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F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Trinity I - 06/06/10
Isaiah 5:8-12, 18-24; Psalm 73; I John 4:7-21; Luke 16:19-31
This is the first Sunday after Trinity, so we are launched into the Trinity season, which I take to be a time of living that life of the One, Holy, and Undivided Trinity of which we speak in our creeds, and toward which we had been aiming and building from Advent to Pentecost.
As I said last week, for much of my Christian life, the Trinity was too abstract a doctrine for me to put it to work in any practical manner in my life. So I just "tried hard" to believe it, whether I understood it or not. I suspect that many Christians have done, and do, the same. I have to wonder what God thinks of all that.
But when you connect the creedal doctrine of the Trinity with (of all places!) the earliest chapter in the Bible, the creation story, the whole thing comes out of the abstract into living color, alive and moving.
God is Creator and Sovereign. Adam and Eve, the man and the woman, we are told, were made in the Image of God -- male and female. So their gender was somehow a representation of God Himself. And the only way of understanding that of which I am aware, is that Adam was to represent the sovereignty side of God, to be the spiritual leader of his family, and Eve was to represent the creator side of God, bringing forth life and the caring and nurturing qualities which enhance life.
The ancient world had no clear picture of the role of mothering, whereas it had often its own fairly clear role for the masculine side.
That is because, first, the ancient world did not at all understand the necessary contribution of the egg by the mother, so she was not thought to have made a substantial contribution to the being of the child. She was merely the incubator for the male sperm to grow and then be born into the world.
And secondly, there was no clear understanding of the emotional and psychological depth of the dependency of the infant upon the mother for the establishment of a personality, and for the establishment of a will to live. Infants who are severely deprived of relational and emotional mothering love just give up and die. They quit life. Being mechanically fed and cleaned up is not enough. They can be physically healthy and still die of loneliness. They want to be mothered, they want relationship. They cannot survive without it.
That depth of emotional and spiritual dependency on mother was first discovered by secular psychologists (though, of course, they did not call it spiritual), such as Anna Freud, not by we Christians, because we were too busy (and wrongly) spurning science, and especially, psychology.
Ancient people nevertheless must have known in some way that children needed mothering, for they almost universally expected the mothers to do the early raising of children. But then at a given point, usually about puberty, the boy was, often forcefully, yanked from the care of the mother -- to become a man. It was not enough to be merely a male, the males had to bond with the manly culture. And that culture was often, perhaps usually, a warrior culture.
Because the fallen world was an eat-or-be-eaten world, full of war, crime, disease, and constant threat to one's well being, where death waited on every street corner, it is no surprise that warrior cultures developed. They were necessary for survival. You had to fight off the roaming predators. That is why clans stuck so tightly together. It was often a matter of life and death.
But that means that the fallen-world feminine and masculine roles were far from what God had in mind when He made Adam and Eve in His Image, male and female.
The truth was that the fallen world had no capacity to even to understand what God had in mind, let alone copy it. There was no possibility because both the masculine and feminine roles were unable to be understood by pagans in Godly terms. In order for masculine and feminine to be understood in a life-giving and life-supporting way, you have to know the real God. And they did not. The gods and goddesses they knew, or thought they knew, were just as mean and nasty to each other as human beings were mean and nasty to each other. Power-struggle and sexual promiscuity was the name of the game. Contrary to the 1960's Flower Children, making war and making love went right together.
But that meant that gender roles had almost no hope of becoming mutually compatible, friendly, even loving. They would sooner or later end up being self-centered and competitive . There was an incessant and compulsive attempt in pagan religion to get the masculine/feminine, male/female thing together, enacted out in sexually promiscuous religious rites all over the world. But it never stuck. The battle of the sexes continued on, unabated. It was impossible to wed a warrior masculine role with a pretty much slave feminine role, and have a stable family and society emerge from it. Let alone the Kingdom of heaven.
Yet, every once in a while, the pagans would catch a glimpse of the truth. Homer, about 700 BC, said,
There is nothing more admirable than two people who see eye-to-eye keeping house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends.
