Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit!

“Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit!”

holy trinity mosaic

John 16:13, Psalm 8 – June 16, 2019

In our everyday lives, all kinds of things come in threes. The rule of threes tells us that when things are presented to us in threes, they are easier to remember. Comedy tells us that when jokes come in three parts, they are somehow more satisfying and funnier.

Commentator Alyce McKenzie reminds us, “We read The Three Little Pigs, Three Billy Goats Gruff, Goldilocks and the Three Bears before we eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a knife, fork, and spoon. We hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil despite the fact that we are threatened by lions, tigers, and bears. We play rock, paper, scissors. Our goals are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and we count on the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government to assist us in this pursuit, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, because we cherish our government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We live a hop, skip, and a jump from snap, crackle, and pop. Our journey of life has a beginning, a middle, and an end. On the journey we encounter lights that may be red, yellow, or green. Our motto, for the past, the present, and the future is Ready, Set, Go!” [1]

The rule of threes does have relevance in our Christian life; we know the Trinity with the traditional expression Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the Triune God. One in Three, and Three in One. Yet, how can we wrap our heads around such a huge concept as the Trinity?

We might consider God in this way: God was, God is and God will be. God past, God present and God future. Our psalm reading for today, Psalm 8, talks about the majesty and power of God the Creator, God the Father. That is what our opening hymn of praise lifted up: “How Majestic is Your Name.” God created the whole universe, everything we see when we look up in the sky, times 1000. Times 100,000! It is truly mind-blowing to consider how enormous the universe is. I cannot even comprehend a tiny sliver of how immense the cosmos is!

And yet, God still thinks about each of us, and loves each one of us as very special people. As our psalmist King David said, “What is man – humanity – that You are mindful of them?” In other words, how can the amazingly huge God who called the whole universe into being ages ago with a word even think about such tiny, insignificant beings such as humans? Yet, God does exactly that.

God the Father, God-not-only-in-the-past is part of this incomprehensible God, One in Three, Three in One, the Trinity.

Yet, there is God the Son. God the Son was eternal, too. He was in the beginning with God, as John chapter 1 tells us. The eternal Son was incarnate, was made flesh. That is fancy wording for Jesus becoming a baby. What’s more, He emptied Himself of all Godhood, all God-ness. Jesus became a baby just like any other newborn baby you might meet.

Jesus grew to adulthood, and lived life as a human being, like you and like me. Jesus got hungry, tired, slept, worked, laughed and cried. Yet, at the same time, Jesus was God. I can’t understand it, yet that is what our Gospels and many other places in the New Testament tell us. Here, in John 14 through 16, Jesus tells His disciples some very important things. This is God the Son talking, who would very shortly die on the Cross and very soon transition into His Resurrected form.

We see God-in-the-present here in John 16, telling His friends about the not-so-distant future. Jesus is talking about the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Oh, what kind of wondrous happening was this, Jesus the Eternal God the Son, talking about a Spirit of truth? Even though the disciples probably had some kind of idea about the wisdom that came from God – Proverbs and several Psalms serving as great examples – when their Rabbi Jesus started talking about a Holy Spirit, I have no idea what must have been going through the disciples’ heads!

When Jesus talked with His disciples in the Upper Room on that Thursday, that Passover night before His crucifixion, He knew everything was going to change for His friends. Jesus would no longer be with them, in a human body. Jesus was promising them something for the future. God-in-the-future, as well as in the present and in the past. Jesus promised the coming of the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to live with them and remain with them as long as they were on this earth. The Holy Spirit was—is indwelling every believer in Jesus Christ. And, that is still the case, today.

Another—very imperfect—way to think about the Trinity is in the family context. All of us are members of a family. All of us came from a mother and a father. I will take myself for an example. I am a daughter to my parents. (Now deceased.) I am a mother to my children. I am a wife to my husband. Those are three distinct roles. Very different roles, too! Yet, I am one person. Not wanting to compare myself to the eternal, ineffable, transcendent Holy Trinity (much), I hope this family example might be able to give another example, some idea of the complexities in considering the Trinity.

