Sunday, June 7, 2009

Holy Trinity Sunday

ISAIAH 6:1-8; PSALM 29; ROMANS 8:12-17; JOHN 3:1-17

This may be the Sunday that you determine that your pastor is crazy. Holy Trinity Sunday is my favorite festival of the year. (It is a festival.) I get more out of this day than Christmas, Easter, Pentecost or even, dare I say it, Reformation Day. All other church festivals either commemorate something God has done for the world, send the Messiah, raise him from the dead, or the other festivals acknowledge aspects of history or of the life of faith, like Reformation or All Saints’.

Holy Trinity Sunday is different. The only festival that is celebrated around church doctrine, this day asks to look at who God is and our experience of God over us, God with us, and God in us. Born from this day are the other days we celebrate a God who cared enough to send His only begotten Son, a God who cared enough to die on the cross, a God who remains with us interceding with sighs to deep for words.

The Trinity is mysterious and crazy-making. Not in that the Three-in-One God is in the habit of making people crazy, but that trying to understand it could definitely stretch the limits of one’s sanity. We believe in one God made manifest in three persons. What? The Father, our Holy Parent, birthed creation, but the Son and the Spirit were present and active in that same act. The Son died on the cross for our sins, but spoke with the authority of the Father and through the inspiration of the Spirit who also gave of themselves on Calvary. The Spirit gives us strength and power to live our lives, but does so with the inspiration of the Father and with the love of Christ.

No one person of the Trinity is limited in their role or power. For us to say otherwise is heresy. For Three-in-One God to do otherwise is not in God’s nature. Confused? The Trinity is confusing, challenging and beautiful all at the same time. Let’s break it down as though we were going to give a report. Let’s look at the who, what, when, where, why and how of the Trinity.

Who is the Trinity? The Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One God, now and forever.

What is the Trinity? The Trinity is how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have chosen to relate to one another and to the world. Because of the great love that is within God and is God, there is a relational aspect, a relationship, within God’s own self that needs these three expressions. Who you are has several expressions: child, parent, spouse, former spouse, employee, employer, parishioner, volunteer, etc and each of those roles makes up your entire person. You are able to be more than one thing at a time because of the gifts you have and who you have been created to be.

God was not created, but has always been. However, due to the gifts that are God’s own- the Trinity is formed- a relationship that pours out love, mercy, judgment and forgiveness. It is three expressions of one great God, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God.

When is the Trinity? One God, now and forever. From Genesis, we know that the Spirit moved over the waters at creation, bringing forth God’s desire from chaos. From John, we know that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. We come to understand, through faith, that Word is Jesus the Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. From Paul, we learn that our heavenly Father extends to us an inheritance for which we did not work, but so that we might understand and believe that we have a place to belong and a family everlasting as children of God. When is the Trinity? One God, now and forever.

Where is the Trinity? Everywhere. Not only limited to the sacraments or sacred locations, but the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are God above us, God with us and God in us. Our Three-in-One God is always inspiring us to go forth, meeting us on the road and completing the work we cannot finish because of our human nature. Isaiah believes he will die because he is seeing the hem of God’s robe. He believes this because the Lord told Moses that no one could see God and live. Then the Lord moons Moses. (See Exodus 33, where the Lord does indeed show Moses his backside.) Rather than dying, Isaiah is called into the presence of the Lord so that he might know his own calling, his own sinfulness and God’s plan to send him out into the world. God reveals the plans for us in the same way, calling us, forgiving us and sending us out- but never alone. Always we are accompanied by the richness of God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit in all that we do.

Why is the Trinity? Maybe the best way to explain the “why” of the Trinity is to say something personal. I have almost always found the person of Jesus comforting. If I am mourning, I know that he wept over Lazarus. If I am rejoicing, I imagine him smiling at playing children and celebrating with the families of the healed. If I am tired, I imagine him sleeping in the boat during the storm. I cannot be the person Jesus was, but I appreciate that He understands the person I am.

When I found out that I was pregnant two days before Christmas, it was very overwhelming- to say the least. As the first weeks went by, it was hard to fully celebrate this miracle of life because I felt so surprised and very upset that Rob was going to be gone and we would not be together for this experience. So I began to think about Jesus. And then I felt frustrated. Jesus didn’t know how I felt about this. Jesus did not have a baby. He didn’t have mood swings, have to run to the bathroom all the time, worry about missing his spouse and think about the 900 foods he couldn’t eat. (Well, he might have done that. He was following Jewish dietary laws.)

I also thought of this congregation. Jesus did not get elderly or watch a spouse struggle with a terminal illness. All of this began to boil in my mind. This is where some people find comfort in the lives of the saints or Mary or the other apostles, but not me. Not only am I crazy about the Trinity, I am stubborn about the Trinity. If this is how God has chosen to express God’s self, then there is a good reason why.

