Tag Archives: Triune God

One

A Sermon for 13 May 2018 – Ascension Sunday & 7th Sunday of Easter

[Acts 1:1-11, and John 17:6-19, NRSV]

A reading from the gospel of John 17:6-19.  If you’ve followed the last couple of weeks of our gospel readings, then you know that this portion of John still happens during that last supper Jesus had with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion.  Apparently, he had a lot to say that night!  This part of John’s 17th chapter has Jesus turning his eyes heavenward to talk with God.  At the close of all the words recorded on his lips that night, Jesus is praying for his followers.  Our own needs are foremost in his heart.  Listen for God’s word to us as Jesus addresses God.

“’I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.  They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.  I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.  10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.  11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.  Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.  12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me.  I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.  13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.  14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.  16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.’”

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

 

Recently, a colleague told me about a scene from a movie that brought goose bumps to her skin.  It’s one of those sci-fi type films set in a strange, other world.  There are these creatures.  As I heard of them, I pictured some sort of animated thing similar to monkeys – with really long tails.  I’m not sure about the premise of the movie, but after a challenging, chase scene; the monkey-like creatures stop for a moment.  They are somewhere out in a forestry-jungle – and they obviously are exhausted.  Suddenly, in one accord; all the creatures stick the tip of their tail into the land under their feet.  When they do, the scene captures the flow of energy all around.  From the land, into their tails, into each creature’s body.  And from the land below each creature’s feet, outward to the feet of the creature next to them, then up into their bodies too.  In what must have been one amazing moment, movie viewers saw something like a vibrant electrical current connecting it all.  Land to creature and creature to creature.  Like the web of roots under the floor of a forest – connecting one tree to another.  The whole scene transfixed into one!

Last week, I heard another story.  Our Executive Presbyter Warner Durnell told the story in his sermon in worship at the start of the Presbytery meeting last week.  (Source unknown.)  It’s about a farm mouse, who lives in the farm house, and is absolutely panicked when the farmers order a mouse trap to set in the house.  Frantic, the mouse goes from animal to animal shrieking:  “There’s a mouse trap in the house!”  From the chicken, to the pig, to the fattening cow.  Each animal tells the little mouse, “I hear you.  And I can see how you might have need for alarm.  But what concern is a little mouse trap to me?”  The other animals think the mouse’s problem has no impact on their lives.  So, they encourage the little mouse to head out to the field to hide out on his own.  A mousetrap in the house is of no consequence to the chicken, the pig, or the fattening cow.  Until that very night, when the farmer hears rustling close to where the trap had been set.  Fumbling in the dark – convinced of their success in putting an end to the nuance of the mouse that has been in their house; the farmer arrives near the trap only to see – too late – that the tail of a venomous snake is caught in the trap.  Before the farmer can react, the snake snatches down on the farmer’s leg releasing the deadly poison into the farmer’s body.  The story goes that the farmer was rushed to the hospital and thankfully survived the night.  When the farmer and his wife finally returned home the next afternoon, the farmer’s wife decided some chicken soup might be exactly what her husband needed to regain his strength.  She heads out to the barn to ring the chicken’s neck in order to make the soup.  A few days later, the farmer takes a turn for the worse.  All the children come home to sit bed-side, waiting to see if dad will make it.  With the house full again, the farmer’s wife decides to prepare dinner for them all.  Having the pig slaughtered, the family sits down to a meal of ham and mashed potatoes.  Followed by fried bacon for the next morning’s breakfast.  The farmer doesn’t make it.  After the funeral, neighbors from far and wide come calling upon the farmer’s wife and family.  People are everywhere on the farm, and obviously the farmer’s wife is the kind of woman who can’t let a soul go home hungry.  She calls for the fattening cow.  All the guests feast on her infamous beef stew.  From the forest’s edge, the little mouse watched it all.  Terribly sad that his barnyard friends couldn’t see what he saw:  a threat to him was a threat to all.  For as the little mouse knew:  they all were one.

I could go on.  After all, it’s mothers’ day and who knows better than a mother that the child that grows in her womb remains one with her forever.  . . .  One.  We all are one.  Jesus says it in his prayer for his disciples.  “May they know they are one the way you and I, Holy Father, are one” (John 17:11).  He’ll say it again in the verses that follow the reading we heard today.  When he expands the circle beyond the first ones present that night to us all.  The gospel records:  “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one.  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.  22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one’” (John 17:20-23a).

