The Smallest of Acts
The Smallest of Acts. Matthew 10:40-42
June 28, 2020
In one of his blogpost this week, alternative business guru Seth Godin had this to say about compassion. “It’s natural to believe that everyone else is as confident, assured, long-term thinking and generous as you are on your very best day. But that’s unlikely. Because everyone else is probably not having their best day at the same time. Once we realize that the world around us is filled with people who are each wrestling with what we’re wrestling with (and more), compassion is a lot easier to find.”
As followers of Jesus, our mission is tethered to acts of compassion – be it God’s compassion for us, or our compassion towards others.
If you’re like me, then it’s safe to say your compassion is probably running a little lean these days. We have to pick who gets a piece of your heart, knowing others will lose out. We’re only halfway through the year, and the only things I am sure of is 1) we still have six months of crazy to get through, and 2) there’s no way I’ll be able to do it without God’s grace and intervention.
I’ve decided that 2020 is the year of taking two steps forward to get knocked four steps back. We need to rely on God now more than ever to pick us back up and send us on our way. But there are days when as I lay on the ground and wonder...if God is coming.
This sentiment is as old as time. Thousands of years ago, an ancient poet put these words to paper. And they’ve been passed on through the generations in the book of psalms. Psalm 13 is a heartfelt cry that opens with this lament, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”
Do you ever feel this way? Abandoned by God? Left alone to suffer with the pandemic and political unrest? Have you ever thought that maybe God has forgotten us? Maybe just walked away for good?
How much longer, Lord? As this question echos in my heart, I hear the faint, tender voice of Jesus answering my pleas.
Our reading from Matthew’s gospel, concludes the instructions Jesus gives the Twelve before they go out on their first mission trip. You might recall the previous instructions to from two weeks ago: Go heal the sick and cast out demons, take nothing with you, rely on the goodness of others, be careful of those who aren’t good. Read all of Matthew 10 to get a complete list. Today, Jesus concludes in a way that I believe speaks volumes to the discipleship of the church. We who are called to give are also called to receive.
Read: Matthew 10:40-42
Emerging from this text is the theological idea of compassionate welcome. It’s no surprise why. In these three short but powerful verses Jesus uses the word “welcome” six times; pointing us to the importance of hospitality in furthering God’s Kingdom of love and grace. This is the goal of the church, and for anyone who accepts to follow Jesus.
Yet there still are so many who are too afraid or simply unwilling to truly welcome all people in the name of Christ. You might have been a part such a church, or perhaps you have been rejected by one. If so, I hope this message speaks to you. Today, we are going to look at what it mean to welcome someone with the same compassion that Jesus gives to us.
To begin, we must be like Jesus and approach one another and every situation with a God-filled heart. As Emilie Townes notes, this is where “genuine human relationships emerge.” Whether they are close, loving relationships or distant, occasional ones, with God at the center of our welcome “we’ll find our rich rewards.”
On Wednesday, I had everything in order and ready to go to refinance the house. But when our lender began the process, we discovered that Wells Fargo had put a forbearance against our house – a precautionary measure made at the beginning of the pandemic. After being on hold for an hour with the bank, Kathleen and I decided to go there in person. The young man who greeted us was eager to help, but honestly, I was not eager to accept him. I was angry, frustrated and had little compassion in my heart. So, I let Kathleen do the talking. She’s the diplomat in these kind of situations. Better able to see the divine in others, when I can’t.
Kathleen knew it wasn’t this man’s fault. He didn’t mess up our refi...someone at the corporate office did. By this small understanding, she was able to enter into the conversation with a Christ-soaked heart. A heart with God at the center. Despite his best efforts to remedy the situation, Kathleen and I left - with me still angry and frustrated but her quietly calm and at peace.
By placing God at the center of this ordinary, albeit unwanted situation, Kathleen knew God was working it out. And by the next morning, everything was good to go; the forbearance had been removed. No matter how big or small a situation might seem if God is in the middle of it, so too is God’s compassion and power. This is our reward.
