Wednesday, May 26, 2010
This is about the Trinity.
Have you ever admired someone and wished to be just like them?
When I was young, I admired all sorts of sports legends and pretended to be Willie Mays catching a deeply hit ball to center field. He gracefully ran in such a way that the ball sailed over his shoulder as he was running towards the wall and dropped into his mitt which was held at the level of his belt.
I also lived during the time of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris (the Double M of the New York Yankees) and would try to take a batting stance like one or the other of them and see myself hitting an imaginary ball out of Yankee stadium. As a kid I had many other sports heroes whose exploits I followed and sought to imitate if only in my imagination.
WHAT IS THE TRIANGLE THAT LEADS TO LIFE?
So, what does the Trinity, that wonderful and hard to understand doctrine of the church that sees God as made up of three distinct persons, have to do with how we admire and seek to imitate other people?
Well, consider the way we learn as children. We learn by imitating others. Usually our parents are the first ones on whom we focus our attention and our power of imitation.
The other day while talking to my 3 year old Grand Daughter, she told me she had to go check on the progress her Dad was making on the creation of a peanut butter sandwich for her. We were SKYPING and she looked right into the computer at me and said: “Now you wait here and don’t move while I go see if the sandwich is ready yet.” I giggled as she toddled off a few feet to check on the sandwich.
From what source did this parental command to wait here and not move come? Obviously, this command was an imitation and a good one that she had heard many times from her Mom and Dad. I hope that she will continue to imitate her parents in the ways that they demonstrate love and affection and understanding for one another.
I had two cousins whose Father and Grandfather swore like sailors. Was it any wonder that these two little kids, ages 4 and 6, sounded just like the two men they admired the most? We imitate others and in this imitation, we become persons.
But what if those we imitate later become our rivals? What if the admired others become an obstacle to us becoming what we have admired? Remember the story of the wicked witch who poisoned Snow White in order to become the “fairest in the land?” In this economy of things, there can only be one “fairest of them all” and for the witch the solution was simple: kill Snow White and Snow White’s identity and person-hood would fall to the witch.
This is the same story we hear in the Garden of Eden. The Tempter suggests to Eve that she can be like god if only she violate the one rule God established for the Garden. The eating of the fruit was not the big issue, rather it was the change in the relationship between humanity and God which resulted from Eve's and then Adam's action.
What had been a relationship of admiration and loving friendship turned into a relationship of rivalry driven by envy and expressed finally in rejection and violence towards God, the weakest among us or anyone else who seemed to block their way to their full sense of personhood.
Unfortunately, like the witch in Snow White, Adam and Eve found themselves to be less than they had hoped they would be by their elimination of God from the picture and they immediately saw themselves as the subjects of each other’s imitation, rivalry, and wrath. The story clearly expresses this outcome in the children of this relationship: Cain, jealous of Abel’s success, kills his brother, but discovers that this murder has not really made him better than his brother, but rather simply a murderer.
All relationships are triangular. We see others whom we admire and seek to be like them. At some point, we realize that there can really be only one of the other person and that to be like them, we must replace them.
Perhaps this takes the form of an employee who admires his or her boss, but who then sets out to sabotage the boss so that he or she can take the bosses place. Can you identify with such a scenario?
Perhaps you have been the person admired who at first enjoys an employee whose behavior, thinking, and attitudes mirror your own. Perhaps you have experienced that same employee undermining you and seeking to take your place.
Perhaps you have used every means possible to put that employee in their place or perhaps you have been successfully railroaded by such an employee.
Perhaps you have been in both positions at one time or another in your life.
The Church’s teaching about Original Sin and about the Trinity go hand in hand. The Original Sin has been played out in triangulating relationships throughout human history and can be easily observed in families, communities, businesses, economic theory and practice, and politics.
The Trinity is our understanding of what a healthy and life giving relationship looks like. It is the prototype for hope in our future as a human race. God is relationship. And that relationship is one in which the Father and the Son are not in rivalry with one another, but do all for the other in a never ending cycle of love and life given and received for the benefit of the other.