The thing is, Jesus doesn’t cover all the bases. Jesus is God-with-us, but Jesus is not the only way that God accompanies us or the only way that God understands us. There can only have been one Messiah and so he was sent into the world, not to condemn the world, but that it might be saved through him. When I desperately want to know that Jesus understands what I’m experiencing, I forget that was not the only purpose of God’s human life on earth. Because God has made each of us, out of care and love, God does know what we are going through. We are pointed not only to Jesus, but to the entire Trinity so that we might have confidence that the One who made is us is also the Three who understand and are present with our every emotion and experience. Jesus the person might not have known what I felt or what you feel, but God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is always with us, in the thick of it.

How is the Trinity? They’re fine, thank you. In all seriousness, the how of the Trinity is where people get hung up, stopped and close their minds to God or to God’s full expression. The how of the Trinity is the aspect we don’t have to understand. We believe that Christ is present to us in the bread and wine. We don’t know how, but we believe through the gift of faith. We believe that God adopts us through baptism, when we cannot act on our own, and makes us. How exactly that works, we couldn’t say for sure, but we believe through faith. We believe that the Spirit ever creates in us a clean heart, sanctifying us throughout our live. How? God only knows, but we believe through faith.

So also through faith do we believe in a Three-in-One God, a God above us, God with us and God in us. This is the God who made us, who saved us through the cross and resurrection, who breathes life into us. Holy Trinity Sunday- where we are brought together to acknowledge that we don’t have the control, but God does and God reveals that strength to us in many, many ways. Here we learn that God’s own love and mercy are so great- that it takes three intertwined expressions to show it. Ever creative, comforting and compassionate- the Holy Trinity, the one True God, has the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever.


Holy Spirit at the Bat (Pentecost)

EZEKIEL 37:1-14; PSALM 104:24-34, 35B; ACTS 2:1-21; JOHN 15:26-27, 16:4B-15

The valley was deep and wide in front of Ezekiel that day:
The bones lay bare and dry; he knew not what to say.
And then the Lord questioned, and Ezekiel did reply,
“Mortal, can these bones live?” “Lord, you know better than I”.

Ezekiel drew in his breath and made his voice heard well
“Oh, dry, dry bones. Dry, quiet bones, hear what I do tell
Knees and elbows, thighs and hips- all a skeleton has to give-
Hear this word from your Lord, receive sinews and flesh and live.”

Before his eyes, the bones did rise and stand upon the ground-
Bone met bone, from head to toe, with a fierce rattling sound.
There were bodies standing with ears open, waiting to hear
The word the Lord wanted sent forth about his presence, near.

Ezekiel called forth the wind, as he had been told to do,
The standing bodies inhaled and breathed with life anew;
They were a sign for Israel of what the Lord had done.
The bodies showed that in the end, always, the Lord has won.

How did those bones together come and how were they alive?
God’s Spirit works in strange, new ways and causes all to thrive.
The same Spirit moved on Peter, who was the church’s rock.
Reborn, on fire, the disciples seemed drunk at nine o’clock.

Jerusalem gathered for Pentecost celebration.
Annually, they recalled God’s own gifts unto their nation.
Jesus’ followers were together, waiting on God’s word.
Then tongues of flame descended and, oh!, the noise that was heard.

Each person began to speak in a language not his own.
The Spirit’s power gave them ability, voice, strength, words and tone.
The crowd was surprised, hearing their languages spoken.
To simple Galileans, this gift from God was no mere token.

Then Peter stood, began to preach and the Spirit supplied the words:
As Ezekiel to dry bones, here too God’s power was heard.
Prophetic children, young men with visions and old men with dreams,
Spirit outpouring, all the world knows comes apart at the seams.

And what now does this matter, this strange, spiritual power?
Breathing on bones, at Pentecost and here in this hour?
Oh, why and how does this Holy Breath move within the world unbidden?
Its gifts are so public, so out there, and so unhidden.

The Lord God revealed unto Ezekiel the Spirit’s end goal.
Jesus told the disciples earthly life can and does take its toll.
The Advocate is for comfort, guidance and intercession.
If God seems hands off, that’s absolutely the wrong impression.

The Holy Spirit re-wets us. It baptizes and reforms our flesh-
So God’s will for creation and our understanding might mesh.
The dry bones received holy breath so they would know God anew.
Peter said to those listening, “This work is done for you.”

On this day, here in this church, we are called to recognize
The work of the Spirit is ongoing, right in front of our eyes.
Not just dry bones nor drunk with new wine, we do have more to give.
The Spirit among us, drives and compels you and me to live.

