Monthly Archives: June 2015


This has been my morning reminder:


BREATHE deeply for best results!

Every time I see this, I’m reminded that the shower isn’t the only place where this is true.  In many ways, it is THE truth of life.  For best results, breathe deeply.  Often.  Daily.  Especially when you think you have no time for it.

I am spending eight days with 30 clergy persons of the PCUSA.  We are at a beautiful retreat center and are being treated way better than some of us are treated back home in our ministry contexts each day.  It is a unique time to breathe.  We who seek to teach others to do so for life in abundance seldom seem to take time to do so ourselves. We are at risk!

We have gathered mid-way into careers of ministry in order to reflect upon who we are, where we are, and what God is calling us to be in the world in the future.  It has been an amazing chance to breathe.  To be reminded by our faculty that we are more than pastors to those in endless need.  We are companions of partners on this journey.  We are fathers and mothers, and sisters and brothers, and children to our own moms and dads too.  We are friends and lovers; creators and contemplators; dreamers and dancers throughout every aspect of life.  We are more than Reverends.  We are those seeking to be significant more than successful.  We have commitments that transcend that which we are to give to the church.  We are baptized disciples too who put God first as we tread upon this earth.

We must breathe deeply for best results!

Breathing clears a space.  Breathing re-connects us to self, and the Holy, and others.  Deep breathing allows me to hear.  To listen to my heart instead of the old, unhelpful tapes in my head.  To hear the calm, peace, and joy deep within.  To know all is, and shall be, well.

A few of us here are hearing GRAND DREAMS that will bring new life to this world.  A few of us are being reminded of our names.  A few of us are being healed from the wearying pace and precarious predicaments of professional ministry.  One even is gathering the strength to return home to her dying husband and demanding congregation.  . . .  Breathe.  Deeply.  Often.  For best results, open a space for the Breath of Life to get in.  It’s not just for clergy.  It’s for us all!
Praises Be!!!


Some views as I breathe . . .

IMG_3951                    IMG_3965

IMG_3952          And even a reminder:       IMG_3964

© Copyright JMN — 2015  (All rights reserved.)

It’s Like . . .

A sermon for 14 June 2015 – 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

A reading from the gospel of Mark 4:26-34 (NRSV). And just a heads up that: these few verses are situated near the end of one of Jesus’ teaching sessions. What began along the Sea of Galilee as a vast crowd gathered to listen, dwindles to just the twelve and a few others who remain with him. When they are alone, Jesus is questioned about the meaning of his public, parabolic teachings. He launches into an explanation and goes on to tell a few more parables, until, at last, he turns to the topic of the kingdom – a way of telling about what God and God’s desired reign is like. . . . Listen for God’s word to us.

“Jesus also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” Jesus also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 Figo became a hero this week. If you know this dog’s story, you might agree that he already was one before Monday. But that was the day he and his owner were out for a walk. It’s not been reported where Figo and his owner Audrey were heading. But at some point on their walk together, they had to cross a road. They safely started across the street, and then it happened– a gas station attendant saw it. A mini school bus failed to yield to the blind pedestrian and her seeing-eye dog. So that right before she was to be hit, Figo threw himself in front of the bus. He took the blunt of the blow so that Audrey only suffered a few broken bones. Figo, on the other hand, had to undergo immediate surgery as his front right leg was badly cut – all the way down to the bone. Before everyone showed up on the scene, Figo, the heroic seeing-eye dog, drug his body over to his owner who was sprawled on the street. Despite his injuries, he insisted he get back over to her side. According to those arriving on the scene, not once did Figo bark or yelp or whine. He just kept pulling his body closer to hers in order to ensure she was safe. This eight-year-old golden retriever went above and beyond the call of duty Monday in order to ensure Audrey was going to be all right. . . . It’s like that . . .

I have a potted clematis at home on the back patio. I hardly can believe what happened to it this March. For months the pot was overrun with dead vines from last season. For whatever reason, I never got around to winterizing it last year. And honestly, I wasn’t so sure a clematis would come back in a pot anyway. You know how much ice and cold we had here back in January and February – and even the beginning of March! One night late in March, I was rocking away under the warming spring breeze when the pot of dead vines caught my eye. I couldn’t believe it. A little green hint was sprouting. The next day I cleaned up the old stuff in hopes that the green indeed was an infant clematis vine instead of a nasty weed that more likely would show up in the spring. Day after day the shoot got bigger until one day I noticed a vine trailing up the trellis. By mid-April, several vines were climbing and all of a sudden, little flower buds appeared on each one. Beautiful purple stars began to greet me every morning as that clematis grew higher and higher up the trellis. The other day I noticed it’s taken off above the trellis and is threatening to keep on climbing up the bird feeder hanging above. It’s never done that before! From what seemed like an empty, dead pot; an unable to be contained clematis is bringing joy to the bees and the birds and me too! . . . Clearly, it’s like that . . .

