Category Archives: Sermons

4th Sunday after the Epiphany, 2016

4th Sunday after the Epiphany, year C, 2016 (preached 1/31/16)

first reading:  Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 71:1-6

second reading:  1 Corinthians 13:1-13

gospel reading:  Luke 4:21-30


Our second reading for today is so famous that if we’re not careful we could daydream right through it.

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The LOVE chapter.  It’s become a standard reading at weddings as counsel on how spouses should treat one another.

But St. Paul wasn’t writing this “love chapter” to newlywed couples.  He was writing this to a broken community – a community that was broken, fighting, fractured.  The Corinthians were in trouble.  Paul was telling them how to work through their disagreements and jostling for power so they didn’t destroy themselves.

This reading isn’t about romantic love at all.  It’s about a state of being.  It’s about how we live our lives. This kind of love isn’t directed at an individual, it’s something we have in ourselves that flows out of us. For while I’ve said over and over that “love” is a verb, “love” is also a quality that we exude.

And love isn’t something we can manufacture ourselves.  When the pastor preached at my wedding, (not on this reading – we chose something different), he was clear to tell my husband and I that any kind of love we think we can “make” is a pitiful kind of love.

REAL love doesn’t come from us at all, it only flows through us to others.  Real love comes from God.  

  • In 1 John 4:7 we read, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”
  • The gospel of John tells us the reason Jesus was born among us was love.  “For God so loved the world…”
  • And Jesus gives us the new command to carry this love that comes from God through him – to one another.  “A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must also love one another” (John 13:34).

And not only that, but this – Jesus also calls us to love our enemies!  We like to forget this inconvenient teaching, but it’s part of the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:44,46 – “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… For if you love those who lo e you what reward to you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”  The Corinthians were certainly dealing with enemies outside of, and even within, their community.

So, like I said, this chapter has very little to do with romantic love, and everything to do with how we conduct ourselves – our demeanor, our personality.  It is meant for each one of us as believers.  St. Paul wrote this for you and me and all who follow Jesus.  It speaks the truth about how we are to BE in the world as believers, and part of that is how we treat one another.

And St. Paul is wise here, because he not only tells us what love looks like, he tells us what love does NOT look like. First, what love IS:  it is

  1. patient,
  2. kind,
  3. rejoicing in truth
  4. bears,
  5. believes,
  6. hopes, and
  7. endures all things.
  8. It is also eternal because it “never ends.”

What love is NOT:  it is not

  1. envious
  2. boastful,
  3. arrogant,
  4. rude,
  5. insistent,
  6. irritable,
  7. resentful,
  8. or rejoicing in wrongdoing.

This is hard work.  Love is hard work.  It is a commitment that goes beyond hugs and kisses, candy hearts and Hallmark cards.

  • Try being patient with a three year old whose new mantra is “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy…”
  • Try not being irritable when you’ve had a horrible night’s sleep and a full day of things to do ahead of you.
  • Try not being envious of your neighbor as they fly off on their next vacation while you’re just trying to pay your monthly bills.
  • Try being kind when you have to spend the next two hours with someone who grates on your last nerve.

THIS is what St. Paul is talking about.  This is how you and I are called to live and conduct ourselves with our loved ones and NOT loved ones.

Actually it’s impossible.  Jesus is the ideal for 1 Corinthians 13, you and I are just poor imitations.  It’s a perfect example of Lutheran theology’s “saint and sinner.”  We try, we fail, we try again, we fail, we try again, and so on and so on – with our only fuel for going on being God’s forgiveness – God’s love.

So why love?  Why work so hard to let the love that is in us flow out?  Why try at something when we know we’ll never be perfect at it?  Because, although we know we’ll never love perfectly, love gives our lives meaning, purpose and shape.  It DEFINES us.

It defines us because love is the eternal thing that binds us to God and one another.

All the trappings with which we surround ourselves, even the gifts that God has given us to serve – these are only temporary comforts, successes and talents.

St. Paul opens and closes this chapter with reminding us that our earthly power and success and talent are just just noisy and clumsy without love, and that one day all those things will pass away, just like us. All our earthly gifts will end.  Love will not.  It is only love that carries on – the love from God through Jesus to you and me, and from you and me to each other.