The Spirit gives us power now to hear the Truth, walk the Way, see the Lord.
Here we have so many gifts. There is so much need. How could we be bored?
So get up from your seats, share this news through song, speech and shout:
There is great joy in Anchorage- the Holy Spirit is let out!

Healing (24 May)

ACTS 1:15-17, 21-26; PSALM 1; 1 JOHN 5:9-13; JOHN 17:6-19

This week we mark the ascension of Christ into heaven. It falls in the church calendar right before Pentecost and we hardly ever notice it. Jesus speaks to his disciples again (Acts 1:4-11). After hearing this, the disciples go back to Jerusalem and do what? (They pray, they talk about Judas, they decide to elect a twelfth disciple.) The election of a twelfth is important because they were correlating the twelve apostles with the twelve tribes of Israel.

So they pray and come up with two names: Joseph-Barsabbas-Justus and Matthias. Then they essentially roll some dice or draw straws to confirm their selection. This was not that unusual at that time- remember the sailors casting lots to discover that Jonah was to blame for the storm at sea? The lots confirmed for the believers how they believed God was guiding them. They were leaning toward Matthias and the lots confirmed that choice.

Before the selection, however, how did they come up with the two choices? They looked at the men who had been with Jesus and with them, from the time of Jesus’ baptism through to the witnessing of the resurrection. That last part was crucial. They didn’t want someone who had witnessed most of the miracles or the teachings. The apostles knew that the witness and experience of the resurrection was crucial to the ability to minister to other people.

That’s something for us to think about: a witness to the resurrection, to the power of the risen Jesus, is crucial to the ability to minister to other people. After all, that is what brings us here. Beyond our parents or our grandparents, our habits, our social needs or anything else, the experience we have had with Jesus- the One who and the One who is to come- is what brings us back to this place, to be nourished and fed and what sends us back into the world.

This is even what Jesus is praying for his disciples and for us in today’s Gospel lesson. He asks the Father to sanctify us in truth, to make us holy through the reality that only comes from the Word that is with God and is God. That resurrected Word offers conviction, consolation and healing.

Healing. Ultimately, when we pray for one another- we are asking for a renewal of the experience of the resurrection and the joy of salvation. We long to see the restoration of the body and the return to life, as we’ve known it. However, life as we know it is not always God’s desire for us. God longs to sanctify us in truth, to make us more than we are and more than we thought we could be.

When we look to the resurrection and to one another as witnesses to that miracle, we are also looking to the God of unexpectedness and mysteriousness. The disciples chose Matthias to complete the twelve and believed that choice to be the will of God. How many of you know anything about Matthias beyond today’s story? Church history says he may have been a missionary to Ethiopia and what may be his remains rest in Germany today.

The disciples believed they knew God’s will and selected a reasonable candidate to fill their ranks- a man who had experienced Jesus as they understood Him, from beginning to beginning, baptism to resurrection. However, God completed the ranks of the apostles through calling Saul of Tarsus, who became the apostle Paul. Paul’s experience of the resurrection was a completely different witness, overcoming him in the middle of his intense opposition to Christianity- the risen Christ knocked him from his mount, turned his day into night and set him off in a completely new direction. Paul never got over it and neither did the message of Christ to the world. Sometimes witnesses to the resurrection don’t fit the mold we expect, the stories we know or the experiences that we have had.

And so, when we pray for one another for healing and restoration, we must keep this in mind. The healing may not look like what we desire. The restoration may not meet our checklist of requirements. It may not come in a time frame that we desire or in through the means we choose.

Yet, the resurrection experience comes to those who seek it and to those who are not expecting it. Healing does as well. We are called to be with one another, to pray for one another and share our experiences of resurrection with one another. We are called to ask for experiences of the resurrection for one another. This is how we are apostles and disciples to each other today. In the mutual caring of one another, God reveals His truth and we share together in the miracles that come through life daily- miracles of physical restoration, miracles of peaceful deaths, miracles of intensely shared pain, miracles of grief survived, miracles of quiet hope and faith.

Together we seek God’s will, we pray for healing, we share our faith. Together we proclaim, “Christ is risen.” (He is risen indeed.) Believing that, together we are witnesses to the resurrection- yesterday, today and forever.

You Know What's Right (17 May)

ACTS 10:44-48; PSALM 98; 1 JOHN 5:1-6; JOHN 15:9-17

When I was growing up, my father had a phrase he would say when I was preparing to go on a trip or away from home for any amount of time. He would look at me and say, “You know what’s right. Do it.” My mother would ask if I had enough toiletries and then if I had enough clothes. I always assumed the order of her questioning was if I had to run around naked, at least I could be clean. However, my father’s advice was applied regardless of cleanliness. No lists of “Call us”, “Don’t spend all your money on something stupid”, “Don’t go anywhere with strangers”, but “You know what’s right. Do it.”

