Gospel and draft of sermon prior to International Service (For refugees) 2.30 pm sunday 8th of May 2022 from Bellahøj Church.
From the Holy Gospel According to John:14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”Jesus the Way to the Father5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know[b] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Draft of sermon for the third Sunday after Easter, Gospel According to John, chapter 14, verses 1-14.
-What does God look like?
In today’s reading from the Old Testament, we heard how God appeared to Moses in a burning bush, and God said, “I am who I am”. God refers to himself as “I am”. God’s fire burns, does not burn up, does not burn out – unlike human love, which is unstable and rarely lasts long – and not at all eternal, like God’s.God appeared to Moses and said, “Do not come near.”
God wanted distance between himself and humanity. God wanted respect and told Moses to take off his sandals, for the place where he stood was holy ground. And at the same time, God told Moses that God would be with him in his life, even go all the way with him: Out of slavery, across the Red Sea, into the Promised Land.For Moses and the Jewish people, God was and is the hidden God, in Latin called “deus absconditus”. God does not appear completely, only partially. No human being will be able to bear to see God; it will bring death. Even the name of God is kept holy, the name of God is rewritten and said in other words.In the New Testament, something radically new happens: God reveals himself to men: God reveals himself completely and undividedly through his Son, Jesus Christ. It’s part of our Christian faith that God appears to people in his Son, Jesus Christ. How it can be done, our mind can not grasp; at most our hearts can grasp it. Faith is neither security nor knowledge; it is expectation and hope.As the apostle Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 1, verses 21-31: 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.)
As Christians, we stand quite alone among other faiths with our belief that God was born as a human being – and even born of a young woman, the Virgin Mary. Neither Jews nor Muslims share this belief. And when it comes to the Christian belief in a trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Jews and Muslims may get the impression that we Christians believe in three gods. It is perhaps no wonder that Jews and Muslims find it hard to understand what we Christians also have difficulty comprehending: Quite frankly, the doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most difficult theological problems: How can God have three faces and yet be one and the same?Jews, Christians and Muslims all share the belief in a single God (monotheism). A God who is almighty God, and who created everything and sustains everything. All three faiths are monotheistic: they recognize only one God.Muslims say it e.g. such in their profession of faith: “God is great” and “There is only one God and Mohammed is his prophet”. Muslims recognize the Old Testament and its stories, also that of Moses and the burning bush. Moses is told by God, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”
To this day, Muslims take off their shoes before entering the mosque to pray. Muslims also believe in the words which God speaks to Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And that is interesting, for according to the Old Testament, one of the sons of Abraham becomes the ancestor of the Arabs and another son of Abraham becomes the ancestor of the Jews. According to the Old Testament, Jews and Arabs are therefore half-siblings. They have the same father but different mothers.In the account of Moses and the thorn bush we are told that the face of God is holy and no man can bear to see the face of God. That story from the Old Testament is the first example of the prohibition against divine images – which is found in both the Muslim and the Jewish faith: Humans may not create (images of) God. Hence no artistic representation of God in any form. That is why in the Muslim world calligraphy has flourished, the beautiful writing with picturesque signs on mosques, since figurative decoration is forbidden. The Jewish faith also strictly enforces the prohibition against divine images.For Muslims and Jews, God does not show His face. It’s completely unthinkable. It would be against the nature of God, they believe. For they believe God is the hidden God.That is why Moses is not permitted to see the face of God. Or like the story from the Old Testament about Jacob wrestling with God by the ford called Penuel all night and not seeing God’s face. God would not even reveal his name. Yet Jacob almost desperately tries to wring a name out of the stranger he struggles with all night. And Jacob’s body is marked for life after his battle with God. In both Judaism and Islam, the name of God is holy and God does not reveal himself directly to people; people must keep their distance. Instead of saying the name of God aloud, the Jews rewrite the name of God and call him “Ælohim”, ie. “The Mighty One” or Adonaj, i.e. “The Lord”.
