Jumping In with Our Whole Heart

Jumping In with Our Whole HeartA sermon preached for Holy Trinity Sunday on John 3:1-17 at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas on May 27, 2018

When I was in college, I was thinking about becoming a pastor, but I wasn’t completely convinced it was a real call, so I had two pathways out. I chose a double major—one combining Political Science and History, so I could go on to law school; the other major was Psychology, so I could become a psychologist.

My senior year of college, I did an Urban Studies semester in Chicago. My family moved frequently growing up, but always to white middle class suburbs. I thought that if this call to ministry turned out to be real, I had better learn something about living in a city with more diversity and poverty. Maybe I would also gain some new knowledge about what I should do with my life.

I became a tutor in the Cook County Jail, living in a poor community. A homeless woman named, “Love” would sometimes sleep in our living room. For my independent study project, I thought I would try to live as a homeless person for a weekend. I’d heard this idea from another student at my school who had done it the year before.

It was early November, so it was chilly, but not yet frigid. I put on old clothes, left my cash in the apartment and headed downtown. I wasn’t too worried about finding a place to stay that night; I expected to stay at the Salvation Army center downtown. As dusk set in, I headed there. The problem was, that the shelter was already full, there was no room for me. This possibility had never crossed my mind. It was dark and cold—now what was I going to do?

Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, under the cover of darkness because he is seeking understanding and the truth about God. He wants Jesus to give him the right answer, so that as a Jewish leader, he can fit Jesus’s life, healing, preaching, and ministry into his knowledge base and structure as a Jewish leader.
But Jesus isn’t much help. He doesn’t give Nicodemus the facts he seeks, but instead Jesus talks about being born from above, of being born anew, and being born of water and the Spirit.

“What are you talking about?” wonders Nicodemus. Jesus’s words make no sense to him, so he takes them literally. "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born again?"

Of course, Jesus is not talking about an earthly birth, but rather a spiritual one. God calls us into a re-birth, a new birth, to be born again spiritually—into a relationship with the God who made us.

“Don’t you see, Nicodemus?” says Jesus. “God wants a relationship with you. That’s why God sent Me, the Son of Man, so that through a relationship with me, you would give yourself—not just your mind and your correct doctrines, not just your adherence to the law, and your good behaviors—but that you would give God your heart, your love, your devotion, your deep trust.”

Jesus uses birth imagery to evoke the experience of love and trust between a parent and child. God loves us the same way a father and mother love their child, and God deeply desires for that love and trust to be returned.

When our kids were little, Dan and I did what all parents do—we taught our three children how to read, and to count to 100. We taught them how to look both ways before they crossed the street, how to share toys, and how to dress themselves.

But if our whole interaction with them ended with giving them correct information and getting them to behave properly (most of the time!), it wouldn’t have been a very satisfying relationship. The moments that made all the dirty diapers and sleepless nights worth it were when our kids wrapped their arms around our neck and gave us sticky kisses; when they climbed into our laps and snuggled in for love and comfort, and when they jumped into our arms with total trust from the edge of the swimming pool.

Jesus says to Nicodemus, “You’ve got the information about Scripture and the law, and your behavior is stellar, but you haven’t yet jumped into God’s arms from the edge of the pool with love and complete trust.

“God keeps holding out these strong, loving, inviting arms with a desire to give you all that need, but you haven’t given God your heart.”

“Thinking with your mind is good, doing the right thing is important, but without feeling, without love—you are a noisy gong or clanging symbol. Without love for God, you have nothing.

“God wants all of you—thinking, doing and feeling—for an intimate, trusting relationship! Jump into the pool, Nicodemus— be born of water and Spirit as God’s very own child who loves you, embraces you, and who desires to give you everything you need for fullness of life. That’s why I came --so that you would know that God wants a loving relationship with you, all of you.”

For God so loved the world—a better translation is ‘cosmos’—for God so loved the cosmos, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

That’s why we follow Jesus—

• He took the first jump, the first leap into human skin, trusting that God would catch him.
• Jesus jumped into the fullness of human life, experiencing everything from love, family, and friendship to abandonment, grief and betrayal, trusting that God would catch him.
• Jesus willingly fell onto the cross, trusting that even in suffering and death, God would catch him.
• Jesus jumped from the grave showing us and the whole cosmos that no matter what happens in this life, God will catch us.

