Hymn page update for July 3


Not Freedom From/ Freedom To


On Friday afternoon, I was IMG-20110407-00025near the high school office and there was a small group of recent graduates there. Two of the boys were wearing their hats, which is against the school rules. When I asked them to remove their hats they looked at me with a touch of, “we aren’t students here anymore, we don’t have to follow the rules” in their expressions. Being rather congenial individuals they did remove their hats. Over the years there have been many who immediately do something they were not allowed to do as some sort of proof that they are free of school and its rules!

Rather than continuing with Elijah today, we join the church in Galatia reading letters from Paul. Paul had been in correspondence with them for quite a while. There were issues in the church with the false teaching that salvation could only be achieved through first believing, and then performing acts to qualify. In the first 4 chapters of Galatians we read of Paul trying to beat it into their heads that we are saved by faith alone, and not works; that there is no human action needed to add to Christ’s sacrifice in order for us to receive salvation. In his notes on Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Scott Hoezee equates this part of Galatians with saying, “Don’t just do something, stand there!”(“Proper 8Ccenter For Excellence In Preaching”)

In today’s reading Paul almost seems to be saying the opposite. “Don’t just stand there, do something!” (“Proper 8Ccenter For Excellence In Preaching”) He moved on to explain that we are now free of the law, by which he is referring to the complex series of religious laws called the Torah, but that being free of the law doesn’t mean that we are free to do anything we want with no limitations. The fact that my Mother’s residen
ce has a soft ice-cream machine that is in operation 24 hours/day would allow me to eat ice-cream cones continuously, but that would not be correct use of that freedom as it would end up making me sick. When, through Christ, we were freed, we were not freed from something, but we were freed to something. We are freed to, “through love become slaves to one another.” Paul sets up a comparison between the law, and freedom in the Spirit as our potential guides for living.  The law may be characterized as being; a dictator, demanding, condemning, and unable to grant freedom. While the Spirit is the source of the power to cope with desires of flesh and it signals liberation. (Cousar)

I guess the overall theme or question of today would be, “Just what is freedom?” If we were prisoners, freedom would be having the gate opened and walking out. In North America, we talk a lot about our freedom. In theory we are all free to get an education, find a home, work, play, form groups, and speak out about things we feel are important. We are free to meet here today and we are free to go as a group to a public park and have a picnic. Freedom, however, is not a guarantee of an easy ride, it is not necessarily our ticket to continual joy and celebration. When the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt they sang songs  and danced with joy, but then they went on an epic 40 year journey full of frustrations, challenges, and years of uncertainty.

            Paul said, “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence. Live by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Gal 5:16) Just what is this flesh to which Paul refers? Sarkos, or flesh, is an interesting term which Paul uses as the foil to the Spirit. Flesh is, of course, the stuff on our bones, but in the New Testament, the expression ‘desire of the flesh’ is often used to refer to making decisions according to our self-interest, deciding in favor of human action, or our base animal nature.

            Paul gives two lists in this letter. First he lists the things that we should not be doing despite our freedom. These things, the works of the flesh, reproduce themselves almost slavishly, like addictions and the flesh is passive and powerless.  Paul lists: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and things like these.” (5:20)

Unlike the works of the flesh which reproduce themselves, the fruit of the Spirit may be cultivated and grow and flourish. The Spirit is active, it is power. The fruit of the spirit is Love. It doesn’t say fruits of the spirit are, and then make a list, but rather the fruit of the spirit is love, and then continues with eight more terms all of which can be wrapped up in the first word. The following things both go into love and come forward from love; joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

A world, or a nation freed from all law would be anarchy, a frightening prospect. But the idea of living in a world with no laws is only scary only if you assume that it also means everyone being perfectly self-indulgent, thinking only of themselves with no thought to the effects of their actions on others.  When a prisoner is released they are free to go and live well and build decent honest lives for themselves. They are equally free to go out and reoffend and get themselves thrown right back in prison (Nettleton). “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1) Live in the Spirit.

