By Jason Burns
Trinity Sunday is one of the most dreaded feast days for anyone who preaches because the Trinity is a complete mystery. There are a million ways we could attempt to illustrate what the trinity is and how it functions, but in the end they would all be flawed. The truth is that there is no possible way for our tiny minds to ever understand it. I feel as though my entire sermon today should have been: The Trinity, it’s a mystery. Amen. But where’s the fun in that?
Today we hear of the Trinity from the Jesus himself, not in a theological or academic way where he attempts to explain what the Trinity is and why it is a mystery, but rather he pushes Nicodemus to move beyond his logical curiosity of God and instead commit to God. Jesus tells Nicodemus three important things:
When we put this all together we get a complete picture of God. There is the omnipotent, which means all-powerful, creator who can do anything they want, there is Jesus who came to live among us and to teach us the path to a better way of life, and there is the Holy Spirit who remains with us always gently nudging us in the right direction.
Whether we understand the doctrine of the trinity or not is quite frankly irrelevant because beyond academic curiosity it has very little to do with what it means to be a Christian in the 21st century. Does the fact that it is Trinity Sunday change the message of the Gospel? Of course not, so my best advice regarding understanding the Trinity is just know what the 3 parts are, Father, Son, Holy Spirit; and know that while each part seems to have its own job, they are all 100% God both on their own and together.
The bigger issue we need to consider is what is God calling us to do through Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus? Nicodemus thinks that he understands who Jesus is, but Jesus calls him out on it. Nicodemus says that he knows who Jesus is because of the things he has done, namely various miracles, however that knowledge, while true, is not a complete picture. Nicodemus understands that God is involved in this situation, but what he does not understand is that God is involved because of the relationship that Jesus has with God. Jesus came from God, he was baptized with both water and the spirit and through that process has turned his life over to God. He has committed himself to a life of love and faith, trusting that God will not lead him to ruin. The most important concept in this passage is Jesus telling Nicodemus and us to let go of our desire for knowledge and understanding of Doctrine and instead submit to the will of God through baptism and faith.
Baptism is easy, but faith is not. Having faith in God is a big scary step. It is scary because faith implies trust, it does not simply mean that we believe in God, it means that we trust God. It means that even though we have never seen God, we trust God with our lives. That is what Jesus has asked of us. He has asked us to let go of this world and our incessant need to understand it and instead faithfully follow God’s desire for us as revealed through the teachings of Christ Jesus. How do we know what Jesus is teaching? We read the bible, which was written by human hands divinely inspired by the workings of the Holy Spirit within them.
The entirety of the scriptures tells the story of God the creator and the relationship between humanity and God and we are used hearing about the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, but often readers overlook the references to the “spirit of God” and the role it plays. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures there are references to God’s spirit, or what we know as the Holy Spirit. In the second book of Samuel King David declared that “the Spirit of the Lord spoke through me, and His word was on my tongue”, in the book of Ezekiel it says “For here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to take you out of these countries, gather you from all over, and bring you back to your own land. I’ll pour pure water over you and scrub you clean. I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands.” In both cases the author is attempting to make it clear that it is God’s spirit that is in control and that it is the Spirit that will make it possible for us to be faithful to God.
Our baptism with water is an outward sign that we accept the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. Once we have accepted the Holy Spirit into ourselves then the next step is to live a life according to the teachings of Christ Jesus. We do that by reading scripture because that is the only way to know Jesus. When we read scripture and think about it the Holy Spirit will help us understand what God is asking us to do. Once we know what to do we have a choice, either Love God and do what we have been asked or don’t love God and do whatever we want. Either way God will still love us and wait for us to choose what God has asked, which really isn’t very much. The only thing we have been asked to do is Love God and Love our neighbors.
So, to recap, God created us in God’s image, which means with the ability to reason, choose, and love. God came as Jesus to provide us with the knowledge necessary to have a life filled with love and Joy. God remains among us in the form of the Holy Spirit to be our own internal GPS to guide us towards that Love. The only thing that is left is for us to follow the directions and choose to love God. So, lets read our bibles and go help our neighbors.
