Friday, 29 May 2015

What do we make of the Trinity?

What do we make of the Trinity?  I hope that it’s all crystal clear after our video earlier.  Perhaps not.  Probably not.  I am not of course saying it was not helpful, but I doubt somehow that 5 minutes is enough time to fully understand such a profound mystery.   I suspect that it is a lifetime of learning under the gentle teaching of the Holy Spirit. 

In the end, as helpful as it is to try and figure out a way of understanding the trinity in the wonderful world of maths and quantum physics where we find that the basic structure of life is based on something called fractals and imaginary numbers or the multiple universes and multidimensional space, more often than not, we remain left in a fog of confusion.

I wonder what the early Christian writings had to say about the Trinity, given that the official doctrine wasn’t agreed until about 3-4 hundred years after Paul’s letters.  And yet, we find in the letters of Paul clear references to a 3 person Godhead.  However, little time is spent on deciphering the how and the metaphysics in Paul’s works, instead the focus is on relationship.

In Galatians 4, Paul says this “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.  Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out “Abba, Father” .   For Paul’s use of the word Sons, we should readily understand that this should mean Sons and Daughters, and only reflects an extremely patriarchal society when women had a limited role, though it should be noted at this point that in the early church, women had real roles of leadership, it was not until after Christianity became the official religion of the Empire that the equality seen in Christianity was lost as Christianity took on the behaviour of an empire that it was now a pillar of. 

We see the great work of rescue and redemption God has set in motion with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the subsequent ongoing mission of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, whose mission is to help bring about a full healing of God’s creation.  In Romans 8:27, Paul describes God as a heart searcher. “ the one who searches our hearts knows the mind of the spirit”.  We read earlier and heard in the readings today that as believers in Jesus we are no longer controlled by our sinful nature but by the Spirit, and that those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  It was writings such as these among others that finally became the footnotes for the idea of the Trinity among the early Church.  Perhaps the most important key point in all of this is it all comes about because of Jesus.  If we take our eyes off of Jesus then we will likely get lost.

Tom Wright, whose work Tony Hazell has used for the small group ministry recently and who used to be bishop of Durham has this to say; “Once we glimpse the doctrine – or the fact! Of the Trinity, we dare not slide back into a generalized sense of a religion paying distant homage to a god who (though somewhat more complicated than we had previously realised) is nevertheless simply a quasi-personal source of general benevolence.  Christian faith is much more hard edged and craggy than that.”  In other words, it is simply not good enough for us to rest on our laurels and to think it is all OK as long as we feel good about it and that we get a nice warm sensation inside.  Jesus wasn’t just a great teacher or ethicist, he was the one through whom God’s rescue plan would be carried out.  The problem, and there is one, is that this challenges all the other world views to the core.  It is because Jesus died, was raised and now living in that other dimension of creation that we call heaven, that the early Christians came to think of God as Father and Son.  It is because Jesus is in heaven, whilst the Spirit can make him present to us here  and now that we see the Spirit as a distinct member of the divine Trinity.  It is because of Jesus that we think of the trinity at all.  Without Jesus being who he said he was and is, there is simply no need for the concept of a trinity at all. 

Jesus teaches us about relationship and makes it really clear that relationship between us is very important and that this is why the whole law can be summarized to love for God and love for each other.  This is the heart of the trinity.  The trinity is about a unique relationship based on Love.  Love is about trust, forgiveness and the willingness to put our own needs second to the needs of the other, which may mean the need to say sorry, sometimes even if we don’t think we have done anything wrong.

Paul says this about love in Romans 12.  “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud… Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody” and in 1 Corinthians we have that famous phrase that I sure you all now but is always worth listening to again with fresh ears.  Sometimes we hear the words of well known phrases and we forget to listen to what they are saying.

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast.  It is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered’ it keeps no record of wrongs”  and finally it always perseveres.

It is love that lays at the heart of the Trinity, a relationship that Jesus invites us into.  We, as children of God, are invited to live within the world of love as experienced by God himself.

Some of you will know of a book called “The Shack”  There is a scene it it which brings to life what the Trinity may be like, or at least as far as we can take it in, and the relevance it has for us in our lives.

The setting is the morning after Mack arrived at the shack, the place where his daughter was murdered, and he is getting ready to share breakfast with 3 rather odd Characters.

“Mack stood in the bathroom, looking into the mirror while wiping his face dry with a towel.  He was searching for some sign of insanity in those eyes staring back at him.  Was this real?....of course not, it was impossible.  But then he reached out his hand and slowly touched the mirror.  Maybe this was a hallucination being brought on by all his grief and despair.  Maybe it was a dream and he was asleep somewhere , maybe in the shack freezing to death? Maybe… Suddenly, a terrible crash broke into his reverie.  It came from the direction of the kitchen, and Mack froze.  For a moment there was dead silence, and then unexpectedly, he heard uproarious laughter.  Curious, he exited the bathroom and poked his head through the doorway of the Kitchen.

