Rodger Nishioka, plenary speaker and preacher
God loves circles. Look around. Start with the sun and the moon. Envision the planets moving in their orbits. From the grand and expansive universe, focus on the minute spherical nucleus of the atom.
God loves circles. Circles appear in all ancient civilizations and in religious rituals from the Buddhist dharma wheel to the Tibetan mandala to the Celtic cross with the circle at its heart.
In his sermon on Christmas Day in 1624 from the pulpit of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, John Dunne preached that “God’s love is like a circle; and a circle is endless. Whom God loves, God loves to the end not only to their own end, to their death, but to God’s end. And God’s end is not that God should cease to love them; no, God’s end is to love them still.”
In early Christian thought, the Trinity was most often conveyed as a hierarchy with God at the top and then Jesus ranking second and the Holy Spirit in third place. More recently (and I think more accurately), the Trinity is conveyed as a circle with the three persons joined together holding hands and moving in a dance. At times, God leads. At other times, Jesus leads. And at other times, the Holy Spirit leads.
So, as we prepare to gather for the 2022 APCE Annual Event under the theme Circle of Faith: 50 years + one and beyond, with Hebrews 11-12:1 as our text, read through the amazing list of the faithful. The writer describes these men and women as the “great cloud of witnesses.” Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Rahab, Moses, Gideon, David, Samuel. As you read these names, do not envision a line of succession. Envision a circle of the faithful. And consider who else would be in that circle. Think about the children, the young people, young adults, and adults who are part of our cloud of witnesses. Realize that while many are known to you, there are some who are not known to you, but all are known to God.
In Jewish theology, when we name those who have died, they come back to us. In some amazing way, they are present with us. That is why storytelling is so powerful and why Hebrews 11 names these faithful. Imagine that! When we tell the stories of our faithful ancestors, the circle is present with us. The cloud of witnesses is not out there but is here among us.
God’s circle is not static. It is ever expanding and moving as new faithful ones come to the circle. Canadian Anglican Bishop Gordon Light expressed this beautifully in “Draw the Circle Wide.” Mark Miller put the lyrics to music:
God the still point of the circle, ‘round whom all creation turns.
Nothing lost but held forever in God’s gracious arms.
Draw the circle wide. Draw it wider still.
Let this be our song no one stands alone.
Standing side by side, draw the circle wide!
See you in Chicago as we join together in the ever-widening circle of faith.