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The Very Rev. Dr. Ian Markham The Very Rev. Dr. Ian Markham

The Very Rev. Dr. Ian Markham is the dean of Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, VA.

Member of:

The Episcopal Church

Representative of:

Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, VA


How Do We Know What God Is Like?

Matthew 16:13-20

Proper 16 - Year A

August 24, 2008

Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"

Let me start with a confession. My eleven-year old son and I love dining in McDonald's. We like French fries. And it was at one particular lunch that we were sitting together discussing the life, universe, and everything. And like you do, we found ourselves musing on the speed of light.

"Do you realize Luke," I pointed out, "that you are not seeing me as I am now, but as I was before the light reached your eyes? Now light travels at 186,000 miles a second, which is pretty quick, but it does mean in the time it takes for you to discover what I am like, I could have morphed into an ice cream cone or even an elephant?"

My son paused and in a very dramatic voice declared, "Oh no, I am stuck in the past!"

Now the problem of light traveling is not much of an issue when you're in a McDonald's restaurant. But it is more of an issue in space. Space is jolly large. Here we are on planet earth - some 93 million miles away from our local star, where the light takes over 8 seconds to travel to earth, and our sun is part of the Milky Way Galaxy, which is some 100,000 light years across. And this Galaxy is one of literally millions of millions of galaxies.

Now given the size of this universe, it poses an obvious and very old question: How do we know what God is like? Here we are little people on a small planet. So how can we ever work out what God is like?

The central Christian claim about the universe is that it is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that tells us what God is like. In this Gospel, Jesus is challenging his disciples: "Who do people say that I am?" And we have a variety of answers, but the one Jesus commends is the one from Peter: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."

OK, let us unpack this answer a little. The word Christ literally means Messiah - Jesus is the anticipated one of Israel. The phrase Son of the Living God is the link with the second person of the Trinity. Although the writers of the Gospels didn't get all of this, thanks to our evolving tradition, we now understand what this means.

My son Luke is a reflection of his father (hence our shared love of fast food). So Jesus is a reflection of the Creator. The role of the Son in Trinitarian theology is to show us what God is like. Or to use the language of John, chapter 1 - Jesus is the Logos; Jesus is the Word; the Eternal Word made flesh. In the same way that words reveal thoughts, so Jesus is the revealer of the thoughts of God.

In Christian theology the primary word of God is a life. It is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is the word that we are exhorted to imitate - in words and deeds (as the author at the start of Luke/Acts puts it). If you ask me what God is like: I look at the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. So how do I know that God identifies with the poor and excluded? Because in the ministry of Jesus I see a life that connected with the poor and excluded. How do I know that God wants to turn moments of despair into moments of hope? Because in Jesus, I see a Good Friday followed by Resurrection Sunday. How do I know that God calls us to live whole, transformed lives? Because in Jesus I see the touching of countless lives and making them whole and transformed. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the Word. It is the life, death, and resurrection that shows us God. It is the revealing of God to the world. It is the Son disclosing the Father.

So as we meditate on his life, we are being challenged. We are being invited. We are being shown precisely what the creator expects and requires of us. The God of the cosmos is calling us to discover love. To discover the capacity to live in conversation with others. To organize our life priorities so that we live with a focus on what matters.

The joy of this moment is that we are not simply being challenged, but resourced. For God in Christ seeks to take our lives and enable them to vehicles of the love of God. We can be different. We can be what God always intended. All we need to do is reach out and receive this gift.

Amen.

Let us pray.

Loving God, it is a privilege to learn of you through the eternal Word made flesh. Help us learn to be what Jesus calls us to be, vehicles of love in a world that's hurting. Help us live with this challenge, realize the vision that God calls us to, equip us to be more than we are so that in all things we may glorify you. We ask these things in and through your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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