A few months ago, my cat-loving friend sent me a You Tube clip. She and I never can get our animals together, what with her cats towering over my toy poodle. She added the caption to the link she sent me saying: “See Jule! At least some dogs and cats can come together and not fight like cats and dogs!” The clip was entitled: Orphaned Kittens adopted by Mama Dog. A beagle-sized dog is in a crate with four cute puppies and something like six screaming kittens. She lays down so each of them can feed. Four little puppies and five little kittens are busy sucking away. All the while, one black kitten lies motionless at the other end of the crate. Something in this all-inclusive mama can’t sit still while even one lies alone away from her and the source of milk she gives. Waddling over with those four little puppies and five stray kittens still glued to her, a warm nose nudges at the lone cat. She nuzzles and waits to see if this last little one will arise to join the feast alongside all the others. . . . Certainly it seems as if it’s like that too . . .

The kingdom. Of God.

The phrase is used repeatedly in the gospel of Mark. Right from the start when Mark records the first public words of Jesus to be: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near! Repent, and believe in the good news!” (Mark 1:15). But who can know just what that is like? Just what is God’s kingdom? What happens to show one is a citizen of it instead of some other norms of the world? After all, those within earshot of Jesus all were living under another kind of king: the kingdom, or empire of Rome. Long ago their ancestors had their own king. In the first reading today we hear how King David was chosen. Though he was one of Israel’s greatest kings, not even his reign touched the kind of rule rightly labeled the kingdom of God. In order for us to get it – while not being so specific that we take the description literally and start throwing seeds everywhere as if that’s the work of God’s kingdom – Jesus tells some stories. Parables – packed with a punch for those who first heard. The two gems we hear in the Mark reading for today are Jesus’ only two parables of the kingdom that find their way recorded in Mark. The kingdom of God is like scattered seed that somehow, significantly grows! The kingdom of God is like the smallest seed that grows into shade enough for all. It’s like that . . .

As we’re getting ready to discuss the adoption of a statement that summarizes the reason why this church exists and what difference you seek to make in the lives of others, I can’t help but think of how else it is. The kingdom. . . . A few months back when the session continued discussion about all this, the following Thank you notes were shared. “To My Church Family: I want to thank you for your kindness during the illness and death of my wife. Your prayers, your cards, your phone calls are all greatly appreciated. You are a loving family.” It’s like that, the kingdom of God. . . . “Dear Church: What a beautiful surprise to receive such a wonderful gift, and delivered by the smiling face of one of you! It makes me humble to think of all the labor of love you put into my Christmas gift. Your expression of God’s love is in every stitch! I try to walk every day and the beautiful cap will keep me warm. The wind can be pretty brisk at times. I love you all. You are dear to me. May God’s blessing be upon you all.” It’s like that, God’s kingdom. . . . “Dear Church Family: Thank you to everyone for all the thoughtful gifts, cards, well-wishes, food, and other support that the church has offered us at the birth of our baby. We are so appreciative of our church community and are very lucky to have found this wonderful group of people!” It’s like that, the kingdom of God. . . . You might remember the story told at the church’s Annual Meeting this January. A woman showed up in the office one day late in the month of December. We get folks coming here a lot – you all know that. Typically we hear of something they need during the difficult period they are facing. And typically, this church responds to fill that need. This woman was different. She merely showed up to give a check to the church. She said she’d be back with another check after she paid her property tax bill. And, incredibly, she did come back. Another check in hand. When asked who she was and what connection she had to the church. In other words: why in the world is this complete stranger showing up to give money to us? Her response was: I used to visit both my mother and my aunt at the nursing home across the street. As the primary care person to both, it often felt overwhelming. Sometimes she’d just need a break – a little peace and quiet to re-group. She explained that she’d often come across the street to just sit here in the courtyard or rest on the swing out back. No one ever shewed her away or asked her to explain herself. She merely was left to sit in the quiet to get her mind and spirit re-freshed in order to go back to take care of her mom and aunt. It’s like that, God’s kingdom.