Which takes me to the second point. We must practice our compassionate welcome all the time, no matter what.
I’m not saying you have to always do grand heroic acts of mercy, or put yourself in harms way. All God wants is for to act, to do something that helps the other. Jesus said it’s as simple as giving someone a drink of cold water.
As Marcea Paul observed while most of us prefer to be the heroic quarterback, Jesus leans his heart towards the water-boy. She reminds us that a God-centered life of faith is made up of many small gestures of love. Yet, according to Jesus, every gesture is large. And eternally significant.
Two days ago, while Colleen was out walking the dog, she passed a guy working in our neighbor’s yard – a day laborer who was sweating profusely, and fatigued from the monotony of hauling dirt from the yard to a dumpster. His hat was his only source of shade from the hot sun.
Colleen noticing how thirsty he looked, and having no clue what I was preaching on today, ran home and got the man two bottles of water and a big plastic cup filled with ice. While I wasn’t there to see it, I can only imagine how surprised and grateful the man was to receive such a thoughtful gift.
Jesus knew that a cup of cold water is one of the smallest of gifts - one almost anyone could give. Yet, it’s precious – even life giving – to the person who is really thirsty. The smallest of acts done in love.
It happens every time you say good morning to a neighbor or check in on a friend who lives alone. It might not seem like much but it’s amazing how powerful it can be for the one receiving that gift from you. When we put God at the center at everything we do, then everything we do becomes a holy act.
Which leads me to my third and final point. Our righteousness is intimately tied to how we show compassionate welcome towards one another, especially those who are most vulnerable among us.
Jesus made this perfectly clear in his final parable in Matthew’s gospel – the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. In that parable, Jesus reminds us that the way we treat others is, ultimately, representative of our response toward him. It ties directly to our reading today with Jesus declaring, “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me and the One who sent me.”
To follow Jesus is to live into his way of righteousness – which is to say God’s way of righteousness – giving water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, justice to those who are oppressed and imprisoned. You don’t have to turn on the news to see that people in the world are hurting. Men and women, kids and grandkids are suffering in our country, in our communities and on our streets. How we show the love and grace of God in the world matters. It has eternal consequences.
As followers of Christ, we are called to promote compassionate welcome like he did. This requires us to trust God, to be vulnerable, and to share what we have with one another, if for no other reason when we welcome the stranger, we welcome Christ and the One who sent him.
To borrow again from Marcea Paul, “Our efforts to welcome and love others are important because Jesus sees it and receives it as worship.” Like I spoke of last week, this is how we are to be as a church, to be as a people who dares to call Jesus our Lord and to make this world holy through the simplest gestures of compassion and kindness.
After a decade off from religion, I found myself back in a church – one that was filled mostly with men who had been denied or forced out of other churches because they were gay. The moment I walked through the front door I was quickly greeted by an overwhelming sense of God’s Spirit. It was refreshing to see a church so welcoming and inviting to me, a nervous stranger. It’s something, I am sad to say, that I hadn’t really experienced in a church. Which was probably why I stopped going.
After a few more visits, I decided to partake in the Eucharist. An experience I don’t remember doing as a child. And only did so because the priest invited everyone to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” From the altar the priest explained that in this church no one would be denied a chance to receive Christ’s love. Love which was fully alive in the bread and cup ... just as it was alive in the hearts of every person kneeling at the altar rail and in every priest dutifully serving. To experience my first communion with a community built on such compassionate welcome ... moved me to tears. Literally.
By the time I got back to my seat, I was sobbing. Yet I felt no shame or embarrassment; only an overwhelming sense of God’s love engulfing me. Love that was made manifest to me in a woman named Judy who moved closer to hold my hand. And in a man named Jose who wrapped his arm around me and allowed me cry into his shoulder.
Here we were, three strangers with God in the center of our most vulnerable selves... welcoming and loving each other in our belovedness. Because of those simple, small gestures, I am where I am today. This was the God I desired. And the Lord I wanted to serve.
