Living in the Triune Gift
by Linda Rex
June 4, 2023, Holy Trinity | After Pentecost—As we move on into the season beyond Pentecost, we begin to consider what it means that we participate and live in the Triune gift given to us in Jesus and the Spirit. What does it mean that we are included in God’s life and love, and are called together into community?
The Lord Jesus Christ gave his disciples instructions before he ascended, telling them to live out the implications of his ascended life by making disciples, baptizing and teaching them wherever they went (Matthew 28:16-20). His instructions to them were predicated on the reality that he had received all authority in heaven and on earth from his Father in the Spirit, and he would be going with them through whatever they might face, no matter the circumstances.
As the early churches were formed and began to gather, those who were not familiar with Jewish regulations regarding fellowship joined with those who had customarily followed certain Jewish customs and regulations throughout their lives. And the Roman culture of the day venerated social status, income level, and materialism—similar to our culture today. In the midst of these contrasting influences and expectations, the Corinth church was in disarray, caught up in unChristlike behaviors and practices, and being led astray by false teachers. The apostle Paul lovingly sought to call them back to the grace, love, and unity which was theirs in Jesus Christ.
As he closed his letter to the members at Corinth, Paul began to write in deep affection with his own hand the closing benediction (2 Cor 13:11-13). Using the common greeting of “farewell,” he encouraged them to “put things in order.” The NIV and ESV say “aim for full restoration” or “strive for full restoration,” while the NASB says “be made complete.” He wanted them to put aside their differences and all of the false identities they were embracing, and simply be who God said they were—his beloved children, bound together by the Spirit in love and grace.
Paul went on to encourage his beloved spiritual brothers and sisters to be “likeminded” and to “live in peace.” What was on the apostle’s heart was the unity of the body of Christ being made manifest in the way that they treated one another. He longed for them to drop the societal and cultural exclusivism and live in truly Christlike inclusive, caring, and sharing ways with one another. This call for unity and being of one mind and heart is reminiscent of Jesus’ instruction to his disciples before he went to the cross. He told them to love one another, and in this way prove to others that they were his disciples (John 15:7-11). In doing so, he said, they would rejoice. This resonates with Paul’s instructions to the members at Corinth, for he too tells them to rejoice in the midst of their unity and likemindedness in the Spirit.
And this is the key. It is impossible for us to have this kind of unity and harmony apart from the living presence of God himself through Jesus in the Spirit. It is the grace of Jesus, the love of God, and fellowship of the Holy Spirit we are living in the midst of and participating in when we join together as one body, the body of Christ. Our unity of mind and heart is a gift from the Holy Spirit. This is where our joy comes from, a gift of the divine joy God has in his own unity and love as Father and Son in the Spirit. We receive God’s Spirit and joyfully participate in the grace offered to us in Jesus as an expression of our Father’s love, fellowshipping with God and man in peace and harmony.
When we try to work this up ourselves, we find that we are unable to avoid the differences which cause division within the body of Christ. When we seek to follow what is culturally comfortable and what we’ve grown up doing all our lives, we discover that these things create differences rather than unity. When we allow our individualism to reign, we lose our mutual personhood, for those relationships which are meant to harmonize together become fractured and broken. Our best efforts at unity are fragile and at times even infectious. We desperately need the grace of Jesus, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Spirit to make us one, heal our divisions, and unify us. May we live in the blessing of God’s gift in Christ by the Spirit—and receive from our loving Triune Lord, the unity, harmony, peace he always meant for us to enjoy, and learn to share it with others. May we receive the Triune gift and live within it in gratitude and praise.
Dear God, thank you for including us in your life and love, for the grace offered to us through your Son because of your faithful, bountiful love, Father, in the wondrous fellowship and joy of your Holy Spirit. Enable us to receive all that you have for us, to live in the truth of who we are as your beloved children, in the unity and harmony and peace you always meant for us to enjoy, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” 2 Cor 13:11-13 NRSV
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Lamenting the Very Good
By Linda Rex
June 7, 2020, HOLY TRINITY—Lately it seems as though this has been a long, drawn-out season of lament. There have been repeated reasons to feel and express sorrow, to regret, to mourn over the loss of lives to mass shootings, natural disasters, and the most recent pandemic.
The exact figures of the lives lost just to COVID-19 are unknown, but according to the World Health Organization website on May 28th, there were 357,736 deaths reported worldwide. Where were these 357,736 people last year at this time? What were their lives like? How many lives did each one touch? What about their families and friends, work colleagues, and teachers? If we do not make the effort to lament, to grieve the loss of each of these people, then we lose our ability to value the worth of each human being we meet.
Our cellphones and other devices make it possible now to interact with a large number of people immediately, creating a response by what we post on social media or on websites. We can affect thousands and even millions of people simply by what we say or do, what pictures we take, and what movies we create. In the midst of this freedom of expression, we find ourselves exposed not just to the best of humanity, but also to the dredges.
