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Trinity

Jesus said to the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth . . .”  John 15:12-13a (NRSV)

There are a lot of things I really don’t understand.  Maybe I live with the “why” question every day, I don’t know.  I joke with the congregations I serve when I talk about it and say that I have a list of questions to ask when I get to heaven, and the list just gets longer all the time.  Of course, when I get there, none of them will really matter, and the scriptures tell us that we will understand anyway.  (See 1 Corinthians 13:12).

So when I read the scripture above from John 16, which is Jesus talking to his disciples as he attempts to prepare them for his death, I feel a little better.  Maybe some things are just to complicated and massive for us to understand.  We can’t take it all in at once, thus stunting our ability to comprehend much of it. 

I remember sitting through an all day workshop when the speakers gave us hours and hours of information, and after a while I felt like I was on overload, and my brain simply couldn’t take in any more information.  I suspect that learning about God is like that, too, so it’s not really a surprise that trying to understand God in the concept of Triune – the Trinity – can be a bit mind boggling, as well.

Basically, I see the Trinity as the three “beings” of God who relate to us in different ways.  Sometimes, I find myself making God the “head” of the family, and Jesus and the Holy Spirit subservient, but I know that isn’t the case.  They are God on equal footing and they are the ways in which we experience God.  Someone told me once that it is like our hand and fingers.  The fingers are all part of the one hand, and each has it’s own function, but they are still connected as the hand.

That helps a little.  The doctrine of the Trinity has been and continues to be challenging, but we can be sure that it is another way for us to try to comprehend (although at times in overwhelming ways) the magnitude and mystery of God in our lives and how God interacts with us as human beings.  Maybe some day, I’ll understand it fully, but for now, I will trust and know that God is working in the world through me and many others to make this a better place.  Thanks be to God!

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Heaven

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.”  Revelation 21:22 NRSV

For the nation of Israel, the Temple was their core.  It was where they believed God resided, and where they would go for the most holy days and festivals.  Even today, the West Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem is an awesome and holy place.  I remember standing at the wall to place my tiny prayer in one of the crevices and weeping for joy at the privilege of being in such a wonderful place.  Israel continues to be a special place, but most of us agree that God doesn’t just reside in that country.

We believe that God resides everywhere and is accessible to all people.  In the Christian faith, we believe that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God was reconciled to humanity.  At Jesus’ death, the temple curtain separating the Holy of Holies was torn in two as a symbol of God’s love and forgiveness for all the earth, all people.

So, when we think of “heaven on earth” it could be anywhere, and I think it is individual in that sense.  For some, it may be at the birth of a child; others may experience God’s presence on a mountaintop or by the ocean; still others may find God in the midst of a noisy city or working in rural areas.  It varies for everyone which demonstrates that God can be found anywhere and everywhere.

There are some who say that the earth as it is now is actually hell, and the scripture from Revelation 21-22 could actually indicate such a possibility.  We can see the widespread pain, hurt, sorrow, fear, and anguish that so many experience in life.  Yet, as the Church of Jesus Christ, we believe that we can help to build the kingdom of God even in the midst of such challenges.  We believe that God has called us to help make this “Heaven on earth” by living in the ways of Jesus, loving and caring for and about others, bringing kindness, compassion, and care to places where people most need it.

We believe that we are called to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, minister to the poor, visit the sick and imprisoned, clothe the naked, and reach out to the disenfranchised or outcasts of society.  Sometimes we don’t succeed very well, but other times we actually do quite well.  “Heaven on earth” is God working through all of us, and the temple of God is in all regions of this world.  Our mission field is large, and often it begins right at home (which is often the most difficult!).

Heaven doesn’t need to be a place far away or look any particular way.  Heaven is where the people of God carry out the mission of Christ.  Heaven is where God’s presence is made manifest because of all God’s children working together to make this world a better place.  And some day, heaven will be perfected because of God’s complete presence.  May it be so.

I Once Was Lost – Or Was I?

“. . . you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  But we had to celebrate and rejoice because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

Luke 15:31b-32 (NRSV)

Whenever I read the parable of the Lost Son, I am reminded of the gospel song, “Amazing Grace” written by John Newton who was a slave runner until he was brought to his senses and realized that his work in transporting African slaves was wrong in God’s eyes.  He realized the error of his ways, repented, and eventually became a minister.  John Newton related to the prodigal son in the parable that Jesus told in Luke 15.

