Sunday, May 30, 2010

“Invited in Love”

Romans 5:1-5
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

A Message from the Pastor
Whenever we come into this holy space we hear the word of God and especially hear about Jesus. We might hear about our relationship with Jesus, such as we heard from the Second Reading and the Gospel for today. We will also hear stories about Jesus as he did ministry on this earth, or we hear what he has to say, or both. That’s not unusual since we are – using a two dollar word – Christological in nature. Our faith, our belief, our relationship with God centers in Christ. This is to be expected since we focus on Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection. What Jesus did permits us to be one with God and one with Jesus Christ.

However, last week we focused on the Holy Spirit since it was the birthday of the church. We heard about the power of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit formed the church and empowered us to be in mission.

This Sunday we consider something even more unique. We reflect upon the reality of The Holy Trinity. Our thoughts today are unique because the word “Trinity” is not even in scripture. It was never mentioned in any of the writings. Yes, there is mention of the Father, who created us, the Son, who redeemed us, and the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us. There is no possibility of the Son without the Father. The Holy Spirit’s sole purpose is to point to the Son. These three are mentioned in the second and gospel reading for today. However, the concept of one God with three persons was not developed until four hundred years, or so, after the birth of Christ.

The concept of the Trinity cannot be understood. It cannot be explained. We can provide perspectives. We can make comments and analogies to help us to grasp some perception of the Trinity. However, The Holy Trinity is beyond understanding.

There is an insert in your bulletin today that might help us a little. The first diagram is in color. In the triangle, the Son is the lower left part of the triangle. The Holy Spirit is the lower right part. The Father is at the top of the triangle. In the center of the triangle is God. Yes, the words are difficult to read, but it says that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. However, as the circle says, the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father. The Son is not the Holy Spirit, nor is the Holy Spirit the Son. And, the Holy Spirit is not the Father and the Father is not the Holy Spirit. Folks, that’s not logical. What it says defies all logic. Yet, in the reality of God, it is true. What I like about this diagram is that it becomes evident that we cannot understand God.

Remember Moses at the burning bush? When Moses asked God’s name, God said, “I am who I am.” In other words, I AM. That’s it. God will be who God will be.

The second diagram is simpler. There are three points that depict the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The entire diagram depicts God. And, if we follow the line, we realize there is no beginning or ending. That’s why I like this diagram.

Let me share with you some thoughts that, hopefully, will develop additional perspectives about the Holy Trinity. God is love. That’s scriptural. It’s in First Timothy. God is love. Love requires a relationship. It requires two people.

If you were on a deserted island where there were no animals of any kind, even insects, only vegetation, there cannot be love. Vegetation cannot love back. Oh sure, some of us are tree huggers. Some of us talk to our plants, but they do not talk back. We cannot have a relationship with them. There is no love. It takes two to love.

In the Trinity, the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. Emanating from the Father and the Son is the power of love. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit. What we might perceive as the Holy Trinity is the community of love.

Now, I’ll ask the question I ask now and then, “So what?” In fact, I hope you ask it any time you hear something about our relationship with God and don’t understand how and/or why it affects you on your human journey as a spiritual being.

Paul helps us with this question. We are justified by faith and we live in this grace of God through Jesus Christ. Because of this we can boast of our hope in the glory of God. However we also can boast in our sufferings. (Garrison Keilor says you can always tell a Lutheran. They love to suffer.) Sufferings are a part of life. We cannot avoid them on our human journey as spiritual beings. We live in a broken world. Just hear or read the news. This morning’s headlines talks about the increased violent crimes in the Johnson City area.

But we can boast of our sufferings, because, as Paul says, God’s love has been poured into us. We have been invited into the community of love. And because of that, our sufferings create endurance shaped and formed out of love. And that endurance produces a character, not of the world, but a character that acts out of love that comes from being in the community of love.

Character produces hope. This hope is not the hope that sees a light at the end of the tunnel that becomes an oncoming train. It is the hope that sees the light, the light of Christ. All of this occurs because the love of God has been poured into us from the Holy Spirit. We live with love. We live in love. We live within love.

Personally, I have no problem understanding the Father. All I have to do is look around at God’s creation and see the love of God. I have no problem understanding the Son. I come to the foot of the cross and see the love that the Son has for us as he gave his life so that we may be one with God. While I have a little more problem with the Spirit, there are times – just like you – when I sense the Spirit in my life.

However, I cannot wrap my brain, my understanding, around the Holy Spirit. It is beyond logic. It is beyond intellect. It is beyond understanding. What I can do is realize that I have been invited into the community of love. It is there where I find endurance, character, and hope, surrounded in, with, and within love.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

“Being in Mission”

Acts 2:1-22
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 1Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?" 1But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
'In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'

Romans 8:14-17
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ — if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

John 14:8–17, 25–27
Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 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.

