BIBLE READINGS

Revelation 1:4-8
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
 
Daniel 7:9-14
As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow;  the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated, and the books were opened.
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

SERMON

The Book of Daniel contains one of the most graphic depictions of Creator God found in the Hebrew Bible, what Christians refer to as the Old Testament. I word this carefully because of the depiction of God in our New Testament, whom we call Jesus the Christ.
Daniel is one of the four Major Prophets in the Old Testament. There is some disagreement as to when it was written - either in the 6th or 2nd century BC - and it contains many of the best known stories and phrases of the Old Testament.








I’m certain you have heard the story of Daniel in the lion’s den, where King Darius reluctantly sent him to be destroyed,  but Daniel came out the next day perfectly unscathed because of his faith in God. We know this is not a photo of that event because colored film had not yet been invented, but it gives you an idea of the story.
It was in Daniel that we read about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, “the Hebrew children who were tossed into the fiery furnace” when they refused to worship the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had built.
And in Daniel Chapter 5, we first hear the phrase, “the handwriting is on the wall,” to indicate something bad is inevitable. All these modern sayings are based on the book of Daniel from centuries ago, which may explain why these chapters are some of the most read in the Old Testament.  In the Bible passage we just read, Daniel is interpreting a dream he had, putting to human form the vision of Creator God, whose  - “clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool.”

 






This is the vision of God that has stayed with us all these centuries. But is it accurate?
A Sunday School teacher was once watching one of her pupils furiously working with crayon and paper and asked the student, “What are you drawing?”
“I’m drawing God,” was the reply.
“But nobody knows what God looks like,” she answered back.
“Well,” the student said, “they will when I’m done.”

There is a popular phrase among the politically correct that says, in respect to Christian, Muslim and Jewish believers, “We all worship the same God.” Please know that this is absolutely untrue and an insult to all the faiths involved. I am not here to stir up an “Us vs. Them” unpleasantness. To the contrary. Our Christian God is a God of the Trinity - Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit.
In the Muslim faith, any depiction of God is absolutely forbidden, so as to prevent idolatry - the worship of a thing, like a statue or a painting.
While this admonition is also true of Judeo-Christian beliefs, as read in the second of the Ten Commandments, the abbreviated version of which reads “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,” it is subject to so much interpretation as to be almost meaningless to Jews and Christians. But not so to Muslims.
Which is why the depiction of the Christian God, Jesus the Christ - the Messiah - and, in our Christian faith, the one true son of Creator God, is absolutely contrary to the Muslim Faith.
Our Jewish brothers and sisters, on the other hand, are still waiting for the Messiah and while all faiths recognize Jesus of Nazareth as a historical figure, a prophet, or a rabbi, Muslims and Jews do not accept him as God.
So when we say, “We all worship the same God,” that is, as I said, simply not true. I’m not saying one is better than the other… Okay, yes, I am. If I didn’t believe that, I’d be preaching in a temple or a mosque. Just know and respect that this world is made up of different beliefs supporting different faiths, but the bottom line is always that “We are all in this together.”

 

 



The image of Creator God  has been the subject of some of the greatest artwork of our time. We see Michelangelo's painting from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel here of God giving life to Adam. There are many more great art depictions, none of which we are going to see today because, seriously - have we met? You know me.
So instead, let’s look at some more casual depictions of the Creator God.

 














 

 






 

In a dream, Homer meets Creator God, whom Homer describes as “Perfect teeth, nice smell.  A class act all the way.” And if you look closely at this depiction of God, you can see how God is different than those normally drawn in the Simpsons universe. See if you can put your finger on how God is drawn differently. It’s subtle and I’ll give you a moment. Do you see it? Everyone who has ever appeared on the Simpsons - even real people like Paul McCartney or Michelle Obama - have four fingers. This is an animator’s trick to save time, which goes back to the days of hand-drawn pictures. How many fingers do you see on Creator God?

JESUS
Jesus has been depicted in every imaginable way, from a tiny man hanging on a cross to the nearly 100 foot tall Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

 







Of course, we all know what Jesus looked like - He is the most painted figure in all of Western art.

 






And has been represented on the screen by a number of actors.