People who actively seek to support those facing life’s challenges. A body (a church) providing a space for others simply to rest and be renewed by the loving presence of God. It’s like that . . . the kingdom of God already in our midst. The reign of God expanding to touch the life of another and another and another. . . . Don’t ever forget: it’s not just making a meal, or offering a prayer, or knitting a cap, or having a spot for refuge. It’s living the ways of God’s kingdom. Being citizens of the rule without end. Alleluia! Amen!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

Family Letters

A sermon 7 June 2015 – 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (An infant Baptism Sunday!)

A reading from the gospel according to Mark 3:20-35. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Then Jesus went home. And the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

Admittedly, this is not the best text for a day like today. Here we have a baptism of a beautiful little boy who has been born into a wonderfully loving family and we’re hearing Jesus kinda casting aside his own biological family. As Jesus is going around Galilee healing those others wouldn’t touch. Calling regular ole’ folks to come follow in the ways of the reign of God he is announcing. Saying that God’s favor is with those who suffer. Even breaking Sabbath rules as he’s trying to let folks know that in him the feast has begun! Then, early in his ministry, he’s reported as going home. Who would have thought that there – by his own mother and brothers and sisters, he’d be told to get back in line. We may understand that they were just afraid for the reputation and life of one they loved. But their seeking to talk sense into him shows his biological family is as confused as the next that the Spirit at work in him is of God – not another. He must be so very disappointed that not even his mother and siblings can recognize the difference. So that when they persist in pushing their way through the crowd to get close to him, at least according to the text – maybe it just didn’t get recorded that he finally went out to speak with Mary and his family. But according to the text, he proclaims that his true family are those right there with him. Seeking healing, opened to hearing, wanting to know how best to live according to God’s rule of love. “Here are my mother and my brothers!” he’s reported as saying. “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). If we want to build up the connections in our biological families, we will not find Jesus’ support of that here.

The last thing I want to have happen today is for little Daniel, who is about to be brought forward by his loving mother and father that they might make the promises of Christian discipleship for him. At least for now until he’s old enough to claim Christ’s saving and sending love for himself. We don’t want him to absorb any kind of teaching today that gets between him and his family. We want to hold in balance the beauty of life together in a Christian biological family that will care for him at home and teach him the faith and the family of God here – his spiritual family of the church – that also will care for him and raise him up to God’s desires for his life. As that is part of what we celebrate today, listen to a few family letters. The first one goes like this:

Dear Church Family: It’s little Daniel here. We all know I can’t yet write, but if I could, here is what I would say to you as the family of God in which I am included, as my baptism shows today. So dear Church – which includes my mom and dad and big brother too. And while I’m at it, I might as well say this to those of my extended family who have come today who too are a part of God’s church, just not necessarily gathering here each week. So (as is said in the South) to all ya’ll: thank you! Thank you for welcoming me into this loving fellowship where young and old alike seek to worship and follow God. Thank you for supporting my mom, dad, and big brother as they made space for me in their hearts and home. I am so young and so small so that it might be easy to overlook my needs among you. God has put me here with you in order for me to begin to experience that unconditional love that is God in our midst. You can practice it – as will my mom and dad at home – so I will begin to feel it. . . . My little body is growing and taking in this world through you all each day. For the next several years as I continue to develop, you – my church family alongside my family at home – will be how I come to know God. How I come to trust and love and feel peace in my life. . . . Tend me well – even if it seems I’m too little to matter much, because you are setting the foundation for me to be able one day to say yes to God! To say: “Yes, God! I love you so very much and I want to use the gifts and abilities you have put in me in order to live a little bit more like Jesus each day – in order for the principles of your reign to be seen through me – things like grace and forgiveness and acceptance of all as those in whom the imprint of God can be seen.” . . . Every generation has its challenges – I’m not too young to know that. And I hope, church family, that you will remember mine. That I have been born into this great big, globally-interconnected world. Things are changing at the speed of light and babies like me have no idea what it all will look like just a few years from now when I start kindergarten. I’ve already heard of scary things like bullying on the playground and violence in schools and horrible storms and bitterly dividing fear. I need you to tell me the stories of God’s presence always with me so that I grow up secure in the love that never lets me go – no matter what I have to face in life. I need you to live the ways of God’s reign so that I will know that the other kinds of things I see which seek to hurt and destroy are NOT the ways or the will of the God who lives in us and wants us all to know we are one united family. I need you to pay attention to me and all the other boys and girls of this church and community. When I seem withdrawn, just hug me and ask me if everything is ok. When I’m acting out, sit with me until we’re both clear what I really need. Pray for me, please, and teach me to pray for you too as I get older. Be the kind of family that lets me know you always celebrate me, and support me, and accept me as I grow into whoever my little body, mind, and spirit will grow to be. Listen to me and love me – not just today when I’m all cute and cuddly, but in the years ahead when I’m a rambunctious elementary school boy and a rapidly changing puberty-stricken teen and a young man heading off into the world to find God’s place for me. Remember the promises you are making to me today so that I will be able to grow into one who can say for himself: “I believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. I reject the things that lead us away from God and with God’s help I seek to fulfill my calling as a disciple of Jesus Christ!” These are my wishes and words to you on this monumental day in my life with you, with the world, and with God!

