One heart

File:Henry Ossawa Tanner - Jesus and nicodemus.jpg

For Thursday

John 10:22-30

30The Father and I are one.”

It’s not an ontological statement. Jesus is not talking about the nature of reality. It is not a claim that he, himself, is divine. It is a claim familiar from ordinary life that to deal with the son is to deal with the father. They are united in mind and purpose. Jesus conforms perfectly to the will of his father.

This is not to take away anything from the later theological formulations of the church. With these I do not disagree. But there is something more important in this text than the doctrine of the Two Natures of Christ or the doctrine of the Trinity. Doctrines engage the mind; Jesus engages my life. Doctrines want me to speak precisely; Jesus wants me to love well. Doctrine matters. It matters profoundly. But first we need to deal with the Jesus before our eyes saying that he and the Father are united in mind and purpose.

Do you want to know what God does? Consider what Jesus did. He healed the sick, welcomed the outcast, and raised the dead. He broke bread with sinners and tax collectors. He challenged the pious. He confronted the hypocrisy of the elite. He braved the self-interest of the privileged. He laid down his life for the sheep.

He forgave sins. He offered new birth – birth from above. He opened blind eyes. He gave life to the dead.

Anything else you want to say about God has to begin here – with a Jesus who claims to be one in mind and heart and will with the Father.

We don’t trust such people in our time. They are cult leaders and crusaders who do much more harm than good. We resist all absolute claims. Life is complicated. Nuanced. There’s not much room for someone who says they know the will of God.

But here is this Jesus. He says he does.

And we trust him, because there is no selfish agenda in him. He is not using us to prop up an ideology. He is not using us to fight his battles. He does not look upon us a fodder. He lays down his life for the sheep. He comes that we may have life, and have it abundantly. He comes that we may never perish.

So here is Jesus. And we can’t argue theology. We can’t discuss doctrines. We have to decide if he is one in heart with the father. And if so, then we have to join our hearts with his.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHenry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_Jesus_and_nicodemus.jpg  by Henry Ossawa Tanner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Majesty and Mystery

Watching for the Morning of May 31, 2015

Year B

Holy Trinity

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Hildegard of Bingen, Miniature of the Holy Trinity

We come this Sunday to the day known as Holy Trinity, and every pastor thinks he or she must try to explain the doctrine of the trinity and will likely use some frail and heretical illustration like ice, steam and liquid water, or the person who is a Father, a son, and a husband. The trinity is a doctrine over which the church fought for hundreds of years and is fighting still, but Trinity Sunday is not about a doctrine – it is about the God who has revealed himself by the name, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” declares the risen Lord, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Among all the gods of the ancient world – and all the gods of the modern world – only one is known as “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” and that is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Exodus and Sinai, the God of justice and mercy, the God of David and the prophets, the God of the exile and return, the God of creation and new creation, the God who came among us as Jesus of Nazareth, the God who suffered and died and rose, the God who is present in and among us by his Holy Spirit, the sign and seal of the age to come.

“Father, Son and Holy Spirit” identifies the God of whom we speak as this God – not a god of prosperity, not a God of power, not the rain god Ba’al, or any of the gods and goddesses of fertility, not the gods of power and conquest, but the one God, the true God, the God of the cross and resurrection, the God of reconciliation and New Life.

The doctrine of the Trinity is important. Very important. But it is important only because it protects the identity of the God of whom we speak and to whom we pray as this God no other.

So Sunday we come together in awe and wonder and fear and praise to sing of this God and to hear the word of this God, the one we acclaim and confess as earth’s true Lord.

The Prayer for May 31, 2015

One God, Holy and Eternal,
before whom all heaven sings,
and to whom belong the praises of all the earth;
you have made yourself known by the name Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Let your Word shake the wilderness,
bringing new birth to all creation
and gathering all things into your eternal song;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for May 31, 2015

First Reading: 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.” – When an earthquake shakes the temple, Isaiah (a priest) has a vision of God on his throne and is called to his prophetic ministry.

Psalmody: Psalm 29
“The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.”
– The psalmist uses the imagery of a powerful thunderstorm arising off the Mediterranean Sea and crashing over the Lebanese mountains to describe the majestic power of God’s voice/word.

Reading: 1 Kings 19:4-13 (added by our parish to worship this Sunday)
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” – Following the stunning showdown with the prophets of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel, the queen is unimpressed and vows to slay Elijah. He flees to Sinai where God encounters him, not in the power of wind, earthquake or fire, but in a silent stillness.

Second Reading: Romans 8:12-17
“You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ”
– In this climactic chapter of Paul’s letter laying out his preaching and teaching we come to the central proclamation that we are no longer bound to our humanity in its fallenness, but bound to the Spirit of God, adopted as sons and daughters, heirs of all the gifts and bounty of God – heirs of the dawning reign of God.

Gospel: John 3:1-17
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” – Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night trying to understand this strange yet wondrous prophet. Jesus speaks to him about being born ‘from above’, but Nicodemus misunderstands and cannot understand how it is possible to be born ‘again’.