Mack was shocked at the scene in front of him.  It appeared that Jesus had dropped a large bowl of some sort of batter or sauce on the floor, and it was everywhere.  It must have landed close to Papa because the lower portion of her skirt and bare feet were covered in the gooey mess.  All three were laughing so hard that Mack didn’t think they were breathing.

Sarayu said something about humans being clumsy and all three started roaring again…….

As he leaned against the doorway watching, Mack’s mind was full of thoughts.  So this was God in relationship?  It was beautiful and so appealing.  He know that it didn’t matter whose fault it was – the mess from some bowl that had been broken, that a dish that had been planned would not be shared.  Obviously what was truly important here was the love they had for one another and the fullness it brought them.  He shook his head.  How different this was from the way he treated the ones he loved!

Reflect on that for a moment.  If this story manages to give a picture of the relationship at the heart of the trinity, is that different from relationships that you have?  If the answer is yes then now can be the time to ask Jesus to take you by the hand and let you see and experience the love in God’s kitchen. 

As God’s children, we don’t have to put up with a life of second best.  We don’t have to hide behind masks.  We can enter into the Holy of Holies and experience God’s all encompassing love.  Not so that we just feel good, as important as that may be, but to be changed and to be filled and inspired to go out and share that relationship with others.  The relationship that we find in the trinity is the Pearl of greatest price, it is the “how” that enables us to heal the world in the Power of Jesus.

The call of Jesus is urgent.  Love one another as God has loved you. 

Will you follow the call?

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit


Amen

Saturday, 16 May 2015

prayer of thanksgiving

Tomorrow will be my accreditation service as a local preacher.  Another milestone on what has been a fascinating journey so far.  Combine this with my "day job" as a Physiotherapist with injection and prescribing skills then I can have no complaints.  This prayer I wrote specifically for tomorrows service as I wanted to both reflect a thanksgiving from the local preachers elect (there are 5 of us) and for all in the congregation who are also called by God to minister in a variety of ways.


Father, we thank you.
We thank you for continuing to call forth people to act as Prophets, teachers and Preachers willing to speak out about the new world you have called into being.  A world based on values of righteousness, justice, humility and Holiness.

Father, we thank you that this is true, despite the deafening clamour we hear from those that would say otherwise.  When we can’t hear you for the noise, when we can’t see you for the fog of life, when we can’t feel you in the darkness pressing in on us.  Lord, so often, we can feel alone and bereft, but we know you are with us.

So thank you for calling light into darkness, for calling hope from hopelessness, for speaking truth into a world that so often follows a way of lies and deception.

Grant us Lord the courage to stand in the dark of the darkest caves, to stand in the tumult of a manic crowd, to stand amidst storms that threaten our survival and speak boldly words of light, words of life and words of love.

Lord, we ask this in Jesus’ name


Amen

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Election Fever

Here in the UK Election Fever has well and truly taken over.  Where we live there seem to be an unusually large number of advertising posters for a party called UKIP.  One wonders how they will actually fare when it comes to the count on Thursday.  Officially this is a time called Purdah, which means that I am unable to publically espouse one party over another.  Suffice to say that wherever we go on the streets, online on facebook or with email, we are all bombarded with promises and seducements all with the aim of getting our vote.  How do we see through this mire of claim and counter-claim.

For so long, people have become untrusting of politicians.  There is a meme going round on the internet which says it all,  it says I'm voting Muppet, we will get one anyway!  Is this what we really wish for from our political representative.  Somehow, it is not what we wish for but it is likely that it is what most of us expect.  Such is the depth of disillusionment with politics in the UK at the moment.

How can politicians start to regain the trust of the electorate?  Has the election campaign really helped?  Have the debates on TV promoted better trust or have they just led to a position where most of the electorate take what politicians say with a pinch of salt and find them objects of comedy.

Time will tell of course.  But it is important to vote otherwise one becomes voiceless.  As a Christian, we seek to promote honesty, righteousness and justice.  Which of the parties is most likely to work for that?

I will let you decide

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Generosity and purpose

This  is the final part of “The Generous Life” package of sermons which is being run throughout the North Kent Circuit.

We are being encouraged “ to know more of what we are and what we can do to change the world”.  Sometimes, these pre-set series and themes can be challenging to a preacher, because you want to be open to what God is saying in the moment, however it is a good discipline to focus on one area and to try and listen for what God might be wanting to share in an area that I might have subconsciously closed off.  The first thing I would like to say is that a life of Generosity should not be constrained by impacts by the world; I am thinking here of the financial challenges that we face, the political decisions that can shape our living standards, the ongoing debate of austerity and the need to cut back on the welfare state.

