Having celebrated the great feasts of Easter and Pentecost it’s appropriate that we pause to reflect and celebrate the great God behind all of this with a feast day. This is, as St. Paul says. ‘the God in whom we live and move and have our being;’ the God who has loved each one of us into life and constantly longs for our companionship. I limit myself to three points about our amazing God, namely, i) God is great, ii) God is love and iii) God is for us. We begin with the greatness of God by taking a page from that wonderful hymn, ‘O Lord my God’ as it provides us with an excellent starting point for this contemplation.
“Oh, Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed.” When Carl Gustav Boberg composed this wonderful hymn in 1885 people had some idea of how vast the universe is but nothing compared to what we know today. Today our knowledge of same has increased in leaps and bounds. For instance, back then they thought there was only one galaxy. Now astronomers claim that there are at least one hundred billion galaxies and still counting. Thanks to Hubble we have discovered that the universe contains 10 times more galaxies than previously thought. If that’s too big for you to imagine then think of planet earth, with its teeming oceans, fabulous rainforests and a super abundance of life in all its richness, beauty and variety. And all of this is the work of our God — how great is our God! No wonder the composer continues with the refrain: ‘Then sings my soul, may Saviour God to thee, how great thou art, how great thou art!’
Yes, God is indeed great but to dwell on this aspect alone would be a serious mistake. For an all-powerful being could be a despot, a destructive tyrant, an arbitrary dictator, a threat for our small and weak liberty. Could we really trust in a God whom we perceive mainly as almighty? How can I abandon myself to someone infinitely powerful? It would seem easier to mistrust, be cautious, be defensive of our independence. This can be a very serious temptation that we can easily fall into. We can end up paying lip-service to a God that we see as a cruel task-master.
Thankfully God is also loving as well as almighty. Psalm 8 bridges the gap between and all-powerful God and a personal God who takes an avid interest in us. “When I look at your heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars that you have made; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.” More important therefore than the majestic heavens is the fact that this same God is mindful of us and cares for us. All this care and attention comes from the fact that God is love. In fact, love is the theme that underlies the whole Bible. The reading from Exodus has Moses experience God as a God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Every part of that statement stresses God in relationship to humankind, and it emphasizes especially God’s great love for us. God is also portrayed in many other images such as the Good Shepherd in Psalm 23 or as a loving mother Hosea and Isaiah.
Today’s Gospel has that famous and often quoted phrase: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” This must be understood against the background of John 1:14, “The Word became flesh.” That means that being our tender, creator-redeemer, and shepherd was not enough. God’s love is such that all these roles or images were still too distant, too separate. As Hebrews puts it, ‘In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.’ God wanted to enter into our human condition, not as an alien ambassador, caring but remote, but as one of us. Thus, we know God today not just as Lord of history, but as Emmanuel, God with us. And he became one of us so that we might have eternal life.
Thus, this great God of love is also a God who is for us. I like that image of a God. A God who is for us is a God accepts us as we are, warts and all, and is there by our side 100%. Pope John XXIII had that ability to make people feel at home in his company and being there for them. Soon after he was elected Pope he visited Regina Coeli prison in Rome. The wardens weren’t used to Popes coming to their prison and so they tried to protect the Pope by only opening the gates of those who were in for petty crimes. But the Pope was having none of this and wanted to see everyone. Animated and clearly comfortable in this unusual setting, the Pope then shared with the inmates the somewhat surprising tale of his own cousin, who had been imprisoned in the same jail after his conviction for poaching. (Not surprisingly the official Vatican reports of the papal visit omitted this part of his talk.) After his warm words to the inmates, the pope promised to remember all of them, as well as their wives and sisters, in his nightly rosary prayers. Upon hearing this, they burst into heartfelt applause. But the most moving part was when one of the prisoners doing life asked the Pope, ‘do you really mean that God can forgive me my many crimes?’ Here was a man who just couldn’t believe that God still loves him after his multiple murders. Pope John’s answer was simply to go over to him and give him a big embrace.
And that’s how God is for us also; a God longing to be with us, who reaches out into our darkness and those little prisons we find ourselves in. A God who is head over heels in love with us is always there for us and continually nudges us ever forward into a future beyond our wildest dreams. To this amazing God be all glory and honour! Amen.
Sunday, 11th June 2017