Rev. Heather J. Blais, Rector
Every Sunday after the sermon, we rise together and say the Nicene Creed. Why is this important?
This ancient statement of belief was created in the early days of the Christian Movement at the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E.
At that time, there were still wide variations in practices and distinctly different understandings of the nature of God held by bishops in different localities. Bishops across the Church gathered for this special council, and at future councils, to sort through and articulate their shared common beliefs. These leaders made decisions about what would be considered 'officially Christian' and what would not.
It was not a perfect system. And given they were responding to particular teachings popular at the time, we may notice things in the Creed today that seem strange or even objectionable. Yet the Creed does not need our belief in every precise word to stand up on its own. You may be annoyed with one clause, or confused by another. You might change the gender pronouns, calling Father- Mother, Creator, or Parent; or refer to the Holy Spirit as she instead of he.
When we rise together to reaffirm our faith, we are rising together with other Christians across denominations and across time; those who have gone before us and those who have yet to come. That is part of the beauty of the Creed--not the exact words but the common experience of rising together and reaffirming our faith across time and place.
The Creed is also beautiful because it is an attempt by God’s children to articulate the mysterious relationship of the Holy Trinity. It is a bit like a young child’s drawing of their family. It’s imprecise and imperfect, if we are measuring it by artistic standards. Yet when you look at the drawing through the eyes of a loving parent--the drawing is a masterpiece ready to be hung and framed. Because in the drawing, your child gave it their all as they sought to understand their place and relationships in their family.
I imagine that is how God feels about the Creed. The Creed is the way we attempt to understand our place and relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our imprecise and imperfect way of articulating what we hope we understand about the nature of God and the relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Somehow our God is three in one and one in three.
The Creed tells a story about God the Father, “...maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen” (BCP p.358). It says the universe is good and is the work of a single, loving God who creates, sustains, and redeems (BCP p.846).
It is a story about God the Son, Jesus; in whom God literally becomes flesh like ours to show us the nature of God is love, love, love.
It is a story about God the Holy Spirit, where God is at work in the world and in the Church, even now.
In truth, we will never fully know or understand the inner and outer workings of the Holy Trinity.
So, I cut eight pages from my sermon....
Because in the end it is a mystery.
Yet we have experiences throughout our spiritual journey, where for a moment, we gain an awareness, a deeper knowing of God. A sense of clarity, peace, and love.
As a child, I found comfort and strength in the unconditional love of God the Father. My dad didn’t know how to be a parent or how to stick around, but this heavenly parent would never go away, and there was nothing I could do about it.
As a teenager, I felt like I was on a rollercoaster ride yo-yoing between good and bad choices, sometimes by the hour.
Yet I always felt heard, seen, and understood by Christ. In every teaching of Jesus, I could see it didn’t matter how worthless I might feel, Jesus was telling every single person, that might only half be listening, that we are valuable, we are worthy, we are loved. And once that news has sunk in, go and do likewise. Help others.
As an adult, I have felt the Holy Spirit guide decisions, big and small, over and over again. First would come prayer, giving God all the uncertainties, and then, eventually, a peace that surpasses our understanding. And even when there was not peace, a trust, that the Holy Spirit was with me.
In the church year, today is Trinity Sunday. It's when we sing all the best hymns. Once a year, we join St. Patrick of Ireland in picking up that three leaf clover as we try to gain a deeper understanding of the Holy Trinity. The Celtic tradition believes that all of creation is sacramental because God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer are in every living thing. God is right here with us, our Companion in this life and the next.
As we prepare to make our way back into the world today, I invite us to go deeper in pondering our relationship with our Companion.
Some possible questions for reflection:
The Rev. Jane R. Dunning, Priest Associate
As Jesus begins his ministry, he asks certain people to follow him. Some of these disciples have known him for years and have been part of his community.
Some may have already felt the power of his teachings and felt deeply drawn to what Jesus has to say, to his presence, to his vision. There was a strong certainty in their hearts that this was the call for them, above any other. They get up, leave what they are doing, and follow him. This decision will change their lives.
At the time of our baptism we make certain promises, When we abide by these promises we set the structure of our lives. These will become the guideposts and the trail markers for our future.
As a part of this Baptismal Covenant, we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. We promise to strive for justice and peace among all people, and we promise to respect the dignity of every human being. When we live out these promises, they shape who we become and where our lives will lead us.
Over the years, the focus on worship in this parish has been to reach out beyond the comfortable walls of the church and find ways to serve the surrounding community. The question then becomes “How do we decide as a community where and how to serve.”
This is a question we must also answer in our personal lives. What am I called to do? What is my vocation? What is my passion? Where can I focus my personal life in such a way that it brings me joy and fulfillment and still serves the community around me.
