Not long after I started coming to St. Michael’s, I joined the New Members Class. It seemed the right thing to do. The first class was a pot-luck—only the potential new members didn’t have bring any food. We just had to bring hearts willing to learn. The class went fine. People introduced themselves and talked about who they were and why they were there. Nothing very threatening. Brian and Sam Hall, the clergy at the time, talked a little bit about St. Michael’s and the Episcopal Church. I was relaxing into the moment. Until we got the homework assignment. On the surface that was no big deal. Just one little question: Who is God to you? Yet even now, over fifteen years later, my stomach turns at that question.
“Who is God?” I spent the week sitting with that question, turning it over in my mind as I walked the dogs, thinking about it right before bed, praying it in the mornings, swimming with it in the afternoons. I was struck mute by the question. I couldn’t come to an answer. I tried. I really tried to answer that question but all I could come up with was the silence of a clear winter night after the first deep snowfall and the sound of a trumpet fanfare.
What do you do with that question? Who is God to you? Where do you look for an answer?
Since the earliest days of our faith tradition, people have been grappling with how to convey what they know and have experienced of God. Isaiah stresses the mystery of God, the otherness of God—a high and lofty lord sitting on a throne and surrounded by seraphs. Our psalmist sings of the thundering power of God who breaks cedar trees, shakes the wilderness and strips the forest bare. Paul points to a more intimate approachable God. God we call “Abba, Father,”—the terms Jesus used when he talked to God. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night and asks him, “Just who are you? Are you God or what?” Maybe that’s not exactly how he put the question, but that’s what I think he would have said today.
That question, “Who is God and who is Jesus and what’s the Holy Spirit doing in the mix” is a question folks started struggling with early in the history of the church. One of the early church fathers spoke of God as “ice, liquid and steam—sun, ray and light”—diverse, distinct but in relationship. Two centuries later, Augustine conceived of the Triune God as “memory, understanding and will.” In the middle ages Aquinas saw God as “Love Originating, Love Responding, Love Uniting.” In our own time theologian Sally McFague speaks of God as “Mother, Lover and Friend.”
Each in their own way saying that God is more—more than one image, more than one force, more than one substance—and yet God is also one. Each in their own way pointing to a truth about God that simply cannot be contained in one image or word or concept. Each in their own way drawing our attention to the Triune God—God who at base is “Being in relationship, Unity in diversity, Love outpouring”.
Think of it: at God’s very core is relationship, communion, diversity!
And we, you and I, are made in the image of God. You and I and all humanity are made in the image of the Triune God. Sit with that a minute. Woven into the threads of our DNA is the image of God—God who at the core is in relationship with God’s self and all creation; God who at the center is—as Aquinas puts it, “Love originating, Love responding, Love uniting.”
The thread of individualism runs so deep in our culture that we tend to see ourselves as individuals made in the image of God—God’s imprint on you, God’s imprint on me or, as I sometimes think, God made in my image—my imprint on God’s face. But I wonder—I wonder if our understanding of the Triune God calls us to a different understanding of what it means to be made in the image of God.
At its core, being made in the image of the Triune God means being in relationship—from the get go. Think of it: we become most fully who we are—bearers of the image of God—when we do so in relationship with one another.
We can’t really do this on our own. We need one another. It is in community—communion if you will—that we grow into who we are called to be; it is in community that we become full bearers of the image of God. Think of the people in your life who have called out in you that which is most uniquely you. People who have believed in you and in your possibilities. Remember also those who in challenging you, disagreeing with you, downright annoying you have helped you become who you are. God in relationship. Unity in diversity. Communion in community.
How strange this must sound to ears accustomed to the divisive individualism that so permeates our culture. Yet what profound witness we give when we live into our understanding that we call one another into being and that to live truly into the image of God we must do this as community.
It is in community that we see flashes of the Triune God—unified in diversity and sewn together by love. Take a minute. Look around this community, this congregation, this part of the Body of Christ we call Live at Five. Here we are—the image of God in all our possibility, in all our hurts, in all our joys, in our wonderful moments, in the bumps along the way, in the times we make each other mad, in our disappointments and in our wild hopes, in the meal we share each week, in our prayers for one another and the rest of God’s creation. The image of God taking shape in our midst. Thanks be to God—Creator, Son and Spirit. Mother and Father of us all. Amen.