Dancing into the Life of God

This is a very early draft, where I am preaching mostly to myself. It will change by Sunday!  I am most grateful to Rev Jennie Gordon for her wonderful poetry that she shares on the WRCL list, and also Rev Sandy Boyce, who helped me more than she knew, all those years ago. For an excellent linking of Trinity and Salvation, try reading The Nature of our Salvation in Christ: Salvation as Participation and Divinisation, by Damien Casey.

The Text: Matthew 28:16-20. It is appropriate to read the whole of Chapter 28.

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’

8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13telling them, ‘You must say, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” 14If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ 15So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you (Emmanuel) always, to the end of the age.’

The Draft
Each year, in December, we had a school social; the dance. My parents insisted that I should go. I hated it. I was un-sociable. I don’t like crowds, I’m shy, and I’m what my family calls... “spatially challenged.” That means: pig ugly clumsy. I can’t dance.

This particular year I’d actually gone to a country dance when we were on holidays. I was safely anonymous at the Burdett Hall, out from Mannum. I even plucked up courage to ask a girl for a dance...  and fell over and broke my arm whilst doing The Military Two Step. I was evacuated to Adelaide, and spent five days in hospital with a compound fracture.

So when the school social came, I was standing uncomfortable, at the edge of the room, not wanting to be there, unable to dance, completely on the outside. My arm was in plaster.

We had a fine teacher who also ran the church youth group. His fiancée Sandy, who was like a goddess to us country lads, had come up country to the social. And as I stood there miserable, she came and asked me to dance. I could have wept. What an amazing act of love.

Rev Jennie Gordon has written a poem about Trinity and Dancing, called

this mysterious dance

hell is waiting near the window
by the wall, around the floor
hell is watching from the sidelines
wanting nothing,
nothing more
than to join the moving masses
spinning round each other’s frame
sensing deep within your body
that the music knows your name
hell is waiting, watching, wanting
to return from whence you came ...

Jennie Gordon 2011

What has this got to do with Trinity, you ask? Isn’t Trinity that arcane doctrine that we tip our hats to, but which we then ignore because the minister understands, and will take care of it for us? One of the dark secrets of the clergy world, is that we are sometimes just as confused!

Trinity is perhaps two things... not three, surprisingly!

First of all Trinity is a description and a speculation. It is high level philosophy which is trying to make sense of our experience of Jesus and the Father, and the Holy Spirit, and is trying to understand what God wants of us. You can spend years on this task. I am told that St Augustine wrote fifteen volumes on the Doctrine of the Trinity! A friend summarises them like this:

Here are his seven summary statements:  The Father is God.  The Son is God.  The Holy Spirit is God.  The Son is not the Father.  The Father is not the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is not the Son.  There is only one God.  (Impenetrable, yes, but what can one expect?  The subject is God, after all.)

And that’s all before we consider how we might today express this, in language that is not trapped in gender specific terms; many people don’t like to think of God as Father. Father was not a good person.

I can imagine reading this to Joyce, out there surrounded by kids and doughnuts, teaching Sunday School, and bringing the coffee up to temperature. “I haven’t got time for that,” she would say. She might say more!

And she is right.

This first approach to Trinity is scholarship. It’s the heavy lifting that is the job of the theologians and philosophers of the church.  It’s a bit like understanding your car engine, and the little electronic black box that makes it all work. Someone understands it all— at least I hope so! But for most of us, what’s needed are a few basic facts that let us drive the car safely and effectively.

That’s where we come to the second thing about the Trinity.

This is not about understanding a doctrine.

Trinity is about living  life, and becoming like God... entering into the life of God.

We tend to forget this. St Athanasius said, back in the 4th century, "... the  Son of God became human so that we might become God."  And St Augustine, in the 5th century, said  “In order to make gods of those who were merely human . . . one who was God made himself human.” (See Casey for reference.)

That might not sound any more clear than what I have already said! What does it all mean?

Let’s look at my school social. You see, my school social is a picture of life. We want to be special. We want people to love us. We want to be someone, to do something worthwhile, to count.

And yet even the leaders, the ministers, the successful business people and the politicians... we are all on the outside. We are all alone. We are all lonely, deep inside.

When we’re honest we’re little kids inside, like Cameron and Georgina. But we have lost their innocence. We know the horror of the world. We are like highschool kids standing on the edge of the dance, miserable, lonely, lost, and not knowing what it’s all about. We think all the other kids have got it together, but we’re wrong. They are just as lost. It’s the human condition.

This is what leads to the greed and the sin and the violence of the world. We struggle to get into the dance, to be one of the cool kids, to know who we are. And if we have to tread on other people... well, we will. We want to be safe. We want to be someone. We want to be loved.

God...  is like Sandy Hopkins all those years ago. God steps out of the dance, out to the edges... and draws us in. God loves us enough to invite us into the dance, and to dance with us, even though we are a lonely. clumsy teenage kid with a broken arm... and probably... a broken heart.

Why do I keep talking about Dancing?

Well, when  the theologians tried to understand Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they understood some things very clearly. If Jesus acts, it’s God. If the Father acts, it’s God. If it’s a work of the Spirit, it’s a work of God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal. It’s not a hierarchy. We can just as well say Son, Spirit and Father. This is God.

