Human being as Relational being (Part 3)
Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 19 May 2019
Readings were John 13:31-35 and Revelation 21:1-6
The last two Sundays I’ve shared aspects of my Masters research. The research was in theological anthropology, specifically thinking about human being as relational being. Today is the third sermon I’ll give on my research topic … and it will be the last.
Let me recap what I’ve said the last two Sundays. The main point of my research is that we are relational beings. I’ve hoped to give you a new sense of how this helps understand who we are, and what this means for how we live, and what we hope for.
We are creatures 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 can’t see our full selves by just looking at ourselves. To know what it is to be human, we need a new perspective.
Seeing with new perspective reminds me of a joke my 8 year old daughter told me last night…
What do you call a hen looking at lettuce…?
Chicken Caesar (sees a) Salad!
How do we see with a new perspective…? How do we look at our lives through heaven’s eyes…?
Well, God reveals to us in Jesus Christ true human personhood and true human destiny. We are shown by God what it is to live as beings-in-relationship. Sadly, our relationship with God is disrupted and messed up. God can feel far away at times. Also, sin disorientates human relationships, and we experience dislocation, distortion, deception and contradiction of our relational existence.
We know when human relationships get broken in horrific events, like the Mosque attacks. We also know about broken human relationships from our own direct experience; the disappointments of relationships falling short of what we hoped.
The Good News, regularly proclaimed in places like this all around the world, is that God’s gift of grace is the justifying work of Jesus Christ which offers restoration of relationship. The distortion of human sin can be healed and the dislocating separation overcome.
(That’s the very brief summary of the last two sermons.)
Today I want to make two points to conclude this sharing of my research about human being as relational being. And I believe these offer us enormous hope!
Firstly, we can respond to the relationship God has initiated.
Secondly, we have a part to play in what God is doing.
These points directly relate to what I said last week:
- As we respond through faith and participate in God’s will, we share in personhood that is full of meaning and purpose.
- And, as you and I live and share Christ’s hope, we join in the fulfilling of the destiny God has intended for humanity.
Today I really want to answer the question ‘Yeah but HOW?’
How can we respond to the relationship God has initiated? Do we try to live as best we can? ‘Keep the rules’…? Do we just try harder to love God and others…?
Perhaps it’s not about us…
Against our instincts to push ourselves to be better, can we submit ourselves to something greater? Can we surrender in humility to what God gives us in Jesus Christ? I’m not suggesting we emulate Jesus Christ as an example. (That’s following the same instinct to push ourselves to be better!)
No, rather than emulating, I want to invite you to consider being conformed to Jesus Christ. When we let go of what we think makes us who we are, we allow ourselves to be conformed by the One who is trustworthy; shaped by the One who is the pattern of relational being.
When we listen to the Living Word in worship and prayer, and respond seeking to live as God guides us, we are allowing ourselves to be conformed to Christ. To respond this way is to actually move deeper into who we truly are. We move in the direction of what is intended for us in restored relationship with God and all creation.
Conversely, when we reject this, to do things our own way, we move away from who we truly are and what is intended for us.
This response (to be conformed to Christ) leads us to join in what God is doing – the future God is building. What Jesus talks about as the ‘Kingdom of God’.
Would it surprise you if I said that, to truly know ourselves in restored relationship, our best response is a communal response…? What does a communal response to God look like?
The Church is the community of restored relationship where human being as relational being can be understood, experienced and expressed. Together we respond in relationship to God, and participate in the future God desires for us (and from us). This participation takes different forms as God’s Spirit guides us in our context and culture toward the fulfilment of God’s ultimate goals for creation.
So today, what do we hear the Holy Spirit saying to us through Bible readings? What do we hear expressing true personhood aligning us with what God is doing? In John’s Gospel, Jesus says to his followers
love one another. Just as I have loved you (13:34)
Isn’t this an invitation to respond to the relationship God has initiated?
…embracing human being as relational being and participating in God’s will?
…sharing in personhood that is full of meaning and purpose?
And in the reading from the book of Revelation we are offered a picture of the future God intends:
See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them; (21:3)
Here is a future characterised by full and unbroken relationship. Where we will participate fully in God’s purposes. What if this future isn’t far, far away (in a distant galaxy), but is breaking into our world now?
Let me conclude with some questions for us all…
When do you know and experience restored relationship?
When do you have a sense you are joining in what God is doing?
Our St John’s Mission Statement: “God gathers us to worship and grow our faith, so we can live and share Christ’s hope for our world.” This is our mission as an expression of who we are, as relational beings. Just today we’ve heard of ways we can do this…
- serve residents at the Dixon Street Café
- volunteer as part of the DCM foodbank collection.
- Go on a mission to Marton.
- Support young people in their exploration of faith.
- Serve the worship services of the community here on Sundays.
What might it mean to you, as you look at your life through heaven’s eyes? …to know God gives direct relationship, and desires restored relationship? How might God be drawing you into deeper relationships, healing brokenness toward the fullness of what God intends for you? Is God’s Spirit guiding you to repair a relationship you know needs attention? Do you need to take a risk? Will you trust God with a situation you’ve been trying to manage yourself?
Hear the hope of Jesus’ words today:
love one another. Just as I have loved you
Jesus, our friend and brother, conform us to your humanity.
 To allow ourselves to be conformed to Jesus Christ is a relational experience. It is to participate through the gift of the Spirit in the relationship of the Son to the Father. Our response to be conformed to Jesus Christ sweeps us up in God’s grace, and draws us into the communion of the divine Trinity. Does this participation make us ‘more divine’…? Actually, this relational participation makes us more human. We are restored in our created destiny through conformity with Christ and participation in the divine-human relationship. This is who we are meant to be as human beings. To understand and experience true human personhood is to identify a particular source as reliable –the divine movement toward ourselves as human creatures offering us a gift. And then, there is the movement from ourselves as human creatures offering a response that fulfils our true human personhood. This dual movement, initiated by God, is how are human personhood is best understood relationally. God has taken the initiative to create relationship with creatures, and by faith this is recognised as the basis of human personhood.
 We (the church here and around the world) act as witnesses, stewards, co-creators, and anticipators. We express witness in our glorification of God through our worship, as we proclaim restored relationship and celebrate true personhood. We express stewardship by living authentically in interdependent relationship with other people and the natural world as God’s creation. We express co-creation with God by engaging with culture, rather than retreating from the world around us, which is symptomatic of broken relationship. We express anticipation of all it means to be human in proclaiming the Kingdom of God as the fulfilment of all dimensions of humanity in true relationship to God.