Some choose to be stay at home parents, building a loving family that will be a blessing to the community, Some serve as storekeepers, hairdressers, grocers, serving their community with thoughtfulness and courtesy. Some choose to be fishermen as perhaps their fathers were, some choose to teachers, educating our young people. Some choose to be doctors or nurses serving the health of their towns and villages.
Some choose to be artists or musicians adding to the beauty that surrounds our lives, some choose to be carpenters, or plumbers, or electricians adding their skills to our buildings and our homes.
Some choose to serve in the military, wanting to serve and protect our nation.
Each of these represents an individual vocation, a response to serve others unique to each individual. Hopefully it will be a fulfilling and life-giving choice and we will find joy in the life that we choose, and hopefully we will fulfill the promises made so many years ago to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, striving for justice and peace, and respecting the dignity of every human being.
And some choose to be firefighters, or EMTs, paramedics, or police, responding to the emergencies that arise in our communities, responding to a crisis situation with all the training behind them, facing danger to protect our buildings and above all, our lives.
From January of 2016 to January of 2017 Franklin County suffered four fatal fires. The first one was in Orange where two little girls were killed. The second was here in Greenfield where two adults and child were killed. The third fire was in Erving where firefighters were unable to save the baby in the next room. The fourth fire was in Warwick where a mother and four of her five children were killed. Those responding to each of these fires were neighbors who were first responders, fire fighters, ambulance personnel, police, and representatives of the state fire marshall. These tragedies took a huge emotional toll on those who responded. Debriefings were held for those who were present to help ease the stress caused by each tragedy. We celebrate our first responders today, and offer our thanks and God’s blessing.
As Jesus is preparing to leave the disciples, he sends them out to spread his message of love and forgiveness in his name. He tells them to stay until they receive Holy Spirit, and he blesses them. In the years that they had been together these disciples had been changed and with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost they would be able to go out into the world and change the world with the message of God’s great love for all people.
The disciples have heard the call and followed that call on a journey unlike any other.
When we follow the call in our lives, that nudge from the Holy Spirit, (sometimes more like a shove) pushes us to become more fully ourselves and when we use that passion to serve the community around us, we will be changed, and the path that our life takes will be a journey unlike any other.
You each have the gifts that are uniquely yours. Now, like the disciples, go out into the world and share them. Reach out to others with Love. Go out into the world to serve.
You are unique, you are loved, and you are blessed. Whatever your age, your condition, whatever you think your limits might be, there is a calling for you to be kind, to be caring, and to reach out to others... Go out into the world in love, and may God go with you.
Bill Hattendorf, Lay Preacher
Prelude: An aside before we start with the biblical lessons at hand: Tomorrow is Memorial Day. We don’t say Happy Memorial Day, because it honors the dead who gave their lives for their country. Come November, you can say Happy Veteran’s Day to all the living veterans who served.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day, as a day to decorate the graves of the fallen veterans. Observance started in remembrance of those who died in the Civil war, known in some Southern circles as the “War Between the States,” or the “Recent Unpleasantness.” Those who sacrificed their lives in the service of our nation in any war were added after their wars, and since 9/11, there has been more mention of those who died in the line of duty in emergency services.
I’ve been fortunate, not losing anyone in my recent ancestry, although every generation has served in some war up through Vietnam. My great-grandfather, John Pender McLeod, served in Gettysburg and elsewhere, belonged to a Vermont Regiment he joined in Brattleboro.
Tonight I will be up in Keene, New Hampshire, on the town square, helping fellow veterans light candles that we put out in red Solo cups all around the square, more than two thousand of them. (cleaning up whatever is left at dawn.) Each candle represents someone who died in the service of his or her country, mostly from New England, but some from beyond as well. We read the name of each person as we take the flame out to a place in the square. One of the candles will represent Fred Hopson, my best buddy in the Army: we trained side by side through Basic and Advanced training, sat next to each other on the plane to Vietnam, served in country together, but he was killed during the Cambodian campaign. I still miss him, and I will honor him and others this Memorial Day who gave their last full measure for God and Country.
Now on to today’s lessons:
Just prior to the beginning of today’s first reading from Acts, Paul and his companions seem to be at a loss for where to go next with the preaching of the gospel. They stumble around the region running into one barrier after another, blocked, we’re told, by the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of Jesus. In today’s reading from Acts, Paul receives a vision in the night, a vision requiring interpretation; requiring a community of faith. The early church faced a tough question as it worked to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission – the spread of the Gospel to all the world.
