The Wise Person’s Relationships: God
August 5, 2007
I have been impacted by the life of Bob Webber. Dr. Webber, as you may know, is a respected worship theologian, the founding president of The Institute for Worship Studies, where I have been doing my graduate work. I say “life” because though he died this past spring, I am continually reminded of his life…and the life of Christ through him.
I have also been affected by the stories of Moses and Paul. They strike me as people who were called by God but felt their humanity in palpable ways. Moses says to God, “Go get Aaron….he talks better than I do.” And Paul complains over his “thorn in the flesh.”
This morning, Terry has given me the opportunity to speak. And I feel inadequate to the task. However as Bob Webber has been quoted as saying, “I may BE inadequate, in fact, I AM inadequate, and in truth always will be, because none of us will ever reach the “truly adequate” mark in this life. But I know a man. He IS fully adequate. He is standing at the right hand of the father ever making intercession for me and for you and for all of us. His name is Jesus…” and I am His disciple.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O
Lord, our rock and our redeemer. In the strong name of Jesus Christ and through the power of
the Holy Spirit, Amen.
On April 30th of this year, 40 members of a chancel choir, near and dear to my heart performed a dance of sorts to begin the 9:00 a.m. worship service at their church. This dance was an African processional…two large steps forward, two small steps back, as they sang an unfamiliar African text, melody and harmony…without printed notes. They had practiced for weeks, and were as ready to go as they were ever going to be. Some struggled a bit more than others, but all worked very hard to move together to bring praise to God, and I imagine that there was rejoicing in heaven and in this sanctuary between Father, Son, and Spirit that day.
In John 17 we find recorded a particularly tender prayer of Christsome have called it Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.” It comes toward the end of his earthly ministry, right before the scene in the garden of Gethsemene where he is handed over to authorities and subsequently crucified. Throughout these last weeks, Jesus has been preparing his disciples for the time when His physical body would leave them. He urges them to love God and one another. He describes himself as the good shepherd, the vine, the way, the truth, and the life. He predicts the time when he would be leaving them and promises the Holy Spirit’s presence.
Jesus obviously prayed aloud so that he could be heard by these disciples. The prayer reflects Christ’s passionate longing for the Father to glorify the Son, and the amazing statement that Jesus is glorified through this bumbling, sometimes clueless group of disciples. Jesus’ desire for unity in this passage is overwhelming“may they be one as We are one so that the world may know that You have sent me. Wwhat does it mean for Father and Son to be one and for us to be one in them?
Jesus speaks here in the plural“that they may be one as WE are one.” From the beginnings of creation, God was communal. Genesis 1:1 states that “the spirit of God hovered over the deep” and then in the creation of man, “let us make man in our image.” In Colossians 1:15-16, regarding the person of Jesus Christ, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Him all things in heaven and on earth were created…all things have been created through Him and for Him” (NRSV). And in this passage, vs. 24…”because You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” Jesus was not some being conjured up at the proper time to be born in Bethlehem, but has been present with the Father and Spirit from the beginnings of time a community of God, distinct, yet working together, mutually indwelling one another.
The Perichoretic Dance
God does not merely exist in community Father, Son, Spirit as some stagnant wallflower keeping score, shaking their collective fingers at our foibles, and watching history unroll. But God exists in dynamic relationship.
An early church icon was called Rubilev’s trinity. The three persons represent the three persons of the trinity. You will visualize a circular seating around a meal. The front area is open, inviting a fourth. It portrays the invitation for us to be joined into that fellowship, even to share in the meal.
If you were here on July 15th, you will remember the theatre group who visited us from Northwestern College. They helped us pray in a new way called “enacted prayer.” God, as represented by three people, moved in and around those involved in the prayer, encouraging, prompting, comforting joyously moving in complementary unity…God dancing around and with us.
The persons of the trinity are diverse and yet unified, active and participating together, co-creators, co-laborers, mutually dwelling and indwelling one another. The ancient church used the metaphor of dance to describe this relational activity of Father, Son and Spirit. They called it perichoresis (peri-circle and choresisdance) a circle dance.
Imagine with me the scene in the heavenlies.
Saints and angels continually calling out to one another,
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,
heaven and earth are filled with His glory.
Can you see it? Can you sense it…
The glory of the God-head,
Father, Son and Spirit shining, glowing, glistening,
pulsating with love and joy,
co-creating energy and imagination.
A visual feast, an eternal joyous dance….
the perichoresis of God….
Unexplainable goodness and light,
the brightness of the father’s glory.
And then through that radiance, the son steps down and beckons to you…. With unimaginable love….he calls you to His dance…..