This is the image of God in whom we were made. We are people in relationship and dependent upon one another for an ever expanding sharing and self-sacrificial giving that does not end up in murderous envy, resentment, rivalry, and death. Outside of this mutually interdependent relationship of love, there is only sin and death.
As we celebrate God in Trinity this Sunday and as we mark ourselves as Trinitarian Christians when we make the sign of the cross, let us remember that we are made in the likeness and image of God and that God became one of us in human history to reveal God’s true nature and our true nature.
A new way of being in relationship became a human possibility as a result of Jesus sharing his relationship with his Father with us. We are invited into this divine life and relationship and bid to live it out in our relationships with one another.
Jesus is not Willie Mays or Mantle or Marris or any other hero or our time or the past. But Jesus is the one whom we are called to imitate and to be in relationship with in such a way as to change all of our relationships with others.
The big question is not about who is most powerful, successful, number one, the fairest, the best, the wealthiest or any other such human categories of comparison that stir envy and covetousness. The big question is how can I share the life and love I have been given with others in humble imitation of God who is Trinity?
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
I have made the trip up Highway One several times in my life. Each time I do, I am awed by steady blowing of the wind off of the Pacific Ocean that always seems to be flowing through the trees, rocks, and tall grasses that lead up to the highway. On one such trip to Fort Ross, I could not help but be amazed at the line of trees that lined the edge of the ocean. Their branches were bent backwards from the sea by the ceaseless strong winds.
Wind is one of the expressions used to describe the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, we read: “1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” In this account, it is the sound of wind that is heard and not an actual wind blowing through the house.
Throughout my life I have dreams in which wind was the center piece of the action taking place. I love to watch the bending trees, the white capped waves, the shifting and blowing sands, the dancing and leaping leaves, and even the more terrifying violent clouds of tornadoes and hurricanes. I also love the sounds that the wind inspires—whistling, roaring, banging of doors and windows and buildings.
The trees bent backward on Highway One remind me that when we are exposed to the powerful wind of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis for years, it changes our shape and our direction too. Life in the Holy Spirit of God is a life of perpetual movement towards God and towards our neighbors in love. It is to be gently and sometimes not so gently moved in new and challenging directions that over time shape us into the likeness and image of Christ.
The winds of nature seem unpredictable and uncontrollable and oftentimes arbitrary. Who has not set out to rake the front yard of the dead leaves on a fall day only to have our nice and orderly piles scattered to the four corners of our yards. Jesus told Nicodemus that the “John 3:8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." To be born into the Kingdom of God is to be a wind blown, a Holy Spirit blown person. It is after years of living under the influence and sway of Wind of God that others begin to notice that we as individuals and as communities are shaped by that wind.
I remember clearly that as a child, I would run out of the house on a windy day so that I could be blown about by the winds of heaven and could see the power of the wind around me. This same love of the winds of nature seems to have brought me to a place of love, admiration, and wanting to be formed, shaped, and propelled by the Winds of High Heaven on earth as well.
Pentecost celebrates the coming of the Winds of High Heaven. This Holy Wind is blowing through our church and through all creation. The church and the world has done some raking of dead leaves to tidy up creation, but the Holy Spirit keeps sweeping down on those dead leaves and making them dance in God’s melody of love and grace. The Holy Spirit has come to bring us together; to allow us to hear the message of God’s love in the languages we can understand and to help us share that message in languages of love in action.
I hope you will join me in the High Winds of Heaven this Pentecost Sunday. Let this mighty wind shape our community and each one of us into the image of God’s love. The work of the Holy Spirit will be obvious to even the most casual observer who happens to pass by.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
You might think that all Episcopal clergy think and act and believe alike. Well, such is not the case anymore than thinking that everyone at Christ Church or in the Diocese of Los Angeles or in the many dioceses of the Episcopal Church around the world agrees on every issue or statement of belief. So, how in the world can we ever expect to be at unity the way God the Father and God the Son are at unity?
