Keep Watch: John the Baptist, Like Christ Has Many Disguises!

homeless-manThere was a  young woman who lived in an apartment, in a very rough neighbourhood.  It was the east end of a very large city.  Many of the people who lived in this neighbourhood got by on welfare, others earned their living any way they could.  The young woman moved into the apartment because it was close to the office where she worked, the rent was cheap and quite frankly she was young and foolish.  She ignored all the warnings of her family and friends and moved into the apartment convinced that she could handle anything that came her way.

Her neighbourhood contained the most unsavoury of characters.  The office where she worked was just down the street from her apartment and every morning as she walked to work she would meet some of her neighbours returning home from an evening of plying their trade on the streets and in the alleys.  Each morning, she would be met at the entrance to her office by an old man named Ed.

Ed had been living on the streets for years.  He was very hairy, very dirty, and he tended to rant and rave a lot.  Ed was a wild man.  He slept on the doorstep of the young woman’s office because it was somewhat protected from the winter weather.  Even though Ed made the young woman nervous, she got used to seeing him in her way.

Ed always gave the young woman a warm welcome when she arrived.  He knew that when she got inside, she would brew fresh coffee. He used to tease her that, she was a sucker for a sad face as he waited patiently for her to bring him a cup of coffee.  They never talked much, though.  Ed would just rant and rave about the injustices of the world.   The young woman never found out how Ed ended up on the streets.  She didn’t know how he spent his days. Continue reading

While Preachers Dutifully Ponder the Doctrine of the Trinity, Our Congregations Shrink???

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday.  In anticipation, preachers all over the world are dutifully pondering the Doctrine of the Trinity desperately searching for something to say to encourage their congregations.

Preachers will trot out tired old clichés conjuring up images of triangles, shamrocks around, or point to H20’s ability to appear as water, ice, or steam while still maintaining it’s unified essence. Or have you heard the one about the 3 blind men and the elephant in the room. That old chestnut is trotted out by many a desperate preacher struggling to put flesh on the doctrine of the trinity. But for the life of me I can’t see how 1 blind man touching the elephant’s trunk and presuming that there is a tree in the room, while a second blind man catching wind of the elephant’s ear is convinced that there is some sort of giant fan in the room, while a third man grabs hold of the tail and is sure that he has hold of a rope, helps you to conclude that just because they’re all sharing a room with an elephant you can now confess that God is indeed Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever amen. But all sorts of mental gymnastics will be exercised in the vain attempt to make some sort of sense of the doctrine of the Trinity!

On Trinity Sundays, mindful of the fact that trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity usually leads to heresy: dusty theological books that have not seen the light of day since last Trinity Sunday have been poured over to ensure that the formula’s learned in seminary are repeated correctly and heresy scrupulously avoided. The imaginative among us have attempted to baffle our congregations with our theological intellect, the pragmatic among us have attempted to baffle our congregations with something akin to BS, while the desperate among us have simply tried to survive the Trinity Sunday hoping against hope that no one will notice that we haven’t a clue what we’re talking about.

Perhaps only dear old Dr. Martin Luther possessed the theological integrity sufficient to save a preacher from the perils of preaching on Trinity Sunday. So, before I launch, forth, let me remind you what the instigator of the Reformation had to say on the subject of the Trinity. Martin Luther warned that: “To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; to try and explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity.”

I will confess that Martin Luther had much more at stake, literally at stake, than I do, because the truth is that for centuries the punishment for heresy would have found many an ancient preacher burned at the stake. But while the death penalty for heresy has been lifted, the risk to one’s sanity remains. Continue reading

Keep Watch: John the Baptist, Like Christ Has Many Disguises!

homeless-manThere was a  young woman who lived in an apartment, in a very rough neighbourhood.  It was the east end of a very large city.  Many of the people who lived in this neighbourhood got by on welfare, others earned their living any way they could.  The young woman moved into the apartment because it was close to the office where she worked, the rent was cheap and quite frankly she was young and foolish.  She ignored all the warnings of her family and friends and moved into the apartment convinced that she could handle anything that came her way.

Her neighbourhood contained the most unsavoury of characters.  The office where she worked was just down the street from her apartment and every morning as she walked to work she would meet some of her neighbours returning home from an evening of plying their trade on the streets and in the alleys.  Each morning, she would be met at the entrance to her office by an old man named Ed.

Ed had been living on the streets for years.  He was very hairy, very dirty, and he tended to rant and rave a lot.  Ed was a wild man.  He slept on the doorstep of the young woman’s office because it was somewhat protected from the winter weather.  Even though Ed made the young woman nervous, she got used to seeing him in her way.

Ed always gave the young woman a warm welcome when she arrived.  He knew that when she got inside, she would brew fresh coffee. He used to tease her that, she was a sucker for a sad face as he waited patiently for her to bring him a cup of coffee.  They never talked much, though.  Ed would just rant and rave about the injustices of the world.   The young woman never found out how Ed ended up on the streets.  She didn’t know how he spent his days. Continue reading

The Bent Over Woman – Luke 13:10-17

bentover woman1It was hot. Already the sun had parched the earth. The air was still. The ground beneath her feet radiated the heat. She was tired. Earlier she had thought about staying at home. Her weary body could use a rest. All week long she had toiled in the heat of the sun. On this Sabbath she longed to rest her crumpled, aching body. She tried to ignore the weakness she felt. She had suffered long and hard. She couldn’t even remember when or how she had become so weak. Over the years, her weakened spirit had left her body bent and crippled. The evidence of her heavy burdens could be seen in her crooked spine. She was ashamed of her appearance.

It had been eighteen long years since she had stood straight and tall. She vaguely remembered running when she was a child. She ran everywhere back then. She ran faster than anyone else in the town. She loved to run. Running made her feel free.

Her mother used to warn her not to run. Her mother tried to stop her. But she was so full of life. She wanted to see everything. She wanted to do everything. She wanted to go everywhere.

Her mother warned her not to be so curious. Her mother tried to keep her busy. Her mother tried to keep her out of trouble. But it was no use, no matter how many tasks her mother gave her; she always managed to find time to explore. She had so many questions. She wanted to know how things worked. Life was so very exciting. She dashed from one adventure to the next. She ran everywhere, everyday. Except of course on the Sabbath. On the Sabbath she walked. She walked with her family to the synagogue. She loved to go to the synagogue. As her father and brothers took their places at the feet of the rabbis, she sat quietly with her mother and sisters and the other women and girls in the back of the synagogue. She listened carefully as the men and boys talked.  Continue reading

While Preachers Dutifully Ponder the Doctrine of the Trinity, Our Congregations Shrink???

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday.  In anticipation, preachers all over the world are dutifully pondering the Doctrine of the Trinity desperately searching for something to say to encourage their congregations.

Too many preachers will trot out tired old clichés conjuring up images of triangles, shamrocks around, or point to H20’s ability to appear as water, ice, or steam while still maintaining it’s unified essence. Or have you heard the one about the 3 blind men and the elephant in the room. That old chestnut is trotted out by many a desperate preacher struggling to put flesh on the doctrine of the trinity. But for the life of me I can’t see how 1 blind man touching the elephant’s trunk and presuming that there is a tree in the room, while a second blind man catching wind of the elephant’s ear is convinced that there is some sort of giant fan in the room, while a third man grabs hold of the tail and is sure that he has hold of a rope, helps you to conclude that just because they’re all sharing a room with an elephant you can now confess that God is indeed Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever amen. But all sorts of mental gymnastics will be exercised in the vain attempt to make some sort of sense of the doctrine of the Trinity!

