What Does God Look Like? By Thomas H. Graves "He was afraid to look at God" Exodus 3:6 Ray and I were friends. We were very good friends. Our friendship grew out of several trips that we took together. We attended denominational meetings with one another. We traveled to Las Vegas and then on to Los Angeles where we sat in the left field stands to see a dodger's game. We spent a week in Danville, Virginia, with his family and had a marvelous time. We planned a trip this summer to Maine, just the two of us, a trip we were never were able to take because of his quickly progressing cancer. We spent a great deal of time in conversation, not just while traveling but also at mealtime in many restaurants in town. These last few months provided a great deal of time for talking in hospital rooms and at the bedside in his home. Almost to the very end, Ray was able to keep on talking and for that I thank God. It was that last conversation, just hours before his death that I'll always cherish and can never forget. It was very late in the evening, but my friend wanted to talk. His wife called and I drove quickly to their home. Ray had a question. We had had some previous conversations about a particular passage in Scripture concerning the image of God, so his question did not come out of the blue, and it wasn't a childish or thoughtless kind of question and certainly not a cynical one. But he said, very deliberately, searching for the right words, "Tom, I have a question." And he put the question into these slowly formed syllables: "What does God look like now, Tom? What does God look like now, for me?" Here was man whose life was ebbing away. With all his strength all gone, he looked to his wife, son, and friend, all standing by his bed, and asked, "What does God look like for me right now?" That is an important question for us all to consider as we ponder the visitation of death. What does God look like for us right now? As we gather in the midst of a deadly world, in the face of the death of many gone too early, too early for us to escape the harsh questions of sorrow, what does God look like now for us? To Ray that night, my immediate response was that right now, good friend, God looks like a man dying on a cross. That's one way God looks. A clear word to a dying man, a suffering family, grieving friends, a sorrowing church, is that God endures our pain as well. Not only has God been there, but also he is there, mixing his tears with ours. God looks like a dying man on a cross, suffering and weeping. Our God shares our grief. Christ enters into our suffering as he says at the beginning of his ministry, "I have come to heal the broken-hearted." He shares our sorrow as he stands by the graveside of his dear friend Lazarus and weeps. He shares in our suffering when he says, "Come to me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." He shares our suffering when he speaks those very last words, "Lo, I am with you always." That promise includes his presence at a deathbed and a funeral service. Our sufferings belong to God. We are not alone in our grief. That is what Paul meant when he spoke: "There is absolutely nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ. Not life, not death, not anything else." What does God look like? God looks like a man dying on a cross. Someday our conversations will resume. Ray will have more questions and many more answers to my questions as we struggle with the reality of death. That is possible because of the Christian affirmation that God also looks like the risen Lord. That is the very core of our faith: We come even in the awful sadness of this deadly moment and speak of hope and resurrection. Ray knew when to die. He waited until dawn: his timing was perfect. We are now gathered on a Sunday, Our faith's day of resurrection celebration, to ask about death. Here we are on the day that proclaims the dawn of a New Hope. What does God look like? Today, especially on this day, God looks like the risen Lord. I remember another conversation months before. I had lunch with Ray just prior to his doctor's appointment. We really didn't spend much time talking about his physical condition. But that very night he pulled me aside, in the parking lot of our church. He'd gotten awful news from his doctor. The cancer had spread; it was a great deal worse than he ever realized. As he talked about it in his blunt and frank fashion, he assured me, "Tom, always know I'll be alright." And then he began to quote, like his mother could do so well, some poetry. Drawing from William Cullen Bryant's "Thanatopsis", the words came easily to his lips, so easily and heartfelt that I hurried to my office and read them again. Here are the words he remembered: So live, that when thy summons comes to join The innumerable caravan, that moves To the pale realms of shade, where each shall take His chamber in the silent halls of death, Thou go not, like the quarry slave at night, Scourged to his dungeon, but sustain'd and sooth'd By one who wraps the drapery of his couch About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams. God looks like the risen Lord. That the very core of our faith and that's why Ray left me written instructions concerning his funeral. At the bottom of the page he scrawled, "Go home and have a party when it's over!" I could not do that and I don't expect others to do that either. We can, however, gain a sense of the hope he held on to. We can gain a sense of the joy and peace he felt in the presence of the risen Lord. What does God look like? ..Like a man on a cross; like the risen Lord. What else does God look like? One more thing Ray said to me that night. Realize how difficult the conversation was for him, struggling for words and only with difficulty forming them into understandable sounds. "God told us," he said, "God told us what he looked like. God told us he looked like love." That's the simplest yet most profound, picture in all of the Scripture. God looks like love. I saw that in my friend's life. It was something beautiful for God. The kind of word, the caring deed, the acts of ministry and care, flowers and phone calls for others, even as he was dying. God looks like love, and I saw a great deal of that through the life of Ray. We see that supremely in the revelation of God's love in Jesus Christ. In Jesus we see God as one who embraces the sick, who soothes the anxious, who affirms the discouraged, and who forgives the sinner. In Jesus we see a God who loves. What does God look like? Like a dying man on a cross, like the risen Christ, Like love. The conversation ended as Ray said, "Yeah, Yeah. That's what God looks like." That was our last, but not our final conversation. What does God look like? Like a man on a cross, Like the risen Lord, like love. I know that much more clearly because of a saintly friend, who taught me well what God looks like. From Book, "5 BEST SERMONS", Edited by James W. Cox Harper Collins Publishers Without permission
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