Like any great artist God has created the world we live in, all of nature and animals, the wonders of the deep, the beauty of the galaxies, and you and I.
All of it is magnificent. (and that is an understatement)
In the process of this artistry God poured all of his/her (God is both male and female, many languages have no personal pronouns designating gender, the English language is sadly constrained in this) into the masterpiece.
All of God’s goodness, all of his hopes and dreams, all of passion and ecstasy, all of dance and worship, all of grace and sufficiency, of wealth of soul and spirit, of rich relationships, community and communion has been poured into this Masterpiece.
The principles and the spiritual laws and the ways the universe works and holds together is based on who God is. Every single thing we can observe about nature and science reflects God.
Like any great art piece, if we look long enough and observed deep enough we would see the handiwork of the master. We would come to recognize the heart of the one who painted and sculpted and composed.
We spot a Monet and we know it is a Monet. We take in a Rembrandt and we know that it is a Rembrandt. Mozart is Mozart and Vivaldi is Vivaldi. Each artist has a unique style and heart and feel to their work.
So it is with God. We and this world are his living masterpiece. Invited to live out the masters heart in full color and joy and dance and satisfaction we are fashioned to give evidence of God.
But we have mucked with the masterpiece. We’ve not been respectful of the artist. Missing the heart of the artist, even in this world, can be easy to do. Many of the ‘great’ artists were not so great in their day. Only with time did the genius with which they create come to be truly appreciated.
The numerous and untold ways that we have mucked with God’s masterpiece range from violent acts against humanity all the way to the violent thoughts of our hearts. From overt acts to covert acts and to intentions of the heart we have been disrespectful of the Master Artist and his creation. From sins of commission to sins of omission to sins of the heart we have been exceptionally disrespectful.
Imagine if you will, that you are setting out a family dinner. It is summer, you are gathered outside. The sun is shining, the burgers are on the grill, the salads are plentiful, the sauces and chili and mustard and relish and ketchup are all at hand.
There are beverages, soda pop, beer, kool-aid, coffee, tea, wine, maybe even some homemade slushies.
It is going to be a great feast.
But before we all set down to eat, one of us pulls out a tablecloth (picnic tables need tablecloths after all). It is something that Uncle Ben* (not his real name) found.
It is the Mona Lisa. Imagine, if you will (and if it were really big enough for this) that we are using the Mona Lisa as our tablecloth. Not knowing its value, not knowing its worth, ignorant of its beauty and importance we set our cups and plates and stemware and silverware on her.
We gather around. Henry is seated at her one shoulder, Joey is round the other side flanked by the toddlers. Grandpa Joe who likes to take his teeth out during dinner is at the head of the table. The baby in her highchair even has a place. With Martha on the corner, getting up and down to serve the food, that spot becomes the most frayed.
And every meal we gather and eat and laugh and make merry, and in it all, though we do not know it, we are profoundly and deeply offensive. Not because making merry is bad, but because we are making common what is in fact a masterpiece.
Picnics are fun, they are also messy. With glasses spilled, ketchup dropping, mustard staining, baby’s throwing up, with the sun beating down, with sudden windstorms and maybe even rain, with forks jammed through the cloth by bored teens and initials scratched in the surface by a love struck ones… with hot pots set on its surface, candle wax dropping, cream and sugar spilled, pepper smearing… there is profound disrespect for the artwork and for the artist.
We don’t even know what we are doing.
And this is exactly what we have done with God’s art work. We kill, we lie, we lust, we covet, we hate, we despise, we gossip, we destroy, our hearts become toxic, we come with hidden agenda’s, we reach across the table to fix another’s table manners only to spill our own drink … And we don’t really get what we are doing.
Like those picnicking on the Mona Lisa we have no clue. It is only by the grace of God that we come to any understanding at all. Our hearts cannot perceive it. We have sat at our Mona Lisa tablecloth for too long. The picnic has been had.
It is the gospel story what comes next. God in his heartbroken and battered state, with disillusionment and grief, with full knowledge of the loss rises up to fight for us and for creation, for beauty and restoration. God sends a part of himself to cover the damage.
Jesus spreads himself out as our tablecloth over that table. The Mona Lisa is still there, the damage has been done, but God rises above the hurt to say, “Never mind, I will take care of it.”
We must eat, we must gather as before, but this time, for those who are aware of the deep insult to the heart of God, we accept and receive Jesus as the covering. It is in him we eat.
Jesus spreads himself out, covering over the offense done, making a new way, carrying the stains and the smears and the messes of our ketchup and relish and mustard. He says, “I’ll be the tablecloth, I’ll cover over your offense, come, sit and eat.”
And in this grace, as we accept deep contrition into our beings, we find companionship and community around the table as before yet even better. For this time it is in respect and honor of our creator, of the Master Artist and of the masterpiece sitting next to us. We recognize that we’ve been spoiling a great work of art and we are sorry.
And God replies, “I know, I’ve got it covered.”