This sermon is part of the sermon series "God's Party of Love". See series.
One of my favorite movie scenes occurs in City Slickers, when Billy Crystal and Rob Reiner have a heart-to-heart conversation. Reiner tells Crystal that he's getting a divorce. As a caring friend, Crystal listens and expresses compassion. Then, as the camera pans out, we discover the entire conversation is taking place in Giants Stadium, and the two are surrounded by 60,000 screaming fans doing the wave at a Giants football game. Why do we do this? Why do we have this need to connect with someone—even in the midst of 60,000? The women might be thinking, "Men are so dysfunctional." But at least these guys connected somewhere. Why do we crave relationships?
As we said last week, the biblical doctrine of the Trinity tells us that the essence of life is relational because God is a relational God. God is community, and he made us for community. As people made in the image of God, we are deeply relational and interdependent creatures. A friend of mine recently said, "I crave relationships." Since he's a mature believer, I thought he might say something like, "I've learned to be fine with just me and God." Instead he said, with intensity, "I crave relationships."
Last week we started to explore questions of applying the doctrine of the Trinity: at 11:00 p.m. tonight what difference will the doctrine of the Trinity make in your life? This morning I want to focus on one aspect of that question: the doctrine of the Trinity will profoundly change our relationships, or the way we "hang out."
God likes to hang out with God.
God the Father is truly himself and Jesus is Jesus and the Spirit is the Spirit not when they do their own thing, but when they are one. As a leader of the early church said, "Each [member of the Trinity] is full selfhood precisely in community, each one most itself in threeness" (Gregory of Nazianzus). God is himself when the three-in-one hang out together. The early church used the Greek word perichoresis, or mutual indwelling. You won't find that word in the Bible, but you will find the concept. It's seen most clearly in passages where Jesus speaks of his relationship with the Father (see John 10:38; John 14:9-11; John 17:17-21). The Christian story is a Trinitarian story. The doctrine of the Trinity tells us that the core of reality is a God who lives as a community of happy, delighted love. God is a party of love.
The triune God likes to hang out with us.
Have you ever entered a room where love was flowing between people, and then they invited you into that love? I feel that way every time I go back to visit the farm home of Kay and Willis Finifrock in rural Minnesota. Willis is a simple turkey-farmer and furnace repairman. Kay is a simple mother, grandmother, and the most fabulous cook in the Western hemisphere. When Kay and Willis put out a spread of home-raised pot roast, mashed potatoes with dark, rich gravy, home-grown sweet corn, homemade biscuits, and homemade apple pie, and you enter the room and you're embraced by them, you know beyond a shadow of doubt that you are in the presence of love. It's a party of love, and you're invited into it.
Now, that doesn't tell the entire biblical story, because God is holy and the rightful judge of sin … and we aren't. We are sinners—flawed, broken, and rebellious creatures. How does God invite us into his party with all the dirt and blood on our hands? That is the story of redemption.
And it's a Trinitarian story: Jesus the Son comes to Earth for us and our salvation, living the life we should have lived and dying the death we should have died, paying the price for our sin. The Father, who was in Christ, reconciles the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-21), and comes running to embrace us (Luke 15:11-24). And the Holy Spirit reminds us of Jesus, then fills and indwells us with the very presence of God.
Do we see that the story is finished? The work is done. The door has been opened. The trail has been blazed. The debt has been paid. The party of love is going on; the table has been set for you, and a community of love—the triune God, the three-in-one—stands ready to embrace you. Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:9-13). That can begin this morning. Right now, you can call on the name of the triune God who stands ready to receive you.
God wants us to hang out with one another.
God saves us, but here's the rest of the good news: God does not save us for ourselves. God saves us for and on behalf of one another. God saves us to be a people who reflect the love that is already taking place within the Trinity. God saves us so we'll enjoy—for all eternity—hanging out with one another. So one crucial question to assess our journey with Christ is this: How well are we hanging out with other Christ-followers? Do we hang out like God? This isn't an optional component of the Christian life. You can't say, "Well, I'm good at giving or doing things for God or showing up on Sunday mornings, but I'm just not into hanging out with other believers."
According to 2 Peter 2:4, we have "become partakers of the divine nature." We share God's life. We base our life together on God's life together. Since the very nature of the Trinity is the shared life, the relationships, the community of love, the essence of our life together is our love for one another (John 13:34-35; John 17:20-21; Ephesians 2:11-22). We are to reflect the love and unity that exist in the Trinity.
