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Picturing God

God is love. That is the central message of Trinity Sunday.

A Sermon on John 14:1-7, 15-21

The Ten Commandments warn against making images of God.  No image can do God justice because God is always so much more.  There is the danger that people will focus so much on these partial images of God that they think they understand God, and there’s nothing more they need to learn.

And yet, imagining and picturing things is often how our minds work.  As a child, I think I did picture God as an old man up in the sky.  Where did that come from?  I’m not sure, but it did make sense.  In order to be our creator and to be over everything, God must somehow be high above.  God must be old, because God has been around forever.  And people referred to God as he, so it was a picture of a man.  

One common way of picturing God is of a mighty king sitting on a high throne.  Often this king has a stern face, and he demands perfection from his subjects.  Their purpose is to serve and please him.  In medieval times, people elaborated on that picture and envisioned a great top-down chain of being with God at the top, down through angels, then humans, then animals, then plants, then non-living things at the bottom.  Sometimes they subdivided each level, so for example, humanity got ranked from highest to lowest.  Human kings were on top of humanity, and they saw themselves as God’s lieutenants.  Power and authority went from the top down.

But the picture of God that Jesus suggests in the Gospel of John is very different.  At the last supper Jesus talked long into the night preparing his disciples for what was coming with his death and resurrection.  From John 13 to 17, five whole chapters, Jesus talks in circles.  He makes the same points again and again in slightly different ways. “Love one another as I have loved you,” he repeats, and he also keeps talking about the relationship between himself, and the Father, and the Spirit, and his disciples.  He keeps talking about being with each other and in each other: I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

In the passage we read this morning, Jesus speaks of it in terms of a place: he will take us to that place to be with the Father, but also he will send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to be with us in this place.  That doesn’t sound top down, from king down to peon to me.  It sounds more like a family dwelling together.  It sounds more side by side.

It sounds more like the picture of the Holy Trinity that I sent out in the bulletin.  I will try to put it up here on the computer screen as well.  This painting is an icon, which is a picture that is meant to help people pray.  It was painted by the Russian artist Andrei Rublev around the year 1410.   To me, this is one of the most profound pictures about the nature of God in existence.

We see three figures around a table.  The Father is in gold on the left, the Son in blue is in the center, and the Spirit on the right is in green.  They are the same size, their clothes are similar, and their faces look alike.  Their eyes look gentle and humble.  They slightly bow their heads towards each other.  Christ and the Spirit turn towards the Father.  We could draw a perfect geometric circle around them.

There is a strong connection around this table, and even though the image appears still, something is definitely going on.  Something is moving.  What’s moving from one to all the others and back again is love.  This is an image of a living community.  This is a picture of communion.  This is a glimpse of what is going on in the very heart of God: love is alive and flowing among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, among Creator, Christ, and Spirit.  This is what Jesus is getting at when he repeats I am in my Father, and my Father is in me.  The very nature of God is loving community.

And it’s an open community.  Look at the icon again.  There is a place at the table, ready for someone else.  The three figures are all turned, open towards us as we look at them, and the Spirit’s hand is gesturing towards the empty place at the table.  Not only is there room at the table for us, but the triune God wants us there.

Notice that square hole in the table at the empty place.  There are remnants of glue in that spot indicating that at one time there may have been a mirror attached to the table so that people gazing at this painting would literally see themselves in the picture and at the table.  (See Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance. London: SPCK, 2016, p. 30.)

This is what the Trinity means for us: God’s very being is living, powerful, flowing love.  God is love. This love is so big and so active that it spills out.  This love is big enough to call the whole universe into being, and every single creature in it.  This love is big enough to cherish each and every one. 

Just like Jesus said, there is room for us in the picture, not down below God’s feet, but at the table with God.  The Trinity tells us this very basic truth:  God IS love.  The Triune God is the great source and generator of love.  The Trinity is the power of love.  We come from this love, we are healed and saved and sustained by this love, and we are cherished forever in this love.

Friends, there is room for you in this picture of love.  Your place in God’s love and at God’s table is there, ready for you.  Let God welcome you into the fellowship of the Trinity.

Join the Holy Trinity in welcoming others to the table.  The love of our three in one God is so great that there is always room for one more, and another, and another. 

Holy, holy, holy, God in three persons, blessed Trinity!  AMEN.

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