Friends, Jesus is calling us to continue his missional work. I know it sounds scary and daunting, but it’s not. It takes only the smallest amount of faith in God’s love for you, and the willingness to be vulnerable in that love, so that you can give God’s love away in all that you do.
Because of his love and compassion for all people, Jesus sends us to share the Good News; to meet those crying out and alleviate their suffering; to meet real needs, to work real miracles of love and healing through acts of kindness if only because they too are God’s beloved.
I invite you to answer the call. The call to be the visible presence of Christ to one another. As you leave here today, let us not forget that “It doesn’t take much to be hospitable, welcoming, and accepting of other people in the name of Christ who is our greatest, most blessed and eternal reward.”
Let us pray: Lord Christ, thank you for showing us the way to share the love of God with one another. Keep your spirit in us, to push us to do more - to show more love, more compassion, more mercy and more chances to welcome others in your name. Amen.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011.
Godin, Seth. Everybody Else. June 25, 2020. https://seths.blog/2020/06/everybody-else/ (accessed June 25, 2020).
Paul, Marcea. episcopalchurch.org. June 22, 2020. https://episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/even-one-cup-pentecost-4-june-28-2020 (accessed June 26, 2020).
Why Are You Here?
Why Are You Here? - John 12:44-50
June 21, 2020
On Facebook this week a friend asked: Name one thing you learn from your Dad? I wrote, I learned how to be a father. Thank you, dad (and mom) for showing me how to be a loving, patient parent. And refusing to give up in spite of your child’s best efforts to make you want to do so.
Just like it is with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day can be hard for so many people. For those of you who have lost a father, or never really knew him, or were abused by him...today can be unbearable. So instead of talking about father’s today, I want to talk about something else I learned from my dad how to be a follower of Christ.
In his book the Irresistible Revolution Shane Claiborne makes this poignant observation. “If you ask most people what Christians believe they can tell you, ‘Christians believe that Jesus is God’s Son and that Jesus rose from the dead.’ But if you ask the average person how Christians live, they are struck silent.”
Shane Claiborne is the founder of The Simple Way, a radical faith community in inner-city Philadelphia that connects and encourages communities around the world ... to live just like Jesus taught ... or as Claiborne puts it, to live as ordinary radicals.
In his work Claiborne noticed that, “Christians pretty much live like everyone else; they just sprinkle a little Jesus along the way.” Does that describe you? Moving through life, doing ordinary things and only allowing Jesus to come out when it’s safe to do so? It makes me wonder what’s the point?
Nearly 50 years ago John Lennon sang, “Imagine there’s not heaven. It's easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people living for today.” Although I never really like the song for many reasons, it makes me wonder: What brings you here today? Is there something you’re looking for? A golden ticket into heaven? Or simply a get out of hell free card? If there were no heaven or hell, would you still show up? Would you still chose to be a Christian?
For me, it’s not so much about losing out on some after life that makes me to follow Christ. It’s about losing out on the joys, peace and fulfillment I enjoy by following his way. After all, this kingdom Jesus ushered in is not just something we hope to be a part of after life, it’s something he invited us to live today.
Our reading for this morning strays from the lectionary text. It comes from John’s gospel. And is a summary of Jesus’ teachings that comes right after he drops the news about his death to his disciples. Reads: John 12:44-50
It’s not a stretch to say the central focus of Christianity is Christ. Christians are Christians because they follow Jesus, the Christ. The Anointed One sent to live among us and teach us how to live right with God. His way of living is so important that we’ve immortalized it as a religion, created doctrines and methods of worship to exalt him. But is that the point of following Christ? To worship him with words and songs?
It always makes Christians nervous to learn that Jesus never said, “worship me.” But here’s the thing, Jesus was theocentric; meaning he put God at the center ever everything he did. Every miracle, act of forgiveness, prayer, every word of Jesus uttered always pointed back to God. “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in the One who sent me.” Jesus is so united to God that He does not speak in His own name, only God’s.
Hundreds of years earlier, a psalmist wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Like Jesus, and all of creation knew, everything we do ought to reveal the benevolence of God. Every word we speak and every deed we do should cause people to stop in their tracks ... and stand in total awe as they witness the greatness of God’s love in their midst.
