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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

God Reveals God's self

Harmonies of Faith, a sermon series for the Summer on core beliefs of harmonious faith, week 1 of 14, preached June 2, 2024



We believe different things. These different beliefs can complement one another, or clash or create conflict inside us, in our relationships, in the church.

That is not the point of faith, or the will of God. We know God calls us to faith, to belief in how we can be at peace with ourselves and with each other, to trust that a better community of God is possible, even present here and now in some way, and to embody God’s justice and love in all we say and do.

It's not easy, this kind of faith. When we do it poorly, we feel the dissonance. There’s a terrible discord to that kind of faith.

Our goal is not to believe the same things, but to tune all our beliefs to God, and God’s kind of faithfulness, so our faith is in harmony with God and one another.

We are calling this summer series, Harmonies of Faith. Faith has many different notes, but will we tune all we believe, trust, say and do to God’s faith, God’s faithfulness in Christ, and create beautiful harmonies?

We are introducing one song each week, maybe an old song in a new way, or a newer song in a different way, all from a wide variety of styles and artists, as examples of how differences can harmonize when they are in tune.

And, if you are interested and want to do some reading on the side between Sundays, we used the book "Presbyterian Beliefs (the latest Revised Edition, from 2017)"" by Donald McKim, as a resource for planniung this summer series.

Y’all have enjoyed and responded to the Question of the Day, so we are keeping it, but have moved it here, right before the scripture and sermon. Today’s question is…

Question of the Day

"We believe this God reveals God's self. In groups of 2-3, check around you, and make sure no one is left out or alone… How do you believe God is revealed… is seen or felt or known?” Ready? Go!

(after, wonder how many were Nature (general) or experiences and relationships (specific)"

Prayer for Illumination

Scripture               Ephesians 3:1-13

3:1 This is the reason that I, Paul, am a prisoner of Christ Jesus… for the sake of you gentiles, 2 for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for all yall, 3 and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, 4 a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ.

5 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: 6 that is… the gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

7 Of this gospel, I have become a slave according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of God’s power. 8 Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ 9 and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church, the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in all the high places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purposes that God has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access in boldness and confidence through his faithfulness.

13 I pray, therefore, that yall will not lose heart over my sufferings for you. They are your glory.

The word of the Lord… (Thanks be to God)

Sermon                God Reveals God's Self

Some say there is no God, and give the possibility of there being a God a hard, flat, 0% chance. If that’s where a person is, then our Question of the Day… how is God revealed, or known?... That question does not matter and make no sense.

But for everyone else, all of us I imagine, from the really strongly doubt there is a God but will give it maybe just the slightest miniscule chance … all the way to the ridiculously zealous, over-confident, 100% percent sure there is a God… for everyone else, this is THE starting question of theology. Let’s say maybe, there is a God. Then, how can we know this God, who this God is, what God is doing, what God wants?

Now before we start trying to answer this question, let’s remember, we are humans, and human beings from the beginning of our species have wondered and wrestled and argued about God, if God is or not, and what this God is like or not. This isn’t really something we know about God but about ourselves. Something about us, as human beings, senses an option, a possibility of God. And something else about us, not about God, is that if there is a God, or gods, we struggle to know God. Maybe that’s because we aren’t very good at it, or maybe that’s because God is really good at hiding God’s self, or maybe just because we and God are so different. But if God wanted to hide God’s self, what would we know about God? Nothing. Knowledge of God could have remained silent and hidden, unless God chose, chooses to reveal it.

So that’s the starting point of faith. Some may say we can't see God, touch God, hear God, therefore, there is no God. But the way one author says it, people of faith “believe that God takes the initiative and chooses to be revealed or communicate, with humanity.” That’s what revelation means, to be revealed, or uncovered. In faith, we look for God to reveal God’s self to us, to communicate with us and let us know something, never everything, but something about God.

Theologians have worked on this a long time across traditions and they notice two ways God reveals God’s self.