I thought about that phrase this week in a scary situation. There were no moral choices to be made, but more some quick decisions. My brother David and I were walking my dog down by Eagle River when we spotted a cow moose, which (as it turns out) had a very young calf. She charged at us on the trail and we went leaping into the woods, just like you’re supposed to. Well, David and the dog went leaping into the woods. I waddled quickly into a little stand of trees. Over the next 30 minutes, we slowly made our way back to the car, stopping, calling out, listening and discussing other options. We wanted to be out of the situation, but we also knew the moose was not enjoying herself.

Once we finally got back to the car without incident and then got home and debriefed the situation, David and I both settled down for the worst night’s sleep we’ve both had in a while. It was one of those nights where you wake up, sweating, thinking about what could have happened. As I lay awake on Friday morning, in the few hours of darkness, I thought about how automatically we had reacted. We didn’t debate the situation or the nuances of different options. As we started to make noise and the moose started for us, we immediately moved into the trees. We knew the right thing to do and we did it.

As we saw her go up the trail, pushing the calf in front of her, we knew to move slowly and not crowd them and to give plenty of indication of where we were and to keep our eyes peeled for where they might have gone. We knew the right thing to do and we did it. Granted David and I have been in some wild and hairy situations before (and I do mean wild and hairy), but to a certain extent- you just know what to do in the majority of them- what your options are, what your capabilities are and what you can do in the situation with what you have.

This applies to today’s gospel lesson in two ways. The first is that we, as Christians, often spend a lot of time agonizing over what the right thing is in a given situation. The second is that we don’t often act on what we definitely know to be the right thing to do. Why in our walk of faith do we so often feel paralyzed by indecision?

Jesus tells the disciples in today’s passage, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” So what is the right thing to do? (Love one another as Christ has loved us)

Why does this matter? In the gospel according to John, this is the last command that Jesus gives his disciples before the trial and crucifixion. In the days between what seemed like the end and the new beginning in the resurrection, Jesus knows the disciples are going to point fingers at one another, bicker and blame. He is reminding them, urging them, encouraging them not to do this, but to hold one another in love. To remember the truth and to remember Him as their friend and in that remembering to love one another.

Through John, today, Jesus reminds us that He is our friend and that what was right for the disciples is the same thing that is the right thing for us to do. And we’re called to make it so automatic in our lives that we don’t stop to think about, but that we find ourselves leaping into the woods, leaping toward one another, hurrying to repair breaches, to show justice and mercy- to do what is right in a way that we are surprised later at how it happened.

But, Pastor Julia, don’t you always tell us that we can’t do what is right. That our best efforts are still weak and we cannot save ourselves. You’re right. I do say that. You can’t do what is right.

When we stop there, we are sitting at the foot of the cross, singing “What a Friend We have in Jesus” and that’s all that happens. When we stop with “Well, I can’t be perfect, so I won’t do anything”- nothing gets done. No one is fed, no one is visited, no one is healed, nothing is built and, essentially, we negate the whole purpose of the cross.

Jesus is our friend, our confidant, our supporter, our God-with-us because we’ve been told what to do. Further instruction is not necessary. We have enough to do to keep ourselves busy, and, theoretically, out of trouble. Has anyone here ever reached the end of day and said, “I’ve loved everyone I could today. Good night.”

We need a friend who listens to our venting, our supplications, our charges, our needs, our hopes and our dreams. We need a friend who responds to those with love and compassion, a friend who walks with us. In Jesus, we have this friend, one who laid down his life for us on the cross, so that we might have life.

That friendship calls to us- in our waking and in our dreaming. That friendship binds us together. That friendship goads us and comforts us. That friendship sees where we fall short and makes up the difference in our lives and in the world around us. We are cleansed and clothed in the righteousness of Christ, according to Paul, and therefore we are not called to be concerned with those details.

Knowing this, we are called to be friends in the same way to one another and to all those whom God loves. In this world, there are daily people being charged by loneliness, oppression, fear, doubt, anger, hurt and so many other forces. You aren’t called to help them alone. Your friend goes with you- on the trail, in the wilderness, in the city, in your home. And, yes, things can get wild and hairy- but we’re never left without help.

Jesus gives us the Spirit to guide us; even we don’t know what we’re doing. God has given us the Bible so that we have a guidebook with some directions. And we are bound together, through the ties of faith, so that we can help one another.

Even as Jesus is speaking to the disciples, he knows what they are going to do in the days ahead, but he wants to remind them that there is a better way, a way to which he is calling them, a way to which we are called.

As I abide in you and you in me, Jesus says, this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. You know what’s right. Do it.