 






The first thing we notice is that Jesus is White, which must come as a shock to our Middle Eastern friends. Sometimes he has blue eyes, which is even more surprising. Secondly, he has long hair and a beard, which is contrary to the custom of Jews at that time - they were usually clean shaven with short hair. But we’ll allow Jesus’ wandering ways and lack of a good barber shop on the road to Jerusalem.
Thirdly, he always seems to be backlit, with a nice glow around him, but we’ll dismiss that to artistic interpretation.

But what did Jesus REALLY look like? The Bible gives us a few clues and one mystery. But instead of the golden boy we all envision, this is more likely what he looked like.

 





This image is based on a model beginning with an actual skull from a man who lived in the time of Jesus. What this inspires in us is that Creator God sent His son to us to be among us and to be one of us. Not some golden superman but just a regular looking guy.
The Bible does give us one clue as to his physique. All four Gospels tell this story and we will read from Matthew 21. “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.“It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer, ’but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

These are not the tables we have in the Social Hall and would require a great feat of strength to single-handily flip them over. So we know he was strong.
But here is an interpretation from another Bible story that might make you go “hmmmmm.”
Luke writes in Chapter 19 about Zacchaeus wanting to see Jesus. Pay attention: “(Jesus) entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature.
Nearly every translation uses the same phrase “...for he was small in stature.” Let me read it again. “Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature.”
Every one of us, when we read this, attribute the size of the man to Zacchaeus. But what if, in fact, it refers to Jesus. Let me read it one more and consider the possibility: “Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature.”
If this were true, we don’t love him any less and maybe a little more, as we realized how just like us he was.

Creator, Christ, and Holy Ghost.

How many of us immediately think of Caspar? The Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit is the most difficult of the Trinity for me to grasp - it’s just sorta like “it’s out there - deal with it.”

 

 


The Holy Spirit goes back to, literally, “In the beginning.” Reading from Genesis 1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
While the Holy Spirit is a foundation of our belief, this passage is the only time you will here it mentioned in the Old Testament.







Mary asks,  “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

In our world, driven by sex and Coca Cola, we can snicker at the thought of a virgin birth, but again  - this is the foundation of our belief.

 





We also witness the Holy Spirit in the baptism of Jesus. I read from Mark 1: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

So the Spirit is something you experience but cannot touch. You can hear it, but you cannot speak to it, nor can you smell it. Let me offer this thought - the Holy Spirit is around us every day -- in music. St. Augustine is credited with saying “When you sing, you pray twice,” which some people argue he never said. So I’m saying it now - “When you sing, you pray twice!” Amen?

But let me offer one more possibility.







 

Could Holy Spirit God also be considered “SCIENCE?” Is God “the atom?”

Stay with me here. The Atom is the basic unit of a chemical element.

Elements are the basic chemical building blocks of matter - of all the stuff.

Science tells us the 99.99999% of an atom is “nothing,’ Yet, it is the atom - uncountable billions - which make up everything. EVERY-THING. So is everything mostly made up of nothing? Could that “nothing” be the Holy Spirit?

SO WHAT DOES THE FACE OF GOD LOOK LIKE?  I’ll make it easy for you. What does the face of love - both knowable and unknowable - look like? (Start naming names in the congregation)

Sylvia - here is the face of God









Gail, Natalya, Jesse - I can’t name you all so please, look at each other - look at the face of God; the face of love. And know we are blessed to be in God’s presence.

And let all the saints gathered say “Amen.”

 





BENEDICTION
Do you feel like you’ve been to church today? Then let the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Go forth and find “The Face of God.”

THE FACE OF GOD

Presented November 25, 2018 at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Sacramento CA

In our New Testament, however, it is the foundation of our belief in Jesus Christ.
In this abbreviated reading of the first book of Luke, an angel comes to Mary, future Mother of Jesus. The angel tells her (as angels are wont to do), “Do not be afraid, Mary; You will conceive and give birth to a son.”

Here we see our familiar image as a Jeopardy wizard, as God is omnipotent and all knowing, even about Wisconsin. And in this image, God is taking a break from Redwood Trees and Oceans to make snakes.

Our final cultural reference comes from the first family of Springfield.

The Simpsons has been on television since 1987, thirty years, and however you feel about the show, it cannot be denied it’s place in our modern culture.

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