Malala Yousefzai is a young woman from Pakistan with an amazing story. Growing up, she attended the school her father ran. When the Taliban took control she was worried that they would force the closure of the school which educated girls and boys. At 12 years of age, she began to write a blog for the BBC under an assumed name. Later the Pakistan parliament awarded her a prize for her work and that brought her name forward.

“When she was 14, Malala and her family learned that the Taliban had issued a death threat against her. Though Malala was frightened for the safety of her father—an anti-Taliban activist—she and her family initially felt that the fundamentalist group would not actually harm a child.

On October 9, 2012, on her way home from school, a man boarded the bus Malala was riding in and demanded to know which girl was Malala. When her friends looked toward Malala, her location was given away. The gunman fired at her, hitting Malala in the left side of her head; the bullet then traveled down her neck. Two other girls were also injured in the attack. The shooting left Malala in critical condition, so she was flown to a military hospital in Peshawar. A portion of her skull was removed to treat her swelling brain. To receive further care, she was transferred to Birmingham, England.

Despite the Taliban’s threats, Yousafzai remains a staunch advocate for the power of education.” (http://www.biography.com/people/malala-yousazai)

Think for a moment about this statement I found this week. Half of the world is redoing their kitchens while the other half are starving. (Don Delilla)

We are free to redo our kitchens, but we are also freed so that through love we may work to feed those who are starving. It doesn’t mean we can’t do things for ourselves, but rather than letting those things consume us, we need to rely on the Spirit and focus our lives on the fruit.

Hoezee, Scott. “Proper 8Ccenter For Excellence In Preaching”. Cep.calvinseminary.edu. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 June 2016.

Nettleton, Nathan. “Laughing Bird Working Ahead”. Laughingbird.net. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 June 2016.

“Malala Yousefzai”. Biography.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 June 2016.

Just keep moving/ Elijah not Dory


the-long-road-home         Let’s review the events that precede today’s Elijah story. Elijah was a prophet of God, and like other prophets was not bringing the messages Ahab, king of Israel, wanted to hear. Ahab wanted approval for the Baal worship which he and most of Israel had adopted from his wife Jezebel; but they brought warnings. The warnings went unheeded and eventually, God brought a drought on the land. Ahab ordered that all prophets of the God of Israel be rounded up and killed. Elijah ran and escaped, ending up in the home of a widow and her son all of whom were fed by God. After a time, God sent Elijah back to Ahab. As he was coming close he ran into Obadiah, a close advisor of Ahab who remained faithful to God. Obadiah had great news to share. Not only had Elijah escape the killing, but Obadiah had managed to hide away 100 other prophets of God! Even though the people of Israel were not faithful, Elijah was not alone in his faith in God.

            Following that, there was the scene on Mt. Carmel where he challenged the prophets of Baal and God sent a consuming fire to show his presence and his power. The people acknowledged God as their god and king, and at Elijah’s order set about to capture and kill all of the prophets of Baal who were present. Then Elijah called on God to send rain, and boy did it rain! Both Ahab, in his chariot, and Elijah, on foot, headed back at high speed for Jezreel where today’s story begins just as they were shaking off the rain.

            When Ahab told Jezebel that Elijah had all the prophets of Baal put to death, she was furious and cursed him, saying that he would be dead in 24 hours. Despite God’s great display of power on Mt Carmel, and grace in ending the drought with fresh rain, Elijah was terrified and ran for his life. The primal survival instinct kicked in and he was off. He ran to Judah, the kingdom ruled by Jehoshaphat, when he got as far as Beersheba he left his servant behind. After one more day’s journey, he couldn’t go any further! He sat down under a broom tree, a big tree which is almost always pictured all alone on a barren plain,  and he prayed to God saying, “I’m no better than my ancestors.” and asked God to end his life. He must have been exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and feeling like a failure. He went to sleep with no intention of doing anything more and was woken by an angel with food and drink ready for him, a cake baked on a stone and a jar of water, just what he had asked from the widow of Zarephath, and which God had continued to provide for them.

