Old Turtle by Douglas Wood was never on my bookshelf as a child. In fact, I wasn’t introduced to it until seminary, but it quickly became one of my favorites. Old Turtle tells of a different time and place - when everything in the world - all of creation - could communicate with one another. This isn’t just like prior to the Tower of Babel in the Bible when all human could talk to one another - this was all of the stars, the sea, and the animals. Everything.
But over time the Creation started to argue with one another about what God was like. As often happens each part of creation started to assert that God was like them. The island said that God was separate and apart. The bear said God was powerful. The fish said God was a swimmer and so on and so forth.
We are now in the fourth week of our sermon series about seeing Gospel truths in children’s storybooks. When I read Old Turtle for the first time one of the scriptures that came to mind was from the book of Isaiah. Isaiah is speaking to the Israelites when they are in captivity by Babaloyn. They have been there a long time and it looks like they are going to be there longer. The original folks who had been taken into captivity are starting to die off and new people are being born who never laid eyes on the holy city of Jerusalem. They people remember who God is by the stories they tell, but the problem is that they have been gone so long, they are starting to forget.
In this mornings scripture lesson the prophet is trying to remind the people who God is. Have the people not known and have they not heard time after time? God is the Lord over all creation. Isaiah paints a vast picture of who God is and how God fashioned together creation. It is as if Isiah is trying to drill into the people how great and timeless God is and how insignificant the people are in comparison to that.
Which gets to the question I think the creation was arguing about in Old Turtle - who is God in relationship to us? All to often our human words and images for God fall short. In fact, we can never fully know God in this life, and after a while, we start to make God in our image.
I remember one of the first images I had of God - it was a smiling father with brown hair, a white dress shirt and a red tie. Why was this the image I had in my head? Because of the storybooks in Sunday School had the picture of a young family walking into church and this picture up in the right hand corner. What I didn’t understand at the time was that this was a memory of the child walking into the church of getting ready for church. My little mind couldn’t grasp that, so this picture became my image of God.
What was one of your first images of God? And how has that image remained the same or changed? The problem that creation had and if we are honest we can admit that we have from time to time is when we start to morph that image of who God is into who we are - making God in our image. If God looks like someone from your family, thinks like you think, likes who you like and hates who you hates - that isn’t God, friends.
We cannot base who God is off of how we feel as humans. In fact, all too often we base God’s very presence in our lives and in the midst of situations off of our human perceptions, when really God is inviting us into something so much deeper than feeling. God is inviting us into a relationship built on trust.
But like the Israelites we don’t trust God because in the midst of basing God’s presence off of our perception and making God into our image we have forgotten who God truly is. In Exodus we find a wonderful description of who God says God is: The Lord proclaimed that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, steadfast in love and faithfulness. Forgiving but also seeing justice.
The problem is when we get too comfortable when things are going well or too stressed out when things are going arry - we forget who God is. When the people of Israel were in captivity they forgot who God is. In fact, we forget a whole lot more than we remember. We have forgotten and mistaken the very characteristics of our God.
Enter Old Turtle. Old Turtle was known as a wise creature that rarely spoke, but she had to say something in the midst of these arguments. She told them that others would be coming who represented the very love of God in the world. And come they did - they were humans. But then, the people forgot that they were the message of God’s love and care for the world and they started to argue too. Having a very similar argument to creation at the beginning of the book.
When we forget who God says God is, we start to argue. We start to demand proof that God exists. We start to make untrue claims - like God doesn’t walk with us in the midst of whatever we are going through. We fight because when our communal memory about God fails, our faiths starts to fade.
Which is exactly with the Israelites need the words of Isaiah. Their faith is starting to fade away. When our faith fades - we forget who and what we believe. We forget why we believe. We stop sharing the stories of old. Israel had forgotten what they once knew - their God is god alone. And their God will never fail them. They are not hidden from the Lord. They are not forgotten. In fact, they are being lifted up by the Lord of all creation.
Isaiah lives into two tensions, brothers and sisters. On one hand, the prophet is clearly saying that as humans we will never fully understand God’s ways because they are so far above ours. We cannot even begin to fathom who God is. But on the other hand, God is in relationship with us. God is unchanging and will not leave us. And God gives new life to us today, even as God created everything so long ago. The tension between what we can’t know and what we must know. The balance between how we cannot fully know God and how God desires to be in relationship with us.
A lot of what we fight about in the world today is distracting us from knowing God. It’s a misrepresentation of who God is and what God is about. When we fight like the creation and then the humans did in Old Turtle, we miss the point. We are God’s creation and God’s fingerprints are all over each of us. We can see the very love of God in one another if we actually stop and look. But we have to know what we are looking for, which means we have to know God first. We have to remember who God is and never stop telling the stories of the faith. We have to hold up the faith, even when it seems to be fading and forgotten in the world around us. We need to keep telling each other about the God who loves us and is for us. Amen. Amen. Amen.