On Trinity Sundays, mindful of the fact that trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity usually leads to heresy: dusty theological books that have not seen the light of day since last Trinity Sunday have been poured over to ensure that the formula’s learned in seminary are repeated correctly and heresy scrupulously avoided. The imaginative among us have attempted to baffle our congregations with our theological intellect, the pragmatic among us have attempted to baffle our congregations with something akin to BS, while the desperate among us have simply tried to survive the Trinity Sunday hoping against hope that no one will notice that we haven’t a clue what we’re talking about.

Perhaps only dear old Dr. Martin Luther possessed the theological integrity sufficient to save a preacher from the perils of preaching on Trinity Sunday. So, before I launch, forth, let me remind you what the instigator of the Reformation had to say on the subject of the Trinity. Martin Luther warned that: “To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; to try and explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity.”

I will confess that Martin Luther had much more at stake, literally at stake, than I do, because the truth is that for centuries the punishment for heresy would have found many an ancient preacher burned at the stake. But while the death penalty for heresy has been lifted, the risk to one’s sanity remains.

Now, I will confess that when faced with a particularly difficult theological knot, I prefer to begin by quoting Jesus and not Luther, but alas Jesus remained silent on the issue of the Trinity. So, I did try to find something helpful in the words of the Apostle Paul. But alas, without some really amazing theological gymnastics that are beyond my abilities to comprehend, even the Apostle Paul remains mute on the issue of the Trinity. So keeping in mind Dr. Luther’s dire warning that to,  “To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; but to try and explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity.”

Let me remind you that the Trinitarian formula appears in Scripture only once, in Matthew 28, during what is called the Great Commission, when Jesus commands the disciples to go forth, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. But the doctrine of the Trinity does not appear in the Bible

– The doctrine of the trinity, as we know it, was first formulated in the fourth century, by a couple of guys named Gregory and a woman called Marcrina.

– The doctrine of the Trinity was then developed over hundreds of years

– The doctrine of the Trinity was at the heart of several wars

– Thousands of Christians were killed because they came down on the loosing side of arguments over the doctrine of the Trinity

– No one has ever been able to adequately explain the Trinity

– Every explanation of the Trinity that I have ever come across includes some form of heresy

By the way, just so we’re clear, I rummaged through some of my previous sermons on the doctrine of the Trinity and I must confess that if this were the twelfth century, an angry mob would be stoking up the fires beneath my feet  because based on things I have proclaimed on various Trinity Sundays a charge of Modalism could very successfully be laid against me, as could a charge of Sabellianism. You might be interested to know, that more traditional preachers than I, will no doubt preach sermons this Sunday which will prove them guilty  of Arianism or at the very least Subordinationism. All of these heresies in a bygone age would have left us with a severe shortage of clergy in the church, as many of us would be smoldering at the stake for our crimes. Deciding who is right and who is wrong, who is in and who is out is a deadly preoccupation of humanity, a preoccupation that the church has not been able to escape. Continue reading

While Preachers Dutifully Ponder the Doctrine of the Trinity, Our Congregations Shrink???

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday.  In anticipation, preachers all over the world are dutifully pondering the Doctrine of the Trinity desperately searching for something to say to encourage their congregations.

Preachers will trot out tired old clichés conjuring up images of triangles, shamrocks around, or point to H20’s ability to appear as water, ice, or steam while still maintaining it’s unified essence. Or have you heard the one about the 3 blind men and the elephant in the room. That old chestnut is trotted out by many a desperate preacher struggling to put flesh on the doctrine of the trinity. But for the life of me I can’t see how 1 blind man touching the elephant’s trunk and presuming that there is a tree in the room, while a second blind man catching wind of the elephant’s ear is convinced that there is some sort of giant fan in the room, while a third man grabs hold of the tail and is sure that he has hold of a rope, helps you to conclude that just because they’re all sharing a room with an elephant you can now confess that God is indeed Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever amen. But all sorts of mental gymnastics will be exercised in the vain attempt to make some sort of sense of the doctrine of the Trinity!

On Trinity Sundays, mindful of the fact that trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity usually leads to heresy: dusty theological books that have not seen the light of day since last Trinity Sunday have been poured over to ensure that the formula’s learned in seminary are repeated correctly and heresy scrupulously avoided. The imaginative among us have attempted to baffle our congregations with our theological intellect, the pragmatic among us have attempted to baffle our congregations with something akin to BS, while the desperate among us have simply tried to survive the Trinity Sunday hoping against hope that no one will notice that we haven’t a clue what we’re talking about.

Perhaps only dear old Dr. Martin Luther possessed the theological integrity sufficient to save a preacher from the perils of preaching on Trinity Sunday. So, before I launch, forth, let me remind you what the instigator of the Reformation had to say on the subject of the Trinity. Martin Luther warned that: “To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; to try and explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity.”

I will confess that Martin Luther had much more at stake, literally at stake, than I do, because the truth is that for centuries the punishment for heresy would have found many an ancient preacher burned at the stake. But while the death penalty for heresy has been lifted, the risk to one’s sanity remains.

Now, I will confess that when faced with a particularly difficult theological knot, I prefer to begin by quoting Jesus and not Luther, but alas Jesus remained silent on the issue of the Trinity. So, I did try to find something helpful in the words of the Apostle Paul. But alas, without some really amazing theological gymnastics that are beyond my abilities to comprehend, even the Apostle Paul remains mute on the issue of the Trinity. So keeping in mind Dr. Luther’s dire warning that to,  “To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; but to try and explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity.”

Let me remind you that the Trinitarian formula appears in Scripture only once, in Matthew 28, during what is called the Great Commission, when Jesus commands the disciples to go forth, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. But the doctrine of the Trinity does not appear in the Bible

– The doctrine of the trinity, as we know it, was first formulated in the fourth century, by a couple of guys named Gregory and a woman called Marcrina.

– The doctrine of the Trinity was then developed over hundreds of years

– The doctrine of the Trinity was at the heart of several wars

– Thousands of Christians were killed because they came down on the loosing side of arguments over the doctrine of the Trinity

– No one has ever been able to adequately explain the Trinity

– Every explanation of the Trinity that I have ever come across includes some form of heresy

By the way, just so we’re clear, I rummaged through some of my previous sermons on the doctrine of the Trinity and I must confess that if this were the twelfth century, an angry mob would be stoking up the fires beneath my feet  because based on things I have proclaimed on various Trinity Sundays a charge of Modalism could very successfully be laid against me, as could a charge of Sabellianism. You might be interested to know, that more traditional preachers than I, will no doubt preach sermons this Sunday which will prove them guilty  of Arianism or at the very least Subordinationism. All of these heresies in a bygone age would have left us with a severe shortage of clergy in the church, as many of us would be smoldering at the stake for our crimes. Deciding who is right and who is wrong, who is in and who is out is a deadly preoccupation of humanity, a preoccupation that the church has not been able to escape. Continue reading

You Have the Power to Transfigure the Face of God

mushroom Cloud

Three years ago, the Strange History of Transfiguration Sunday inspired this sermon. I offer it here because the words of Desmond Tutu speak volumes as I work on this year’s Transfiguration sermon.

When our images of God are tied to the idol of a supernatural sky-dweller who has the power to solve all our problems, despair is sure to follow as our super-hero fails time after time to impress us.

