The Great Invitation
When Nancy and I were dating, I read her a poem by Shakespeare about two lovers:
They so loved that love in twain
Had the essence but of one.
Two distincts, division none;
Number there in love was slain.
When I finished reading it, I was in tears, but Nancy had a kind of glazed look in her eyes. This is generally the response I get when I read it to people, so let me say a word about what it means.
Shakespeare is saying that even though they were two separate people (“two distincts”; “love in twain”), their love had the effect of removing the barriers that normally divide people (“division none”) so that they were united in heart and soul. Two and yet one. “Number there in love was slain.” The logic of mathematics—where two is always two and can never be one—was transcended by the logic of love.
In the Trinity, God is three and yet one. God creates human beings male and female—and the two are one.
Jesus prays for his followers, for the church, for all redeemed humanity to become one. This is the “new math” of God: Everything equals one.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21, NIV)
We have been invited into this fellowship of love. This is why Jesus says, “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20, NIV) In the Bible, a person’s name generally stands for his or her character and identity. To gather in Jesus’ name means to relate to other people with the same spirit of servanthood, submission, and delight that characterizes Jesus in the Trinity. Whenever that happens, Jesus says, he can’t just stand idly by. He is always a part of it, basking in it, cheering it on.
A community of loving people is God’s signature. This is why the experience of authentic community is so life-giving. We are taking our place in fellowship with Life himself. When I am in isolation, I feel lonely. When I am in community, I experience what might be called “fullness of heart.” The human heart is forever empty if it is closed in upon itself. In community—the divine community especially—a heart comes alive. To experience community is to know the joy of belonging, the delight at being known and loved, the opportunity for giving and growing, and the safety of finding a true home.
We were not made for loneliness; we were made for this joy. When Jesus prays for us to be invited into the divine circle, it is not a casual request. There is an enormous price to be paid for our admittance. The Son will go to the cross. The Father—who had known nothing from all eternity but perfect intimacy with his Son—will now see his Beloved suffer the anguish and alienation of sin. The Spirit will come to earth and allow himself to be quenched and grieved by human beings. At enormous cost to every member of the Trinity, you and I have been welcomed to the eternal circle, to be held in the heart of Father, Son, Spirit.
The apostle Paul says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.” Paul doesn’t say create unity. This is not a human project. This oneness existed long before us. Paul uses a rare verb of intense urgency. In light of the beauty of community and the staggering cost the Trinity paid to invite us into it, Paul says, human beings dare not take it lightly. The doctrine of the Trinity is honored when the oneness that characterizes it—the “unity of the Spirit”—is prized and guarded and revered by the one true church.
There is a line from the musical Les Miserables that gets very close to what John wrote: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
You now are invited to take your place in the eternal circle of self-giving love. Every person you see, every moment of your life, is an opportunity to live in and extend the Fellowship of the Trinity.
We have scores of opportunities each day. This is what each “human moment” can be about. Every time you forgive someone who hurt you, encourage someone who feels defeated, extend compassion to someone who stands alone, confront someone in love, open your heart to a friend, reconcile with an enemy, devote time to a child, you align yourself with God’s central purpose in this world.
To live in and contribute to God’s dream of community is the reason you were born. It is what you were created for. Neglect this, and you will die a failure. Devote yourself to this one task, to loving “as-is people,” and no matter what else you may not achieve, you will lead a magnificent life.
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