The history of Christendom shows us that we have tried to become one by various and sundry means. As the church became institutionalized the relationship between love, power, and justice changed. Jesus, when asked by the disciples when the kingdom of Israel would be restored, responded in such a way as to suggest that God’s Kingdom and the kingdom of Israel were not the same.
God commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Our 21st century view of love is much more about feeling than what this commandment is trying to convey. Neither human beings nor God can command me or anyone else to have a positive feeling of regard for others, but God can and has created us to love one another.
Remember how in the opening chapters of Genesis, creation is brought into existence by God commanding it to be so? In the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis describes the creation of Narnia as a powerful and beautiful song sung by God. I like this way of describing God's creative commandment.
The same God who brought about the entire creation, visible and invisible, and continues to sustain it by his Word, created us to be creatures who love, that is our core being is to act in the best interest of neighbor because that is what God made us to do and to be. So, our very created nature, commanded into existence by God, is the very image of the one who calls us into existence from the beginning.
When Jesus sums up all of the commandments, he simply appeals to our very core being. We are not a bunch of animals waiting to be instructed in how we should treat one another. We are children of God who have forgotten our purpose in life: To love God and to love one another with all of our heart, mind, soul, strength, and being. The Ten Commandments are both encouragement to remember our original identity, our core being and to show us the ways we behave when we forget that identity.
To love God and to love our neighbor are not just ethical ideals or what nice people do on their best day, but define the core of our very existence. When we do not live this core love into the world around us, we not only hurt others, but we hurt ourselves. We hurt ourselves because we are not true to our created identity.
In scripture there are examples of folks who acted in ways that were contrary to their "is-ness." Peter denied Jesus three times. Saul of Tarsus persecuted Jesus by hunting down those who followed his way into grace-filled and love-giving living. In what ways do we live contrary to our "is-ness"?
The originating sin may just be about our refusing to accept our very being-ness. It seems to be about rejecting God’s commandment to be what God created us to be: creatures who love God and who love their neighbors. So, when Jesus prays for that his disciples be one, he is not praying that they practice a new ethic that allows us to live together without killing one another. Rather, he is praying that through our relationship with him, we will remember and live into the very Word of God that brought us into existence.
Unity based upon following a set of rules, or demanding that we all believe a certain set of dogmatic statements of religion is a further rebellion against our true created being. Unity based upon gathering together those whom we call our friends today and the exclusion of all others is simply rebellion turned into a religion of exclusion. Unity is not an outcome based upon anything other remembering who we are at the very core of our being, creatures of a loving God in whose image we are made and who are created to love by imitating the One in whom “we live, and move, and have our being,” as St. Paul once described God to a Greek audience.
Jesus, during his words of farewell that we will read on Sunday, described the relationship he has with God the Father and that he has with us. It is a simple, but powerful description of God’s inner being, God’s “is-ness.” Jesus prayed: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” God’s “is-ness” is described as a relationship between two persons, God the Father and God the Son. Within the church, we discover our true identity, our true “is-ness,” our true source of being and we call that One, God in Trinity, God whose “is-ness” can only be known in terms of relationship.
And that relationship is one of love that is not an ethical imperative, or a forced feeling of closeness, but a clarity of being, or “is-ness” that is the only compelling message we are and have to share with the world.
The world operates as if we are not created beings of a loving creator. The world and our institutional ways of living together seek other ways of creating unity and peace that do not include God as God is revealed by Jesus’ life. Jesus understood that the world and the world’s people, cut off from our soul, our “is-ness” sees God coming into the world as a threat to the way we do business. Jesus exposed that ugly reality on the cross, but he also brought to us a mirror in which we could see ourselves as God created us to be, as those whose “is-ness” is love.
And our "is-ness" is expressed for us in worship that invites us to take God's love into the world in new and creative ways. In the BCP (page 336), we pray
"...humbly beseeching thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him."
For us, our unity is expressed in this sacrament of bread and wine. It tells us who we are and it invites God's grace and blessing to restore us to the unity that is at the very core of our being. We are commanded into existence as loving children of a loving God, we are made in God's image by his creative power.
And so, Jesus prays for us.