Cross of Grace

A community of grace sharing God's love with no strings attached.

Sunday Worship:
8:30 am & 10:45 am

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Filtering by Tag: Holy Trinity

More Than Words for Holy Trinity

John 16:12-15

[Jesus said,] “I still have many more things to say to you but you cannot bear them now. But when the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”


NOTE: We have our graduating high school seniors share “Senior Moments” each year as a way to support their faith journey, hear what their plans are for the future and support them in that through prayer and worship. These “Senior Moments” were part of this worship this morning, as well.

I’m not sure if we’ve ever done “Senior Moments” on Holy Trinity Sunday, but I’m glad about it for a couple of reasons. First of all, it gives me some permission to say a little less about a thing for which I fear I may have run out of words over the years – the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s also something that, in my opinion, deserves more time and wisdom from the likes of Dr. Rob Saler by way of a lecture in the classroom than from Pastor Mark, by way of a sermon in the sanctuary. So I’m not going down that road in the same way I have in the past.

Instead, because I knew we’d be hearing from our own “Holy Trinity” of seniors this morning – thank you Mitchell, Dane and Macey – I couldn’t help but latch onto those first words from Jesus, who’s talking to his disciples and friends about his own going – his walk to the cross; his death, resurrection and ascension – and about the coming of the Holy Spirit that would follow. As part of all that, he says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” And I couldn’t help but think that that sounds like equal parts loving lament and fair warning. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” It feels particularly poignant to me, with Mitchell and Dane and Macey in mind, for Senior Moments Sunday – and on Father’s Day, to boot.

Who among you, if you’ve had the blessing and challenge of raising children, or loving a child, or caring for or mentoring someone with less experience than you, or offering advice to someone you love about something that matters to you both – who among you hasn’t felt like Jesus? (“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”)

Close your eyes and take a deep breath with me for a moment… Settle yourself into your chair and remember or imagine a few things with me for a minute…

Your first day of kindergarten – or that first day for your child or children – whether it was you or your own parents, someone surely felt something like Jesus did before loading that kid onto the bus or dropping them off in that classroom: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now…”

Recall or imagine the first day of college, as you packed and unpacked or helped your child pack or unpack or as you plan to do that in the days to come: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now…”

Remember or imagine your wedding day – or that special day for someone you love – in the moments before that walk down the aisle toward whatever was to come; surely, someone was thinking: “I still have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now…”

Remember or imagine – a hospital room or a nursing home or a bedside with hospice care – and maybe a pastor gathered round; Remember or imagine that someone is saying their final goodbyes, or preparing to draw their last breath. Who in or around that bed is thinking, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now?”

Imagine never having had or taken that chance for last words at a time like that: “I still have more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now…”

Whether it’s kindergarten or college, first jobs, wedding days or last breaths, there’s always more to say, it seems. There will be bullies and bad grades; big fights and disappointments; sickness and healing; struggles and celebrations; death and new life too mighty for all the words we might use to describe them. But God is in and through, under and around all of it, already. And there just aren’t enough of the right doctrines or definitions to describe the power of God in our lives or for the sake of the world.

We do our best with what we have by way of “The Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” but it will never cut it – there is still so much more to be said and to be experienced and to be shared in our lives and for each other when it comes to knowing God’s presence among us.

And I think that’s something like what Jesus was getting at and what our lives show us over time: That the power of God shows up in and through the ways we love one another. That the power of God is made known by the ways we forgive, support, sacrifice for, mourn with, grieve alongside, struggle and celebrate with the people in our lives and out there in the world.

And I don’t believe we can defend or describe that – with doctrines or definitions – in ways that are adequate or fair or faithful enough for any of us to understand until we’re blessed to experience it for ourselves, in relationship with others and by the grace of our God.

There are always many more things to be said and shared, about what’s to come in this life and for the next. And – Dane, Mitchell, Macey – and everyone of us, as children of God – we can’t bear it, and we wouldn’t believe it, most of us – until the time comes to bear and to believe the fullness of God’s love for us.

And that takes eyes and hearts and lives open to the power and providence of God in our midst. I think it takes the patient presence of fellow believers, walking together as we go. And I know it takes the grace of God, above all else, to find us and to fill us with the truth of God’s love – for us and for the world – whenever we need it most.

Amen

The Holy Trinity - What's in a Name

John 3:1-17

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."


The idea of “identity crisis” comes to mind whenever I think about the work of preaching on Holy Trinity Sunday – describing what this Holy Trinity thing is all about, I mean. This Sunday is one of the few, if not the only Sunday of the church year, when we’re invited – and where I feel challenged – to preach and teach and worship around a proclamation of the Church moreso than simply the teachings of Jesus.