          After eating, He didn’t do anything else, like hiding for instance, but went back to sleep. When he was woken a  second time he  was not only fed but told that he would need food to sustain him for his journey. Remember, Elijah was planning to lay there until he died, but he didn’t seem to have batted an eye at the statement that he will be on a journey. The writer doesn’t give any indication that he received directions for this journey. It was almost as if a sleepwalker set out and, with no further food, walked south for 40 days and nights until he arrived at Mt Horeb. He spent the night in a cave, possibly the one in which Moses had stayed and met God. There. at the end of his flight from Jezebel’s anger, Elijah met God.

          God asked why Elijah was there. Elijah poured out his story of service, feelings of isolation and failure and God told him to go out on the mountain because he would pass by. From inside the cave, where he had stayed, Elijah observed a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but God was not in any of those. It wasn’t until silence fell that Elijah wrapped his face in his cloak and stepped out. Once again God asked Elijah why he was there and Elijah replied just as he had before. This great display of power, the events at Mt Carmel, and the 40 days of testing on his journey had done nothing to shift Elijah’s state of mind, and yet when God told him to return and head to Damascus he set out without questions.

          Today is Aboriginal Sunday and I want to tell you about a friend of mine.  Hugh Akagi is the chief of the Schoodic Band of the Passamaquoddy nation. He lives in St Stephen.  In the year 2013, there were approximately 300 known Passamaquoddy people residing in New Brunswick. Hugh was elected as chief in 1998 and is the great grandson of a Passamaquoddy hereditary chief, John Nicholas. There is no question that Hugh is an indigenous person, and yet, when he is in New Brunswick he is not recognized as one.  He used to joke that when he drove from the US into Canada he felt himself becoming invisible. It is a neat image, but not funny by any stretch!

          “Traditionally, the Passamaquoddy lived seasonally on both sides of what is now the international border (Canada/USA) and traveled freely from place to place. They are recognized as Indigenous Peoples by the United States government, but the Canadian government has denied their Indigenous Rights under Canadian law. The Government of Canada does not recognize the Passamaquoddy Peoples as Indians, entitled to be registered under the Indian Act. Neither Canada nor the Province of New Brunswick recognize Passamaquoddy Aboriginal Rights nor Aboriginal Title to land.” ((“Passamaquoddy Recognition: Background Information”) The nation and band have continued to work for recognition in Canada. In a letter to the NGO Committee of the United Nations, he stated, “As Native people we will continue to practice our traditions and culture and we will defend to the end our right to exist and we will resist any attempt to separate us from our homeland, our ancestors and our heritage.” (“Passamaquoddy Recognition: Background Information”). Given the lack of change on this issue, it is reasonable to assume that Hugh has had some “Elijah moments” over the years, but the band continues to work for recognition.

          At Mt Carmel, “Elijah had won, but it hadn’t brought him peace.” ((Miller) Somehow he felt that he had failed at his life’s work and he was despairing and ready for it all to end. One component of depression is not being able to see the future, not looking forward to anything, no way forward, no way out. Elijah so no way forward so he sat down ready to die. But even though he couldn’t see a way, he trusted God. He asked God to let him die, but when God had other plans he moved on, not seeing the way himself but letting God direct him.

          We all have times in our lives when we are tired, discouraged, when we can only see the walls that hem us in. No matter what our problems are or have been, no matter how loud and chaotic our lives become, God is present and has plans for us. Elijah took the long journey back to Israel, to the wilderness of Damascus, anointed the next kings of Judah and Israel, and passed on his ministry to a successor. Hugh is still fighting for recognition for his people. We may need to take breaks, to hide in a cave for a little while sometimes, but we also need to maintain hope and trust in God.

We may not know the way forward for us, but Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the light…” (John 14:6) Follow him!