When the Salvation Army turned me away, they told me of another shelter at a church west of downtown, about a mile away. I had no money, no food, and it was 1984, so no cell phone. They said I could ask a police officer to drop me off at the shelter. But I was too stubborn and naïve to do something smart like that. I felt as if that would ruin the point of the whole learning experience.

I knew the grid system of how Chicago was laid out, so I decided to walk…in the dark…alone…in a part of town I did not know. I was more scared at that moment than I had ever been. It didn’t matter how much knowledge I had, it didn’t matter whether it was the right thing to do. At that moment I needed a God I could love and trust with my whole life and heart. I jumped into God’s arms like I never had before.

In my mind I sang, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, rejoice!” over and over, as I walked in the dark through an industrial area and made it through to the church shelter. I’ve never been so happy to see a group of homeless people! I was safe in God’s arms.

Our Gospel passage today doesn’t give us the end of its story. Did Nicodemus remain a religious leader who gave his mind and actions to God, but not his heart, not his love, not his trust? We don’t know exactly, but John’s Gospel does give us a hint in Chapter 19. As he hung dying on the cross, Jesus could see someone walking up the hill toward him—no longer coming under the cover of darkness—but in the light of mid-day. It was Nicodemus, weighed down with 100 pounds of aloes and myrrh to anoint Jesus’s body for burial, an act of love and devotion (for no law-abiding Pharisee would touch a dead body).

But, Nicodemus had jumped. He had leapt into God’s loving arms with his whole heart, offering himself, his love and his trust to the God he met in Jesus the Christ.

At the end of my Urban Studies semester, I knew I wasn’t going to become a lawyer or a psychologist. I finished college and went straight to seminary in Chicago, where I could serve as a GED teacher at the jail while I studied. Over the years, I have learned that jumping into God’s arms with total love and trust is something we choose over and over and over again, every day. That’s why Martin Luther encouraged us to remember our Baptism every day, so we can experience our rebirth through water and the Spirit.

Sometimes I wonder what Nicodemus would say if he were among us today. I’d like to think it would be this: “Jump in, St. Luke’s! The love is deep and the water is fine!”

Image: Kim Ruoff, Shutterstock; Royalty-free stock photo ID: 13174942.

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A Visit from St. Teresa of Avila

A Visit from St. Teresa of AvilaThe History of Christian Spirituality was one of my last classes to complete my Certificate of Spiritual Direction at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis. Throughout the semester, we were assigned a "spiritual dialog partner" who had to be a deceased saint of the church. We gave a first-person presentation of them to the class, and then wrote a research paper in the form of a dialog with them. My spiritual dialog partner was St. Teresa of Avila (3/28/1515 - 10/4/1582). She was a prolifica writer, including the Book of Her Life, reflections on the Song of Solomon, and the most famous spiritual treatise, The Interior Castle, among other writings, and 428 extant letters. As a Lutheran, I have not spent much time trying to converse or pray with saints, so this was an interesting project that expanded both my theology and spiritual practices. In order to write the first-person presentation, I spent time in prayer, and invited St. Teresa to join me, so she could share what she would like us to know. What follows is what I received! I added the structure with introduction and conclusion. It was a wonderful exercise in using the gift of imagination in prayer with inner listening to access wisdom from a female spiritual leader, and the first woman named a Doctor of the church by the Pope. Because St. Teresa lived in the 16th century, I used her male language for God, including the phrase, "His Majesty," which she used frequently. If you have a saint from the church from whom you would like to learn, I encourage you to try a similar exercise!

"Thank you for the kind invitation to speak with you today. I understand you’re training to become spiritual directors and I’m so pleased by that! You live in a generation that needs more quiet time to be with God, time to gain self-knowledge and humility, clearing a path for God to transform hearts through loving union with him. After we begin with a brief prayer, I’d like to share three insights about our relationship with God: 1. His Majesty chooses to dwell within us and how to begin the conversation; 2. That He loves us as we are, to transform our hearts; and 3. That our job is to show up and be filled with God’s love in order to serve others. As I share these insights about how God works in and through us, I’ll reveal a little bit about myself and my struggles. Let’s read the prayer on the screen responsively by line:

Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks
compassion on this world
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

You realize of course, that I did not actually write that poem or prayer?! My poems were never that direct, succinct or so well written! But I share it because even though it is wrongly attributed to me, it beautifully summarizes the goal of our spiritual life—to be in such union with God through prayer, meditation, and contemplation that we embody Christ in loving service to our neighbor. If I could have written so clearly and briefly, it would have saved a lot of paper, ink and writing cramps! I don’t have a linear mind, and went off on tangents of all kinds, and then I didn’t have the time to correct what I wrote. I’m surprised anyone bothers with my writing at all, but that is all the working of His loving and generous Majesty! And there-in lies the first insight that I would like to share with you today.