And most of all, perhaps, the Trinitarian God is not some static idea. It’s not some diagram of how God works, up on the wall. The Spirit, Father ,and Son are in perichoresis— forget that word— it means they are in a dance. They are constantly moving, loving, relating, and drawing together. They relate to each other with all the joy and energy and love, of the dance.

It's a dance we are made to join.

Sometimes, I reckon that when we think about God, we kind of think we are watching the dance of the Trinity.  We are like the audience at a concert.  If we are good Christians, we think, the concert of Life will be special. We will get carried away by God. We will forget ourselves and simply be... simply enjoy the concert. Wouldn’t that be good?  No pain. No fear. No loneliness. Just watching God, and being totally engrossed in the show, lifted out of the ordinary, and the muck of the world. This would be like a taste of heaven. And if we are good, then at the end, we will get to go to the Final Concert... we will be there.

This is wrong.

This is not what God does.

God does not lift us out of the world.

And we are not meant to be a spectator who somehow gets “saved.”

Last week, I was at a concert of the Soweto Gospel Choir. What a blast! The singing, the drums, the dancing... it was an amazing concert. And yes... I forgot the world for a while! I stopped thinking about my sermon, and who I should visit. I didn’t worry about how to pay the bills. I was a teensy bit envious, though. I wish I could sing harmony like that, and dance like that.

Near the end, we were invited to join in— although the man said, “Make as much noise and yell as much as you like in the balcony, but please don’t dance up there.” You can imagine what 200 people doing a variation of The Stomp might do to the balcony at Her Majesty’s Theatre! “But down on the ground floor,” he said, “Dance with us.”

And dance we did. We became a part of the show. We joined the dance. And choir members came down off the stage and danced among us. They embraced the lonely African people who live in Adelaide! They encouraged clumsy, rhythm-free-zone people like me, to join the dance.  It was a little taste of heaven. It was divine!

God calls us in...to the life of God. We are called in...to relationship, for the healing of our pain and loneliness and lostness. Trinity means God loving us and helping us grow to all we were made to be. Trinity means that one day, somewhere, a person will say, “Look, there’s Jesus!... Oh— sorry, it’s Andrew.” The  Son of God became human so that we might become God.... 

---

At the end of the show, when we all go home, what does this mean? What does it mean when we are Joyce and Katrina, out in the Sunday School room, and Joyce is too busy for Trinity because she’s managing kids, doughnuts, and coffee?

They   are being   the dance.

They are dancing around the kids. They are making them at home. They are healing hurts, and showing the Georginas and the Camerons a way to live that will keep moving towards God, as they grow up.

And as we come out after church, we know Joyce will be dancing around with cake and cups of tea.

They are drawing people into God.

---

In Chapter 28 in Matthew, the risen Jesus instructs the women to tell the disciples he will meet them in Galilee. And it says he met them on the mountain.

Jesus met the broken church of broken people— we know that’s what it was because it says there are only 11... not 12... like there should be. Even in those early days, the church was broken, and fractured, and betrayed... just like us. And yet that church met Jesus... so we can, too.

And you remember what we said here, a few weeks ago. Meeting Jesus on the mountain is a shorthand code for meeting him by living out the sermon on the mountain; for living out life like Jesus would. Do that... and we will meet the risen Lord. He will be with us until the end of the age.

So...

we can deal with our separation and lostness by seeking spiritual highs... lots of concerts. But you can’t live all of life like that in the end. It becomes shallow. And you’d wear out!

Or...

we can seek to avoid our lostness and loneliness by getting lost in our work. We can fill the emptiness with something else. But there are few things worth giving our lives to. Money isn’t worth it. Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world, has mostly left Microsoft. He’s busy giving money to the poor.

Or...

we can follow the life of Jesus, living like Jesus would. And we will be changed. We will become like Gods. God will draw us in to God's self.

Once when I went to visit my ninety year old Grandma at the old folk’s home, we couldn’t find her. She was off helping the old folks! She was not doing it to be good. She was not doing it because God wanted her to, and she was afraid what might happen if she didn’t. She was doing it because that’s who she was; that’s who she had become. She had already become a little bit divine, a little bit like God. The peace and the un-lostness shone out of her.

Will you join the slow steady dance into the life of God?

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!

 

A trinity of Jazz
Author: Margaret Hodge
Just to add to the mix of ideas. The Trinity Molly Wolf, writing some time ago, talked of going to a jazz concert one night and after listening to a jazz trio had the sudden insight that this was the best illustration of the Trinity that she has ever come across. The music was alive, vital, relevant to her time, and the musicians constantly interplaying with one another – each interweaving their music in amongst the other – at different times each was dominant but always the music remained beautiful and alive and engaged the audience. The trio was only complete and a whole when all the parts were in harmony.
re: Trinity of Jazz
Author: Andrew
Love that Margaret!
re: Trinity of Jazz
Author: Andrew Prior
On improvised music, see also: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/josh-fleet/transcendent-song-a-quest_b_806481.html

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