Which brings me to the question I passed out to everyone in your bulletin: “When I—when you—thought about God, I used to think…” What did we used to think about God? How has it changed? What do we think about God, now? Has the blessed coming of the Holy Spirit into each of our lives changed those thoughts?

When we come at this theological doctrine of the Trinity head on, yes. It is important. It is part of our Creeds, and a foundational aspect of the Christian faith this church proclaims. Yet, a perfect understanding of Christian theology is not at all necessary for us to be saved, for us to enter into a close, deep relationship with God.

Throughout the Easter season, for the past weeks, I have been preaching on testimonies. When various people were confronted by the claims of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, and what happened after that. Mary Magdalene was the first evangelist when she ran to the other followers of Jesus on that first Easter morning and cried, “I have seen the Lord!” Mary did not have a full understanding of Christian doctrine and of the three Persons of the Trinity, But, she knew that Jesus had risen, and was alive again.

I hope and pray that our understanding of God keeps growing, deepening, and maturing.  I hope that each of us keeps that excitement, that exuberance in our lives and our testimonies as we proclaim Jesus, as we tell all that the Trinity has done for each of us.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] https://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Power-Three-Alyce-McKenzie-05-21-2013.html

“The Power of Three,” Alyce M. McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Do What to Enemies?

“Do What to Enemies?”

Luke 6-35 love enemies, bible

Luke 6:27-38 (6:27-28) – February 24, 2019

Throughout history, we can trace many battles between enemies. I don’t mean outright war, like between armies with guns and tanks and bombs, but enemies, nevertheless. Serious sports rivalries can turn ugly, like soccer hooligans causing fistfights and even rioting. Factions and strife in a town can cause a cohesive neighborhood to break up. And in recent times, political differences can cause serious rifts between former friends. Deep tension even makes family members stop speaking to each other, sometimes for years.

What is this corrosive feeling between enemies? Some say envy, others say fear, others say hatred, plain and simple. Which brings us to the Gospel. What does Jesus say about enemies?

But, first we need to back up, and remind ourselves of what came just before. Or rather, what we heard last week. Just a reminder that Luke chapter 6 contains much of the same information that Jesus preached in Matthew, chapters 5, 6 and 7. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount—leading off with the Beatitudes—is summarized in about one third of the space, right here. In Luke’s Sermon on the Plain.

Jesus said a lot of controversial things, a lot of which got Him into serious hot water. But, “love your enemies” was a particularly troublesome statement.

The country of Israel was under occupation. Just imagine occupied France or the Netherlands during World War II. The hated Romans were Israel’s overlords, and the whole country had to pay Roman taxes. Essentially, paying tribute to Caesar and his armies. The Roman soldiers threw their weight around, and it was backed up by the threat of force of arms. In other words, Roman garrisons were stationed in towns throughout Israel, keeping the populace in line and making certain there was order in Rome’s occupied territory.

Somehow, I doubt whether the Rabbi Jesus scored many points with either the Jewish leaders or the Jewish people by preaching about loving their enemies.

Sharp divisions have come up from time to time in the modern day, too. Think back several decades, to the 1960’s. A sharp debate over civil rights tore our country apart, much like certain political stands do today.

Let’s think about that debate concerning civil rights. This is February, Black History Month. Black leaders protested, held sit-ins, and even marched on Washington in August 1963, where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the famous “I have a dream” speech. But many Americans at that time did not agree with civil rights, or with blacks and other people of color receiving equal treatment under the law, or equal treatment in general society.

Remember the race riots around the country, and here in Chicago. The National Guard needed to be sent in a number of situations to keep the peace. A great divide was evident in our country throughout the 1960’s, and my retired professor Ken Vaux and Pastor Gordon Smith were among those allies who stood with the black protestors.

Many people on both sides of that political divide would say that they were sincere, devout Christians. Christians who probably would hear sermons on Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain from time to time in their churches.

Wait a minute. People on both sides of the civil rights issue? Sincere, devout Christians? Well, yes. Yes, they were.