To me, this is what it means to be like Christ, to take his name and be called a Christian. That is why I can say if you want to know what God looks like, then look no further than Jesus. He is the light of God’s glory in the world, illuminating God’s righteousness for all to see.
That’s what light does. It exposes and reveals things that we might not be able to see without it. Like a high-watt lightbulb in the center of the room, Jesus helps us to see and navigate the space between us and God. It’s such a powerful light that John declares darkness cannot overcome it. Jesus enlightens our hearts and illuminates our faith ... exposing who God is, and what God is revealing to us.
Yet many Christians still prefer to live in the dark, or choose to keep their eyes closed to what Christ is calling them to do. They show up to church on Sunday and maybe support it financially, but as for the rest of the week ... well maybe they’ll “sprinkle a little Jesus along the way.”
That won’t suffice. We have to pour out God’s glory in all that we do. Jesus makes it very clear that the one who does not act upon his words only brings judgment on himself. According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said we will be judge by way we show or don’t show love and compassion towards others. That’s it!
To a fault, Jesus remained active in the word of God, perfectly living out the Torah law by helping people and tending to their needs as God has asked us to do. If we are to claim his name as our own, then we can’t shrug off his warning to serve others. We must make the effort to constantly move towards loving our neighbors otherwise our life is just wasted energy. And we find ourselves in a hell of our own making instead of the heaven that Christ ushered in.
Jesus isn’t making this up to scare us into following him, or to bump up his approval rating. These are not his words, but the word of God that were given to him. Jesus trusted in God’s word so completely and lived it out so fully; making himself vulnerable, even to the point of death. He knows God’s commandments are not only real, they are eternal.
John goes so far as to describe Jesus as the Word of God. The word of God is life, and the light we are to live by. It’s in this Word, this Light, we receive grace upon grace.
So then, how does this Word speak to us today? How are we to truly live into God’s glory like Jesus the Christ ?
In scripture it’s written, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is within your power to act.” The prophet Isaiah said, “Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow.” And the Apostle Paul wrote, “We are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” And “Therefore, as we have occasion, let us do good to everyone.”
Of course, Jesus summed up all of scripture in two easy to understand steps: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. By following these two commandments we uphold all of scripture. One might say, this is the politics of Jesus like John Yoder once brilliantly wrote.
Yet politics aside, I can say with great confidence that wherever Jesus shows up, people see what God looks like. He is the face of God’s love that reminds us we live in a benevolent universe. In Christ, God is present in every moment – not just in the great miracles, but even in the smallest things he says and does.
With all that is going on in our streets and communities, with all the mess in our country and world, now is the time to affirm God’s glory through acts of charity and love. Now is the time to stand up for what is right and just. It is time to stand with Christ to help those crying out in pain, to take down the systems of oppression, and raise up God’s glory.
Inspired by the word of God let us “be wise in the way we act toward others. Let our conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” The time is now to allow the Word of God to dwell richly in us, and flow through us so freely that we, in imitation of Christ can say "I speak just as the Father has told me."
Let us go out and do good to everyone. Let us be the living embodiment of God’s glory. Jesus is our blueprint that shows us the way to live into God’s love and light so perfectly that he is able to declare, “I am the way, the truth and the light.”
To follow Christ is to faithfully follow God like he did, practicing his way of living out God’s truth and light out in the world. This is what it means to be the church. And why we gather together in his name. It doesn’t mean much to only praise his name if we do not practice what he taught. As the great Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh realized, “We must practice living deeply, loving and acting with charity if we wish to truly honor Jesus.”
As we come together in the name of Christ, let us now go out in his name, to do good, to uphold justice, to show mercy and recognize the divine light in everyone.
Let us go out into our communities and be the visible presences of God, to love and serve one another in such a way that we can boldly declare, “whoever sees me, sees not me but the One who sent me.” I can’t imagine a better way us to honor and worship our Lord God than this.