At least, that’s what I imagine little Daniel would say to you today, his church home – and his biological family. . . . And because I’ve been listening to you all during my time as your interim pastor, I can imagine exactly what you’d say right back to little Daniel.

Dear Daniel Patrick – precious, precious child of God! We are SO excited to welcome you into this expression of God’s family! We are young and old alike – a few from each generation – and we seek to love one another and those beyond this membership as much as we love God. We practice grace here. We forgive. We start over. We are generous and we seek the justice – the just-enough-for-us-all, which is God’s desire for the world. We have so much to teach you about the grace of God and the ways of God’s Spirit in our lives. How we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. How we can face any challenge that comes to us collectively or in our individual lives back home because we are never alone – we have each other and we have God among us too. We want you to know that you are so very treasured by the great Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of it all! . . . O little Daniel, we look in your face and it is as if we can see the holiness of God. The purity of Christ. The joy of the Holy Spirit pulsing through each little finger and toe of your sweet body. We want to remember that every day. Not just today when life is new for you, but each day as you grow. And may we never forget that each step of your life, YOU have something to teach us too. How God lives through and experiences this world in you! . . . We wish all the chaos, trouble, and difficulty of life in this world were not here and never, ever would come to touch you. But we know; we all know the challenges of the living of these days. The sadnesses that come when you open wide your heart to love in a world that is not perfect. The fear that can get under your skin when you live by what your eyes can see instead of what God’s Spirit in and among us can do. But o the joy too! The beauty of this gift we are given called life! May you never forget – and may we, and your parents, and brother, and whole extended family never let you forget to cherish each glorious breath of this journey of life. To enjoy the ways Christ lives in you. To be courageous and ready to pass along all that you will learn in the adventure of life! . . . On this very important day for us all, our prayer for you is a life filled with peace, joy, and love. Brimming with the hope we have in God. The never-ending possibilities known to us because of our resurrecting LORD of Life! . . . Savor each step, little Daniel! And thanks be to God! For we cannot wait to see it all unfold!

I think it’s safe to say, that’s just a fraction of the hopes and dreams we as God’s people have for this fresh little one created, redeemed, and sustained each day by God! . . . May God make it all so!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen!

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

Serenity among the Sisters

On a recent trip back to the monastery, I tried to be extra holy.

