I Don’t Know

June 16, 2019

John 16:12-15

“I don’t know!”

This sentence alone can be interpreted in many ways. For a teacher asking a student the answer to a math or science question, it shows that the student does not comprehend or simply failed to do the homework or reading.

When it comes to hearing this answer in the setting of the church, how does it make you feel? Are you comfortable with living into not knowing, or are you more like the disciples that are constantly seeking concrete answers from Jesus? Are you comfortable with mystery, or are you stymied by it?

As a pastor, I hear plenty of questions where people want specific answers. Sometimes that is just not possible. At one point in my life, I have even had asked some of the same questions. I recall during CPE in seminary, where I was a chaplain in a hospital, the struggle and challenge of walking with families that encountered various diagnosis. One family I visited was in the ICU and they were sitting with their father, whose chance of recovery was very slim. As we prayed together, I could sense the love that filled the room. The next day I stopped by and he had awakened from the coma he was in and was beginning to communicate with his family. Another family had a sister that had had routine heart surgery and died a couple of days later due to complications. Where was God in these circumstances, I questioned at the time. It was safe to say I didn’t know and to just be present.

That is the mystery of God that we live into and it could not be made more apparent than today when we recognize Holy Trinity Sunday. The mystery that is God, lays in the very heart of the Trinity.

The disciples were uncomfortable with this mystery. They wanted answers before they were even ready to understand what those answers may be. They constantly sought answers to the mystery that was unfolding in front of them, yet they did not fully understand what was happening. They knew the God they followed in the Hebrew scripture, yet something was not computing when trying to equate God with Jesus. There was a disconnection with fully understanding that Jesus was both divine and human. There was a disconnection occurring when they tried to understand that Jesus was the Son of God. There was a disconnection when Jesus promised to send them the Holy Spirit.

So, where does this disconnection happen for us? It happens more times than we would like it to. To say that we fully understand God and the mystery that surrounds the Trinity means that you are fooling yourself. As David Lose writes in his blog,

“As I’ve said before, I don’t understand the Trinity and don’t trust those that report that they do. The Trinity is, at heart, our best if manifestly inadequate attempt to capture in words the mysterious nature of God.”

We fall short when we think that we have everything figured out and those that are different or have different thoughts than us are wrong. We stumble when we move forward in our own reasoning without listening to the Spirit’s guidance. We slip when we bow to the expectations of the world in preference to the teachings of Christ.

Jesus calls us to trust in the mystery. The mystery that we are not expected to fully comprehend. To be comfortable in the unknown requires faith. As Jesus tells us in today’s lesson, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” The disciples have already been overwhelmed with the journey thus far and Jesus knows that they are not quite ready to bear anything else. It will only be revealed when they are ready. It is the same for all of humanity.

As children of God, we are invited into this wonderful mystery. We are invited to join in community and walk with each other as the Trinity leads us. Richard Rohr, in his daily meditations, recently shared this about the Trinity,

I see mystery not as something you cannot understand; rather, it is something that you can endlessly understand! There is no point at which you can say, “I’ve got it.” Always and forever, mystery gets you! In the same way, you don’t hold God in your pocket; rather, God holds you and knows your deepest identity.

Whatever is going on in God is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between Three—a circle dance of love. God is Absolute Friendship. God is not just a dancer; God is the dance itself. This pattern mirrors the perpetual orbit of electron, proton, and neutron that creates every atom, which is the substratum of the entire physical universe. Everything is indeed like “the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26-27).

We have the opportunity to encounter each part of the Trinity in our own time and place. We are invited to join in the dance of the Trinity as Richard Rohr refers to and that we will sing about soon. To enter that relationship is mysterious and yet also overwhelming. God is much greater than we can ever imagine. God is the creator that calls us to care for God’s creation. Jesus is the part of the divine that has come to us in our own human form to show us the way. The Holy Spirit completes the three to companion us on this great journey of life.

The Holy Trinity is present with us at all times in our lives. When we are born. When we fall off the bicycle for the first time and scrape up our knees. When we enter the scary world of high school. When we must start providing for ourselves. When our own children are born and when we grow old and experience all new aches, pains, and terrible diseases. The Holy Trinity is with those that wake up from comas as well as those that breath their last breathes in this earthly world.

The Holy Trinity is at the heart of our Faith and is revealed to us in Jesus Christ as he died on the cross to reveals God’s unbounded love. The Holy Trinity is the Spirit that companions us throughout all of lives twists and turns. The Holy Trinity is the creator God that brings us all together in a relationship that is growing and is mystery.

