Majesty and Mystery

File:Väimela Mäejärv 2011 09.jpg

Watching for the Morning of June 11, 2017

Year A

The Feast of The Holy Trinity

We begin with the creation story from Genesis 1 this Sunday. Then we join in Psalm 8, the paean of praise and wonderment of the God who made us “a little lower than the heavenly beings.” These images of creation are then paired with the Trinitarian commission of the risen Jesus: “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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you,” and the salutation by Paul: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Set before us on Sunday is the majesty of God: wondrous, grace-filled, life-giving, life-renewing – the beginning and end, source and goal of all things. Jesus’ command to “make disciples” is not to recruit for the home team; it is to gather all people into the holy purpose of God – a beautiful, noble and good world. A world in harmony with God and one another, where we may not necessarily be naked, but there is no shame. Where God dwells with us in the morning that has no end, in the Sabbath rest of all creation, in the holy kiss of heaven and earth. Though it is not assigned for this week, the words of the prophet/poet seem appropriate:

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky. (Psalm 85:10)

Preaching Series: Genesis 6-9: Noah

Our preaching series on Sunday will take us to the account of the flood in Genesis 6-9. On a day that stands in awe before the majesty of God and the beauty of creation we will hear of the grief of God and a world that nearly falls back into the primordial chaos. We need to linger there before the prospect of a world fallen back into chaos by the spread of violence. We need to hear the voice of God weep that the earth is filled with violencebecause of human beings, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” But we also come to hear of the faithfulness of God who, in the face of our violence of body and mind and spirit, works to save his world, vowing never to destroy it: “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.” This is the one who has come to us and, with spikes through his wrists and feet, prayed Father, forgive them.” And this is the one who sends us to wash the world in the name – the power and grace and presence – of the God who called forth the world and calls us yet to himself.

The Prayer for June 11, 2017

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;
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 June 11, 2017

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

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” – 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.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AV%C3%A4imela_M%C3%A4ej%C3%A4rv_2011_09.jpg By Vaido Otsar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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

File:Meister des Hildegardis-Codex 003 cuted.jpg

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

File:Trinity-of-the-broken-body-1911.jpg

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.

I am coming to you

Watching for the morning of May 25

Year A

The Sixth Sunday of EasterGolden Gate Bridge at night.lg

It is still Easter, though we draw near to the liturgical celebration of the ascension – 40 days after Easter according to Luke. Luke likes nice, tidy, maps. 40 days for the risen Jesus to appear (the counterpoint to 40 days in the wilderness at the beginning of the Gospel). Then 10 days of waiting and preparing for the promised Spirit on that 50th day when Luke has 120 believers together in Jerusalem and the roar of a mighty wind/breath/spirit summons God’s people to hear the mighty works of God.

But for John there are no such nice schemas; for John it is all part of the same drama. Jesus is the living presence of the Father. And the Spirit is the living presence of Jesus. And the Spirit is the living presence of the Father. The Father abides in the Son and the Son in the Father and the students of Jesus abide in Jesus and in the Father and in the Spirit who comes from the Father (at the Son’s request) as their advocate. There is a reason we end up with a doctrine of the Trinity. Though John is not talking about doctrine; he is talking about the living presence of God among this band who are now Children of God, abiders in the heavenly grace, appointed bearers of the divine mercy: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”

And so John tells us that Jesus breathed his Spirit on his followers on Easter Evening, because Easter and Ascension and Pentecost are all part of the same new reality. Jesus says, in Sunday’s Gospel, “I am coming to you.” And the promise is answered by the resurrection (he returns to speak and eat with them) and by the Ascension (he tells Mary not to hold him until he has ascended to the Father, which has happened by that first Easter Evening when he invites the disciples to touch his wounds) and by the coming of the Spirit (on that first Easter evening when he breathes upon them his breath/spirit/life).

We are not alone. He has come. And is coming. Continually he comes. In the Spirit to comfort and empower. In the word and in the meal. He cooks breakfast on the Galilean shore, and his brief conversation with Peter pulls him once more away from their nets. The risen Jesus feeds us and suddenly there are ‘missionaries’ all over the world. Witnesses. Speakers of the word that frees. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.”

It is still Easter. But John knows it is also Pentecost. And for that matter it is Christmas and Epiphany, for the light and life of God is present in the world.

And we are sent.

The Prayer for May 25, 2014

Gracious God,
you have given us your Spirit as our advocate and guide
that we might abide in you and you in us.
Grant us courage and faith to follow where you lead,
to obey your commands,
to love as you love;
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 25, 2014

First Reading: Acts 17:22-31
“Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.’” – Paul, traveling by himself to avoid a conspiracy to murder him, comes to Athens where he seeks to engage the leaders of that city with the message of God, the creator all peoples.

