Thursday, May 31, 2012

Where did this come from?

Our texts for this first Sunday after Pentecost--widely known as Trinity Sunday--are Isaiah 6:1-8 and John 3:1-17, which can be read here.

Trinity Sunday presents a problem for the preacher who likes to preach from biblical texts (which I really hope is most of us): that is, the word "Trinity" appears nowhere in the scripture. This core doctrine of Christian faith is hinted at in closing glimpses of New Testament writings--such as in Paul's blessing to the Corinthians,
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you" (2 Cor 13:13) and in Jesus' final blessing to his disciples, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19), but nowhere is there a scripture passage that "explains" this idea that God is somehow many and one, in three persons yet one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Creator Christ and Holy Ghost. The word "Trinity" didn't come into use in the Church until around 170 AD, and didn't claim its place of importance in the Christian worldview and theology until the first Council of Nicea in 325.

So why devote a Sunday to considering the Trinity? Well, because the Trinity may not be anywhere particular in scripture, but these expressions of who God is are everywhere in the New Testament--and even in the Old. Story after story tells us that we do not have a handle on the fullness of God, not by any stretch--not even now that we have this well-defined doctrine of God's three-in-oneness. In Isaiah we get a glimpse of a God who is mighty and above all, yet with a pervasive spirit and a desire to work through human bodies as an incarnated presence. Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 brings us further into the diverse yet unified mystery of God, speaking of water and Spirit and Creation and a Son, of relationships of love and new life.

Where, in our passages for this Sunday, are you led more fully into the mystery of who God is? How might we open ourselves to encountering God in all of God's mind-blowing fullness? And how might such encounter change us? All of these are questions we'll consider together on this Trinity Sunday.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

God's Imagination

Our primary text for this Pentecost Sunday is the story of the great day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2:1-21. We will also read about the work of the Holy Spirit described in John 15:26-27, 16:4-15. Both of these passages can be read here.

On Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the day when God began God's new work of pouring out the Holy Spirit on all people, marking them as God's own and knitting them together to be the Body of Christ now that Jesus' physical body was no longer present on earth. It is called by many "the birthday of the church"--so don't forget to WEAR RED on Sunday morning as a sign of our collective celebration!

One of my favorite quotes about Pentecost and its meaning in our lives and faith comes from John Mcintyre, who while speaking at the Edinburgh Festival on Art and Religion once described Pentecost as the “wholehearted expression of the almost unlimited imagination of God.” We may no longer experience hurricane force winds or tongues of fire on a regular basis, or even on this one day a year, but we do still have the chance to experience and to participate in this insane imagination of God as to what God's continued visible presence on this earth could look like.

Think about the church today--our church, and the Church in general. In what ways do we represent and live out the best of God's "almost unlimited imagination"? In what ways have we settled for less than this rousing vision of wind and flame and speech and community given to us in Acts 2? Even without pyrotechnics, how might we continue to unravel and unveil God's creative excellence as we celebrate our birthday this year?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Stupidest. Question. Ever.

Our texts for this Ascension Sunday--our last Sunday in Eastertide before Pentecost--are Luke 24:44-53 and Acts 1:1-11.  I would also recommend additionally reading 2 Kings 2:1-12 and Luke 9:28-36 if you have a chance as well, because I think they give us important context for this story (Acts 1's telling of it in particular) that help us see things we might miss otherwise.  All these texts can be found here

Welcome back to one of the weirdest Sundays of the year!  Yes, friends, it's Ascension Sunday--or, as I like to affectionately call it, "Blast Off"--the day when Jesus' feet were lifted off of the earth's soil and his body was whisked away into heaven in a scene that defies logic and challenges imagination.