What I mean is, this whole notion of the Trinity – the word itself, in particular – isn’t something Jesus ever actually bothered with. It’s a word and a notion and a theological understanding that has developed as believers have tried to wrap their brains around who God is. And, I’d like to think, it’s something we’ve constructed as we’ve struggled to go about introducing the God we worship to the world around us.

It can be more than a little confusing – the usual language around it all. And most of us know about the language of the Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Some theologians talk about those titles as references to “Persons” of the Trinity, saying things like, God is “at once three persons and at the same time one being.” There are even pictures that put all of this confusing, philosophical, theological stuff into words and images that try to make sense of it. Sometimes they look like this: 

It can be a bit much, really. Smarter people than me are better at it than I am, I admit. And I don’t blame people – especially non-believers – who might doze off or let their eyes and ears and hearts gloss-over to hear someone speak of it all this way. So I’ll stop. But there’s more to be said – and better ways to say it, I think.

And I was reminded of that recently when I was tutoring over Doe Creek Middle School, which I do most Monday afternoons during the school year. One Monday this semester, a table of boys – most of them new to me – showed up for the first time. When I asked if any of them needed help with anything in particular – preferably anything particularly NOT math, they said “no,” but “thanks.” Then one of the boys said, “Your Jack’s dad, right?” And, caught off guard a bit, I said “Yes,” and asked him his name.

Not knowing if I’d ever seen this kid before and wondering how he recognized me, it made me think about the many different ways a person can be known in the world. To the kid in the middle school library – and to the rest of my sons’ friends – I was and am only Jackson’s dad, or Max’s dad, as far as I can tell. To a lot of other kids around town, like the ones who know me here, as well – people from Cross of Grace, like all of you – I’m not only Jackson’s dad, or Max’s dad, I’m also Pastor Mark.

To a lot of other kids around town, like the ones who know me here, as well – people from Cross of Grace, like all of you – I’m not only Jackson’s dad, or Max’s dad, I’m also Pastor Mark.

And that’s not all. I have lots of different names and ways of being known in the world. I’m also a husband to Christa.

 I’m a son to my parents...

a brother to my brother...

and I’m a friend to more people than I deserve it seems to me.

In fact, when it comes to some of my friends, there are still a handful of them for whom this title of “Pastor Mark,” is hard to believe, even 17 years in. I got a Facebook message from one of my fraternity brothers on Tuesday who jokingly called me “Father” – because this pastor-thing is still such a strange notion to so many who knew me way back when.

So you get the idea.  We all have titles and names and ways of identifying ourselves that describe and define who we are to the world around us. And one way to consider the notion of the Trinity might be to imagine that God – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – can be the same way.

But what matters most about all of those identities and descriptions, isn’t just the name or the title that goes along with each one. What matters most is the relationship that’s fostered or made known by each of them.  

I suspect that kid in the middle school library knew I was Jackson’s dad because he’d seen us together a time or two. I hope he believed I was his dad because he’d seen us walking around town together, or seen me rooting for him at the baseball diamond, cheering for him at a basketball game or tennis match, or dropping him off for school in the morning. All of that – the stuff we do in relationship to each other – is what makes me Jack’s Father, more than any word or title or description else.

And that’s how I try to make sense of and to celebrate the God we identify as “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit.”

We say “Father,” “Son” and “Holy Spirit,” because those are words Jesus used to describe a relationship. We talk about a “Father” – as in a perfect parent – who creates and who loves and who guides and who leads. We understand a “Son” to be a child who obeys and who honors and who is created, by grace, just like the rest of us. We listen for a “Holy Spirit” that is promised and delivered and who comes to somehow transcend time and space to inspire, encourage and enlighten us, according to the will and wishes of the divine.

Just like I can no longer be known fully outside of my relationship to my children; just like I can no longer be known fully outside of my relationship with my wife; just like I can no longer be known fully outside of my relationships as the Pastor of this place; God cannot be fully known outside of the different and holy ways that the Father, Son and Spirit relate to one another and to the world as we know it.

The reason the Trinity matters is that it’s one way – one way … however incomplete and insufficient … of understanding God’s nature among us. And the main reason that matters, if you ask me, is because understanding God’s relationship to us will help us share God’s love with the world. It is because of and through the God who loves us like a prefect parent, who resembles us in the Son, and who speaks to and through us in the Spirit that we can engage, by grace, and in life-giving relationships with the world.

And when we do that, we shine light into darkness, we bring hope where there is none, we comfort the lonely, and we speak of new life, even, in the face of death. We become the hands, the feet, the voice and the heart of God – Father, Son and Spirit – in loving relationship for and with the world in God’s name.

Amen

All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.