Tag Archives: Perichoresis of God

The Mystery of God

11 June 2017 – Trinity Sunday

Matthew 28:16-20

A reading from the gospel of Matthew 28:16-20.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.  And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

What’s so intriguing about a mystery novel?  Some of you may like to read them, so you know better than me.  Why is it that in 2016, for the third year in a row, James Patterson was the highest paid author with earnings of $95 million pretax dollars?  (Forbes.com, August 23, 2016)  Why is it three of the top five highest paid authors are the mystery masters:  Stephen King, John Grisham, and James Patterson – with J.K. Rowling in spot three for her kind of wizarding, mysterious adventures? (www.forbes.com/pictures/578d3ba531358e0aa22e29b0/)  Something about a good mystery leaves us unable to put it down.  I still remember the night I went to Kroger at midnight to get me a copy of the last book of the Harry Potter series, then went home and read for something like 30 hours in a row just to see how it all would turn out.  . . .  Good mysteries reel us in . . . making our hearts race and our minds spin with twists and turns we never could anticipate.  Good mysteries suck us into the story of characters we find ourselves pulling for and plot lines we desperately try to figure out.  Good mysteries leave us dangling so that we have to turn the page, just to see what happens next!  Intrigue, suspense, surprise weave together to leave us on the edge of our seats begging for more!

Mystery is a good word on this liturgical day called Trinity Sunday.  This week, the daily devotional app D365 summarized it well:  “Our God is one – unity.  Our God is three – diversity.  Our God is three in one – mystery.  . . .  Therefore, “work for unity.  Engage diversity.  Welcome mystery.”   . . .  I keep hearing in my mind the words to that 18th Century Trinity hymn:  “Holy God, We Praise Your Name.”  Stanza four reads:  “Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit:  three we name you, while in essence only one; undivided God we claim you, and adoring, bend the knee while we own the mystery” (Glory to God, #4, Text attr. Ignaz Franz).  . . .  Seventeen hundred years ago, the church was fighting about the Mystery.  Though the Great Commission from the gospel of Matthew makes reference to baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; it doesn’t explain the relationship between these three.  Nor does it seem to worry about delicately holding the tension of the three-yet-Oneness of God.  To make matters worse, the Trinity’s not clearly explained anywhere in scripture.  In fact, the word Trinity never is used.  The gospel of John’s farewell discourse of Jesus (chapters 14-17) might be the closest attempt to talk about this God that is in us even as we are in God, and Jesus is in God, and Jesus is in us, and another Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will be among us forever.  But that whole section can be more trouble than help.  . . .  We do have the second letter to the Christians in Corinth which closes with the message:  “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor. 13:13); though the benediction isn’t really explaining Trinity as much as it is naming for the first followers of Christ’s Way the experience of the grace, love, and companionship of God – the various aspects of God that can be real in our lives.

Just what can we say about the mystery of the Triune God?  God:  the One creating like a loving father, Christ the One among us as the Way, and Holy Spirit the One in us and all living things.  . . .  Way back in the Fourth Century when esteemed Church Theologian Saint Augustine tried to explain the Trinity; all he could think of was a tree.  “The root is wood; the trunk is wood; the branches are wood,” Augustine explained.  “One wood, one substance but three different entities” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 3, Steven P. Eason, p. 46).  . . .  Certainly, you’ve heard for Trinity the egg illustration:  shell, egg white, yoke.  Three different parts, but all one egg.  Pinterest suggests using an apple in Sunday School today to describe the Trinity to children.  The peel is like God the Father, who protects us.  The flesh is like God the Son, because Jesus is God in-fleshed.  And the seeds are like the Holy Spirit, who helps us grow into all God wants us to be.  . . .  There’s always the three-leaf clover example, though that one doesn’t really make any sense for the Triune God, because it’s just one thing with the same three leaves – not one thing with three distinct persons or personas as the Greek often reminds.  . . .  I was taught as a child to draw God as a triangle – three equal sides.  But it never seemed just right because one point always ended up on top; and that never seemed quite fair.

Eastern Christianity depicts Trinity differently.  Three circles of the same size are intertwined to represent what’s been named the perichoresis of God:  the dancing around in great delight of three mutual beings.  God, the perichoresis, is the never-ending circle where the God beyond, among, and in us exists in joyous right-relationship.  Almost like a synergy or living sphere of powerful energy.  A God who is plural, yet one.  A mutuality.  A shared being, like a water wheel that just keeps on pouring itself out into the other.  The Triune God is an inter-dependence where three co-exist in beautiful harmony with one another – like a perfect musical chord.  One’s not more important than the other; they’re all necessary.  Distinct, yet equal.  One never without the others.