So why love?  Because there is really no other way for us to BE.

It’s work, and it’s painful sometimes – to love does mean to grieve – but the alternative is living death.

Creation came from love, Jesus came from love – Jesus IS love – and Jesus calls us to love.  It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.

Love is the hardest, but as St. Paul wrote, it’s also the “greatest.”

AMEN.

4th Sunday of Advent, 2015

4th Sunday of Advent, year C, 2015 (preached 12/20/15)

first reading:  Micah 5:2-5a

psalm:  Luke 1:46b-55

second reading:  Hebrews 10:5-10

gospel reading:  Luke 1:39-45


Church of the Visitation, Israel, photograph by Deror Avi

Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem, Israel, photo by Deror Avi

Today’s psalm and gospel readings are part of the same story, what we call “The Visitation.”  Shortly after Mary became pregnant, she went to spend time with her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant.

We learn earlier in Luke’s gospel that Elizabeth was about 6 months pregnant when Mary’s visit took place, while Mary was still very early on in her pregnancy. One author I read commented that The Visitation is a wonderful human interest story, but that its primary function is theological.  I disagree.

I think it’s a wonderful human interest story PRECISELY because it tells us a great deal theologically.  And I think it makes an amazing theological statement PRECISELY because it’s intimately involved in humanity.  I don’t separate human interest and theology.  Not only that, I don’t think GOD does either.

So, what is so profound about The Visitation?  WHY is it such a good human interest AND theological story?

The human part is pretty clear.

Mary had been visited by an angel, who told her she would conceive and bear a son even though she was still a virgin. Elizabeth, who was beyond normal childbearing age and up till then childless, was having an “unexpected” pregnancy herself, after an angel appeared to her husband Zechariah announcing that their child would be born.

Both women had concerns and fears I’m sure.  We read earlier that Mary was perplexed and pondering.  Her condition was not easily explained – and in that time and place an out of marriage pregnancy could be a deadly scandal.

For Elizabeth, the concerns and fears might also have been deadly.  Many women died in childbirth, and for older women the odds were even greater.  As thrilled as she was to be pregnant, I’m sure Elizabeth was also frightened for herself.

So we have two women with very unexpected pregnancies that were announced by ANGELS.  That makes for a definite human interest story.  Not only that, but for a religious book that is dominated by men, here the men are unseen and unheard, except for a little leaping in the womb.

This story is all about the women – and of course about God.

Intertwined with the human story of the women is the story of GOD – God choosing to become part of human history.  That’s the whole point of Christmas after all, isn’t it?  God taking on our flesh – our flesh holding God.

God chooses not only to preside OVER human history, but to become PART of it, to step into our lives.

And by choosing to do so, God makes Godself part of every moment, the good and the bad, the joy and sorrow, success and failure.  When God became one of us in Jesus, God became a part of Mary and Elizabeth’s joys and fears – and even their grief – OUR grief.

It struck me, as I prayed and pondered these passages, that the story of The Visitation isn’t only about two pregnant women – it’s also the story of two women who would bury their children.

Elizabeth and Mary would know the joy of motherhood, but also its unimaginable grief with the death of their sons.

As I reminded (one of our parishioners) when I visited with her on Friday – we need to remember that Christmas isn’t just the story of the happy baby – it’s the story of the baby who would die.  The joy of this moment of visitation is colored by our knowledge that John would be beheaded and Jesus crucified.

God through Jesus CHOOSES to become a part of this mess we call life.

Not just the line from the popular song, “God is watching us, from a distance.”  NO.  God is NOT just watching us from a distance, God is WITH us.  God knows it all, experiences it all, WITH us.

This is the gift of Christmas.  It’s not happy or sappy.  It’s not “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” or “Holly Jolly Christmas.”  It’s not about inflatable snowmen, or Santas, or mistletoe.  It’s more like “In the Bleak Midwinter,” and “the hopes and fears of all the years.”