Most recently a wave of protest erupted over a film posted which showed the unlawful use of power and authority by police against someone of color. The violent response of many to this event echoes the reality that here in the U.S. we still have not learned the true value of a human being. The fact that we still create artificial divisions between us using race, ethnicity, gender, income, intelligence—the list goes on—shows we still do not know our story and our identity as humans.
It is important that we lament our failure to love our fellowman. We fail so often to love our fellowman simply by refusing to give him or her the status of fellowman. By refusing to treat every other human being as an equal, we actually diminish our own dignity as human beings. We make ourselves less than what we were created to be—image-bearers of God himself, the One who did not think it beneath himself to come to earth and take on our human flesh, becoming what we are to bring us into union and communion with himself.
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed even more of our inhumanity, simply by putting leaders and caregivers in the position of having to decide who gets treatment and who does not, who is protected and who is not. It seems that, in reality, the decision being made is, who is expendable? Is it true that someone who has lived a long good life does not have the same value as someone who is just starting out? How is it than we can place a value on a human being based simply on their age or productivity?
Do you see the issues here? We are forced into a corner where we must make these impossible decisions, but at some point we have got to admit that we have made someone less than human in the process of trying to decide who lives and who dies. As human beings, we really have no excuse, for God has been trying to tell us for millennia that we are made by God’s love, to love him and one another. We must pause and lament our failure to love God and one another—we have failed to be the image-bearers of the Triune God we were meant to be.
In my book, Making Room, I talk about how we as human beings find our identity in the God who is Father, Son, and Spirit. This God was revealed by Jesus Christ to be three Persons in one Being—each unique yet equal to the others while united in unbreakable communion. This communion in which they exist, this perichoretic love, is the overflowing abundant source of our existence as human beings. We are made to be image-bearers of this God.
This is the same God who, after creating the cosmos, the earth and everything in it, pronounced it all very good. Even though he knew that we had the capacity to turn away from his love and attempt to live apart from his abiding presence, he still pronounced us very good. He still sought conversation and fellowship with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. And even when they chose the knowledge of good and evil over real life in intimate relation with him, he covered it all with his love and grace as he covered them with animal skins.
In coming into our human flesh, the Word of God did not isolate himself from those who were less than him or who were powerless, but rather joined himself to them and gave them his presence and power. In Christ we have God restoring us to the very good which was ours in the very beginning. This above all things should teach us that to offer ourselves to those whom society deems less than or weaker than, giving them our strength, resources, and support, is to more accurately bear the image of the God who made us.
God is teaching me that one of the biggest obstacles that stands in the way of our offering ourselves to one another in this way is fear. Fear occurs when we do not know one another well—when we make assumptions based on past experience, hearsay, gossip, or someone else’s opinion and do not make the effort to get to know the person ourselves on a one-to-one basis. Our Scriptures say it is perfect love which casts out fear—that he who fears is not made perfect in love.
If God, in and through Christ and by the Spirit, can love each and every person on this earth enough to join us in our humanity, live the life we were meant to live, to die our death and rise again, and then come in the person of the Spirit to enable us to participate in the heavenly Triune fellowship, then I would say God has given us everything we need to begin to live in loving relationship with one another. The apostle Paul calls to us, “Strive for full restoration…be of one mind, live in peace.” We do this as the God of love and peace is in us and with us by the Spirit.
Let us lament our failures to love our brothers and sisters. Let’s turn away from ourselves and our stubborn willful independence and turn towards the One who offers us his grace and love, Jesus Christ. Receive from him the gift of life in union and communion with the God who made and sustains all things.
It is in this life with our Triune God, with Jesus as our Mediator between God and man, that we find the capacity and power to love and understand those whom we normally reject and fear. It is Christ in us by the Spirit who binds us together in oneness, enabling us to be likeminded and to live in peace with one another.
It is Jesus living his life in us who works to restore the image of God in each of us, bringing us to completeness, enabling us as human beings to properly reflect the image of the God who is three Persons in one Being. It is in the name of this Triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit—we are baptized, and it is at his table we take communion, gratefully receiving all he has done for us in Jesus. We live our lives from then on, showing those around us what it looks like to live in loving fellowship with God and our fellowman as image-bearers of the Trinity.
Abba, thank you for loving us in spite of our inability and unwillingness to live in loving relationship with one another. We are so dependent upon your grace and forgiveness for our prejudices, our hatred, our fear, our murder and abuse of those who you have given us as brothers and sisters. Lord, if you do not lift us up, renew and restore us, we have no hope—we trust in the finished work of Christ. Let your kingdom come, your will, Abba, be done here on earth, in every city, state, and nation, as it is in heaven, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” 2 Corinthians 13:11 NIV
“God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. … By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” Genesis 1:31a; 2:2 NASB
“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’” Matthew 28:18–20 NASB