May 30, 2021

Trinity Sunday B

Created In the Image of God

GOSPEL

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:1-17

SERMON

The Bible begins with the affirmation that we were made in the image of God. Most of us were taught this and we internalized this belief at a very young age. “Male and female He created them. In the image of God, He created them.”

But it is one thing to learn this affirmation, quite another to understand what it actually means, and still another to live, in our everyday lives, ever more deeply into the truth of our being made in God’s image and after His likeness.

So, what does it mean for us to acknowledge that we were created in the image of God? What does it mean for us to live as those fashioned in the Divine likeness? What is actually involved in bringing forth in our lives the reflection of God, in whose image we were made?

It seems to me, at the very least, it means to be and become holy, as God is holy. Isn’t being holy the good work that God began in each of us from the moment he called us into being? Isn’t this God’s purpose for us? Isn’t this the goal of each and every genuinely and authentically purpose-driven life? If we are holy, we image the God acclaimed by the six-winged seraphs in this morning’s passage from Isaiah, and whose words we echo at each celebration of the Eucharist when we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of power and might”.

On Trinity Sunday we celebrate the image of the Holy God in whose likeness we were made. We have come to know that holy image in its fullness, in the Word made flesh and in the gift of the Spirit who abides with us. It is the holy image of a loving relationship of persons.

Yes, the holiness of God is thoroughly bound up with relational intimacy among persons committed to living in godlike communion with each other. And the holiness we seek to reflect in our lives is thoroughly bound up with our capacity to realize relationships of loving intimacy in godlike communion with each other.

Today we celebrate the mystery that before and beyond all else, God is a loving communion of persons. God is the eternal loving that is now, ever was and ever will be between the Father and the Son and the Spirit.

We have been created in the image of a loving communion of persons. Yes, the word Trinity does not merely say something about God’s mystery, it also says something about our mystery. It is time that we seriously own the Trinitarian image in which we were made, into which we were born and into which we were reborn through water and the Spirit at our baptism. Living in loving community is not some give or take option, rather is absolutely essential to who we are and to our realizing the fullness of our personhood.

To be created in the image of God is to have been created in the image of that mysterious life-giving and life-sustaining relationship that expresses itself in self-giving love – you know, cruciform love.

Before there was a cross on Calvary, there was always a cross within the mystery of God. That self-giving-unto-death relationship is the womb from which we spring. That cruciform relationship is the home for which we long and to which we journey.

If we have been made in the image of God then at the deepest level of our humanity, we are only genuinely ourselves, we are only who we have been created to be, we are only fully in possession of our mystery when we are expressing ourselves in loving cruciform relationships in community.

Even as God invites us to grow into our godlikeness, we face the challenge of our primitive narcissistic impulses. As long as ME and MY, remain the place from which we respond, we thwart our possibilities for realizing God’s image in us.

This week nine more innocent people were murdered by a shooter in San Jose. As of May 26th, there have been 232 such shootings this year, each claiming at least four lives.

The unresolved issue remains the conflict between individual rights and the common good. As a nation we have fashioned the former into something of an idol. So, we should not be at all surprised that there are continuing supply victims. For, do not idols, always require human sacrifice?

Here again, political conservatives resist any effort to give reasonable priority to the common good. They resist necessary gun regulation and control, as they resist wearing masks for the sake of the common good. They do this in the name of individual rights.

Again, the common good would be best served by a thorough investigation of the assault on the capital that resulted in the murders of a number of innocent people.
The common good demands transparency and accountability, but this too is resisted for the benefit of individual political survival.

I believe that there is something deeply flawed in the that collective conservative psyche. It is an unholy place where self-interest, self-protection, and greed always seem to trump the common good.

It is vital that we remain about the business of taking stock of whether or not we are expressing our lives in loving relationships. How deeply loving are those relationships? If we love, do we only love so much or so far? Where do we draw the line when it comes to loving others? Do we see ourselves as expanding, widening and pushing the boundaries of vulnerability and intimacy? Do we only love our own? Are our efforts to love intimately, limited to marital, familial and friendship relationships? Do we ever allow ourselves the expansiveness of the divine imagination when it comes to love? Is it possible that we have yet to engage any deeply loving relationships and have remained frozen in the deadly narcissism of self-love? That place where we, in fact, would shatter the divine image in which we were made.

Interestingly, the rugged individual, who stands over and against all others, the winner before whom all else are deemed losers, the self-made man who really needs no one and needs only his own grit and hubris to realize his potential, the one whom western culture holds up as an icon of what it means to have arrived – that one, is an empty lie.

The John Wayne icon is a pathetic representation of what it means to be truly and deeply human. And yet we are daily reminded of the appeal to many of such an icon. We simply were not created to give center stage to unbridled individualism and ego strutting. Center stage in God’s economy belongs always to loving self-giving relationships.

Human excellence, moral and any other, conceived as a private, personal, individualized achievement is not enough. Our faith teaches, and Christians are called, to imagine and work for a society in which the bonds of solidarity, with those both like us as well as those different from us, take as their standard the endless, ineffable self-giving, cruciform love that is the very essence of our triune God.

Consider the immensity of God’s love.
He is a God who loves us so much…He created us.
He is a God who loves us so much…He became one of us. Yes, He went so far as to make our pain and our death is own.
He is a God who loves us so much…He remains with us— abiding with us and continuing, in astonishing ways, His creating work in us.
And He is a God who loves us so much that he invites us into His ever-expanding communion and community of love.

God, our creator is a joyful, happy craftsman, almost like one of the seven dwarves, whistling while He works. He finds delight in us – even though we are often less-than-delightful.
Even though we are often disappointing.
Even though we are prone to hatred, and selfishness, and sin.
It is for sinners that God gave his only begotten son.
He sent His son not to judge us as deserving damnation but to save us even from the worst of which we remain so capable and culpable. Yes, incredibly, He loves us anyway.
God wants to share Himself with us – to give all that He has.
Here is a God so generous…He gave us Himself, in flesh, to suffer with us and die for us.
Here is a God so generous…He continues to give us Himself, under the appearance of bread and wine, here at this altar.
Here is a God so generous, He shares with us gifts: wisdom and understanding…courage and piety…knowledge and counsel.
Here is a God who loves us beyond our wildest imaginings.

And He wants us to discover that, and celebrate that, and to make that love the template of our lives. He wants us to love as we have been loved. He is constantly calling out to us, with and without words, to realize that image of self-giving, cruciform, communion-building loving in which we have been created, through with we have been saved, by which we live Risen with Christ in the Spirit.

This Trinity Sunday we are reminded again of the limitless possibilities of God, one God who cannot be contained, but must co-exist as a community of persons. We are also reminded of the limitless possibilities of those created in God’s image – those who also need not be contained in our efforts to live more fully into the mystery of being a community of self-giving persons.

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
May 30, 2021