Today is the day in the church year when we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord.  Ascension Day technically takes place ten days prior to Pentecost; so, forty days after Easter.  In other words, a few days ago on Thursday.  But since it’s not really a Presbyterian thing to gather for worship exactly forty days after Easter, it’s typical to celebrate the Ascension of the Lord the Sunday after instead.  It’s why we’re singing hymns that remind us of the risen and ascended Christ.  And why our first reading was from Acts chapter 1.  Captured there is that mysterious story.  In Acts, we’re told that the Risen Christ had commanded his followers to remain together in Jerusalem.  Waiting for the moment when the Holy Spirit would douse them with incredible power.  Enlivening them to witness right where they were, all over their homeland, and beyond – even to the ends of the earth!  The story goes that as he speaks, the Risen Christ is lifted up out of their sight.  Like the time the prophet Elijah was taken up before Elisha’s eyes.  Those first disciples must have rubbed their eyes wondering exactly what they had witnessed.  Acts records that they stood there staring for a while – likely with their chins on the ground, their eyes searching.  . . .  After all, did you hear what he just told them?  Sure, they were going to get the Holy Spirit.  But it meant that he expected them to go tell the story.  To speak about what they had seen.  To enact what Christ had enacted among them.  To risk angering the very same ones who six weeks earlier had put Jesus to death.  No matter.  He expected them to see the way he did:  one.  One.  Each connected one to another.  One.  . . .  Maybe Jesus’ first followers stood gazing up at heaven to figure out what they had seen.  But, more likely they really wanted to get away too.  So that they were standing there internally pleading:  “Take me!  Take me too!”

How often have the people of God similarly been locked, looking to the heavens?  Over the years, we’ve even concocted all sorts of elaborate – inaccurate – theologies of how someday God will come to destroy this all.  But not before we’re taken up too, either before or after a 1,000-year reign of the returned Christ.  Because really?  Who wants to be left here one more day to endure the difficulties of this earth?  The challenges of a post-modern world.  The fast-pace life of a technological culture.  . . .  No matter how deep the human impulse to fly away into the skies with God, to incorrectly make the spiritual journey all about me and the One up there; one commentator has written:  “Instead of retreat from the world, Christ offers an alternative model that can empower the community to live in the world without succumbing to its values and pressures.  They (we) are to stay in the world under the protective care of God.”  Loving one another because we are connected one to another and to it all.  That same commentator writes that we “are to live amidst all of the knotted complexities of the world without . . . getting entangled.  . . .  Christ reminds the church that the pattern of his own life was not escape from the world but engagement with the world, with all of its distorted powers and pressures (Thomas H. Troeger, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2; p. 547, 549).  No matter how much we might want to stare upwards – to focus on a relationship with a God that is out there beyond us as the point of it all; before his crucifixion, Christ fervently prays for us to look at the space between us.  To know that we might be a zillion different individuals – all created with particular gifts and unique abilities – but we are one.  Connected – whether we want to be or not.  Whether we like the neighbors around us or not.  Whether we have a single concern for their plight, or not.  It’s how we have been made – in the image and likeness of the One that is Father and Son and Holy Spirit too.  Christ in us, and he in God, and we – all – completely one.

May we have the eyes to see, the minds to envision, and the wills always ready to act.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

 

Relationship

A Sermon for 22 May 2016 – Trinity Sunday

A reading from the wisdom of the Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 (NRSV). Listen for God’s word to us.

“Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth –when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”

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

 

It’s Trinity Sunday. The day every year when the church tries to explain the inexplicable. We’re ambitious like that! . . . Trinity: lots of people like to think of it as the Father who creates, the Son who redeems, and the Spirit who sustains. The God who is beyond us, the God who lived among us as one of us, and the God who lives in all. One God, in three persons. If you’ve studied up on all this ever, then you likely already know that in ancient acting, a few actors would play various personas throughout a drama. That’s where the three persons words for Trinity comes from. Our One God, who is known to us in three personas – three distinct characters in the drama of this thing called life. . . . As ancient creedal language puts it: the Father who begets the Son; and the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father, who with them is worshipped and glorified! . . . I remember protons, neutrons, and electrons from high school science, don’t you? We can understand that all living things are not solitary. Even before the explorations of modern science, anyone could look at the world and see things that were one, but three. Take a bird for instance. It has a beak, wings, and tail feathers. Three different parts; but it’s all one bird. And, in fact, without all three parts, it wouldn’t really be a bird. . . . God is kinda like that. Three distinct parts: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; YHWH the almighty One, Jesus Christ the embodied Word, and the Holy Spirit forevermore. God is all these. All these are God – three, but One: Trinity.

It’s a mystery. And I think a great children’s book gives us insight. It’s called: God is Like a Mother Hen and Much, Much More (by Carolyn Stahl Bohler). I wish I could show you the pictures, but it’s kinda a small book and I didn’t think you’d all be willing to scrunch up here together on the floor, so you’ll just have to hear the words today. “God is like a Mother Hen,” the book begins as the opposite page has a picture of a momma chicken with her chicks. Gently gathering them under her wings the page reads: “who protects her little chicks.” Turning the page we see: “God is like a Caring Daddy, who listens really well. God is like a Teacher, who smiles and says, ‘Try again’” – cuz the lil chic at the chalk board wrote four as the answer for one plus two. God’s like that. We’re all learners in this journey of life; everyone makes mistakes. “Try again,” smiles our Teacher God. As the book continues we learn that: “God is like a Best Friend, who plays and shares with you. God is like a Mommy, who kisses all your hurts. God is like the Air, right there, but you can’t see it.” The little chic on the drawing is skipping in the sunshine of the great outdoors saying: “The air keeps us alive!” The next page reads: “God is like a Child, who loves to have surprises.” Then “God is like You. Sometimes crying, sometimes laughing. God’s Love is like a Teddy Bear’s, ready for snuggling at night.” Then the book states: “Can YOU think of what else God is like?” The caption is: “Fill in using your imagination.” . . . “God is like a Mother Hen, a Caring Daddy, a Smiling Teacher, a Best Friend, a Mommy kissing hurts, the Air you can’t see, a Child loving surprises; You, crying or laughing; a Teddy Bear’s Love, blank” where you fill in what you named God with your imagination, “and much, much more!” God is like a Mother Hen and so very much more! . . . Solid rock, scripture attests. Good Shepherd. Forgiving Judge. Intimate Presence. The Way of Peace. And so very much, much more. All of these together; yet none of these in full. Known to us and Unknown to us all at the same time. The Triune God is so very much, much more. All the different metaphors give us a great way to experience – not to mention speak to others about this One-in-Three that we love.