 

Miller, Dr. Susan. “June”. Churchofscotland.org.uk. N.p., 2016. Web. 21 June 2016.

“Passamaquoddy Recognition: Background Information”. Newbrunswick.quaker.ca. N.p., 2016. Web. 18 June 2016.

Hymn List Update


I have posted my list of possible hymns from the PCC Book of Praise for June 19, 2016. We are having communion this week so there are some communion hymns included.

Ahab/ king or cranky toddler?


          Phenomenal cosmic power; itty bitty living space! This may not ring a bell for all of you, but it is one of the greatest lines from Disney’s Aladdin. It is part of Genie’s explanation of the highs and lows of the gig of being a genie. He also lists certain provisos and quid pro quos to the wishes he can grant. He can’t kill anybody, he can’t bring anyone back from the dead, and he can’t make anyone fall in love with someone else. Not only that, the only way for him to gain his freedom is for a person to use one of his 3 wishes to free him.

          In the discussion from Starters for Sunday Fourth Sunday after Pentecost from the Church of Scotland, there are five themes identified for this week. From Power, Justice, forgiveness, restoration and grace they draw the discussion to the key theme, woven through the story of Naboth’s vineyard, of the sovereignty of God.

            Today we read about King Ahab again. This time, though, he was being more of a petulant toddler than a king. The first people to read this scripture were probably the Israelites who were in exile and it is likely that it was written to explain to them why God had allowed their exile.

            Ahab and his wife Jezebel had gone to stay in their secondary palace. Apparently, he liked gardening but when he saw the vineyard of Naboth next door he wanted to buy it from him. Naboth refused to sell the land of his ancestors. Not only was this his “family farm” but the vineyard had been granted to his ancestors when the Israelites arrived in the promised land, and when God granted that land he made it clear that the land was for their use in perpetuity, but that it didn’t belong to them. They were told that it was never to be sold permanently. Naboth was being faithful to the will of God when he refused the Ahab. He was, unlike Ahab much of the time, being obedient to the real sovereign of Israel, God.

          When Ahab could not convince Naboth to sell him the land, nor trade it for even better land he was disconsolate. Most kings would not have even offered a purchase or trade, brutality was the norm for kings of the day. I don’t say that to justify Ahab in any way, but rather to highlight the difference with kings of Israel and Judah who did not rise to power through their own actions or by birth but through God’s anointing. There were a few provisos and quid pro quos. The king must not consider himself better…than any other Israelite and he must not use his position to accumulate wealth for himself (Deut 17:14-20). God made it clear that they were to live in accordance with his commandments, remain faithful to him, and imitate his heavenly rule.

          When he returned from the vineyard, Ahab moped, pouted, and refused to eat. Not only was he not getting his way, but as a king he had expected to be obeyed without delay and this made him feel powerless. When she noticed him moping around the palace more like a toddler than a king, Jezebel couldn’t take it. She asked what the problem was, told him to stop being such a baby and eat, and then set about to get him the vineyard.

            Unbothered by loyalty to God (she worshiped Baal) niceties or ethics, she arranged to have Naboth killed. Not only did she do such a vile thing, but so did all the people and advisors who went along with her plan. Naboth died at the hands of the townspeople for trumped up charges of cursing God and king. When he was dead the elders and nobles got word back to Jezebel that Naboth was dead and she, in turn, informed her husband and told him to go take possession of the vineyard. Problem solved!

          Ahab was Israel’s king. When God agreed to have a king anointed for Israel he warned them that life under a human king would not be a bed of roses. He knew, as do we through experience that powerful people and powerful institutions may start out working for the greater good, but too many turn to using their power for personal gain of one kind or another. Some want more and more power, today New Brunswick, tomorrow the world! Some use their power to belittle and diminish others like bullies on the school ground or in the workplace.