By Bill Hattendorf
Happy Mothers Day! Happy Mothers Day to all of you who are mothers. I’m very grateful to my mother (for having me – so I could be here today). I’m most grateful to my wife, Sheila, who is mother to our three children. And to our daughter, Kelsey, who is mother to our first grandkid, Harvey (2-1/2).
Are there fishermen/fisherwomen … are there fishers of fish here this morning? When I was a kid, I can remember fishing with my dad, and asking about the different kinds of fish. After talking about rainbow trout and pike and whatever, he also explained that fish came in two sizes:  There were the little ones that were too small to keep, that we’d throw back in; better to let them grow bigger and catch them when they’d grown up. And  then there were the “keepers” – the ones that were big enough to hang on to and bring home. The keepers. Over the years, of course, I learned that there was really a third size: the ginormous ones … that somehow always got away.
Now a segue between fish and motherhood – I have to share that today’s lesson brought me back to the time shortly after our youngest was born. Sheila had been in labor for about 36 hours, starting on a Thursday night. We’d tried all the tricks people had suggested to us, taking long walks, eating Chinese food, etc., etc.
When the baby, eventually named Spencer, decided he was ready to come out on Saturday morning, he weighed 11 pounds. When viewed in the bassinet in the nursery, he looked like a 3 or 4 month old compared to the other babies.
When talking with a friend of mine a day or so later, he wanted to know all the vital statistics, and when I told him 11 pounds, he kind of whistled and said, “Well, … he’s a keeper.” Sometimes spouses or parents use that expression as another way of speaking about love. “She’s a keeper; I like having here around.”
One of the ways that Jesus communicates His love for us is by keeping us. Jesus says, “You’re a keeper, not because of anything you’ve done but simply because I love you.” Jesus keeps you and me through His life, death, resurrection, and intercession. The old adage, “Finders keepers” is really true when it comes to Jesus. He finds us and He keeps us. This is why we can say that Jesus is “The Keeper.” In today’s lesson, Jesus prays to the Father that He will keep the disciples safe in a hostile world and guard them.
Today’s lesson from John’s Gospel comes from the prayer Jesus prayed for his disciples on the last evening before his death, “the hour was approaching.” In John's arrangement of things, it is virtually the last thing Jesus does before his arrest in Gethsemane. It’s plainly a prayer for those who had become followers of Jesus during his ministry, but equally clearly, I think, it extends to all who would become followers of Jesus in the future. So all of us are included in this prayer of Jesus. We are (in the words of the prayer) those whom God the Father has given to Jesus, who belong to God and to Jesus, whom Jesus asks his Father to protect and to consecrate. These prayers of Jesus are for us, and, what's more, I think we can depend on it that Jesus has never stopped praying these prayers for us. In the presence of God, to which Jesus has gone, Jesus continues to intercede for us. Our whole life as Christians is upheld by the prayer that Jesus prays for us always.
Prayer was incredibly important to Jesus and should be to us as well.
In today’s verses, Jesus makes three requests to God for His followers:
• In verse 11, He prays for security,
• In verse 15, He prays for protection. and
• In verse 17, He prays for sanctification.
In chapters 13-17 of John, purportedly set just prior to Jesus’ arrest, trial, and death on the cross, Jesus encourages his disciples (including us) as a sort of resurrection promise. We are encouraged not to dwell in feelings of abandonment or despair after the crucifiction, but to hope in the assurance of Jesus' continuing presence.
Yoday’s reading is the central section of Jesus’ prayer, which actually covers all of chapter 17. I think the most significant of the themes is that of “giving.” Both the Father and the Son are “givers” and their mutual giving creates the grace which those of us who belong to Jesus have inherited and in which we are now seen to live. The action of “giving” joins the Father and Son as one. As the Father does, so does the Son. That gives a special significance, then, to those things that are given.
The first of these things is that followers of Jesus know themselves as belonging to Jesus. To know oneself as belonging to Jesus is to know this as integral to the Father's and the Son's essential nature and purpose.
The second thing that has been given, Jesus says, is the knowledge of God's “name.” If these ones whom the Father has given to Jesus now belong to Jesus, then what these believers have been given is to “know the name,” the character of the One who is the source of the eternal life which they have come to know in Jesus.
God's “name” stands for all that God is and has done, most importantly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. To know that name is to have one's life sustained in the power of that name -- to be protected and guarded in that name.
