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Holy Trinity, Hamilton, Fathers’ Day, and the Pride Parade (June 16, 2019)

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

This is the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. This doctrinal description of one God existing as three Persons is unique among all religions that proclaim one God. It is so unique, so novel, that even Christians don’t really get it.

Yet, the purpose is to help us know something about this indescribable God. Let’s look at it this way:

I’m going to read two partial reviews of the hit Broadway musical, “Hamilton”:

“The singular genius of Hamilton, the greatest musical ever written, is that it recognizes that the American Revolution did not end with Yorktown, but is ongoing, even today, and that there are Founders of America being born even as we speak” (DC Theatre Scene).

Do you get a sense of this musical from that review? Or try this one:

“Is Hamilton overhyped? The musical created by some guy from Puerto Rico about a treasury secretary in the 1700s set to hip-hop sounds a little strange. . . .” (Dallas Observer).

Do you get a different sense of it? Different, but you still get some idea of what this musical is about.

The doctrine of the Trinity is like that. It’s like the review of a play. You probably hear about the play or read a review first, and from that you get a sense of what the play is about, what it’s like. But the review is not the play. You have to go to the play; you have to experience a performance of Hamilton yourself. Then, perhaps, when you go back and look at the reviews, you can see how they make sense.

You can know everything about a review that describes a musical, but it’s more important to know the musical that is being described in the review.

You can know everything about a doctrine that describes God, but it is more important to know the God who is described in this doctrine.

Many of us as kids heard about or were taught this doctrine of the Trinity, which hopefully reveals something about the God being described. From my experience with the God described as Three-in-One, here’s where the doctrine of the Trinity makes sense: God exists as relational community. The nature of God is relational. “Three-in-one” is describing a relationship. The nature of God is intimate, sharing, self-giving, mutual—those things that become real in relationships. That’s who God is. And the doctrine of the Trinity attempts to describe that.

What’s more, because we are created in the image of this “three-in-one” relational God, God is experienced most fully by us through relationships. We are relationship creatures. We are empowered by relationships and sustained by relationships. We know one another—and therefore ourselves—through our relationships. We exist most fully in the relationships of a community. We live in communities of all kinds: American community, Colorado community, a school community, communities created by hobbies or passions, family communities. Any group of people where we are able to share ourselves, support each another, encourage one another reveals through those relationships the image of God—the God who is relational community: a holy Trinity.

There are various degrees of experiencing God as community. I took sailing classes last summer during my sabbatical, and was part of that community. Based on a common interest (for some a definite passion) in sailing, it was fun. We had that in common and therefore there was a real sense of community. Not the people I would turn to in a crisis, but a sense of community to be sure. I got a little glimpse of God in those relationships.

On the other hand, I’ve experienced profound support and encouragement here at times. When I’ve been in crisis mode, there are people in this church who have expressed more love and genuine care than I knew existed. That sense of being held by a community when you can’t hold yourself is an astonishing experience of God.

The more authentic we can be in a community, the more we can be loved for who we are in a community, the more we can give and receive support in a community — the more we are experiencing God, who is, as Trinity, the creator of community.

So it matters that as a church community, we reflect and reveal the image of God—as community. And the more fully and deeply we experience authentic relationships in community, the more fully and deeply we are experiencing God.

That’s the foundation of who we are as a congregation. We are a community created by the God who is community. It’s our nature to be authentic and real and supportive and unconditional in our love—the most significant aspects of relationships in a community. So it’s what we strive to reveal and to be. A community where you can be who you are, where you don’t have to be alone in your pain, where you can be encouraged and loved, where you can find kindness and forgiveness and grace. In other words, a community where you experience God.

On this Father’s Day we recognize the importance of supportive, caring relationships. And on this day of Denver’s Pride Parade, we recognize that everyone is worthy of that kind of loving, supportive, community.

As I experience God in that way—through loving, caring, genuine relationships—the doctrine of the Holy Trinity begins to make sense. One God who is three persons: a community. A Holy Trinity.

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Posted by on June 17, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Forgiveness Has a Purpose (May 27, 2018)

Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Isaiah was a professional prophet. He was a temple employee in Jerusalem as one who speaks for God in service to the king. His ministry was during the 8th century BC at a time when Judah was actually doing well. King Uzziah had built new wells for the fields and watchtowers to be alert to invaders. The army was strong and things had finally turned around after a series of pretty bad kings. So Isaiah’s life wasn’t too bad.