It is okay to say, “I don’t know,” when you do not have an answer. For we are not expected to know it all. For as Jesus tells his disciples, you are not yet ready to bear it all.

Let us pray. Holy Trinity, your mysterious way leaves us dumbfounded. As we enter the dance of the Trinity, let us be open to those teachings that draw us ever closer to you. In the meantime, let us be at ease with those things we cannot understand and let our faith guide us in your ways. Amen.

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The Spirit Abides!

June 9, 2018

John 14:8-17, 25-27

There is an anxiousness that often times will creep up within me when I find myself in a place that is unfamiliar. Perhaps, you know exactly what I am talking about. It is that feeling when you feel yourself at an unease and you begin looking around for someone that you may know. Someone familiar to make the unfamiliar not seem as unnerving.

Believe it or not, some people live for these moments! And to be honest with you, as an introvert I do get anxious, but that little bit of the extrovert within me loves the new surroundings and the ability to experience new people and places. I want to believe that extrovert is the Holy Spirit within me pulling me in a direction to try and experience new activities, people, and places. It is the same Holy Spirit that energizes us to go out and share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Our first reading this week unfolds onto the birth of the Christian church as we know it. Now, Pentecost is not a new celebration for the followers of Jesus. It has been known as the Feast of Weeks, Shavuot, and eventually Pentecost by the Jewish people. Pentecost would follow 50 days after Passover and on it they would celebrate the handing down of the Torah, or law, to Moses and also the giving of the first fruits of the harvest at the temple. Therefore, the disciples are already gathered, and it is in this place that Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to take up residence in them. It will guide and teach them in the ways of the Lord and drive them out into the world to spread the gospel.

Amid this Pentecost celebration the anxiety had to be escalated! This was not a normal Pentecost, as everyone was speaking in their native language speaking about the amazing deeds God has and will continue to accomplish. I would like to know how Philip felt at this point in time following the conversation that he had with Jesus in the gospel lesson this week.

Philip needs to learn a little patience as the disciples walk with Jesus. Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father so that they will be satisfied. He does not sound much different from Thomas after Jesus’ resurrection. He wants some proof of who Jesus really is. This will satisfy him. He knows that it had happened before with Moses, so why can’t Jesus just reveal the Father to the disciples so that they are better equipped to go and share Jesus’ message. There must be more. Philip could simply be afraid. His expectations of God, the Father is not what he has witnessed so far with Jesus as he eats with sinners and touches the outcast. He is afraid and his heart is troubled because he is still looking for God among the actions of Jesus. This therefore feeds into the unbelief that Jesus addresses further in the gospel lesson.

Fear and a troubled heart can lead us in many wrong directions. Out of fear, we seek to exclude those that are different from us. Out of fear, we lock all our doors and are afraid to step out into the greater world. Out of fear, countries engage in war with one another. When this fear takes over our very being, our hearts become troubled and we fail to see Jesus in anything. The enemy has worked its way in and is doing exactly what it intended to do; to believe that we are separated from the love of God.

Personally, it is hard to overcome that unbelief! On my own, I struggle with this from time to time. The moment that we think we have it all figured out ourselves is when we begin to find ourselves in trouble. If we keep going down that hole, it just keeps getting deeper and we definitely cannot climb out on our own.

While Philip cannot help is own unbelief, Jesus can. And Jesus does the same thing for each one of us, for every person in our community, state, country, and around the world. The proof of Jesus helping our unbelief is that fact that he laid down his own life to share with us the depths that God is willing to go to bring us a love greater than we could ever imagine in our earthly home.

To relieve Philip’s anxiety and fear, Jesus gives him peace. It is a peace that will wash over him and guide him. This peace comes to him in the form of the Holy Spirit. Jesus once again reminds the disciples that he is different from anyone that has come before him.  He tells them, “I do not give as the world gives.” What a blessing this is for us to live into. You name it, we can find it out there somewhere in the world. But if we are looking for a grace and love that knows no bounds and is willing to knock down all barriers, that alone can be found in Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit is alive and active in our lives and is just waiting for us to listen and heed her guidance. It is not just for us individually. The Holy Spirit is also alive and well at Trinity Lutheran and it is our hope with the Tune-In team that we hear that Spirit moving and calling us to new and wonderous ministries.

Are you praying for the Holy Spirit to reveal itself in the life of our congregation? If not, will you? The Holy Spirit is just waiting to set us on fire with the passion to go out and share the good news, and oh, how much sweeter it is when we are able to do it in community.