Thirdly, these followers have been given the “word.” They are protected in the “name” precisely because they have been given and have guarded the “word.” Of course in the context of John's witness to the “Word become flesh” (which is a theme in chapter 1) we’re supposed to understand that “word” is used in its double sense. As the “word” has been given to us in Jesus, we know ourselves in the intimate bonds of belonging to him.
In Romans (8:36), Paul asserted that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, so the glory of Jesus in his cross and resurrection is focused in his believers who now belong to him. Jesus' prayer claims an intimate oneness in the sharing of the Father and Son: “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them” (17:10).
It is not enough to just hear Jesus’ prayer. His words ask that we live, act, and work with God in answering his prayer. We are to actively participate in Jesus’ prayer by shaping our lines to be increasingly like his. So while we might give an “amen” to Jesus’ prayer, we must also examine our own hearts and ask ourselves some hard questions.
The real issue is not about what’s out there in the world but about what’s in here, in our hearts. What is our hearts’ orientation?
However unintentional, how do we benefit from or participate in the systems of the world that oppose God’s way?
Are we willing to change?
Do we operate out of our wounds and brokenness?
Are we motivated by resentments or the need to win?
Do we live with an attitude of prejudice, self-loathing or hatred?
To the degree that we do, I think we deny God our lives and contribute to the darkness of the world.
That is not God’s hope for our lives or for the world.
You, and I, and all humanity are worth so much more than that.
Jesus’ own life and prayer declare that.
We are the gift that he and his Father share.
Jesus entrusts us to his Father’s protection even as he entrusted himself to the Father. To do anything less denies us God’s sanctification and our protection.
“Holy Father, protect them,” Jesus prays.
In large part the answer to Jesus’ prayer rests in our hands, our
hearts, and our “amen,” – not just a spoken amen, but a lived amen.
If we can just live the amen,
Then we offer forgiveness rather than retribution,
mercy instead of condemnation,
and compassion rather than indifference.
If we lay down our lives in love for another,
Then we see life through the lens of beauty and not cynicism.
then we choose unity over individualism and
God’s ways over personal agendas.
In those moments we are the amen to Jesus’ prayer,
our hearts are healed, and the world is different.
The great evangelist D.L. Moody (who just happened to start the Northfield and Mount Hermon schools up the road) stopped a stranger one day on the street and asked him,
“Are you a Christian?”
The man was put off by the question, so he said,
“Mind your own business!”
“This is my business!”
The man looked to him, cocked his head a little and said with a bit of a chuckle,
“Then you must be Moody.”
Wouldn’t it be great to be known as “the person whose business is witnessing?” Of course, this is our business too.
Are we accomplishing God’s mission for our lives?
Are we looking forward or looking back in our lives?
Are we focusing on our potential good or our past failures?
As Heather and Molly remind us every Sunday:
“God is more concerned with the hope for our future
than the sins of our past.”
Let us let go of the past and look ahead!
Jesus says, “Finders keepers.”
I’d say He has found us and will keep us.
Thanks be to God!
How do you make time for renewal and re-creation? Do you go for a walk? Bake a cake? Garden? Watch television? Go tinker in the garage? Browse the web or facebook? Sit down with a good book? Have a glass of wine?
A favorite author of mine, Lauren Winner, explains in her book, Girl Meets God, how she was using her spare time. One year when Ash Wednesday rolled around, Lauren decided that she wanted to give to God her love of food. She was determined to spend time fasting during Lent. Except her priest challenged her. He asked her to instead give up reading for all of Lent. And you might be thinking, why would a priest ask a parishioner to give up reading? It’s good for you! Except Lauren loved to read. So much so that she had 3,000 books crammed into her graduate student apartment. When her priest suggested she move the books out of the apartment so she wouldn’t be tempted, she simply laughed. But what happened to Lauren during those 40 days was pretty interesting. She found that the times when she wanted to relax, or needed some comfort, she would turn to her favorite activity: read a good book. And now that she couldn’t do that, she turned to God in prayer when she needed comfort. She realized she wasn’t spending nearly enough time with God in prayer. And that reading- albeit a very healthy practice- was actually keeping her from having a more intimate relationship with God.