It’s a couple with no place to stay.  A young woman with her husband, forced to give birth away from their family and friends – in a BARN.  It’s not about fancy nurseries and cribs – it’s a feed box filled with straw.  It’s what Mary sings in her song – that God has come to lift up those who are lowly and hungry – to bring MERCY.

Our culture puts a lot of pressure on Christmas to be happy and sappy, because our culture doesn’t want to deal with life’s underside.

People would much rather fight an imaginary “war on Christmas,” than look at their own shortcomings in loving their neighbors and themselves and God.

People don’t want to connect Christmas with Good Friday, but when we don’t connect the two – then the consumerism and the inflatable snowmen win.  When we don’t connect Christmas with Good Friday we feel guilt over our grief and/or sadness because we feel it doesn’t belong, that there is something wrong with US.  When we don’t connect Christmas with Good Friday then all we celebrate is a baby and we stay lost in our sin.

We need Good Friday to be part of Christmas if Christmas is to have any depth, any real meaning in our faith.

God CHOOSING in love to be with us in all our moments from life to death is a profound theological truth.

It tells us that God loves us, strengthens us and carries us no matter where we are.

It tells us that God understands our fears, our grief and our anxieties.

So, as we approach Friday, some of us with joy and celebration, some with sadness, grief, or anxieties and fears, let us remember that God holds it all, and is WITH us through it all.

Emmanuel has come.

AMEN.

19th Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

19th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 10/4/15)

first reading:  Genesis 2:18-24

Psalm 8

second reading:  Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

gospel reading:  Mark 10:2-16

***today’s sermon is a bit shorter than usual to accommodate our blessing of the animals liturgy


So – here’s what’s before us today in our readings:  the creation of the first people and animals, the beauty of creation, being put in charge of that creation, Jesus’ suffering – and marriage, divorce and children.

Here’s what’s going on in our world:  a refugee crisis not seen since WWII, yet another mass shooting, local food pantries struggling to keep up with the need, and our little blessing of the animals.

Wow.  Where to begin?  It’s too much to tackle everything in detail in the few short minutes we’re here together.

What I DO see as a kind of common thread, and perhaps a message for us to ponder, is found in our Psalm and reading from Hebrews.

The psalmist praises God and God’s creation, then shows our place as humans in relation to it.  The psalmist writes:  “You have made [human beings] little less than divine; with glory and honor you crown them.  You have made them rule over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet…”

The writer of Hebrews quotes this passage, then adds, “Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control.”   But ALSO adds, “As it is we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we DO see Jesus…”

We’re given a hierarchy, if you will, in these readings.  God is creator, Jesus at the right hand of God, the angels, US, then the rest of creation.

God’s intention is for creation to be subject to you and me.  It’s not perfect yet, and when it’s not then, “we do see Jesus.”

What does it mean to have creation subject to us?  What does it mean that God has left us in control?  And how does our relationship to one another figure in?

Again, the writer of Hebrews tells us “we do see Jesus.”

Jesus is our model.  Jesus is our guide.  Jesus is our teacher.  Jesus shows us the way.  Jesus IS the way.

So how does Jesus lead?  How does he lord over us?  What does he do with the power he has at the right hand of God?

He uses that power to love, to serve, to show mercy, to sacrifice, to give his life.

This is how We need to do it.  We don’t bully the earth, we don’t throw our power around, and we certainly don’t bully each other.

The world in which we live is broken.

Broken because of political fighting which brings death and suffering caused by our desire to get and keep power. Broken because of our inability to see that God has put creation under our feet, NOT so we can stomp on it and pummel it, but so that we can tend it – to SERVE it, so that it may serve us and future generations.

Broken because of selfishness and greed and our amazing ability to take one another for granted and ruin our relationships.  Broken because we allow violence of all kinds towards one another – violence in words and fists and guns – that maim and kill our bodies and souls.

Broken because our neighbors down the street and across the globe are homeless and hungry, so much so that our food pantries can hardly keep up.

Jesus charges us over and over again to love one another, to care for one another, to forgive one another.  But many times, I dare say MOST of the time, we don’t do a very good job of it, in our dealings with people across the ocean, across the street, and in our homes.

