Sermons from Rev Canon Dr Ian Davies
Sunday 22nd May
THE SHACK - Dialogue
The full nature of God is a mystery which men and women have struggled to grasp and to express. The doctrine of the Trinity affirms that God has been made known in the world in three characteristic ways, as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. Today (instead of trying to preach as I usually do on this special Sunday, we are going to attempt to unravel some of the beauty and awesomeness of the ‘Three in One and One in Three’ ....although I suspect it will always remain one of the mysteries of our faith that we won’t fully understand until we meet face-to-face.
Our Worship Leaders a while back prepared some extracts from a book called ‘The Shack’, written by Wm Paul Young. We’ve talked about this and recommended it so many times - stressing that this amazing book is a novel, and not a true story. Nevertheless, it has impressed countless people throughout the world, many in our family here – and not least in its portrayal of The Trinity.
There’s a central character in the book – Mackenzie - who is invited by God to meet with him in a ‘Shack’, which (without spoiling the plot is the scene of a crime which devastated the lives of Mackenzie and his family). He spends a weekend with the Father (who is referred to as Papa), with Jesus and with the Holy Spirit (Sarayu) – which is a the name of a river and a feminine word derived from a Sanskrit – which means ‘to flow
What should you do when you come to the door of a house, or cabin in this case, where God might be? Should you knock? Mack decided to bang loudly and see what happened, but just as he raised his fist to do so, the door flew open, and he was looking directly into the face of a large beaming African-American woman. With speed that belied her size, she crossed the distance between them and engulfed him in her arms, lifting him clear off his feet and spinning him around like a little child. And all the while she was shouting his name . . . with the ardour of someone seeing a long-lost and deeply-loved relative.
“Mack, look at you! I have really been looking forward to seeing you face to face. It is so wonderful to have you here with us. My, my, my how I do love you!” And with that she wrapped herself around him again. He could feel the warmth of tears beginning to gather behind his eyes, as if they were knocking on the door of his heart. It seemed that she saw them too. “It’s okay honey, you can let it all out. It does a soul good to let the waters run once in a while – the healing waters.” He felt the presence of love. It was warm, inviting, melting. He was rooted to the spot where he stood, but slowly and mechanically took off his coat.
The large black woman gathered his coat. Just as she turned to enter the cabin, a small, distinctively Asian woman emerged from behind her. “Here, let me take those.” Obviously, she had not meant the coat, but something else, and she was in front of him in a blink of an eye. He stiffened as he felt something sweep gently across his cheek. Without moving, he looked down and could see that she was busy with a fragile crystal bottle and a small brush, gently removing something from his face. Before he could ask, she smiled and whispered, “Mackenzie, we all have things we value enough to collect, don’t we? I collect tears.” He had a difficult time focussing on her; she seemed almost to shimmer in the light and her hair blew in all directions even though there was hardly a breeze.
He then glanced past her and noticed that a third person had emerged from the cabin, this one a man. He appeared Middle Eastern. He stood easily, leaning against the door jamb with arms crossed in front of him. His features were pleasant enough, but he was not particularly handsome – not a man who would stick out in a crowd. But his eyes and smile lit up his face and Mack found it difficult to look away. “Are there more of you?” The three looked at one another and laughed. “No, Mackenzie, we is all that you get, and believe me, we’re more than enough.” The man then stepped in, touched Mack on the shoulder, gave him a kiss on both cheeks, and embraced him strongly. Mack knew instantly that he liked him. As they separated, the man stepped back, and the Asian lady moved toward him again, this time taking his face in both her hands. She looked deep into his eyes. Mack thought he could almost see through her. Then she smiled and a huge weight lifted off his shoulders. “Oh, don’t mind her, she has that effect on everyone.” “I like it.” All three burst into laughter, and now Mack found himself laughing along with them, not knowing exactly why and not really caring either.
When they finally stopped giggling, the large woman put her arm around Mack’s shoulders, drew him to her, and said, “Okay, we know who you are, but we should probably introduce ourselves to you. I am Papa.” “And I, am Jesus.” Mack stood dumbfounded and mute. Just as he was about to crumple to his knees, the Asian woman stepped closer and deflected his attention. “And I am Sarayu.” Thoughts tumbled over each other as Mack struggled to figure out what to do. Was one of these people God? Since there were three of them, maybe this was a Trinity sort of thing. But two women and a man and none of them white? “Then, which one of you is God?” “I am!” Mack looked from one to the next, and even though he couldn’t begin to grasp what he was seeing and hearing, he somehow believed them.
