Benediction Online

Sunday, May 26, 2013

People of Hope

Romans 5:1-5

When I did high school biology we started by studying a single celled creature called an amoeba and gradually worked our way up the life forms through worms and caterpillars until we finally reached… rabbits. As I am always better at starting things than completing them, I remember far more about amoeba than about rabbits.

The largest amoeba are 0.000039 inches across. They don’t have brains so I don’t know whether they can think or speculate about the world. If they did, I suspect these single cell creatures would have a very hard time imagining a multi-cell organism as complex as a worm, let alone a rabbit or even a human being. We all have a difficult time imagining what it would be like to be something other than we are. I cannot truly imagine being a rabbit, let alone a worm or, heaven forbid, an amoeba without eyes, ears, arms, legs, heart or brain – without any of the things that I find vital to my life.

So it’s not surprising that we also have a hard time imagining a more complex organism than us. But today is Trinity Sunday, and so we get to try imagining the Trinity which must be a more complex Being than we are. Three in One and One in Three.

We are monotheists. We trust in one God who is also three.  It doesn’t seem to make sense, and nowhere is it explained in the Bible. The early Church was not at all sure how to understand this new concept of God that Jesus brought, with his talk of his Father and the new gift of the Spirit, and it was really not until the end of the second century that the idea of the Trinity – the tri-une God was firmly in place.

Does it matter?

Yes and No. God is God and God is far more than our brains can imagine. That’s not going to change, however we talk about him or her. But how we think about God has some important ramifications for how we think and act.

If we imagine that God is like a triangle with the Father at the top and the Son and the Spirit as the lower two corners, then we are seeing the Godhead as a hierarchically fixed structure. That will make us tend to believe that the cosmos also has a hierarchically fixed structure. It’s a way of thinking that some Christians use to support patriarchal structures where women are subordinate to men.

If we think that the Trinity is like a sphere of ever-moving energy, with the three Persons constantly in motion, spinning around one another, and that the energy which keeps them moving translates in our consciousness into praise, love, mutual surrender, joy and creativity, then we develop a much more egalitarian way of thinking about the world, including human functioning.

From that incredible creativity came the cosmos. It has been said that the created world is the pillow talk of the Trinity. And God –all three of her – longs for the whole of creation to be reconciled to Godself and to become part of that dancing sphere of light, love, praise and glory. That is our higher calling.

But it is not an individual calling – we cannot be fully reconciled to God until the whole of creation is redeemed. Which leads me to wonder, what if… what if we are not individuals as we seem to be, but are in fact, cells in a much larger more complex being? What if the whole of creation is actually one complex being and we are its cells?

I wonder how it would change our behavior if we saw ourselves like that?

From that perspective I notice that neither the New Testament nor the Gospel reading today are talking about individuals. The passage from Romans says that we have peace with God through Jesus through whom we have been given grace; that we hope to share the glory of God and that God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Likewise in the Gospel reading Jesus is telling a group of the disciples that the Spirit will come to them and that even she will not be acting alone. Clearly there are no lone rangers in the reign of God!

So we are being called into reconciliation with God, and with us we bring the whole of creation. There is some fascinating research which suggests that we humans directly influence each other’s behavior. In a phenomenon known as “social contagion” researchers have shown that we can transfer emotional states directly from one person to another. In fact, a number of behaviors including obesity, smoking habits and school performance have also been shown to be catching. We are so interconnected that we directly influence one another – we are responsible therefore, not just for ourselves, but for all those in our social network, to live in a way that brings praise and glory to God.

God the Trinity is a community in constant connection, filled with love, praise, joy and mutual surrender, constantly creating beauty; creation is also a community in constant connection, but our communication is not always filled with love, praise, joy and mutual surrender, and the things we create are not always beautiful.

So we are called to make a difference. We are called to make sure that we are behaving like the Trinity, that the conversations we have in our heads and the conversations we have in our homes and work places and on the internet are characterized by love, praise, joy, mutual surrender and the creation of beauty. As Paul says in Philippians, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

How do we do that when we see a world filled with atrocities, hatred, fire, flood and melting icepacks? I don’t think that the answer is simply to turn off the television and turn our backs on the reality of the struggle that creation is experiencing.  But there is a place for limiting our exposure to the violence and mayhem constantly being reported on CNN and other news channels. We need to balance our mental diet with a focus on things that are beautiful, on the people who are helping, on the ways that we too can help.

We are the people of hope. We are the ones who can bring hope to the world. Through our own spiritual practice and through the grace of God, as we change the places of anger and bitterness within ourselves and within our families and community through a practice of radical forgiveness and reconciliation, so that hope will spread. It’s not just bad things that are socially contagious.

As Helen Keller said, "Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it." It is our belief, our trust and our hope that God’s love “which has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” is so great that resurrection will happen and that we - and we means all of this great organism of creation of which we are part – that we will come to share in the glory of God. And ultimately we, will become part of the Triune Godhead, that great shining sphere of ever-spinning, ever-dancing light and energy.


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