Today in worship we are celebrating the place of our animal companions in our lives.  We’re acknowledging them as gifts that God has given us.  We acknowledging that God cherishes them because God created them – them and every creature on land and in the sea and sky.  There is nothing wrong with this.  It’s a beautiful thing.  It reminds us of OUR job to take care of them.

But let us not forget that while God has given us this calling to love and care for them and all creation, it is also our calling to love and care for one another.

To be in the broken world, as broken people.  But broken as we are, we DO see Jesus.

We see Jesus, who in his great love for us became broken himself.  We see Jesus, who through his love and suffering frees us from the power of sin.  We see Jesus who calls us to himself, who grants us mercy and grace and forgiveness and love and blessing.

We see Jesus who lifts us up when we fall, carries us when we’re tired, strengthens us when we’re weak.  We see Jesus, who, through our calling to love and care for each other and all creation – sends us out to also act in the same way towards each other.

We see Jesus who is the light in the darkness of our lives and of the world.  We see Jesus who forgives us when we fail.

Thank God that when we win, and especially when we LOSE, we see Jesus.

AMEN.

The light shines in the darkness

The light shines in the darkness

 

9th Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

9th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 7/26/15)

first reading:  2 Kings 4:42-44

Psalm 145:10-18

second reading:  Ephesians 3:14-21

gospel reading:  John 6:1-21


Miracles are awesome things.  To benefit from something completely unexpected, to witness or be the beneficiary of an unexplained blessing is an awesome thing.

I wish we could see more miracles.  I wish we could see better the miracles that are taking place all around us every day.  Miracles are awesome.  Feeding 5,000 people with just a few loaves and fish certainly constitutes a miracle. But the miracle is NOT the point.

In fact, St. John makes this abundantly clear.  When the crowd wanted to make the miracle the point, Jesus left them.  He withdrew.  Went away.  Got lost.

The crowd saw the miracle and wanted to make Jesus a king.  It’s understandable.  We do it too.  We encounter a person who we perceive as having great power, especially great power to “get things done” and we want to put them in charge.

We all get caught up in signs and wonders.  The crowd, which probably included some VERY hungry people, wanted to exalt Jesus for what he had done for them.  We often want to elevate people who have done or will do good things for us.

But we need to pay attention here, because the crowd was WRONG.  They want to crown Jesus a king because he performed a great miracle.  They completely miss the point.  The outward miracle is NOT the point.  The outward sign was really nothing.

The miracle, or sign, was only a guidepost to seeing Jesus’ true purpose – to love us and save us from our sins.

Jesus never called himself a king, at least not a king of “this world.”  Kings send soldiers into battle to die for them. Jesus put HIMSELF on the front line in the battle and HE died so that WE could live.

When Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king, Jesus would only answer, “If you say so.”  Jesus was no king. He called himself a shepherd – the GOOD shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep.

The point is not to be an earthly king for those people – or for us.  Jesus doesn’t want to be a political leader, or the ruler of any political party or nation.  And we need to listen.  Those who would like to think of America as a “Christian nation” especially need to listen.

Forget the fact that our own founding fathers never intended us to be a “Christian nation” – we see in our gospel for today that JESUS doesn’t intend that and wouldn’t like it either.  When the crowd was going to try to force that on him, what did he do?  He withdrew from them.  Like I said before, he got lost.  Made himself scarce.

On of my seminary professors,  the late Dr. Robert Kysar, stated in his commentary on John,

“The intent to make Jesus king is an ill-founded enthusiasm of the moment… Jesus will have none of this and flees from the crowd.  This kind of political kingship stands in contrast to the true kingship of Jesus.”**

Unfortunately the people, including Jesus’ own disciples, wouldn’t understand this until well after the fact.  Until after Jesus had been put to death and rose again.

So what then is the point?  The point is – the sign, the miracle, is a guidepost, NOT the destination.

Jesus doesn’t want to be king of the Jews or the Gentiles, or America, or Germany, or Nigeria or any other nation we could name.

  • The point is – Jesus wants to be king in our HEARTS.
  • The point is Jesus wants us to know God’s love.
  • The point is that our sins starve us and we can do nothing to fill our souls.
  • The point is that we can bring nothing to the table – we come to God as beggars with empty arms.