I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 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.

A Message from the Pastor
Today is a day of celebration. Today is the Day of Pentecost. It is the birthday of the church. The day of Pentecost is the third most significant festival of the church year. The first, of course, is Easter. The second is the birthday of Jesus. It is the day the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles to empower them to go into the world. The apostles are the foundation of the church.

As I thought about this, I thought about the sequence of seasons in the church year and how it develops our thinking. We began the church year in late November, before this mission began to worship. In that season, we considered the coming of Jesus. The Twelve Days of Christmas was next in which we celebrated that the Son of God became human, became one of us, and lived among us. Then, there was the season of Epiphany in which we recognized the light of the word was with us. We could see Jesus. With all this focus on Jesus, his coming into the world and his love for us, we realized our own human condition during Lent. We are sinful, we have shortcomings and character defects, and we are imperfect. Yet, we knew that God loved us, just the way we are. At the end of Lent, we observed Holy Week. It is the time in which we consider Jesus’ living sacrifice of himself so that we could be one with God and one with Jesus. We could be reconciled to God. Then came the joyous Fifty Days of Easter. We not only acknowledged the resurrection of Jesus, but that he appeared in his resurrected form before approximately five hundred of his followers. Furthermore, we heard about the relationship, in love, and in God and Jesus, that Jesus desires for us.

All of this occurs in the first half of the church year. It comes to conclusion on the Day of Pentecost.

So what? Is it just nice to have a relationship with God through Jesus? Is all that we considered a nice thing to consider so that we feel good and recognize that we are Christians?

What does it mean to us? What can we do about it? Well, actually nothing, by ourselves. There is nothing we can do. But this relationship with Jesus makes all the difference in the world when we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Day of Pentecost is not only the birthday of the Church, but it is the day that the Church was called to mission.

Let’s just think about the first story in today’s reading. There were twelve men who stepped out of the house to talk to the people. There were twelve men who were willing to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to those surrounding the house. The spokesman, Peter, denied Jesus fifty-three days before that day. The other eleven ran like scared rabbits when Jesus was arrested. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, they were huddled in a room, afraid of the authorities. Howeve, within twelve years of Paul’s missionary journey, there were approximately 10,000 followers of Jesus. Within the first hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection, believers traveled to Spain, France, England and Ireland. The number of Christians had grown to well over a few hundred thousand. It was all because of the power of the Spirit poured into men and women, slaves and free people, and old and young people.

When we think about it, those here in this room are not much different than those in that house on the Day of Pentecost. There were probably a similar number of people. No, split tongues like fire don’t rest upon us. No, we don’t speak in several languages. No, we’re not the disciples, reported at the end of Chapter 2, when they baptized three thousand people. But we do have the power of the Spirit.

Look around the room. Identify those who are now worshipping who answered the door when an individual was in the neighbor identifying those not connected to a faith community. It was not just the individual. The Holy Spirit called them to worship at this mission and participate in the community of faith. Identify those who are now worshipping who responded to an invitation to worship. It was just not the one inviting. The Holy Spirit called them out to be part of a community, sharing the love, care, and concern because of Christ in our midst. Identify those who are now worshipping who heard about this mission and decided to find out for themselves what it was all about. That was the Spirit calling them out to become part of a community of faith to strengthen their faith and share it with one another. Identify those who were inactive in worship and decided to participate regularly in this faith community. That was the Holy Spirit calling them to come and worship here and join in the fellowship of believers.

We are empowered by the Spirit to reach out with the gifts the Spirit has given us to share the faith that we have. There are those who wish to know and experience the love of Jesus Christ. There are those who wish to call out “Abba!” or “Daddy.” That’s what Abba means. We have a faith that knows we are children and heirs of God, and heirs with Jesus Christ. We have a faith that knows that Jesus leaves his peace with us. He gives us his peace. Our hearts need not be troubled or afraid. Through the Spirit, in our own way, we are empowered to share that with others.

I have a vision. Several months from now, I would hope that one Saturday or Sunday a month, approximately five pairs of people from this community of faith could spread out throughout the Jonesborough area, making initial calls, and identify those who are not connected with a faith community. We could reach about 150-200 in a short period of time, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I also have a hope, and I think it is one shared by you. I hope that some time soon, each Sunday a new worshipper will come to experience what we experience each Sunday. I think it is shared by you because I see the smiles on your faces and the joy you express when they come to be with us.

We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. After all, God so loves the world. Why would we want to? Because he is risen! He is risen, indeed.