Muslims are permitted to say the name of God, “Allah”, but they often use other terms, such as “The Merciful” or “The Gracious”.Therefore, it is difficult for both Jews and Muslims to understand our Christian faith: For in our Christian faith, God shows his face. Directly and unvarnished. Anyone who has seen Mel Gibson’s 2004 film The Passion of The Christ, can’t doubt what pain the Son of God went through: The Son of God is portrayed as not just an insightful person, not just a mystic: The Son of God is alive and present and goes through suffering and pain. Here one sees the Son of God experience misery , doubt, contempt, hatred, ridicule. In this sense, Mel Gibson’s film gets it right: for God shows us his true and human face.
Namely, in Jesus the man, who was born, lived and grew up, walked with the disciples, but was betrayed, tortured, crucified, and died on the cross.The fact that God shows his face to people and among people – is completely unthinkable for Jews and Muslims. The incarnation, that God has become man and this has revealed himself is not possible in either Judaism or Islam. It’s blasphemous to believe it possible: For if God is so mighty and great, it is contradictory to them that God could take on the form of a man and be and live as man – of flesh and blood – and even make himself known among men . It is for a Muslim and a Jew a blaspehmous thought. For a Jew, as well as for a Muslim, God is and will always be the hidden God.For us as Christians, God is the creator who showed his face to neither Moses nor Jacob, the so-called hidden God. God is also more than that: For us Christians, God is also identical with the Son of God, Jesus Christ. In the Son of God, God has revealed his face, his name, his being, his intention, his will. In Jesus Christ, God has revealed himself, the revealed God, in Latin called Deus Relevatus.And even in the most hopeless conditions, God shows his face. One of my teachers, when I studied theology at the University of Copenhagen, Professor Theodor Jørgensen, has said something to the effect that God shows his face to us – even in the unredeemed creature, ie. the pigs being abused in the stables, the horses suffering from inhumane animal transport, the environment being weakened by chemicals, etc. Wars and hardships ravaging Africa, even here God shows his face in creation almost as a sign that this world is a not yet a finished work of the hand of God. There awaits a redemption, a salvation. A creation and re-establishment of peace and reconciliation, an end to hunger, war, distress and misery. It will happen in the last days, when God becomes everything in all things.The essence of God is therefore three in Christianity. The Father, who is the creative power. the Son, the Savior who came to Earth to restore the relationship between God and man. The Holy Spirit, which is the invisible power that descended upon men when the Son was taken away. They are three in one. They are three faces of the one and the same God. They are three manifestations of the same one and almighty God.Today’s gospel is precisely about how to understand the trinity. In today’s gospel, we meet both Thomas and Philip, who have a hard time grasping what it’s about. They can not understand how their master can be sent by the Father, and they can not understand that they must know the Father through him. But as Jesus himself says, “The Father is in me and I am in the Father.”, Which means that he, the Son of God, is doing the will of his Heavenly Father. He is the revelation of the Heavenly Father. Therefore they must know the Father through him, his Son.One can also explain it like this: The father is like a field commander who sends his soldiers out into battle. But he is not just a distant general. The father is also completely at the front where there is fighting. All the way out in the field, where it costs blood, sweat and tears. For the Father is at the battlefront through his own envoy, his faithful armor, his Son.So the way the Father reveals himself is not as a distant God, but as one who is part of human life and at the front of life. Therefore, the Father will also be able to follow us in our human lives. For God himself has been there. God himself has experienced it with his body. That the Father has sent his Son into the world, so that the world may know the Father through the Son, does not mean that God is divided, it does not mean that God is not one. For me, that God is both Father and Son makes Him more human, for God has been human and lived as human. And when God has taken on the form of a human being, surely God is also easier to relate to as a human being and conversely, God will also be able to understand each of us more easily since God himself has been one of us? For me to see it is the main argument that neither Judaism nor Islam can match.
Praise and thanks and eternal glory be to you our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you who were, are and will be, one true triune God, glorified from the beginning, now and for all eternity.
© 2008 Asser Skude, translation by Kelly Anne Keenan Fjelstrup.
The Service is a cooperation with Tværkulturelt Center and two refugee camps in Sealand, Denmark www.tvaerkulturelt-center.dk
Gospel and draft of sermon prior to International Service (For refugees) 2.30 pm sunday 8th of May 2022 from Bellahøj Church.