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Circles of Sufficiency

Dallas Willard once observed that we all depend on relationships, what he termed “circles of sufficiency” for life: parent/child, extended family, community, world. Genesis 2:18 tells us something we instinctively know is true: “It is not good that the man should be alone.” God has created us to be in life-giving relationship – what we might call “circles of sufficiency” where we feel safe and cared for.

Of course, the idea of a “circle of sufficiency” – a network of relationships where we always feel safe and cared for is extremely fragile. We want our circles to be self-sufficient, but we know they are not. When we reassure a child with the words, “Everything is going to be OK” we know we don’t have the power to make everything OK. In fact, we ourselves depend on others to make things OK for us. A child depends upon his mother and father to be OK. A family depends on the larger family. The larger family depends on even larger circles to make their own circle OK…the circle of the church, the community, and the larger society.

I was thinking about how dependent we are upon each other when I recently watched a documentary about the work of Dr. Kent Brantly and other missionaries in Liberia who worked tirelessly on behalf of victims of the Ebola virus outbreak. His service among the sick eventually meant that he and Nancy Writebol would become the first American citizens to contract the deadly hemorrhagic fever. Dr. Brantlywas within hours of losing his life before receiving a life-saving experimental treatment. When asked if prayer and his Christian faith is what protected him, he said something profound. “Faith is not something that protects us from being hurt, it is what moves us to help those who are hurting.” I am humbled to the core before such courageous faith. Nevertheless, his faith in Christ’s faithfulness placed him in the midst of a circle of sufficiency, and that in turn helped him to help others.

In Romans 14:7 Paul says, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.” But he goes on to say, “Whether we live or die we are the Lord’s….and indeed Christ died and lived again that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” In other words, every human circle is doomed if it is not caught up in the only self-sufficient circle of sufficiency: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God created us for relationship, but he also created us in relationship. In the Christian understanding, we live in a Trinitarian universe; one where the one true God is a supernatural society of loving persons on which each of our little circles depends for life.

In John 17:21, 24, Jesus prays: “As you, Father, 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, and have loved me before the foundation of the world.” In the same gospel Jesus explains that when he leaves them, they will continue to experience his presence, the presence of Father, through the Counselor, the Holy Spirit. You and I have been invited to join that magnificent circle of loving persons in which we can experience the healing of all our broken circles of relationship too. Keeping all this in mind, and so that we may be fully prepared to be agents of healing in a hurting world, I invite you to become part of a little circle of relationship, a small group, whether here at St. John’s or wherever you may be worshiping. May the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be felt in our circles of love this fall. Hope to see you soon.


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