Texts: Prov 8.1-4, 21-30; Rom 5.1-5; Jn 16.12-15
Scripture tells us that God created humankind in the image of God. This means that God’s fundamental characteristic of relationship is present in us, as well. Humans are social creatures; we naturally gather into communities and societies and civilizations. Those relationships that we form with one another are reflections of the relationship that God has with us and even with God’s own self. They are imperfect and incomplete reflections, to be sure, like how you can never see all of yourself in a mirror, but they are reflections nonetheless. We are our Father’s children; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
This means that when we are gathered as Church, a community forged in the name of God, that community has the ability to teach us something about God. In the 1st letter of John, it says that we love because God first loved us, that love is from God and everyone who loves is born of God. (1 John 4.19, 7) The love of our community of faith comes from God and teaches us about God. The diversity of ideas and values, of experiences and beliefs and opinions that appear in community teach us about who God is. As we learn to love people who are so very different from us that God has called to this community, we begin to learn little by little about the God who brought each of us here.
I know this because I have experienced it. I went to church regularly while growing up, learning about the love of God in Sunday School and confirmation class and worship. But then my mom got sick. When I was 8, mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She died two years later. During that time in my life, I first felt disconnected from God. I wondered why God would let her get sick, why God didn’t seem to be answering my prayers for her to get better.
However, that was also when I experienced God up close and personal in the community of the church gathered around me. The people whom God gathered into that congregation loved and cared for me and my family. They supported us, prayed with us, fed us, even gave us the gift of a family trip. They hoped with us and mourned with us. It was through that community that I truly began to know God. It is because of the God who I met in that congregation, the God who consoled me and strengthened me and called me by name, that I am where I am today, and why I can say with confidence that our God is a God of community.
Community, however, is not God. Our love, unlike God’s, is imperfect, and so we divide ourselves by race and class, by politics and opinions. Even in our churches, created and shaped by our triune God, we segregate ourselves into like-minded, like-looking people. The fact that our ELCA is overwhelmingly white is not just an embarrassing fact in a diverse world, it is a tragedy because the picture of God that our congregations give us is incomplete, and it is too easy for us to forget that God is bigger than what we see in our sanctuaries.
When I was growing up, I was taught that all people are equal, regardless of skin color. I was instilled with the belief that all people are beloved by God. In seminary as I went around visiting different churches—Mennonite, Orthodox, Foursquare Gospel—but I never went to visit the African Methodist Episcopal church in town because I was intimidated. I don’t know why, but I think it has something to do with the fact that, as wonderful as my home congregation is, it is all white, and so I simply wasn’t used to being in a place where not everybody else looked like me. My image of God, as beautiful as it is, is incomplete because I have not experienced God present in that part of the Church.
Race is only one way we divide ourselves, but however it happens, our division is always a loss. When we segregate ourselves into groups along the lines of politics, beliefs, ethnic background, sexual orientation or anything else, we cut ourselves off from a fuller understanding of God by cutting ourselves off from other people whom God has created, called and claimed. And so our unity is, as yet, an imperfect reflection of the perfect unity of God.
Sometimes division is necessary. Sometimes it is inevitable. We cannot please everybody all the time, and we cannot remain silent in the face of injustice, but neither do we always need to agree in order to be in community. Sometimes churches split or people leave over issues that do not need to be divisive. Whenever we gather, it is worthwhile for us to ask who is missing. Whose voices are not joined with ours? Whose ideas are not represented? These may be aspects of God we are missing.
In the midst of painful struggles and deep questions we have the promise that Jesus gave his disciples on the night of his arrest: that though he is going where we will not see him, he sends us the Holy Spirit, who will lead us into all truth. The Gospel of John says from the beginning that Christ came to reveal God to us. Jesus promises that his work of revealing God continues today through the Holy Spirit, and imperfect as it may be, the Church gathered here is home to that Spirit.
As we stumble along together along life’s journey, through our mistakes and our wrong turns we are never alone. Our triune God is with us, just as God always has been—hearing our prayers, feeding us at the table, moving our hearts to action, uniting us across the chasms that divide us, both real and imagined. Just as our God is mysteriously united in Trinity, God mysteriously unites us in this meal. As we come to communion we gather around one table to share one food—the body and blood of Christ. When I come to this sacrament, I find myself sharing this meal not only with my home congregation who first introduced me to God, but also with St. Paul AME Zion in Gettysburg, and even with my mother.
God’s grace given to us in the Eucharist is enough to bring us together across time and space, across life and death; certainly it can bring us together over the petty differences of politics and ideology. God works to unite us with all who come to this table, and that is what makes us community. This meal is concrete, living proof that we will always have the Spirit, and we will always have each other. Together we will help one another follow along the way.
So you see, the idea of a God who is triune might not be something we will ever be able to understand, but understanding the trinity is less important than experiencing the trinity. Our triune God is in relationship with us, just as we are with one another, and helps us to be in relationship with the world in a way that we never could on our own. If we learn anything from Trinity, I hope it is that the relationship the Church of Christ mirrors the relationship of God—Father, Son and Spirit: unknowable, inexplicable, and unbreakable.