When I was a very little girl, I was absolutely convinced that I had the power to change the mind of God! Confident that I held such power, I never missed an opportunity to exercise it. Now, I’ll grant you that like most children, I was also convinced that the universe itself actually revolved around me, so believing that I was powerful enough to change God’s mind, wasn’t exactly much of a stretch. In fact, when I was a child, it wasn’t all that difficult to change God’s mind. For instance, I could stop God from breaking my mother’s back simply by leaping over a crack in the pavement. “Don’t step on a crack and break your mothers back.” Now, in my young mind the only one powerful enough to crush my mother’s powerful spine, must be God. I also knew that God wasn’t particularly fond of ladders, and that if I refrained from walking under them, God would smile upon me. Continue reading

Keep Watch: John the Baptist, Like Christ Has Many Disguises!

homeless-manThere was a  young woman who lived in an apartment, in a very rough neighbourhood.  It was the east end of a very large city.  Many of the people who lived in this neighbourhood got by on welfare, others earned their living any way they could.  The young woman moved into the apartment because it was close to the office where she worked, the rent was cheap and quite frankly she was young and foolish.  She ignored all the warnings of her family and friends and moved into the apartment convinced that she could handle anything that came her way.

Her neighbourhood contained the most unsavoury of characters.  The office where she worked was just down the street from her apartment and every morning as she walked to work she would meet some of her neighbours returning home from an evening of plying their trade on the streets and in the alleys.  Each morning, she would be met at the entrance to her office by an old man named Ed.

Ed had been living on the streets for years.  He was very hairy, very dirty, and he tended to rant and rave a lot.  Ed was a wild man.  He slept on the doorstep of the young woman’s office because it was somewhat protected from the winter weather.  Even though Ed made the young woman nervous, she got used to seeing him in her way.

Ed always gave the young woman a warm welcome when she arrived.  He knew that when she got inside, she would brew fresh coffee. He used to tease her that, she was a sucker for a sad face as he waited patiently for her to bring him a cup of coffee.  They never talked much, though.  Ed would just rant and rave about the injustices of the world.   The young woman never found out how Ed ended up on the streets.  She didn’t know how he spent his days. Continue reading

The Bent Over Woman – Luke 13:10-17

bentover woman1It was hot. Already the sun had parched the earth. The air was still. The ground beneath her feet radiated the heat. She was tired. Earlier she had thought about staying at home. Her weary body could use a rest. All week long she had toiled in the heat of the sun. On this Sabbath she longed to rest her crumpled, aching body. She tried to ignore the weakness she felt. She had suffered long and hard. She couldn’t even remember when or how she had become so weak. Over the years, her weakened spirit had left her body bent and crippled. The evidence of her heavy burdens could be seen in her crooked spine. She was ashamed of her appearance.

It had been eighteen long years since she had stood straight and tall. She vaguely remembered running when she was a child. She ran everywhere back then. She ran faster than anyone else in the town. She loved to run. Running made her feel free.

Her mother used to warn her not to run. Her mother tried to stop her. But she was so full of life. She wanted to see everything. She wanted to do everything. She wanted to go everywhere.

Her mother warned her not to be so curious. Her mother tried to keep her busy. Her mother tried to keep her out of trouble. But it was no use, no matter how many tasks her mother gave her; she always managed to find time to explore. She had so many questions. She wanted to know how things worked. Life was so very exciting. She dashed from one adventure to the next. She ran everywhere, everyday. Except of course on the Sabbath. On the Sabbath she walked. She walked with her family to the synagogue. She loved to go to the synagogue. As her father and brothers took their places at the feet of the rabbis, she sat quietly with her mother and sisters and the other women and girls in the back of the synagogue. She listened carefully as the men and boys talked.  Continue reading

What do the Feast Day of the Transfiguration and Hiroshima Day Share?

mushroom Cloud

Today is Hiroshima Day. It is also the Feast of the Transfiguration. So I am reposting this as it appeared earlier this year in preparation for the Sunday of the Transfiguration. 

You Have the Power

to Transfigure the Face of God 

When our images of God are tied to the idol of a supernatural sky-dweller who has the power to solve all our problems, despair is sure to follow as our super-hero fails time after time to impress us.

When I was a very little girl, I was absolutely convinced that I had the power to change the mind of God! Confident that I held such power, I never missed an opportunity to exercise it. Now, I’ll grant you that like most children, I was also convinced that the universe itself actually revolved around me, so believing that I was powerful enough to change God’s mind, wasn’t exactly much of a stretch. In fact, when I was a child, it wasn’t all that difficult to change God’s mind. For instance, I could stop God from breaking my mother’s back simply by leaping over a crack in the pavement. “Don’t step on a crack and break your mothers back.” Now, in my young mind the only one powerful enough to crush my mother’s powerful spine, must be God. I also knew that God wasn’t particularly fond of ladders, and that if I refrained from walking under them, God would smile upon me.

I had no idea why black cats, or spilling salt, or breaking mirrors, or opening umbrellas inside, or leaving hats on the bed, or putting new shoes on the table, would annoy God, but I knew enough to avoid doing such things. I was absolutely sure that God would respond positively if I managed to pull a turkey’s wishbone apart in just the right way so that I was left holding a piece larger than the piece my brother was left with.  God also responded well if I knocked on wood, or caught sight of a falling star, or if I crossed my fingers and hoped to die.

I didn’t need to understand why my activities worked to influence the heart and mind of God, I simply knew that they did and would continue to do so just as long as I continued to avoid the necessary evils and indulge in an apple a day, and managed to blow out all the candles on my birthday cakes.

The universe that revolved around me might have been full of all sorts of rules, but it would continue to revolve exactly the way I wanted it to if I managed to placate the old guy up in the sky who was pulling every body else’s strings. I never once considered that that old God in the sky was pulling my strings because I was absolutely confident in my ability to do what was necessary to pull God’s strings.

But as I grew up, I began to learn that despite my best intentions, the universe did not revolve around me. Little by little I learned that I didn’t have what it takes to influence all of the things that were having an impact upon my life. And just as surely as my powers waned, so too did the powers of God. Continue reading

While Preachers Dutifully Ponder the Doctrine of the Trinity, Our Congregations Shrink???

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday.  In anticipation, preachers all over the world are dutifully pondering the Doctrine of the Trinity desperately searching for something to say to encourage their congregations.

Preachers will trot out tired old clichés conjuring up images of triangles, shamrocks around, or point to H20’s ability to appear as water, ice, or steam while still maintaining it’s unified essence. Or have you heard the one about the 3 blind men and the elephant in the room. That old chestnut is trotted out by many a desperate preacher struggling to put flesh on the doctrine of the trinity. But for the life of me I can’t see how 1 blind man touching the elephant’s trunk and presuming that there is a tree in the room, while a second blind man catching wind of the elephant’s ear is convinced that there is some sort of giant fan in the room, while a third man grabs hold of the tail and is sure that he has hold of a rope, helps you to conclude that just because they’re all sharing a room with an elephant you can now confess that God is indeed Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever amen. But all sorts of mental gymnastics will be exercised in the vain attempt to make some sort of sense of the doctrine of the Trinity!

On Trinity Sundays, mindful of the fact that trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity usually leads to heresy: dusty theological books that have not seen the light of day since last Trinity Sunday have been poured over to ensure that the formula’s learned in seminary are repeated correctly and heresy scrupulously avoided. The imaginative among us have attempted to baffle our congregations with our theological intellect, the pragmatic among us have attempted to baffle our congregations with something akin to BS, while the desperate among us have simply tried to survive the Trinity Sunday hoping against hope that no one will notice that we haven’t a clue what we’re talking about.

