God Is Simply Not Domesticated

God Is Simply Not Domesticated
by Rev. Jonathan Gale
Friday Night Gospel, 2nd May, 2014

Exodus 24: 12-18                            

12 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.’ 13So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14To the elders he had said, ‘Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.’

15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.


Psalm 99

Praise to God for His Holiness

1 The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble!

He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!

2 The Lord is great in Zion;

he is exalted over all the peoples.

3 Let them praise your great and awesome name.

Holy is he!

4 Mighty King, lover of justice,

you have established equity;

you have executed justice

and righteousness in Jacob.

5 Extol the Lord our God;

worship at his footstool.

Holy is he!

6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests,

Samuel also was among those who called on his name.

They cried to the Lord, and he answered them.

7 He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;

they kept his decrees,

and the statutes that he gave them.

8 O Lord our God, you answered them;

you were a forgiving God to them,

but an avenger of their wrongdoings.

9 Extol the Lord our God,

and worship at his holy mountain;

for the Lord our God is holy.

2 Peter 1:16-21

Eyewitnesses of Christ’s Glory

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ 18We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Matthew 17:1-9

The Transfiguration

17Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’


Well, how many times haven’t we heard that story! It never ceases to amaze.

  • The mystery of the cloud. The associated shekinah glory of Yahweh that lights up Jesus (as happens also in The Revelation to John) – to the point where he is described as beingtransfigured – of altered appearance.
  • The sudden appearance of Moses and Elijah (representing of course the Law and the Prophets).
  • Peter’s strange (or is it so strange?) suggestion that they build three dwellings on the mountain.
  • God’s voice coming from heaven and the disciples falling down, trembling with fear.
  • Jesus saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’

And then suddenly it’s all over. They are alone with Jesus on the mountain.

Pretty overwhelming!

That reminds me of the story of the hen who saw a handsome rooster coming towards her (so she thought) from the other side of the road. She ran towards him just as a huge Mac truck thundered right over the top of her, the wheels passing just behind and just in front of her. The rooster of course ran for his life, but the hen shook the dust from her feathers and squawked, “Wow! Some rooster!”

Something happened but she wasn’t too sure what it was. It was a bit like that for Peter, James and John.

In both Luke and Matthew we see the Transfiguration occurring after Jesus foretells his death and resurrection and that Peter doesn’t like the idea. In fact Jesus rebukes him (Matthew 16: 23) 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

These things are too much for Peter. He feels events are getting out of control – his control. No sooner has he experienced something divine and beyond his understanding when he wants to tame it, to institutionalise it. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ Three new denominations – right there!

God of course ignores him – in fact speaks right over him. ’ 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’

How natural it is to try and control God, to capture God and domesticate him into manageable terms. Peter wants to box the experience into three dwellings or tents. His is a religious response, not a spiritual one. If we institutionalise this perhaps I’ll have a better handle on it. Pretty soon we’ll wrap it around with some systematic theology and hey presto, we have a course we can sell to the nearest student with a spiritual hunger or the nearest priest with career aspirations.

But God can’t be boxed. He’s not that small. And yet so strong is our desire to be in control, to be God (as Eugene Peterson would put it), that we too, if we’re not careful, do the same thing. We do so by minimising God into an adjunct to our agendas. Is it any wonder we find it difficult to believe that the small God we have created can be of real assistance to us when we do call upon him?

Peter, in fact, is in the process of committing idolatry. An idol is anything apparently spiritual we attempt to manipulate to promote our own agendas. The essence of idolatry is that I am here, God is over there, and he exists to assist me when I need it.

The essence of the gospel is that God has incarnated himself, pitched headlong, into humankind. God the Son has invaded not just our geographical space but our very lives. The Kingdom of God is upon us. The only appropriate response is to repent and believe the Good News.

Limiting God (after tying him up in religiosity) is the most respectable way of domesticating him. We reduce God to the one who saves us from our sin or the one who gives meaning to our life. God – the enhancer of us.

God won’t be domesticated. While Peter is speaking, God speaks over Peter. He affirms Jesus as his Son and addresses the disciples with these words, “’Listen to him”. It’s that simple, really. Jesus is Lord.