Homer had a potentially powerful vision of a healthy family, which informed his writing of the Odyssey, the heroic saga of Odysseus' attempt to find his way back from the Trojan war to wife, family, home and hearth. It was perhaps that characteristic, the at-least-provisional union of masculine and feminine, which made it the classic for the Hellenic culture, their vision of true heroism, almost their Bible. It was an approximation to that sought-for union between mother and father, masculine and feminine. It may have been that family-gender vision which inspired the extraordinary sense of aesthetic balance of the High Hellenic period of the 400's BC. and then helped inform the building of the Roman Republic and then Empire.
Cicero, 1st century BC, said,
The first bond of society is marriage.
But pagan culture had no capacity to bring real, enduring unity to the masculine and feminine roles. And Western Civilization is returning to that same sad state of affairs as we trash our Biblical heritage. We have two basic choices: Biblical religion or paganism. Secularism is too unstable and impersonal to last long. The human soul demands to be mothered and fathered. But secularism has nothing to offer in that respect.
Why does the human soul demand to be mothered and fathered? Because we human beings are not self-sufficient beings. It is as simple as that. We can break, get sick, and die. We have to struggle to stay alive at all, let along live well and peacefully.
We have two very vulnerable spots. We cannot supply our own stability of being, and we cannot supply our own meaning to life. We do not know who we are, and we do not know where we are going. But those are the mothering and fathering gifts. So we have to make it up as we go. It is a bad show, at best. And the best does not last long.
If that is so, then the Genesis passage where we are created in Imago Dei male and female is one of the most significant and powerful passages in all Scripture.
The passage points to the resolution of the battle of the sexes, and to the ready availability, precisely in the Imago Dei, of true mothering and true fathering. I am not sure why, but monotheism seems to lead to monogamy, one man, one woman, for life. It did eventually with the Hebrews, but I also am not sure just when that happened. "When" does not seem to be indicated in Scripture.
Real mothering and fathering can come only from God, not from ourselves. We, separated from God, are the problem, not the solution. There is nothing we ourselves can do about that. Only God can re-parent us. Not all the secular science and psychology in the world can change that. It has no resources by which to do that. Only God intruding Himself into our fallen world can restore our fallen sexual and gender nature.
And that is precisely what God began with Abraham and the Community of Revelation. God wants to draw us back to understanding ourselves to be made in His Image, male and female. Back to Eden. Masculine and feminine, mothering and fathering, are those archetypal images which govern all the rest of reality.
So, how do we live the life of the Trinity?
It must begin with our understanding the Image of God, and that salvation means being restored back to that Image in our own souls. We must be, as Jesus told Nicodemus, reborn, born again back into relationship with God so that we can receive that Image within ourselves. We must allow God to heal and reconstruct that parenting we got from our parents and the world, and be re-mothered and re-fathered by Him directly -- become children of God. We must come to receive those two primal stabilities directly from God, our stability of being and personhood, and our moral stability. We must reconcile ourselves to being again creatures of God, rejoicing in our creaturehood, not spurning it. We must stop thinking of ourselves as "independent autonomous decision-makers". We must seek forgiveness of our sins and be morally reconciled with God. All by adoption and grace. There is no other way.
Those are a lot of "musts", but they are all summed up in becoming children of God so that we can see the Kingdom of God. Not only see it, but participate in it, do the work of God as members of it. We will always be children of something, either of the world or of God. The world is a failure. It cannot parent us into eternal life. The Holy Trinity is the renewal of our human nature. It is the pattern for the wholeness, health, and holiness of our being and our doing.
We read in Isaiah,
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter....
Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust...
Those who deliberately pervert reality, calling good evil, and evil good, will find themselves being eroded, falling apart, unable to survive. They participate in a fallen world which eats them up. There is no Hand of God, and no Voice of God to guide or correct. They pervert the truth and so deface the Image of God, both within themselves and in the words they speak. We have all participated in that world.
The Psalmist tells us,
Truly God is loving unto Israel, even unto such as are of a clean heart.
