Sunday, November 24, 2019
God, the Holy Chiropractor
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
September 8, 2019
I had an initial conversation a couple weeks ago with a potential spiritual director. A spiritual director or as this relationship is developing a spiritual guide is a person that I will meet with once a month or so and we will examine and strengthen my prayer life. This is something that our bishop expects all clergy to do and I have found it very helpful over the years. I cannot imagine not having one.
Now I know for sure that one of the first things he will ask me when we get together for the first time will be, “What is your image of God?” We really will not accomplish much in a spiritual conversation until he knows my answer to this question. Some of you may come to me with an issue and you may find me asking you the same question. How we view God, the image of God is essential to understanding our personal theologies. Personal theologies, what in the world do I mean? All of us read scripture, pray and worship through the lens of how we see God and that then develops into our own understand; in other words our own theology.
Before I go any farther, it is critical for all of us to understand that the Bible and in particular the Hebrew Scriptures are the story of our understanding and image of God as it developed from a primitive tribal God to a God for all creation. The Bible as we know it developed over 3000 years, more if you go back to just the oral tradition. Then in recent years we have new translations and every translation is an interpretation because language changes. What we see is that the image of God changes from book to book. There is no one image of God to be found in the Bible rather there are multiple images. So when you are reading a particular passage especially in the Hebrew Scriptures you need to be aware of how the people of that time viewed God. If you do not take anything else away from this morning, please remember this.
Our image of God is going to strongly influence how we process these passages. Now let me emphasize there is no one single image of God that is correct. Your image of God is your image of God. It is personal and it is neither right nor wrong. Different images all have their strengths and their weaknesses because we are all humans trying to explain God, who cannot be “explained.”
Our passage from Deuteronomy and Psalm 1 today are all about God and the law. As I was reading Deuteronomy, I found an image of God that I used to have come into my mind. It was best expressed once in a Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson. Gary is one of my absolute favorite cartoonists because he is so insightful. Now I can’t show you the cartoon because Larson will not allow his cartoons to be reproduced even as a sermon illustration, but I will describe it to you.
God at his computer. The image is of an old man with long hair sitting in front of a computer monitor with a keyboard. The image on the screen is of a guy walking along the sidewalk. There is a piano suspended from a rope over his head. God is sitting there with his finger suspended over a button that says smite. The caption is simply “God at His computer.” Now we all laugh at this because we can all identify with the image. Is that your image of God? It is the image that many, many people have of God.
If so, they may read our Deuteronomy passage as obey the rules or God will press that smite button. There is a lot of writing and theology in the Hebrew Scriptures to support that image. However, if you look at both the Deuteronomy passage and Psalm 1 you will see a God who presents options, choices for us. Each option, each choice carries consequences, but this does not necessarily mean that God is handing out either the rewards or the punishments.
I’m sure in Virginia Beach as the hurricane approaches there will be a raft of quips about a certain famous pastor in town who will take all the credit for praying the storm away if it misses them, but will be silent if it hits them. This God of reward and punishment though becomes problematic when the good person suffers. I know many who have had their faith totally shattered and left the church because God didn’t protect them. Let me offer something different to consider because it is one of the great problems of religion.
I have had the pleasure of working with a man who had wandered away from the Episcopal Church in search of a deeper relationship with God, he really didn’t understand that was what he was doing, but he was. That’s the type of discernment a spiritual director works with. He wandered off into a deep study of Buddhism. He was searching and found meditation in Buddhism without realizing that the same thing existed in Christianity.
I encountered him when he wandered back into St. Aidan’s and I happened to be preaching something that spoke to him. In the course of the last several years he has fully engaged with the church and is now leading the Men’s Spirituality Group that I started several years ago. He has studied with many of the great Buddhist teachers in the world and is a leading teacher now himself although he is completely back in the Episcopal Church. One Saturday one of the other men asked him about Karma. What he said was fascinating to me. He said, “Many people think Karma is God or the gods, depending on your faith tradition, pressing the smite button to give you the punishment or reward you have earned. That is not what Karma is. Karma involves no heavenly beings; it is the simply the consequences of our actions.” That is an oversimplification, but if you stop and think about it, this makes sense. Everything we do has consequences either positive or negative. The world is pretty quick to take care of that without God’s help.
I do believe that God uses what happens whether good or bad to offer us opportunities to encounter God and to grow. I was wrestling with some sort of metaphor and then it hit me. This past week I found a chiropractor and a massage therapist here in Katy. Now those first two sessions were not what I would call relaxing or pleasant. It had been a long time without what had been regular treatments. The chiropractor gave my right hip and lower back quite a few not so gentle nudges. As the massage therapist dug into those stiff and tense neck muscles it was painful, but today I’m feeling much better. Sometimes God works like a good massage therapist or chirporactor. Pushing at those places that need attention even if it doesn’t feel really good at the time helps return us to the path. Often, I would say to my previous therapist, I didn’t even realize that muscle hurt. She would then smile and say, that’s my job finding out where you hurt even if you don’t know it. I know that the pain in your shoulder is related to the misalignment of your hip. I have to fix the hip first. God often works the same way.
God knows what is misaligned in our lives even when we do not. God is a God of love. I do not believe that God causes disasters. I do believe that God weeps when disaster strikes. I believe that God wants us to learn from those disasters, hardships and disappointments that are part of life, but I do not for a moment think God causes those things to happen. I believe as St. Ignatius teaches is that at those times of desolation, when God seems farthest, God is actually the closest. So, when life is a challenge go ahead and ask, “Why God.” That’s normal, but at some point, it is time to follow up with, “What now God” and begin to move towards healing. Richard Rohr says that Christ came not to change God’s mind about us, but to change our minds about God. Our lives are not about following law, but following love, the love of God and of his son Jesus Christ. That is ultimately at the heart of the gospel and the message the Jesus came to teach us.