Sunday, May 30, 2010

Trinity C

NB: with a kernel help from Willimon's Pulpit Resource

I don't know why those in charge decided to designate one Sunday as "Trinity Sunday." Shouldn't every Sunday be "Trinity Sunday"? A celebration of the great mystery of the three-in-one, one-in-three God? As Christians we confess God to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, three-persons, co-equal, co-eternal, one in essence, nature, power, action, and will. It's basic to what we believe as Christians.

But do we really know what that means or know why that's important? To the outsider it might look like a lot mental gymnastics, become theological contortionists, in order to justify a contradiction. 1+1+1 does NOT equal One. Volumes of books have been written trying to sort out the math. How can God really be three distinct persons, yet one God? It simply doesn't add up.

Other than Christ the King Sunday, Trinity Sunday is the day when we feel most tempted to keep God at a philosophical distance. We muse about the mystery of the Trinity. We try to do make the math work. On no other Sunday do most preachers do a weaker job connecting God to peoples' lives.

I think that's because we don't really know how to talk about the Trinity without resorting to mind-numbing philosophy. As fun as that may be for some of us, it can hardly be called "proclamation" and it certainly isn't good news. At best it's a self-indulgent exercise in theological gratification. At worst, it keeps God at an unhealthy distance, unconcerned about the world we say this God created.

We talk about the nature and so-called "Problem of God." We confess the inner-unity of the Trinity. We debate whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father, or from the Father and the Son. We discuss the fine points of the Greek. We wrap it up air-tight.

But whatever it is that we wrap-up with suffocating efficiency, it certainly isn't God. God will not be so easily contained, no matter how hard we try.We Christians don't just believe in the god of the philosophers. We believe that God gets up close and personal with us. We believe that God refused to be relegated to the realm of abstract thought and flighty spiritual imaginings. As Christians we believe that God became flesh. That God has a face and a name. That God - somehow - touches us.

I think you know this already. That's why you're here this morning. You are here in church not to hear me ramble on about the philosophical problem of the Trinity. You are here hoping to meet the Word Made Flesh. True worship, in the name of the God we call "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" is always incarnational, personal, and embodied.

But in theology, we tend to take our lead from the ancient Greeks. The deity of the Greeks was godliness, distance, aloofness. God is high, lifted up, distant, and unapproachable. That's who they believed god to be, because that's what they needed from God, that's what they valued and aspired to.

And they're not wrong. But that's only part of who God is. The God who meets us in Jesus shows us God's nearness, approachability, humanness. This God has sleeves rolled up and muddy boots. This God demands to get personal with us. Maybe too personal for our liking. An incarnate, embodied, God.

But here I go again, resorting to abstract philosophy to talk about the God who more interested in getting dirt under divine fingernails than worrying about the philosphical foundations of the sacred. For us, I think it's easier to talk about God in the abstract than in the personal because a personal God will actually do something with us, and we'd rather not have God intruding in our lives. We don't want God disrupting our carefully constructed existence. We want to add God to what we've already built on our own rather than have God leading the construction effort.

We want to keep thinking that we are in charge of our lives. We don't really want to consider that God is in our driver's seat. Because then God might take us to places we don't want to go. A personal God will ask us uncomfortable questions about our politics, our business dealings, our family relationships. God asks us about how we spend our money, about that grudge we've been carrying for decades, about the gossip we shared that hurt someone.

A personal God will want us to let go of our anger, our pride, our selfishness. A personal God will want us to care for folks we don't like. A personal God will sit us down and make us listen to the cries of people in pain and ask us to do something about it. A personal God will confront our comfortable middle-class lifestyle built on the backs of poor children around the world.

An abstract God won't ask us to change. An abstract God won't stick it's nose where we say it doesn't belong. An abstract God will leave us alone to tend to our lofty thoughts and comfortably elevated speech.

But a personal God, the God of the bible, the God who is called Trinity, doesn't care about our comfort. The God who is called Trinity cares about how we love each other and God. The God who is called Trinity is more interested in how we get along with each other than in what we believe about God. That's because God knows that we'll never get it just right. There will always be parts of God that we won't understand. That's why, in one hand, God is a divine, transcendant mystery, and in the other, God is a personal, intimate being that is found in every facet of creation.

The ancient celts knew what this meant. In today's hymn of the day (my person fave hymn) take special note of the second verse:
I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

The ancient celts knew that God the Trinity is everywhere in God unfolding creation, through God's love for everything this God has made.

Where love is, there is God. Where lives are being changed from self-centred living to serving others, God the Trinity is at work. Whereever care for others emerges from the messiness of human conflict, we see the Triune God in action. Whenever bitterness is over come by forgiveness, God the Trinity is there. Whereever there is love; messy, uncontrollable, transforming love, there we will find God.

We know this because that's who God is. It's love that makes the math work. 1+1+1+ =1 only works because the love the Trinity has for itself is so strong that it glues them together as one, then that intimate, reconciling, sacrificial love spills out in the world this God created. As Paul points out in today's second reading: "For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."

God reconciles. God loves. God creates. That's who God is and who God made us to be as images of the lovingly invisible God. The God who is Trinity, whose math works in our lives.