Come… my beloved, my precious one, …
You who are lonely, cold, confused…
there is an eternal dance going on all around you…
Can you see it, can you imagine it, can you perceive it?
To Know God Eternal Life
In John 17:3, Jesus prays, “and this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Eternal life is not what begins after death, but what begins after birth--our birth into Christ and into the life of God, this joyous dance of the trinity. When the biblical writers use the term “know” it is not merely a head knowledge, but an active participatory knowledge. Can we imagine that our activity of life is a way of knowing God?
Supper time at the Durbin house was always a priority. Sometimes, when our kids were all involved in soccer and music, we would eat very latesometimes at 9:00 p.m. As the dishes of food were passed from person to person, David would begin the nightly ritual: “So, Eric, tell us something that happened at school today.” This was not a yes or no question, but dad wouldn’t go on to the next person until each child had their turn to share something about their day---even mom and dad. I knew more about the passionate love of my husband for each member of our family through our participation with him in this nightly ritual. It was knowingactive and communal.
As God exists in community, we also, made in the image of God, are made to be relational. We may want to be “alone” from time to time, but generally, we thrive in interaction with others. We long for meaningful friendships, ministry with others, family harmony, and we long to know God.
Being left out is not a comfortable feeling. Have you ever had the awkward experience of walking into a room, obviously interrupting a private conversation? How did you feel knowing that you were the only one left out of that whispered conversation? Have you had the experience of being the only one not chosen for a baseball team, a particular committee, or a musical production? Coming to a church for the first time can feel very lonely or embracing, depending on how you might be greeted. Being left out and strained relationships can cause a lump in the throat, a knot in the stomach, physical problems and lost sleep. We were created to live in harmony with God and others.
Do you remember the first “home alone” movie? Do you remember this scene?
Sometimes I wonder if our search to know God is a lot like that scene: we see other people enjoying the party; the lights are on; the food is great; people are all dressed up, warm and friendly, but we feel on the outside…alone, scared, cold. God exists in active community; it is a warm, embracing world, filled with joy a joyous dance, and He invites us to the party.
I remember the excitement and joy of my first steps of faith…life in God was an adventure.
It reminds me of the Sunday morning when we featured music by the celtic trio. As they were playing a joyful jig, Larissa Gemberling and Carrisa Weaver began dancing across the back of the sanctuary they couldn’t help themselves…the music called to them.
So… when did I stop dancing?
When did you stop dancing?
Was it when I thought I was too old? Was it because religion is about being serious and doing all of the right things the right way? Was it the overwhelming expectations and guilt of not praying enough, giving enough, serving enough, being holy enough? Was it just being too tired from working hard, the discouragement of feeling that the job is never done, the money is always gone, the baby is up all night and if only I could get a good night’s sleep, or pay off my bills, or get a particular degree or job, get married, get the house painted, or get decent furniture….well the list goes on. Somehow, I don’t believe that God really intends for us to be overwhelmed all of the time. Jesus assures us in John 16:33 that “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”
Maybe you stopped dancing early in life, or never started. Your childhood was not great, you were not loved or taken care of properly. Maybe you lost a parent early in life….or didn’t even know your parents.
Maybe you were cranking along really well, dancing, full of life, loving God and then the tough thing hit; you know what it was for you. Maybe you had a series of tough things, you hit “the wall”…and you forgot how to dance….or maybe you decided that God really didn’t want anything to do with dancing.
Or, are you the person for whom life has become easy…maybe too easy. You got that great promotion and your salary jumped. You have all the things this life can offerbut your senses are dull to the things of the spirit; you have entertained yourself into oblivion.
I can’t promise you easy times; sometimes life is just tough. But I can let you know that Jesus promises eternal life, and eternal life is to know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent--an active, participatory, creative, joyful, dancing, community of God. He invites us into the dance, inviting us to be one, just as He and Father (and Spirit) are one. Can you imagine the relationships, ministries, and activities in your life as your participation in the life of God? Can you imagine being part of the story, in on the party, dancing with the triune? Okay, its kind of mysterious and mystical… but even the leaves don’t stand still on the branches for long. They dance and glow and reflect the glory of God; they do their work and participate as creations of God.
Imagine being co-creators with God, building his kingdom as one in Him--taking up His hand, completing your work with joy, bringing glory to God through Christ. Sometimes I have heard people say “Live in the moment” or Practice the present.” I would say “dance the story.” Dance is dynamic, moving, active, and helps us imagine the amazing gift of dancing this story with God.
