Monday, June 19, 2006

“Shall We Dance?”[1]

Isaiah 6:1-8; John 3:1-17

One of the most widespread folk tales in human history is the one we know as “Cinderella.” There have been over 500 varieties of it found in European cultures alone! There are African “Cinderellas”, Asian “Cinderellas”, even Native American “Cinderellas.” The German Cinderella is known as “Aschenputtel,” the Chinese Cinderella is “Yeh Shen,” and the Celtic Cinderella is “Rashen Coatie.” While the tales are all very different, they deal with the difficulty of a King (or in this case a Prince) in matters of love.

The King and I. The dilemma was summarized by the Danish Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.[2] “Suppose there was a King who loved a humble maiden,” Kierkegaard begins. If he truly loves the maiden, he will both long for what is best for her, and he will long to be loved by her as an equal. But if he proceeds to make her his equal, would she ever truly be happy? What’s more, would she ever love him for who he is, and not simply because he is King? If he only becomes an anonymous benefactor to ensure her happiness, she would never love him at all. The only possibility, Kierkegaard says, is for the King to humble himself. He must not do this merely by pretending to be lowly, simply by wearing common clothes instead of regal robes. He must actually become humble and common in order to seek out the maiden’s love.

I think it is fitting on this Trinity Sunday to reflect on how we imagine God. For example, if we think of God as “king” sitting on a throne in light of Isaiah’s experience in the Temple, I think we tend to come up with an image of God as an absolute monarch, imposing and lofty, untouched by common life, unconcerned and above all, distant. I don’t know about you, but that image of God doesn’t appeal to me.

If we can enter into the world of “Cinderella” when we think about God as the one seated on the throne, then I think we can come closer to understanding the God of the Bible. Our God is not monarch who is untouched by common life, unconcerned, and above all distant from common human beings. In fact, if we begin with the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, we find that God is something altogether different!

God is Love. The God revealed to us by Jesus Christ is the God whose very being is defined by love.[3] If we want to understand who God is, we have to use love as the key. My favorite Reformed theologian asks this question: how can a God who is by definition love be remote, aloof, or unconcerned?[4] The very idea of love implies a relationship! It was to that end that the God who is by definition love brought forth the beloved Son and the Spirit of Life—in order to share his love! It was also to that end that the God who is by definition love created all things and continues to sustain, nurture, and redeem God’s beloved creation!

In fact, the only way to conceive of the God who is by definition love is through the language of Trinity. It is only the language of Trinity that enables us to say, for example, that Jesus showed us more clearly than anyone else the God defined by love. It is only the language of Trinity that enables us to say that Jesus’ death on the cross was an act of God’s redeeming love. It is only the language of the Trinity that enables us to claim that we now have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The God Who Dances. Of course, this might not make you feel any better—language of the Trinity is notoriously confusing. And images of the Trinity range from obscure (God as the lover, the beloved, and the love) to cliché (God plays different roles like an actor playing different parts) to ridiculous (a triangular shaped sign that continually rotates).

But in fact, there is an analogy for the triune God that makes a lot of sense. It is the analogy of the dance. It originated in the Eastern Orthodox Church—which is why most of us have never heard of it. John of Damascus, a 7th century Greek Father, said that the unity between the Father, Son, and Spirit is the relationship of love that they share with each other.[5] This love so profound that, while we can distinguish them from one another, we must also recognize that everything one does, the others do also. That’s why the analogy of the dance is so important. It’s as if the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are joined in an eternal dance by the love they share for each other. If you’ve ever had the privilege of dancing with a partner, you know that you have to move as one, or you don’t move at all!

But the really good news is that from the very beginning, the purpose of this eternal dance of God’s has been to open the dance for all of us to join in.[6] That’s what the incarnation is about—making clear to us that God loves us by not just pretending to be one of us, but by actually becoming one of us in order to invite us to the dance. And that’s also what salvation is about—the Spirit taking our hand, not taking no for an answer, and leading us gently but persistently into the divine eternal dance of love. We can protest all we want—I don’t know how to dance!—the Spirit of the triune God will not take no for an answer! The God who loves us will not only become one of us, but will also patiently, gently, but persistently, teach us to join in the dance of love.

And once we learn to dance, it’s our job to go out and become God’s messengers to invite others to dance, to become God’s agents to teach others to dance.[7] So, on this Trinity Sunday, the question we must answer is this: “Shall we dance?”

[1] A sermon preached 6/11/06 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX.

[2] See Thomas Oden, ed., The Parables of Kierkegaard, 40-45.

[3] William Placher, Narratives of a Vulnerable God, xiii, 3-6, 10, 15-16, 19-21, 55, 62

[4] Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, 53, 151.

[5] Moltmann, Trinity, 174-75.

[6] Moltmann, Trinity, 72-75, 89-90, 95-96, 157, 178

[7] Moltmann, Trinity, 158, 191-92, 198-200, 202, 216-18.

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