Presbyterian Systematic Theologian Shirley Guthrie wrote of the Trinity:  “The same God who is God over us as God the Father and Creator, and God with and for us as the incarnate Word and Son, is also God in and among us as God the Holy Spirit”  (Ibid.).   To embody it each morning, I’ve made it a practice to get my body a little limber by stretching my arms as high as I can overhead to greet the God that is beyond us.  Then I bend at my waist to touch my toes in honor of the God who lives among us in Jesus, the Christ.  Then I open wide my arms to encompass everything around as I greet the God who lives in all things.  . . .  Some say:  God the Creator, Christ the Redeemer, and Spirit the Sustainer of us all.  Others stick closely to the language recorded on Jesus’ lips by the gospel of Matthew.  Go into all the world to baptize and teach in the name of the “Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – or Holy Ghost if you still prefer the King James Version of the bible.

Whichever way we think about it, the Triune God is like a captivating mystery.  Like that novel we just cannot put down.  One encounter, and who really can resist the urge to keep at it until we know just where the twists and turns might lead?   . . .  Maybe God intended it that way – to suck us in to the very relationship that is the Triune God.  To engage us as witnesses to the process of seeing how Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer will work it all out.  . . .  Reeled in, we find ourselves along for a wild ride as God keeps on seeking to recreate this world through ones such as you and me.  Intrigue, suspense, surprise weave together so that we just have to find out what happens next.   . . .  Maybe, just maybe Trinity wanted it like that so you and I will join in the joyous dance of right-relationship; shared being in a powerful synergy that pours itself out for others too to be brought in.

Mystery:  holy Mystery, this God that is one:  unity.  This God that is three:  diversity.  This God that is three in one.  . . .  Together we are sent in the name of the Triune God until all embrace the Mystery.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

 

Relationship

A Sermon for 22 May 2016 – Trinity Sunday

A reading from the wisdom of the Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 (NRSV). Listen for God’s word to us.

“Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth –when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

It’s Trinity Sunday. The day every year when the church tries to explain the inexplicable. We’re ambitious like that! . . . Trinity: lots of people like to think of it as the Father who creates, the Son who redeems, and the Spirit who sustains. The God who is beyond us, the God who lived among us as one of us, and the God who lives in all. One God, in three persons. If you’ve studied up on all this ever, then you likely already know that in ancient acting, a few actors would play various personas throughout a drama. That’s where the three persons words for Trinity comes from. Our One God, who is known to us in three personas – three distinct characters in the drama of this thing called life. . . . As ancient creedal language puts it: the Father who begets the Son; and the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father, who with them is worshipped and glorified! . . . I remember protons, neutrons, and electrons from high school science, don’t you? We can understand that all living things are not solitary. Even before the explorations of modern science, anyone could look at the world and see things that were one, but three. Take a bird for instance. It has a beak, wings, and tail feathers. Three different parts; but it’s all one bird. And, in fact, without all three parts, it wouldn’t really be a bird. . . . God is kinda like that. Three distinct parts: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; YHWH the almighty One, Jesus Christ the embodied Word, and the Holy Spirit forevermore. God is all these. All these are God – three, but One: Trinity.

It’s a mystery. And I think a great children’s book gives us insight. It’s called: God is Like a Mother Hen and Much, Much More (by Carolyn Stahl Bohler). I wish I could show you the pictures, but it’s kinda a small book and I didn’t think you’d all be willing to scrunch up here together on the floor, so you’ll just have to hear the words today. “God is like a Mother Hen,” the book begins as the opposite page has a picture of a momma chicken with her chicks. Gently gathering them under her wings the page reads: “who protects her little chicks.” Turning the page we see: “God is like a Caring Daddy, who listens really well. God is like a Teacher, who smiles and says, ‘Try again’” – cuz the lil chic at the chalk board wrote four as the answer for one plus two. God’s like that. We’re all learners in this journey of life; everyone makes mistakes. “Try again,” smiles our Teacher God. As the book continues we learn that: “God is like a Best Friend, who plays and shares with you. God is like a Mommy, who kisses all your hurts. God is like the Air, right there, but you can’t see it.” The little chic on the drawing is skipping in the sunshine of the great outdoors saying: “The air keeps us alive!” The next page reads: “God is like a Child, who loves to have surprises.” Then “God is like You. Sometimes crying, sometimes laughing. God’s Love is like a Teddy Bear’s, ready for snuggling at night.” Then the book states: “Can YOU think of what else God is like?” The caption is: “Fill in using your imagination.” . . . “God is like a Mother Hen, a Caring Daddy, a Smiling Teacher, a Best Friend, a Mommy kissing hurts, the Air you can’t see, a Child loving surprises; You, crying or laughing; a Teddy Bear’s Love, blank” where you fill in what you named God with your imagination, “and much, much more!” God is like a Mother Hen and so very much more! . . . Solid rock, scripture attests. Good Shepherd. Forgiving Judge. Intimate Presence. The Way of Peace. And so very much, much more. All of these together; yet none of these in full. Known to us and Unknown to us all at the same time. The Triune God is so very much, much more. All the different metaphors give us a great way to experience – not to mention speak to others about this One-in-Three that we love.