The group of wonderful women I was with left a bit before me. In the remaining hour before our stated departure, I walked to the cemetery on the monastery grounds. I still remember the time I came upon it on my first visit to the monastery. I was in awe! Even in death, these sisters hold each other. I was moved by the deep commitment of stability – a commitment unique to the orders of Saint Benedict. This latest visit was my first experience of taking a church group with me to this sacred spot. I was so impressed – not to mentioned amazingly enlightened – when one sister of the monastery spent about two hours with us explaining everything from why it’s called a monastery when it’s a group of sisters (monastery comes from the word monk, which means one who single-heartedly seeks after God), to how decisions are made among them, to what their connection to Rome is. (BTW: A monastery is a group of those who vow to single-heartedly seek after God. And a convent (think convention) is the living quarters for those who have taken monastic vows to live together in a single-hearted search for God.) I loved how the sister talked about the vow to stay with the other monastics of her community. If one of them is getting on her nerves, she remembers how aspects of her personality certainly must get on the nerves of the others; and yet they practice patience, forgiveness, and forbearance with her. Perhaps she can practice a little of the same with those who irritate her most. I loved how she talked of consultations. Though they elect a prioress to be their leader (after all, they’re like a family living together but without a stated mom or dad to be in charge – someone has to be empowered to decide who will take out the garbage and who needs one of the few private bathrooms of their recently renovated living quarters). Still, for certain matters, it’s a regular practice to consult all the sisters of their community in order to hear what they have discerned. In the end, the prioress they have chosen due to the gifts and abilities they see in her makes final decisions. But she doesn’t do so without the mutual input of all the sisters. Mutual respect and responsibility are norms among them. In fact, Saint Benedict (in his 5th Century Rule) charges the community to listen for the youngest voice among them as the voice that often bears the wisdom of God. . . . I was reminded (on this trip among incredibly wise church women who have lived through the ultimate highs and lows of life) that sometimes the youngest voice might have discerned well. And sometimes we need to be quiet to listen to the strength and perseverance and deep, deep wisdom of the sisters who have gone before us. It wasn’t just the monastic sisters who had lived long and discerned well the presence of God in their lives. It was the women of the church who traveled there with me who were bunking right down the hall from me in the retreat center. They are the bearers of immense wisdom, the overcomers of unbelievable circumstances, the champions of a grace that somehow carries us through. I was honored to be in their presence – even if only for 24ish hours.

And so, when they departed, I thought I’d take a walk to the sisters’ cemetery. Just to be reminded of the way the sisters of the monastery hold each other – even in death. It was a time of solitude. Quiet to connect with God. My heart and mind were so open from such a wonderful overnight with such amazing women in such an incredible place. And so, I found myself at the foot of the crucified Christ in the cemetery. I was raised Protestant with very few statues, icons, or visual representations of Christ. In theory we’re much more about the resurrection than the crucifixion so the crosses I’ve known are empty – not occupied by a bloodied body. Still, there I was at the foot of the crucified Christ. It was obvious to me that the sisters of the monastery found the depiction meaningful enough to have such a statue perpetually overlooking them – even in death. So, in my last few minutes at the monastery, I thought it might do me well to look full into the face of the crucified Christ to see what wisdom he too might have to share. I closed my eyes. I concentrated on my breathing. I did everything I always teach and practice in order to enter that quiet place where Spirit often speaks. I looked up into his face to gaze upon him while I waited for whatever word he might have for me.

And then I felt it.

OUCH! A sharp, violent pain at my ankle. And then another. My eyes darted down from the face of the crucified Christ to the spot on which I stood.

A hill of angry ants.

Agh. My shoes were filled with them as a few began their ascent up my shins.

I’m still not sure what to make of it. My final attempts at serenity in such an amazing place. I spent those last moments swatting ants – squashing any that clung too tight. A violent defense. Not one of my finer moments. I pray to God none of the sisters saw me.

What does it mean? Be sure to look before you launch into a sacred sign that’s new to you? Know that the crucified Christ is a reminder that we too might suffer? Don’t go traipsing off-trail in Alabama with your eyes shut because you never do know when you’ll come upon an ant hill – or something worse? Remember that serene centeredness easily can be interrupted by self-protection? All of the above or something else?

I’m still not sure of the final lesson. All I know was that I was hoping for some great insight at the foot of that crucified Christ who was there overlooking the eons of sisters who have given their lives for his sake. After every last ant was gone from me, I was left with the amusing mystery of this place in which we live, move, and try to connect with the Great Being. Perhaps the best lesson is to watch where you’re going. And when you get pulled off-center by a hill of angry ants, try not to take it all so seriously. I never did look back into the face of that crucified Christ. But if I did, I have a feeling the torment on his face would have turned to a radiant, giggling smile.

Enjoy the journey! After all, he did!


