Saturday, May 30, 2015

It’s about the Relationship

Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8: 12-17; John 3:1–17

I remember as a child when my parents would hug, I had to get inside the hug. So there would be the three of us, then four or five of us hugging. There was always room for one more.
That’s the way it is with God. Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and us – one great group hug. We can use our minds to try to describe God, but ultimately, God is not definable, because our definitions and descriptions are all limited by the human capacity to imagine and understand. So, for today, let’s reflect on God as a hug, as a never-ending and ever-expanding hug.
Today’s story about Isaiah describes the amazing event of his call to serve God as a prophet. He has a vision of God as high and lofty and divine and the center of attention of some fascinating beings. 
Isaiah, like everyone of his time, believes that if he sees the face of God he will die. He compares himself to the purity of God and is dismayed at his own imperfection. “Woe is me! I’m as good as dead!” Because heat and fire purify, one of the heavenly beings uses tongs to grab a piece of coal and touches Isaiah’s lips with it. “Your guilt is removed; your sin is gone; you are now clean.”
Then Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord, “Is there anyone who will go for us? Whom can I send to do the work I intend to do?” One of the words for God in Hebrew is plural, Elohim. At one time, there seems to have been a supreme being surrounded by a court of lesser gods. Or, in this case, perhaps the court of beings is these seraphs – a kind of angel.
People looking for texts in the Hebrew Bible see the possibility of a reference to Jesus and the Holy Spirit in this text. If we read the text looking for relationships, we see the relationship between God and the beings that surround God, in this case seraphs who worship God constantly. And we see the relationship between God and Isaiah. God knows how Isaiah feels and has a seraph make him pure, so Isaiah feels more comfortable in God’s presence.
Once Isaiah is ready, God can ask him to be his servant and go on a mission. Isaiah is now prepared to offer himself, “Here I am. Send me, send me!” I imagine Isaiah like a smart fifth grader with his hand so high he is almost out of his seat in his eagerness to go on this errand for the teacher.
Paul wrote the letter to the Romans in about the year 56-57, just under 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. At this time, people are still thinking about what it means that God came to earth as Jesus, and what it means that he died and was raised. The text contains references to Father, Son (Christ), and Spirit, but there is not yet a developed theology about the Trinity.
So, let’s look at the passage for the relationships described in it. Mike and I have 11 grandchildren. Three of them are adopted, one is a step-grandchild. We have daughters- and sons-in-law, and step children—the parents of our grandchildren. But, there is no difference in our minds between the blood relatives and the step- and adopted children. They are all ours.
Paul describes our relationship with God as adopted children, equal with the Jews as God’s children, just as beloved as the Jews in God’s eyes. We see in this language the early believers’ struggle to figure out where Christians fit in the Jewish family. Today, we have reversed this, as we Christians struggle to see how Jews, and Muslims, fit into our family. We are all related, sisters and brothers, cousins, natural and adopted, all joint heirs of God’s love and forgiveness for us.
When we look at the text from John, our eyes zoom in on the 16th verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. The gospel in a nutshell, we often say.
When we read the passage with an eye for relationships, we see Jesus’ attempt to have a relationship with Nicodemus. Jesus wants to open Nicodemus’ eyes and heart to a new way of thinking and believing about God. As a Pharisee Nicodemus knows the law, and the explanations of the law.
But Jesus wants him to see God with his heart, his spirit, to have a relationship with God. Jesus wants Nicodemus, and all of us, to have eternal life. In John’s Gospel, written in about 85-90, 50 years or more after Jesus’ death and resurrection, “eternal life” has a dual meaning, as do so many words and phrases in John. It means our life with God after we die and are raised again. But even more it means a relationship with God right now, here on earth, “in the living years,” as Michael and the Mechanics phrased it.  
… When we have a strong relationship with God, we want to live the way God calls and invites us to live. Our lives are fuller because of this relationship-based living. While we enjoy the hug we share with the Triune God, we remember that there is always room for another, and another.
 Our relationship with God sends us out to have relationships with others, with those who also believe in Jesus, and with those who do not know him as we do. Through these relationships, the world will be saved, as God the Father intended all along by sending the Son, and then the Spirit, into our world.
When we listen carefully to others, we discover God’s activity in their lives, and in our own lives. Sometimes, it is evident in the moment, but more often, we see how our relationship with God was strengthened by a difficult time.
We realize that all the “stuff” we have and seek doesn’t matter. What matters is our families and friends, those who love us, and those who bring God’s love to us. Words aren’t even necessary in those times. A pat on the back, a punch on the shoulder, a held hand, a hug. Those are the ways in which we experience the love, the care, the forgiveness of God, through the touch of someone sent to us by God.
When someone cries, “Abba. Father!” God asks, “Whom shall I send?”
We can respond, “Here I am; send me!” and “Let me be the one who brings your love to the one who cries out.”

Please pray with me: God of might, mercy, and love, be with us today and all days. Include us in your divine hug. Send to us those who will bring your love to us; and send us to those who need your love.  Amen