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How Big Is Your God?
April 11, 1999

JOHN 20:19-29

What was Thomas' problem? Yes, he doubted, but there is nothing wrong or shameful about honest doubt. In fact, because Thomas doubted, he received a personal visit from the risen Christ. Thomas was singled out to touch Jesus, to put his finger in the holes which the nails had made in Jesus' hand, to place his hand in the hole the spear had made in Jesus' side. Doubt is the other side of faith. We can grow in our faith by being honest with the doubts that trouble us, and trusting God even with our doubts.

No, I don't think Thomas' problem was his honest doubt; I think Thomas' problem was that his God was too small. His God was not big enough to embrace resurrection. Thomas could not conceive how Jesus could have died, been raised, and appear to the other disciples. It was beyond his capacity for reason and belief that God could do such a thing. Thomas' God was too small.

I read the other day, "God is a God of retribution (pay-back)." A God of judgment, yes; but also a God of grace. A God of retribution is too small. On the radio Thursday, I listened to a preacher respond to questions people were calling in. He was asked about spiritual gifts. Included in the preacher's response was, "The gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues is no longer given. There has been no inspiration since the Bible." His God is too small. He also said, "The gift of healing is not physical healing. Physical healing has nothing to do with the gospel. The gift of healing is referring to spiritual healing from sin." What Bible is the guy reading? What a small God he has!!

How about you? How big is your God? A daddy and his boy were praying. The boy began his prayer with, "Dear Howard." Dad interrupted and said, "Wait a minute. How come you call God 'Howard'?" The little boy looked up and said, "That's what they call Him in church. They say, 'Our Father, who art in heaven, Howard by Thy name.'" Is your God bigger than Howard?

Another child prayed, "Dear God, please take care of my daddy and my mommy and my sister and my brother and my doggy and me. Oh, please take care of yourself, God. If anything happens to you, we're gonna be in a big mess." Now, that child has a big God, one on whom everything depends.

Johnny misbehaved and was sent to his room. After a while he emerged and informed his mother that he had thought it over and then had prayed. "Fine," said the pleased mother. "When you ask God to help you not misbehave, God will help you." "Oh, I didn't ask God to help me not misbehave; I asked God to help you put up with me." Johnny has a big God! Perhaps it was Johnny's mother who, when her son told the rabbi his mother says prayers for him each night, and the rabbi asked what does she say, the little boy replied, "Thank God he's in bed!"

How big is your God? Is your God big enough to embrace mystery, like the mystery of the resurrection? Is your God big enough to embrace what you can neither understand or comprehend? An underlying issue here is the issue of control. Many of us want to be in control. We want life to be tidy, reasonable, fair, and manageable; but I submit to you, a God you can control is too small. Such a God is only an idol, and not God! In her book, Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris quotes Karl Rahner,

"If God's incomprehensibility does not grip us in a word... if it does not call us out of the little house of our homely, close-hugged truths...we have misunderstood the words of Christianity."

Is your God big enough to be inscrutable and incomprehensible, a God who pulls and pushes you out of your neatly packaged beliefs and stereotypes?

Is your God big enough to embrace all people, or are some excluded? Isn't it tragic how some Gods are narrow, nationalistic, and racist? January 11, 1999 San Francisco Chronicle:

"Blacks and whites live alongside each other in Maryland's smallest county--but in many ways, they live apart. On Mackall Road, for example, two United Methodist churches sit a few hundred yards apart. One is white, one is black. Same denomination, different colors. The groundskeepers know exactly where the churches divide because the mowing patterns are clearly different."

How big is your God? Is your God big enough to embrace people of all colors, sexual orientations, nationalities, or does your God maintain fences? Are there some kinds of people who if they moved next door to you, would cause you to move quickly someplace else?

How big is your God? Is your God big enough to embrace other religions? Did you read the Reflection at the beginning of this morning's bulletin? I saw it on a bumper sticker: "God is bigger than any religion." Hey, wait a minute, some of you may be saying, doesn't Christianity have an exclusive claim on God? Didn't Jesus say, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me?" (John 14:6) Yes, but dare we be so arrogant as to presume that we can put Jesus in a neat little Christian box and hold him there? Do we actually think that our puny interpretation, perspective, and insight into Jesus is all there is? Can any one religion put the God who made all there is, the transcendent Creator God, into a tiny box, stamp the label of their religion on it, and proclaim, "Aha, we've got him!"

According to Paul in his letter to the Roman Christians, the Creator God has been revealed through the creation. Romans 1:19-20, "For what can be known about God is plain to them (meaning all people), because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made." In fact, there are many similarities in religions around the world; especially there are similar moral codes. For example, versions of the Golden Rule-- "Do to others as you would have them do to you"--is found throughout the world and in many religions.

Perhaps you are asking, "Why, then, do we send missionaries?" We send missionaries because we are called to witness. We are called to witness to our experience of Christ. We are called to testify about the salvation we have found through Christ. There are multitudes who have no religion. There are multitudes who do not have a personal relationship with the God we know through Christ. We are not called to judge other religions, or proclaim our superiority, but to say, "Let me tell you how I found God through Jesus Christ." We are also called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, regardless of their religion or nationality.

How big is your God? What if Israel's God were big enough to embrace Arabs and Palestinians? What if the Arab Muslim God were big enough to embrace Jews? What if the Northern Ireland Protestant God were big enough to embrace Catholics? What if the Irish Catholic God were big enough to embrace Protestants?

The present conflict over Kosovo is not easy to understand. The roots go back to the 14th century; but the tragedy could be lessened if the Serbian God were big enough to embrace Albanians, and the Albanian Muslim God big enough to embrace Orthodox Christian Serbs.

In his book, With Integrity of Heart, p. 127, Clifford Elliott wrote,

"Only a God who transcends the labeling of people as worthless or as things... can give us a vision of ourselves and others as children of God... Only a God who gives us a picture of what things should be can allow us to face squarely how things are. Only such a God can point us in the direction we should go."

How big is your God? Big enough to embrace mystery, big enough to transcend labels and embrace all people? Is your God big enough to have a personal relationship with you?

© 1999 Douglas I. Norris