Psalmody: Psalm 66:8-20
“Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard.” – The psalmist calls for all nations to praise God for his gracious deeds to deliver those in need.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22
“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” –
The author’s continuing exposition on baptism, now touches on the Ascension: “Baptism…now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.”

Gospel: John 14: 15-21
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” – Continuing last Sunday’s reading, Jesus makes provision for his followers in light of his impending death, promising that God will send the Holy Spirit (the ‘Paraclete’).

 

The Most Holy Trinity

Saturday

English: A Chiton magnificus

English: A Chiton magnificus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some years ago while camping with my youngest daughter along the Lost Coast in northern California we found the shell of what looked like a trilobite on a rock on this remote and isolated shore.  Not a fossil, mind you, but something recently living, a deep red color, the strange ancient look of armored plates.  It had an unearthly quality to it.  Out of place and time.  It was strangely disconcerting.  Something I had not seen before.

It was not a trilobite, of course.  But in those days before the internet I couldn’t find someone who knew that it was a chiton, a marine mollusk with a snail like foot rather than the legs of a horseshoe crab, the true descendants of trilobites.

It’s hard to describe that sensation of being in the presence of something that seemed not to belong to this world: a mix of wonder and awe and dread.

We talk so easily about God.  We invoke God’s name with such confidence.  We imagine we know.  What has become of the wonder, awe and dread the ancients felt before the transcendent power of the universe?  Some of this is the fruit of the Christian message that God is love.  Jesus taught us to call the eternal one “Father”.  Jesus made God seem more human, approachable, loveable.  This is good, of course, important to say to those who live in fear or who feel alone in the world.  But what happens when we lose that sense of God’s otherness?

Tomorrow is not just Trinity Sunday; it is Holy Trinity.  In the Roman calendar it is officially the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.  And we should not rush past that word holy, for that is the word that speaks of God’s otherness, that declares we are in the presence of something beyond our experience.

God should be unsettling.  Sinai was unsettling – the people begged for God not to speak to them directly, but through the human voice of Moses.  The things Jesus said and did were unsettling – they got him crucified.  The cross itself is profoundly unsettling, Jesus hanging there in anguish, abandoned, and God silent where we would expect the rage of heaven to rain down fire.  The empty tomb is unsettling, beyond all human experience. Pentecost is unsettling – the roar of a mighty wind and flames of fire and the ecstatic proclamation in every language – people leaving home and country to go out around the world to herald God’s reign.  None of this is familiar to us except we have made it so by telling the story so many times.  Even the message of forgiveness should be unsettling, for such is not the world we know.

The Most Holy Trinity.  The strange and unsettling power at the heart of the universe that creates and loves and redeems.  There is a reason Isaiah falls on his face in the temple when the seraphim sing “Holy, Holy, Holy.”  We should too.

From before time

Thursday

Grand Canyon, from South Rim near Visitor Center

Grand Canyon, from South Rim near Visitor Center (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

25Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth–

The layers of rock go down through centuries, through millennia, to times when the continents crashed together and moved apart, times when seas covered what are now mountains and mountains covered what are now seas.  There are coastal redwoods now turned to stone on the top of the Rockies.  To hike down from the rim of the Grand Canyon is to travel 1.84 billion years back in time.

Before the time when those redwoods flourished, before the time when the Appalachians where higher than Everest and joined the Atlas Mountains in Africa, before the time when the earth was an ice planet, before the time when the earth was without water, before the time when the earth was without oxygen, before the time when the earth was yet interstellar dust, there was what Israel called Wisdom and the Greeks called the logos.  There was the inner logic of all things, the rational principle woven into the fabric of all existence.

It came from God. And it was God.  Through it all things were made.  And it became flesh. And we have beheld his glory, says the author of John.

That inner logic, that order, that foundational “wisdom” was not just Planck’s constant, and the laws that govern the weak force and the strong force and the behavior of quarks.  Love is woven into the fabric of existence.  The love of the Father for the Son.  The love of the Son for the Father.  The love of the Spirit that binds them.  The love of the one God for all existence.  The love of the one God for you and I.  It was there in the beginning.  Before time.  Before space.  In the heart of God.

As hard as it is for us to comprehend the Trinity – this much we can grasp.  That love is part of the being of God.  And for there to be love there must be a beloved.  God in himself is lover and beloved while still being one.

We do not understand it.  But it means God is able to love us.  And in this love we live and move and have our being.

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”)