Acquainting Grace

Jacob 3 weeks

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I know my sheep, and my sheep know me. –John 14:10

At the  humble, nativity setting, under the stars that first Christmas night, the poor shepherds became acquainted with the God the Father’s remarkable gift of his son, the baby Jesus.  From the spectacular, heralding host of angels to the cooing baby in the manger, they were the first to receive God’s acquainting grace. One can imagine the shepherds returning from their fields as often possible and getting to know the baby Jesus in his first two years in Bethlehem.

If you are over 40, you may remember the old song sung by Julie Andrews. The lyrics were “Getting to know you, getting to know more about you . . .”  The idea of “getting to know you” in social psychology is called the acquaintance process. The core idea is that complete strangers, when remaining in close proximity and frequent contact with one another, have ample opportunity to become well acquainted. Initially strangers, under conditions of opportunity and motivation various relationships among persons emerge. This is exactly true of how I met may wife, Irene, as college students at Asbury College (now Asbury University). I worked at creating multiple opportunities throughout each day to be with her (proximity and contact). Meeting her after class, walking he to her next class, eating together in the college dining hall, going to church together, and so on.

The key concepts in the acquaintance process are opportunity and motivation for proximity and frequency of contact based on attraction. So I was attracted and hoped it was reciprocal.  We were in the personal zone of each other day by day as our acquaintance deepened from friends in to marriage. Now the journey continues into a celebration in a few weeks of forty-eight years of mutual love and admiration with two beautiful children  and grandchildren. Thanks be to God!

Here’s the simple beauty of the acquaintance process.  It can be filled with God’s grace.  When applied to the social/spiritual zones of our lives, it’s about a growing intimacy with God and his “acquainting grace.” Such grace is given and received. Our social soul grows in Christ nourished by the company of others. Others become God’s means of pouring grace into our lives. In marriage and the company of close friends, the love of others may bring us into the presence of God in whom we grow in acquaintance and intimacy (holiness) with him. However, that increasing intimacy is not guaranteed, but contingent on his constant acquainting grace and our continuous response of obedient faith.

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In The Company of God

“For as a belt is bound around a man’s waist, so I bound the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah to me,” declares the Lord, “to be my people for my renown, and praise, and honor.”   –Jeremiah 13:11

Question: What happens when a people overtime spiritually drift away from the presence of God and find themselves as a people in a  zone of unfaithfulness?

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We were made by God in his image.  In Genesis 1:26 we read that God said “Let us make human beings in our image.” God’s image as the Trinity is both social and holy in perfect harmony, unity, and purity.  Social holiness is all about being “in the zone,” in close proximity to and in frequent, sustained, interpersonal contact with God.  In the Book of Jeremiah (13:1-22) we read a story about the importance of remaining in the zone, in the sphere of influence. It reminds us of something Jesus said to his disciples when he shared with them the Last Supper. He directed them to remain in him if they were to bear fruit (Jn. 15:5).

In Jeremiah’s story God likens the people of Israel and Judah to the linen belt that God directed Jeremiah to wear around his waist. The belt was not to touch water. Jeremiah obeyed, put it around his waist, and wore it. Then God told him to take off the belt and put it down in the crevice of a rock, submerging it in the damp bank of the river. Though that may have seemed strange, Jeremiah obeyed. Later God told him to retrieve the belt and he did. When Jeremiah found the belt, it was “ruined and completely useless.” Over time, in the wrong place, under the wrong conditions, it had rotted.

Like Jeremiah’s belt, God’s people put themselves in the wrong place for a long time. They turned away, distanced themselves from God, and fell into idolatry. Like the belt, they were ruined. God had bound them to himself. They were to cling to him. Intimacy as a people with God was to be their first priority. The core principle was to keep their hearts in proximity to God’s heart, but they distanced themselves from God and pursued other gods. By their disobedience, they failed to stay in the most important zone, the company of God. Instead, as a people they chose the toxic company of pseudo-gods and over time drifted from obedient faith and faithfulness into another zone of disobedience and and unfaithfulness.  Sad but true.

Jesus made it clear.  Remaining in the company of God, brings out the very best in us. “If you remain in me and I remain in you, you will bear much fruit.” (John 15:5).

Questions:  Is that where you find yourself, members of your family, or friends?  If not, then what’s to be done to get back in the zone of God’s presence?

IN THE COMPANY OF GOD

 

It’s clear to me that the very essence of holiness is found in the social and moral nature of God as Trinity. The essence of God is holy love shared between and among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By divine revelation, we know the persons of the Trinitarian God to be co-equal in power and glory, and mutual in unity and love. Together, the three persons of the Trinity are a perfect circle of fellowship open to all humanity as we remain open to intimacy with God in unity and love.

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In the fifteenth century (1425), a Russian monk by the name of Andrei Rublev created the Icon of the Holy Trinity.[i] Some refer to it as the icon of icons. Inspired by the Genesis 18 passage, this icon depicts the visit of three angelic persons eating the meal provided by Abram and Sarah. At the time, one visitor announced to them the future birth of their son, Isaac. The three visitors around the table may be understood to be God in three persons, the holy Trinity.

In Rublev’s work there are three primary colors. They illustrate the essence of the one God in three persons. The garb of the Father is in gold signifying perfection, fullness, and the source of life. The God in Christ, the human, is portrayed in the color blue signifying sea and sky. Christ is taking on the world and in particular humanity. His hand is holding out two fingers, together representing within both spirit and matter. Finally, Rublev uses the color green in the apparel of the Spirit to convey fertility, fecundity, blossom and bloom, divine and eternal life. The three persons are gazing at each other in intimate expressions of love, and each one’s hand is pointing at the others. It is a picture of perfect, holy love, unity, and divine fellowship.

While the symbolism of color is inspiring, what is most significant is how they are portrayed together in their positioning and fellowship. They encircle a shared space around a small table. On the front of the table is a small, empty rectangle. Art historians mention the finding of glue residue on the original icon suggesting that at one time there may have been a mirror glued to the front of the table.

A mirror in an icon is quite unusual. Catholic Franciscan mystic, Father Richard Rohr, interprets the icon as suggesting that God is not a distant, static monarch. Instead, the three persons in divine fellowship are in what early Fathers of the church called perichoresis (the root word in Greek for choreography). In other words, the persons of the divine Trinity are in a divine dance. The mirror represents our seeing ourselves in the dance with God at the table of fellowship.

The icon is an invitation to enter socially and spiritually into the divine, intimate ecology of holiness. The mirror represents seeing ourselves restored to the image of God, present at the banquet table, and participants in the divine nature. The table is not reserved for the Three, nor is the circle closed, but open to all. Rublev’s icon occasions reflection on the divine, inclusive, perfect love of God expressed in the intimate, social nature of the Trinity, opened in all its fullness as a dance, a banquet table, a social ecology of holiness, and the eternal company we may keep.

For implications for clergy and lay ministry, see Seamands, Stephen. Ministry in the Image of God: The trinitarian shape of christian service. Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2005.