Jesus went to the cross for us. It is here that we lay our unbelief and are reminded of the gifts of God found in the waters of baptism and the presence of Christ in the bread and wine at communion. The Holy Spirit is not a noun. The Holy Spirit is a verb that is active and moving around us as we continue to be God’s hands and feet in the world. It is the Holy Spirit that keeps everything moving. It is the Holy Spirit that takes up residence within our very beings and guides us and teaches us in the ways of the Lord. The promise of Jesus Christ has been fulfilled in the Holy Spirit!

Let us pray. God of Spirit, you have sent us your Son, Jesus to heal the sick, walk with the outcast, feed the poor, and so much more. May the Holy Spirit that comes to us as an advocate continue to teach us and guide us to be bearers of your goods news. Amen

A Glimpse of Pentecost

May 26, 2019 (Memorial Day Weekend)

John 14:23-29

I met David during my last J-Term class of seminary. J-term is the 2-3 week period in January before the spring semester starts and the classes offered are usually intensives on a certain topic. The class in which I chose to enroll was Gathered at the Table. A two-week course, led by the then director of education for ELCA World Hunger, where the first week was spent on campus in class learning about how the ELCA was combatting world hunger and how we made our voice heard, and the second week was spent in Washington D.C.

David was passionate about caring for the homeless of Washington D.C. and ensuring that they had every opportunity available to them to step out of homelessness. Why was David so passionate? Because he himself, traveled the United States from Phoenix to Las Vegas, to Dallas and then Chicago, then from New York City to eventually landing in Washington D.C. as a homeless man. He found himself homeless at the age of 29 due to schizophrenia.  He kept moving around the country to find a place where he may fit in, while living on the streets. He always tried to keep up his appearance so that he did not appear homeless. However, he told us that in Washington D.C. he started looking the part and probably looked like the person he used to cross the street to avoid encountering. It was in Washington D.C. that David met people from the National Coalition for the Homeless. The coalition was a voice for the homeless and helped him get off the streets. They advocated for him and assisted him in finding an apartment. They were a voice for him when his was silent. Once he got back on his feet, he started working as a member of the National Coalition for the Homeless by talking to groups like ours and ensuring the voice of the homeless are heard. He had become an advocate.

Jesus promises to send an advocate, the Holy Spirit, in his place when he leaves. This advocate will teach us and remind us of Jesus Christ and how we are to live into the grace and love of God in this broken world. David was living this out in his life and carrying it to the next step and following in the steps of those that had lifted him up. How are we being an advocate for our brothers and sisters around the world?

This is a tough question that some do not want to even be bothered with. It requires us to dig deep into the heart of the gospel and listening to what Jesus teaches. Some choose to walk away while others simply go through the motions. Judas Iscariot has chosen the latter. He has walked away from the promise of Jesus to fulfill the plan that was set in place from the very beginning. Judas himself would suffer in the motion of eventually handing Jesus over to the authorities. He has stepped away from the truth of Jesus Christ and set into motion the passion that would pull all of us into the greater story.

As Jesus spends this last night with his disciples, he leaves some challenging thoughts for them to discern as they choose or choose not to follow him. He challenges them when he says, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” What exactly does it mean to keep the words of Jesus? Have we been listening to his teachings from the very beginning? The disciples must be pondering some of these same questions. They have been traveling with Jesus for the last three years and now he starts to point out what separates you from God. Note, this does not mean that God does not love us, but our own lack of love for Jesus separates us from knowing the truth that is found in the word.

We not only do this with Jesus, but we do it with those that choose to get close to us, to know us, and want to be in a relationship with us so that we can build community. God works through various relationships to draw us closer to Jesus. As in David’s case, it can take some time to wake up to those that are speaking out on our behalf and reaching out with a love that is reflective of God’s love for us.

Jesus knows our hearts!

Jesus knows that we get lost!

Jesus seeks us out because of these very truths. Jesus will leave the ninety-nine behind to find just the one that is lost. That is the very thing that an advocate does. An advocate speaks up on behalf of those whose voices are getting ignored. As Jesus prepares to enter the passion journey that will lead him to the cross, he promises the disciples that he will send an advocate in his place. This advocate that he speaks of is the Holy Spirit! This is a glimpse of the Pentecost that is to come, and the Pentecost that we will be celebrating in two weeks. The Holy Spirit will continue to be a teacher for the disciples and remind them of Jesus’ words. The Holy Spirit will assist them as they are left wondering where to turn next as Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection begins to set the tone for the ministry to come and their calling to share the good news.