Our God is so great, He takes us from our low stations, and we of little skill or training, and dwells within us, beckoning us into love. I learned from reading St. Augustine that we must look for God within. He can use us in amazing ways we never imagined, and certainly in ways we could never do on our own. Our Majesty and Lord comes to dwell within our bodies and within our souls, and calls us, and woes us, and reaches out for us to be in a loving, intimate relationship with Him!

It’s not difficult or complicated. We start out sitting down like two friends, here right now, in conversation, and the more time we spend in this kind of conversation, the more deeply we are stirred to love our Lord and our neighbor. This prayer time means being present to God with all of your faculties, resting in his presence, focusing on his love and devotion to you and his creation, beholding the suffering Jesus endured to demonstrate this immeasurable love. All His Majesty asks of us, is that we spend time with Him; we sit in this quiet, active recollection, holding the presence of Jesus in us, as we are present to him, lingering there in love. I share this thought on another slide, and I really did write this one, but I learned from reading Fr. Francisco de Osuna that God desires friendship with us:

Mental prayer in my opinion, is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight, but desire to please God in everything.

The more we linger in the loving gaze of God, the more His Majesty can fill us with His love, free us from our temptations, cleanse us of our unkind thoughts, and transform our hearts and our lives into who and what He has made us to be! At first, we expend our effort, focus, and attention in prayer through the first three mansions of the Interior Castle, (if you’ve had a chance to read it), but the longer we dwell here, the deeper we move into God! Then it is no longer we who make the effort with God’s grace, but God completely does the work of transforming our hearts into loving union with Him! In mansions four through seven, God infuses us through supernatural means, with His divine love. It’s like a betrothal, moving toward spiritual marriage—all that we are is God’s, all that God offers becomes ours. We become more fully who God made us to be—imagine it! Our personality, character, and station in life, infused with his Majesty’s divine love!

And that’s the second miracle of God’s love, the 2nd insight I want to share—not just that He chooses to dwell within us and to love us there within, but that He does not want to change us into someone else, something different, something better. No, our God wants to transform us into who we truly are by His creation! We must accept that God made us the way God wants us, because the transformation of heart is only to deeper love! You do not have be different than who you are! At first, I thought God would want to change me into someone else. Wouldn’t God want someone who wasn’t vain as young woman, who didn’t love books of chivalry and romance, who wasn’t sickly, who had a more demure personality, who didn’t love humor, and the tambourine? But no, God loved me as I was with what I brought—sins, hopes, limitations, experiences and all, because transformation in Him is not a change of personality or earthly condition, it’s a transformation of heart!

Transformation in God is a transformation into greater love, deeper love, more generous love. Through His Majesty’s transformation of my heart, I came to desire what God desires, so temptations carried no attraction, and limitations became opportunities to love. Transformation in the interior castle of your soul in God’s soul, is to be drenched in the lavish love of the Creator of the universe as you are. God can use your illness, your family problems, your temptations, your sins—whatever it is going on—all as opportunities to bring about greater love in you, deeper compassion for others, greater service to the neighbor in your station and setting in life.

This is what troubles me as I witness the 21st Century and your perfectionism, comparisons, endless ego needs, and social media personas. You approach life as though there’s something wrong with the way God made you, that there must be some improvement or correction. It’ an obsession with appearance and weight, selfies and success, popularity and riches. Let’s just strip all of that away; come before God in the crystal-clear castle of the soul of your life, with all of who you are; come with self-knowledge and humility before the God who made you. None of those worldly things matter here. God wants to be with you to bring you to deeper love in Him and greater love and service to others.

