God of Many Names, Mystery Beyond Our Naming

On April 30, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

God of Many Names, Mystery Beyond Our Naming Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins April 29, 2018 Let us dwell together in peace, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. In our scripture reading today, we see Paul […]

God of Many Names, Mystery Beyond Our Naming
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
April 29, 2018

Let us dwell together in peace, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

In our scripture reading today, we see Paul strolling through a city full of idols.

Athena was certainly one of the gods Paul noticed. She was the guardian of Athens. Athens has been called the birthplace of western democracy. It was a center of learning and culture. It was the home of great philosophers. People took great pride in Athens. It was the best place, the greatest. But national pride can devolve into nationalism which is the breeding ground of racism, xenophobia, and a toxic suspicion of difference. Athena still rules many hearts today.

Ares may have been one of the gods Paul noticed. Ares was the god of war. Ares still has a lot of worshippers. Nationalism thrives on a bloodlust that demands one war after another. Ares doesn’t seem ready for retirement still.

Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and romance, may have been of the gods on display. People are still pursuing unrealistic and unsustainable standards of beauty and hating themselves if they fall short of such idolatrous standards. The goddess of beauty fails to remind us that we are each beautiful in ways that won’t fade with time.

Dionysus may have been one of the gods. He’s one that I find it hardest to critique, because if truth be told, he is one that tempts me more than all the others. Dionysus was the god of wine and revelry, the party god! He was also the god of ritual and theatre. Dionysus seems like good people to me! But if creativity and pleasure distract us from helping the hurting, then we must repent of our selfish devotions to the party god.

Hades may have been one of the idols. Hades was the Ruler of the Realm of the Dead. When we poison our water and our air and our soil, when we ignore attitudes that make it exponentially more difficult for people of color to survive in the world and exponentially easier for their lives to be taken and ruined in a system of mass incarceration, when we deny refugees lifesaving safe haven, we have worshiped Death itself and become it’s slavish disciples.

Now, let me hasten to add that I am not condemning the religious experience of ancient Greeks (some of whom, like Socrates, thought of the divine as one Power and not as many personas). I am simply comparing what some of the deities represented to dysfunctions that are timeless and universal. We have all worshiped ideas and ideals that later proved to be less than beneficial to our growth and well-being.

Paul looked around and was distressed to see so many idols, that is, to see people worshiping their fears, their insecurities, their greed, their prejudices, their violence. God’s got to be more than that, Paul insists. But he looks around, and he sees one more altar. It’s to an unknown god…no name, no image, the great whatever, the great unknowable, the great just is.

A deity that doesn’t look like us, or our privilege, or our fears, or our hatreds…a god beyond image or naming: In all their searching, they had actually found something. The mystery beyond our naming, the Ultimate Reality that can be experienced in our limited states but never fully known, that can transform us by helping us grow into what we already are.

Paul, who was well versed in the scriptures, must have recalled Jeremiah 23, where the prophet imagines God saying, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?”
He must have thought of the 139th psalm: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? [Wherever I go, God], you are there.”
Or Proverbs 15: “The eyes of our God are everyplace.”
Or maybe he thought of the prophet Zephaniah who assures us, “God is in your midst.”

And so Paul tells them, “It is the sovereign of heaven and earth that gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. God made all peoples…so that they could search for God…and find God, though really, our God is not far from any of us, for it is in God that we live and move and have our being. It’s like some of your own poets have intuited, ‘We are divine offspring.’”

We call our search for meaning many things, but God is our source and our purpose and our power and our joy, and it’s in God that we exist. Meditating on that will remove many of the idols that have been holding us back.

When we look around our world, our community, our daily lives: what are the idols we see?
Privilege is one such idol. Even when it imperils others we cling tenaciously to our privilege.

White supremacy, xenophobia, misogyny, transphobia, heterosexism…this pantheon of hate attracts many worshipers, but really the cult of hate is just a subculture of the religion of fear.

Theology, sacraments, scripture itself…these can become idols, where getting it right is more important that loving, caring, and sharing. If we really believed we were good enough, we wouldn’t need everyone to share our opinions about Jesus or Mary or the sacraments or the Trinity or the afterlife. Being afraid we aren’t good enough, we try to be RIGHT, and to feel right we try to make everyone else wrong…and so religious wars are waged and families are torn apart, and colonization disguised as missionary work continue.

Idols are too small, and idolatry is far too limiting. But St. Paul seemed to think that an awareness of Omnipresence is the cure for idolatry.

Let us know when things are easy and when they are difficult, when life is fair and when it is unjust, in times of joy and in times of sorrow, that we are forever in and part of God.

Ernest Holmes said it so beautifully, “Within Thee is all. Thou art in me and I am in Thee.” When we believe that, we don’t need hell, we don’t need war, we don’t need to deprive anyone of medicine or food or shelter or employment or fair wages or dignity. When we know who we are and we know that all people are sharers in divinity, then we don’t need mass incarceration and we won’t stay silent when people are suffering policies that demean and demoralize entire communities.

When our God is Omnipresence, and we therefore are always in and part of that Presence, oppression will not be tolerated, it’s unlike the Love in which we live and move and have our being.

Because of the cult of the false god homophobia – Gay bodies are under attack.
Because of the cult of the idol of male dominance – Female bodies are under attack.
Because of the cult of the idol of white supremacy – Black bodies are under attack.
Because of the cult of the idol of xenophobia – Immigrant bodies are under attack.
Because of the cult of the idols of greed and indifference – Poor bodies are under attack.
Because of worship of binary gender norms – Transgender bodies are under attack.
Because of the cult of colonization – Caribbean and African and Asian bodies are under attack.
God’s body, of which we are all a part, is under attack, and the attacks are fueled by idolatry.

But like Paul, we can see the idols and then see past them, to the reality of omnipresent love.

We are divine offspring, part and parcel of the God of many names, the mystery beyond our naming. As we embrace and share this truth, we will release much needed healing power into the world. We can be healed and we can be healers, in the name of the Unnamable God. And this is the good news. Amen.

It is in God that I live and move and have my being.
God is the Source and Substance of my life…
And of every life.
Alleluia!
Amen.

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