So do you see how crucial it is that we learn how to hang out together? The New Testament urges us to "consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together." Or as we might translate it today: "Don't forget to hang out together" (Hebrews 10:24-25). This morning I want to explore three commitments that form the core of hanging out together.
We must commit to engage others.
Hanging out well requires a commitment to engage others. It's so easy to disengage from the body of Christ. After all, relationships are messy, complicated, boring, and risky. You might get hurt. People can be so dull and live such petty lives—unlike me. People can do such stupid things—unlike me. People can be so mean and cutting and insensitive—unlike me. Most of us could share stories of disappointment and rejection. Or perhaps you know the hurt of losing a friend. People move in and out of your life way too fast. The change, loss, and grief are devastating.
God understands and has compassion on the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3). But the problem is, so often we respond to our hurts by hurting others. We punish others by disengaging and keeping our distance. Maybe we even make a silent vow: "I will not be hurt again; I will not open up again." You may be on the sidelines of your church. You may be in leadership or in a small group, but your heart is guarded, your mask is on tight.
And what, you might ask, is wrong with that? It feels safe and normal. But did you forget the goal of the Christian life? Here it is: to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), or to become a partaker in God's nature (2 Peter 2:4). And what is God's nature? Is God the disengaged Divine Hermit, the high-plains drifter? No, God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the community of three-in-one who live eternally in a relationship of delight, trust, mutuality, and giving and receiving. To close yourself off, to stay on the sidelines because you've been hurt or disappointed or disgusted, is to deny the nature of God and the essence of your nature as a follower of Jesus.
But you might say, "Yeah, but what about all those hypocrites; what about all those boring, low-life, high-brow, mediocre, disappointing, lukewarm, unpleasant, judgmental, uneducated, overly-educated, incompetent, and insensitive people in the church?" Well, what about them? Who gave you the right to judge them? Who appointed you as the circuit judge of the local church? Who gave you the right to condemn those for whom Christ died and then accepted into his family (Romans 15:7)? Don't worry about managing and critiquing everyone else in the church; just worry about yourself, and you'll have a full agenda for the rest of your life.
So the first commitment is a change in our heart attitude in which we pray, "God, I've been disengaged. I've been disappointed, and I've held on to my anger, my bitterness, my judgmental spirit, my hurt. And therefore I've pulled away. I've seen the sin of everyone else, but now I want to deal with my sin. So I commit to engage with your people. I may join a small group. I may get real about my spiritual journey. I may get real about my sin. But I will engage with the life of this body of believers."
We must commit to be together.
The second commitment (and we'll see they build on each other) of hanging out well together is a commitment to be together. It's a commitment that goes beyond an attitude change; this requires a commitment to share time and space together, a commitment in which we say, I will be with you. Our Italian friends call this la dulce de far niente, or, "the sweetness of doing nothing." Other people call it creating margin or basking or lingering together. It requires a commitment to just be together and enjoy it. It's fellowship for fellowship's sake. There's no other agenda but to hang out together. Again, this flows from the life of God's Trinitarian love. What was God doing before he created the world? God existed in a fellowship of love from all eternity—and God enjoyed it.
Notice how the early church did that. They loved being together, sharing time and space. Listen to these verses from the story of the early church as recorded in the Book of Acts: "They all joined together constantly in prayer" (Acts 1:14); "When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place" (Acts 2:1); "All the believers were together and had everything in common" (Acts 2:44); "The apostles performed many miraculous sings and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade" (Acts 5:12). Just like the triune God, they hung out together—and they did it well.
Unfortunately, we have a hard time doing that. Many of us are infected with "bisy-backson disease." You'll find this disease in the little classic The Tao of Pooh. Rabbit is in the middle of one of his busy days, feeling very "captainish," when he spots a note on the door of Christopher Robin that says: "Gon out—Backson. Bisy—Backson. —C.R." (Gone out—back soon. Busy—back soon.) At that moment, Rabbit felt as if his morning had "gotten spoilt." He discovered someone even busier than he was, and it ruined his day.
For many of us, busyness is a higher priority than togetherness. So even though God made us to hang out, even though God made us for relationships, even though we need it and we're wired for it and it's a crucial dimension to our journey with Christ, we'd rather talk on our cell phone, rush down the expressway, race to the next appointment in our margin-less life, and slowly die from a full-blown case of bisy-backson disease.
