Matthew 28: 16-20
Let us pray:
“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so do our souls long for thee O God”. Yet, we often feel fenced off from that stream that quenches the soul. So, we confess O Lord we sometimes seek substitutes. We settle for the closeness of a warm body, or anonymous chat on-line. We try to quench that thirst from a bottle or with a pill. Deep within us, within each of us, is that persistent desire to live in union and communion with you.
Help us, we pray, to find the faith to continue in our quest. Grant us a sense of your abiding presence, we pray, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
In some sense the goal of every religion is the same. Moslem and Hindu, Jew and Sikh, Buddhist and Christian, adherents of New Age spirituality and old age paganism, all search for a sense of union and communion and connection with the One who is other than us. There exists in humanity a universal thirst for this “One” who is unseen, yet perceived in some way by so many. Every people, every tribe, every culture has developed some spiritual path to make that connection with the One who is other.
While the goal of every religion is the same, each of these religious expressions has a different take on who this God is, or in the case of Hinduism who these gods are, or in the Buddhist view, whether there is a personal god at all. Each of these religions has a different understanding about the nature of what God is like and so what God’s expectations or relationship might be with us. They are not the same. They are different.
So, the words, “I believe in God” have almost no meaning, because people have radically different ideas about what that statement of faith means, and these theological convictions will drive their actions. That is one of the reasons for religious conflict throughout the world. The other is that these religious labels often mask the real differences, which are often ethnic or political.
Some will build hospitals or muck out houses in New Orleans in the name of God while others will drive airplanes into twin towers or burn witches or persecute others who do not share their convictions about who God is. Theology, well thought out or not, matters because it expresses itself in our words and actions and attitudes of the heart. That’s why it is so important we try to get this right.
When Christians say, “I believe in God”, they have traditionally followed it with a description, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”. But, what does that mean? How does that impact how we feel about God and what we do as a result. The answer to that question is found in the first chapter of the Bible. In Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let us make man in our image.” In Latin it is Imagio Dei, the image of God.
Already, God speaks in the plural— “us” and “our”. Christians have long interpreted these pronouns to indicate an early understanding of the Trinity, of God existing as “three in one.” Others say this is only a use of the royal “we.” Kings and other monarchs have often spoken for themselves in the plural. So, some say this usage may indicate only that God is being described here as a king, and not as a trinity. A case can be made for each interpretation, I suppose, but my interest today is not in the pronouns. It is in the noun, “image.”
What does it mean to be created in the “image of God?” Human beings are unique in the panoply of God’s creation in that we and we alone are tagged with this label. Wallabies, giraffes, and chimpanzees are mammals like us, but they are not, according to scripture, created in the image of God. So, this “image” has often been used to delineate the difference between humanity and the rest of the animal kingdom.
Over the years people have argued about the nature of that difference and what that means for our understanding of the “image” of God. Some say it described the difference in intelligence, but those in the “field” are learning that some animals like dolphins and chimpanzees are pretty smart. Some say it describes that aspect of being self-aware and self-conscious and that come closer. “Man,” according to Mark Twain, “is the only creature that blushes in embarrassment—or needs to.” Others say that there is no difference, so wallabies, giraffes, and chimpanzees and people are all the same. A spotted owl is no different and has the same rights as a little boy.
I believe there is a difference and that difference is marked the image of God that is in all of us. I believe that “Imagio Dei” is the desire to be in union and communion with God and with each other. I believe that it is our spiritual longing for community, which reflects that image of God. The reason I say that is because of the image that Jesus used to describe the essential nature of God.
Jesus, at the conclusion of his ministry, charges his disciples with the Great Commission to “go and make disciples, to baptize them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit”. With this expression he describes his belief that exists as “Three in One”, in a state of union and communion even within God’s own being. It is in this understanding of who God is that we come closer to understanding “who we are” and “where our spiritual thirst comes from, and why we long for the flowing streams of God’s spirit.”
This statement that God exists as “Three in One” makes the Christian understanding of God utterly unique. No other religion speaks of God in such a fashion. This understanding led to the eventual split between early believers and the orthodox Jewish teaching of Jesus’ day for Jews maintained strictly that God is one. This statement of faith was included in their most important prayer called the “Shema.” “Hear O Israel, the Lord is one, the Lord is God.” Every time the Jews of Jesus’ day listened to these brand new Christians speak of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, they counted and came up with three different gods every time. It was at this point that all conversation broke down because many could not understand this new math. I know the feeling.
