Monday, October 28, 2013

Sermon: October 27, 2013 - Seeing the Face of God

Jonah 1-2
Rev. Andy Ferguson
            The children’s SS class had finished the lesson, but the hour was not quite finished. So the teacher gave each child a piece of paper and the tub of crayons. She asked each child to draw of picture of something they learned in the lesson that day. Minutes later, the teacher was moving around the room checking to see how they were doing. One girl in particular was drawing and coloring like mad.
            The teacher asked, “What are you drawing?”
            “I’m drawing a picture of God,” she replied.
            The teacher said kindly, “No one knows what God looks like.”
            The child didn’t miss a beat. “They will when I get finished.”

            Imagine seeing the face of God. This is not *catching a glimpse* of God’s face the way you might catch a glimpse of your cat slipping around the end of the couch. You might see the cat that way but you are not interacting with it; there is no significance to catching such a glimpse. Imagine seeing the face of God, truly seeing God and being seen by God, in an encounter that confirms the greatest convictions we have about God. Or, it might be an encounter that sets us in a completely new direction. After all, no one can simply return to their Cheerios after seeing the face of God. Life can, from that experience, never be the same.
            This morning, I want us to explore what it is to see the face of God. What would be the impact?

I. Jonah was that colorful prophet who was sent by God to Nineveh to proclaim a message of judgment. On the surface that should have been the best assignment any prophet of Israel could want. To speak the Word of God was to see that Word take effect; in fact, it could not fall ineffective. On the surface, just proclaiming God’s judgment on Nineveh should have unleashed all manner of destruction -- Armageddon, Shock and Awe, and D-Day rolled into one.
            But, Jonah was a good theologian and realized immediately that the proclamation of God’s Word, even a word of punishment, is also God’s invitation to repentance. And Jonah wanted no part of Nineveh’s repentance and restoration. So, at the call of God, thinking he could refuse, he escaped. He wanted nothing to do with a softhearted God whose punishments could be swept aside by sad puppy dog eyes and a weepy apology.
            As we all know, there are enemies that we also would prefer not to see on their knees in repentance before our well-loved altar. That such enemies should be invited by God to stand with us and with the washed would be a disgrace to all that is right and good and pure. The problem with God, as Jonah demonstrated, is that God is capable of such softhearted nonsense.
            Jonah took off for Tarshish where God could not reach (as he thought). But, to his dismay he found out that the affirmation of faith which claims “God is Maker of Heaven and Earth” was not just pretty poetry. It was a warning about the reach of God who made all that is and all that will be. God sent a storm to beat against the boat; the sailors wisely realized that some divinity was behind the whole affair and drew lots to see which of them it could be. The lot fell on Jonah and he confessed his guilt. The only way to appease God’s anger was to throw him overboard – an act the sailors opposed. But, when God would not relent, they submitted and tossed Jonah to his watery grave. Even as Jonah fell to the bottom of the sea, God was not finished and sent a great fish to swallow him whole.
            It was there in the belly of the fish that Jonah reflected on his options. They were few; God held all the cards. So, Jonah the Prophet, confirmed that his only path forward was to look toward God. There was quite simply no other way open. From the belly of the great fish, in the bottom of sea, he asked:
**How shall I look again
    upon your holy temple?’
**

The answer, of course, is that no one lost in the belly of the fish looks at much of anything. Apart from God, Jonah has no life, no rebellion, nothing. From there he cannot see the face of God. He is lost. Confessing all that, Jonah admits God’s victory and his defeat. He will do as God has sent. With that, the great fish vomits him onto the shore. The first sign he sees points him directly to Ninevah.

II. What does it mean to look on the face of God? What it teaching us to expect?
[DEF:] “Face” in the Bible often has the usual meaning: the part of the body where eyes, nose and mouth are located. It is that part of the body by which we are identified.
            In Biblical usage, the face is also the part of the body through which our attitudes are most clearly expressed. Thus,
+       “to avert or hide the face” from a person is to express displeasure;
+       “to set the face against” is to express hostility;
+       “to make the face shine upon” is an indication of loving acceptance; and
+       “to set the face toward” expresses determination.

            Often in the Bible, the word “face” is used of God to identify the Presence of God. For example, when God confronted Cain about killing his brother, Abel, “Cain went away from the presence of the  Lord” – literally, “Cain went away from the face of the Lord” (2).

            A. The face is important.
One of the grandmothers was talking this week about her granddaughter’s habit not paying attention when the grandmother was giving directions. She would focus on whatever she was doing as if she did not hear. The grandmother could call from the other room – no answer. She could walk right up to the granddaughter – no answer. She has learned to get right in front of the granddaughter, taking her little face in her hands. Finally face to face, the granddaughter pays very good attention to her grandmother.

            B. Recall the story of Isaiah, while he was in the Temple, he saw the Lord high and lifted up, and the hem of his robe filled the Temple. The cherubim flew about singing, “Holy, holy holy is the Lord of Hosts.” And the foundation of the Temple shook at the voices calling. Isaiah was filled with terror and said, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! (Isa 6.1-5 paraphrased).
            Imagine such a moment; imagine such a sight; imagine such holy terror – both wonderful to the point of your undoing.
            C. The other day the radio station I had on is sponsoring a concert by a music star. In addition, they were holding  contest. The winner would get backstage passes to meet the star in person. Who is your absolute favorite star: music, film or stage? How would you like to meet them? It would be the ultimate, crazy, fan experience.
            Would it different if you won backstage passes to meet God face to face? Would it be a crazy fan experience? Or would it be something solemn? Would God’s eyes burn holes into you at the knowing?

III. We can see God in the everyday, just by opening our eyes.
+       I see God’s hand when I walk on a dark night under the stars tossed across the sky.
+       I see God’s mark when the choir ends a beautiful anthem on a powerful note.
+       I often encounter God when I deal with feelings and emotions I would rather not face.
·       Anger about the homeless.
·       Sadness for victims of school shootings.
·       Aching hearts for those treated as outcasts.
·       Emotions that beg us for actions that we may prefer not to take.
Maybe it would be easier to buy a ticket to see God, so that when we are finished looing we can just turn away to other interests. On the other hand, if we realized that God exits in our everyday lives and we could see God every day, would we be happy with what God sees of us?


IV. Even though we cannot see God, St Frances of Assisi pointed out that every living creature bears the image of the One who created it. As one of the great mystics put it: “The Christ in me greets the Christ in you.”
+       Every person hurrying to work on Monday morning.
+       The long-legged water bird hunting in the shallows along the river.
+       Even the crows cackling at a joke only crows can appreciate.
+       The person beside you in the pew.
+       The crowds of people blocking the aisle as you make your way through Wal-Mart.
Each of these bears the image of the One who created it. Each one must be treated as a creation and image bearer God declared that creation is good. We are made in God’s image. Thus, we are good and, although we cannot see God, we can mirror God.

[CONCL:]
If I could see the face of God,
            And know with certainty that it was God's eyes that looked into mine.
If I could stand in silenced awe,
            And allow myself to be immersed in divinity.
If I could wait in patient confidence,
            Already hearing familiar footsteps on the walk.
If I could hear the voice of God,
            and recognize that not quite familiar Voice as that of a friend.
Then my questions would be overwhelmed in the Answer which fills the universe.
            My doubts would be settled in that loving embrace.
            And my hopes – not just for myself but for the world around –
            Would lift from earth on wings of joy.
If I could see the face of God.

Notes:
2. Dentan, R. C. “Face,” The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, vol 2, p. 221.

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