What matters when you serve others and go about your life, is that you are drenched in God’s lavish love, so that when people interact with you, come to spiritual direction, meet you at the store, visit you when you’re sick, they experience the lavish love of God through you! They receive God’s forgiveness of their sins, the grace of the suffering Christ for them, and the affirmation that if God so dwells in you, then God must truly dwell in them too! If there is one thing to learn from my life this is it!

• God blessed me with faithful parents and a beautiful soul as a child, but then I became vain, and as a teen, succumbed to chivalry, romance and the vanities of the world. Yet, God loved me and used my life and wooed me into spiritual marriage.
• I was sick and unable to do much for three years, and yet God loved me and used my weakness to help me depend on Him more fully. He used time in my illness to read the saints and begin to move my will to serve only him!
• I spent a year not praying because I thought it was the humble thing to do; it was a terrible mistake and I regretted it for the rest of my life, and yet, God loved me and used it to bring me deeper into prayer.
• I can’t write a logical progression of thought without going off on a hundred tangents, and yet, God loved me and used me, and still uses my writings and their tangents.
• I was not a theologically trained man, an accepted teacher of the church, and yet, God loved me and used me during the 16th century Inquisition of all times!
• I was not as wise as John of the Cross, or Ignatius of Loyola, and did not have the strength to bring about the reforms of the Carmelites, and yet God loved me and used me to do just that.

Don’t you see how great the love of his Majesty for his creatures? God uses all of it, all of who you are to bring you to deeper love and union with His Divine Love. You don’t have to change who you are, but you must spend time with God, so He can use all of your life. Which brings me to my 3rd insight: Your job is to show up, to make yourself available and present to Christ as often as you can throughout your day, so that over time, God can do the work of implanting deeper love in you. That’s why I wrote The Interior Castle, that’s why the time in meditation and contemplation, that’s why the conversation with God as if between friends. We must simply spend time within, within this beautiful castle, or garden or mountain or whatever setting beckons your spirit.

Your primary goal is spending time with God in love through each stage of your life, so you can grow deeper in love with God, and deeper in compassion for the world. God can use even the limitations of your life as a sacrament of His love for others. So be you, and trust that in your body, in your position, in your location, in your work, and in your family, God wants to use you to show forth deeper and greater love. How do we know we are growing more in love with God? Because we grow in deeper love for our neighbor and shine God’s love through compassionate service.

The path of faith is not about greater striving, it is about quieter meditation and contemplation so that God can transform your heart into one of deeper love and spiritual oneness with His Majesty. The more you show up with all of who you are, the deeper this marital union with God becomes, making you the eyes of compassion, the body, the hands, and the feet of Christ who serves the neighbor with virtue and lavish love."

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A Mother's Love

A Mothers LoveA Sermon for Easter 7 on John 17:6-19 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas on May 13, 2018

It was January of 2012. My mom had been chronically ill for about three years and had lived longer than the doctors expected, in part, because my Dad took such good care of her. But that month, she got an infection that was antibiotic-resistant, and her body did not have the resources to fight it off. She was transferred to the ICU at Baylor Hospital in Grapevine as I flew in from St. Louis, my sister, Pam from Wisconsin, and my brother, Doug from California to join us for what would be our last visit with Mom.

The disciples are gathered with Jesus for their last meal together before he is arrested. For three years, Jesus’ disciples have followed him, watching him teach, heal, and love people. This time of sharing all that he could with the disciples was coming to close. So, Jesus uses this time to instruct, to finish his teaching and to pray with his disciples during their last evening together. In his prayer, Jesus reminds the disciples that he is leaving; he prays to God and says, “But now I am coming to you”—Now I am no longer in the world,” and “I do not belong to the world.” We are not privy to the disciple’s reactions to Jesus’ departure and impending death; we don’t hear Peter say, “surely Lord this will not happen to you!” But we can imagine them clutching their chests, wondering what they will do, what their life will be like, and how they will continue without Jesus physically present with them. They wanted to fight for his survival.

The first few days we were with my mom in the ICU, we couldn’t believe it was the end. We encouraged her, told her to fight, talked about how strong she was, how much she had already been through. We read her Scripture passages for strength and healing and hope. “Surely, Mom, this can’t be happening to you, this cannot be the end,” we thought. We were wondering what we would do without her, what our life would be like, how we would continue without her physically in our lives. We were all fighting for her survival.