Let us pray: Lord our God, through Christ you assure us that He came not to condemn us but to bring us life, a life worth living, a life that is rich and refreshing us and our world with love and a spirit of service. Let Jesus stay with us as the light in which we see all that is good and worth living for and let us share in His life that has no end. We ask this through Christ who is in you and with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever, Amen.
Christian Woman's Corner. May 1, 2020. https://christianwomenscorner.wordpress.com/tag/reading-and-reflection-from-the-gospel-of-john-1244-50/ (accessed June 19, 2020).
Claiborne, Shane. The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an ordinary radical. . Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006, pp.101-102, 135.
Hanh, Thich Nhat. Living Buddha, Living Christ. New York: Riverhead, 1995, p. 101.
Leech, Kace. Clergy Stuff. March 13, 2018. https://clergystuff.com/daily-devotions/f49ctmalvd8oktam5nhysv17co9hvk (accessed June 19, 2020).
ocarm.org. May 6, 2020. https://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-john-1244-50 (accessed June 19, 2020).
The Holy Dozen
If you’ve been following my Sunday messages for the last few weeks, you’d know I’ve been talking a lot about the Disciples and the Great Commission, a blessing Jesus gives to his disciples to continue his ministry.
Before he does that, he sends them out to do some field work - applying their learning and gathering some first hand experience.
Read: Matthew 9:35-10:15.
In a wonderful piece entitled, Dozen, Ken Kesselus describes the Disciples as “The Dirty Dozen,” comparing them to the soldiers from the movie of the same name.
Based on a story from WWII, The Dirty Dozen was a special military unit headed by an unorthodox officer who selected an unlikely squad of thieves, murderers, and scoundrels. Together they set out on a daring mission with a very high probability of failure.
Yet, despite the unlikelihood of success or survival, this rag-tag band of brothers combine their special skills and got the job done.
I love his analogy. After all, Jesus was an unconventional leader who gathered his own unremarkable dozen to take on the most momentous mission of all time – to usher in the Kingdom of God.Like the dirty dozen, Jesus’ twelve were taken apart and rebuilt for their mission. They had to learn a new way of living, thinking, speaking, and doing. That is to say, they had to learn God’s way. And who better to teach them than the Incarnate God of the Trinity that we spoke of last week. Real life was their classroom.
As they followed their teacher from town to town. They observed him as he taught religion to the religious. And stood by him as he tended to the sick. Together, they learned what it meant to live out the good news of God’s kingdom.
This story is not just about a dozen men learning to evangelize the gospel. It is a story about us who have chosen to follow Jesus. It’s about how we take his teachings out into the world as the living embodiment of God’s love and grace.
So what does this story tell us about Jesus, the one in whom we follow?
We know that He traveled, he taught, he tended to the sick. No distance was too great. No group too skeptical. No ailment too impossible to cure. Jesus goes here, there and everywhere to get the job done.
We are his disciples, his students called to follow his lead – seeing the world through his eyes, and loving the world with his heart. As the church we are to be like the one who saw the crowds and “he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
In the Greek “compassion” means to be moved by your whole being towards mercy and pity. It’s like seeing the effects of systemic racism and knowing it isn’t right because you feel hurt deep in your soul. It moves you to get involved and to make a difference.
Jesus didn’t just see the oppressed, but felt their pain in his heart, lungs, and guts. When he saw how they were treated unjustly his entire being was moved to help. The crowds flocked to him, because no one had ever loved them or cared for them like he did.
This is the first lesson for us who wish to follow in Jesus’ footsteps: The Kingdom of God is compassionate.
There is deep hurt in the world. People are suffering greatly from inequality. No longer can we - who chose to follow Christ - stand on the sidelines pretending it’s not happening in our own communities. Just as Jesus had compassion, so must we. And we, like him must act on it.
For some that’s protesting. Marching side by side, demanding justice, and not giving up until change happens. For others, it’s about looking inward to see what they need to change within themselves, in order to have the kind of Christ like heart that moves them to stand up for justice and peace.
Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion. But he also recognized that there is way too much work to be done for just one person. He said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” And so he calls us all to look deep within ourselves, to put aside our own prejudices, and show mercy and have compassion to those who are suffering in the world.
This might make you feel a bit uncomfortable. It might make you feel a bit scared. Kesselus reminds us that, “When Jesus picked out his twelve, he obviously didn’t seek the best and brightest but the ordinary. He selected a group of mostly lackluster and untested commoners, some of whom seemed failures by modern worldly standards” (Kesselus, 2020).
And this is the second lesson: The Kingdom of God is participatory.
I like to think that when Jesus first saw his dirty dozen, he saw you and me among the ranks – ordinary, everyday people who do not possess any great qualifications or credentials. What we do have, whether we know it or not, is God’s compassionate heart. A Divine imprint of love that was placed in us long before we took our first breath.
We all have what it takes to continue Jesus’ mission of compassion but do we have his willingness to act upon it? To show mercy to those crying out for help? You see, we are his twelve. Our mission, our purpose, our call is to go out and redeem the world with all its political realities, social divisions, and systemic disorders.
It’s our job to reveal God’s compassionate heart from town to town, and person to person. We are the church, the body of Christ, the visible presence of God in the world. But are we willing to love has he loved? To care as he cared? Will we cast out the demons that have harmed our communities? And take the time to heal the brokenness that is causing others so much pain and suffering? Are we willing “to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near”?
If we follow in the footsteps of Christ, with all his compassion and conviction, then our mission will rub people the wrong way. We’ll upset the status quo and probably lose a few Facebook friends. For Jesus is sending us out there like sheep among wolves.But here’s the thing to remember. In spite of our limitations and the obstacles placed in front of us, Jesus calls us – not because of any special power we have but because of the boundless power of God that he gives to us.
Which takes us to the third lesson: The Kingdom of God is powerful.
Despite the challenges, despite the questionable likelihood of success, and the inevitable difficulties we will face, Jesus sends us out – giving us the power and authority to do what he does. Although we might seem inept or unable to cure diseases or cast our demons, let us not forget “the seemingly impossible things that God has done through others beyond the original dozen.”
Many diseases that were once thought incurable have been eradicated, the demons of unjust laws that have possessed people to do horrific atrocities to other human beings are being overturned, and people who believed some doors would always be closed have seen them blown wide open.
“Throughout Christian history, the dozen apostles have been replaced by a never-ending series of other dozens who continued to carry out the never-ending instructions of Jesus to go out among the people as his agents of love.”
Many of us are not sure that we have what it takes, that we’re not good enough, or smart enough, or righteous enough to agents of love. But that’s not the case. Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. So, Jesus calls us to take nothing more than faith as we go out into the fields - proclaiming the good news through works of charity and mercy.
And this leads me to the last lesson for today. In the Kingdom of God, Jesus isn’t banking on our faith, but God’s faith in us.
This is why Jesus can send his followers out on seemingly impossible missions...because it’s not us. It’s about God working through us to bring love and mercy into the brokenness of the world. This is what salvation looks like to me. This is the purpose of Discipleship. This is the call for all who call themselves Christians.
Love is our purpose. Love is our mission. Love is the faith God has placed in us. Faith is an active verb that calls us to bear the good fruit of God’s kingdom. It’s not about sitting idly by as the world continues to cry out in pain. It’s about being willing to move with compassion and conviction to complete the mission of Christ.
Jesus didn’t choose us because we possess any particular qualifications for transforming the world. We were chosen because God needs us to usher in a new way of thinking, and speaking, and doing, and caring.
It’s time for us to go out and show compassion from the depths of our innermost being to those who are crying out for mercy and justice. Through Christ, God has chosen us and put faith in us to spread the love of God to every corner of the world.
The time is now. The world is ready for harvest. There’s work to be done. But are you willing to go?
Let us pray:
Lord God, you have made us and called us your beloved children. You have blessed us with your love, and given us your name. As we leave here today, we pray that you will continue to fill us with your Spirit so that we can proclaim the good news of your love as we walk in the footsteps of Christ in a manor worthy of your glory. Amen.