Perhaps only dear old Dr. Martin Luther possessed the theological integrity sufficient to save a preacher from the perils of preaching on Trinity Sunday. So, before I launch, forth, let me remind you what the instigator of the Reformation had to say on the subject of the Trinity. Martin Luther warned that: “To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; to try and explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity.”

I will confess that Martin Luther had much more at stake, literally at stake, than I do, because the truth is that for centuries the punishment for heresy would have found many an ancient preacher burned at the stake. But while the death penalty for heresy has been lifted, the risk to one’s sanity remains.

Now, I will confess that when faced with a particularly difficult theological knot, I prefer to begin by quoting Jesus and not Luther, but alas Jesus remained silent on the issue of the Trinity. So, I did try to find something helpful in the words of the Apostle Paul. But alas, without some really amazing theological gymnastics that are beyond my abilities to comprehend, even the Apostle Paul remains mute on the issue of the Trinity. So keeping in mind Dr. Luther’s dire warning that to,  “To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; but to try and explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity.”

Let me remind you that the Trinitarian formula appears in Scripture only once, in Matthew 28, during what is called the Great Commission, when Jesus commands the disciples to go forth, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. But the doctrine of the Trinity does not appear in the Bible

– The doctrine of the trinity, as we know it, was first formulated in the fourth century, by a couple of guys named Gregory and a woman called Marcrina.

– The doctrine of the Trinity was then developed over hundreds of years

– The doctrine of the Trinity was at the heart of several wars

– Thousands of Christians were killed because they came down on the loosing side of arguments over the doctrine of the Trinity

– No one has ever been able to adequately explain the Trinity

– Every explanation of the Trinity that I have ever come across includes some form of heresy

By the way, just so we’re clear, I rummaged through some of my previous sermons on the doctrine of the Trinity and I must confess that if this were the twelfth century, an angry mob would be stoking up the fires beneath my feet  because based on things I have proclaimed on various Trinity Sundays a charge of Modalism could very successfully be laid against me, as could a charge of Sabellianism. You might be interested to know, that more traditional preachers than I, will no doubt preach sermons this Sunday which will prove them guilty  of Arianism or at the very least Subordinationism. All of these heresies in a bygone age would have left us with a severe shortage of clergy in the church, as many of us would be smoldering at the stake for our crimes. Deciding who is right and who is wrong, who is in and who is out is a deadly preoccupation of humanity, a preoccupation that the church has not been able to escape.

So, with apologies to Dr. Luther, I’m going to go ahead and risk my salvation by declaring that the doctrine of the trinity is but a feeble attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible mystery of the very nature of our God.  We can echo all the creeds of Christendom with as much confidence as we can muster, and as enlightening as some of those creeds may be, they cannot begin to unravel the mystery of the creator of everything that ever was and ever shall be, nor can they fully describe the magnitude of the revelation provided in the life, death and resurrection of the one we call Christ, and when it comes to the power of the Holy Spirit, all our creeds together cannot tell the story of her wondrous beauty.

The doctrine of the trinity is just a tool to help us along the way, the trinity is not God, nor is God the trinity. The trinity is merely a way to speak of the unspeakable. And yet down through the centuries we have used the doctrine of the trinity as an idol and demanded that we worship the trinity as if it were God’s very self.

We have worried more about believing in the trinity than relating to the very One whose relationship the Trinity attempts to describe. For when it comes down to it, what we know of our God finds expression our attempts to describe God as a relational being. For what is the doctrine of the Trinity if it is not the declaration that God is Creator, Christ and Spirit, intimately connected as One; at God’s very core we find a relationship. This should be our first clue that any understanding of God must begin with relationship. Surely it is more important to experience God than to explain God. Surely it is more important to relate to God than it is to preserve a doctrine that has long since failed to describe God.

You’d think that after nearly 2000 years the Christian church would have learned to be more humble in its declarations about God. And yet, today, as we strive to learn more and more about creation, some things remain out of bounds. The church remains unwilling to revisit long established doctrines, choosing instead to insist that we simply believe, because what was good enough for grandma ought to be good enough for us. And if we should doubt the doctrine of the Trinity then all we need to do is study harder and we will eventually understand. And if we are unwilling to work at understanding the Trinity we should simply trust that folks much smarter than us have figured it out so we should simply stop questioning and simply mouth the words. Let the tired clichés and the worn out illustrations suffice, forget about our questions and simply drink the kool-aid and our doubts will somehow magically disappear. And so together we focus on believing what has been handed down to us. And for a great many people that’s good enough. All we really need to do is believe, to have faith and all will be well. But oh so many more of us have grown weary of the tired insistence on belief; you only have to think of the children missing from our churches to know that our doctrines are failing to engender relationship.

I’d like to be able to say, here just learn this and believe this and all will be well,  all we need to do is figure out more up to date methods to deliver the same old doctrines and your grown children will learn to believe, but  I too have my doubts.   You see I don’t believe that the point of a religion is to engender belief. I believe that the point of religion is much bigger than belief. For if a religion does no help you relate to God or to God’s creatures, or enhance your experience of creation, then religion is not life giving and all its doctrines are but fleeting attempts to deny death.

It is far more important to have a relationship with our God than it is to understand doctrines about God. In so far as the doctrine of the trinity helps us to relate to God then it can be said to be life-giving. When the doctrine of the trinity helps us relate to God’s creatures and to God’s creation, then it can be said to be life-giving. But reduced to a formula that we must believe the doctrine of the trinity runs the risk of inhibiting our experience of God and robbing us of a life-giving relationship with God and with the world that God loves.

I am convinced that the only way to ensure that the doctrine of the trinity remains life-giving is to free it from the confines of the past. Despite it’s fear, the church must re-examine its creeds and confessions, open up our dusty doctrines to the light of the 21st century so that those that fail to enhance our relationship to God and to one another can be given a decent Christian burial and those that nurture our relationship to God and to one another can thrive.

We need to prioritize relationship and experience over ancient creeds and doctrines, least our preoccupation with correct belief causes us to miss an encounter with our God.

Trying to understand the very nature of God, is, when you think about it actually an arrogant thing for simple creatures such as we. We cannot hope to understand the nature of God.  So perhaps the most faithful sermon on the Trinity is one that merely sniffs around the edges of the mystery, hunting for something closer to an experience rather than an understanding.  God is the elusive stranger.

Sometimes it is possible to identify God, before God gets away. But most of the time we only recognize God after God is gone, like the drifter who wants to tell you his story only you do not have time, so you hand him a dollar and walk away.  Or the woman with the tearstained face who disappears while you decide whether to ask her what is wrong; or the bewildered child whose mother scolds him for being alive and whose sorrowful eyes catch yours just as she drags him away. These are the strangers who lay claim to our hearts, although they make no claims for themselves.  In their presence we fail them.  It is only after they are gone that we know who they were.  That is why it is so easy for us to sacrifice them.  We did not know.  How could we have known?  Who expected Christ to show up looking like that?

Is it possible for us to attend to our peripheral vision, to see out of the corner of our eyes, to notice those faint sounds of birdsong in the background, to catch those elusive fragrances, that might well be God, the Holy One, coming to us in ordinary space and matter, longing for an intimate encounter?

Let us be ready to notice the Spirit of God in a burning bush, to turn aside for a moment in order to encounter the mysterious, intimate God who comes to us, so that in the power of the trinity we ourselves may be made holy!

            Heirs with Christ –  inheritors and distributers of all God’s love.

            There you see, I’m not suggesting that we toss it all away.

            Down through the centuries God has revealed so much.

            I’m simply pleading that we walk humbly with our God.

            And revel in the mystery.