Before this text, however, King Uzziah had made a mistake. His pride had gotten the better of him, apparently, and he decided he didn’t need the temple priests—even though their role was specifically designated by God. So, against God’s law, he went into the temple and was about to make an offering on his own. He was confronted by the priests and, as the story goes, was stricken with leprosy for this grievous infraction.

He had to live apart from everyone else and couldn’t rule that way. So he had to hand over the kingdom of Judah to his son Jotham.

Anyway, after suffering with leprosy for about 11 years, king Uzziah died. And Isaiah’s life was turned upside down. Not because Uzziah died—it actually had nothing to do with that—but because God, out of the blue, called Isaiah to a very specific prophetic ministry. A ministry he neither asked for nor wanted.

He had this bizarre vision of the greatness of God: the majesty, the awesomeness, the sovereignty of God were so vast that just the edge of God’s robe filled the entirety of the temple. Creatures were swirling around shouting about the holiness of God. And in the presence of the majesty of God’s glory, Isaiah suddenly realized how lowly and pathetic he, and all of Judah, really were.

But Isaiah’s sad condition didn’t stop God. One of the heavenly creatures took a hot coal from the altar and touched Isaiah’s mouth with it. Then this creature shouted, Now you’re forgiven. All’s good.

At that point Isaiah heard God ask, I’ve got a message for my people. Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?

Newly forgiven Isaiah rises up, Here am I; send me.

That’s where the text ends. Which is really unfortunate. Because we don’t get to hear what Isaiah was sent to do. Let me tell you, it wasn’t great. His call by God was very specific, very clear. He was called by God to tell the people that God says they’re never going to get it, they’ll never understand. No matter how hard they try, they will never see what God is about, never hear it, never know it. That was his God-appointed message. Can you imagine being the one sent to tell people that?

It’s at that point that Isaiah realizes this new prophet gig isn’t what he thought it would be, and says, Uhmm, so how long do I have to do this?

A couple of things to note that are relevant for us. 1) Forgiveness is about removing barriers. Isaiah was forgiven (with the live coal) not to get into heaven when he died, but forgiveness was actually removing barriers between Isaiah and God so that he could be with God to say these hard things in God’s name. And, 2) A call from God is always specific to the context. Isaiah was called by God to do this because it is what God needed at that time and in that place.

In the same tone as Isaiah, we are forgiven and called. Both individually and congregationally. We are forgiven and called.

Re: Forgiveness: It’s important that we grow beyond the preschool notion that Jesus died on the cross so I can be forgiven and go to heaven when I die. Forgiveness has a purpose in God’s work in the world. Forgiveness removes the barriers between us and God so that we are no longer separated from God but are with God in God’s mission in the world of love, compassion, mercy, and grace. Forgiveness is not an end in itself. Forgiveness allows us to join God in loving the world.

Re: Being Called: Our call to join God is probably more specific than we assume. It’s one thing to say, “Love the world in Jesus’s name.” But it’s another thing to say, “God calls me to show love in the world that looks like this particular thing.”

God is active in this time and in this place. And God’s love for the world meets the world as it is now. Our call is to show God’s love in this part of the world. What gifts, what passions do you have that allow you to show love? That’s probably God’s call to you!

Let me give you a personal example. I grew up in Ogden, UT as the only non-Mormon family in the neighborhood, so I was already on the outside looking in. I was the smart, nerdy, insecure kid who wasn’t good at sports and played the clarinet in the band. I got beat up more days than I didn’t. Got the picture? I was never the “popular” kid.

But as painful as parts of that were, I have a heart—a passion—for those people who get left out, pushed away, not included. Part of my “Isaiah-type” call from God is to welcome the unwelcomed, include the excluded. Which is why you hear me preach so often about racism, sexism, LGBTQ, poverty. In our context today, these are among the people who have historically been excluded from privilege and power. God has called me to speak of God’s call to love these.

And God keeps removing the barriers that are in the way of me doing this. More and more. Day after day. Sometimes the same barriers have to keep being removed. Sometimes I discover God is removing a new one. But that removal of barriers is forgiveness, so that I can follow God’s call.

Isaiah wasn’t called to change the world. Isaiah was called to follow God’s call in a specific time and in a specific place.

Pause in silence for a minute. . . . Think about the world in which you live. Your context. . . . Where is there a lack of compassion that bothers you? . . . Where are you aware of hatred or violence or exclusion being shown? . . . God sees it too.

This is why you are forgiven. This is why barriers between you and God have been removed. You are forgiven.  And God now asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Who can show my love and grace and compassion in that situation?

Newly forgiven and called people of God, now we rise up and say, “Here we are; send us.”

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2018 in Sermon

 

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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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The Trinity Means that Jesus Shows Us What God is Like

John 16:12-15

12‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When 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. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

______________________________________________

This is the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. God as Three. God as One. God as three-in-one. Father, Son, Spirit. Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. This is probably my least favorite Sunday of the church year. There’s no miraculous story to dig into, no exciting historical events to unpack, no drama or humor to tag onto. It’s a doctrine. And, quite honestly, not our best one. Someone once said that whoever has come up with an explanation of the Trinity that satisfies them has just dishonored the Trinity. The Holy Trinity is a doctrine that is simply our best effort at explaining that which cannot be explained. Try as we might, we just aren’t going to really understand it. God is, by definition, beyond our understanding.

But here’s what we do know. The Holy Trinity is the uniquely Christian way of describing God. We trust that God is truly Father, Son, and Spirit. The Father, the Creator, is God. The Son, the Redeemer, is God. The Spirit, the Sanctifier, is God. Not three gods, but One God.These three persons, who are the One God, relate, support, interdwell together. The relationship they share reveals the image of God in which we are made.

I want to think about the implications of the Trinity as a uniquely Christian explanation of God, for what that means in the world and to the world. How often have you heard someone say they think Jesus is fine, but aren’t sold on church? Pretty much everyone likes Jesus, right? Why do you suppose that is? What is it about Jesus that people seem to appreciate? What do you know about Jesus that is meaningful for you?________, ___________, __________, ___________.

If we take the doctrine of the Trinity seriously, we are saying that these things we described about Jesus are what we know God to be like. That’s a uniquely Christian thing to say. Because we know Jesus to be (______), we know that God is (________).

My sister and brother-in-law were in town last week. We took them into Denver to see where our daughter’s wedding reception will be next April. It’s actually an art gallery, which makes it rather unique for a wedding reception. While we were there, I was walking through the gallery and happened on a set of paintings that captured my attention. They were intriguing.

As we kept moving through the gallery, I kept coming back to these paintings, and bringing people with me to look at them. Don’t you find these interesting? Don’t you think they’re beautiful? Don’t you think they are worth $2000 apiece? Wouldn’t you love some of these hanging in your house (I asked Lois that one. Her answer was something about the $2000 apiece, which I think meant “no”)?

After about the fourth time back visiting this set of paintings, one of the gallery employees came up to me and said that the artist was in the gallery and was right then sitting about 8 feet away. Would you like me to introduce you? Yes!

So I had a chance to chat for several minutes with the artist of these paintings that I had found so intriguing. She explained her ideas and her inspiration which came from the emotions she experienced when seeing the morning sun completely change the appearance of the Rocky Mountains. She told me how long she’d worked on them and why this particular style was important to her. I thanked her and asked for one of her business cards.

Next time I walked by these paintings, of course I looked at them again. But this time, they were more than intriguing, more than interesting. There was a depth and a significance that wasn’t there before. I wasn’t just looking at a style of painting that I appreciated, I was seeing the artist too. What I knew about the artist was then part of what I knew about the paintings.

What we know about Jesus is part of what we know about God.

Think about what that means for the next conversation you have with someone who admires Jesus, but doesn’t necessarily go any further. What do they admire about Jesus? Perhaps they know more about God then, than they think. The Trinity means that Jesus shows us what God is like. If Jesus loves sinners, God does too. If Jesus forgave those who hate him, God does too. If Jesus welcomed those who were outcast, God does too. If Jesus showed mercy to those who were poor, God does too. The Trinity means that Jesus shows us what God is like.

This is the image of God in which we are created. This is the God we show to the world. One who loves the world—and loves us. One who forgives the world—and forgives us. One who welcomes the world—and welcomes us. One who shows mercy to the world—and shows mercy to us.

If we believe Jesus died and rose again, the doctrine of the Trinity means that we believe in a God who enters into the darkest parts of our lives and brings forth life. Not because we believe it, but because that’s the nature of God—the Trinity means that Jesus shows us what God is like.

The Trinity is the good news we bring to the world. Not a doctrine that you have to buy into, but an experience of what the God we trust is like. Jesus shows us. Amen.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Sermon

 

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