Holy Mystery

A sermon for 31 May 2015 – Trinity Sunday

Click here to read Isaiah 6:1-8 first:

 It seems wise to begin today’s sermon on Trinity Sunday with the disclaimer that the Trinity is a mystery. Three energies coming together into one. One energy having three aspects. How can this be? We don’t really know. We just believe it so. Because, in part, God is a mystery – revealed fully in Christ and among us in the Holy Spirit, and still beyond us; not able to be completely understood. . . . Imagine being Isaiah. Minding his own business when suddenly he’s having a vision of the LORD God almighty. Crazy stuff like God on a throne with a great big robe overwhelming the temple. This is the stuff of nighttime dreams – not quite like what we know in waking life. Creatures with six wings flying about, calling out: “Holy, holy, holy! . . . The whole earth is full of God’s glory!” (Is. 6:3). Who can fully make sense of such a vision? . . . Such a vivid, image-packed experience that might leave our minds tied up in knots. We can seek to gain further insight – not only to joyfully profess the Triune God; but also, with the prophet Isaiah, to encounter and in fact stand in absolute, wonder-filled awe of our ancient-and-living, three-and-one, transcendent-and-so-very-with-us-immanent God. Our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Mystery. Holy Mystery, the Trinity is, which need not frustrate our reason-seeking minds, only fill our God-seeking souls.

Now, Christians believe the Trinity, God in three persons, or the One God who is made up of three personas, is from the start. A close read of Genesis chapter one reveals the creating God whose Spirit is hovering over the watery chaos until the Word goes forth. And automatically, creation takes place. Throughout the Old Testament, we see evidence of a God who is giving life like a caring father, and seeking to save the people like a mighty redeemer, and dwelling among the people like a guiding sustainer. . . . The gospels proclaim Jesus as the full revelation of God. By the Spirit; he ever acts, and prays, and has his being. Always he is in complete union with the life-giving God, who he usually calls Abba, Father. And because Christ does not exist without the other two, Jesus, the Word-in-flesh, often goes out to the wilderness to pray, to be connected both with the Father and the Holy Spirit that descended upon him in his baptism. He is the embodied Word of God that has come among us in flesh to know us in full. Because, as Jesus, the Christ, God experienced our life as a human. With an earthly mother and father who certainly had to drive him nuts sometimes. And siblings who must have gotten on his nerves every now and again. As a human he knew the pressures of learning a profession (carpentry), and living as a God-fearing Jew, in an occupied nation no less. In Christ, God came to know fully what it’s like to be us – with all the temptations we face, but without all the mess ups we make in our sins.

Perhaps it’s helpful to consider the Trinity in light of triplets – not the kind in music. But triplets: as in children. Many of us might be familiar with twins. Some of you might be a twin. And thanks to the conveniences of modern fertility treatments, triplets are more common today than in days gone by. Triplets all grow in the same womb. Some even from the very same egg. They are connected in a way that singles are not. Yet, even triplets that look exactly alike, never truly are exactly the same. One might have a birth mark another does not. Or a shade lighter hair. And certainly each has characteristics unlike the others: one is withdrawn. The other out-going. And other incredibly unsure of themselves. Triplets are a set; and yet, they each are unique. . . . You could say the Trinity is a set. Yet each persona or aspect of the Triune God is distinct. One being, with three unique functions.

Somewhere along the way Christianity – at least the branch from which we come in the West – went a little bit astray regarding the Trinity. We start off as concrete literal thinkers, which from childhood on really can do a number on our images of God so that we can take things like Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple as a literal picture of the divine. . . . The limits of our language and of our minds ended up leaving many of our Christian ancestors thinking that there’s some sort of pecking order in the Trinity – we see it everywhere else. Why not in God? Before you know it, we start to believe that one persona of God is more important, or above the other. Like a hierarchy where one is over the other – more powerful, more ancient, just more. In our minds and in some of our church architecture, we started drawing triangles for the Triune God instead of circles. I think the idea was that the top point of the triangle represented the all-powerful Father-God, the oldest and most important. In this thinking, the Son and the Spirit come later in the story and so get represented at the lower points of the triangle. Hear me now: centuries ago the church declared such thinking un-biblical heresy, though this hierarchal image of God still lingers in some. . . . Thankfully a part of the tradition preserved another picture of God. The perichoresis of our three-in-one God. Three interconnected circles, distinct in their own function, but equal. Always, all together existing even from beyond time. The image is of three interconnected, equal circles. The perichoresis of God is the dancing around together in relationship as the life-giving, life-redeeming, life-sustaining God. An energy like a three-fold cord that cannot be unbound. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, blessed Trinity! . . . Christians believe it’s the we referred to by God here in Isaiah’s vision. As in “who will go for us?” (Is. 6:8). . . . It’s the we proclaimed in Genesis chapter one when God says: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). And like our Triune God, we too are made for relationship. Connections of equality where we all may not have the same function, the same gifts and abilities. Still we’re made for relationships of mutuality in which life for us all is promoted.