God’s appearance is that of a devouring fire says Exodus.

And in Psalm 99:

1 The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble!

   He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!

2 The Lord is great in Zion;

   he is exalted over all the peoples.

3 Let them praise your great and awesome name.

   Holy is he!

Now that’s the kind of God I want to worship; I don’t know about you.

Who is God to you? Is he a Church of England service on a Sunday? Is he that burning justice issue you feel so strongly about? Is he someone who is there to save and heal you when you need it? Is he the one who loves you – makes you feel wanted? Is it he that gives you significance and meaning in life – that makes you feel you are not simply a tiny and temporary collection of cells destined first to compost and then to break up as dust into the greater cosmos?

God is concerned to save and heal us. God loves us passionately, but it’s not God who is the problem. The problem creeps in when our relationship with God very subtly tips into one where we see God as a crutch, someone to use for our benefit, rather than understanding that complete surrender to him is the only sane response to who he is.

You see, when we focus on any of these elements to the exclusion of God as essentially beyond our complete understanding, as mysterious, the Lord of the universe who can’t be in-spanned to prop up our social and psychological needs, then we are not focussing on God; but on an idea of God.

We are like the little boy in kindy who sits in the corner, playing little games and talking to himself: avoiding his fellows, preferring his own little world because reality is too uncomfortable to deal with.

God is more than our needs writ large. God is God.

And one of the most profound mysteries of God is that in Jesus he has purposed to die, to do what logically is the impossible. God, by definition, cannot die. As the liturgy says he is the source of all life and goodness and yet death is what he is heading towards. The King James version puts it beautifully: He set his face like a flint towards Jerusalem (Luke 9: 51)

In Luke we read that Moses and Elijah “spoke of his departure which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem.” That is what they appeared on the mount of Transfiguration to speak to Jesus about. The Law and the Prophets point forward to the Messiah and his sufferings. This foreshadows Jesus’ own explanation, on the road to Emmaus, of the Scriptures pointing to himself. (Luke 24: 27, 32).

Who knows what the purpose of the Transfiguration was. Possibly Jesus needed reassurance that he was on the right pathway in heading for the cross. It would be a bit sad being wrong about something like that! The disciples certainly needed the encouragement to believe this.

And they would need this encouragement, for the pathway Jesus had chosen was not an easy one. It’s difficult for us to understand what Jesus went through on the cross on our behalf. We know he didn’t want to go there from his prayer in Gethsemane. We know he suffered terribly. We know from his loud cry from the cross that he felt forsaken by God.

We can understand in a theological sense what the effects of his death and resurrection were. Both Paul and Peter use an imagery that makes this plain.

  • Paul in 2 Corinthians 5: 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
  • Peter in 1 Peter 3: 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

There are any numbers of theories that make sense as to why Jesus was crucified but they are there for us, not God. God can do as he pleases. He is God. Why God could not have done it differently remains a mystery.

Perhaps there is a clue for us as to why the crucifixion was so important in the concept of our being crucified with Christ. This is a phrase that appears in Galatians 2: 20. Paul says I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Our being crucified with Christ is best understood in terms of living out our baptism – i.e. the putting to death the old nature and living in Christ’s resurrection power. The old nature is symbolically buried with Christ as we go into the water of baptism, and we rise in Christ’s resurrection power as we come out of the water.

But how does this explain the mystery of crucifixion?

Well, here’s a thought: perhaps it was not so much Christ who needed to die, as it is we who have to die – die that is to our inveterate post fall desire to control our own lives to our detriment – and that Christ died as an example for us. Just as he didn’t need to be baptised but did so as an example for us to follow, so he died, for he knows we need to follow that example and die to our independent ways.

Perhaps, this is why God speaks over Peter and strongly suggests he listen to Jesus. The message to Peter is clear. You can’t domesticate God, but you need to domesticate your desire to be God.

Now that, as we know is a process, and it is a process that becomes a joy as we submit ourselves to Christ minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day.

Peter says in 2 Peter 1: 19b You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

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