What’s so unusual about Jesus’ prayer in John, is that Jesus offers it to God aloud in the presence of his disciples—it’s not a moment where Jesus goes off by himself to pray; it’s not a moment where the disciples fall asleep while Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prays aloud, so that his followers can hear everything he asks of God for them: “They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word…I am asking on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. Holy Father protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name, I guarded them.”

My Mom couldn’t talk because of the ventilator, but she could nod, she knew we were there, and she could hear us. One afternoon I started to recite Psalm 121—“I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come?” and through the ventilator with amazing force and clarity, she said, “The Lord!” My mom couldn’t say her prayers aloud, but I imagine that she was praying something like, “This family of mine is yours, God, and you gave them to me. I am asking that you protect them and keep them and guide them; help them stay together and remain one, when I leave to be with you. Keep them together, help them to love and support each other. While I was them I did everything I could for them, to protect, guard and pray for them, and now I ask you to protect them guard them and keep them safe after I am gone.”

Jesus’ prayer for the disciples continued: “Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; I have given them your word.” Jesus did everything he could to teach, empower, prepare, educate and bless his disciples throughout their time together. He showed them how to heal, how to teach, how to love, how to welcome the lost, how to pray, how to abide in his Word and trust that his love and Word are true. Jesus gave his disciples everything they needed to continue the mission of God’s love, forgiveness and salvation for the world while abiding in his love and prayers for them.

By the third day in the ICU, the doctors made it clear that Mom was not going to make it. Telling stories helped us accept this. We told her all the things she had given us, thanking her for all she had done. We talked about what a great cook she was and how much we loved her cookbook; how generous she was and loved giving gifts; how she volunteered at church and the hospital, and helped so many people; how she led our girl scout troops, sewed us clothes, and read us stories. As adults, she and dad always traveled to see us, she always sent cards in the mail, and she helped take care of my family and me during my cancer treatment. We talked about how she was the best Nana her grandkids could ask for, how much she loved and taught us, her tremendous gift of hospitality and welcome, and that even when we had disagreements, we trusted that her love was true. As a mom, she had given us what we needed to continue the mission of our life—abiding in her love and trusting that she always prayed for us.

Jesus’ prayer for the disciples continued: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” The disciples needed Jesus’ words of assurance because the world into which Jesus was sending them was going to be a difficult one. Jesus is not just referring to the devil as a single being who is against God, but all the forces, thoughts, attitudes and actions that are contrary to God’s kingdom—both within the disciples—their egos, their selfishness and fears, and those outside of them—hatred, violence, greed, injustice and the oppression of the Roman Empire. Jesus knew that hardships for his community of believers were coming. His disciples needed to know that Jesus was with them and praying for them in their struggles in a hostile world.

As we shared stories and relived all that Mom had received from God and gave to us, it reminded us that she had given us all we needed to continue on with our lives. When she was no longer going to be a part of this world, we would be. She was sending us from that ICU room out into the world—a world that is often contrary to the values she taught us—a world of selfishness and greed and injustice. I imagine that at that moment, she prayed the prayer every mother prays the first day of kindergarten, the first week of summer camp, the first prom, the first day of college, the first job, the first child, and the last good-bye: “I am not asking you to take them out of all these experiences of life, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” I have no doubt that as she died, my mom was praying for our protection, our guidance, and our faithfulness, as we continued to live in the world without her.

Jesus concludes his prayer by asking God’s favor upon them: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.” When Jesus says “sanctify”, he means it in the same way he did when he taught his disciples the Lord’s prayer—“Our father who art in heaven, hallowed or sanctified be thy name”— hallowed, sanctified, holy. For Jesus, sanctity is not an abstract idea, some godly status of being set a part. Jesus sanctifies himself by laying down his life on the cross and taking it up again in his resurrection---so that we might see that the Truth and the Word and the Power of God in him is ultimate and final and will never be defeated. So, Jesus sends the disciples into the world being made holy, being sanctified by God’s love in Jesus, and with his power to overcome evil with good, trusting that God will never be defeated.