Some evangelists in the early church understood this Great Commissionas a call to require Gentiles to convert to Judaism, specifically through circumcision – a move that caused many to reject the Gospel. The Council of Jerusalem was called to consider the question, and in the end, this Council of apostles and elders decided that Christ had sent them not to convert the world to Judaism as such, but to bring salvation and the forgiveness of sins to all people, where they were and as whom they were. They were required to transfigure their hearts, not their physical appearance in any way, and accept Christ not as the messiah of the Hebrews but as the savior of the whole world. The invitation is to share the divine Trinitarian life, as it’s
imagined in our second reading today from Revelation 21.
In today’s Gospel of John, it is the last evening that Jesus spends with the disciples before his death. Here, Jesus tries to show them two elements of reality that are difficult to hold
together: he is going away, yet he will not leave them orphaned.
Jesus says, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me / because I live, you also will live.”
The disciples have questions, of course, like: “How is it
that you’ll reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” maybe expectating Jesus to reveal secrets.
But Jesus isn’t interested in hiding knowledge from anyone. While the world will not see him any longer, it will see his followers. To keep the word of Jesus means to keep his commandments. It is to wash one another's feet, to love one another. As the disciples keep the word of Jesus, they will be a community characterized by mutual regard, love and service.
Throughout Jesus’ farewell message, he makes it clear that followers love him by serving others. Jesus' love language here is “acts of service.” Although we might distinguish between loving Jesus and keeping his word, and imagine that we can do one but not the other, Jesus doesn’t recognize that distinction. The clause here in John is a condition of fact: “Those who love me will keep my word” ... Love for Jesus is love in action.
Whether the disciples know it or not, to live that kind of love, they will need the constant presence of God in their midst. Jesus offers that presence with three different promises.
First, he says of himself and the Father about those who love him: “We will come and make our home with them.” From the first chapter of this gospel, we’re told that prior to anyone's love for Jesus, “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” It’s saying that no one would be able to love Jesus if the Father had not first loved the world enough to send his Son into it.
The “cohabitation” that Jesus speaks of is not a reward for good behavior. It is simply a statement of where God likes to spend time. It hearkens back to the first chapter of the gospel as well as forward to the future imagined in Revelation where it says: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” So Jesus speaks of the home that the Father will make with those who love him. He promises the guidance of the Holy Spirit as his followers remember him.
Second, Jesus announces the advent of the Spirit among the believers. During the time between his leave-taking and life in the new Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit “will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit was to guide the disciples and the church about their experiences of Jesus, and it guides us as we seek to let our love for him show up in the ways we relate to others. The Spirit helps all of us disciples understand Jesus and his word and to love Jesus by keeping his word on behalf of the world.
Finally, Jesus gives his own peace to those he is about to leave. The gospel of John includes no mention of peace until Jesus speaks it here, on the eve of his death. He describes the peace he offers as his own and says that he gives it “not as the world gives.” He will offer it again and again as he appears to the disciples after the resurrection. While he doesn’t describe the peace he offers, from his words here in John, we may conclude that his peace offers the disciples both comfort for troubled hearts and courage in the midst of fear. Throughout the events of his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, as well as in the resurrection, Jesus will embody the peace he offers here.
So why tell the disciples all this now? Recall the disciple’s question: “How is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” It tells us that there are three ways those who love Jesus will continue to see and know him after he goes away:
• In the home that the Father and the Son make with them,
• In the work of the Spirit to call to mind what Jesus taught, and
• In their ongoing experience of peace that comes from him and not from the world.
Jesus tells them ahead of time so that they may believe.
As the events of the immediate – and distant – future unfold, Jesus' followers will be able to trust that God – the One who loved them enough to send the Son – still loves them and still seeks to dwell with them. They will know they are not orphaned.
Maybe the most profound moment in this passage – and probably the most familiar – comes in verse 27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Peace is a commodity we sorely need in our world and is absent for far too many. But into this talk about his upcoming absence, Jesus reassures the disciples, who were fearful about his
departure, that they won’t be left alone, and he bestows peace on them.
He doesn’t just gently wish them peaceful lives – he gives them peace. This is not a wish. This is a gift. It is a gift of
profound importance at this moment in that journey of Jesus and the disciples. Surely he could foresee the turmoil they’d face when he was gone, and he does all he can to prepare them for the next part of the journey. Peace is such an important element of John’s gospel. And, like love, peace is a mark of true
discipleship that is required of disciples – both then and now.
This is not a passive peace. It is an active working toward peace in multiple situations. This Spirit and peace will propel the disciples and the church into active discipleship and mission. It is with the presence of this peace, given by God in Jesus, which enables the disciples and us to live lives of faithfulness.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid,” he said. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”
Meet our preachers
Lay Preacher, Faith Community Nurse
The Rev. Jane R. Dunning, Priest Associate
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