Christians responded and said, “not three, but one existing in “three persons.” It is hard to wrap our brains around this concept, which Jesus used when he said, “I and the Father are one”. It is hard for us to understand the closeness of the connection when Jesus said, “if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father”. When Jesus speaks of sending the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide, and convict in his name, it is hard not to count to three.
But, if there is one thing scripture is clear about, it is this. Understanding the full nature of God will be impossible; the creation cannot completely comprehend the creator. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways, says the Lord”. There will always be some mystery here. God is wholly other, wholly different than you and I. It is that nature which makes God, God, after all.
That “nature,” Jesus said, is wrapped up in communion. In the heart of God’s heart is the reality and desire for communion, even within the nature of God’s being. God exists as “three in one.” The importance of being connected, intertwined with another, is the “image” in which we were created. That’s why we have that longing, that thirst to be connected with the “other” as the divine DNA that we have inherited from our Father in heaven.
This is present in all of our relationships. This is why we yearn for great marriages, good friendships, and wonderful relationships with our children. This is why we feel so fulfilled when these relationships go well and so frustrated when they do not. This is also why these relationships can lead to the most profound disappointments and loss in our lives. This is why the poet John Donne wrote, “no man is an island, entire of himself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”.
This “image” of God in which we were created was shattered with the entrance of sin in our world and in our lives. So powerful is this force that all that remains are bits and pieces of our broken “Imagio Dei.” The longing is still there. We yearn for the closeness, but we have forgotten how to make the connection. So sometimes we settle for the substitute— warm body next to ours, anonymous on-line chitchat, a bottle or a pill. But, the substitutes never fulfill. There is, deep in the recesses of our souls, a thirst for something more, for something profound, for someone close as our own heartbeat, but there is a wall of sin, which restrains us from drinking deeply and completely from this cup.
When Jesus said, “This is my body broken for you, do this in remembrance of me”, he was not describing a “memorial service.” He was not saying, “don’t forget me”; rather he was promising “his presence and power for the Church”. He was promising to break down the wall of sin, which separates us from God and from each other.
This cup provides us with a taste of full communion with God. In this life we will never reach that full communion all the time. We will always see “in a mirror dimly, always know in part.” One day we shall “fully understand and be fully understood”. That day is not yet.
That should not discourage us from continuing in the quest to “see God more clearly, love God more dearly, and follow God more nearly day by day.
One way we do that is through prayer. C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity, spoke to this question of prayer in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He wrote:
“An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get in touch with God. But, if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God; God so to speak, inside him. But, he also knows that all real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God – that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him.
So, you see what is happening. God (the heavenly Father) is the one to whom he is praying – the goal he is trying to reach. God (the Holy Spirit) is also the one inside him, which is pushing him on – the motive power. God (through Jesus Christ) is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. The whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary act of prayer.”
That prayer often becomes more powerful in a community of faith. For example, I’m told there is a tree in Johannesburg, South Africa, that stands in the yard of a Catholic retreat center. When viewing from a particular angle, one sees a singular tree with a very large trunk. From another angle, the tree appears as three distinct trees, down to the very roots. The tree was nicknamed “Trinity” – Three-in-One. The base of the tree became the meeting ground where community was experienced. There, the deep questions of life were discussed. No matter where you leaned on the tree, you were supported. Three trunks, one tree, inseparable and unified at its base, draw into fellowship those who gather in Christ’s name.
When we conclude our prayers or worship or Baptism with the words, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”, we are calling upon the God who has shown himself to be creator, redeemer, and sustainer. But, more than that we recognize and acknowledge that our relationships with each other and with God himself ought to reflect the “Imagio Dei” within us, union and communion, connection and interaction.
The Apostle Peter put it this way:
“God’s divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness…so that we may become partakers of his divine nature.” “Imagio Dei”, you were created in the image of God and are to be a partaker of his divine nature – live in it, love through it and serve because of it, through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Psalm 42:1
 Matthew 28:18
 Deuteronomy 6:4
 John 10:30
 John 14:9 KJV
 Isaiah 55:8
 John Donne, Devotions XVII
 1 Corinthians 11:25
 Book of Order W-1.3033
 1 Corinthians 13:12
 2 Peter 1:4