Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ, Amen.
This morning we begin a new sermon series. Admittedly the title works much better visually. To be honest, we haven’t quite figured out how to say it outloud. God Is….n’t. That aside, I’m incredibly excited about the next seven weeks of worship. We’ll be spending four weeks talking about who God is and then three weeks reflecting on who God isn’t. Then by the end of the seven weeks, we’ll have everything all figured out.
Easy enough? Joking!
However, it is our intent to help cultivate a richer understanding of who God is and how God is at work in the world during this series. And to do that we’re employing two pretty ancient schools of theology, cataphatic and apophatic theology. In the cataphatic or positive school, we come to better understand God by describing who God is, what God does. The cataphatic tradition believe that at least in part our words can begin to describe the divine, and in so doing draw us closer to God.
By contrast, apophatic theology recognizes that God is completely other, transcendent, above and beyond our own reality and so it seeks to make sense of the otherness of God by saying what God is not. For example, we might say, God is not a creature. Or there never was a time when God wasn’t.
The apophatic tradition is comfortable the mysterious and enigmatic. The cataphatic seeks to make things a little more accessible. Concrete. Both traditions are available in scripture. You have God’s self declaration to Moses, I will be who I will be. Doesn’t get much enigmatic. And then you have Jesus’ I am statements in John’s gospel. I am the bread of life. I am the resurrection. I am door. While these metaphors need unpacking, they are positive statement, revelatory statements about who God is.
And both traditions are important. Both help us better understand who God is, and who God isn’t.
So that’s what we’re up to for the next seven weeks. Today, we’re beginning with some cataphatic theology. God is dialed in.
Genesis 2 is a pretty familiar story to most people, even if they didn’t grow up in the church.
The man is alone. God puts him to sleep and digs out a rib. God then uses some dust and some breath and presto theres a woman. And the moral of the story is, people should get married. Right? I mean for the most part that’s how people have engaged with this story for, I don’t know, millennia.
But other people who study this passage think there’s a lot more going on than we might first imagine.
In verse 18, we have God, who made heaven and earth, look at the human being that God has created and say, something’s not quite right.
God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”
I love this verse. It might seem like an insignificant detail, but it’s huge clue into the way our God works. God is paying attention, God is dialed into the needs of the first human, the one that God fashioned out of the dust and breathed life into him with God’s own breath. God looks at what’s going on and says, this isn’t good. It’s not good but I can fix it.
So God gets busy. God forms the animals and the birds. God takes great care in the creation of these other living things, these are labors of love for God and he brings them to the human to name. God says here, is this it?
And what’s crazy is that the animals aren’t it. They aren’t the helper, the partner the human being is looking for. They aren’t what God set out to create for the human. It’s not quite right yet.
Which raises an interesting question. Did God get it wrong?
Or does God leave room for the human being to tell God that God got it right?
Listen most of the time in my life, I have no idea what I want. I have no idea what’s good for me. Part of being human it seems is this constant struggle of pining, struggling, and working for all the wrong stuff.
And yet, every once in a while, there’s a feeling or an experience that awakens within me a sense of what is good, and beautiful and true. Then there’s a moment where I feel an overwhelming sense of that this, what it is, this is what I need more of in my life. It has happened when I have fully disengaged from work or technology and have been fully present with my kids. It’s happened when I’ve been out on the lake, fishing with my father-in-law. I’ve had in hospital rooms with members of this community. I had it when I realized Beth was going to be my wife.
Those moments of connection, moments of joy, moments of beauty make life in this world worth living.
And God notices. God takes delight in our joy, in our connections, in our lives.
As we are reminded in this story of creation from the book of Genesis, God didn’t just set this world in motion and forget it. Throughout history God has continued to be at work, creating new things, new life, new connections between you and me the very creatures God has breathed life into.
New circumstances necessitate new action on God’s behalf. God pays attention to the needs and the desires of the things and the people that he loves, the things he has created. And God responds. God is dialed into the world God has made.
So what does that mean for us? Two things today.
- There’s a promise in all of this. God isn’t done. God is still working. God is still responding. God is still bringing before you and me other aspects of his creation so that we might find joy, so that we might be made whole.
- We aren’t to be passive in this enterprise. We have a voice. God has invited us into the creative process. In the creation story the human being is invited to name all of the animals and the birds, to help give the created world an identity and relationship. But the right fit wasn’t found. So the human held out. The first human waited for God to continue working, to find the one, the partner in whom life would find fulfillment.
In world that seeks instant gratification, can we take comfort in God’s promise to be paying attention to our needs, to be working to find solutions to bring us healing and wholeness.
And then when it happens, can we bear witness, can we point to what God done for us. Can we use our voice in thanks and praise to God and say, this, this right here is what I’ve needed, what I was looking for and didn’t even know it?
Because our God is dialed in. Our God is at work this day and always. May we have eyes to see, and lips to celebrate the good things that God has done. Amen.