As we continue with our summer series on the ways in which we are called to Be the Church, today we come to “Love God”. This is a basic tenet of our faith.
In the Hebrew scriptures, in both Exodus (20:1-4) and Deuteronomy (5:6) “God spoke… these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me” (Exod.).
To the man who raised the question, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus responded, ‘”the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29-30, Matt 22:37-38, Luke 10:27).
Our commission to Love God, is also woven into the “What We Believe” as the United Church of Christ:
We believe in the triune God: Creator, resurrected Christ, the sole Head of the church, and the Holy Spirit, who guides and brings about the creative and redemptive work of God in the world.
But now I am only 69 seconds into the sermon and I have already repeated a word that raised a question in our faith community this week. That word is “Lord.”
Our call to Love God can, on the surface, seem very straightforward. Nothing complicated about that. Right? But then we try to describe what “Love God” means for us to our family, friends, those at church, and everything can get really convoluted.
Love God. Over the past 5 weeks, each Wednesday night there has been a group of around 16 women who have been gathering in the sanctuary to study, listen, and share, how we each encounter what I would call, God. These are women who, in their own life’s journey, come from a variety of faith backgrounds. In our conversations, some have identified themselves as Unitarian, others people say they follow Jesus. Some in the group embrace the “who they are” as pagan. Some use the word “agnostic.” But we are all drawn to this Holy Something that weaves throughout creation and our lives.
In part, that Something is—for me—God.
This is a God of many names. For the person who wrote Psalm 107, it is “Lord”:
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. (107:1)
But wait. What we heard read in our midst today from Psalm 107 was:
Give thanks to the Creator for all that is good; your kindness exists forever. (107:1, The Complete Psalms)
Psalm 107 is a psalm of praise, written after the people of Jerusalem who had been exiled in Babylon, were able to return to their ancestral home.
Give thanks to the Creator.
Give thanks to the Lord.
For all that is good.
But wait… how do we describe this God, this Holy Creator that is infused with us, through us, breaths with us? How do we know the object of our love?
YHWH (Tetragrammation was projected on screen)
In English, we often transliterate this Name of God as Yahweh. Our English bibles most often translate this four-letter “name” as Lord. In the Jewish tradition, they use the word “Adonai”.
You may know that deep in my soul I am a wanderer. A part of my call to lead the church is to not only teach and preach, but also to follow Jesus out into the desert now and then to pray. In September, I am going to do just that. I am going to spend a week in the high desert of Northern New Mexico hiking and studying with the Rabbi Nahum Ward-Lev. To prepare for the retreat, I have been reading Ward-Lev’s book, The Liberating Path of the Hebrew Prophets: Then and Now. In the opening to the book, he makes a note on his own translation and understanding of “the four letter Tetragrammaton… usually translated as ‘The Lord’… (when) In rabbinic times, when Caesar was the lord of the land, the rabbinic representation carried great meaning, indicating that God was the true lord. (However,) In contemporary times, the word ‘Lord’ carries a connotation of domination that does not fit the character of the God of liberation we meet in the Bible.”
Thus, Ward-Lev has “chosen to translate God’s Name as ‘the Living Presence.’ This translation reflects the meaning of the four letters of the Tetragrammation—yud, hey, vav, and hey… The four letters of God’s Name seem to refer to ‘being’ itself, to ‘Being’ (with a capitol “B”) or “Being-ness” that transcends time… Looking for a team that reflects (the) sense of ‘Being’ or ‘Being-ness’ accompanying human beings and creation throughout time, I chose the term ‘the Living Presence.’”
One of the assigned readings for this week that we did not read this morning, is from the book of Hosea. While Hosea holds a lot of troubling metaphors, particularly for women, there is also this image of God as Mother embedded in the text:
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them (Hosea 11:3-4, NRSV).
In our understanding of who God is for us, there are other feminine biblical images of God as Mother in Isaiah. God says, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you…” (Isaiah 66:13), and in other verses is compared to a woman in labor (Isaiah 42:14), and a nursing mother (Isaiah 49:15). Jesus gives us the image of God as a mother hen gathering her chicks: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37)
In each generation, throughout time, the Living Presence, the Holy of Holies has challenged us to love. To love That Which Has Created Us.
Thus, when I came across a new understanding of God and God’s name on social media this week, I was intrigued.
Now, if you remember, for the rich man in the parable, the objects of his love are:
All that is mine. Mine. Mine.
In contrast, when God speaks, we hear “these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” And it is here that we are called today to Be the Church, and to Love God.
In keeping with YHWH as God’s name, an understanding of the Holy with no vowels that is un-pronounceable (if that is a word…), I came across God’s name as (image projected on screen):
And that made me pause. I wondered about:
And the UCC’s:
And THEN I saw it. Emoji theology.
Even if you are not familiar with the word “emoji,” you have probably seen them around. Building faith notes that, “Emojis are a kind of visual language, like digital hieroglyphics, which tell a story or message through images. The brilliant Twitter account @theomoji created by Jim Keat interprets Bible stories and religious ideas through emoji”
But… then I saw THIS (each of the names of God in emoji was projected for the congregation to see):
And began to wonder how I would describe G-emoji-d for myself, and came up with:
And after the mass murder, the terrorist attack in El Paso, TX, yesterday and awakening to the news of another killing in Dayton, OH, I envision God as:
So now I have a challenge for you. How do you love the Living Presence in your life? How do you step away from the “Me, My, Mine” of our consumer culture and find ways to love That Which Created Us?
To those of you who use emojis, I challenge you to text me your G-emoji-d theology. How is the Living Presence reflected in your life? Text your response to me.
In our multi-modal world, where we use speech, and writing, and emails, and texts, and Messenger, and FaceBook groups, and tweets to communicate, I invite ALL of YOU to share with me over the upcoming week how God reveals God’s Living Presence to you. What words, what images, would you use?
How do YOU love God?
And then testify. Tell me. Tell the person sitting next to you. Come, and Be the Church. Love God (and yes, even emoji God!).
Reflection on Psalm 107:1-9, 43 and Luke 12:13-21 offered August 4, 2019
 “What We Believe.” United Church of Christ. Accessed August 02, 2019. https://www.ucc.org/about-us_what-we-believe.
 Anderson, Keith. “Emoji Theology With Teens.” Building Faith. June 15, 2018. Accessed August 02, 2019. https://buildfaith.org/emoji-theology-with-teens/.