The Holy Spirit is our advocate as well. The gospels teach us how to live out this Christian life and follow in the steps of Jesus Christ. We are God’s hands and feet in the world. David began to learn this as he finally opened his heart up to those in the National Coalition for the Homeless as they advocated on his behalf. He in turn, heard the call to do the same for those that are still on the streets and wondering where their next meal will come from or how they will warm up on those coldest days and nights.

So, I return to my original question. How are we being an advocate for our brothers and sisters around the world?

Are we being bold and carrying out the gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ, as he has called us to do?

There are many things that we can be advocates for. We can choose to advocate for those that hunger and support various organizations, such as Bread for the World or ELCA World Hunger. We can support our ministry partners in Haiti and assist in their care and teaching of those that need it the most. We can speak out against gun violence and the deaths of our sisters and brothers in schools, places of worship, and workplaces. We can be a voice for the environment and the care of creation. We can walk alongside immigrants and those seeking refuge and asylum.

We advocate because we are Easter people. We follow and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Following the gospel is not always easy and it means going against the grain at times. Maybe you feel called to a particular cause to advocate, maybe you are praying for the Holy Spirit to guide you.

As Jesus prepares to leave the disciples, he promises them an advocate. Our hymn of the day, Come Down, O Love Divine, speaks of that advocate. In verse 4 we hear, “No soul can guess love’s grace till it become the place where in the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.” It is this advocate that comes to reside in us in love and grace. May we be a reflection of that advocate to share love and grace with our sisters and brothers around the world.

Let us pray. God, creator of all things, you promise to send us an advocate, the Holy Spirit, to teach us and remind us of Christ in our midst. May we be open to your words of love and grace as we reach out to share your gospel with our communities and remain strong in our faith as we speak a gospel that seems counter-cultural at times. Amen.

We Are One Body!

January 27, 2019

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we came out of the womb with instructions on how to live our lives and what we needed to do to fulfill the calling that God has given us? Some of you may find the possibility of that a relief, while others may find it a burden.

In our baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit, yet our individual gifts still elude us. This is all a part of the journey in which we are led. We are however, shaped by the experiences that come are way, even if they are not quite what God had intended. I did not enter seminary until I was in my thirties, however, as I looked back on my previous career in the retail industry, there were many things that I had learned that could benefit me in my calling as a pastor. I also learned the hard way that I could not do everything. I had to learn how to delegate and learn when to step back as I sensed the need to take a deep breath. I would like to say that I have mastered these skills, but it would be a lie. It is part of that constant learning process.

When we are born and start going to school, we start getting ideas of things that we want to do when we grow up. Some kids want to be firemen, chefs, or astronauts. For me, I wanted to be a lawyer! That would eventually evolve to doing something in the business world, which is where I would first end up after graduation from college. It took a while for me to hear God calling me to ministry. Out of the many career routes one could choose to take, we need all of them to function as a society. Being created in the image of God, we are each called to use our gifts and talents to make a whole relationship with one another.

We get into trouble when we think that we can do everything on our own. We either find out that we just simply do not have enough time to do everything required, or we rush through it where you can tell that it was done without care and respect. And let’s admit it, we do not know everything, even if we want to believe we do. There is also the possibility of pushing ourselves to extremes which can lead to burn out and sickness.

We need various parts to function. As Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? …. If all were a single member, where would the body be?” When we fail to communicate with other parts of the body, we can end up with utter chaos.

We witness it played out time and time again in government as different parties fail to listen to one another and decide that their way is the best way without allowing the opportunity for discussion and compromise. Instead we look at others and say, “I have no need of you.”

Paul addresses the Corinthians with these same words when he sees that there are disagreements occurring within their community among those that are following Christ and those that are not too sure yet. His call is for them to work together as one body. They are going to have a hard time living into the body of Christ if they choose not to get along. Their arguing and disregard for those that think differently breaks the body apart.

While we are individual members of the body of Christ, God wants us to live out our calling with one another. We are called to share our gifts and talents so that we can move forward to be God’s hands and feet in the world. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul calls them to strive for the greater gifts. Those gifts that God has given them individually. Those gifts, when combined with the other gifts of the people in the community, will lead them closer to living the kingdom of God in this world. As they do so, Paul will continue to walk with them and show them even greater ways through Jesus Christ.