I was on a retreat with some pastor friends this week, and when we got to talking about the Ascension, one of my colleagues made this insightful remark:  "I think any sermon on the Ascension should be called 'The Stupidest Question Ever.'" She was talking about the question asked by the two men in white who appeared after Jesus disappeared:  "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?"  Is this a serious question?   Jesus was just LIFTED OFF TO HEAVEN IN A CLOUD.  They watched him go--just like that--while he was still talking--midsentence, even.  Poof.  Lift off.  Dazzling show of cloud and light.  So of COURSE they're standing there looking up towards heaven--what else would theybe doing after seeing something so unfathomable?  It has to be the Stupidest Question Ever...right up there with when, at Jesus' tomb on Easter morning, two guys in white asked the women why they were looking for the living among the dead.  Well...because we were actually looking for the dead.  Jesus was dead the last time we saw him.  Now he's...what?  Floating around in the sky somewhere?

So here's the real issue:  the guys in white were likely not stupid.  So why did they ask this question?  Where did they think the apostles should be looking?  And in this lies, perhaps, our question:  to where does the Ascension inspire us to look?  Where does it leave us gazing?  To what does it redirect our eyes, our expectations, our thoughts, our lives?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Joined Together

Our scriptures for this sixth Sunday in Easter are John 15:1-17, 1 John 5:1-6, and Acts 10:44-48, which can be read here.

We are engaging two key scriptures this week that address what it means to live in community even amidst diversity, and how living this way acts as a witness to who the risen Christ is: the image of the Vine and the Branches, a deeply connected community with love flowing through its marrow; and the story of the Holy Spirit falling on all people and binding them together as those of whom Jesus can say (as he did in John 15:16), "You did not choose me, but I chose you."

Living together is complex, to say the least. I know I preach and write about this all the time, but it's just because...well, it is hard! As one great Peanuts cartoon of the past eloquently put it, "I love humanity; it's people I can't stand." How often do we feel this way even with those closest to us--perhaps especially with those closest to us, those seated just a row or two over on Sunday morning even?

The first half of this week I was privileged to attend a conference in Washington, DC entitled "Children, Youth, and a New Kind of Christianity." This gathering of over 500 people came together to consider, essentially, the church for a new generation--what do we need to do to continue to abide together and to strengthen our connections, to help our youth and kids--and our adults!--form deep, abiding, lasting relationships with Christ and Christ's body?

In lieu of writing something new here, if this sounds interesting to you I would encourage you to check out this series of blogs I wrote for Baptists Today.

A New Kind of Ministry

Asking New Questions

A New Kind of Letter

A New Artistic Vision

This is a different sort of blogging than I usually do here, but I think the concepts I encountered at the conference dovetail nicely with the things we need to be asking ourselves about our witness and our life together in light of these passages. As always, I look forward to diving into them with you on Sunday!

Friday, May 4, 2012

On the Wilderness Road

Our texts for this Fifth Sunday in Easter are Acts 8:26-40, 1 John 4:7-12, and John 15:1-8, which can be read here

I hate that we are only getting snippets of the many amazing stories from the books of Acts this year; it seems like our journey through Acts in the 7 weeks of Eastertide is always too quick and this account of the earliest Christians seeking to live out Christ's ways deserves more of our time (never fear...I am already plotting a longer Acts series for next year, and we'll do some Acts overview in Bible Study tomorrow).  Yet, if we only get a few Acts passages, I am so glad this story about Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch is one of them--because it offers us more things to consider than we possibly can in the 20 minutes or so we'll have together with this tale on Sunday.

So, in advance of Sunday, to get your mind working around this text, here are some things from the text to think about over the next couple of days, if you dare:

Notice the verbs in this story (you know how I love grammar).  What things is Philip commanded to do by the Angel of the Lord?  How do these calls to action speak with you, especially when you think about your own call to bear witness?

Notice that the verbal exchange recorded between Philip and the Ethiopian takes place entirely in the form of questions.  Crazy, huh?  What questions or responses do the four questions that shape this encounter raise in you:
  1. Do you understand what you are reading? 
  2. How can I [understand], unless someone guides me? 
  3. About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else? 
  4. What is to prevent me from being baptized? 
Questions get me consider this:  as you think about your relationship with Christ or your understanding of him, what are the questions that burn within you?  And when you think about being a witness and talking with someone about things of faith, which questions might you most fear being asked?  Why?

Food for thought as we continue our journey of thinking about what it means to be witnesses, and as we prepare to sit with Philip and the Ethiopian in the chariot on the wilderness road on Sunday.