Of what other deity can it be said that he is loving toward his people? Who but the God of the Bible has demonstrated deep and enduring love? Who but the God of the Bible has chosen to make creatures in His own Image, and in doing so has secured for them eternal life with Him in the best of all possible worlds?
The Psalmist tells his own story of spiritual struggle, with the wicked around him, seemingly impervious to trouble. But he goes into the sanctuary of God, the Temple, perhaps where, in the quiet, he can hear that still, small voice -- and "then understood I the end of these men...." how they will go down slippery places and the bottom will drop out from under them. They refuse to stand on the sustaining Hand of God, so they are left only with sinking sand.
For lo, they that forsake Thee shall perish....
But it is good for me to hold me fast by God, to put my trust in the Lord God, and to speak of all Thy works in the gates of the daughter of Zion.
He will be upheld by God and so have a public testimony to give to his people.
St. John, in the Epistle, praises God for His love poured out for us.
...God sent His only-begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him...
There is no way to live freely by being rebellious. We become free only by trusting and obeying Him Who Is, Him who has life to give, Him who had stability to give, Him who can direct us with truth, love, and grace. If we do not have the stability of the Hand of God, it is impossible to be free. We will be always compulsively seeking that stability from the world -- which does not have it.
Adam and Eve wanted to be "like God", but as the serpent tempted, not like God had already made them in His own image. They wanted the image of another kind of deity, to be free to do whatever they wanted, as Satan was offering, rather than to obey God. And thus they eroded the Image in which God had made them, destroying their stability and their freedom.
In Jesus' parable, both Lazarus and the rich man die. Lazarus is carried to Abraham's bosom, the Hebrew image for heaven with God, and the rich man is carried to hell and torment. The rich man pleads for Lazarus to come and wet his tongue with cool water, but Abraham replies that the rich man had chosen to get his reward on earth, that is, to trust the world's way of ontological and moral security, not God's way. He chose the mothering and fathering of the world. He got what he had asked for -- riches on earth. But the consequence of that was his losing the riches of heaven. He could not have it both ways.
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man was another way of Jesus giving His message in the Last Judgment in Matthew 25 (paraphrased). "If you have not done it unto one of the least of these my brethren (such as Lazarus) you did it not to Me. You have chosen not to be the kind of person I want in my Kingdom. You have destroyed the image of Me in yourself. Depart from Me, I never knew you."
The rich man chose to be mothered and fathered by the world, the flesh, and/or the devil, to get his reward from them. That is why he was unrecognizable by Jesus -- "I never knew you." Perhaps he had so deteriorated that he was no longer able, he no longer had the freedom, to reverse his choice. He had destroyed his own freedom to repent, and had become just a spastic reaction to his surroundings, no longer a person with freewill. He had cut himself off from God so badly that return to the Hand and Voice of God was no longer possible. C. S. Lewis describes this in The Great Divorce.
God gives us human parents who are to meant introduce us to Himself as our real Father and Mother. Our human parents can get us off on wild tangents, aimed not at the Imago Dei at all, but toward some worldly perversion of that Image.
Yet God does not abandon us to the tender mercies of the world, no matter how bad the start. He is always ready to reach out to us, over and over. We may have been taught nothing of God at all, but we need only to be truth-seekers for God to touch us. We need only to have an open, teachable spirit for God to guide us out of our darkness and morass of sin. When we refuse to be truth-seekers, we condemn ourselves to eternal darkness.
We are not eternal beings, we are not the uncreated I AM who exists in His own power and right. We are dependent beings. So, our glory is to be dependent on and obedient to He Who Indeed Is, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who wants to share with us His own eternal triune nature.
It does not get any better than that. There is no possible way to improve upon what God wants to do for us.
That is our rightful message to the world.
Holy and Mighty God, who are we if we are not Yours? Guide and sustain us through that spiritual journey to You, to the fullness of our being, made in Your Image. Free us from false images of You and of ourselves which the world has stamped upon us. In the power of the Holy Spirit, set us free -- through repentance, through right belief, and through right choices to find, as Lazarus, our place in the bosom of Abraham, with You. In Jesus name.
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