Canyon Worship — August 7, 2022
Rev. Brent Gundlah

One sunny Saturday morning back in June, Val and I headed up to Antelope Island — as we do from time to time — in search of an outdoor adventure. We found our way to a remote spot near the lakeshore, got out of the car and began walking through the dry grass and salty sand toward the water’s edge.

The wind was non-existent and we didn’t see another human being the whole time we were there, which made the place feel kind of eerie and lifeless. In fact, aside from the occasional call of some far-off bird, there was no obvious sign of the animal kingdom to be found anywhere — until suddenly, there was.

We were so focused on getting to the lake that we were slow to notice the two long parallel lines of footprints extending in front of us. It was tough to discern their exact shape in the soft white sand but it was easy to tell that they were big, and by that I mean really big.

Now, I’m no zoologist or anything, but I do know that, if you see a big footprint on the ground, there’s a better than average chance that a big foot made it. I also know enough to know that the big foot that made the big footprint probably belongs to a big animal.

With our attention now fully secured, we began to observe other signs of this mysterious creature’s presence (let’s just say that big animals also tend to leave some big piles of stuff behind them as they walk and leave it at that).

It was pretty clear to us by this point that one of Antelope Island’s most famous inhabitants, a bison, had once been where we now were (and from the looks of things, not too long before we got there). The scary thing was that if the aforementioned bison had been through this way once, it was entirely possible that it would return.

Though the bison’s presence loomed large, the funny thing was that we never actually saw it (and maybe that was for the best). I mean there was no doubt whatsoever that it was out there, somewhere, but our knowledge of it was entirely indirect; all that we knew about it came to us second-hand, through what it had created.

And this whole experience led me to think about God. Okay, I’m a minster so pretty much everything leads me to think about God, but this particular experience really made me think about God — whom, for the record, I’ve also never actually seen. On this point, I dare I say that I’m probably not alone.

In the prologue to the Fourth Gospel, John the Evangelist states in no uncertain terms that, “No one has ever seen God” except for Jesus. But the rest of the Bible isn’t necessarily so definitive about that.

In Genesis, after he wrestles with God, Jacob claims to “have seen God face to face,” while the Book of Exodus tells us that “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face.” And yet, later in the very same chapter of Exodus, God says to Moses, “But my face you cannot see, for no man sees me and still lives.”

So, while it at least seems possible for us to meet God all up close and personal, it might be better that we don’t because the consequences of doing that are rather severe. I can’t speak for you, but, in light of that information, I’m more or less okay with not seeing God face to face for the time being. The result, though, is that whatever I happen to know about God, I only know through what God has created.  

Today’s reading from the 96th Psalm seems to acknowledge this basic truth about the nature of our relationship with God.

The author calls upon us to do what they themselves are doing in the psalm: to sing to the Lord a song of blessing and praise — to declare the glory of the Lord who made the heavens, the Lord who established the world, the Lord who created the sea and the field and all that fills them, the Lord who made the trees of the forest.

Interestingly, there’s no mention of seeing God, of gazing upon God’s face here (Does even have a face? I don’t know). But the psalmist is clearly pretty fired up about God nonetheless — and why is that, exactly? Well, it’s because they ascribe to God all sorts of virtuous attributes like honor and majesty and strength and beauty. 

And how, pray tell, does the psalmist actually know all of these things about a God they’ve never encountered face to face in the sanctuary of heaven? It’s because they’ve witnessed what God has done right here on earth.

The whole point is that we can come to know something of God and about God through all that God hath wrought; we can catch a glimpse of the Creator in all the Creator has created. For the time being, at least, it’s about the best we can do on that score.

But just take a look around, have a listen, feel the air on your face, smell the pine trees — it is pretty great and grand and beautiful; and the One who made it is clearly worthy of our awe and praise. 

Did I see the actual bison who left those footprints (and that other stuff) on the shores of the Great Salt Lake? No, but what else other than a bison could have made such things?

Have I seen the God who created that bison and the Great Salt Lake? Have I seen the God who created these mountains and that sky and those trees and the sun up above? No, but who else besides God could have made such things?

If you happen to have a better explanation for the existence of the splendor we find ourselves in the middle of right now, I’m all ears…