Human being as Relational being (Part 2)

Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 12 May 2019

Reading was John 21:1-19

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Last year I did research as part of a Masters Degree. Part of sharing some of this Masters research with you, is being accountable to you for the time I had (and hugely relished) for Study Leave last year.

Last week I offered an introduction to the topic of theological anthropology, and promised we’d get to the implications for us and our lives. Today I want to quickly remind us of what I’ve concluded about theological anthropology, and proceed to describe how our true human existence becomes distorted from what it’s meant to be.

The main point I wanted to make last week (which is also the main point of my research) …is that we are relational beings. And the main thing that goes wrong with our relationships is that they become broken. We do not always experience relationships as they are meant to be experienced.

Last week I said Theological anthropology is describing who we are as human beings. And the focus of my research has been on human being as relational being. We are in relationship, not just with other humans, animals, and creation – but also with God. To understand that and the fullness of who we are in this relationship, we need help.

We need to look at what it means to be human through heaven’s eyes.We need a different perspective.

Wellington, New ZealandLook at this photo…

Do you know where it was taken from?

Here is where it was taken from…Drone_above_St_Johns

The photo was taken by a drone hovering directly above where we are right now!

To understand ourselves as beings in relationship, we need a different perspective. We are best to look, not in the mirror, but to Jesus. For in Jesus, God has revealed true human personhood and true human destiny.We are shown what it is to live as beings-in-relationship.

As we respond through faith and participate in God’s will, we share in personhood that is full of meaning and purpose. As you and I live and share Christ’s hope, we join in the fulfilling of the destiny God has intended for humanity.

As I hinted last week, this sounds lovely, but it may not always feel like that for us, right? Our relationship with God is disrupted and messed up. Our relationships with others are often broken.

My research identifies broken relationship as ‘sin’. I know some of us really don’t like talking about sin. ‘Sin’ is the one theological topic I’ve had the most push-back on. Some of us are very uncomfortable in describing ourselves as affected by sin.

I wonder (quite a lot) about why this might be the case… We might conclude we’re basically okay if we assessing ourselves by looking around at others and comparing our behaviour with theirs. It was this sort of self-assessment that Jesus teaches about in his parable of the lost sons.

A few weeks ago we heard this parable from Luke’s Gospel; about the Father who has two sons – the younger son went away and lived a wild life, the older son stayed at home. In Jesus’ story both sons are lost… the bad one is lost in his badness, but the good one is lost in his goodness!

How can you be ‘lost in your goodness’…? It’s about relationship. This older son doesn’t go away but he does act independently; he wants to ‘make himself’. And he neglects his relationship with his Father. He wants to EARN his identity instead of trust in the love of the Father. He wants to make himself, instead of discover who he is in the love of the father.

The older son’s sin is not wild living, it’s disconnected living – relationally distant from the Father. His sin is not the distraction of living for something else; it’s living for the self – with contempt and neglect for the Father. He’s not lost despite his goodness; he’s lost IN his goodness.

In the Christian tradition, ‘sin’ is the name for the disruption of relationship. Understood as beings-in-relationship, whenever we resist our essential relation to God and our need of God’s grace, true relationship is disrupted.

Psalm 51 acknowledges that our human sin is relational:

Against you, you alone, have I sinned (Psalm 51:4)

Human disobedience is personal. Sin is not primarily our distance from the realisation of a moral standard, so much as our resistance to authentic relationship with God and others.

If we think of sin as a violation of morality, then we might look at what others do and conclude

I’m not as bad as them. Sin isn’t a big problem for me – as much as it is for them.

That’s what the older son (in the parable) felt, failing to recognise his relationship with his Father was broken. And …that the relationship with his brother was broken.

Sin as broken relationship can be best described using words such as:

  • dislocation,
  • distortion,
  • deception
  • contradiction.

Humanity is dislocated in the relational order of created being, and this ‘being out of place’ produces distortion in relationship with God and others.

The reality of human sin and its distorting consequences is easily identified and documented. Sadly, the evidence is overwhelming.

The World Council of Churches expresses the current ‘disorientation’ in human experience:

Sin is a reality which cannot be ignored nor minimised, for it results both in the alienation of humanity from God and in the brokenness of the world, its communities, and the individuals which make up those communities.[1]

This is an accurate expression of sin as the contradiction of human relationships and the distortion of our true identity as relational beings.

Christian faith is realistic about sin and its effects on us and the world. AND Christian faith proclaims the Good News that is the Gospel of Christ! It is the Gospel that overcomes the contradiction of sin. If we trust in the Good News of Christ, we experience restoration of relationship.

On our own we cannot understand ourselves, let alone save ourselves – to try and do so just further dislocates us as relational creatures from God. Our submission in faith accepts the central promise of the Gospel that, only in Jesus Christ, the relationship of humanity to God is restored.

This restoration what Jesus offers to Peter in the Gospel reading we’ve heard today. Peter’s dislocated relationship was marked in his denial of Jesus – three times before Jesus was crucified.Now, the risen Jesus offers restoration of relationship to Peter. Peter is invited to make a response of true relationship.Three corresponding times Jesus asks Peter to respond relationally:

Simon son of John, do you love me…?

I’ve shown this next video clip before. It’s a powerful one.

A young African boy has been kidnapped away from his family and forced to be a child soldier. In this scene he encounters his Father again for the first time in years

The Father speaks gently to his son, remaindering him of his true identity. The Father’s gentle and steady words addressed to his son are a revelation and an invitation …to be rescued, …to restoration, …to relationship.

Faith is our true orientation whereby God is trusted as restoring relationship, and therefore overcoming the disorientation of sin. The gift of grace is the justifying work of Christ which restores the relationship between God and humanity. This sharing in relationship of the Son to the Father relocates a person, and overcomes the separation of sin.

What this means for us today is: we can be honest in our prayer to God about our need. To express our need to God is not a complaint, but an acknowledgement of our true humanity.

The distortion of human sin is healed and the dislocating separation is overcome, so that (in faith) there is restored relationship between God and humanity. And in this restoration, we have a part to play, as the Church. We can experience and advance true personhood in Christ.

Next week… I want to share two things:

  1. how it is that we best respond to God in relationship, and
  2. how our participation in relationship with God makes us truly human.

Now, let’s pray…


[1] World Council of Churches, Christian Perspectives on Theological Anthropology (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 2005), 39.

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