When we describe the relationships we share with one another, we often have to use words that are imperfect. Terms like Father and son, Mother and daughter, husband and wife, spouses, partners, siblings, and cousins are all words we use that provide some abstract meaning to familial relationships. Boss and employee, pastor and parishioner, commander and soldier, doctor and patient are words that provide meaning for other types of relationships. Realistically, not all of the words we use to describe these relationships are all encompassing, because sometimes relationships are complicated, and sometimes we have our own biases about what these relationships mean.
For instance, have you ever been shopping in Publix and noticed a nice older couple holding hands? Maybe you assume how lovely it is that those two have been married for so long, and they are still in love. In fact, they may not be husband and wife at all, but they may be just two friends, who are merely assisting one another to walk and to shop. You may never know that until you actually have a conversation with them, until you, in a way, enter into that interaction.
Often times, in order to understand a relationship, we have to interact with folks, in order to learn more about them. Sometimes we need more of the relationship story, in order to understand the connections people share. Sometimes we need to have more of God’s salvation story, in order to understand the connection, the divine plan, the love and grace God has for us.
RELATIONSHIPS: GOD – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In today’s gospel reading we hear about God, the relational nature of the inner life of the Divine (God and Word and Spirit). The Greek word for “WORD” is “Logos,” and it is used to describe the characteristics of God’s divine plan, reason, and the ordering of creation. Christian theologians refer to “Logos” as the word used to describe or “define the role of (God the Son) as the principle of God active in the creation and the continuous structuring of the cosmos, and in revealing the divine plan of salvation to (humanity) man.” (1)
Now, if you listen closely to the first few verses of John’s gospel, you may get a glimpse into what theologians call the inner relationship of the Trinitarian God. For instance, paraphrasing the first verse, “In the beginning was God and Word (logos) and they were one.” Father and Son, God and Logos, (and Holy Spirit) are one. We use human familial terms to describe a God ( Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Some folks use words like “Lover, the Beloved, and the Love they share” to provide meaning to God’s inner nature. Why is having an understanding about the relational God so important for us?
Because we need to know that scripture, tradition, and reason teaches us, that the cosmos sprung forth from a relationship of love, found within the mysterious inner existence of God. Love was, is, and will be the essence, purpose, and plan of God from the beginning, and the purpose and plan inherent in the very nature of Godself; it is a relational plan.
In the beginning, at the moment in which, the universe sprang forth, it was God’s plan that set it all in motion. Throughout history, God has whispered that plan of reconciliation and love through prophets and sages. At a particular moment in time, the Word became flesh, the plan became manifested in a person, Jesus of Nazareth. This is the Good News that we Christians proclaim and yet, we sometimes turn a deaf ear to the Spirit’s beckoning call, for us to be in relationship with God.
RELATIONSHIPS: GOD and CREATION; CREATION and GOD
God has been calling creation back into perfect relationship with Godself, but it is a relationship we need to try and understand in our feeble human nature. The icon projected on the screens is called Rublev’s Icon, written by Russian artist Andrei Rublev. It has often been described “depict(ing) the three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre, but the painting is full of symbolism and is interpreted as an icon of the Holy Trinity.”(6)
Notice how the two figures to the right are leaning toward, in loving gesture, to the third. Notice how each character’s facial features are exactly the same. Notice the middle character’s hand gesture is the same Jesus’ uses depicted in ancient art. Notice that there is a table at which all three are seated. Now, notice that there is a place at the table, in the middle of the picture, a place for you. Imagine that we are being beckoned to participate in the divine relationship, the divine love of God. Rublev’s icon gives us a window into the possibility of sharing in the loving relationship with God, but do we accept that invitation?
John’s gospel states, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet they did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” God beckons us, and yet “the most common responses are that people reject God’s revelations as lies, they disbelieve in them, they deny them.” (2, pg. 89) Yet, God continues to call us to Godself.
God’s message was one of love, forgiveness and reconciliation, and I believe we can all recognize …. that these concepts are demonstrated better by “body-language—our gestures, our actions, our vulnerability— (which) speak much more clearly than the finest of words.” Thus, the Word of God revealed in “Jesus is not a series of directives that need to be unambiguously stated in clear terms.” The Word of God was communicated in flesh, as one of us, in a language and action we can understand and to which, we might relate. God’s message of love requires the embodiment of love. It requires action and it requires us to share the message.
RELATIONSHIPS: HUMANKIND to ONE ANOTHER
Pope Francis recently tweeted this phrase, “Let us free Christmas from the worldliness that has taken it hostage! The true spirit of Christmas is the beauty of being loved by God.” (Twitter – Pope Francis) God communicates God’s plan for humankind as a relationship of perfect love. God spoke that love in the act of bringing about creation, in the ongoing sustaining action in the lives of God’s people, and all for the relational restoration of creation.
Now, we the church, followers of Jesus, need to be more than mere spectators of God’s divine plan of love. We need to be more than mere bearers of words like, “I love Jesus” or “Jesus loves you.” Our actions must do all the talking. We have to show up in the world. We must stand for the least among us. We must work to bring about justice. We must be God’s love enfleshed, by all we do and say. Theologian Brian Blount asserts, “God’s Word translates the truth and reality of God’s intention for humankind. We, as God’s own, translate that same intention.” (3)
This relationship of love we share with God begins with God, and continues through our work in the world. By our words, our actions, our giving, and our response, we become the gospel enfleshed today. That empty seat at God’s table In Rublev’s icon is not merely for us, but for all of creation. In a few moments we will gather around God’s table to be fed with heavenly food, which all are invited to partake. The place at the table at which, we all will dine this morning is one available, so we might share in the divine life of God. Our challenge as Christians in the 21st century is a simple, and at the same time difficult one, “Are we really ready and willing to take a risk, the same risk God took for us, to invite our neighbors to join us at the table, the table of love set by God?”
2 Madigan, Daniel A. “People of the Word: Reading John with a Muslim.” Review & Expositor, vol. 104, no. 1, 2007, pp. 81-95.
5 “Is Science Enough”, John Polkinghorne, Sewanee Theological Review 39:1 (1995), p. 12.