As we come together this morning as a community of Christ, we each bring our own unique gifts that have been given to us by a God that loves us dearly and wants us to use them to learn to work together and live into relationship. We are reminded of the various gifts of the congregation by looking at our annual report and seeing the varied ministries that take place during the year at Trinity. As we use these gifts to share the love of God with our neighbors, we do our best to be a living example of Jesus Christ in the world. Some of us may still be trying to find the gift that meshes into the fabric of our community, and that is ok. We are not handed a description of what our gifts are on a note card. We are encouraged to enter into prayer to discern those gifts and together we will work to find the most excellent way, as Paul would say.

Working together as one community is how Trinity Lutheran can live out our mission to celebrate God’s Word together and open our arms in service to all. As we live out God’s Word, and open our arms, we share God’s love with all.

Let us pray. Loving God, we give thanks for the varied gifts of this community. We pray that your presence is felt in the continual discernment of those gifts. May we use them to be your hands and feet in this world. Amen.

Being Opened

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September 9, 2018

Mark 7:24-37

Sometimes you just need a good smack upside the head! I don’t think there is an age limit when this option ends.

For me, one such time was while I was on internship as I was preparing to become a pastor. Every spring before my seminary sent out students to begin internship later that summer they would gather the students together and give them a handbook of requirements. This handbook placed in my hands was a very dangerous thing. I now knew what I had to do and when I had to have it done and surely it would help me coast through my year of internship.

About halfway through the year I had a visit from Pastor Jane, the Contextual Education Director at Trinity. We talked about how internship was going with my internship supervisor and what the focus of the rest of my time there should look like. This is when I received a smack upside the head. As I talked about my checklists and getting the requirements done, Jane asked me, “How are you learning to be a pastor?”

Hmm…what a great question. I had learned how to do, but I had just barely scraped the surface of what it meant to be. It was in that little question that I was opened up to a whole new experience.

This morning in our gospel lesson, we have two stories that are stacked upon each other. They are more connected than one may think at first glance. First, they are both stories of healing. Second, the people that are asking for the healing are not the ones that need the healing. The Syrophoenician woman asks for her daughter and the deaf man’s friends ask Jesus that he be healed. They are both outsiders. The Syrophoenician woman is a Gentile and we can’t say if the deaf man was, but he definitely was on the outside looking in as someone with a disability. In a culture that relies on oral tradition and few people being literate, not being able to hear or speak puts you at a major disadvantage.

What is Jesus supposed to do with these two that come to him seeking restoration and healing? The conversation that occurs between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman is one that does not seem to highlight Jesus’ people skills very well. He is combative and the love that we have got to know Jesus through seems to be lacking. You could say that he even comes off as a jerk. We are left wondering what must be going on in his mind. Maybe he is tired and just needs to take a sabbath. Maybe he needs to get away and pray.

It is easy to get stuck in a rut and keep on doing what has always been done. When we do this, it is not uncommon to react negatively when we are challenged. When things do not go the way that we expect them.

To live in our own insular lives blocks others out that are different from us. The outsiders that we hear of in the gospels. The outsiders that usually get welcomed to have a seat at the table with Jesus to break bread and join in conversation. When we do this, we also close ourselves off to the possibilities that lay before us in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God that is unfolding before our very eyes. When we fail to welcome the outsider as Jesus does, we close ourselves off from the Spirit acting and moving in our lives to show us new ways to encounter Christ.

We first hear the promise in our reading from Isaiah this morning.

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy (31:6).

There is one word that Jesus speaks this week that changes everything!

It is in Jesus’ natural tongue and it is, “Ephphatha!” Fortunately, for those of us that do not know Aramaic, it is translated for us within the text, “Be opened!” It is in this word that Jesus heals the deaf man so that he can hear once again and speak so that people can understand him. The man that was deaf and could not speak was now opened to the world around him. His ears were opened to hear the sounds all around him and his vocal cords were made alive so that he was able to fully communicate with friends and family.

When Jesus speaks “Ephphatha” to the deaf man, it is also reflective of the previous scene when he is approached by the Syrophoenician woman. In this encounter, it is Jesus that is opened up! His way of thinking and the way that he views the woman. While his words first come across as hard to hear, even hard to imagine they are coming from Jesus, the woman provides him with the smack upside the head that he seems to need at that moment. She opens him up to even healing Gentiles, and expanding his ministry to all of God’s creation, beyond the people of Israel. It is in her words that Jesus ears are opened and his compassion for others is expanded.

The call of Jesus for the deaf man’s ears to be opened is a call that speaks to us today. As we close ourselves off from others and stick to the things that need to be done, how are we being opened to encounter Christ and the Spirit that leads us?