May this be so among us. Amen.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Easter 7C

When you pray for our church, what do you pray for?

Do you pray for peoples' physical illnesses, that they will receive comfort and healing?

Do you pray for faithfulness in serving?

Do you pray that we'll grow in membership?

Do you pray for a greater sense of God's vision for our future?

What do you pray for? What do you think God wants us to pray for?

Jesus was alone in the garden, offering his final petitions to his Father, and his worry wasn't for himself and the pain he was going to endure. He was praying for his disciples. He was worried about them. What would happen to them after he was gone? He had some definite concerns that he wanted God to take care of.

I often wonder who Jesus' prayer was directed to. It was pretty wordy. He goes on at length, offering details that God certainly would know about. Maybe Jesus could hear the disciples shushing each other in the bushes so they could hear what Jesus was praying. After all, who wouldn't want to eavesdrop on a divine conversation? And perhaps Jesus spoke a little louder so his prayer could reach the disciples' ears as well as God's.

So Jesus' prayer became a sermon. Overheard final directions for his disciples. Instructions on how they were to behave after he was gone. A final prayer of dedication.

He prayed that his disciples would be in unity.

I find that interesting. He wasn't worried that they'd be unfaithful. He wasn't worried that they'd lose their love for God and neighbour. He wasn't worried that they'd lose their courage in the face of persecution.

Jesus was worried that they'd be separated in purpose; broken up as a family; pulled apart from each other. He was afraid that their little community would crumble after he left.

So he prayed for their unity. Jesus didn't want his disciples to be split up. He wanted his followers to continue to be as devoted to each other after he was gone, as they were when he was with them.

And I think that if we look around, we might wonder if Jesus is still waiting for God to answer that prayer.

There has NEVER been a time when Christians could be classified as "unified." ALL the New Testament writings were responses to inner-church conflict. ALL of them. Some are more obvious than others, such as the nasty church fights that Paul wrote letters to help end. John's gospel was directed at his fellow Jews who didn't see Jesus the same way he saw Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote their gospels to contrast each other, because they didn't think the other guys got it right. Christians haven't been getting along since Peter and Paul met for coffee and failed to reach an agreement as to how we are saved.

Christianity was born in conflict. And it stayed in conflict.

But that's not news to us. We Lutherans don't shy away from conflict. In fact we celebrate it. Each Reformation Sunday, we get all parochial about how Martin Luther cast off the shackles of a tyrannical Roman Catholic Church and returned God's people the God-given freedom that belongs to every Christian. The Reformation was high drama. A conflict of cosmic magnitude. And we were the victors! So, we sing "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" lustily, a victory hymn for a battle that was won five centuries ago.

The Lutheran Reformation, was, of course, a needed corrective against the abuses of a church that had become too big to fail. But such an event shows that Christians aren't anywhere close to fulfilling what Jesus prayed for. If anything, the Lutheran Reformation made things worse. It opened a Pandora's Box of church splits. It gave license for any disgruntled Christian to leave their church in a huff and start up a new congregation down the street.

And we know that this is still going on, even maybe getting worse. It seems that every day new Lutheran denominations are being born, usually in response to how we talk about human sexuality. We all have our lines drawn; lines, if crossed, dissolves our relationships with other Christians. So we form new churches from the ashes of our failure to live up to Jesus' prayerful directions.

Studies have shown that churches that are started in conflict, stay in conflict, because that's a defining part of their congregation's story. Most churches that begin in a church split, face another split down the road, which, will then, split again. Fighting becomes part of the church's DNA. It is who they are.

Church fights are addictive. They create drama. A sense of purpose. Identity."Us vs Them." It feels like standing on moral high ground.

But it's really being disobedient to Jesus' final instructions. Jesus did not pray, "May they have unity in correct doctrine." Nor did he pray, "May they have unity in social issues." And he certainly didn't pray, "May they agree with each other all the time."

Jesus just prayed they (we) would have unity simply from being Christians, named and claimed in baptism, chosen by God to be lights in the darkness.

For those disciples overhearing Jesus' prayer, his words were probably both a challenge and a promise. No, they weren't getting along. They bickered, argued, and fought. They jockeyed for position and competed with each other for a seat at God's grown-up table. They knew they were anything but unified.

But they also heard Jesus PRAY for unity among the disciples. This meant that unity wasn't something THEY did. Unity was something GOD did. God brought them together. Unity is then a gift, an act of grace.

And God graciously brings us together every time we gather to hear the Word proclaimed and to receive the sacrament of new life. God bring us diverse, disparate, and differing people together to under a canopy of grace, as fellow sinners in need of forgiveness, and fellow saints beloved of God.

We may not be a completely unified church, and we are certainly not a completely faithful church. But what we do, what we have, and who we are is a gift from God, not our own doing.

In other words, Jesus' prayer for us HAS BEEN, IS BEING, and we have faith that it WILL BE answered. That means that every time we gather as the Body of Christ, God is active in answering Jesus' prayer. And we give thanks that we are not left alone to bring us together in unity, but that Jesus is continually praying for us, and the Holy Spirit is continually answering that prayer.

And may God continue to move within and among us, gathering us together, answering Jesus' prayer. Amen.