But at Jesus’ table of grace we are fed till we are overflowing, not just with loaves and fish, but with his body and blood – his very life.

Making him a king for the miracle of the feeding would have actually belittled who he was, and IS.  He is not a miracle worker.  He is the Savior.

Jesus couldn’t care less about the “faith” or religion of a nation.  Political structures of any kind are meaningless to the creator of heaven and earth.  What Jesus does care about is the faith of YOU and ME.

What does it matter if we are a “Christian nation,” or have a national religion, if we as individual Christians stand by while people are abused, murdered, oppressed and hungry?  Jesus has no aspirations to rule America.  What he wants is to rule ME, and YOU.

What Jesus wants is to be SO infused in our hearts, minds and souls that everything we say and do becomes a reflection of his love to others.  What Jesus wants is for us to turn to him, with our empty hearts, arms and bellies, and be made full with HIM.

What Jesus wants is what our writer from Ephesians wants,

“that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  That (we) may have the power to comprehend… what is the breadth and length and height and depth… to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Filling bellies is a neat miracle.  But being filled with the love of God, being rooted in God’s love – THAT is the best miracle of all.

It may not be as flashy, but it takes us from hell to heaven, from lost to saved, from wandering to ROOTED – rooted forever in the love of God that knows no breadth or length or height or depth.  Wow. 

THAT is THE miracle.  THAT is the destination.  Thanks be to God!

AMEN.


**Robert Kysar,  Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament:  John.  Minneapolis, MN, Augsburg Publishing House, p. 92-93.

5th Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

5th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 6/28/15)

first reading:  Lamentations 3:22-33

Psalm 30

second reading:  2 Corinthians 8:7-15

gospel reading:  Mark 5:21-43


There are weeks I look at the readings for Sunday and say, “Thank you God, the readings are perfect!”  This is one of those Sundays.  So much good.

  • In the first reading we find in the midst of defeat, the people proclaim hope in God’s love.
  • In Psalm 30 we have the song of one who has been utterly brought down, who yet proclaims “you have turned my wailing into dancing.”
  • In the New Testament reading St. Paul writes about generosity – showing love for one another by bringing ourselves down a peg or two, so that we can lift other up to be with us.
  • And in our gospel reading we have stories of two desperate people, daring to hope in the midst of their seemingly hopeless situations.

They’re all great.  I could easily preach a sermon on any of these.  How to choose?

Well, instead of looking deeper into ONE of the passages, I’m going with a theme.  And the theme I see running through all four of our scriptures today is that of INCLUSION.

The people in Lamentations were a militarily defeated people.  Their country had fallen.  They felt the oppression of a foreign force.  Yet they DARED to speak of God’s steadfast love.  Even though they were on the “outs” politically, and in some ways felt on the outs with God too – they dared to proclaim that ultimately they were “in” – that their hope was in the Lord of compassion and mercy.

They might look like they’re out, but they’re NOT.  “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.”(v22)

Even when things aren’t going our way in life – especially when we might feel oppressed or actually are oppressed, God is with us.  Even if the rest of the world treats us like we’re “out” – with God we’re always “in.”

Our psalm this morning is just beautiful.  One of my favorites actually.  Our psalmist was dying and in emotional distress.  Their health, be it physical or spiritual or emotional, was broken, and the Lord restored them.  “Weeping spends the night, but joy comes in the morning.”  “You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”

When WE are in THAT night, the night of weeping – when we’re wailing in sackcloth – God can feel so far away.  We see the rest of the world moving around us while we languish, and feel “out.”  Our bodies betray us, our minds tell us lies about being unworthy or forgotten.

But even in the midst of that we hear “NO.  You are ‘in.’  Joy is coming.  You WILL dance.  In fact, joy will be your garment.  You’ll wear it.”

St. Paul’s message of inclusion is less about how we feel.  He is concerned about how we treat our neighbor.  He challenges the followers of the Lord Jesus to be generous and genuine.  He gives us Jesus as an example – Jesus became poor so that we could be rich.