That smack upside the head that I received in seminary was enough for me to be opened to more and to learn how to be. Of course, I do slip back into the doing probably more often than I would like, but the Spirit is powerful and pulls me back into being.

How have your eyes, ears, hearts, and hands been opened to the Spirit working in your life? How are we as a community opened up to serving one another and being available in times of need? I believe we have listened to God calling us to be open through many efforts as a community, including the Food Pantry at St. Augustine’s, the Good Samaritan Fund, and the Backpack Blessings program. We have also worked together for Kids Against Hunger that provides food not just locally, but throughout the world.

It is in these many ministries that we are open to the Spirit. Our denominations are called to be open as well, which is reflective in some of our taglines. The ELCA is called to serve with open hands as we realize it is God’s Work. Our Hands. The UCC encourages us to be open to hearing the Spirit guide us as we are reminded that God is Still Speaking. And the United Methodist Church could not be clearer as their tagline is Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.

To witness God working in the Richmond Community is wonderful and when we are able to come together to worship and serve, the love of Christ is multiplied, and we are able to expand our voices and welcome people in to be open to a movement of the Spirit that changes lives. Together, we come to the cross and give our thanks to God for the love that was poured out for us and all of humanity through Jesus and the saving grace that we find in the waters of baptism and the meal that is served at the Lord’s table.

Let us pray. God of Community, you have knitted us together as sisters and brothers in Christ. May we walk with one another as you open up our ears, eyes, hearts, and hands to serve our neighbors and learn to love the stranger. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Let Us Join the Dance

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May 27, 2018, Holy Trinity Sunday

John 3:1-17

 

Who likes to dance?

I know that I witnessed some members of the congregation dancing a couple of weeks ago during Michael and Jessica’s wedding reception. That is about the time that I decided to leave!

I will admit, that I do have the high scores on some of the songs on our collection of Just Dance video games. That is about the only time you will find me dancing, in the privacy of my home. Or perhaps, out in public if the opportunity provides itself to embarrass my children.

There is power in dance, to invoke embarrassment, but more importantly to connect with those around you. That is why the language of dance is a great metaphor to connect to the relationship of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is the image of relationship that we are called to live into as humanity. It is a dance that requires moving in time with one another and opening ourselves up to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, that does not mean that we won’t step on each other’s toes from time to time.

Sometimes, it is not just stepping on toes, it is stumbling and wondering where we are going to land. Within John’s words, come a mystery that is hard to define and fully understand. While Nicodemus appears just as dense as the apostles do throughout the gospels, we are left feeling for him and his lack of understanding. Jesus’ words are not necessarily easy to understand. His words appear to be a riddle where one must be standing on the same side of Jesus to fully understand. In a way this is true. “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit” (vs. 6). Jesus is on the side of the Spirit.

Nicodemus’ understanding of God still resides in the flesh. He has yet come to know the Spirit and the power that it yields in the very life of all humanity. If you recall, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. The mystery that surrounded Jesus was very intriguing for this Pharisee. He truly had a desire to understand what Jesus’ purpose was and how he related to God. He knew that he came from God yet was still at a loss for a complete understanding. However, he cannot quite wrap his mind around what Jesus is saying.

Apparently, he was not the only one. When he first approaches Jesus, he tells him, “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.” His coming at night is a reflection of where he is in his faith and understanding of Jesus. Yes, it is good to study the Torah in the evening, but the evening also provides a good cover so that those that want to see Jesus quieted, do not see Nicodemus interacting with the one that is soon to turn Jerusalem upside down.

Nicodemus asks the question, “How can these things be?” (vs 9) Now, if you are a good Lutheran, this question may sound somewhat familiar. As Luther walks through his catechism, each section he asks, “What does this mean?”

We are inquisitive people and it is nice to know why we believe what we do. However, when it comes to the Holy Trinity, we are often caught up in the mystery with few answers in sight. While the number of Americans that do not claim a specific faith tradition as their own continues to grow, that does not mean that they are not inquisitive. There is still a longing for connection.  A longing to dance with people and practices that fulfill the desire within our hearts.

Perhaps you have heard people say, “Well, I consider myself Spiritual, but I am not religious.” First, I am not fully aware what this means, and I am not sure if they fully know what it means. I do not think it is too off base to equate people that place themselves in this category with Nicodemus. There is an intrigue within both to discover more about the mystery of God and how it relates to their lives as they interact with others. Being spiritual is not a bad thing in itself. Neither is being religious. There are times when both can be taken to extremes and we lose our focus on the center of it all, Jesus Christ.