In Proverbs we get a different kind of peek at our amazing God. That part of God which is wisdom. “On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals” – in other words: everywhere! “She cries out: ‘To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live’” (Prov. 8:2-3). . . . In the Hebrew language, wisdom is associated with the feminine. The Spirit of God that is a part with God at the very beginning. . . . In the Greek, wisdom gets linked with the Word, Logos, masculine and a foreshadow of the Word embodied in the male figure of Jesus of Nazareth. Proverbs links wisdom much more with what we might understand as God’s Spirit. The force with God in creation. She declares in joy that “when God established the heavens, I was there, when God drew a circle on the face of the deep, when God made firm the skies above, when God established the fountains of the deep, when God assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress God’s command, when God marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside God, like a master worker; and I was daily God’s delight, rejoicing before God always, rejoicing in God’s inhabited world and delighting in the human race” (Prov. 8:27-31).

What a beautiful tribute to God! Logically, we know God cannot just be One: nothing living is entirely solitary. If any of this magnificent creation ever was going to be, God has to be more than just one part. The creative force in synergy with itself causing something to come to be. It’s why in the first creation story of Genesis 1, God speaks thus: “’Let us make (humankind) in our image, according to our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Even then, we declare God is an us – One but more than one. Creating a whole world to be one – no single solitary thing – but beautiful in the distinctness of each. . . . Isn’t it a wonderful image of the Spirit of God creating while the wisdom of God is celebrating it all? . . . Maybe you grew up with the triangle view of God. One at the top point, typically what was referred to as God the Father, or God the Creator. The Son and Spirit, not quiet as important, were at the points down below. For centuries, it was a popular way for the Church of the Western world to visualize God. But tucked back away in the Eastern Church was a different kind of image. One that’s slowly making it’s way into the West, which I think is a really good thing as it seems a bit more biblical. You might have heard me say it before, and I first ran across this great truth in Shirley Guthrie’s book Christian Doctrine, which some of you have been studying all year. It’s the perichoresis of God. In this image of Trinity, God is like three distinct circles – equal is shape and size. (Kinda like the image on the front cover of the bulletin.) An interconnected one with all three. There’s really not one that predominates another. Rather this image of Trinity connotes the mutual dance of God. Love itself. Three intertwined dancers twirling about with each other in flawless delight. It gives us a better picture of the One God who is involved in every aspect of the God who is creating and redeeming and sustaining. For in truth, we can’t have one function without the other and still have God as we know God.

And so in mutual delight, we know the Almighty Creator . . . whose final word always is Life. Who makes covenant with a people to be a light to all the nations. Who speaks through the prophets to call us back to faithfulness. Who never-ever will let us go; even when it’s what we really do deserve. . . . We love God the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Who’s life, death, and resurrection sets us free from all that would bind. Sets us free for Life here and now and forevermore. Who shows us what it looks like to live as God. Who teaches. Who heals. Who feeds. Who celebrates every aspect of human living and welcomes the entire eclectic array – men, women, and children. Young, old and everyone in between. Not just those like himself of Jewish descent: but those of all lands, every tongue, all economic situations. We love God the Son who is our Way, our Truth, and our very Life. . . . And we celebrate God the Holy Spirit. Who powerfully comes among us. Who is our courage and strength. Who lives in every little finger and toe of our bodies. And who lives beyond us in all things living – sometimes known as the very breath of God enlivening all creation. The greening, viriditas force that is alive in all. Celebrating it all as does the Spirit of God, according to Proverbs. The Spirit of the Risen Christ, who guides us into all Truth that we might live in like manner. Who revives us when we are weary and gives to us that great zest for life. . . . Our God, the great Trinity; One yet three, and so very, very much more!

Whether we get it up here (in our brains) or not, it’s the One in whose name we all were baptized – the one in whose image we all were made. No single solitary thing, so that we know we too are not one entirely on our own – whether we want to be or not. Made in the image of the God who is in relationship in God’s very self, we are connected to everything else that lives: in relationship with it all, to be in mutual delight. One with all creation, even as is our God. . . . At the end of the day, whether we understand the mystery or not; our call is to give God praise. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer! The God who is beyond us, who lived among us, and who lives in all. To the Mysterious, Holy Trinity, we give praise forevermore!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)