If you’ve been watching the Olympics, you know there have been some unbelievable stories unfolding. Records broken, bones broken, spirits both lifted and crushed. The stands have been packed with fans cheering for their country’s pride… as well as proud parents watching all those early morning drop offs and late night pick-ups finally paying off.
Our own Michael Phelps continues to add to the U.S. gold metal wins. As it stands he is now the greatest Olympian of all time, breaking a record that has been held since 156 B.C. This is an amazing feat. Nestled in the arms of his mother and grandmother, his son Boomer watches. Only 3 months old, he’s too young to know who his father really is, or what his father has done, yet we can’t help but wonder if he will grow up to be like his dad.
In sports, it is not uncommon to have a child follow in a parent’s footsteps. Take Laila Ali for example. For the first time in her professional boxing career, she was on the receiving end of some really damaging punches. Just when it looked like she was done, she recovered and won the fight. Afterward, a reporter asked her if she was tempted to quit. She replied, “Yes, but then I remembered who my father is.” Laila Ali’s dad, of course, is none other than the late, great Muhammed Ali.
For the Christian, it’s key that we remember who our Father is – God Himself. When life pins us against the ropes or kick us to the curb, or even when we seem to be sailing into a clear victory, let us never forget that there is something more powerful than human nature, which strengthen us and save us from our self.
At VBS this past week, an inquisitive group of children gathered in this very room to learn about their heavenly Father. It was here they discovered how the presence of God shapes their life.
On the first day they learned, “God knows Me,” and as such, God wants us to know him. On day two they discovered, “God hears Me,” so we can trust God is listening to our concerns and needs. On the next day, it was, “God strengthens Me,” and through him we can do the impossible, (like break the all-time Olympic record). The week wrapped up with the bold declaration, “God loves Me.” Because of that love, given to us for no reason or effort from us, we can trust God will be there no matter what. The key word here is trust.
Like the psalmist who said, “I trust you, O Lord; you are my God. My times are in your hand,” our students discovered they are in good hands because they have always been in God’s heart.
Think about a time when you put your trust in another’s hand. Maybe the decision was out of a physical need. It was just three years ago my doctor told me surgery was needed, and that radiation and chemotherapy will be required to kill the cancer. I trusted his judgment, and place myself in his skillful hands. And here I stand.
Sometimes the decision isn’t physical, but an emotional longing. Last night I officiated a wedding where the young bride and groom made the commitment to entrust who they are and who they will become into the care of each other’s hands.
Sometimes the decision is less a decision and more a trusting movement. While on vacation, my son and I went for a walk on the beach. Before I knew it, there was a set little sandy fingers entwined in mine. He knew his father, and his father knew him. Together they naturally welcomed one another with trust and intimacy.
It’s not always an easy thing to place who we are and who we may yet become into another’s hand. There is a sense of vulnerability in the act. Because the world seems to move further and further away from the hand of God, many of us are like Philip. We need proof before we buy into it. Like Missourians we say, “Show me.” We lack trust, and as such we find ourselves separated from others.
The psalmist, however, confesses, “God…my times are in your hand.” In Hebrew, the word for “hand” can also be translated as “power.” That is to say, to place ourselves in God’s hand is a transaction that bids God’s power to hold us. This is a comforting word in those times we feel powerlessness. Yet too often we forget that when God embraces us, we take on God’s power. And great responsibility.
Had we read the whole psalm, we would have seen how the language moves back and forth between affirmations of God as rock, and acknowledgements of years spent in deep sorrow. But in both good and bad times, trust is placed in God’s hand, in hope of God’s saving grace that comes in the form of “steadfast love.”
That word in Hebrew for such love is hesed. It expresses an intense and zealous love, kindness and mercy. Christians call this grace. It’s the kind of love that comes with the assurance that when we place ourselves into God’s hand, God will never let us go.
Philip wants God’s hesed and to feel its power in his life. What he lacks, however, is the realization that it’s been with him the whole time. As he prepares for his departure Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father.”
Upon hearing this, the disciples seem to stand there. They are either scratching their heads wondering what Jesus is telling them, or they are stunned knowing the consequences to anyone who would make such a bold and dangerous confession. Yet, isn’t this the one statement we all must be willing to make as Christians? This is our confession, that Christ is the Son of the Living God. Through him we receive salvation, because through him we find God. And the grace and mercy of his steadfast love.
The way I see the relation between God and Jesus is like this: Imagine a large picture window, one that exposes the whole world to you and you to the world. Through it God can see you, and you can see the open arms of God’s steadfast love reaching out. Because there’s not a giant pane of glass looming overhead, anyone who desires to know the Father, or understand God better, need not look further than Jesus, the perfection of God’s hesed.
When we look at the way Jesus meets people where they are, and in the way he listens to them, and cares for their needs, we see the Father’s steadfast love. When we observe the way he prays, or the way he forgives, and heals, and feeds others, we see the glory of God’s love at work. When we see the way Jesus gives of himself for others, we see God’s abundance given freely to anyone who wants it.
Through Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God comes to life with clarity. Fully human and truly divine, Jesus is both a window and a mirror. Jesus did not say sit here and do nothing, but “Come, follow me,” and be God’s hesed. We too must become the steadfast love and peaceful presence of God the Father. In all that we do, may it boldly declare, “Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father.”
So here’s my question to you. Are you a window that allows others to see God’s peace and love shining through? Do your everyday words give a clear picture of God’s love and grace to those in need? Do your actions reflect Jesus, and invite others to seek God’s outstretched hand to hold? In other words when people see you, do they see the Father?
The Holy Bible (NRSV) Psalm 31:14-16; John 14:8-14.
Contents of this sermon were drawn and inspired by this wonderful morning devotional from John Indermark, The Greatest of These: Biblical Moorings of Love. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011.
O’Neill, Kerry. FCA:The Relentless Devotional for Competitors . www.bible.com/en-GB/reading-plans/614-the-relentless-devotional-for-competitors/day/1 (accessed August 13, 2016).