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God as Divine Community

To the Holy Spirit that sanctifies us, with the Father that made and created us, and the Son that redeemed us, be given all honour and glory, world without end. Amen

In speaking with children about God and who God is in their lives, I came across a series of books written by Rabbi Sandy Sasso. Rabbi Sasso puts in very clear language the many ways that we can experience the loving presence, the awesome grandeur, the tender accompaniment of God who is in so many ways beyond description and yet is deeply engaged in our lives in countless ways. One of her books is titled In God’s Name[1].

In this book she tells of how God gave every created being a name—every animal and plant, every human—and yet when God was asked the name that would refer to God—God said, “I am who I am.” Or “I will be who I will be.” Or “I am being.” But Rabbi Sasso recognizes the need for a name to capture the essence of the one with whom we wish to have relationship. So she tells of the farmer who sees God as the Source of Life and the soldier wearied from war who sees God as the Maker of Peace, and the Shepherd who sees God also as a Shepherd.

At different times of my life, I have pictured God in many ways. As a very young child, I thought of God as an older gentleman with white hair and a beard living far off in what I imagined to be heaven. As I grew up and needed God to be more of a comfort to me in times of struggle, I pictured God as a large woman who could enfold me in her arms and hold me safe and protected while I worked out my troubles on her ample breast. How we imagine God affects our beliefs and our actions. If we see God as a judge, we tend to fear God and hold our relationship with God tethered to whether we act with responsibility or carelessness. If we envision God as eternally welcoming and merciful, we often are better able to forgive ourselves and respond to others with compassion as well.

Today, is Trinity Sunday, a day when we are invited to think of how we experience God and to explore the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity, a doctrine adopted by the Christian Church in the 4th century CE, is a way of putting words around our attempt to discover what is “Beyond” in our midst. Br. Robert L’Esperance says that “The Trinity is a useful way of keeping us silent before the mystery of God.”[2] What we call God is beyond every category that our minds can embrace so we can only glimpse partial pieces of God’s ineffable being.

The Bible speaks about God in many ways—from our reading this morning from Isaiah, we hear of the prophet’s experience of God who sits on a high and lofty throne and whose magnificence is so great that the simple hem of God’s robe fills the entire temple. God, who was only to be visited by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies and was not to be seen if one intended to live, seems to have appeared to Isaiah in a vision complete with smoke and seraphs, and the temple foundations quaking. Isaiah’s experience of God was so awe-inspiring that he feared for his life. He experienced God as majestic and all-powerful.

God, who made all of the universes, who created the earth in all its beautiful variety, who planned the life cycle in its wondrous complexity causes Isaiah to see in full color his unworthiness—his impurity—before God. And yet, even God in all this power and might- reaches out in forgiveness and healing, offering a burning coal to cleanse Isaiah’s lips, preparing him to volunteer to be the one who will speak for God.

Psalm 29 proclaims the glory of God as a lively, dynamic, world-shaping power.   Not detached or absent from our world, God enlivens, enlightens, and energizes all creation. Divine energy courses through our cells and souls and the evolutionary process. And the Psalmist’s response – and ours – is, to cry “Glory!”

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul speaks in the language of tenderness and intimacy. He describes the Spirit of God living in each of us. The Spirit assures us that we are God’s beloved children and in this way we are able to cry out to God, “Abba” “Daddy or Mommy” It is the address of a beloved child to a loving parent. This is the image of God who is as close to us as the very air we breathe. This is the image of God who welcomes us like an adoring father or a loving mother. God is the one who is always caring. And it is through this Spirit of God that we are not to be afraid—we are not to fall back in fear–but we are to claim our full adoption as God’s children and our inheritance along with Christ of all that God has to offer.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus visits with a Pharisee named Nicodemus who sees in Jesus one who is a “teacher who has come from God.” But Jesus tells Nicodemus that he is more than “a teacher.” He is “the teacher” who has “descended from God” and who in being lifted up on the cross to die will bring all who believes in him to eternal life and who in unity with God will bring salvation for the world.

We experience God in so many ways —glorious presence, loving creator, enlivening Spirit, divine teacher, ever present comforter. But there is an added dimension. As the Trinity, we are invited to see God not as a single static being, but as a divine community– God being truly one in relationship.