Bartlett, David. L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011) pp. 140-45.
Kesselus, Ken. Twelve. epsicopalchurch.org. June 8, 2020. (accessed June 11, 2020).
A Triune God
Holy Trinity Sunday – June 7, 2020
It’s been a wild week, hasn’t it? COVID continues to linger as protests continue to grow all over the world. To think it was once Jesus who was out there demanding justice and reform. Because of what he did, we are here today.
Similarly, we’re able to exercise our right to worship because of those protesters who got fed up with paying taxes without having any representation in the new world. Filled with the Spirit of Freedom, they stormed British boats and dumped their tea into the water. and now we have the right to assemble, and worship without government interference. And so we bless those who are peacefully exercising their rights, standing up and speaking out against the ill’s and injustices in our county.
May we never forget that we all are blessed because there were those before us who gave of their lives to protect our freedoms. Yesterday was the 76th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, when 155,000 Allied soldiers stormed the beaches of Northern France. Their bravery and sacrifice led to the downfall of Hitler and his Nationalistic agenda.
It wasn’t one person or one nation, but a unified force created to restore peace and freedom to all - especially the marginalized and oppressed. We must never go backwards, but continue to evolve, onward and upward. Together, as we gather today from different cities and countries, let us celebrate the blessings that God has given us through all these different ways. That’s how God works... in many different ways.
Today is no ordinary church day. It’s a day that honors God - Creator, Savior, Sustainer. That’s right, it’s Trinity Sunday. Or Heresy Sunday as some call it because of all the bad sermons given to explain a Triune God. Martin Luther famously said, “To try to deny the Trinity endangers your salvation, but to try to comprehend the Trinity endangers your sanity.”
The protestors, who are exercising their right on the streets probably don't care what liturgical day it is. They just want justice and equal rights for all people. The folks who are saying their goodbyes to someone they love because of this viral pandemic are probably not thinking about how God is 3-in-1. They just want to know where God is or what God is planning on doing to stop the pain and suffering from Covid-19.
If you have lost your job or your retirement savings because of the economic turmoil, does it really matter that scholars have spent centuries trying to make sense of one particular statement Jesus made when he gave his final blessing to the remaining 11 disciples? I doubt it.
If you’re like me then you just want to know that God knows who I am and what I need. I’m struggling daily just to answer my call to be more like Christ. I don’t need church doctrine to make it harder. And yet to live into my faith and to evolve as a follower of Christ, I have to acknowledge and figure out what Jesus meant at the end of Matthew’s gospel even if it endangers my mental wellbeing.
Our reading today comes from Matthew 28:16-20
Considered to be one of the most important teachings in Christian faith, the doctrine of the Trinity is also one of the most difficult to understand. It suggests that God is most perfectly revealed as Three parts in One substance. It’s a mathematical conundrum and divine mystery that surrounds the person or persons of God.
Over the years I’ve seen people use all kinds of creative ways to describe the Trinity. Some have used water. It’s not only a liquid but also a gas, and a solid. Three different ways God is revealed to us and yet still God. But water can be polluted and contaminated, whereas God cannot. So that one falls short for me.
Then there’s the egg analogy. It has a shell, a yoke, and that clear gooey stuff; three parts yet one egg. But if you’re making an Angel Food cake, then you know you only need the egg whites; the shell and yoke get tossed out. The problem here is it’s impossible to separate God from God.
The most famous illustration is probably the one from St. Patrick who held up a shamrock and asked the Irish pagans, "Is it one leaf or three?" They would reply "It is both one leaf and three." Patrick would conclude, "And so it is with God." But the Trinity is more complex, and the shamrock doesn’t explain exactly how each part interconnects.
My friend Dawn advised me not to over think it. She said it’s as simple as a name. “I am Ian. I am a husband, a father, and a son, but I am still Ian.” Yet I am so much more than that.
Which tells me there’s more to what Jesus is talking about in Matthew’s epilogue. You see, there’s a reason Jesus meets his disciples on some unnamed mountain in Galilee. And it’s not to give them a doctrine, but final instructions on what he expects them to do after he ascends. The time has come for them to take his gospel to all the nations – baptizing and teaching them so they can go and do the same.