 

Photocredit: By The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The name matters

Watching for the morning of June 15

Year A

The Festival of The Holy Trinity

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Robert Campin, Holy Trinity. 15th century. Gold, silver and silk embroidery, pearls, glass beads and velvet applique on linen. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

The doctrine matters, but it is not the doctrine we adore. The teaching of the Trinity is vitally important, but it is not the theological articulation about the character of the divine in which we put our faith, hope and trust. When we worship on Sunday we worship the God who has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Names are important. Names distinguish us from one another. Names make clear of whom we speak. Names identify whose authority stands behind a promise or a command. And the name of God is no less important. We live in a world with many gods – and many different ideas about God. We cannot use the word ‘God’ and assume everyone knows of whom we are speaking. The reality identified by the name Allah is not the same as that identified by the name “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Our ‘names’ for God are not frail approximations of a single ultimate reality – they are statements about the nature of that reality. They are identifiers. Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the god who has made himself known in Jesus of Nazareth, crucified, risen and ascended.

We use the word Kleenex as if it were a generic term for facial tissue – but all tissues are not the same. All coffees are not the same. All cars are not the same. All diamonds are not the same. Cut and clarity and color make some an expression of love and others an effective edge for an industrial tool.

‘God’ is a generic term. What we say about the ultimate transcendent reality of existence is revealed by the specifics. The names Kali and “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” say very different things about the divine.

The Festival of the Holy Trinity is not about the doctrine; it is about the one named “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. The God we worship and follow is the one revealed as the creator of all, who called Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by a promise, who delivered Israel from Egypt, who spoke through Moses and the prophets, who entered into human existence in Jesus, who brought the healing and life of the reign of God, who was the perfectly faithful son, who bore the burden of human sin was declared righteous and faithful by his resurrection, who pours out his abiding, empowering Spirit upon his followers, and will ultimately bring all things under his gracious rule.

All coffees are not the same. Some are better than others or there wouldn’t be a Starbuck’s on every block. Not everything said about God is faithful to the name “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Nor is every reference to ‘God’ speaking of the same reality. The name matters.

The Prayer for June 15, 2014

Almighty God, hidden in majesty and mystery
yet revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
Grant us true and honest hearts
to worship you with reverence and awe,
trust confidently in your grace,
honor your commands,
and boldly proclaim your name

The Texts for June 15, 2014

First Reading: Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” – The first chapter of Genesis telling of the creation of all things by God’s word, God’s declaration that the creation is good, and God’s blessing of humanity and their commission to care for the earth.

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him” – The psalm celebrates the majesty of God and marvels at the position of honor and responsibility God has given to humanity by entrusting his wondrous creation into their care.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” –
In his final greeting at the close of his letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul uses the familiar language that ultimately leads to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” – Following Pentecost we return to the Gospel of Matthew, resuming here at the end of the Gospel because of the Trinitarian name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. With these concluding words, the risen Jesus declares his abiding presence among his followers and sends them to make disciples of all nations.

Watching for the morning of May 26

Year C

The Holy Trinity:
First Sunday after Pentecost

Is it the doctrine of the Trinity we come to celebrate, or the mystery of God?  Do we honor a teaching or a God who in ways we cannot comprehend is Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

It is easy to say this Sunday is about doctrine.  But doctrine is not an end in itself.  Doctrine both guards and opens the door to a right encounter with the divine.

We are too often preoccupied with the regulatory function of doctrine.  What I appreciate about eastern liturgies is that they recognize the doxological function of doctrine.  If I am to praise my wife, it is good and necessary to praise her truly.  If I exult in something she is not, the relationship we have is fundamentally false.

So we praise a God who is source of all – not just a construction engineer, but the architect in whom the cosmos was conceived.  And we praise a God who is present, whose breath and life force are here, opening hearts and lives to the mysteries and powers of the divine.  And we praise a God who is visible in the man from Nazareth, who weeps, who sleeps, who prays, who suffers, who lives.  And all this is one God, somehow, so that each part is all, and there is no all without each part.

We praise a God whose very essence is relational, whose essence involves not only “self” but “others,” whose essence makes meaningful the declaration that “God is love”.

This is far more than doctrine.  It is mystery.   It is wonder.  It is the source and goal of our praise.

Prayer for May 26, 2013

O God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
of Moses and Miriam,
of Ruth and David,
of Mary and Joseph;
God wrapped in mystery and wonder
who breathed life into our first parents
and your Holy Spirit into all creation;
God who loves and fathers and sends
and is loved and begotten and sent;
Help us to praise you rightly,
love you fully
and walk with you faithfully.

The Texts for May 26, 2013

First Reading: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 (“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work.” Wisdom, the knowledge of the fundamental truths of existence, is personified as a teacher and speaks of its role in the formation of all things.)
Psalmody: Psalm 8 (“What are human beings that you are mindful of them?” A song of praise marveling at God’s care for human beings and their role as stewards of God’s creation.)
Second Reading: Romans 5:1-5 (“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”)
Gospel: John 16:12-15 (“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth”)