About four hours before Mom died, her Pastor—Phil Heinze, who preached at my Installation Service—came to the hospital. We gathered around her bed and sang her favorite hymns—like Beautiful Savior and Amazing Grace. Pastor Phil lead us in the Prayers for the Commendation of the Dying with the forgiveness of sins. We said The Lord’s Prayer and as we affirmed that God’s name be kept holy, we prayed the same for her, “Lord Jesus Christ, deliver your servant, from all evil and set her free from every bond, that she may join all your saints in the eternal courts of heaven…” These prayers assured us that we all live within the Truth of God’s Word, and that Jesus, who laid down his life on the cross and took it up again in the resurrection, sanctifies my Mom and us with God’s eternal and ultimate love. We are made holy through Christ—not as an abstract idea, or to be set apart, but to be sent into the world to overcome evil with good, trusting that God will never be defeated.

As my mom took her last breath, we were all still being held by our mother’s love, through Jesus, who loves us like a mother. On this mothers’ day when I miss my mom so much, I know I am held by Jesus who loves me and all of us, embracing us with the tenderness of a mother’s love and the fierceness of a mother’s prayers. No matter what kind of mother we have or had, Jesus holds us in his safe and protective arms, he prays for us, and he laid down his life for us. Jesus sanctifies us, fills us with his power, and sends us into the world to overcome evil with good, trusting that God will never be defeated. Jesus our mother, prays fervently for us as we go—every step of the way, every milestone, every moment. And then, at the last, when we take our final breath, he will embrace us and say, “welcome home.”


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Abiding in the Dance of theTrinity

Abiding in the Dance of the TrinityA sermon preached For Easter 6 on John 15:9-15 and Acts 10:44-48 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas on May 6, 2018.

Last weekend at our Synod Assembly, we learned a new word from Bible study leader, the Rev. Dr. Mandy Brobst-Renaud: "interdividual" (instead of "individual"). It was coined by Russian Philosopher and literary critic, Mikhail Bakhtin and recognizes that our relationships shape our identity and who we are.

We live in a culture founded on “rugged individualism” and the self-made person. But of course, while a certain amount of independence and self-reliance is healthy and necessary—none of us can survive without others and without community. We never would have gotten out of childhood without parents, relatives or someone taking care of us. We couldn’t have learned to speak or read or write without someone teaching and talking with us. We wouldn’t know right from wrong without someone guiding us and enforcing consequences when we got it wrong. We wouldn’t experience love, forgiveness, humor, loyalty, or compassion without another person offering them to us.

We are "interdividuals"—relationships form our identity and who we are—every encounter has the potential to change us. When we have an encounter with someone else, we enter the threshold—the space in between us where we can be shaped through the relationship. In our children’s message, we just talked about friendship and why having good friends is important. A relationship with a good friend, family member, or work colleague means we are willing to step into the threshold between us and be open to something new. Without stepping into the threshold, we cannot experience the benefits of relationship—trust, loyalty, companionship, mutuality, love, forgiveness, shared interests, generosity and so on. We hope to have relationships that make us better people—better than who we are without them. This is often how we have chosen or will choose our spouse; when we enter the threshold of a more intimate relationship, we want to become a better person—to be more than who we can be alone.

And isn’t this why God became human? When God wanted a deeper more intimate relationship with all of us, God crossed the threshold—the barrier between Creator and creature—and became human in Jesus. With God in human form, we can more readily let down our guards and more willingly enter the threshold of our relationship with God—with an openness to being changed through our relationship with Jesus.

In our Gospel reading Jesus says, "I have called you friends." Jesus is no longer satisfied with the relationship of Master-servant, Rabbi-student, Leader-disciple. "I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends." Jesus invites us to enter more deeply into this threshold and become his friend and companion, allowing our relationship with Jesus shape who we are.

Perhaps you have not spend much time with this idea of friendship with God. How is friendship with Jesus different from him being only our Savior and Lord? Jesus desires presence, enjoyment, companionship, attention, the pleasure of being together, and being with us! Do you hear the important message in this? God desires you; God desires to be close to you!

God was willing to be changed by entering a relationship with us as a human being—a relationship that’s not just about following his commandments (although that’s still important!). God is interested in a relationship that includes listening, enjoyment, humor, and time together. God desires to be with us, and for us to desire to be with God.

Jesus says, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love." Abide in me. Abide in my love. We can’t have a good relationship with our best friend or have a good marriage if we—talk to them 5 minutes a day and hang out for one hour a week. Jesus says, "hang out with me. Spend time with me. Come to the threshold of a relationship with me so I can love you and shape you into your best, God-created self." God has poured love into Jesus, who pours love into us—and we need to spend time at the threshold of this relationship for this love to change us and shape us into who God made us to be. Jesus invites us in to his relationship with God: "I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father."

