Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Living The Trinity

Reading: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, May 27 2018

Today in the church calendar is Trinity Sunday. And we know what the Trinity is… right? It’s that doctrine that tells us that God is One yet at the same time is three… or is it that God is three and at the same time One. It’s that thing about God being Father, Son and Holy Spirit and how that’s not three separate things… but all the same thing … but actually different things… but all at the same time.

We are all crystal clear about that aren’t we? It’s something our minds can deal with, right? Now why is it, I’m standing here and some of you are shaking your heads and looking a little confused? It’s Trinity Sunday! We are here to proclaim that we believe in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit… One God.

The Trinity. Did you know that the word “Trinity” never once appears in Scripture? Not once, in anything that Jesus says or that Paul or any other of the biblical writers teach us are we told to believe in something called the Trinity.

Now before any of you are about to report me to the “Presbyterian Heresy Committee” I can tell you that the bible does speak about God as our Father, about Jesus as being uniquely the Son of God and the Holy Spirit being both the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of God. The Bible also uses other images of God, such as Creator, or as one who has a motherly concern for us, or as our Sustainer, but I’m focusing on the traditional orthodox view that the church has lifted high over the centuries, God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I can remind you of what we read this morning, some of the things that Jesus said. In verse 15 He says, Everything that the Father has is mine”. In verse 14 He says of the Holy Spirit “He will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Back in Chapter 14 Jesus has told the disciples; “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” In John 17:21 Jesus prays for His disciples “That they may all be one, as You, Father, are in me and I in You, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that You sent me.

Whilst the word “Trinity” isn’t used, throughout the New Testament the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is pictured as being a unity. Each person of that unity has distinct attributes and functions, but they are never separate from the other persons. That’s the idea the word “Trinity” attempts to communicate to us. It’s a shorthand word to explain that the nature of God’s revelation has come to us in three distinct, yet united ways, and seeks to speak of a great mystery; God is a Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is a great mystery. Things that are a mystery tend to be difficult to understand. My favorite way of trying to get my head around the idea of God as Trinity is to think about the sun. (That’s sun… S.U.N.).

We know that the sun, up there in the sky, is essential to life. In fact our solar system revolves around the sun. It is the center of our little bit of the universe. We also know when we look up to the sky that there is only one sun. Yet we experience that sun in three distinct ways.

We know that the sun is a vast ball of molten rock, gases and heat that is out there, way beyond us and impossible for us to penetrate. If we sent a spaceship it would burn up before it even got near. Nobodies ever actually been to the sun but without the sun nothing else could be.

But how does the sun get to us? Well, you’ve heard about light speed. The light of the sun travels to us at the speed of light. Sunshine illuminates our lives. In a literal sense the suns rays come down from the heavens to light our way here on earth.

How do those rays affect us when they reach us? As they light our way, they also give us warmth. That warmth spreads throughout our whole being. When people say they enjoy sunbathing they don’t mean that they have flown for countless centuries through the solar system and dived headlong into a molten pool of rock, they mean that the light of the suns rays is warming them through.

Although we understand the sun in three distinct ways; as the physical mass around which we revolve, as rays which bring light to the earth and as heat that warms the earth; the body, the rays and the heat are not separate from each other but all part of one sun.

So how does that help us understand God as a Triune God?

Sometimes the Old Testament pictures God as a consuming fire, way beyond us. We cannot travel to God in a spaceship nor completely immerse ourselves in all that God is. God is out there whilst we are down here. We know we couldn’t exist without God, but neither can we fully contain God or enclose God.

God has chosen to reveal Himself to us through sending a bright ray of light to us, Jesus Christ, “Who came from the Father and returned to the Father.” The way Jesus lived and the things He did reveal to us the nature of God’s love. “God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten son so that whomsoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

We experience the love of God in Christ through the warmth of the Holy Spirit acting in and around our lives. The Holy Spirit and the work of Jesus Christ, like heat and light, are closely related. Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish them. In fact we may even just choose, as at times do the biblical writers to say that “God is at work in us.”

The physical sun, the suns rays, the warmth of the sun. Three things yet one thing. God our Father, Jesus our Savior and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Three things yet one thing! Such is the way the Scriptures speak to us of the God we are called to trust our lives too. But… that being said, how do we live the Trinity? After all Christian doctrine isn’t just meant to tickle our imaginations, but help us live as faithful disciples. How can the idea of the Trinity help us do that?

With it being Trinity Sunday, let me suggest three ways.

Firstly, understanding God as beyond us can help us accept that to be a disciple we don’t have to know everything or do everything for ourselves. For myself the idea of God as my Father communicates to me both the distance of God from myself and the nurturing love that seeks to mold the way I live. The idea of Father reminds me that I am a child who has a lot to learn. And whilst, as Jesus bids me, I can sometimes use the familiar words of childish babble, ‘ABBA’, my ‘Father,’ I also need to respect that the Fathers ways are higher than my ways, my father’s thoughts higher than my thoughts.

