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!”