October 2020

Knowing When God Shows Up

21st Sunday After Pentecost, October 25, 2020
Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 8:31-36

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –

Sisters, brothers, and children of God, I’m about to share a faith statement that, at first, you may find theologically offensive, possibly even un-Christian. Yet it is nonetheless biblically based and inspired by what I consider one of the most heartfelt confessions of Christian faith.

My faith statement is this: that it is less important for us to see God than to know when God shows up. For “no one has ever seen God,” said the Apostle John; but “if we love one another,” he further said, “God abides in us; God’s love is perfected in us,” and “perfect love casts out fear.” (1st John 4:12,18)

This doesn’t mean we’ll never be afraid. What is means is that we’ll never allow fear to enslave us. God’s love is liberating, it restores sight to the spiritually blind and sets the captives free. Love incites our quests for knowledge and truth; to discern our role in this vast sacred network, that we may know and serve a divine truth that sets us free.

Seeing God is less important than knowing when God shows up. God is less a reality that requires theological precision or creedal correctness and certainty than an all-encompassing, incomprehensible spiritual reality that humbles us in the awareness that we are connected to and depended upon all that was and is and shall ever be. God is both the inanimate splendor of the universe and the animated consciousness that beholds its unbridled magnificence.

And in this humbling awareness of our interlocking dependency, we can surmise as the Apostle Paul in his understanding of the body of Christ: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; and if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1st Corinthians 12:26)

On this Reformation Sunday, I remember the social agenda of Martin Luther who, following the instruction of Deuteronomy that “there will be no one in need among you,” (15:4) set out to create in Wittenberg, Germany a municipal program that included socialized medicine and the means by which every citizen was afforded the basic needs for survival. And while we must acknowledge that Luther’s antisemitism was an enormous impediment that prevented a more equitable application of his social reformation, its modern-day legacy has contributed to nations – such as Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark – that the World Economic Forum (October 16, 2018) considers among the safest and most humane societies on the planet because of the strong support for their most vulnerable citizens.

Where is the legacy of divine love among us that incites our quest for knowledge and truth, and sets us free to serve as agents of God’s compassion and peace rather purveyors of a divisive worldly narrative? There are many laudable human rights references to which we may point, including Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Greta Thunberg who had an overwhelming impact on the lives of individuals and nations. But the one on whom I wish to focus at this time is Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers.

Ellsberg is the perfect example of a privileged, highly educated, affluent white male insider, entrusted with the most classified information of our government’s political corruption on the highest level that led to our involvement in and escalation of the war in Vietnam. Remaining silent would have assured him a life of continued affluence and prosperity. Yet all of this he sacrificed placing both him and his family in danger, accepting responsibility for an act considered treasonous, punishable by life in prison; an act that targeted him, in the mind of Henry Kissinger, as “the world’s most dangerous man.” But the Supreme Court believed differently, exonerating Ellsberg, and allowing the papers to be fully published. And because of his sacrifice, he opened the eyes of all Americans to our national capacity of becoming the most repulsive incarnation of evil.

His son, Robert, reflecting back on the legacies that inspired his father, said that his grandfather, Harold Ellsberg, supported his son’s civil disobedience, adding as explanation the Gospel of John in which Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (8:32)

On this Reformation Sunday, America is once again mired in corrupt leadership that distorts facts and promotes fiction, making us wonder what is truth. Yet divine truth remains the realm of uncompromising love that casts out fear.

We are incapable of comprehending the fullness of God in which we are but small sparks. However, we are, nonetheless, sparks that shine with dazzling radiance when we link our individual light with others in love. We know when God shows up. For God is love. Amen.