Now if Jesus is giving them a doctrine, then it’s one that they will have to go and figure out on their own – in the way they care for the widows and orphans, tend to the sick and dying, bringing justice and mercy to the poor and oppressed. It will come out in their willingness to spill their own blood for the wild notion that the Holy Spirit had gathered them into the life of God who in Christ was making peace with the world.
Likewise, I don’t think Jesus sent them out to perform the ritual of baptism, at least not like it’s practiced today. I’m sure Jesus knew that racism cannot be fixed by dunking everyone in a baptismal font. Saying the words, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” will not magically stop people from hating and harming others who are different from them. Baptism, like what John was doing in the Jordan, was preparing people to enter into the Temple. Jesus is the new Temple, the place where we go to meet God. I believe Jesus sent his disciples out to prepare all people to be a place where God comes alive in them.
Jesus calling them to go and fill others with the same empowering Spirit of God that he gave his disciples. Likewise, we are to go be the light of love in the darkness of the world by caring for the hurt and broken, the weak and the oppressed. Jesus invited his disciples to share the power of divine life. He sent them out to every tribe and community... so that everyone in the world would come to know God, and God’s redemptive grace given through Christ by the Holy Spirit.
Which brings us to where we are today, and where this church is headed. At Bible Study last Wednesday, Rev. Bob announced that he going to be teaching about Discipleship and what it means to take Jesus as his word. As Bob explained, a disciple is just an ancient word for student. The Christian disciple, therefore, is a student of Christ. And Jesus is our teacher. Our goal, then, is to learn from him and live out his teachings in such a way that the world can’t help but see Christ in their midst.
Like I told my daughter a couple of weeks ago, we never really graduate because we are always learning. As students of life we are constantly watching, taking notes, asking questions, making mistakes and hopefully growing from them. Discipleship is no different. You don’t have to be a priest or a saint. Or fully understand doctrine or perform rituals. You just need to show up.
As disciples, we are be both learners and practitioners of Christ, students who rely heavily on God’s mercy and grace. By living out the gospel, especially in places where it lacks, people are able to see Christ alive in you and learn how to be like him. For example, Jesus taught people the way of peace by being peace – not by beating peace into people. We don’t beat people back to God, we show them the way by practicing the way of Christ.
In a world steeped in injustice, hatred, bigotry, violence and nationalism this can be hard to do. No one knows that better than Jesus, whose life was lived under constant threat be it occupying forces or the religious elites of his own church. Thus, he doesn’t leave us powerless but instead gives us a power that is greater than that of the world. Not the power that dominate or harms others, but a power that loves and forgives and cares for the needs of all. The power of God’s own love, mercy and grace.
In following Jesus, the Son, we can be immersed into the whole being of God, the Father, whose Divine power, the Holy Spirit, flows in us and moves through us and all around us.
You can call it a doctrine. But I call it the Good News. The gospel according to Jesus the Christ. If we want to know what the Trinity is all about, then we need to look no further than ourselves, where God has chosen to take up residency. The doctrine and rituals are worked out when we accept Jesus’ invitation to actually follow him, and embrace this wild notion that the Holy Spirit has gathered us to God who in Christ is restoring peace to the world.
Like Jesus, we become the fullness of God’s glory – drawing people back to God by being people of God. The same God who is God for us as our God the Creator. The same God who is God with us as our God the Incarnate Savior. And the same God who is God in us as our God the Holy Sustainer. The trifecta of one divine presence in one divine life, is ours if we want it, now and until the end of the ages.
Let us pray: Wonderful Creator, Merciful Savior, Blessed Sustainer; Holy and Almighty God we thank you for the way you have given us to traverse this creation, and for the patience you show when we stray or get lost. Bless us now with your Spirit of love so that we can take what we have learned today and share it with others, so they can know Christ and honor your glorious name.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year A, Vol 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011) pp. 44-49.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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