Monday, May 9, 2016

Relational Harmony & Ever-Widening Circles of Fellowship

Jesus prayed for his disciples, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us… that they may be one as we are one… so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them.”

This reading from the Gospel of John – with all of its “I am the walrus”–sounding language – gives us a glimpse into the very nature of all reality.  Let me explain by describing my core theology. 

At the heart of all existence there is a perfect Relational Harmony – a term which by its very nature implies a plurality, which we Christians confess as the Holy Trinity consisting of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  This Relational Harmony exists as One, although it is comprised of separate, individual members.  The life of this Relational Harmony revolves around the qualities of mutuality, generosity, selflessness, and respect.

It existed before all things and independent of all things, but sought to share its life beyond itself.  The Relational Harmony brought forth creation and all living things in it to share in its life.  We human beings have tried to live into this reality, but far too often come up short.  Too often we live for ourselves and lack concern for anyone or anything else – call it relational dysfunction, or by another name ‘sin’.

Jesus Christ – the human manifestation of the Relational Harmony – lived as one of us to call us back to who we were created to be.  He invites us to be a part of the Relational Harmony and to grow in ever-widening circles of fellowship with other human beings as well as with all of creation.  Jesus’ prayer for us – “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us… that they may be one as we are one… so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them” – is expressive of God’s deep desire to share the essence of God’s Relational Harmony with us.

Simple, right!

The truth is we can only live partially into this reality, but this does not mean it should not be our aim.  Our circles of fellowship can grow ever-wider as we allow the life of Relational Harmony to live in us.  As we know ourselves to be loved we find ourselves able to love.

Consider today’s reading from the Book of Acts.  Think about Paul.  When we first met him he was not exactly the embodiment of relational harmony; running all over the place arresting Christians, having them beaten, and even killed.  He was not the picture of mutuality, generosity, selflessness, or respect.  But all of this changes when the Risen Christ appears to him on the road to Damascus.  And while Paul does not become a perfect human being by any stretch of the imagination, we see him throughout the Book of Acts building an ever-widening circle of fellowship with the aim of manifesting God’s Relational Harmony.

On his journey with Silas, Paul comes across a girl with what the text describes as a ‘spirit of divination’ that enables her to discern people’s future.  Because there is money to be made from such an ability, she has been enslaved by her ‘owners’ who make a small fortune off of her.  For several days the girl cries out at Paul whenever she sees him until finally he commands the spirit to come out of her.  It does and the girl’s owners lose their money-maker.

What does relational harmony look like?  The girl’s owners were concerned with how they could use her for their own gain whereas Paul found a way to serve her.  How do you measure your relationships with others?  Are you focused on what you get out of them or on what you can give to them and do for them?  Do you wonder how you can use other people and manipulate other people for your own benefit, or do you wonder what the other person needs – perhaps a word of encouragement, a listening ear, an act of kindness, a measure of forgiveness, an assurance that his or her life matters – and do you search for a way to give it?  The Relational Harmony that is the Holy Trinity exists not to take from other members, but to give.  This is at the core of reality and a life lived any other way will be at dissidence with it.

When the girl’s owners realize she can no longer make money for them, they seize Paul and Silas and have them arrested, beaten, and imprisoned – not exactly a good position to be in when you are alone in a foreign land.  The text tells us Paul and Silas spend the night singing hymns and praying.  What does this tell you?  God’s Relational Harmony is not limited by circumstances.  When times are good and when times are bad, when times are easy and when times are tough, when times are sweet and when times are hostile we can live and move and have our being in God’s Relational Harmony. 

One of our Food Pantry clients took me aside last Monday because she wanted a word with me.  She told me how grateful she was for all we have done for her and the other clients.  Then she took my hand and slipped into it a crumpled up piece of paper.  “I want you to use this to help other people,” she told me and then walked away.  I looked in my hand and unfolded what she had given me.  It was a $20 bill.  That, I thought, was a lot of money for her to give.  I am sure she could have used it for many other things – some helpful, others frivolous.  She gave it to the Food Pantry while she was waiting in line to get food from the Food Pantry.  It was an act congruent with God’s Relational Harmony because her deep desire was to use what she had for the benefit of others.

Well, while Paul and Silas are singing and praying the night away in jail, an earthquake hits the region.  Their chains are loosened and the prison doors burst open.  Most would suspect they are free to go, but not these two.  They use it as an opportunity to witness to their jailor.  He and his family get baptized.  It is tempting to approach life wondering how we can take advantage of opportunities, but Paul looks for ways to share God’s love and life through the circumstances that surround him.  Paul draws the jailor and his family into his ever-widening circle of fellowship and as a result his world more closely resembles God’s perfect Relational Harmony.

Each one of us has the opportunity to live this way; in a way that aligns us with the essential reality of existence – Relational Harmony.  We won’t get it right 100% of the time, but it can be the mark for which we aim and the destination we hope to reach: serving others rather than taking from them, recognizing the possibility for goodness in every circumstance, and finding in ever opportunity the prospect of widening the circles of Godly fellowship in our lives.

“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us… that they may be one as we are one… so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them.”