And it’s not just you! It’s me and Liz, and Terry, and ... we celebrate and take up each others hands and get into the dance. So, what does all this mean for us, practically speaking? If we see our lives in Christ as being caught up into the communionthe dance of Godshouldn’t it put a different emphasis on who we perceive ourselves to be and how we participate in the life of God, the knowledge of God, building the kingdom of God? We, the church, not as individuals, but as a community of faith? We are diverse, different, possess varying gifts, abilities, personalities…but together dance this life in God.
The church ought to reflect the community of God diverse and yet mutually dwelling actively calling one another and the world to the dance of the kingdom, so that the world will know.
Bring Glory to God
Jesus uses the words “bring glory” repeatedly in this chapter of John. He says: “I have brought you glory by completing the work you have given me to do.” And then, “I have been glorified in them.” Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine came to this earth to lift us up out of the muck of our lives, into the very life of God, into communion with Themthis dance of the Trinity. As Father and Son bring glory to one another by the work that They do, we also bring glory to God by completing the work we have been given. What is that work? Is it caring for people, smiling at the person in the checkout lane instead of scowling at them? Do you see your care over your children as “the work you have been given to do?” Do you see your mundane job as participating in the life of God---would that cause you to look deeply into the faces of those your encounter with joy and compassion? And what about others? If you imagine that they are also caught up in the perichoresisthe dance of God, would you shrug them off, avoid them, criticize them or would you see their work in new ways that would cause you to value their participation in this communal dance?
On June 15th, 2007, I was privileged to be part of the memorial service for a Bob Webber. These words from one of the eulogies reflect well my own heart:
Bob “taught all of us that our worship, Christian worship, is in truth a participation, or entering into the loving community, that perichoresis, or dance, of the triune God. It’s almost as if the triune God is engaged in an eternal Jewish round dance of love, joy and peace, a dance of victory over the powers of sin, evil and death, and one spot is always left open for us, for you and me, to come and dance.
Ken Medema is a very talented song writer, composer and pianist, who happens to be blind. He wrote a song describing an event when he attended a youth group dance after one of his concerts….He was asked by one of the young ladies at this event to dance with her. Perhaps she didn’t know he was blind. Or, maybe she did. Here is the text he wrote about that event, alluding to this dance with God:
She asked me to dance,
and I’d never tried dancing before.
I had visions of everyone
laughing us right off the floor.
And though I protested,
I just wouldn’t be any good.
She gently insisted, and finally I told her I would.
Unforgettable! She was a fresh breath of spring on a cold winter’s day.
Unforgettable! She taught this singer to sing
in a whole new way.
He asked me to dance,
and I’d never tried dancing before.
I had visions of saints and angels
laughing us right off the floor.
And though I protested,
I just wouldn’t be any good.
He gently insisted, and finally I told him I would.
Unforgettable! He was a fresh breath of spring
on a cold winter’s day.
Unforgettable! He taught this singer to sing
in a whole new way.”
Sometime we struggle with the dance. I certainly don’t get it right much of the time. I need to learn new steps and new patterns of thinking, imagining and sensing God’s movement in and around me, learning how to respond as God woes me into His dance.
The chancel choir worked hard at trying to move together and get those steps just right, we didn’t totally perfect it, but thanks be to God, that in Christ Jesus, we were perfected and drawn into His eternal dance of the trinity…the perichoresis of God. I imagine the looks of joy between Father, Son, and Spirit, and I imagine that they were dancing right along with us.
Our BIC ancestors used to celebrate the Lord’s supper as part of a longer several-day event called Love feast. There were patterns of singing, preaching, suppers, fellowship, confession and feet washing. These patterns were a liturgy of sorts, a dance, if you will, that brought these brothers and sisters to an intimate time of sharing in the Lord’s supper.
Long strips of shortbread were lovingly prepared. After the words of Christ were read, these were distributed at the ends of each row. In turn each participant offered bread to the person next to them, and as the bread was broken they spoke the words“this bread is the communion of the body of Christ.” There was a clear sense that as they affirmed their covenant with God, they also affirmed a covenant with one another as Christ gave himself for me, I am willing to give myself for you.
This was a communion of the saints, a participation in the life of God a way of knowing God, a participation in the dance of the triune.
This morning, as we celebrate Christ’s sacrifice for us, loaves of bread will be distributed at the end of the rows. We invite you to offer the loaf to the person next to you….look into their eyes and say, “This bread is the communion of the body of Christ.” Then hold your piece and we will all eat together when everyone has been served.
Then, as the cups are passed, follow the same pattern, looking at one another, saying, “This cup is the communion of the blood of Christ.”
Following the communion service, there will be people available here at the front for those of you who would like to have someone to pray with you, or you would like to be anointed.