St. Andrei Rublev, a Russsian monk, painted this image of the Trinity in about 1410 and I offer this as a visual image for you to use as a prayer tool for abiding in God. Icons are religious art or images that hover between two worlds—the spiritual and the earthly—creating an image of a spiritual truth that cannot be grasped by reason alone. They try to make the invisible visible. On the left, we see the Creator, or God the Father. He wears a luminescent, transparent color that changes with the light, so that it holds all colors. The Creator’s hands are almost closed as a symbol of completeness. Jesus, in the middle, wears colors of the reddish brown earth and the blue of heaven symbolizing that the Incarnation connects heaven and earth, and in the red earth, that he endured suffering. The gold band on his shoulder shows that he carries divinity even in his earthly form. The tree behind him is a symbol of the crucifixion, but now, it is green with the new life of resurrection. The Holy Spirit wears the blue of the sky and the green of the earth as the Spirit hovered at creation and breathes life into heaven and earth. There’s a bowl in the middle— a shared meal, the sacrifice of a lamb, the Eucharist, a sign of community. 

If you look at the line of their shoulders you can see that it makes a circle—the circle of love between them—of pouring out love and receiving it, infilling and emptying love from one to the other. Fr. Richard Rohr says, it’s an unending flow of giving and receiving between Creator, Christ and Spirit which is the pattern of all reality and life which is love!" The last thing we will look at is the square at the bottom. Researchers have tested the residue and found that it was glue. Many scholars believe it was glue for a mirror, so that when you look at the icon, you see yourself as part of the circle of the Trinity. Abide with me. Jesus calls us to belong to the community of the Triune God. God has been waiting for you!

In his book, The Shack, William Paul Young says that we “are called to consciously participate in the divine dance of loving and being loved” in the community of God. "Abide in my love. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love…I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father."

I invite you to enter the threshold of the Trinity in your prayer time. God has been waiting for you! This image may not work for you, so change the picture in your mind to whatever God the Creator, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit look like in your own imagination. Imagine yourself sitting with them. Ask God to open your heart to receive his love and enter the threshold so you can be shaped by the eternal dance of love. Deepen your relationship with God! Such intimacy with God enables us to more freely love others without fear—and willing to enter the threshold of relationships that you may not have entered before.

We’d love to just hang out in prayer, but there’s always a “so that” in the Gospel. God loves us so that we can love others. Jesus says, "I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last." When we live within the threshold of the Trinity in our spiritualty and prayer life, we bring that healing, light, and love into other relationships. God can use us to enter the threshold with someone who is lonely, sick, rejected, or in need. We have more technology today, but people are more disconnected than ever. We can enter the threshold of interdividuality where God can use us to bear the fruit of love.

We have talked about the need for a strategic plan at St. Luke's, and this is the first step! It starts with each of us deepening our relationship individually with God and together as a church. When we live at the threshold of the Trinity, we become open to growth with whomever God calls us. We let go of our fear of new or different people, and we become less afraid of change because we’re right there with the whole company of God, who is changing and shaping us in our prayers every day. There are so many people who need a church like ours who will say, “we’ve been waiting for you!”

Our reading from Acts is a perfect example of this. Peter is at the home of Cornelius in Ceasarea. He’s a Gentile—that is, not Jewish and he had filled his house with family and friends to hear Peter preach the Gospel. Both Peter and Cornelius received dreams from God to welcome each other, even though Peter was a Jew who thought Jesus didn’t come to Gentiles, and Cornelius was a Gentile who didn’t think the Jewish faith was for him. But they each entered the threshold of a relationship with each other, and in that threshold, the Spirit swooped in and made evident that this dance of the Trinity, this circle of love, is for everyone. And both were changed—not as individuals, but because they were interdividuals!

God crossed the threshold to build a relationship with Peter, and with Cornelius in Jesus. Through Peter, Cornelius and his company heard God say, “We’ve been waiting for you!”
So enter the threshold of the divine dance with all of God in your prayers—God is waiting for you! Even if you start out with just 10 minutes a day when you abide with God, you will be filled with love, and together we can enter the threshold with others and say, “We’ve been waiting for you!”

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linda anderson little
Linda Anderson-Little

Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.