The reading from Isaiah speaks directly into the hypocrisy of reliance on symbol.  Does our donating money to the latest Disaster Emergency request really impress God? Whilst at the same time living our lives in such a way that we contribute to the very conditions necessary for the disaster in the first place.  Take global warming for an example, we are all happy using our fossil fuel driven appliances and are then shocked by a tsunami or a flood leaves islands or villages decimated.  Does it really impress God if we pay £2 per month for clean water in some far flung country if we do nothing about the children in our own neighbourhood who go without a hot meal?  We can’t buy ourselves forgiveness or mercy.  In any case the fasting that pleases God is a fast that contributes to righteousness and justice for all.  A fast that makes a difference for the disenfranchised, the homeless, the naked and the sick.  It is interesting to note that Matthew obviously felt that this was really important; hence the story about the sheep and the goats in Chapter 25, with the very attitudes being held up as the difference between eternal life and the opposite.  Note Jesus’ reply to those pleading with him: “ I tell you the truth, whatever you did NOT do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”

I have to admit that this is one of those pieces of scripture that always leaves me feeling uncomfortable.  Have I not walked away sometimes?  And perhaps that is the point of the scripture.  We are all reliant on the mercy of God, not one of us can claim to be so self assured that we are comfortable in our achieving salvation by our own actions.  We are being challenged to look deep into ourselves.  Do we truly reflect the image of God to all or do we too readily hide behind a mask limiting our ability to share the Spirit with others?  The point here is not to say that if you fail on one of these parts then you are destined for damnation.  Don’t forget that Jesus has already claimed your inheritance for you by his death and resurrection.  You have the spirit within you.  No, these pieces of scripture invite us to reconnect with the living spirit within us in order that we might know better who we are.  And that by recognizing better that we holy and living temples as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians, and that we are his holy priests (1 Peter), we are points of intersection between heaven and earth.  That is what Paul would have meant by being a living Temple.  This of course is precisely what Jesus was, though in Jesus’ case not in the often diluted version that we experience, dimmed as it is by our predilection to sin.

Knowing what we are, gives us clear direction in what we can do to change the world, but we need to know what we are aiming to change the world into.  Are we aiming at something of our own creation; global free markets, Western style democracy, the constant sidelining of faith? Or God’s new creation, a place where heaven and earth will be joined forever, a place of joy, of healing, of righteousness and justice.  As a preacher of God’s word, it should be of no surprise that I should be calling for the latter.  Not because the former are necessarily evil, but they have all been tried and they have failed.  God announced the new creation with the resurrection of Jesus.  I see the new creation growing like a mustard seed.  As holy and living temples it is our prime role to live lives of witness to the new creation and to act in ways that promote it’s growth.  So we live in ways that are pleasing to God, because God has entered us and invited us to experience the relationship of love that exists within the trinity itself.  In so doing, we become part of the kingdom of heaven on earth.  We need to respect the diversity that exists within the Church, Why?  Because the Church is the place where the new creation is.  It is one of those key connecting points between heaven and earth.

At the heart of the trinity, at the heart of Paul’s teaching in Roman’s 12 is love.  We are told to bless and not curse.  We should love those who are against us – for isn’t this the example of Jesus?  We should not be conceited or proud, or be deceived by intellectual or academic superiority.  Everyone we meet is potentially a child of God, how therefore would God want us to treat them?  With disdain? – No.  With rejection? – No.  With acceptance? – Yes.  It is by living according to the rules of love that we help the new creation grow and we therefore meet the demands of being a disciple of Christ, and we make a difference.

This isn’t easy.  It wasn’t easy for Jesus, it wasn’t easy for the early Christians, it isn’t easy for Christians today in countries where it can be life threatening just to profess Christianity.  It isn’t easy in the UK where you can be easily laughed at, be deemed a bit silly and therefore have your career progression threatened.  But, do we really have a choice?  In the end we can follow a world view that is in opposition to God because it doesn’t want to be replaced or we can embrace God’s extravagant Grace. For change is the only constant.  It is happening.  A revolution is happening because God’s healing new creation is growing.  Do we want to be part of it, or do we risk being excluded, in the words of Matthew, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

So in conclusion, living a generous life is about reflecting on who we are, and then letting the one who is in us live in us.  When we do this, we act as true witnesses to God’s word which is and will change the world into the new Jerusalem of John’s revelation.

Be Bold, Be strong for the lord your God is with you.

In Jesus’ name

Amen