(now) Further on in the book, Mack and Papa are having a deep conversation. Papa is preparing supper and Jesus and Sarayu are in the workshop…
Gently reaching out, she took Mack’s hands in hers, flour covered and all, and looking him straight in the eyes she continued, “Mackenzie, the Truth shall set you free and the Truth has a name; he’s over in the workshop right now covered in sawdust. Everything is about him. And freedom is a process that happens inside a relationship with him. Then all that stuff you feel churnin’ around inside will start to work its way out.” “How can you really know how I feel?” Mack asked, looking back into her eyes. Papa didn’t answer, only looked down at their hands. His gaze followed hers and for the first time Mack noticed the scars in her wrists, like those he now assumed Jesus also had on his. She allowed him to tenderly touch the scars, outlines of a deep piercing, and he finally looked up again into her eyes. Tears were slowly making their way down her face, little pathways through the flour that dusted her cheeks. “Don’t ever think that what my son chose to do didn’t cost us dearly. Love always leaves a significant mark. we were there together.” “At the cross? Now wait, I thought you left him – you know – ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’” “You misunderstand the mystery there. Regardless of what he felt at that moment, I never left him.” “How can you say that? You abandoned him just like you abandoned me!” “Mackenzie, I never left him, and I have never left you.” “That makes no sense to me.” “I know it doesn’t, at least not yet. Will you at least consider this: When all you can see is your pain, perhaps then you lose sight of me? . . . Don’t forget, the story didn’t end in his sense of forsakenness. He found his way through it to put himself completely into my hands. Oh, what a moment that was!”
Papa reached for the kitchen timer, gave it a little twist and placed it on the table in front of them. “I’m not who you think I am, Mackenzie.” Her words weren’t angry or defensive. Almost as if on cue, a blue jay landed on the kitchen windowsill and began strutting back and forth. “Consider our little friend here, most birds were created to fly. Being grounded for them is a limitation within their ability to fly, not the other way around. You, on the other hand, were created to be loved. So for you to live as if you were unloved is a limitation, not the other way around. Living unloved is like clipping a bird’s wings and removing its ability to fly. Not something I want for you. Mack, pain has a way of clipping our wings and keeping us from being able to fly. And if left unresolved for very long, you can almost forget that you were ever created to fly in the first place. I’m not like you, Mack. I am God. I am who I am. And unlike you, my wings can’t be clipped. Mackenzie, the problem is that many folks try to grasp some sense of who I am by taking the best version of themselves . . .I’m not merely the best version of you that you can think of. I am far more than that, above and beyond all that you can ask or think. Even though you can’t finally grasp me, guess what? I still want to be known.” “You’re talking about Jesus, right? Is this going to be a let’s-try-to-understand-the-Trinity sort of thing?” “Sort of . . . by nature I am completely unlimited, without bounds. I have always known fullness . . . we created you to share in that. But then Adam chose to go it on his own, as we knew he would, and everything got messed up. But instead of scrapping the whole Creation we rolled up our sleeves and entered into the middle of the mess – that’s what we have done in Jesus. When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human, we became flesh and blood. Although by nature he is fully God, Jesus is fully human and lives as such. While never losing the innate ability to fly, he chooses moment-by-moment to remain grounded. That is why his name is Immanuel, God with us, or God with you, to be more precise. He has only lived out of his relationship with me, living in the very same manner that I desire to be in relationship with every human being. He is just the first to do it to the uttermost – the first to absolutely trust my life within him, the first to believe in my love and my goodness without regard for appearance or consequence. Remember this, humans are not defined by their limitations, but by the intentions that I have for them; not by what they seem to be, but by everything it means to be created in my image. Although I have only been limited in Jesus, I have never been limited in myself.” “There’s that whole Trinity thing, which is where I kind of get lost.”
“To begin with, that you can’t grasp the wonder of my nature is rather a good thing. Who wants to worship a God who can be fully comprehended, eh? Not much mystery in that.” “But what difference does it make that there are three of you, and you are all one God.” “Mackenzie, we are not three gods, and we are not talking about one god with three attitudes, like a man who is a husband, father and worker. I am one God and I am three persons, and each of the three is fully and entirely the one. If I were simply
One God and only One Person, then you would find yourself in this Creation without something wonderful, without something essential even - love and relationship. All love and relationship is possible for you only because it already exists within Me, within God myself. Love is not the limitation; love is the flying. I am love.”
As if in response to her declaration the timer dinged and the little bird took off and flew out of the window.
“You do understand that unless I had an object to love – or, more accurately, a someone to love – if I did not have such a relationship within myself, then I would not be capable of love at all? You would have a god (small ‘g’) who could not love. “
With that, Papa stood up, went to the oven door and pulled out the freshly baked pie. “The God who is – the I am who I am – cannot act apart from love!”
Mack knew that what he was hearing, as hard as it was to understand, was something amazing and incredible. It was as if her words were wrapping themselves around him, embracing him and speaking to him in ways beyond just what he could hear. “Mackenzie, I know that your heart is full of pain and anger and a lot of confusion . . . as much as you are able, rest in what trust you have in me, no matter how small, okay?” “Papa? I’m so sorry that you, that Jesus, had to die.”
She walked around the table and gave Mack another big hug.
“I know you are, and thank you. But you need to know that we aren’t sorry at all. It was worth it. Isn’t that right, son?” She turned to ask her question of Jesus, who had just entered the cabin.
“Absolutely! And I would have done it even if it were only for you, but it wasn’t!”