Let’s get back to Jesus, preaching the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. He challenges the crowd. “He says the shocking phrase, ‘Love your enemies.’ What?! He doesn’t just tell us to listen to them. We are to love them!….Some must have decided that they were not ‘willing to hear’ and walked away with their heads full of questions. Others began to work on the bargain. Which enemy might they “love” without risking their own position? Others tried to imagine how they could love their enemies.” [1]

How can anyone do this seemingly impossible stuff Jesus told us to do?

First, Jesus does not ask our opinion. He doesn’t check in with us and see whether we agree with Him. His words are not an option. “Love your enemies.” “He is talking about the Kingdom of God, where love is the rule, not an eye for an eye.” [2] What did Gandhi say of that bloodthirsty comment? “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

Let’s hear the next few verses: “32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.” Wouldn’t you expect yourself to be loving, caring and generous? Don’t we all think of ourselves in a positive light, as Jesus suggests here?

Not so fast. Jesus does not let anyone off easily. He holds us all to a high standard. These verses have “examples of ways we should be generous and loving, expecting nothing in return. In fact, Jesus tells us (if we are willing to hear), ‘If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended?’ We are to ‘Be compassionate just as [God] is compassionate.’ Everything about this way of being in the world goes against the ways of the world. It is so counter-cultural that we may not be willing to hear.” [3]

So, what ought we to do when we encounter an enemy?

It could be meeting a real White Sox fanatic, when your family has been Chicago Cubs fans for generations. Or, at this local election time of the year, it could be sitting at the lunch table or the senior center with someone who vocally supports someone from the opposite political party.

Dr. Margaret Ann Crain, a retired professor from my seminary, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, tells the following story. “Many years ago, when I was first employed by a congregation as an educator, I was appalled by the resistance that came from some members of the church. They made a show of walking out on the pastor when he began to preach each Sunday. They tried to stir up support for their point of view whenever the church council had a decision to make. I confess: I did not love them! But I also did not ever ask them to explain their point of view. They were enemies, and I didn’t listen to them. As I look back now, 40 years later, I really regret that response. If I had listened to them, I could have become more compassionate and understanding. They were faithful church members all their lives. I suspect that they had some faith-filled reasons for their resistance. Clearly, their methods were poorly chosen. Yet, they may have had important lessons that all of us needed to hear. I will never know because I did not love my enemies. I was not willing to hear what Jesus has to say to us today. Are you?” [4]

What do we do when we meet someone who disagrees with us vehemently? Jesus says in verse 31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” We are asked to do what to our enemies? Love them. We are told to treat others—all others—how? As we wish to be treated. Period. Jesus said it, and it is not an option.

Is this difficult? Well nigh impossible! Except—with God’s help. So help us God, help us love our enemies. Help us love them as we love You, and treat our enemies as we wish to be treated.

Amen, alleluia.

 

(Many thanks to Dr. Margaret Ann Crain and http://www.umcdiscipleship.org for ideas and assistance for this series on discipleship.)

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-2-worship-planning-series/february-24-seventh-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/seventh-sunday-after-the-epiphany-2019-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

The Call of Wisdom (Repost)

(I was away from the pulpit and St. Luke’s Church this morning, so I did not preach a sermon. However, here is a sermon from some years ago. This uses the Old Testament text for today, Trinity Sunday: Proverbs 8:1-4.)

“The Call of Wisdom”

Prov 8 wisdom better than rubies

Proverbs 8:1-5

One of my very favorite movies is “The Wizard of Oz.” In it, three of the main characters are personifications of qualities within each and every person. I’m sure you remember the Tim Woodman, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow. The Tin Woodman wanted a heart more than anything, because he wanted to be able to love. The Cowardly Lion wanted courage, since he was such a scaredy cat, he was afraid of his own shadow. And the Scarecrow wanted a brain, because he wanted to have good ideas and to think deep thoughts.

Here in this passage we just read today from Proverbs, we have another personification. Wisdom is seen as a woman, and not just any woman. Wisdom is seen as a giving person, as an open-handed person. She is at the crossroads, or important intersections, and at the gates of the town, where the town business takes place, calling like a herald. She is waiting and willing to give out wisdom and understanding to anyone who comes by!

If anyone is simple, or needs instruction, prudence or understanding, Lady Wisdom freely offers the gift of wisdom to anyone who will stop and accept it.

