God as a Relational Community
One of the side benefits of having a child who plays soccer is that the sidelines look, and sometimes sound, like the United Nations. Luke’s soccer club includes boys whose parents are originally from India, South Korea, China, and Iraq. One of the best things about Luke’s games, other than the opportunity to watch him play, has been the chance to get to know some of these parents. Week after week, and sometimes repeatedly over the course of a tournament weekend, we sit by one another and cheer our boys on. One of the blessings of a situation like this is the opportunity to form relationships. These past two years this opportunity has allowed us to become friends with Uday and Sunita Singh. Some of you met Uday when he came to oversee about forty of us as we cooked Indian food for the Sunday night supper.
All of us are so busy. It would have been easy sit on the sidelines of practices or games and grade papers, read and answer emails on our phones, or do reading for work, but thankfully either Uday or Dwight managed to put their papers or emails aside for a moment, and struck up a conversation. A few weeks later, all of us shivered on the sidelines on a cold, rainy Saturday in May when our children were playing together in a soccer tournament in Blaine. Uday called Sunita and she brought a thermos full of the most delicious chai you ever tasted. It tasted even better that cold, miserable day. From there we have shared food, our stories, and learned more about each others’ faiths. Uday learned that Dwight had written a book, and asked to read it. He brought People of the Way with him to games, which tickled us. I was able to learn more about the practice of Hinduism in America – versus India, and asked if Uday and Sunita might take me to a temple one day.
Not long ago Uday shared a story with Dwight and me. Although he is now one of the most social, fun-loving and gregarious people I have ever met, he tells us that when he was a boy he was very shy. He was not only shy, he was isolated. He grew up on a farm in Rajasthan, and his family kept to themselves. They were cut off from other families and people on neighboring farms geographically and by choice.
When Uday was older he went to high school in town. The school was large consisting of young adults from many different elementary schools. There were three boys in his math class who struck up a friendship with Uday. He was good in math and helped them with their math homework. One day they walked the couple of miles from town to his parents’ farm to see him. He had never had visitors before, and this made him feel good. The town boys began to invite him into their social circle and lives. Uday began to hang out with these boys, to get to know their families, to be invited to their homes and parties. These friendships had a profound impact on Uday and on the course of his life. They exposed him to new ideas and different ways of seeing and living in the world. He began to understand the importance of inviting others into community – as well as allowing himself to be invited into community. I have watched him do this repeatedly on the sidelines – playfully engaging with others, introducing people, working to foster relationships and community where people merely exist side-by-side.
What Uday learned, and what I have learned from Uday, is what I think our Trinitarian God is all about. This morning I urge you not to get befuddled over or overwhelmed by how God can be three in one, or one in three. Rather, I encourage you to think about God as first and foremost a relational community. God is a community of three persons who are different from one another, and at the same time deeply engaged with one another. Theologians have referred to the relationship between God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as “reconciled diversity.” Reconciled diversity takes place when people not only live or sit by each other, but when they share their lives to the extent that everyone is changed for the better. Those brought into relationship by Christ don’t have to change who they are to be accepted. Everyone doesn’t have to look, act, or speak the same way to fit in. Everyone brings their unique history and gifts, and is able to appreciate and learn from the differences between them.
This is, to me, one of the most important things about God who is one, yet also three distinct persons with different gifts and foci. All work together for a greater good and purpose – God’s vision for human flourishing . Each plays to its strengths.
Additionally, our Trinitarian God is not closed off from us and the world, not a community that doesn’t seek to be engaged with anyone else, not a community with inside jokes or a strong sense of who is in and who is out. God is continually sending Godself into the world. God created the world and then continued to reach out to it through prophets, wise leaders, and eventually Jesus the Messiah. After Jesus’ resurrection and departure from his students to rejoin God, God sent the Holy Spirit to guide God’s people. God is continually circulating around the neighborhood, our neighborhood, and every neighborhood including the most abandoned neighborhoods of the Cities and world to invite people into community. God knows that doing so is an intentional act. Community usually doesn’t just happen. It involves reaching out, vulnerability, putting ourselves out there, and also allowing ourselves to respond to the invitation to community.
Throughout life there are multiple opportunities to invite people into our lives and to be invited into theirs. But often we are so maxed out by work, family needs and demands, and other commitments that we are unable to be attentive to those around us or the Holy Spirit’s work in our midst.
Last Sunday during an incredibly powerful focus group to discern what it means to be followers of the Way of Jesus at St. Matthew’s, one participant mentioned our community’s need to focus on the spiritual practice of simplicity. She said, “most of us are so frantically busy. It takes space and time to build relationships” and especially relationships across lines of difference. Heads nodded around the room, and others commented on how our overly busy lives impact our relationships, including those with fellow church members.
Another person described St. Matthew’s as Grand Central Station, a place where people from many different cultural, theological, and political backgrounds exist. And yet, how deeply are we really connecting with each other? At Grand Central Station people from different walks of life are passing and sitting by one another, but unless they reach out, any opportunity to connect and learn from each other is lost.
If the God we worship is a God who is first and foremost a relational God, how can our lives reflect this reality? How might the Spirit be leading us to form and reform community with our neighbors? Amen.