The first way, we tend to call General Revelation, or sometimes Natural revelation. Its anything we think we know about God revealed from nature or from our natural human senses and reason. The awe of a sunrise, or the birth of a child, or images of galaxies and solar systems millions of light years away. Each of these natural things sometimes inspire a sense of awe and wonder over us, and we feel like we know something about the power, and care, and intelligence, and love of God who might be behind all of this and brought it all into being. It’s what we read in our responsive scripture today from Psalm 19. “The Heavens tell your glory!”

But something else we believe about General or Natural revelation, it isn’t enough. It isn’t sufficient in itself to reveal God. Everyone is given nature and some degree of reason, but some don’t see God in nature. And even for those who say they see and believe God in nature, can they know all there is to know about God through nature? Some do say they see everything they need to know about God in nature, but I wonder if the limited aspects of God revealed in nature is really all they want to know about God? Some stop at the God they see in nature so they don’t see the rest of the character of God, the more personal that knows, and loves, and gets involved, and cares about how we speak, act, and live. General revelation is one way God reveals God’s self, but its not the only way, and its not enough.

The second way of God revealing God’s self is often called Special Revelation. Its anything we think we might know about God from special or specific moments in life, or the lives of others beyond us or before us. These are the other things about God that God chooses to reveal, that observing nature or using reason cannot tell us.

We already understand this. Imagine going to a funeral. What if all we did at the funeral was tell observable facts… Born this date, grew up here, worked there, married, these children, this tall, this color eyes, died at this age of this disease. All of those things we could observe. We could maybe even use our reason to figure out the person liked golf, or sailing, or was part of a large Catholic family when we saw scrolling family photos on the slide show. That’s all general revelation about the person.

But we can't know how much they loved their grandchildren until one steps forward and tells us a specific story… or how hard a moment in life was for them, or how they stood up for someone, or how they sacrificed… until someone shares those stories. Then, with those specifics shared by someone who was there, or who heard the story and passed it on, we all get to see another side of the person general revelation could not reveal.

So far, we say the most special stories that reveal God’s character are Scripture. There have been countless stories of what people believed they learned about God. Not all of them are scripture. But with God’s help in Holy Spirit, a collection of stories were retold and written down over and over. They survived the tests and trials of time and were judged as the better stories to reveal God’s character.

In our Confession of 1967, we say Holy Spirit “bears unique and authoritative witness” to God “through the Holy Scriptures.” There are no other stories about God that have as much power to reveal God’s character. This isn’t to say other stories of long ago or today do not also reveal something true about God, only that somehow the stories of Scripture came together, and now, we trust them, we have faith they show us the character of God that nature or reason cannot, and they do so better than other stories.

This isn’t to say that scripture is perfect, infallible, or without error, or that we must read it plainly, as written. We don’t even say God wrote it. We say in that same confession “the Scriptures are the words of men and women who were conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written, and the scriptures reflect views of life, history, and the cosmos which were then current. The church, therefore, has an obligation to approach the Scriptures with literary and historical understanding, and must be carefully interpreted” from its time and context into today. We have to trust… just as God has revealed God’s self in diverse cultural situations, God will continue to speak through the Scriptures into our changing world and into every form of human culture.

Then Christian theologians and believers add a third way God reveals God’s self, beyond General or Special revelation. Let’s call this one the Christ revelation. We confess the one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus the Christ, the Word of God incarnate. Everything we think we might know about God from nature or reason, from scripture, from any stories or personal experiences, we must weigh against the God who has chosen to reveal God’s self in Jesus. Who he was, what he did best reveals God, better than nature, reason, or scripture, and we read all things through the life that was and is Christ.

That’s what the letter to the Ephesians was saying, “the mystery was made known by revelation, … the mystery of Christ. In former generations, this mystery was not yet revealed to humankind as it has been now… that is… gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus…”

This God created all things… and through the scriptures we saw true glimpses of God. Then in the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus, this God has revealed God’s self, God’s love and grace for ALL people. That’s how we believe this God reveals God’s self… some through nature and reason, more through stories of scripture, and most through Jesus the Christ.

Will you pray with me…


... Amen? Amen.




Now blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you this day, this night, this moment, and forever more. Amen? Amen.

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