Which of us lacks intelligence sometimes? Which of us stumbles and makes mistakes every now and then, or sometimes even more often than that? Here, Lady Wisdom makes her offer of understanding and intelligence to anyone. “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.”

There’s a complication, though. I’m sure you’ve known people who seem to know simply everything. Know-it-alls, that’s the only name for them. You can’t tell them anything, they won’t listen to anyone, they aren’t in the least teachable, and they go their own way. They wouldn’t even have the slightest interest in Lady Wisdom’s offer of wisdom, mostly because they’re so busy dispensing what “wisdom” they think they have to other people who haven’t even asked for it.

Let’s face it. It’s not only the know-it-alls who could use some wisdom from outside. Many of us today lack wisdom, and don’t even know it. Humanity’s situation is almost like a horse, wearing blinders. From what I understand, a horse is perfectly happy wearing blinders. Blinders don’t hurt a horse, but they very much restrict what a horse can see. That’s awfully limiting!! Not being able to see the whole picture, but forced to see only what’s straight ahead of you!  Not even knowing that I lack wisdom, or prudence, or understanding is a really tough situation. But it’s a real situation, one that many, many people are in today.

Let’s look at what the book of Proverbs says about foolish people, as opposed to wise people. Here’s a representative list from the first several chapters of the book: fools are called lazy, sluggards, lying, dishonest, ignorant, knowing nothing, complacent, and ignoring wisdom.

That description is pretty negative! Even mean and nasty! That’s one thing about the book of Proverbs. It doesn’t pull any punches. When the authors of Proverbs see something the matter, they name it. They call it as they see it, to use a baseball analogy. There’s nothing ambiguous or wavering about the word picture drawn by Proverbs.

What can be done about this situation? Is it hopeless?

The Epistle of James sheds some light on the subject of wisdom. Looking at Chapter 1, verse 5, let’s listen to the words from the Apostle: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” So here, in the book of James, we have God making the offer of wisdom, again!

So, not only do we see a personification of Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 8, waiting for us, urging us to reach out for wisdom, but here in the book of James, God wants us to ask for wisdom! God is more than willing to give it. The Apostle James says that God gives to all, generously and ungrudgingly! That’s good news!

So, even when we’re faced with new, unknown circumstances or a different kind of puzzle, we do have somewhere to turn. We can go to God, pray to God for wisdom and understanding, and God will come through! He will not leave us alone and helpless, struggling in a pool of foolishness.

Can any of us imagine the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz” NOT asking for a brain? That’s one great thing about that character! He wasn’t afraid to ask. He wasn’t shy. And neither should we be. We can certainly step right up and ask! And God gives to all, generously and ungrudgingly.

This free, gracious offer of wisdom can serve as a guide through difficult and puzzling cirecumstances. We can see that God is with us, and will be there for us through thick and thin, through the good times and the not-so-good times.

Whenever we’re uncertain, puzzled, in need of wisdom, God has made us the best offer of all–the offer of His wisdom. Praise God we have such a good and generous God, Who so willingly and lovingly gives us generous gifts and guides us along every winding road.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)

Thread of Covenant Love

“Thread of Covenant Love”

covenant love heart

February 28, 2016 – Isaiah 55:3-7

King David. Remember him? There’s lots to remember! Youngest of his family, anointed king by the prophet Samuel, killed the Philistine giant Goliath, ran away from King Saul, hid out in the wilderness for years, developed into a guerilla leader of men, finally became king after years of running in the desert. That King David. The David who became one of the greatest leaders of the nation of Israel ever in biblical history. That King David.

Throughout history, there have been many great kings, many decisive leaders of their nations. However, few have had the explicit blessing of God. What’s more, King David is called “a man after God’s own heart.” Pretty high praise for some petty king of a medium-sized tribe, somewhere in the Middle East. God even makes a covenant with David, showing him covenant love and promise.

God loved humanity. From the very beginning, when God created heaven and earth, we can see how much God cared about the creation, everything that was made. Especially humans. As the book of Genesis narrows its focus, God chooses one person in particular to bless. Abraham. God even makes a covenant with Abraham! Showing him covenant love.

