Tuesday, May 25, 2010

God's triune identity John 16:12-15

A week ago a man stopped by wanting to speak tell a story about his experience of God. It started 11 years ago and it's shaped his life. I asked him what he understood about Christian mystics. He didn't know much and thought the word sounded too magical. He assumed his experience of God was unique, like few others had ever had. I told him of mystics trying to relate his experience to that of others who had experiences of God that defy simple explanation.
One great difference that emerged in our conversation is that the man who came to share his story didn't accept the Trinity. I do. We both admitted belief in God the Father; but the man I met with wasn't sure about God's Triune being. He didn't see Jesus as God's son equal in majesty and one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. In our conversation I found myself repeating portions of John's gospel.

All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. John 16:15. NRSV
The man I met wrestled with this verse and other passages like it in John. Jesus says he is one with the Father. I spoke about God the Father, Son, and Spirit being different beings yet somehow sharing one will and one supreme place in the universe.
I responded to his questions that it's simply something we disagreed about. He was willing to accept that I viewed God differently. He was willing to believe, as I do, that so much of our great theological work that's meant to explore God's being makes the simple reality of God's presence way too complicated.
Trinity Sunday is a day to celebrate God's presense, work, and majesty. It's a day to give thanks that God has interest in our lives.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortalsa that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,b
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
Psalm 8:3-6 NRSV
One of the great challenges a great teacher ever gave a class of would be preachers was to expect, in our earthly lives, that much of God's true being would be hidden, shrouded in mystery. Instead of resolving questions for people about God maybe we are supposed to learn that God comes and the questions are the evidence.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Holy Spirit, a promise kept John 14:8-17

Glory be to the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit AMEN

Pentecost Sunday is a day to remember, to celebrate, and to dream. Jesus promised to send us an advocate. He said,

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate; to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (John 14:16-17 NRSV)

God comes to us not at our command; but entirely of at a time and through a means of God's own choice. Jesus keeps his promises. He has promised to send the Advocate. And just like the wind the Spirit moves free and strong among God's people today.

Thousands of years ago, in the land we today call Iraq, a civilization took shape that we know of as Babel. We heard about them in our first reading. It's people looked at themselves as especially unique. They shared so much in common from their language to their dreams. They had big aspirations. They wanted to make a name for themselves.

They built a great city and at the very heart of their city they started to build a tower. These people wanted to approach heaven so they built their tower to reach into heaven. A friend says that the people of Babel built a ziggurat, a great stepped pyramid meant to either entice God to come down them or to allow them to reach up to God. These people weren't the only ones in human history to build such great structures. People still build today hoping to either reach the divine or to entice the divine to come to them.

God saw what the people had done. He saw that they were seeking glory; and he came down among them confusing their language ending their unity. The people scattered to all corners of the world no longer unified by human will.

Today God seeks to unite us not through language or earthly glory; instead God sends out the spirit free to unite us one to another as witnesses to God's power in our lives.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gone from sight Luke 24:44-23

Ascension Sunday Year C
Hope came back to Jesus followers when they met him again after the resurrection. The day he died they were lost--leaderless and without hope--the day before Jesus death they had been confident; over-confident because they didn't understand either the nature of Jesus' power or the nature of the Kingdom of God.
After the resurrection Jesus' friends would be ready to go forward without being able to see him. Luke writes,

he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:50-53 NRSV
The difference: resurrected hope. Jesus friends were filled with hope until he died; but their hope was too small. The resurrection was the proof; it was the evidence that God's kingdom isn't limited to our space and time or even by death or sin or the devil.
Jesus was the first glimpse of the plan to redeem all of Creation. Paul described Jesus as the first fruits (1st Corinthians 15:20). And that is true. He is the first redeemed. His rising from the dead meant that hope started again; but the hope of the Christian isn't limited by the boundaries of human power. Our hope in Jesus is eternal. Returning to his father Jesus didn't leave his followers; instead through the Holy Spirit God comes to His followers today.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Guardians and Missionaries Wanted Acts 16:9-15

The Apostle Paul seems to have had both peace with God through Jesus and an unsettled spirit that left him out on the edge of the church spreading the gospel. Paul's life was tranformed by his conviction of sin and forgiveness by Jesus on the road to Damascus. His encounter with God seems to have completely convinced him that the kingdom was coming soon.
Paul didn't settle down instead he lived spreading the news going from city to city and country to country on the edge of the growing church. In Acts 16:6-8 we read of his plan to go throughout Asia Minor to spread the good news. But the Spirit had another plan and stopped him from go further into the land we now call Turkey. Paul was asked to cross to Europe beginning ministry in Greece.

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had
called us to proclaim the good news to them.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. Acts 16:9-13 NRSV

The kingdom of God grows when there's someone like Paul going beyond the current reach of the church to spread the good news. Still, knowing the essential missional need of the church, it's clear that not everyone shares Paul's exact missionary calling. Some in fact are called to build the church right where they are today. For 2000 years there's been tension between the desire to reach out in mission into the world with the good news that has released us from sin and the desire to be guardians who protect the Word of God and the community who has gathered around the Word.

In the first days of the church Paul argued with Peter (the details can be found in Galatians and Acts) about whether a person had to be a Jew first before being a Christian. Today there's plenty of debate about how we can best be church together. There are clear lines with camps defending truth and camps reach out out. The terms of guardian/settler and missionary/pioneer aren't new to our age; neither is the dialectical nature of our faith and calling as the church both to building up the body of Christ by guarding the truth of the Gospel and to go out boldly as pioneers into unknown territory in mission declaring the truth of Christ's love for the world.

The tension today divides some denominations between those claiming to defend the truth and those claiming spread the truth. Looking at these sides fighting over the wrong divide it's good to know that Jesus meant it when he said,

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. John 14:27-28 NRSV
Many married folks know that God often works by pairing the gifts of opposite people together. The kingdom of God needs both those ready to reach out and those ready to build. God grant us the wisdom to appreciate the gifts that both bring to the church.