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“Experience God” Sunday (Holy Trinity), May 22, 2016

John 16:12-15

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Trinity Sunday is the only day of the church calendar devoted to a doctrine. So I tend to think it’s the worst Sunday of the year. Not because I don’t like doctrines, because I do (at least some of them), but because I don’t think our time in Sunday worship is the best place to deal with our doctrines. Classes and lectures are better suited, I think. Doctrines are what we teach, what our history has led to, the particulars as to what makes us different than other people, theological places where me might draw lines in the sand. So, yeah, deal with doctrines in a class setting. With lots of opportunity to ask questions and think and share and argue and find relevance. In that way I think doctrines are fun! But not in worship.

That got me thinking that if Sundays aren’t really to emphasize doctrines, what should Sundays be about?

When you get down to it, our Sunday worship really is more about the experience of God than the knowledge about God. It’s one thing to know God is forgiving, it’s another thing entirely to experience forgiveness. Knowing God loves you is way different than actually being loved.

Which got me thinking that maybe I’ve been going about this Trinity Sunday all wrong. Maybe instead of teaching a doctrine so we can know a theory trying to explain God as 3-in-1, maybe instead we should consider the experience of the Trinity.

That’s really where our best doctrines come from anyway: attempts to explain our experiences of God. Martin Luther’s experience of a gracious God of mercy was different than a harsh God of judgment he’d been taught. So he tried to explain that and the Protestant Reformation began.

The early church didn’t have a doctrine of the Trinity–that didn’t formalize until the end of the 4th century. The problem was Jesus. It appears that his earliest disciples experienced him as divine in some way, yet every good Jew knew there was only one God. So how could they talk about their Jesus experience? It took a few centuries, but the doctrine of the Trinity was the best explanation the church could come up with. There is one God, but that one God is comprised of three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Spirit.

Personally, I imagine the bishops who met and voted on this kind of walking away afterward a little embarrassed. This confusing piece of doctrine was the best they could come up with. But it stuck, became orthodoxy, and here we are.

So if the doctrine of the Trinity was the 4th century church’s attempt at explaining how the disciples experienced God in Jesus, how would we try to explain our experience of God? Doctrines start with an attempt at explaining an experience. So let’s start with our experience of God.

I can’t teach an experience of God, but I can share it. My strongest experiences of God have taken place when I wasn’t even sure if I believed in God. There have been times when everything I thought could sustain me failed. Like all at once. My friends, my credentials, my education, my confidence, my strengths, my health, my faith, and even my treasured theology all have let me down at one time or another. But when they all fail at the same time, that’s bad.

How do you hang on to something for support when it can’t support you? How do you lift yourself up by your credentials when you realize they count for nothing? How do you cling to a God that seems to have disappeared? How do you ask for help when the very people you could ask are the ones kicking you down? How do you keep from falling when there is nothing there to hold you up?

The answer is you don’t. You can’t. You just fall because that’s all there is.

And that’s when I’ve experienced God most profoundly. In the falling. Because when I come to realize there’s nothing to stop the fall, that’s when I’ve understood that I’m held in God’s hands. All my goodness, unselfishness, hard work, good theology, overcoming difficulties made no difference. I was just being held. But my vulnerabilities, weaknesses, failures, and insecurities didn’t make any difference either. I was just being held. It wasn’t about me, it was about God. This experience says nothing about me, but everything about God. It’s not about who I am or am not, but all about who God is.

So if I were to make this experience of God into a doctrine, what would it be called? The doctrine of the Big, Soft Hands? Would this be Holy Catcher’s Mitt Sunday?

Probably not. But perhaps my experience of God resonates with you. And maybe your experience of God could touch my heart, or the heart of someone else. And then together, when we share our divine experiences, we all understand God better and maybe even trust God a little more deeply. And wouldn’t we all be better off for that?

So maybe instead of “Holy Trinity Sunday,” we could call this “Experience God Sunday.” And we all come together and share our experience of being in the presence of the Holy. Wouldn’t that be exciting?!

What’s your experience of God? I’d like to hear it. I think it would be good to share it with someone. Or if you can’t do that, then at least watch for it.

I trust in God. I trust that not because I know the doctrine of the Trinity, but because I’ve experienced being held in God’s hands.

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Posted by on May 23, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Cinderella and Faith: The Condensed Versions

Acts 10:34-43; Acts 17:22-31

If I were to ask you to tell the story of Cinderella in two sentences, could you do it? Anyone willing to give that a try? . . . (volunteer?)

How did s/he do?

Now, there’s a lot of detail that had to be left out, but the main points of the story can be covered, right?

Most of it, probably. If we were all to do share the story of Cinderella in two sentences, each of us would do it a bit differently. None of us would have identical sentences.

Why would that be? Some of us have influenced by the Disney animated version from 1950. Or the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical version. Or any of the at least 36 movie versions of this story. Then there’s the Grimm’s Faerie tale version. Or even the original version from France published in 1634.

Add to that, we each use language a little differently.

What if your life resembled Cinderella’s?

And because of my own personal perspective, what may be a critical point for you might be a little different than a critical point for me. Are the glass slippers an essential part of the story? How important is the goodness of Cinderella even in her circumstances? Is the moral of the story an important aspect? And if so, would we all agree exactly on what that moral is?

Trying to boil down a story with a lot of detail and a lot of history into a couple of sentences might be more difficult than we thought.

Then there’s the audience you’re telling the story of Cinderella to. What if your audience was preschool children living in poverty? Or a wealthy person who abuses hired help? Or a group of college professors, all of whom have PhDs in literature? It might change a bit.

That is Paul’s difficulty in Acts 17. And Peter’s in Acts 10. Both are trying to condense a history-changing story down into a few sentences. To people they don’t know well, but who’ve asked to hear it.

How would you do that?

Peter and Paul each tell the story of Jesus differently, in part because of vastly different audiences. Peter starts out by saying, “You know the message [God] sent to the people of Israel”. But Paul starts by saying, “I found among [the objects of your worship] an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’”

Peter’s version of the story of God’s forgiveness and love is based on his personal friendship with Jesus; as an apostle and disciple who witnessed the crucifixion and the resurrected Christ.

Paul was not one of the original disciples. He knew very little about Jesus until the resurrected Christ came to him on the road to Damascus.

So of course their accounts will be different. They are telling this story of God’s grace and new life based on what is important to each of them. They have different experiences of God’s grace in Christ, God’s forgiveness in Christ, and God’s new life in Christ. So the story is going to come out differently for each of them. They even argue about a few of the important points, but they know their story, their experience, the difference in their lives. They tell it from their perspective.

Just like each of us. We have a story to tell because we have experienced God’s forgiveness, love, grace, and compassion. Each differently. And so the way each of us tells about that is unique.

The story is ours to tell according to our experience with it. And we might even argue about what are the  most important parts.

So, what are the very foundational, most important parts of God’s story in the world for you? If you had to reduce your faith down to two sentences, what would those be?

Whatever those two sentences are, they are yours. They are unique based on your experiences with Christ. They are yours. And those two sentences need to be spoken.

Next week we’ll talk about whether people hear our stories or not. That actually isn’t our problem. Knowing what our stories are, and having the ability to articulate our own story in our own unique way is essential.

So take some time now, and like [name] did with Cinderella, write out two sentences that encompass the main points of your faith, your experience with God.

Once you have that, if you’re willing, I’d like you to go back to the prayer table, write them again, and place them in the prayer basket.  As part of the prayers of the people later on, it would be really cool to hear a whole bunch of two-sentence faith statements, our collective stories of God in Christ, forgiveness, and grace.

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2014 in Sermon

 

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