God made us to hang out for the sake of hanging out. The early church loved being together. They didn't just go to church and get fed or entertained or inspired. They lived life together, and in the power of the Holy Spirit it generated explosive energy.
This is a commitment to hang out together. That's why our women's resource team and our men's team are planning ways to hang out. That's why our fellowship team is planning a trip to the Ducks game. That's why we have nearly 30 small groups that meet in homes throughout the week in our community. In this second commitment we reject the view—so prevalent in our culture—that hanging out is merely for little kids and unproductive people. Hanging out is productivity—it is productivity in relationships; it is productivity in partaking of the divine nature.
We must commit to honor one another.
Third, in order to hang out well, we'll need to make a commitment to honor one another. Notice the way the triune God relates. The members of the Trinity constantly honor one another. Within the Trinity there may be what some people call a functional order (The Father sends the Son, and the Son glorifies the Father, and the Spirit bears witness to the Son), but it is clear that there isn't a trace of elitism, snobbery, or dishonor within the triune God. Nor is there any competition, inferiority, power struggles, or hurt feelings. Jesus didn't walk around saying, "Hey, look at me; I'm the Son of God." He said, "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve" (Mark 10:45). He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1). He told his Father, "Not my will but yours be done" (Matthew 26:42). Then, on two occasions in the Gospels, God the Father talks to the Earth and says, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him" (Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5). God the Father doesn't say, "Hey, after you listen to Jesus, make sure you notice me too. Listen to me too. Pay attention to me too." The Holy Spirit comes in the name of the Son, bearing witness to Jesus and glorifying Jesus (John 14:26; John 16:13). God exists as a community of three in one who are in a perpetual movement of honoring, preferring, and serving one another. There isn't a trace of snobbery, superiority, or elitism.
Which means when we allow even a whiff of snobbery or superiority into our hearts, we quench the flame of Christian community. Whenever I convey the notion that I am a notch above others in this body, community dies, and we don't reflect the life of our triune God. Here's one key to a Trinitarian spirituality: ruthlessly eliminate snobbery from your heart—snobbery of intellect (They are not true intellectuals like us. They are such cerebral stuffed shirts), snobbery of taste (That music is just so blue-collar. That music is so high-brow and irrelevant), snobbery of national origin (I'm so glad I'm from a sophisticated, Christian nation), snobbery of parenting success (my children are going to Harvard; my child was student of the month; well, at least my child was convict of the month), snobbery of spiritual expression (Look at that guy, he's raising his hands in worship—what a low-life. Look at that guy; he's standing there like a piece of plywood—what a dead-beat).
When snobbery enters our heart, we separate from others because they aren't on our level. But our goal is to reflect and live the life of the triune God so that snobbery, elitism, and arrogance of every form are rooted out of our heart. Honoring you means that I root out any form of elitism in my heart, for "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Honoring you means that I don't care if you get the credit and the glory, and I don't. Honoring takes no offense. Honoring points away from me or us to you or them. It's amazing what people can accomplish when no cares who gets the credit.
We must live the Trinity.
I'm passionate about this sermon for very personal reasons. As many of you know, I have a passion to reach this community, not just on terms that are comfortable to us, but in ways that are accessible to those we're trying to reach. I have a passion to reach the hurting, the broken, and the spiritual seeker—even those who are convinced that Christ is irrelevant. I believe firmly that this was and is the passion of Jesus. This passion disturbs me and unsettles me. It's like a fire in my bones. I know that many of you share this passion as well.
However, I feel like I've made a mistake in communicating this passion at the expense of, or in place of, our life together. You see, in order to reach out, we can't minimize the importance of community and sharing life together. We need to hang out together, and we need to do it well. We are partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 2:4). We reflect the life and love of the triune God.
How well do we reflect the love that flows in the very life of God? A fractured church—a bunch of grumpy, easily offended, unforgiving, mutually discouraging, gossiping, griping, negative, suspicious believers—reflects poorly on the character of the triune God. And a united church—a group of believers who truly love one another, honor one another, build each other up, suffer long with one another, speak kindly to one another, even submit to one another in love—reflects the beauty of the love that always flows in the triune God.
What is your part in displaying the love of our triune God before a watching world? Have you become disengaged? If so, what is the next step in your connection to community? Are you sharing time and space with other believers—or are you too busy to even gather together and enjoy fellowship for the sake of fellowship? Are you ready to honor others—or are you so obsessed with your honor and so filled with snobbery that you never honor others?
Matt Woodley is the pastor of compassion ministries at Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois.