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A Trinitarian Perspective: The Holy Spirit, Changing Us With Love (Pentecost, June 4, 2017)

Acts 2:1-21; 1Cor 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23

The Day of Pentecost is, for the church, one of the “Big Three Holidays,” right up there with Christmas and Easter. One reason it doesn’t get the publicity is that Hallmark and big retailers haven’t figured out how to make a profit off of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost has been celebrated by Jews forever. It means “50,” and was celebrated 50 days after Passover. It’s also called in the Jewish faith the Festival of Weeks, celebrated as a harvest festival. Not a big decoration theme for the mall.

More than retailers and TV specials, Pentecost doesn’t get the press of Easter and Christmas because it is about the Holy Spirit. And we really don’t get the Holy Spirit. So we don’t make Pentecost a big deal.

But it is a big deal. It’s all about the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised, and that in John, Jesus actually breathes into us. The Holy Spirit. The left-over member of the Trinity. The one we don’t really know what to do with. The aspect of God we ignore because we can’t really define. But if we don’t know the Holy Spirit, how can we claim to know God?

We are more comfortable with God the Father, the Creator. We know who that is and what that role is. Creator. When we pray, usually this is who we envision, isn’t it? Isn’t is usually God the Father we imagine answers our prayers? But this is also a God who seems far off, remote, waiting for us to call upon him (always “him”!). And, we believe it is God the Father who comes down and intervenes in the world to answer our prayers. If we have enough faith, we are told. For some reason, we seem to be OK with a god like that.

Or Jesus, God the Son is OK too. We understand him as a historical figure who “died for our sins.” 2000 years ago, he died, rose, and ascended. We pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, which separates our prayers from people of other faiths, I guess. Jesus is a good person, a moral guide, but also often far off—at least in history. We use his name with respect, and claim to follow him. But too often following him simply means being a good person. For some reason, we seem to be OK with that.

But the Holy Spirit is different. The Holy Spirit is God present here and now, with real people in real situations. The Holy Spirit elicits the heart of Christ from within us.

When we express compassion, that’s God present: the Holy Spirit.

When we love someone, that’s God present: the Holy Spirit.

When we are generous, that’s God present: the Holy Spirit.

When we are moved by beautiful music or art, that is God present: the Holy Spirit.

When we become angry at an injustice perpetrated on someone who is weak or vulnerable, that’s God present: the Holy Spirit.

I wonder if we have more problems with the Holy Spirit because we want to put parameters around the Spirit, the same way we do with he Father and the Son. That may well be part of the issue for us—the Spirit cannot be controlled or influenced! Instead, the Spirit influences us! And that isn’t always comfortable.

If we’re OK thinking of God as a far-off entity that exists outside of us, the Holy Spirit can be unsettling. Because the Holy Spirit is God all up in our lives, doing whatever she wants, whenever she wants. If we give in to that, well, who knows what could happen?! We could, you know, change!

Yet that’s what the Holy Spirit does within us. I know a woman who all her life had maintained pretty “traditional” views on marriage and family. She used obscure Bible verses she saw on TV to feel better about her assumption of marriage being between a man and a woman. She was religious, but for her, God was “out there” somewhere, watching to make sure his people didn’t commit too many sins and went to church. Her parents and her circle of religious friends didn’t make a big deal about it, but said homosexuality was a sin. So she just held the same position her parents held without ever really thinking about it.

Then one day her daughter pulled her aside and said they needed to talk. They were close, so the woman knew something significant was up. “I’m gay,” her daughter told her. “I’ve wanted to tell you for years, but was afraid you would kick me out or quit loving me.”

The woman was shocked. She hadn’t even thought about this possibility. She did two wise things, however. She told her daughter that nothing could make her stop loving her. And she asked for a few days to process this news.

During those few days, she prayed, she cried, she shouted, she researched, and she prayed some more. But as confused as she was, the overriding position she kept coming back to was that this was her daughter and she loved her with all her heart. Nothing could change that.

Her daughter’s sexual orientation didn’t seem like such a big deal after that. It was love that mattered. And love was all that mattered. So she found that her position on homosexuality changed. God present: the Holy Spirit moved her with love to change. She didn’t ask for it or hope for it. God present: the Holy Spirit, blew in and made God’s love real—with real people in real situations.

With the Holy Spirit, God can no longer be far off in heaven answering some prayers and ignoring others. With the Holy Spirit, God is here, right now, messing with us. With the Holy Spirit, the nature—the heart—of God becomes real and connects inside us. And we are changed by the heart of God to be more like Christ. With the Holy Spirit, none of us are safe, because with the Holy Spirit, God’s love, grace, compassion, forgiveness and justice become real in our lives, with real faces on real people in real life. With the Holy Spirit, you never know what’s going to happen. Hang on. Happy Pentecost.

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Posted by on June 5, 2017 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.

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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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Holy Trinity–I Don’t Get It

The Holy Trinity

Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

I’ve come to accept over the years that I simply will never understand the doctrine of the Trinity. Three persons in one God. God-triune. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All different, yet all God. Not three gods, but one God, just in three expressions.

Don’t get me wrong, I can explain it. I’ve done it several times in sermons. I do it every year in Confirmation classes. I give those middle schoolers an excellent theological explanation of this basic Christian doctrine—a belief that separates Christianity from any other religion, philosophy, or ideology in history. I make the explanation simple yet profound. Humorous yet deep. Theologically accurate yet understandable. And every year I get the same blank stares, the same “I thought Jesus was the Son of God, not God. How can God be both Father and Son to himself?” Which are very good questions.

One of the coolest things about teaching Confirmation is that the second you start blowing smoke, middle school kids smell it. So I end up having to admit to them that I don’t get it either. Don’t understand it, I tell them, just know it, because there will be a test on this.

That’s simply not good enough. And yet, how can you explain that which cannot be explained? How can you understand that which cannot be understood? You can’t.

Which kind of leaves a big hole in worship today, as this is the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. If it can’t be explained or understood, what do we do today? Instead of explaining God, maybe our time would be better spent attempting to experience God.

You may have noticed we’ve done a few things differently today. A little more formal, a little more dressed up. Our worship space doesn’t necessary lend itself to formality all that well, but there’s a reason for attempting it today. What we’re trying to do is add a sense of importance, even majesty to our worship. We are encountering God together, and nothing can be more important than that. We’re trying to convey a sense of God’s immensity, grandeur, and splendor this morning. Perhaps something like what the prophet Isaiah experienced.

Consider this: the prophet is in the temple, in the presence of God. He experiences a vision of the Almighty—angels, a high throne, the foundations of the temple shaking, smoke. The entire temple is filled up, not with the presence of God, but with just the hem of his robe. That’s how much larger than life the Lord is.

And Isaiah knows at that moment that he cannot survive this encounter. Not that he’ll be struck dead by an angry God, but that simply being in God’s presence will overwhelm him. The presence of God exposes just how puny and unworthy he really is. He knows that he will be swept away in the power and the holiness of this Lord of hosts. He is helpless in God’s presence. He can do nothing but stand there in awe, knowing that he is not worthy of anything but woe from this One whose hem fills the temple. Isaiah has seen the King, the Lord of hosts, and he knows he brings nothing to the table, nothing to this encounter.

That’s the sense of awe I hope you begin to experience today. We are in the presence of a God whose hem fills this whole building. All the creatures of heaven attend to the Lord who has called us here. The earth is full of God’s glory; it shakes the very foundations of this place. To be in the presence of the Almighty is to realize how unworthy, how weak, how sinful, how limited we truly are. There is nothing about us that can have any value to this awesome God. There is no way to be worthy in God’s presence. We are, at our core, insignificant.

Even though Isaiah knows he is inconsequential in the presence of God, note what happens.

One of the angels, a seraph, takes a live coal from the altar and touches the prophet’s mouth with it. On behalf of God, the angel declares that now that this live coal from God’s altar has touched his lips, he is forgiven, he is holy, he is worthwhile. He has been called  by God. And when God asks who shall be sent, Isaiah is able to respond, “Here am I; send me!” He has been made righteous by the God who is infinitely more righteous than he is, and now he can be sent in God’s name. Not because he’s good or believes or holds scripture high enough or gives enough money away, but because God touched him and made him righteous.

That’s the point Paul in making in the Romans text. God adopts us, God makes us heirs, God does it all—not because we’ve good enough, but in spite of that fact that we aren’t!

This mighty, holy, awe-inspiring God claims us out of love for us. That’s what gospel-writer John is trying to get across in the Nicodemus story. God doesn’t ask our opinion, doesn’t consider whether in our puny self-assessment we think accepting Jesus is a good idea or not. God acts, God moves, God loves, and God gives new birth—new life.

And now we are called. God gathers us here, comes to us in his Word, touches us with his presence in bread and wine from God’s altar. And whether we understand it or not, God is the One who makes us worthy, righteous, and holy.

If we worship well, we are aware each week of how puny and insignificant we are on our own. Yet in worship this unexplainable God meets us in love, touches us, and declares our forgiveness. Though we are nothing, the God of all creation loves us and makes us worthwhile. Not because we deserve it, but because God simply defies explanation.

We can pretend to understand the doctrine of the Trinity. But in reality, that doctrine, like God, is beyond our comprehension. And the Triune God, for some incomprehensible reason, has declared our guilt departed and our sin blotted out. Who will go reveal that to the world? Here we are; send us!

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2012 in Sermon

 

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