Sunday, June 03, 2007

Scriptures: Psalm 8
Scriptures: Psalm 8, John 16: 12-15

As Sara Webb Phillips says on the back of your bulletin, this is an unusual Sunday in the life of the church because our Christian calendar celebration focuses on a doctrine of the church rather than an event in Scripture. I thought this would usher in a good opportunity for our church to explore the traditional doctrines of the church together this summer at a Thursday evening study—and I would invite you to participate in that.
In the Psalm today, we heard the poet’s amazement that the same God who created the stars and the mountains is also “mindful” of humans. Many of us have probably had this experience before, standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, in the shadow of a large mountain, gazing up at the expanse of space,—there is a sense of smallness that we sometimes feel, a sense of insignificance. Yet, the Psalmist expresses the joy of one who is known intimately, ultimately, by God.
How can we have a relationship with one who created the heavens and the earth and who is mindful of everything in the universe? It seems too bold to ask for the attention of such a God, yet we believe in a God who takes the most pleasure in having a relationship with us. Perhaps this is because at the very heart of God is a relationship between the three-in-one. God is at the most basic a mystery of 3. God is not the creator of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, God is most basically a relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit. God is most fundamentally a dynamic outpouring of creativity, redemption, and sanctification.
Sara Phillips says, “The doctrine of the Trinity is how the early Chritians named their central conviction that the way God forms us, relates to us, saves us, and moves in us is not different from the way God is in God’s very being.” There was a heresy in the 3rd century church called Saballianism which basically stated that there are no personal relationships between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The only distinguishing relationships were between God and man.
Saballianism, or Modalism, said that the Trinity was not three Persons in one God, but three functional relationships with man. The Father is the mode that created man; the Son is the mode that redeemed man; the Holy Spirit is the mode that sanctified man. The reason this offended the orthodox church was because it turned a real, functioning relationship at the heart of the Godhead into a theological construction that depended on humankind’s presence and relationship with God.
This relationship at the core of God is described in the classical doctrines of the Trinity as “one being, who exists simulaneously and eternally, as a ‘mutual indwelling’ of three persons.” Isn’t that a beautiful term? “Mutual Indwelling:” in my mind I see a beautiful endless spiral.
John of Damascus, in the 8th century, used the Greek term περιχώρησις (perichoresis, literally: circuition, going around, or more precisely for John of Damascus' meaning envelopment) to signify this, in his explanation of the text, "I am in my Father, and my Father is in me."
In Eastern Christianity, perichoresis is associated with unification with the Godhead upon sanctification. Redeemed humanity is drawn into the circulation of divine love and thus participates in the coinherence of the Divine Persons, referring to texts such as John 17:20-23.26: "I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me... that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them."
Interestingly enough, the if you replace the “omega” with its long O sound in the word “perichoresis,” with an omicron, a short “o” sound, you have the Greek word for “dance.” Isn’t that beautiful? God’s very being is not very far removed from the idea of an endless, mutual dance, and God is inviting us to be a part of the dance.
As Paul locates the Spirit’s power in “fellowship” in 2nd Corinthians 13:13, we are given the power to participate in the enveloping dance of the Trinity by the power of the Holy Spirit. Contrary to the popular way of speaking about entering this dance, we don’t “get the Spirit.” Because the actions of the Trinity are completely free and completely grace-full, it would be more apporpriate to say that the Spirit “gets us!”
That is why we call this sacred meal that we partake in “communion.” God communicates an inward and spiritual truth to us in an outward and physical sign. In the elements of communion—in this simple bread and juice, God presents Himself to us fully and mysteriously. This is a gift of grace, not merit. This is why we do not put a fence around the elements—this is why we open the table to everyone. Gifts of grace are freely offered. It is as if the three in one Godhead offers us two hands to join in the dance of mutual indwelling. If we take this bread and juice and fail to let it work in us, it is like we are stepping all over the toes of the persons of the Trinity.
To keep in time with the dance, to know which steps to take, we need only look to Christ to guide us. Jesus Christ is the incarnation of this mysterious God, and we can see how to live and love and be in fellowship with one another by watching how our savior behaved in the world. Perhaps this is what Paul meant when he wrote, “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5). As Mark Ralls, writes in a recent issue of Christian Century, “the peculiar thing about Jesus’ mind was that it was always directed toward others.
Jesus was divine mindfulness incarnate. He noticed those who were forgotten. He cherished those who were despised. In the midst of a crowd pulsing all around him, Jesus noticed the touch of a despairing woman who merely grrazed the “hem of his garment” On the cross, Jesus noticed the penitent thief beside him making room in his heart for God. In lesser ways, we are called to be mindful of one another. This is our choice to make again and again. This is how we keep rhythm with the Holy Trinity who dances along with us.
So, we come to the table in order to sustain this dance. We come to the table so that we may internalize God’s mindfulness of us. We come to this table for all of those who cannot or will not, and in turning our attention toward them, we reflect God’s mindfulness into the world. By participating in this sacred communion with God, we enter the fellowship of God’s presence and are in turn propelled to make fellowship with our neighbors.
As Jurgen Moltmann, the premier theologian of our time, wrote “God is experienced not merely individually, in the encounter of the individual, solitary soul with itself. He is exerienced socially too, in the encounter with others….In experiencing the affection of others we experience God. In being loved we sense the nearness of God, in hate we feel God’s remoteness. In love we are seized by the creative energies of the divine Spirit, in hate we are consumed by the poisons of death….From one another, with one another, and in one another human beings discover that mirror of the Godhead which is called imago Dei—the image of God in whom we are created, and which is in actual truth imago Trinitatis.
So, let us come to the table, let us feast together in a reflection of this wonderful God who loves without distraction. Let us eat this bread and drink this cup and thereby stay in rhythm with the Three in One.

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