Nicodemus had an inkling that Jesus knew something that he did not. He sensed that there was more to Jesus then just what he saw in the signs that he performed. He desired to be closer to Jesus and learn from him. He recognized him as a teacher and he wanted to become the student. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night hoping to find something or hear something that he hoped would unveil the mystery. It was Jesus that came to him though.

Jesus came to Nicodemus bringing a hope that he had only dreamed of. While he stumbled along the way, stepping on Jesus’ feet and even over his own words, Jesus shared with him that dance. The mystery that plays out with God the father, himself, and the Spirit. Jesus uses baptismal language to connect with Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (vs 5). Nicodemus came to see Jesus in the cover of night only to have the light revealed to him that can only be found in Jesus Christ. A light that vanishes all darkness. A light that begins to reveal the kingdom of God. A light that is full of hope and love.

 

Grace in the World

The same mystery is with us today. We do not fully understand the Holy Trinity and the complexity that surrounds it. The light that was revealed to Nicodemus shines through all time and places as we wait to encounter the kingdom of God ourselves. You know what though? The kingdom of God has already started to come. In the water and the Spirit that Jesus speaks of, we find new life in the mystery that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the waters we are reminded of our baptisms and the saving grace that washed over us. The Spirit is present with us as we learned last week to intercede on our behalves whenever we need comfort and peace. At times that same Spirit even pushes us out into the wilderness to challenge us to live our lives more fully in Christ.

Each of you, by coming to worship, have made the conscious decision to enter the Holy Trinity School of Dance. In this school we learn how to let the Holy Trinity take the lead and be led by the Spirit. Richard Rohr, in one of his latest books The Divine Dance, reveals how this dance became visible in the incarnation.

          Jesus became incarnate to reveal the image of the invisible God. The personal Incarnation is the logical conclusion of God’s love affair with creation. Do you know why I can say this? Do you know why I can believe this?  Because I see it in human beings: over a period of time, we all become what we love. God in Jesus became what God loves—everything human.

          Jesus dramatically exemplified the oft-quoted line of the Latin poet Terence: “I am a human being, and nothing human is foreign to me.”

          Just show me what you love, and I’ll show you what you’re going to be like five years from now. Show me what you give time to, what your treasure is, what you give energy to—and I’ll show you what you’ll become.

          God had to become human once the love affair began, because—strictly speaking—love implies some level of likeness of even equality. The Incarnation was an inevitable conclusion, not an accident or an anomaly. It shouldn’t have been a complete surprise to us.

He goes on to state that humanity has failed to keep the Trinity intact. We easily look past the Spirit and even past Jesus for that matter. We put everything on God without a second thought and think that we need to appease God. However, it is a dance. A divine dance that takes our entire lives to learn and begin to understand.

In just a moment, we will sing Come, Join the Dance of Trinity. Just don’t sing the lyrics, listen to them and breath them in. For it is in love and hope that Jesus came to dance with us as the Spirit steps in to take the lead. Shall we dance?

Let us pray. Loving God, we may not be Fred and Ginger on the dance floor, but we invite you into our lives to dance and unveil your kingdom. Christ our brother, we give thanks for your flesh that bled to remind us of the love you have for us. May the Spirit lead us and guide us on this path, missteps and all, as we attempt to follow your will. Amen

 

Breath of Life

pentecost-mosaic-690x353

May 20, 2018, Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21, Romans 8:22-27

 

Nature has both peaceful and destructive tendencies. It can be peaceful after a fresh snow or spring rain shower. The spring brings new flowers and babies of all kinds. However, the power of nature can destroy and changes lives forever. We witness this in the destructive power of hurricane force winds and floods that wipe out neighborhoods and communities.

These same winds blow through our times of uncertainty and desperation. Uncertainty about that job that we may be waiting to hear about. Uncertainty about the diagnoses from the doctor that we are awaiting. Uncertainty about what the future may bring for our children and grandchildren. A wind that swirls around our desperation and longing for a sign of hope that may bring peace and understanding.

These winds blow through our lives where there is darkness and death. In the darkness we tend to blame and point fingers instead of being present to the wind that brings fresh air. In the darkness it is difficult to see the light when we are sulking and throwing our own personal pity party. However, the wind is ever present, blowing this way and that.

The wind blows through our nation and world where it seems at times we have come to an impasse. It appears at times that we are more split than ever. Many languages are being spoken and it appears that no one can understand the other. The Republicans and Democrats are speaking a different language. People of color and the white majority are speaking a different language. Men and women are speaking a different language. The rich and the poor are speaking a different language.  Yet, the wind continues to blow.