In a dusty library years ago, I discovered a pearl about the Trinity, which I treasure. It came from St. Augustine, a 4th century bishop who helped to craft the doctrine of the trinity.

            Augustine’s metaphor for the Trinity is that

            God is:  Lover, Beloved, and Love itself.  

            May we learn to walk humbly with that love.

You Have the Power to Transfigure the Face of God

mushroom Cloud

Two years ago, the Strange History of Transfiguration Sunday inspired this sermon. I offer it here because the words of Desmond Tutu speak volumes as I work on this year’s Transfiguration sermon.

When our images of God are tied to the idol of a supernatural sky-dweller who has the power to solve all our problems, despair is sure to follow as our super-hero fails time after time to impress us.

When I was a very little girl, I was absolutely convinced that I had the power to change the mind of God! Confident that I held such power, I never missed an opportunity to exercise it. Now, I’ll grant you that like most children, I was also convinced that the universe itself actually revolved around me, so believing that I was powerful enough to change God’s mind, wasn’t exactly much of a stretch. In fact, when I was a child, it wasn’t all that difficult to change God’s mind. For instance, I could stop God from breaking my mother’s back simply by leaping over a crack in the pavement. “Don’t step on a crack and break your mothers back.” Now, in my young mind the only one powerful enough to crush my mother’s powerful spine, must be God. I also knew that God wasn’t particularly fond of ladders, and that if I refrained from walking under them, God would smile upon me.

I had no idea why black cats, or spilling salt, or breaking mirrors, or opening umbrellas inside, or leaving hats on the bed, or putting new shoes on the table, would annoy God, but I knew enough to avoid doing such things. I was absolutely sure that God would respond positively if I managed to pull a turkey’s wishbone apart in just the right way so that I was left holding a piece larger than the piece my brother was left with.  God also responded well if I knocked on wood, or caught sight of a falling star, or if I crossed my fingers and hoped to die.

I didn’t need to understand why my activities worked to influence the heart and mind of God, I simply knew that they did and would continue to do so just as long as I continued to avoid the necessary evils and indulge in an apple a day, and managed to blow out all the candles on my birthday cakes.

The universe that revolved around me might have been full of all sorts of rules, but it would continue to revolve exactly the way I wanted it to if I managed to placate the old guy up in the sky who was pulling every body else’s strings. I never once considered that that old God in the sky was pulling my strings because I was absolutely confident in my ability to do what was necessary to pull God’s strings.

But as I grew up, I began to learn that despite my best intentions, the universe did not revolve around me. Little by little I learned that I didn’t have what it takes to influence all of the things that were having an impact upon my life. And just as surely as my powers waned, so too did the powers of God.

I can still remember sitting in the back seat of the car and wondering why God despite the fact that I always lifted my feet up each and every time my father drove over a railroad track, my parents simply couldn’t find the money we needed to buy our happiness. Surely God must know that I was doing my part to do what was necessary to make God shine his smile upon my family.

So each and every time God failed to do exactly what I wanted God to do, God’s power was diminished in my eyes. As I grew, I gave up trying to influence God and I took off after God’s son. After all Jesus was far more fun to be around than his old doddering Father. For starters Jesus actually liked children. And Jesus had way better party tricks than his Dad. Jesus could turn water into wine, make the blind see, and the lame walk. And if the cupboard was bare, no need to worry, cause Jesus was even better than my Mom at turning nothing into something. Where Mom could make a meal out of almost nothing, Jesus could make enough to feed 5000. And there was always that trick to beat all tricks, cause in all my young life, I never heard tell of anyone else who ever came back from the dead and brought tons of chocolate with him. I mean that old doddering guy in the sky simply didn’t stand a chance against Jesus. Santa Claus was about the only one who could come close, and everybody knew that Santa would be nothing without Jesus.

So, somewhere along the way, that I had no need to worry about stepping on a cracks, or spilling salt, or dropping forks, because these things were nothing more than superstitions. Besides, who needs to worry about superstitions when you’ve got Jesus for as your friend? My buddy Jesus was all I needed to keep my world on an even keel. So, I walked with him and I talked with him and we were so happy together, until stuff started to happen that made me begin to doubt Jesus ability to change the world.

A few weeks before my eleventh birthday, Sirhan Sirhan shot Bobby Kennedy and for the second time in my life, I saw my father cry. I was only six-years old when the shooting of Bobby’s older brother made the adults in my life cry. Their tears changed something in me. I listened more intently to what was going on in the world around me. I needed to know what was happening so that I could do something to change it. A year after Bobby Kennedy was shot, I went to my first protest march. I was just twelve years old, but I knew that Vietnam was wrong and had to be stopped. I believed that my presence together with the presence of hundreds of thousands, could make a difference.

I left my buddy Jesus playing in the garden. I began to listen to the radical Jesus who spoke truth to power and called us to follow him so that we could change the world. As a teenager I knew that we had to end the war in Vietnam and even though the sixties were drawing to a close, and the flower children would soon be trading in their incense and beads so that the could find jobs and climb the corporate ladder, we marched. And when in 1975, the Vietnam war ended in defeat, I actually naively believed that public opinion had caused the powers that be to change their minds.

So, I continued to work for peace, only this time it was nuclear proliferation that we needed to stop. It was somewhere during the Regan years that I gave up the notion of changing the world by marching in the streets.  Iran Contra put an end to my naiveté.  Jesus and I retreated. Literally.  I mean we literally retreated. A few friends and I worked together on a retreat center. Seabright Farm was a Christian retreat centre designed to nourish people who were trying to live their lives in the world. Jesus was our guide. We wanted to live in this complicated world of ours, the way that Jesus might live. So we dedicated ourselves to learning. Learning all we could about Jesus, Christianity, the church, theology, living responsibly, ethically. Our attempts to change the world took on a more modest approach. We set out to change the world, by changing ourselves.

Eventually, my work at Seabright Farm, brought me into seminary, where I suppose I thought I could change the world by changing the church. Along the way, I must confess that over the years I’ve become more than a little jaded and cynical.  There are days when I don’t really believe that anything will ever really change. But there are moments, moments when I actually believe that it’s possible not only to change the world, but to actually change God.  

Transfiguration Sunday is a strange festival in the Church calendar. The story of the Transfiguration is the story of Jesus climbing a mountain with his closest friends. On the mountaintop Jesus has a profound experience. There is a dazzling light, a cloud that overshadowed them, and the cloud terrified them. That same cloud appeared generations earlier and overshadowed one of the fathers of the Jewish people. That same cloud appeared generations later and overshadowed the father of the people of Islam.

As we read of that cloud today, we should do so with the same fear and trembling of our sisters and brothers who over the generations have encountered that cloud. For Transfiguration Sunday may be a festival of the church, but it’s history is steeped in the political and religious intolerance of the world. Before the fifteenth century, only a few Christian communities kept the feast of the Transfiguration. The festival hadn’t caught on like other festivals.

In all of Christendom only a handful of congregations marked the day and we would not be celebrating it today if it weren’t for a terrible battle. On the sixth of August 1456 news was announced in Rome that John Hunyady had defeated the Turks near Belgrade and the bells of churches rang out in celebration of the slaughter of some 50,000  Muslims.   Overjoyed, Pope Callistus ordered the whole church to commemorate the victory against the infidels by celebrating the feast of the Transfiguration.

For generations the church commemorated the battle by celebrating Transfiguration Sunday on August the sixth. Some church’s still celebrate Transfiguration on the sixth of August. However, shortly after the end of World War II protestant churches discretely decided to  move the festival of Transfiguration to the last day of Epiphany. They did so, because of the infamy of August 6. In 1945 a slaughter of a different sort was inflicted on a different people.