Sometimes our beloved hobbies keep us from sitting with our real feelings. They keep us from delving into a deeper relationship with Christ. And when we strip away the activities we love, and we find ourselves with one of those quiet moments, how do we feel? What do we notice in our hearts? Do we find loneliness? Do we find sorrow? I hope the one feeling that we will all find, when we slow down long enough, is a sense of joy.
In the gospel today Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
What is joy? And for that matter, what does it mean to have joy dwelling within us? The English language tends to intertwine words like joy, happiness, pleasure, and bliss as one word with the same meaning. But they have different meanings. They have different realities. When we experience happiness, a good feeling bubbles up unexpectedly, usually brought on by some external event. It’s often noticeable by others-- a smile, a laugh, a pleasant disposition. Happiness though is a mood, and it can come as quickly as it can go.
Joy is a completely different matter. When we experience joy, we have a delightful happiness. Yet this delightful happiness comes from within. Joy is something constant. Joy is a way of being, a way of living. I like to think about joy as a rock at the center of our being. A rock, keeping us firmly grounded so we don’t drift away during times of great sorrow and pain. And yet there are others times, when joy is a rock preparing to explode within us. Sort of like when the Grinch’s heart triples in size. We literally can’t help but spread that goodness to those around us. Joy is something you can see in another person’s eyes, the gateway to their soul. And we know from today’s gospel that the joy that we have experienced, comes from following Christ. When we choose to follow Jesus, to be baptized into this new life, Christ’s joy abides in us. Christ’s joy dwells within us.
Henri Nouwen once said, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” We wake up each day with the chance to follow Christ. And when we follow Christ, we will experience that joy. I’ve yet to meet someone who truly gave their life over to God and didn’t experience that radically, life changing joy. Because joy isn’t a simple happiness, of things going the way we want. Joy is Christ dwelling within us. Joy is that feeling of wholeness that we experience as we receive the bread and the wine at communion. No matter how badly things are going, no one can take away the joy that Christ gives us. And we wake up each day with the chance to choose that joy when we choose to follow Christ.
There is a prayer that I say regularly for my children. That God might continue to keep them safe, healthy, and full of the joy that comes from knowing Christ. And today that is my prayer for all of you. When the joy of Christ dwells within us, we’re going to be okay. Even if we’re not safe from harm, even if we’re not healthy. The joy of knowing Christ will guide us, it will carry us. And once we’ve experienced that kind of radical, life changing joy, we can’t keep it to ourselves. We must share it. In fact Jesus commands us to share this joy. To love one another as he has loved us.
Each of us has the power to help someone else’s life be forever changed by joy of Christ. We live in a hurting world, a world where there is so much danger, there is so much hurt, there is so much darkness and emptiness. We are called to share this joy, to share this light that dwells within us. The question is how will we share this joy. It goes back to evangelism. How do we spread the Good News of Christ?
A friend of mine is a missionary on a college campus. He’s a young man, working in a more evangelical tradition. And most of the ministry he does is through small group ministries and one on one conversations. But occasionally, they do what he describes as, “Cold Turkey Evangelism”. They ask people if they know Christ. It’s actually pretty hard work, and it’s not meant for everyone. But there are people that can do cold turkey evangelism, and it works, it changes lives.
On the other side of the spectrum is lifestyle evangelism. As Lauren Winner puts it in Girl Meets God, “Being a lifestyle-evangelist doesn’t require handing out tracts; it just requires living a good, God-fearing, Gospel exuding life. I like to assume that most people know I am a Christian and when they see that I am sometimes joyful and sometimes peaceful when they are not, they will want to know my secret.”
I think that many Episcopalians would consider themselves Lifestyle Evangelists. We are a tradition that likes to respect people’s beliefs and allow others enough space to come to their own conclusions. We truly seek to live our lives in such a way that those who don’t know God, can come to know God through us. And when we are in touch with the joy we experience from knowing Christ, I believe others will meet God in us.
As we go about our lives, there will be times when the Holy Spirit will call us to spread this good news to others. Often in a way that might surprises us. May we embrace those unexpected moments, and risk the transformation that is possible within each of us and our neighbor, when we share the joy of Christ dwelling within us.
Let us pray: O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding. Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Meet our preachers
Coffee with Clergy
Do you want to get together to talk about your spiritual life or learn more about our community? Contact us and we will find time to get together.