 Paul in his letter to the Romans says,

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Sprit, groan inwardly while we await adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:22-23

The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains! There is a bit of reassurance that comes in this statement from Paul.

We tend to do a lot of groaning of our own when things do not go as expected. God’s creation is an amazing thing that never stops growing. Physically and inwardly. The Hebrew Bible is nothing but stories of creation and humanity groaning as they find their way. Every turn that is taken brings something new and exciting.  There are signs of God working in and among the people of Israel and the wind never stops blowing.

The apostles are experiencing their first Pentecost after Jesus’ death and resurrection. There are already numerous crowds gathered in the city because Pentecost was a festival day. A day in which the Jewish people celebrated the Feast of Weeks, or it could also be found to be called the Feast of the First Fruits, or the Feast of Harvest.

It does not take long for confusion to break out as the wind rushes through the apostles gathering and in response they are found to be speaking the languages of their ancestors. There is a stir of suspicion among those that have ran to examine the noise. There confusion is wrapped up in what is happening among Jesus’ apostles, for surely, they are drunk. Peter reassures them that they are not.

 The rush of the wind brings great power to them and is a reminder of the promises that Jesus had made to them before he ascended into the heavens. In the first chapter of Acts, before Jesus ascends, he tells the apostles,

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8

This is the same wind that blew through creation at the very beginning. We find this wind in Genesis in the creation story and we find it throughout the lives of the Israelites and their ancestral stories. The wind that comes through the gathering of the apostles is the wind that breathed life into creation. It is the wind that blew through the Garden of Eden as Adam and Eve walked among the flora and fauna. It is the breath of life that was in every animal that entered the ark. It is the same wind that separated the waters of the Red Sea so that the Israelites could get safely to the other side and escape the Egyptians. It is the same Spirit that came upon David and made him king of the Israelites.

This breath of life, this Ruach in the Hebrew language, is a powerful word. It connects the Spirit of God to the breath and life of all creation. That breath of life is in the wind that blows through the apostles on this first Pentecost after Jesus has died, was raised, and ascended into the heavens. This is the Spirit that Jesus promised to them. A Spirit that will guide them from this day forward. The Holy Spirit that is one with him and his Father.

 This breath of life, this Ruach, has never stopped moving and working its way into all the nooks and crannies of creation. It brings life to the dead and fills us with hope. This breath of life is the Holy Spirit that is among us from the very beginning of our existence to direct and guide us.

Paul reminds us in Romans that the Holy Spirit is also present with us to

Help us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that every Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27

We are the saints of God. In our baptisms we are marked with the sign of the cross of Christ forever and in this we are reminded that we receive the same promise as the apostles. The Spirit will be with us to guide, lead, and intercede on our behalf. While the Spirit is ever present with us, it is does not mean that everything is going to go just the way that we want it to. The Spirit can be sneaky, and it does not bend to our will. In his reflection on the Holy Spirit, David Lose writes,

The Spirit doesn’t solve our problems but invites us to see possibilities we would not have seen otherwise. Rather than remove our fear, the Spirit grants us courage to move forward. Rather than promise safety, the Spirit promises God’s presence. Rather than remove us from a turbulent world, or even settle the turbulence, the Spirit enables us to keep our footing amid the tremors. Keep in mind that after the Spirit is given to Jesus at his Baptism, it immediately drives him into the wilderness. The same Spirit![i]

Where is the Spirit guiding you in your life? Today in this present moment. Tomorrow as you go back to work. In the life of your friends and family.

Where is the Spirit guiding Trinity Lutheran Church as a congregation? Being reminded of the life of the past as we move into a new future where church is not seen as essential as it once was. Are we willing to let the Spirit guide us into some new and exciting ministries? Are we willing to fall flat on our faces, only to get back up with the help of the Holy Spirit to try something new? The Spirit has called us all together to worship and praise God. The Holy Spirit also calls us to go out into the world to proclaim the good news.

The Spirit, the mighty wind that blows through our lives, sometimes like the force of a hurricane, shapes us and prepares us to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. How can we best share that good news with our friends and neighbors in Richmond and the surrounding area?

Let us pray. Spirit that blows through our gathering and rests upon each and everyone of us, may we be guided in the truth and love of Jesus Christ. May we be called forth in our lives of faith to serve our friends and neighbors, and as a gathered congregation may we be open to the Spirit calling to new and exciting ministries. Amen

 

[i] David Lose, In the Meantime, http://www.davidlose.net/2018/05/pentecost-b-2018-pentecost-possiblities/