On August 6th 1945, someone climbed not a holy mountain, but into the cockpit of a plane—a machine of war. There had been a lull of a week in the fighting between the Allies and Japan. The Allies had a new secret weapon and they wanted to us it with the maximum psychological effect. They had prepared three atomic bombs. On the 16th of July, the first bomb was tested in New Mexico.

As a terrifying cloud rose up from the earth, the father of the atomic bomb J. Robert Oppenheim quoted from the Hindu Scriptures a line from the Bhagavad-Gita, “Now, I am become death the destroyer of worlds.”  On August 6 the second bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and three days later the third one was dropped on Nagasaki. 150,000 people lay dead. Thousands more died later from the effect of atomic radiation. 75,000 buildings were destroyed. Two cities were devastated. The world will never be the same. The date for the festival of Transfiguration was moved.

The shape of that awful cloud hangs now forever in our sky. If you close your eyes you will see that cloud; rising up from the earth; a mushroom more poisonous than anything created by God. It is the new tree of knowledge of good and evil. We have eaten of its fruit and we shall never be the same.

We live in fear of everything that emanates from that terrible cloud. Is it any wonder that the vision of that cloud was invoked by the leaders of our neighbours to the south as they tried to convince the world to go to war against the people of Iraq. Weapons of mass destruction! Yesterday, the memory of the cloud hung over Iraq. Today, the memory of that cloud is being used to isolate Iran and Korea.

Has the memory of that poisonous cloud obliterated from our minds the memory of another cloud? Do we no longer remember the story of another climb, another light, another voice, another cloud? Jesus was there speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Jesus was speaking of his death, his destruction by another tree. Do we not meet on Transfiguration Sunday today under the shadow of that tree, to break bread and to proclaim the victory of Christ’s death over every evil, even the total annihilation by human evil.

Friends, I trust that we will be led out of this morass of fear and hatred by a pillar of cloud; a cloud that transformed Moses and a band of refugees in the desert into a people;  a cloud that rested upon Jesus declaring Jesus to be the embodiment of all that God had tried to say for generations; the same cloud that carried on Mohammad into the heavens, leaving behind a people who would take on the name Islam, which itself means peace.

Memories of clouds… Sorry, but I’ve looked at cloud’s from both sides know and like the song says I really don’t know clouds at all. I’m still wondering if its possible to be the people God created us to be? I’d given up wondering whether or not it’s realistic to hope, but rather whether it’s even possible to hope that the world can be changed. The poor will always be with us. Wars will keep breaking out just as surely as the sun rises in the east. Bad things will continue to happen to good people. And just when I think that hope is pointless…that the powerful will always abuse the powerless…just when I’m about ready to join the ranks of those who say live for today and forget about tomorrow…some people half a world away, begin to turn the whole world upside down…and dictators begin to loose their grip…and I begin to wonder, what if? And I feel the hope begin to stir in me.

In his book, God Has A Dream: A Vision of Home for Our Time, Desmond Tutu tells about a transfiguration experience that he will never forget. It occurred when apartheid was still in full swing. Tutu and other church leaders were preparing for a meeting with the prime minister of South Africa to discuss the troubles that were destroying their nation. They met at a theological college that had closed down because of the white government’s racist policies.             During a break from the proceedings, Tutu walked into the college’s garden for some quiet time.  In the midst of the garden was a huge wooden cross. As Tutu looked at the barren cross, he realized that it was winter, a time when the grass was pale and dry, a time when almost no one could imagine that in a few short weeks it would be lush, green, and beautiful again.  In a few short weeks, the grass and all the surrounding world would be transfigured. As the archbishop sat there and pondered that, he obtained a new insight into the power of transfiguration, of God’s ability to transform  our world. Tutu concluded that transfiguration means that no one and no situation is “untransfigurable.” The time will eventually come when the whole world will be released from its current bondage and brought to share in the glorious liberty that God intends.

Just over a week ago, many of you followed Jesus out of your comfort zone and down to the Inn From the Cold. You worked very heard to prepare over 200 meals to feed the hungry. But you did so much more than just feeding your neighbours. I believe that you actually achieved a transfiguration of sorts. Shortly before that evening, some of us watched Desmond Tutu talk about the need to change our image of God. I’d like to read back to you the words that Tutu said: The images that we have of God are odd because God—this omnipotent one—is actually weak. As a parent I understand this. You watch your child going wrong and there’s not very much you can do to stop them. You have tried to teach them what is right, but now it is their life and they are mucking it up. There are many moments when you cry for your child, and that’s exactly what happens with God. All of us are God’s children.

I frequently say, I’m so glad I’m not God! Can you imagine having to say, “Bin Laden is my child. Saddam Hussein is my child. George Bush is my child.” Oh!   All of them, including me. Can you imagine what God must have felt watching the Holocaust? Watching Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Watching Rwanda? Can you imagine God watching Darfur?  Imagine God watching Iraq and saying, “These are my children here, and they are killing my other children.  And I can’t do anything because I have said to them, ‘I give you the space to be you and that space enables you to make choices. And I can’t stop you when you make the wrong choices. All I can do is sit here and cry.’”    And God cries until God sees beautiful people who care, even if they may not do earth-shattering things.

There is a fantastic story of a so-called colored woman who was driven from her home and ostracized by her family because she had HIV/AIDS. She came to live in a home for people who suffered from the disease, and there were white men there who would help her because she couldn’t do anything herself. She was all skin and bones. They would carry her like a baby and wash her, bathe her, feed her. Then they would put her in front of a television set and hold her. And this was during the apartheid years. I visited this home and said, “What an incredible lesson in loving and compassion and caring.”

It was transfiguring something ugly, letting something beautiful come from a death-making disease. When God sees that, a smile breaks forth on God’s face and God smiles through the tears. It’s like when the sun shines through the rain. The world may never know about these little transfigurations, but these little acts of love are potent.            

They are moving our universe so that it will become the kind of place God wants it to be. And so, yes, you wipe the tears from God’s eyes. And God smiles.” You people have transfigured the face of God on more than a few occasions. By following Jesus out into the world, to reach out to your sisters and brothers, you have transfigured the face of God.” (see the video below for the full context of this quote)

So, on this Transfiguration Sunday, let me remind you of God’s ability to Transform the world precisely because God dwells in with and through you! Do not give up hope:  no one and no situation is “untransfigurable.” The time will eventually come when the whole world will be released from its current bondage and brought to share in the glorious liberty that God intends.  Continue to give hope to the hopeless, reach out and love the world that God loves, and always remember that you have the power to transfigure the face of God!

A Benediction:          Always remember that you have the power

to transfigure the face of God!

You can wipe the tears from God’s eyes.

You can make God smile.

Reach out with love.

Be the compassionate people God created you to be!

Receive the blessing of  God whose love knows no boundaries,

Christ whose peace you embody,

And the Holy Spirit, whose power breathes

in with and through you,

To transfigure the world with love!

 

Keep Watch, Prepare Ye! For John the Baptist, Like Christ Has Many Disguises!

homeless-manThere was a  young woman who lived in an apartment, in a very rough neighbourhood.  It was the east end of a very large city.  Many of the people who lived in this neighbourhood got by on welfare, others earned their living any way they could.  The young woman moved into the apartment because it was close to the office where she worked, the rent was cheap and quite frankly she was young and foolish.  She ignored all the warnings of her family and friends and moved into the apartment convinced that she could handle anything that came her way.