There are many people who have turned their lives around as they recognized the hand of God in their lives, and there are also many who have grown up in the church, thinking that they are Christians by virtue of being part of a church.  Maybe we all are a little of each.  When I was growing up, my family went to church without fail – no excuses, no matter how hard we kids tried to get out of it.  The only time we missed church was if we were sick, and Mom would stay home with us while everyone else went.  We never missed.  Did that make us Christians automatically?  No.

At some point in our lives, we must turn our lives around, confess Jesus Christ as our Savior and really believe it.  Those who have been lost understand that.  John Newton certainly did.  I suspect many of us become lost throughout our lives and find our way back.  Does God reject us?  No.  That’s one of the points of this parable.  Another point is that the other brother, who would be a lot like those of us who have been in the church all our lives, was resentful of the welcome and reinstatement of the younger brother.  We may not reject someone who has “left the fold” and returned, but what about those who have been long time members who see younger folks or new folks becoming more involved in church activities and committee and resent their “new” ideas.  The death of a church begins with resistance to change and the statement, “We’ve never done it that way before.”

The older brother complained because the younger brother had not only disrespected their father and squandered all the money he was given, but then he was allowed to resume his position in the family as a full-fledged son.  We really can’t blame him.  It’s not fair, and we understand that “not fair” thing, don’t we?

But let’s face it:  God isn’t fair.  God is love.  God offers unconditional love.  God gives grace.  God welcomes us home again when we have strayed.  God welcomes us every moment of every day through the chance to start over, to repent of our sins, and to receive forgiveness of sins.  So, maybe we are all the prodigal as well as the other son.  Are we ever the father in this parable?  Do we offer grace, unconditional love, and do we watch for the newcomer, the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, the lonely, the sick, the outcast?  Do we love them because they are God’s child?  Do we care for them because of that generous love of God that we have been given to share?  It’s something to think about.  God bless your day!

Temptations

If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”  If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”  “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you.‘”  Luke 4:3, 7, 9-10

Ah, temptations.  They assault us every day.  There’s the temptation to call in sick when we aren’t, the temptation to fudge on our income taxes, the temptation to drive much faster than the speed limit, the temptation to lose our temper when a deep breath and common sense might be better, the temptation to start smoking again or having another drink or eating food that’s unhealthy.  I totally relate to the food temptations.  Sometimes I do so well and stick with an eating plan without deviating from the foods that I know have no nutritional value, and then there are the times when I let go and totally indulge in “forbidden foods” that I know will cause weight gain, indigestion, and push me closer to pre-diabetes.  It’s maddening!  Why do I give in?

Jesus was led into the wilderness and tempted three times.  All three had to do with self-serving behaviors:  power, prestige, and personal gain.  Turning the stones to bread appealed to his state of hunger, but it was far more than that – it was also serving himself by reducing his abilities to magic tricks and not focusing on his time in the wilderness for spiritual growth and understanding.  Giving up his position as God’s Son by worshiping the devil is self-serving in that he would rule all the kingdoms of the earth, but that is temporary and rejects his mission in life.  Jesus’ kingdom, as he said to Pontius Pilate, is “not of this world” so there is a much larger mission that is self-giving rather than self-serving.  And throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple would be sort of thumbing his nose at God or testing to be sure God would follow through with the promises of safety and protection.

Jesus didn’t fall for the temptations.  But I’m not even close to being in a position like Jesus was, so I WILL fall and sin and give in.  And it’s more than about temporal things – we try to separate the material/physical from the spiritual, but in reality they are intertwined.  Our sinfulness affect our relationship with God, and our spirituality affects our growing in God’s grace.  We strive to live faithfully in a faithless world.  We seek forgiveness and learn to forgive.  We move from self-centereness and self-serving to other-ness and other-serving so that we can be God’s messengers on this earth, offering Christ to the world, offering hope and witness about God’s love and forgiveness and our experience of that amazing grace of God.  Jesus teaches us about focusing and faithful living.  We can learn from him and try to follow in his example throughout our lives.  Through us, the kingdom of God can grow and spread in the world as we serve our risen Savior.  Thanks be to God!

Whose Baptism is This Anyway?

