Does God Need Us?
A sermon on the doctrine of the Trinity by Jill Friebel, 15th June 2003
Today is designated as Trinity Sunday and it really makes good sense to celebrate our Trinitarian God today. Why you may ask, what is so significant about today? Here at South Yarra we have followed the lectionary calendar for the liturgical year and we have endeavoured to walk the road with Jesus firstly through Lent, and then followed him to the Cross. Jesus said to the disciples along the way You are the ones who have stayed with me. Come away with me and rest a while was this invitation for companionship and friendship for their sake or for his, or was it mutual? He was desperate for their company. Its not a notion we sit with easily, why would Jesus need anyone? Isnt it a sign of weakness to need someone else? If Jesus is God the thought of him needing human company doesnt sit comfortably with us. Does God need us? I believe he does, so stay with me as we try to understand a little of this Trinitarian God who comes to us in Jesus. I believe he longs for us, I believe he needs you and me, and his invitation to us is repeated Come away with me and rest a while.
Within the Godhead, Father/Mother, Son and Spirit is perfect harmony and mutual deferral. This mighty creative transcendent holy God has opened up their circle of love to the other and invites us in through Jesus Christ. They wait for us to reciprocate and participate and be drawn into this circle. There is no coercion - perfect love waits. Unreciprocated and ignored love suffers in the longing and becomes tragic. Gods love is tragic. But when we are drawn in and transformed into their likeness their love becomes triumphant. It is our journey to the fulfilment of all that God desires for us; it is our homecoming and healing. Only when we allow him into the deepest and darkest places can his love continue to be triumphant in its transformation. This is the work of God in response to our faith and trust and humility. Love must wait.
We revisited our baptismal vows that reminded us of our death only to be raised again to a new life. We celebrated the resurrection with great joy and delight and felt the newness and wonder again of the powerful redeeming love of God. Two weeks ago we imagined and remembered as Christ ascended into heaven, taking our humanity back into the Godhead, and representing us at the right hand of God. Jesus is all of God that can be poured into a human life. All that we need to understand of God is shown to us in Jesus. He points us to the mystery beyond. There is much, much more but that can wait.
Next came the celebration of Pentecost, the coming of Gods Spirit to dwell within us and among us and we heard some of what that means for us. Now you can see that Trinity Sunday is the culmination of all that has been revealed of God and all of which we can experience. It makes perfect sense to celebrate our relational Trinitarian God today. The presence of the Spirit not only transforms and equips us as individuals but also transforms our community and the wider community of the church. We are drawn into the fellowship of the Spirit and the fellowship of each other in intimate ways. It is here that we are invited to share our griefs and losses as well as our joys and hopes. Our God is a relational being of Father/Mother, Son and Spirit and we are invited to participate in this community of love as a community of baptised believers.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not something to be explained but persons to be experienced. There are times when it is essential to make an attempt to say something about the Trinity in words and the 4th Century was one such time. The need came out of a controversy between two parties. Arius heading one party maintained that Jesus could not possibly have been truly human, for God is too great and Holy and self sufficient to be affected by our miserable plight and concerns. The underlying idea went something like this, God was the Unmoved Mover, who created all there is but is left distant, unsullied and unaffected by it all. Much later when the Arian controversy had passed this idea of God being the Unmoved Mover lingered and permeated the churchs theology. It has had deep implications and ramifications for how we believe God relates to us and us to Him/Her. Your discomfort of God needing you, my discomfort of God needing me, is tied up in this idea of the Unmoved Mover of his self-sufficiency. We project our own obsessive need for independence and autonomy on him. Yes, it is important for someone to be doing the hard yakka of thinking and describing, because even though we may not follow the argument it will affect us in very personal ways.
Lets return to the 4th Century for a moment. Opposing Arius was Athanasius a wily little priest who hammered away tooth and nail and headed the defence of a God who took on human form. He argued that God was not essentially self-contained, superior and distant in essence. His central argument effectively stated that God was not an independent ultimate Unit of Being but a community of love where there was mutuality and reciprocation, without hierarchy. When one member of the Godhead suffered so did the other. Athanasius was putting into technical language their lived experience of God, when Jesus suffered so did the Father and so the Spirit. When God took on the human form in Jesus, he touched humanity. Instead of becoming sullied by us, he made us clean. Athanasius said all this in words that seem a little confusing. One such sentence of his goes like this:
We worship one God in three and three in unity, neither confounding the persons or dividing the substance; for he is one person of the Father, another of the Son and another of the Spirit. But God of the Father, Son and Spirit is One the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.
Did you get that?
God bless Athanasius for his thinking and hard work for he saved us from a grave heresy, the image of a God who is untouched and unmoved, and a God who has no need of us. There are still many distorted views of God around. They affect us deeply and often we are completely unaware that we have them. It is an important task and area of growth that we are open to reviewing how we understand God and allow Him to keep breaking up the boxes we try to put Him in. The Trinitarian view of God needs to be revisited and reclaimed and proclaimed anew, it needs to be shouted from the hilltops for it is one that brings freedom and life and boundless creativity. It is inclusive of the other and affirming of one another.
In the West God has predominantly appeared to be male, and with a male authoritarian stance for over 1500 years. The period during the Middle Ages through to the Enlightenment the Church and the State ruled supreme. There was one God, one Monarch, one Church, one Bishop that ruled and the line of authority flowed from there. Jesus may be far more approachable for some and even friendly but for many God is one you can never be really sure about. He could be a capricious shadowy unknown entity and a different story to Jesus.
The Patriarchal image of God is firmly entrenched in the church and even though there are winds of change bringing fresh new living streams of spirituality and life to sectors of the church, the task has only just begun. The language we use is important for tragically the sexism in the church is so dangerous to womens lives in the concrete, in the day-to-day living and relating. It makes it imperative to find more adequate ways of expressing the ancient good news that faith is to proclaim. Such language does not lead astray from the sense of Scripture if that is, the sense of Scripture means the promise of Gods creative, compassionate, liberating care bent on the whole world, including women in all our historicity and difference. In my pastoral work over the years in our medical centre I have often walked with abused and dominated women who are broken and desperate by their experience and confused at the support their abusive husbands find in the church and from Biblical texts. For them God is male and someone to be feared and obeyed, not in the life giving sense of fear. There was recently an article in the Age on the growing interest and practice of witchcraft and Wicca. Three out of 4 are women who are looking for affirmation and acknowledgement, harmony and acceptance. They have a love for the created world and for ritual. Gary Bouma, an Anglican priest and professor of sociology at Monash University says: Why does witchcraft appeal? Because those women are dead sick of paltry patriarchal pontifications. I have found the feminine pronoun being used in our new liturgy for the Holy Spirit refreshing and embracing. Catherine LaCugna said,
A doctrine of God in which God is not portrayed to be vigorously opposed to all forms of life that perpetuate human suffering, hopelessness, deprivation and grief, is not an orthodox doctrine of God, not consistent with the glory of God passing before us, but a distortion, a fantasy, a projection, an idolatry, an ideology, about a God who does not exist.
God is for us not against us.
Jesus comes to us and calls us to rest awhile. Our insecurities and fears, our guilt and bitterness create barriers to keep his love out and his healing love is tragically rejected. Gods love becomes tragic love. It takes vulnerability, courage and trust to allow his love in to do its work of healing and renewing in our lives. Gods love becomes triumphant when it is bears fruit in our lives, when we respond with repentance, confession and obedience, in the beauty of holiness. God graciously, mercifully and longingly desires and needs us. And God knows we need Him/Her - Them.
The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. I Cor 13:14