Her neighbourhood contained the most unsavoury of characters.  The office where she worked was just down the street from her apartment and every morning as she walked to work she would meet some of her neighbours returning home from an evening of plying their trade on the streets and in the alleys.  Each morning, she would be met at the entrance to her office by an old man named Ed.

Ed had been living on the streets for years.  He was very hairy, very dirty, and he tended to rant and rave a lot.  Ed was a wild man.  He slept on the doorstep of the young woman’s office because it was somewhat protected from the winter weather.  Even though Ed made the young woman nervous, she got used to seeing him in her way.

Ed always gave the young woman a warm welcome when she arrived.  He knew that when she got inside, she would brew fresh coffee. He used to tease her that, she was a sucker for a sad face as he waited patiently for her to bring him a cup of coffee.  They never talked much, though.  Ed would just rant and rave about the injustices of the world.   The young woman never found out how Ed ended up on the streets.  She didn’t know how he spent his days.

As Christmas approached the young woman became very busy with her preparations for the holiday.  This was the first year that she had more money than she needed to celebrate with.

She decorated her apartment, she bought all sorts of gifts and spent hours wrapping each one.

This year she wasn’t going to be rushed.  She wasn’t going to miss out on anything.  Christmas wasn’t going to come and go without finding her in the Christmas spirit.

That year the young woman had drawn the short straw and had to work on Christmas Eve.  So, before she left her apartment, she packed a small package of goodies for Ed.  She was delighted that she was so well prepared that she could take time for others.  But when she got to the office, Ed was no where in sight.  She asked some of the women who worked the streets if they had seen old Ed.  But no one knew where he was.

The young woman went about her duties and soon forgot all about old Ed.  She finished her work early and went off to celebrate Christmas Eve with her friends.  She had been looking forward to Christmas for weeks and was eager to celebrate.  Together, she and her friends  shared a fine Christmas goose with all the trimmings and then they went of to a candle light service.  The service was beautiful.  They really pulled out all the stops, great music, lots of activity.  The preacher even managed to keep his sermon brief.  But somehow the young woman was left feeling like there was something missing.

The next morning she celebrated with her family.  Her nieces eagerly unpacked dozens of presents and on the whole the family managed to keep their disagreements down to the minimum that year.  But the young woman felt detached, like she was just going through the motions.  Despite all the elaborate trimmings, she felt like she had missed out on her fair share of the Christmas spirit.

As she drove back to her apartment in the city she found herself wondering if this was all there was to it.  Christmas had come and gone and she didn’t feel like anything had changed at all.  By the time she had parked her car, she was feeling quite depressed.  Christmas was over and nothing much had changed.

When she got to the entrance of her apartment, she saw Ed.  She had never seen him anywhere near her apartment before and it made her more than a little nervous.  She wondered how he had found out where she lived.  Indeed, it frightened her that Ed  had taken the trouble to find her apartment.  Ed looked very agitated.

Nervously the young woman greeted Ed and asked him why he was at her doorstep.  Ed explained to her that he needed her help.  The young woman became very uneasy.  The odd cup of coffee at work was one thing, but this old man showing up on her door step was quite another.  And now he wanted something.  Ed asked the young woman if she would come with him to the park.  Caught off guard, the young woman reluctantly agreed.  When they arrived in the park,  Ed introduced the young woman to Karen.

Karen was a very scared looking teenager. She couldn’t have been more than about fourteen years old.  Ed explained to the young woman that Karen had run away from home on Christmas Eve.  He said that lots of kids ended up on the streets at this time of year and there were usually lots of unsavoury characters to meet them  when they arrived.  When Karen arrived at the city bus depot, Ed had spotted her.  From the moment she arrived, Ed had carefully watched over Karen, making sure that she came to no harm in the city.  Karen’s two days on the streets and Ed’s gentle persuasion had convinced her that she should really go back home and try to work things out with her parents.  Ed explained to the young woman that Karen needed money for a bus ticket home.

After they had called Karen’s parents and safely loaded her onto a bus, the young woman asked Ed if he would come and share a meal with her.  Ed refused the offer of a meal but agreed to share a cup of coffee with the young woman.

In the coffee shop, I took a long hard look at old Ed.  That night in the coffee shop, I looked into the eyes of a wild man.  I didn’t know it then, but I know it now, in his own way, Ed had helped me to prepare the way for Christ.  Ed was the prophet who pointed to Christ.  I had almost missed it.  Christ had come.  I was so busy looking up that I had forgotten to look around me.

Christ came to me in Karen.  “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”  Christ comes to us in the most unlikely of places wearing the most unlikely of faces.

Just as Advent moves us toward the remembrance of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem in the first century, it also reminds us that most of the world was preoccupied and utterly unprepared for that first Advent and many missed the whole thing.  The question is:  Will we miss the whole thing again?”  For we do not know the day or hour, no one knows.

Therefore keep awake–Christ may come suddenly and find you asleep.  So be prepared. Keep awake! Watch for we know not when Christ comes. Watch, so that you might be found whenever and wherever Christ comes. Prepare the way for Christ.

Transformed Living – Sermon

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Pastor Tom Doherty takes us to the opera where we discover an image of God who invites us into living recklessly generous lives.

Listen to the sermon here          Readings for this Sunday here

Gratitude Alleluias becoming Reckless Generosity – Sermon

Thanksgiving Sunday

This sermon was inspired by Monty Python’s “We were so poor that…” sketch also known as the Four Yorkshiremen, and Joan Chittister’s book Uncommon Gratitude.

Readings for Thanksgiving here

Listen to the Sermon here

The skit that inspired the sermon:

While Preachers Dutifully Ponder the Doctrine of the Trinity, Our Congregations Shrink???

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday.  In anticipation, preachers all over the world are dutifully pondering the Doctrine of the Trinity desperately searching for something to say to encourage their congregations.

Preachers will trot out tired old clichés conjuring up images of triangles, shamrocks around, or point to H20’s ability to appear as water, ice, or steam while still maintaining it’s unified essence. Or have you heard the one about the 3 blind men and the elephant in the room. That old chestnut is trotted out by many a desperate preacher struggling to put flesh on the doctrine of the trinity. But for the life of me I can’t see how 1 blind man touching the elephant’s trunk and presuming that there is a tree in the room, while a second blind man catching wind of the elephant’s ear is convinced that there is some sort of giant fan in the room, while a third man grabs hold of the tail and is sure that he has hold of a rope, helps you to conclude that just because they’re all sharing a room with an elephant you can now confess that God is indeed Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever amen. But all sorts of mental gymnastics will be exercised in the vain attempt to make some sort of sense of the doctrine of the Trinity!

On Trinity Sundays, mindful of the fact that trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity usually leads to heresy: dusty theological books that have not seen the light of day since last Trinity Sunday have been poured over to ensure that the formula’s learned in seminary are repeated correctly and heresy scrupulously avoided. The imaginative among us have attempted to baffle our congregations with our theological intellect, the pragmatic among us have attempted to baffle our congregations with something akin to BS, while the desperate among us have simply tried to survive the Trinity Sunday hoping against hope that no one will notice that we haven’t a clue what we’re talking about.

Perhaps only dear old Dr. Martin Luther possessed the theological integrity sufficient to save a preacher from the perils of preaching on Trinity Sunday. So, before I launch, forth, let me remind you what the instigator of the Reformation had to say on the subject of the Trinity. Martin Luther warned that: “To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; to try and explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity.”