When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized.  While he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove.  And there was a voice from heaven:  ‘You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.‘”  Luke 3:21-22 (Common English Bible – CEB)

Seemingly, I have read this passage in one of the gospels much of my life – a long time.  Until this year, I never noticed that John the Baptist wasn’t involved in Jesus’ baptism in the Luke account.  If we read back a little, we find that John is actually in prison, being held by King Herod.  So the indication would be that followers of John were doing the baptizing, according to the Luke passage.

Another interesting thing that struck me as I was reading commentaries in preparation for my sermon is that we often move right from Jesus’ baptism to our own.  I know that has been my tendency because I feel the need to help people understand baptism and what a gift it is as well as a responsibility for living our lives following Christ.  But several writers reminded me that I need to remember that this is about Jesus.  Hmmm.  Today is Friday, and I’m still mulling the shift and meditating on God’s message for me to share with the congregations this Sunday.

Whose baptism is this anyway?  Well, obviously Jesus was the one who was baptized along with a bunch of other people.  Why?  Big question.  Why did Jesus feel that he needed to be baptized?  We believe that he was God in the flesh, so what was the purpose in his baptism?  There are several thoughts on the answers to this question.

In many ways, it was a symbol of his new life – his inauguration into fulfilling his mission and ministry.  As a faithful Jewish man, Jesus may have felt the need for the purification of the washing as he moved forward into the rest of his life.  But John’s baptism was the baptism of repentance and forgiveness, so why would Jesus feel the need to repent?  That may be an answer that eludes us for now, although I’m sure there are plenty of pastors and teachers out there who have written about it.

Somehow, I think that another idea is that it is Jesus’ way of connecting with us as humans.  He was, after all fully human and fully divine.  Being human means that he was vulnerable just as we are, that he felt love, joy, peace, happiness as well as anger, disappointment, pain, sadness.  He identified with us on every level of our humanity, and baptism was one more way of saying, “I connect.  I understand.  I’m with you.”

Part of that identifying with us was claiming his own identity.  Note that in every gospel, a voice comes from heaven along with the Holy Spirit, naming Jesus as God’s own Son and beloved by God.  The CEB translate the voice as saying:  “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”  Peterson’s The Message reads:  “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”  I like that.  “Pride of my life.”  Most loving and caring parents would say that about their children – You are the pride of my life.

God said it to Jesus.  I belive God says it to us every day – we are the pride of God’s life.  God loves us with an incomprehensible love.  Jesus’ baptism IS about our baptism and about our identity as Christians.  We are baptized into Christ and given the name “Christian.”  Some people have rejected the name, but that doesn’t stop God from loving them anyway.  They have been claimed and named.

So, yes this is truly about Jesus, AND is it also about what we as his followers do in order to faithfully follow him.  How are we doing?

Why Doesn’t That Happen to Me?

“It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked [for and understanding mind to govern the people, able to discern between good and evil].  God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word.  Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.  I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare to you.  If you walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”  1 Kings 3:10-14

I ask God for wisdom and discernment all the time.  Sometimes I feel as if I do all right, and other times I wonder where all that ability to discern really went!  Maybe I just wasn’t listening carefully enough – who knows.  All Solomon wanted was for wisdom and discernment to make the right decisions, and God gave him riches, long life, and honor.  Wow!

But there is a condition – walk in God’s ways and follow God’s commandments.  Did Solomon do that?  If we read the whole story, we realize that Solomon started out pretty well, but gradually, like his father King David, he began to stray from God’s ways.  He began to let the wealth and power go to his head, and he accumulated wives and concubines as if it was a hobby.

Yet for all his failings, Solomon still did a good job of leading the people of Israel to the best of his ability.  He was the underdog of David’s sons:  the second child of his mother Bathsheba who was taken by David as a wife after her first husband Uriah had been set up to be killed in battle.  The first child died, and when Solomon was born, he was the legitimate child of David and Bathsheba, raised in the palace with half brothers and sisters, and probably pampered considerably.

His older brothers wanted to be king, but Solomon was the appointed heir to the throne, and establishing his rule was a bloody battle as he executed many of his father’s faithful servants and even his half brothers.  Most of us don’t “take down” someone else to get ahead in life, so we wouldn’t even think of that in the course of our daily routine.