If you are fortunate enough (and I know there are many in our world who are not) to have had a loving and stable two parent family, then you can identify with the experience of a small child who look upon their father in complete awe. That childlike heart that looks up and thinks; “Dad, if I can grow up to be half the person you are, then I’ll be some body”.

Even if such a father figure is absent from our lives, I believe God opens the doorway to other ‘Father-like’ figures around our lives, people, female or male, parent or mentor, teacher or friend, to whom we look up and think, “I want to be like them.” I know that when Jesus speaks of God as Father, He doesn’t mean for us to bring God down to the level of any earthly parent, but directs us towards a heavenly Father whose perfect love is beyond anything we can conceive. Understanding God as that perfect Father, nurturing us, yet beyond us, helps me to aspire to greater things.

Secondly, understanding Jesus Christ as One who “Came from the Father and returns to the Father” helps me understand that I constantly need the light of Christ to guide my steps. The Bible speaks to me of that light in a way that nothing else can do. Trinitarian faith is biblical faith. The scriptures tell us how the prophets of old foreshadowed Jesus coming, what He did when He came and how the church sought to carry on His mission.

This idea of coming and going reminds me that being a disciple is a process. We see something, we understand a little more, and it leads us to the next step. We can’t say, “Well that’s it. I’ve arrived. I’ve met Jesus and that’s the end of the story.” Yesterday’s light is not much use for us today. We need the suns light to light up where we’ll be traveling today.

Thirdly, understanding the Holy Spirit as the present influence of Jesus Christ, as the presence of God within me and around me, reminds me that faith is something that I live, not an intellectual exercise that somehow validates my life before God. Presbyterians have been described as “God’s Frozen Chosen.” If that be so, then its time we got out of the freezer and sat by the fire.

The Holy Spirit is the flame that ignites my love and my passion for God and the mission that God is calling us to. I don’t just need to understand that I am to love God with all my heart, mind and soul and to love my neighbor as myself, I need to experience that love in tangible, practical ways. I need to feel the heat!

Now putting all that back into our scripture reading of John, and I hear it in a different way. When I hear Jesus saying, “Everything that the Father has is mine” then because I have a Trinitarian understanding of God, I look at that and think, “Wow!”

When I hear Jesus speaking about the Holy Spirit who “Will take from what is mine and declare it to you” then again it’s a “Wow!” Through Jesus Christ we get a glimpse of what the heart of God desires for this world in which we live out our days. We are not left alone and abandoned.

When I read of Jesus praying for His disciplesThat they may all be one, as You, Father, are in me and I in You, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that You sent me,” then again I am caught up in awe, that our lives, we who seek to be the church of Jesus Christ empowered and inflamed by the Holy Spirit, that the ordinary lives of everyday people like you and me are in some mysterious way participating in something so much greater than ourselves.

And yes, all that is a great mystery! It’s all about as easy to explain and decipher as the doctrine of the Trinity itself. The best way to explain it is to live it!
  • To live in a way that brings glory to a Holy God, ‘Our Father’, Our Creator and the Righteous Judge of every human heart.
  • To live in a way that is molded by the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, redeemed through His death upon the Cross and bathed in hope by the resurrection light that shines out of an empty tomb.
  • To live in a way that is guided, comforted, enlivened, renewed and re-energized by the Holy Spirit, within us, around us, binding us together, communicating the love of God in Christ through our lives.
May God help us to be people who are living the Trinity! Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Messages From the First Letter of John - 5. God Birthed Faith

'Sin, Forgiveness and Love '
(Messages from the First letter of John)
Readings: Psalm 98, Acts 10:44-48, John 15:9-17, 1 John 5:1-6
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, on May 6 2018

Our reading this morning, from 1 John 5, brings us to the end of a series that has dealt with his themes of 'Sin, forgiveness and love.' Last time we saw how it was John who penned the awesome words; “God is Love.” In this mornings reading he again brings us back to the theme of love, but this time he reminds us that unless we act upon the love that God offers to us, then we haven't really got it.

Our reading today takes us a little further than just suggesting that because we are loved we should love others. John suggests that our loving actions need to revolve around a center. In the home the center is often the parents in the household. In the household of faith, John tells us that our center is faith in Jesus Christ. He writes in verse 5 “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Isn't John's focus on faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God a little restrictive? What's the big deal about believing in Jesus? Isn't it enough that we are generous and charitable and get along with each other? Why does John insist on muddying the waters by telling us we need to get our focus right about what we believe about Jesus Christ?

As far as John was concerned there could be no separation between belief and action. 'In fact,' he says (Verse 3) 'This is love for God: to keep His commands.” Earlier in his letter he spoke about people who had become so sophisticated in their believing that they had fallen into all sorts of wrong ways of thinking that led them into wrong ways of acting. For John what you believe determines what you do, and what you do shows what you really believe.

John believed that faith is something that God has to birth within us through the action of the Holy Spirit. Faith is something that in John's gospel is described as being “born from above” that effects the individual as though they had been “born again.” Truly believing in God, for John is about having a God birthed faith. He gives us some reasons.
  • Only a God-birthed faith could give us a true love perspective.
  • Only a God birthed faith could create true community.
  • Only a God-birthed faith could conquer the world.
1. Only a God-birthed faith gives us a true love perspective.

