On May 27, 2018 we welcomed guest preacher Rev. Sharon Copeman.
By now you will likely have figured out that I have many ways of speaking about God. For me, three is just not sufficient.
I speak of the Holy One, the Source of all life and all love, the heart beat that pulses through the universe and all that is, including all of us and each of us, Mystery beyond comprehension, but at the same time somehow as near to us as the air we breath. God is ultimate source of comfort and strength.
John Spong is an American Episcopalian Bishop and author whose writings I have very much appreciated. He speaks of God as the Ground of All Being, “a presence discovered in the very depths of my life, in the capacity to live, in the ability to love, and in the courage to be.”
Jesus, Spong says, is “the alive one, the loving one, the one who had the courage to be himself under every set of circumstances. Jesus was and is the life where God has been seen and can still be seen in a human form under the limitations of our finitude.”
Theologians speak of God as “transcendent” and ”imminent.” In other words, God is both beyond knowing and imagining, and at the same time somehow mysteriously and intimately knowable. In the life of Jesus Christ this transcendence and immanence come together.
Jesus possessed life so completely, he was so at one with the Source of All Life, that he was able to live in a state of constant vulnerability, to totally give his life away, even to the point of the cross. In the being of Jesus, the full humanity of Jesus, we have been shown the meaning of God. In Jesus we are shown that we, also, each of us, in our very being and full humanity, is finally able to connect to the meaning of God, and the meaning of life.
The difficulty is that we tend to live our lives building walls of protection and security around ourselves because life can be scary, challenging, puzzling. Often we don’t know what to do, how to choose or understand the choices we face, so we seek before all else to be safe, and we think the way to do that is to protect our borders. It’s a basic survival instinct… and I believe it is born in us with holy purpose… life is precious and not to be thrown away… I don’t think that’s just me rationalizing!
As followers of Jesus, we look to the stories we have of his life, and we see that Jesus (to quote Spong) “lived his life fully, loving wastefully.” Jesus lived his life with courage to be all that God created him to be. He did not turn away from life or the world, in fear: just the opposite. Indeed, he was an agent of life, in his associations, in his touch, in his word. In the stories that grew around him, and the sayings and actions that are attributed to him, we see that in his company one was compelled to be healer, life-renewer, lover of life, giver, forgiver, and in some mysterious way at-one with the Source of All Life.
Jesus, then, is also Mystery. He was a human who had a profound effect on those with whom he shared life’s journey. He was one whose life generated such amazing memories and stories after he was gone that to know him and remember him was in some mysterious way so profound that those who told the stories somehow felt they had glimpsed into the very heart of God — more perfectly than ever before. To know him was to be changed. Life became new. What had seemed impossible became somehow possible.
Nicodemus asked, “How can one be born again?” Not possible, and yet somehow this is what those who experience Jesus felt happened to them.
After meeting Jesus, one sees life in a whole new way.
Jesus gave of himself beyond our wildest imagining, and in so doing showed us that nothing can stop God’s love. Jesus’ story continuously compels the community of his followers to move forward beyond human barriers and prejudices, and let go of the fears that stop us from loving wastefully, from embodying God’s love, ourselves.
Now we come to the third aspect of the Trinity.
The use of the word “spirit” appears very early in the vocabulary of every nation and tribe. It was used to speak of any experience that made all other language seem inadequate. Again, I quote Spong, “It is an almost universal human habit to interpret with the language of spirit our holy moments, our God experiences, and our glimpses into that which may be beyond our grasp. Perhaps this word spirit is itself a kind of commentary on our humanity… the earliest Christians first referred to Jesus as a ‘spirit person’.” we find many examples of this in Paul’s letters, beginning with the earliest one which is believed to be the earliest Christian writing still available to us. In 1 Thess. 1:5 Paul speaks of the good news about Jesus who came “in power and in the holy spirit.”
Jewish texts give us two words for “spirit”.
First we have the Hebrew word “ruach” - the wind. The wind is an analogy for the spiritual life. According to John’s gospel, “the wind blows where it wills and you hear the sound of it but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the spirit.” The spirit is as big as the wind that comes from we know not where, and goes where it will, and yet is as near to us and as active in our lives and world as the wind that brushes our cheeks and plays with our hair. We can’t see the wind, but we feel it’s presence.
The other Hebrew word for spirit is “nephesh” - breath. In the beginning a wind from God swept over the face of the waters, creating. Then again, God breathed life into Adam’s nostrils. Wind was the very breath of God.
We see “spirit” as both external wind, “ruach,” and internal breath of life, “nephesh,” found in all of creation and within every living creature.
So “spirit” was first understood as the breath of God, dwelling within us, calling us to life itself. The task of spirit was always to give life.
Jesus was experienced as one who gave new life, one who was vital, alive, whole and real, so Jesus came to be spoken of as a spirit person.
In has letter to the Romans Paul writes that all who live by the Spirit of God are children of God… adopted. Children of God’s heart. Glorious in God’s sight.
This is the important piece, it seems to me. God, the One whose compelling reality reaches out to touch us, and at the same time is unknowable, uncontainable, this One loves us into being, breathes life into us, and calls us to be sprit-bearers, bearers of God’s love, breathers of the breath that is life- and love-giving, in a world that is aching to be loved and healed… but at the same time has become desperately divided and jealously compartmentalized, and fearfully barricaded.
Let’s remember that most famous text… God so loves the world - the whole world - the cosmos - the whole of creation - that God revealed God’s self in Jesus - one who lived love!
Do we dare to live love also?