In Proverbs we get a different kind of peek at our amazing God. That part of God which is wisdom. “On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals” – in other words: everywhere! “She cries out: ‘To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live’” (Prov. 8:2-3). . . . In the Hebrew language, wisdom is associated with the feminine. The Spirit of God that is a part with God at the very beginning. . . . In the Greek, wisdom gets linked with the Word, Logos, masculine and a foreshadow of the Word embodied in the male figure of Jesus of Nazareth. Proverbs links wisdom much more with what we might understand as God’s Spirit. The force with God in creation. She declares in joy that “when God established the heavens, I was there, when God drew a circle on the face of the deep, when God made firm the skies above, when God established the fountains of the deep, when God assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress God’s command, when God marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside God, like a master worker; and I was daily God’s delight, rejoicing before God always, rejoicing in God’s inhabited world and delighting in the human race” (Prov. 8:27-31).

What a beautiful tribute to God! Logically, we know God cannot just be One: nothing living is entirely solitary. If any of this magnificent creation ever was going to be, God has to be more than just one part. The creative force in synergy with itself causing something to come to be. It’s why in the first creation story of Genesis 1, God speaks thus: “’Let us make (humankind) in our image, according to our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Even then, we declare God is an us – One but more than one. Creating a whole world to be one – no single solitary thing – but beautiful in the distinctness of each. . . . Isn’t it a wonderful image of the Spirit of God creating while the wisdom of God is celebrating it all? . . . Maybe you grew up with the triangle view of God. One at the top point, typically what was referred to as God the Father, or God the Creator. The Son and Spirit, not quiet as important, were at the points down below. For centuries, it was a popular way for the Church of the Western world to visualize God. But tucked back away in the Eastern Church was a different kind of image. One that’s slowly making it’s way into the West, which I think is a really good thing as it seems a bit more biblical. You might have heard me say it before, and I first ran across this great truth in Shirley Guthrie’s book Christian Doctrine, which some of you have been studying all year. It’s the perichoresis of God. In this image of Trinity, God is like three distinct circles – equal is shape and size. (Kinda like the image on the front cover of the bulletin.) An interconnected one with all three. There’s really not one that predominates another. Rather this image of Trinity connotes the mutual dance of God. Love itself. Three intertwined dancers twirling about with each other in flawless delight. It gives us a better picture of the One God who is involved in every aspect of the God who is creating and redeeming and sustaining. For in truth, we can’t have one function without the other and still have God as we know God.

And so in mutual delight, we know the Almighty Creator . . . whose final word always is Life. Who makes covenant with a people to be a light to all the nations. Who speaks through the prophets to call us back to faithfulness. Who never-ever will let us go; even when it’s what we really do deserve. . . . We love God the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Who’s life, death, and resurrection sets us free from all that would bind. Sets us free for Life here and now and forevermore. Who shows us what it looks like to live as God. Who teaches. Who heals. Who feeds. Who celebrates every aspect of human living and welcomes the entire eclectic array – men, women, and children. Young, old and everyone in between. Not just those like himself of Jewish descent: but those of all lands, every tongue, all economic situations. We love God the Son who is our Way, our Truth, and our very Life. . . . And we celebrate God the Holy Spirit. Who powerfully comes among us. Who is our courage and strength. Who lives in every little finger and toe of our bodies. And who lives beyond us in all things living – sometimes known as the very breath of God enlivening all creation. The greening, viriditas force that is alive in all. Celebrating it all as does the Spirit of God, according to Proverbs. The Spirit of the Risen Christ, who guides us into all Truth that we might live in like manner. Who revives us when we are weary and gives to us that great zest for life. . . . Our God, the great Trinity; One yet three, and so very, very much more!

Whether we get it up here (in our brains) or not, it’s the One in whose name we all were baptized – the one in whose image we all were made. No single solitary thing, so that we know we too are not one entirely on our own – whether we want to be or not. Made in the image of the God who is in relationship in God’s very self, we are connected to everything else that lives: in relationship with it all, to be in mutual delight. One with all creation, even as is our God. . . . At the end of the day, whether we understand the mystery or not; our call is to give God praise. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer! The God who is beyond us, who lived among us, and who lives in all. To the Mysterious, Holy Trinity, we give praise forevermore!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)