I’m not sure we all fully appreciate each aspect of our Triune God. I’m guessing most of us gravitate towards one aspect of God over the others. I mean, let’s face it: Presbyterians haven’t been known for monumental focus upon the Holy Spirit. Though I’m encouraged that our latest confession, A Brief Statement of Faith, gives equal billing to God the Holy Spirit: everywhere the giver and re-newer of life. It’s high time all of us welcome a little bit more of that part of God into our individual and collective lives because each part of the Trinity is necessary for us. Like all those years of perfect musical chords our retiring organist has played here in this sanctuary. One note of the chord isn’t more important than the other. They’re all needed for the beautiful, inspiring music they make. It’s like that in God. . . . Think about it: are you feeling kinda fragile? Like you really need to know someone cares and seeks to protect, nurture, and provide? God our Creator, the persona of God often named Father, might be just the encounter with God that you need. . . . At times we need to know someone understands. Someone will stand by us no matter what – even take a bullet for us if it all comes to that. Christ Jesus our Redeemer, often called the Son, might be exactly our guy. . . . We all experience those times when we need to be guided. Sustained by something beyond us, which strengthens and burns, and moves in us the ways we need to be, even beyond our own wills. God the Holy Spirit, the Sustainer, is the persona of the Trinity we cannot live without.

I could remind us of the egg: shell, yoke, white stuff. Or roots, trunk, leaves. Someone once suggested to me Neapolitan ice cream – chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Decide for yourself which part of the Trinity is the chocolate, which the vanilla, and which the strawberry.   . . . All sorts of images are out there to help us wrap our minds around this holy Triune mystery. In the end, perhaps it’s best just to be alongside the prophet Isaiah: filled with incredible awe as we encounter One we cannot fully comprehend. Ready to respond when God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit calls. Our Triune Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. . . . Whether or not we fully can wrap our minds around it, today – and every day – our spirits can join in the chorus: Holy! Holy! Holy! Blessed is the amazing Holy Mystery!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Alleluia and Amen!

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

An Anniversary

1 June 2015

Eighteen year ago today, I knelt at the foot of the chancel in a Christian sanctuary (not too far from where I live today). I felt the weight of it all upon me. The elders of the church, at long last, laying hands upon me and praying over me to confer on me all the responsibilities (and a few rights, I guess) of the ordained Ministry of the Word and Sacrament. It had been a lifetime in the making – literally from childhood on trying to make sense of this odd God who was ever-so-present to me since the beaches of my childhood, through the turmoil of being a teen, to the challenges of being a young adult who was trying to find her way. It was seven official years since the call to professional ministry to the moment I was commissioned with the laying on of hands and prayers and charges to tend the spirits of God’s people well even as I tended my own. How can it be that it was just yesterday and yet a lifetime ago? I already had been working professionally in the church for three years prior to that day. Which makes it nearly two decades of day after day: praying for the people of God, listening to them, doing my best to remind them of God’s peace and hope and plans for a world re-created in pure love and joy and forgiveness. It has been a long time since I first said yes to all those vows. To seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ in love of neighbors and work that reconciles the world. To serve with energy and intelligence and imagination and love. To proclaim good news in Word and Sacred Sign – teaching all to trust a little deeper and live a little bit more according to Christ’s love and justice. . . . Eighteen years ago today and I want to believe I have done all I could to be faithful to these vows. In sickness and sorrow, in times of depletion and distress, when I was riding high on the waves of joy and crashing to the bottom where God’s grace more fully could be found; I have known days of deep darkness and moments of amazing awe – and been alongside God’s people in the same. I can’t remember the wide-eyed, passion-filled youngster who enthusiastically said: “Yes! Yes! Yes!” I can’t remember the pastor heavy-laden with toil and tears and fatigue. What I do know is that I am wiser now. I am more open and ever-so-much more in love. I am not overwhelmed by the challenges we face in being the body of Christ for this day. I am excited about the journey – not just for the destination, but for the wonder and reliance it brings each day! For the ways we must show up today in body, mind, and spirit for the sake of all in this world. Thanks be to God for eighteen amazing years! Eighteen years of amazing people and experiences and growth. After all this time, I still answer: Yes!


And Amen — RevJule