I will confess that Martin Luther had much more at stake, literally at stake, than I do, because the truth is that for centuries the punishment for heresy would have found many an ancient preacher burned at the stake. But while the death penalty for heresy has been lifted, the risk to one’s sanity remains.

Now, I will confess that when faced with a particularly difficult theological knot, I prefer to begin by quoting Jesus and not Luther, but alas Jesus remained silent on the issue of the Trinity. So, I did try to find something helpful in the words of the Apostle Paul. But alas, without some really amazing theological gymnastics that are beyond my abilities to comprehend, even the Apostle Paul remains mute on the issue of the Trinity. So keeping in mind Dr. Luther’s dire warning that to,  “To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; but to try and explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity.”

Let me remind you that the Trinitarian formula appears in Scripture only once, in Matthew 28, during what is called the Great Commission, when Jesus commands the disciples to go forth, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. But the doctrine of the Trinity does not appear in the Bible

– The doctrine of the trinity, as we know it, was first formulated in the fourth century, by a couple of guys named Gregory and a woman called Marcrina.

– The doctrine of the Trinity was then developed over hundreds of years

– The doctrine of the Trinity was at the heart of several wars

– Thousands of Christians were killed because they came down on the loosing side of arguments over the doctrine of the Trinity

– No one has ever been able to adequately explain the Trinity

– Every explanation of the Trinity that I have ever come across includes some form of heresy

By the way, just so we’re clear, I rummaged through some of my previous sermons on the doctrine of the Trinity and I must confess that if this were the twelfth century, an angry mob would be stoking up the fires beneath my feet  because based on things I have proclaimed on various Trinity Sundays a charge of Modalism could very successfully be laid against me, as could a charge of Sabellianism. You might be interested to know, that more traditional preachers than I, will no doubt preach sermons this Sunday which will prove them guilty  of Arianism or at the very least Subordinationism. All of these heresies in a bygone age would have left us with a severe shortage of clergy in the church, as many of us would be smoldering at the stake for our crimes. Deciding who is right and who is wrong, who is in and who is out is a deadly preoccupation of humanity, a preoccupation that the church has not been able to escape.

So, with apologies to Dr. Luther, I’m going to go ahead and risk my salvation by declaring that the doctrine of the trinity is but a feeble attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible mystery of the very nature of our God.  We can echo all the creeds of Christendom with as much confidence as we can muster, and as enlightening as some of those creeds may be, they cannot begin to unravel the mystery of the creator of everything that ever was and ever shall be, nor can they fully describe the magnitude of the revelation provided in the life, death and resurrection of the one we call Christ, and when it comes to the power of the Holy Spirit, all our creeds together cannot tell the story of her wondrous beauty.

The doctrine of the trinity is just a tool to help us along the way, the trinity is not God, nor is God the trinity. The trinity is merely a way to speak of the unspeakable. And yet down through the centuries we have used the doctrine of the trinity as an idol and demanded that we worship the trinity as if it were God’s very self.

We have worried more about believing in the trinity than relating to the very One whose relationship the Trinity attempts to describe. For when it comes down to it, what we know of our God finds expression our attempts to describe God as a relational being. For what is the doctrine of the Trinity if it is not the declaration that God is Creator, Christ and Spirit, intimately connected as One; at God’s very core we find a relationship. This should be our first clue that any understanding of God must begin with relationship. Surely it is more important to experience God than to explain God. Surely it is more important to relate to God than it is to preserve a doctrine that has long since failed to describe God.

You’d think that after nearly 2000 years the Christian church would have learned to be more humble in its declarations about God. And yet, today, as we strive to learn more and more about creation, some things remain out of bounds. The church remains unwilling to revisit long established doctrines, choosing instead to insist that we simply believe, because what was good enough for grandma ought to be good enough for us. And if we should doubt the doctrine of the Trinity then all we need to do is study harder and we will eventually understand. And if we are unwilling to work at understanding the Trinity we should simply trust that folks much smarter than us have figured it out so we should simply stop questioning and simply mouth the words. Let the tired clichés and the worn out illustrations suffice, forget about our questions and simply drink the kool-aid and our doubts will somehow magically disappear. And so together we focus on believing what has been handed down to us. And for a great many people that’s good enough. All we really need to do is believe, to have faith and all will be well. But oh so many more of us have grown weary of the tired insistence on belief; you only have to think of the children missing from our churches to know that our doctrines are failing to engender relationship.

I’d like to be able to say, here just learn this and believe this and all will be well,  all we need to do is figure out more up to date methods to deliver the same old doctrines and your grown children will learn to believe, but  I too have my doubts.   You see I don’t believe that the point of a religion is to engender belief. I believe that the point of religion is much bigger than belief. For if a religion does no help you relate to God or to God’s creatures, or enhance your experience of creation, then religion is not life giving and all its doctrines are but fleeting attempts to deny death.

It is far more important to have a relationship with our God than it is to understand doctrines about God. In so far as the doctrine of the trinity helps us to relate to God then it can be said to be life-giving. When the doctrine of the trinity helps us relate to God’s creatures and to God’s creation, then it can be said to be life-giving. But reduced to a formula that we must believe the doctrine of the trinity runs the risk of inhibiting our experience of God and robbing us of a life-giving relationship with God and with the world that God loves.

I am convinced that the only way to ensure that the doctrine of the trinity remains life-giving is to free it from the confines of the past. Despite it’s fear, the church must re-examine its creeds and confessions, open up our dusty doctrines to the light of the 21st century so that those that fail to enhance our relationship to God and to one another can be given a decent Christian burial and those that nurture our relationship to God and to one another can thrive.

We need to prioritize relationship and experience over ancient creeds and doctrines, least our preoccupation with correct belief causes us to miss an encounter with our God.

Trying to understand the very nature of God, is, when you think about it actually an arrogant thing for simple creatures such as we. We cannot hope to understand the nature of God.  So perhaps the most faithful sermon on the Trinity is one that merely sniffs around the edges of the mystery, hunting for something closer to an experience rather than an understanding.  God is the elusive stranger.

Sometimes it is possible to identify God, before God gets away. But most of the time we only recognize God after God is gone, like the drifter who wants to tell you his story only you do not have time, so you hand him a dollar and walk away.  Or the woman with the tearstained face who disappears while you decide whether to ask her what is wrong; or the bewildered child whose mother scolds him for being alive and whose sorrowful eyes catch yours just as she drags him away. These are the strangers who lay claim to our hearts, although they make no claims for themselves.  In their presence we fail them.  It is only after they are gone that we know who they were.  That is why it is so easy for us to sacrifice them.  We did not know.  How could we have known?  Who expected Christ to show up looking like that?

Is it possible for us to attend to our peripheral vision, to see out of the corner of our eyes, to notice those faint sounds of birdsong in the background, to catch those elusive fragrances, that might well be God, the Holy One, coming to us in ordinary space and matter, longing for an intimate encounter?

Let us be ready to notice the Spirit of God in a burning bush, to turn aside for a moment in order to encounter the mysterious, intimate God who comes to us, so that in the power of the trinity we ourselves may be made holy!

            Heirs with Christ –  inheritors and distributers of all God’s love.

            There you see, I’m not suggesting that we toss it all away.

            Down through the centuries God has revealed so much.

            I’m simply pleading that we walk humbly with our God.

            And revel in the mystery.

In a dusty library years ago, I discovered a pearl about the Trinity, which I treasure. It came from St. Augustine, a 4th century bishop who helped to craft the doctrine of the trinity.

            Augustine’s metaphor for the Trinity is that

            God is:  Lover, Beloved, and Love itself.  

            May we learn to walk humbly with that love.