As followers we are to DO something for those on the fringes, on the outs, of society.  Give according to your ability. And Paul isn’t just talking about our spiritual gifts here.  He is plain talking about money.   He challenges us to reflect on our ABUNDANCE and our neighbor’s NEED – to make sure there is a “fair balance” – to give accordingly so that everyone can have “enough.”  Paul challenges us who are “in” to come together to make sure there is a place for those who are “out.”

And the theme of inclusion is no different for Jesus in our gospel reading.  Our two stories from the gospel bring us extremes of people on the outside looking in, and Jesus breaking down the dividing wall.  Two people, a respected religious leader whose daughter was dying – the ultimate “out” – and a woman who was as outside the community as you could get without actually being dead, FELL BEFORE JESUS.  Literally fell at his feet.

Jesus goes with Jairus, but on the way they’re interrupted by the poor woman who is truly “out.”  Her problem with blood made her unclean – UNTOUCHABLE.

But this woman on the outs has HOPE – hope that merely touching Jesus’ clothes will heal her, since she CANNOT touch his skin.  She sneaks up behind him and touches him daring for a cure.  But she cannot hide.  Jesus KNOWS. But he doesn’t condemn her, he commends her faith and bids her go in peace – “you’re in.”

Jairus’ daughter in the meantime has lost her chance for cure – she has died.  Nothing more to be done but begin the grieving.  But Jesus says no.  It’s NOT too late.  He sends the grievers away and commands the girl to rise.  “You are not ‘out’ of this life, you’re ‘in.'”

In our political, emotional, financial and medical circumstances we can often feel “out.”  Out of step, out of line, outside the box, left out, shut out, cast out.  Between our personal  and societal problems, decisions that have come from the Supreme Court, violence and hatred in our own country and around the world, this indeed may be the way we feel.  Debates, anger, mistrust swirl.  Some celebrate while others weep.

According to the world it may indeed appear that some are “in” while others “out” even in the church – but NO. NEVER with God.  NEVER.

EACH ONE OF US is precious, unique and LOVED by God, demonstrated through the sacrificial act of Jesus on the cross.

Our “out”ward circumstances are NOT a sign of our place with God.  For as we learn in our readings today – ALL are included:  the oppressed, the poor, the sick – there is NO ONE “outside” the reach or embrace of God’s steadfast love.

So know this brothers and sisters – no matter what it looks like, no matter what it FEELS like, YOU ARE INCLUDED, surrounded by God’s mercy and love.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN.


***This is the first time I preached since the events in Charleston.  While not directly referenced in the sermon, our national church (the ELCA) had given us a special liturgy and prayers to use this day, as well as a letter from our presiding bishop to be read publically.  Rest assured Charleston was not neglected in our worship.

Holy Trinity Sunday, 2015

Holy Trinity Sunday, year B, 2015, (preached 5/31/15)

first reading:  Isaiah 6:1-8

Psalm 29

second reading:  Romans 8:12-17

gospel reading:  John 3:1-17


It’s pretty rare to get a history lesson in a sermon, but it’s also pretty rare in the Lutheran Church to have a feast day celebrating a DOGMA.  In fact, Trinity Sunday is the only feast day we have in the Lutheran Church that celebrates a dogma.

Dogma is a fancy word that means “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.”

640px-Andrej_Rublëv_Trinity

Andrej Rublev “The Holy Trinity”

In this case the dogma is the belief that our God, while being ONE God, manifests God’s self in three distinct ways, which we describe as “three persons.”

Three in ONE, ONE in three – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – as we prayed in our prayer of the day just a few minutes ago.

It was in the process of defining God – how the Father/Creator is God, Jesus/Son is God and Holy Spirit is God, that we get the dogma of the Holy Trinity.

This belief didn’t just fall out of the sky, it was discussed and debated for centuries.  In fact, the dogma of the Trinity is the reason we have two of our creeds.  Most people in the early Church believed that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were God, along with the Father – how we think of the Trinity.