Yet, I suspect all of us would like to have God promise us wisdom and discernment along with riches, honor, and long life.  It makes you wonder why God did that with so many of the Biblical characters, and we don’t necessarily see that today.  Or do we?  Maybe we don’t define our riches in the same way.  Maybe we see the responsibility that we take on when we choose to follow Christ and know that the material things aren’t the most important – relationships are.

Solomon may not have been very good at relationships, but when Jesus arrived on the scene, he taught us that God’s goal is to have a relationship with us, and, in turn, we are to have relationships with others that are healthy, balanced, and wholesome.  Maybe we really HAVE been blessed with all those things and just need to look at them a little more carefully.

This week, I invite all of us to take a look at what we have – not what we don’t have.  Let’s see the gifts and blessings that are with us every day:  our families, friends, church, and whatever else is a blessing for us.  May we see the presence of Christ in all things – that’s discernment!  God bless you today and every day.

Pushing Buttons

“When Herod heard John [the Baptist], he was greatly perplexed; and yet he like to listen to him.”  Mark 6:20b

Herod had a conscience; his name was John the Baptist.  John had continually called Herod to accountability for his sinful ways, including having his own brother murdered so he could have Herodias, his brother’s wife.  Herodias wasn’t fooled and hated John.  She wanted him dead, as if that would take away her guilt in her complicity of her husband’s death.  Somehow she couldn’t use enough influence on her new husband to have John put to death because of his obsession with the Baptizer.

Then it happened.  Herod’s daughter came to a banquet they were having and danced for the king, pleasing him very much.  He must have been proud and delighted because he promised her anything – all she had to do was ask.  There was Herodias’ opening:  she told the girl to ask for the head of John the Baptist.  And so, Herod, not wanting to break his promise to his daughter, had John beheaded and the head presented to the daughter who would have then given it to Herodias.  Gory.  Sad.  Manipulative.

I wonder if Herodias really had satisfaction from John’s death or if she had nightmares for the rest of her life.  Maybe she thought she had “won.”  It would be interesting to learn what Herod’s response was.  This passage in Mark 6:14-29 doesn’t give us much except that John pushed Herod’s buttons, and Herod was fascinated as well as perplexed.  Didn’t he really understand Jewish law?  As a man who probably studied the Torah as a child, he surely would have known the law, especially the Ten Commandments.  Apparently, he didn’t pay much attention to them, particularly in the case of adultery and murder.  Yet, when he heard about Jesus, he said that John had been raised from the dead.

John’s death clearly affected Herod in some way.  When have our actions affected someone else?  When have WE pushed someone’s buttons?  How do we know when OUR buttons are being pushed?  In what ways do we handle those situations?  Do we react like Herod and Herodias, manipulating and trying to control those who might be bugging us?  Do we become the button pushers in return, trying to retaliate?  What can we learn from this sad story?

The forces of good and evil seem to regularly “draw the line in the sand,” as the old saying goes.  They challenge each other, and all of us struggle with that tug of war inside us between them.  I know someone who was the “prize” in the middle of her parents’ fights.  Whoever could win her to “his or her side” won the argument.  Sadly, it left her feeling a great need for control since she had very little control in her life.  She grew up sassy and argumentative, and she still hasn’t learned how to care about someone else without trying to figure out what’s in it for her.  Even worse, her idea of truth is taking something someone said and, even though using the same words, make it sound totally different.  Manipulation and selfishness shape her behaviors, and she has trouble even telling herself the truth.  Maybe she doesn’t even know how to tell what truth is.  Maybe she doesn’t care.

We can respond differently to the negatives in our lives.  We DO have a choice.  We can choose to fight back or run away.  Or we can stand up to the evils in the world and not allow others to manipulate us (to the best of our ability).  We can chose to seek the truth, to respect even though who disrespect us.  When someone pushes our buttons, we can begin to condition ourselves to respond with common sense and a shrug of the shoulder, and we do not need to ever give into it.

It can also keep us from over-reacting to others and work at not trying to push their buttons in return.  John the Baptist stood firm in his convictions and in his call to accountability.  So did Jesus.  It’s a great challenge to us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, but with practice, it gets easier and almost second nature.

The next time someone pushes your buttons, stop to assess the situation before you say anything and think through what is really happening.  Are they justified?  Or are they manipulating?  Interesting to think about and THEN act upon.

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