We can follow God’s covenant promise. God’s covenant love through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Keep following the thread of covenant love through Joseph and the descendants of Abraham to Moses. God makes another covenant at Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments! And, we still follow that thread of covenant love, all the way through the next generations.

Follow that love to David. Remember King David? The youngest of his family. The most unlikely to succeed, if you asked his older brothers. But God saw something there. Something inside of David. God was aware of what—of who David was, on the inside.

Let’s read the verse we’re highlighting today again, to refresh our memories. The prophet says, “Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.”

What is a covenant? That is one of those bible words tossed around by ministers who do not always take the time to make certain their congregations know what they are talking about.ent

Here I’ve been talking about “covenant” for the past couple of minutes. For those who know what a covenant is, wonderful! So glad you do! For the rest of us who are not sure, I’ll tell us. To reassure all of us, and remind us again of what the topic for the morning is.

Webster’s Dictionary says a covenant is “an agreement between persons.” This is amplified by the theological definition: “the promises of God as revealed in the Scriptures.” I hope that was helpful for all of us. Helpful for our understanding of “covenant love.”

God loved David very much. God even said to David (through the prophet Nathan, recorded in 2 Samuel 7), “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” Here is one of the statements that we can trace through the Old Testament. This promise of covenant love is passed down through the prophets, in the book of Psalms, even in several places in the New Testament. And—we can draw a picture of God’s love towards us from the image of God’s love to David.

Take God’s love: a voluntary impulse, for sure! God did not have to love David at all. But—God did! God was kind, merciful, and loving toward David.

Question: is God’s love toward us today a voluntary impulse? I think, yes. God did not have to love any of us, at all. But—God did! In the same way, God is kind, merciful and loving toward us, as well!

            As we follow the thread of covenant love through King David’s life, we see that David does some bad stuff. God said that covenant love would not be taken away from David, true. Despite the sins David had committed, God’s good pleasure continued to rest on David. Moreover, God’s everlasting covenant continued to rest on David, undeserving as he was. Simply because God said so.

How does that compare to us, to the situation we are in? Do we deserve God’s covenant love? Do we earn God’s good pleasure? Sure, we sin, too. (Just like King David.) Yet, God embraces us, just as God embraced David.

Just as David sinned, so did David’s descendants. For instance, the later kings of Israel started to worship other gods—in addition to the God who gave them the land of Israel to dwell in. The later kings and many of the people of Israel started to cheat and defraud their neighbors—which goes against the Law of Moses. The later kings stopped following the Lord who made heaven and earth, and started to promote sacrifices to other gods. The Lord tries to get the people of Israel to return to the worship of the Lord God alone, but the people end up scattered far and wide over the next centuries. Until—until the birth of Jesus, fulfilling prophecy. Jesus fulfilled the promise of covenant love.

Again, from Psalm 89:35-36. “Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness—and I will not lie to David—36 that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun;”

This reminds me of the promise received in the New Testament. As we trace this thread of God’s covenant love through the centuries and through the pages of the Bible, listen again to Isaiah 55:3—“Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.”
I want to show everyone these several passages of Scripture to let all of us know that God extends covenant love to Jesus, God’s incarnate Son.

We see that same self-sacrificing love in Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross that our sins might be forgiven.

Just as David did not deserve the abundant, abiding, covenant love of God, so neither do we deserve that love. That kindness, grace and mercy. God is so loving and patient.

We know that before David ruled as king, he ran away from King Saul, hiding in the wilderness for years. I am sure he refined his loving relationship with God then. However, what about us, today? How can we develop our relationship with the Lord? Often times it seems that we turn to the Lord when there is nowhere else to go. God could turn God’s back upon us. That is true. But, no! God extends God’s covenant love towards us, too!

It is not for us, to stand idly by on the sidelines. No!

Are we sharing God’s covenant love with those who need to hear? Many are hiding in loneliness and desperation thinking that no one loves them. We can introduce them to our Lord Jesus. We can tell them of the love of God that we have received through Christ. With our Lord Jesus we can find acceptance and security, and most importantly, love. The thread of covenant love, traced down to today.

God is offering that love to us, today. Can you feel it?

May it be so! Amen.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!