But there were others, mainly followers of a man named Arius, who believed that Jesus was a created being subordinate to God the Father.  This belief, called “Arianism,” was wide spread enough to warrant a council of the Church – and when I say “council” I don’t mean something like our church council – this was a gathering of all the Churches leaders and bishops who would make a decision that would bind ALL the churches and believers together.

And the decision of this council – the Council of Nicaea in the year 325, and again in 381 at the Council of Constantinople – was that Arianism was a heresy – a false belief.  Out of these councils we also get what we know as the Nicene Creed.  A century of so after that we would get what’s called the Athanasian Creed.

The Athanasian Creed goes to GREAT lengths to define the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to condemn those who do NOT believe in the Trinity, putting the Arians in their place.  If you look on page 54 of our hymnal you will find it – the whole page and a half of it.  Some congregations will say this creed today – the only time of the year it’s done.  We won’t, but I would encourage you to look at it, as it is one of the Creeds we hold to be authoritative for us.

Why were these fights over the Trinity so important?  And is the formation of the dogma of the Holy Trinity just a nice history lesson, or is it important for us too, here and now?

I would say “YES” the dogma of the Holy Trinity is more than important – it is crucial to our life of faith.  And the fights that were fought over Trinitarian theology and belief were certainly worth it for those who fought them so long ago, and for us today.

Why?

Because without the belief in the Holy Trinity, so deeply thought out and refined by discussion and debate, we would be left wanting – our faith would be incomplete.

  • Without the Father as God, we’re left thinking the world came to be in a completely random way, with no creative or guiding force, except for that of nature itself.
  • Without the Son as God, we’re left with a really good prophet and teacher, but one with a death wish.
  • Without the Holy Spirit as God, we’re left without the divine power continually working within us and the world.
  • Without a God who creates, redeems and sustains us we’re left hanging… either created and left on our own, or saved but then left on our own.

Without the Father as God, Jesus as God and the Holy Spirit as God, our faith journey is not only stunted and incomplete – it can never really get going.

Because Jesus was more than a prophet and teacher.  He was more than the world’s most perfect person who perfectly followed God’s Will and so God brought him back to life as a reward.

Jesus is GOD.  God the Son, who we read in our gospel for today was “given” to us so the world could be saved – NOT created, NOT subordinate.  Fully divine, yet fully human.

And the Holy Spirit is more than a fond recollection of the Creator or the Son, kind of how we talk about deceased loved ones still with us “in spirit.”

The Holy Spirit is God actively at work in our world and in our lives, bringing us to faith, constantly giving us strength and power and wisdom to follow God’s Will.  As explained in the Athanasian Creed, “the Holy Spirit was neither made nor created,” and as we confess in the Nicene Creed, “proceeds from the Father and the Son.”

We’ll never completely understand how God can be three persons, yet one God.  We do our best to give examples, to explain, to write creeds, books, VOLUMES of books! – but no explanation, no example, no creed or book or set of books can perfectly do the job.

Our human minds simply cannot comprehend the complexity and majesty of God.

And isn’t that wonderful?  I mean, who wants a god that they can figure out?

A god I can know completely is a god I can manipulate.  A god I can know completely turns out to be a god an awful lot like ME – and I am NO god, that’s for sure.

In the end, the Holy Trinity is a holy mystery, a matter of “faith,” and not “knowledge.”

It can be hard for us to accept sometimes, since we are curious creatures and desire to know ALL the answers.  But the Holy Trinity is one of the beautiful parts of our faith, that shows us how God is God – and we are not.

And thanks be to God for that.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit – ONE God, now and forever.

AMEN.

7th Sunday of Easter, 2015

7th Sunday of Easter, year B, 2015 (preached 5/17/15)

first reading:  Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

Psalm 1

second reading:  1 John 5:9-13

gospel:  John 17:6-19


 

Don’t you just love St. John?  Don’t you just love the way he present Jesus’ words – so clear, so plain? Don’t you just love the way he has Jesus spell everything out for us, so that we can easily understand what he means?

I hope you realize I’m being sarcastic.

Our gospel reading for today is one of those that you have to read over and over again, very carefully, before you even start to decipher what Jesus was trying to say.