In previous chapters John has been very careful to define what he means when he uses the word love. He always uses the Greek word 'agapé'. There were other words in Greek that he could have used. They had a word for family love 'storgé', they had a word for physical love, 'eros', they had a word for brotherly love 'philia'. John uses none of these, but uses the word 'agapé' which was particularly descriptive of the kind of love that was seen in the life of Jesus.

'Agapé' love described a life lived for the benefit of others. A love that healed and recreated and went beyond what was expected. A love that lifted up the fallen and was more concerned for the needs of the other than needs of the self. John outlines this love in chapter 4:9-10 This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a propitiation for our sins.”

John sees Christian action as a response to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The act of God in Christ is the motivation and the centering point for loving the world. When we get it right about who Jesus is, and why He came, it changes the way we live.

It changes the way we see others. We cannot look down on any body else or see any person as beyond the reach of God. Because Christ died for us, He died for them. Through the eyes of Jesus there is no “us” and “them”. All people are people who need the love and grace of God.

That's love” says John. It's not a feeling. It's not an emotion. It's not something we fall in or out of. It's not being benevolent or feeling charitable. It's not giving out of a sense of guilt or acting out of duty. It is centering our life in Jesus Christ, being empowered by the Holy Spirit, opening our hearts and lives to the grace of God and acting in gratitude for the blessings of salvation Jesus obtained for us through His death and resurrection. Only a God-birthed faith gives us a true love perspective.

2.Only a God-birthed faith creates true community

John also insists that if we say that we love God, but do not apply ourselves to loving each other, then we are deluding ourselves, and the truth is not in us. He goes as far as saying that people who act like that, think they are children of God, but in actuality are walking in darkness, not in the light.

In previous chapters we see that John takes sin seriously. One of the most pernicious of sins is that of failing to work at creating community. We had these words in our reading this morning:- (verse 2) “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands.” The stress is on centering our lives in Jesus Christ, and allowing Jesus to be the hub around which our community life revolves.

To truly be a community of faith we have to look to Jesus and see each other through the lens of the love of God. If we look to each other, if we look to having common interests or being like-minded as a center for our life together, then we become nothing more than a civic organization organized around a particular sense of values.

There's nothing wrong in having community organizations. They can do some great things. But they are not the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church of Christ has a higher calling. To be a place where all people can discover the love of God in Jesus Christ. A place where the outcast can find a home and those who feel unloved can be embraced by God's love. An oasis in the midst of a barren uncaring world where the hurting can find healing and the hopeless be inspired by the action of the Holy Spirit renewing their lives.

Unless we make Jesus Christ our focus... none of that can happen. Unless we make Jesus Christ our center... we quickly become exclusive rather than inclusive. Believe me, I am well aware that bills need to be paid, the building needs looking after and that we have to plan our programs and have our cmeetings and maintain our records. But, please, never let us stop asking “Why?”

Why are we a church?” Because God has called us to be a community that demonstrates to the world what living a life together focused on Jesus Christ looks like. Because God has a task for us, a task that can only be accomplished through our faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that we demonstrate by having love for each other and inviting others to be in on it. Only God-birthed faith gives us a true love perspective. Only a God-birthed faith creates true community.

3. Only a God-birthed faith conquers the world.

1 John 5: 4-5 “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”

Conquer the world? Lord, who are You kidding? Lord, it's all I can do to hold my life together! You expect a 'pulled in one thousand directions, conflicted, stressed out, not always sure what I'm doing or what I really believe, things to do, places I need to be, person' like me, to conquer the world?

Friends that exactly why what we believe about Jesus Christ is so important. Verse 5... one more time... Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”

When John says 'Believe' he is not asking us to intellectually give a reasoned response to a number of theological formulations or do a check-list on the Apostles Creed. He is challenging us to consider where we are coming from, what our lives are revolving around, what we are centered upon.

If we can get it in our minds, that we, you and I, here today, at this time, in this place, are God's ultimate concern, than it can change the way we see ourselves, those around us and everything about our lives. If we can see that God's love really is so committed to us that in and through Jesus Christ, God can transform everything we are and everything we do, then it's going to make more than a little difference to the way we live.

It as we allow God to make a difference in us, through the working of the Holy Spirit, that our lives start to make a difference to the world. It happens in simple ways. Like inviting a friend to church. Like visiting one of our shut-ins. Like being a little more attentive to prayer and Scripture reading.

To do any of that it is important we get our center in the right place. John reminds us in his first letter that the center for both our personal faith and corporate life as a church is our faith in who Jesus is and what God is seeking to do in our lives... about the life of God's world through the Holy Spirit. Why does he do that? Because...
  • Only a God-birthed faith can give us a true love perspective.
  • Only a God birthed faith can create true community.
  • Only a God-birthed faith can conquer the world.
Let us seek to be people whose confession of faith is more than words and endeavor to be a church whose focus is so clearly on Jesus Christ, that others can't help noticing Him!

And to God's name be all glory. Amen.

The Reverend. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.