Have you ever been on a journey? I’m sure you have. We all have. The word ‘journey’ has become a very popular way of describing life. Of course, a journey is also something many of us think of more literally. We travel. We love to describe all the places we go, the things we see, and the experiences we have. We always come back with lots of pictures.
But the word ‘journey’ is also a way of describing an inner process. Whether we’ve gone through something traumatic, or a new kind of experience, or whether it’s about a relationship or an illness, describing the journey and reflecting on the journey is a way of finding inner meaning, growth, strength, perseverance, acceptance and peace. I’m sure any one of us can talk about our journey of life through many situations, circumstances and relationships in our lives – changes we’ve experienced, losses, opportunities we’ve taken on, decisions we’ve made and then reflecting on the consequences and the learning over time.
Well, ‘journey’ is also a good word to describe God the way the bible tells the story of God. And this is important because today in the church year is ‘Trinity Sunday.’ As Christians, we confess God is one like other faiths such as Islam and Judaism. But as Christians we also confess that God is three. Three means God is plural. How can God be one and yet also three? Why make the concept of God complicated?
Well, in order to understand how we came up with the doctrine of the Trinity as Christians, we need to understand the journey of God as the bible describes it. As Christians, we recognize this journey in three parts.
1. God above:
Psalm 8 is a great description of what God above can mean. To experience God above is to experience God’s greatness as creator of all that is. When we truly contemplate the wonders of our world, and when we open ourselves to see in all that is a creative force that is love, we are opening ourselves to God above. We pray to such a God and seek the creative power of God’s love to fill us, strengthen us and guide us through our own life journeys. We need God above us because we are only human beings. Even as we have unique abilities and possibilities, we are also vulnerable and dependent.
Psalm 8 captures this paradox beautifully: “O God, Our God, how glorious is your name over all the earth! When I look at the heavens, the moon and the stars which you have created – who are we that you should be mindful of us, that you should care for us?” And yet, you have “crowned us with glory and honour.” You have given us rule over the work of your hands, giving us responsibility for the earth, to care for it in partnership with you. What an awesome gift and privilege for us vulnerable creatures.
Our journey through life in relationship with the God above is a journey of discovering our purpose as creatures created out of love, to love in return. How spiritually alive is your relationship with the God above? How do you commune with and pray to God above?
But this brings us to part two of God’s journey.
2. God beside:
We as human beings mess things up for all our ability and possibility. We make mistakes and if that’s not bad enough, we compound our mistakes by trying to deny them, justify them, blame others, blame circumstances or shut ourselves down in shame rather than take responsibility. That’s our story. But since we are connected with God, God’s story evolves in relationship to our story. How is God above going to engage our failure and mistakes? Will God destroy us in God’s wrath at all the hurt and harm we are so good at committing? Or will God find another way with us?
This is where our second reading from Romans gives us a sample of the next move in the story of God, namely, God beside us in the person of Jesus Christ. God chooses to engage our failure and our mistakes by coming to be where we are rather than demanding we go where God is and then punishing us for failing to make it. Jesus comes as a particular human being to a particular people, vulnerable and limited just like any of us. And yet, Jesus also carries in him this infinite love of God which he embodies in a way that can transform us.
As Christians, we make the audacious claim that God’s true heart is revealed in this move of God from simply being above us to also coming to be beside us, to live as we live, share our lives in their ups and downs, their possibility and their pain, the joy and the suffering, the goodness and the evil around us and in us too. In Jesus, God comes to be beside us.
Our reading from Romans speaks about Christ opening up a new door to God, a new way to find restoration through all the mistakes and failures of life. To have faith in Jesus as God’s way with us is to have faith that God’s love will find a way to rebuild relationship with us when we have failed: ‘therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand…’
Instead of continuing to deny, supress, justify, blame or shame our way through life, we open ourselves to be forgiven, and forgiven even when we have been enemies of God rather than friends: ‘For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us… And so, ‘if while were enemies, we were reconciled to God’ through Christ, ‘much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.’
Nothing we can do will push God away from reaching out to us as God beside us. Christ’s death was a great act of injustice. Maybe most of us are not like the religious leaders who hated Jesus enough to kill an innocent man, or like the Romans who cared for nothing but maintaining their power and control. But many of us can be like Jesus’ disciples who were too scared to stand up with him and for him, or like the crowds who will take Jesus as God so long as he does miracles for them and gives them what they want, but forget about following him of he calls them to find greater purpose in giving and sharing rather than getting for themselves.
God above us also comes to be God beside us. God above us we pray to for strength, love, empowerment to be and do, for healing and for peace. God beside we also look to for these things, but recognizing that forgiveness opens the door to a new way of engaging our mistakes and failures. We don’t have to be stuck in denial or blame or shame. If Christ crucified can forgive, then it means God seeks a new relationship with us on a fresh foundation. Are you prepared to start again and again with God beside you as Jesus opening the way?
But the journey still has one more step for God and for us.
3. God within:
The final step of God’s journey is to find a home within us. No longer are we simply praying to God above as if God is distant, and no longer are we just following Jesus as if Jesus is outside us. We also have God within us, communing with us in the most intimate way through our inner discernment, our conscience, our heart, our mind, our spiritual passion and compassion, our capacity to love and our conversion to forgiveness as we are forgiven. This is God within. We have what we need to grow spiritually and to face whatever comes our way through life. God is always with us because God is in us. Do you recognize God within you?
John’s gospel makes this movement from God above and God beside to God within very explicit. Our lesson this morning is an example. Jesus tells his followers this: ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you in all truth; for he will not speak on his own, but whatever he hears…All that the Father has is mine…’ The Spirit will ‘take what is mine and declare it to you.’ From God above, to Christ beside, to the Spirit within… God surrounds us and flows through us when we are in the zone of prayerful and worshipful communion with God. We pray to God above, through Christ beside, in the transforming power of the Spirit within.
But how does this work itself out in life? Let’s take the example of our relationship as Canadians with indigenous brothers and sisters with whom we share this land. For us as Churches we took God above as an excuse to dominate those who didn’t share a faith in this God. We wanted to teach indigenous children that their ways were wrong and our ways were right. Their ways were inferior and our ways were superior. We could make them good Christians and good Canadians our way. And from this distorted Christian colonialist mentality, we have caused generations of damage in their communities.
However, there is an opportunity. Through confession before the true God above, and through the seeking of forgiveness through the God beside us in Jesus crucified and risen, we have a chance to discover the true God within, to allow our conscience and our compassion, actived through worship and prayer, to build a new relationship with indigenous brothers and sisters. And this way of thinking is a Trinitarian way of thinking – God above, God beside and God within, a rich way of seeing all our lives engaged, surrounded and penetrated.
Today is also Footprints Summer Day Camp Sunday. Through learning and playing, singing, sporting, crafting, tripping, eating and drinking… children are also taught what God’s love is all about in tangible ways. We pray to God above. We see God’s love in Jesus even when we are at our worst. We listen to his call to us to follow him. And we complete our journey by opening our hearts and spirits to God moving within us as Spirit. Children have an opportunity not only to learn about this but explore this together in fellowship and play.
May God inspire us as we need to be inspired. In our fears, our stress, our uncertainty, our abilities, possibilities and opportunities, our high points of joy and our low points of despair… God surrounds us, is beside us and flows in and through us so that we are never alone. Do you recognize God in your life in such ways? Amen.