It’s no wonder that people get frustrated with reading the Bible.  When we come to passages like this one, it’s easier to just give up and grab for the newspaper than to try and follow the maze of Jesus’ thoughts.

I wish sometimes that St. John’s gospel could be more like St. Mark’s – just give us the main point and get on with it.  But we can’t beat up on John too much, because in the end, there’s something to be said for his style – for the way in which he records Jesus’ words.

When I was learning Greek in seminary, the language in which the New Testament was written, our professor told us that one of many reasons to learn Greek was so we would be forced to read the passages slowly.

When we can read them quickly, we tend to skip details that might be important – or assume we know what a passage means without really thinking about it.  For example, one word, when carefully looked at, can change the whole meaning of a passage – or open it up for us, when it first appears confusing.

And that’s what I want to do this morning.

There are words and phrases that Jesus says repeatedly in this prayer to the Father, and I want to concentrate on one – GIVING.

Give (1)

“Those whom you gave me… you gave them to me… everything you have given me… words that you gave to me, I have given them…” and so on.

WE READ VARIOUS TENSES OF THE WORD “GIVE” NINE TIMES IN JUST SEVEN VERSES.

There is a pattern we discover when we look carefully and slowly at how Jesus uses this word, a pattern which says something important about the way our lives and faith should be shaped.

First – the Father gives to Jesus.  Then, Jesus receives the gifts.

And what does Jesus do with the gifts the Father has given to him – the word, the truth, the joy, the unity?  Does he keep all these gifts to himself?

NO.  As he received from the Father, he himself gives away.  He passes it on.

In verse 8 we read a good summary of this.  Jesus says, “…for the words that you gave to me, I have given them, and they have received them…”

This is a good model for you and me.  As God gave to Jesus, so Jesus gives to us.  Everything we have, everything we ARE, comes from God – everything down to the gift of life itself.  And when we receive from Jesus it is then our calling to pass it on, just as Jesus did.  We extend what we are given to those around us.

Unfortunately though, in our society, we are constantly tempted to act otherwise.

It’s in our nature.  Just think of how hard it is to teach children to share.  It’s a never-ending battle.  And it can be just as hard for grown-ups.  But the consequences when grown-ups don’t share are considerably greater than the consequences for not sharing the building blocks or matchbox cars.

When grown-ups can’t or won’t share, or give away, people usually suffer and/or DIE.

aboutmePoverty comes when we won’t share our wealth – hunger comes when we won’t share our food – wars come usually when we won’t share the land or the power.

Giving or sharing can be especially hard when we believe that the accumulation of money or “things” will bring us joy.  Just drive this car, wear these clothes, get this nice big house – and you’ll have it all. Giving or sharing is hard when we’re brought up with messages like “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps.”

Giving or sharing is hard when we’re jealous of those who have “more,” and when we live in a culture that preaches a gospel of self-fulfillment and egoism.  What’s most important is what feels good for me. I am not my brother’s keeper (although we KNOW what God thought about THAT excuse!).

When we’re bombarded with messages that tell us to keep things for ourselves, and to look with disdain on those we deem less fortunate – that somehow their LACK of success is a symptom of laziness or inherently inferior – it becomes hard to give anything away.

As a result we become isolated from one another.  But God NEVER intends for us to lock ourselves away from each other.

God does not want us to be so protective of our stuff and ourselves, that we lose out on the joy of relationships – with one another AND with God.  God doesn’t want us to hoard our God–given gifts, but to share them – to give them away.

As we receive, so we give – and not to focus on the human approval of the receiver, but on our spiritual NEED to give.  PERIOD.

After all, Jesus didn’t make our “deserving” a requirement for his giving, did he?  In fact, he gave himself precisely because we DIDN’T deserve it!

As the Father gave to Jesus, as Jesus gives to us, so we are to give to one another.  At the end of our reading Jesus makes this clear by saying that just as HE was sent, he now sends US.

“For the words that you gave me, I have given to them…”  “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent THEM into the world.”

Let us go then, and give to all around us what was first given us –

the Word of Life, the Word of Truth, the Word made flesh – Jesus Christ our Lord.

hands

AMEN.