doesn’t know why that man has remained there for 38 years. The man quickly clears things up. “I try to make it to the waters when they move, but I have no one to help me. I never make it in time.” “Get up!” Jesus commands, “pick up your mat and walk!” And he did! That man who had laid their 38 years unable to move stood up, picked up that mat and went marching off! Hallelujah! We know this God! Praise God! God brings restoration to God’s people! Did I mention that it was the Sabbath?
 
You see, there are very, very clear rules about the Sabbath. It is a day of rest, to be strictly respected and honored, a gift of rest from God. There is to be no work on the Sabbath. The religious leaders have shared the detailed instructions—what can and cannot be done, how far one can journey, what tasks are absolutely forbidden. Carrying a mat through the streets of Jerusalem on the Sabbath is work, and the newly restored man is quickly noticed by the religious leaders. The quickly confront this man and in the course of some exchanges they learn the true source of the rule breaking…Jesus!
 
That’s it! They have had it! First the Samaritan woman, then the government officials son, and now this! Breaking the Sabbath, and causing others to do so as well! Who does this Jesus think he is?! So they confront Jesus head on. “You broke the Sabbath! You keep referring to God as your father! Do you think you are on equal footing with God?!”
 
The passage above from John, chapter 5, is Jesus’ answer. “Do you think you are on equal footing with God?” And Jesus replies, “Well, yes. What God does, I do. My Father raises the dead and gives life…me too. When you see me, you see God.”
  • You thought it was some simple carpenter messing with the Sabbath laws? It is God, breaking God’s own rules, because you put them above people!
  • You thought some rabble-rouser was claiming authority over life and death? It is God, causing trouble to redirect your focus!
  • You thought some human would-be revolutionary was strutting around offering healing and restoration? It is God, troubling the waters!
God the Agitator! God the Rule-Breaker! God the Offender! Have you met this God?
 
Creator, Instructor, Forgiver, Rock and Redeemer, Trouble-Maker! The One who offends our sensibilities and breaks the status quo! I think I met this God recently.
 
I was in San Antonion, Texas just a few days ago, with a few other members of First UMC Oneonta. We were attending the joint convocation hosted by Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) and Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA). In fact, the theme was ‘Gather at the River.’ I thought I was ready for God to trouble some waters. We were all gathered in the beautiful sanctuary of Travis Park UMC, had just finished a fabulous worship service with an absolutely awesome sermon by Rev. Sarah Thompson Tweedy; an ordained elder in the UMC who is open about being lesbian and suffering the consequences of that. We were on a high as the Rev. Vicki Flippin took to the pulpit, one of the leaders of the convocation. She began to speak of…pain and anguish, anger, heartache. It took me a few minutes to catch on.
 
Throughout the morning various attendees had been, from time to time, hanging posters from the balcony—about love and acceptance and a church for everyone. I thought it was nice but wondered why they were preaching to the choir. But now it became apparent. As was the custom of every convocation, the area bishop for the place where we gathered had been invited to greet us and say a few words. This year we were gathered in the Rio Texas Conference, a conference that had not been kind in recent years to their LGBTQ members. And there stood the bishop, Bishop Dorff, a tall and stately man, white hair, lovely suit. He stood a few steps behind Vicki, ready to share a few words.
 
And the protestors began to move. There is a small sub-group of RMN within the denomination called “Love Prevails.” Their primary purpose is to disrupt proceedings within our UMC. They have disrupted meetings of the Connectional Table and sessions of various annual conferences. They are fairly controversial in the UMC, and even for some in RMN. Many members of Love Prevails were present at the convocation. As the bishop prepared to step to the pulpit, the protestors took their positions. Most knelt silently at the altar rail, some with gags tied around their mouths, to protest the unspoken policy of the UMC, “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” One woman was standing in front of the first pews. She held two larger posters in front of her, but I couldn’t read them as she was moving about, trying to decide where to stand. Suddenly she made her decision and marched up the stairs, crossed in front of the altar and stood just beside Bishop Dorff. We could read her signs from there:
            “Friends lay down their lives for their friends.”
            “Dorff is no friend to LGBTQ people.”
 
I snapped a picture and posted it to Facebook. The reaction was almost instantaneous. Several clergy friends were offended by this woman’s actions. I have to confess I was unsure how I felt. As I defended her (and us) on Facebook there was a war brewing inside me. Part of me wanted to defend her right to protest, but the child that learned “all I needed to know in kindergarten” was shouting; “be polite, be respectful, be nice!” My seminary ethics professor said the word nice was the worst four-letter-word in the Christian vocabulary—a ‘status quo’ word. The bishop spokes words we had longed to hear bishops saying, and we all prayed he meant every word. The protest ended after some singing and praying. The convocation continued. I decided I was uncomfortable with the woman and her signs, had no problem with the silent protest at the altar rails, and moved on.
 
And then a member who attended posted the woman with the signs’ blog on my Facebook page. The Rev. Dr. Julie Todd is an active member of Love Prevails and has been present at many of their disruptions of denominational gatherings. She was the key disrupter at one session of the Connectional Table, where Bishop Dorff was present. Bishop Dorff spoke directly about Julie’s disruption of the meeting and referred to her actions as ‘a movement of the Holy Spirit.’ He gave her disruption credit for some of his own change of heart. This Trouble-Making God stepped all over my sensibilities and fractured my status quo.
 
Did I catch a glimpse of the Trouble-Making and Offending God in the sanctuary at Travis Park UMC?
Do we see this God in the faces of Love Prevails?
Is this God standing in the protests in Ferguson on the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death?
Is this God singing in the voice of the UMC pastor outside the police barracks demanding to know the circumstances of Sandy Bland’s death?
And when we realize we have indeed come face-to-face with the Rule-Breaking, Water Troubling God revealed to us in Jesus, what will we do?
 
What will our response be, when we must confess we have met this God?!

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