In the Trinity we believe that God, in God’s very self is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the One who created all that is, the One who redeems all and restores all to the goodness from the beginning, and the One who sustains us—holds us and guides us in returning to our original love and blessing. The doctrine of the Trinity says that this is who God was and is and will be—fully the eternal nature of the eternal God. And it tells us that God—in God’ very and eternal self—is always in relationship, a self-giving love—that calls us all to join in as children of God.

Often when we hear the word God, we imagine a majestic force; a transcendent fatherly or motherly creator, a personal Jesus with whom we are in relationship, or the Holy Spirit who guides us into the future filled with the grace of God. These all reflect important parts of God. But they are incomplete unless we see each of these in the wider relationality of God’s life as Trinity.

Without relationship, we not only lose the richness of the witness found in Scripture and the wisdom of centuries of prayer and study by faithful Christians, we also miss out on what it means for us to say that we are created in the image of God and what that means for the church in reaching out to the world.

Richard Rohr speaks of St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio Italy who called the Trinitarian God a “fountain fullness” of love. He saw that God as experienced through the Trinity is a framework for love itself—always and forever flowing and overflowing and filling all things in one direction toward completeness.[3] Through this lens we see that God is with us in everything we experience in life and can be found in and through everything. God is being itself. God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4) and thus we all are one as well (Ephesians 4:3-5).

In this way we see the sacredness of everything and our connection with everything. As children of God, made in the image of God who is Father, Son, Holy Spirit, we are made to be in relationship. Just as God the Father loves God the Son with such a depth that God the Holy Spirit came to be, we too in our very DNA are made to be in relationship with God and with all of God’s creation.

Archbishop Desmund Tutu describes this relationality in ubuntu. Ubuntu, a word from the Nguni language in Africa, can be described as meaning “my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound, in yours…a person is a person through other persons.” “A person with ubuntu,” Tutu says, “is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole.”[4]

This idea of our humanity being tied up in each other is true only because we can assume that love is not a limited good. That in reality, for me to achieve my full humanity you too must achieve your full humanity . There is dignity and mercy enough for all. The Triune God is ubuntu. Love is found in loving. Self is found in self-giving. Unity is found in relationship. Ubuntu is the rhythm of the life of the Trinity and of the created order.

Our church is a response to this longing for the relational, self-giving, always merciful love of God. Our church is a product and a participant in God’s mission of love in the world. We come together to embody this love and this community and then to take it into the world in witness to our need for each other through the good news shared by Jesus. And all the members of the body are necessary for its functioning and all gifts contribute vitally to the church’s life and witness. Ministry is not something done by the few to or for the many, but rather something done by everyone, in different forms, for everyone else, including and perhaps, especially those outside the church’s community.

As a member of this community of Grace Church, I have been witness to the importance of relationships in this place showing the working of God in our midst. I have seen the worship, love, and fellowship every week as we come together to sing and pray and greet one another in the name of Jesus Christ. And leaving here we go out into the world, serving God and our neighbors in the southern Berkshires and beyond. I have seen the power of your love at work in the life of members of our community who need our presence, our resources, and our prayers as they struggle through times of trial.

Grace Church is a place where God’s awesome love is alive and moving, eternally flowing through the activities and lives of the people who are directly connected with this place and the people beyond whose lives are touched through relationship. Through the Spirit, each of us are welcomed into the family of God where we do not need to fear the future, but rely that our inheritance will more than supply our need. In Christ we follow the teacher who in love came to save us and show us the way of life and peace.

On this Trinity Sunday we are invited to experience God whose essential being is giving and receiving and sharing a love that is so abundant that it spills over into the whole world. In seeking to experience the Triune God we see that the relationship is complete only when God’s profound love draws us all together in relationship with God, with each other, and with the whole of creation.

As Thomas Merton writes in Love and Living:

Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone — we find it with another. We will never be whole until we let ourselves fall in love — with another human person or with God.[5]

 

[1] Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. In God’s Name. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1994.

[2] Society of Saint John the Evangelist, http://ssje.org

[3] Richard Rohr. Eager to love: The alternative way of Francis of Assisi. Franciscan Media, 2014.

[4] Desmund Tutu. No future without forgiveness. New York: Doubleday, 1999.

[5] Thomas Merton. Love and living. New York: Harcourt Inc., 1979.

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