          After Ahab took possession of the vineyard, God sent Elijah to him to pronounce his judgement for this crime. He told Ahab and Jezebel that they would die horrible deaths. “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.” (v 19). Our reading stopped at that point, but the story continues. Ahab actually repents and lives a more godly life for a while, but in the end he and Jezebel are killed and their bodies are dumped in the vineyard they had stolen where they would be torn apart by wild animals.

A story

King Canute was once ruler of England. The members of his court were continually full of flattery. “You are the greatest man that ever lived…You are the most powerful king of all…Your highness, there is nothing you cannot do, nothing in this world dares disobey you.”

The king was a wise man and he grew tired such foolish speeches. One day as he was walking by the seashore Canute decided to teach them a lesson.

“So you say I am the greatest man in the world?” he asked them.

“O king,” they cried, “there never has been anyone as mighty as you, and there never be anyone so great, ever again!”

“And you say all things obey me?” Canute asked.

“Yes sire” they said. “The world bows before you, and gives you honour.”

“I see,” the king answered. “In that case, bring me my chair, and place it down by the water.”

The servants scrambled to carry Canute’s royal chair over the sands. At his direction they placed it right at the water’s edge.

The King sat down and looked out at the ocean. “I notice the tide is coming in. Do you think it will stop if I give the command?”

“Give the order, O great king, and it will obey,” cried his entourage

“Sea,” cried Canute, “I command you to come no further! Do not dare touch my feet!”

He waited a moment, and a wave rushed up the sand and lapped at his feet.

“How dare you!” Canute shouted. “Ocean, turn back now! I have ordered you to retreat before me, and now you must obey! Go back!”

In came another wave lapping at the king’s feet. Canute remained on his throne throughout the day, screaming at the waves to stop. Yet in they came anyway, until the seat of the throne was covered with water.

Finally Canute turned to his entourage and said, “It seems I do not have quite so much power as you would have me believe. Perhaps now you will remember there is only one King who is all-powerful, and it is he who rules the sea, and holds the ocean in the hollow of his hand. I suggest you reserve your praises for him.”

          Even some of greatest of Israel’s kings were, as are the rest of us, flawed. Regardless of who has earthly power over us, God is our sovereign, our true king to whom we owe our loyalty and obedience. Whether we find ourselves in positions of power or not, we are called to live out our lives in justice and love. This leaves us with two big questions. The notes on Church of Scotland starters for Sunday states them this way; “what does justice mean when we try to live it out relationally?” and, “what does it mean to live both justice and love in our lives?” As Presbyterians in Canada we have answer to that in our statement of faith, Living Faith section 8.4.

God is always calling the church to seek that justice in the world which reflects the divine righteousness revealed in the Bible. 

God’s justice is seen when we deal fairly with each other and strive to change customs and practices that oppress and enslave others. 

Justice involves protecting the rights of others. It protests against everything that destroys human dignity. 

Justice requires concern for the poor of the world. It seeks the best way to create well-being in every society. It is concerned about employment, education, and health, as well as rights and responsibilities. 

Justice seeks fairness in society. It involves the protection of human beings, concern for the victims of crime, as well as offenders. It requires fair laws justly administered, courts and penal institutions that are just and humane. 

Justice opposes prejudice in every form. It rejects discrimination on such grounds as race, sex, age, status, or handicap. Justice stands with our neighbours in their struggle for dignity and respect and demands the exercise of power for the common good.

Of Nightmares and Pardons


   Kingsclear-20110524-00031  If you asked a person what was their worst nightmare, children’s answers may include; scary animals or bugs, being abandoned, getting lost, kidnapped, or trapped. As we grow older the focus may change to include being unable to do anything to save a loved one. This isn’t something we usually talk about during worship. Who wants to think about nightmares? For many of the people from Fort McMurray they may have lived through their worst nightmares in the past month and I pray that those refugees who are crowding onto questionably seaworthy boats to flee real life nightmares have faced the worst already.

     In 1Kings 17:8-24 and Luke 7:11-17, we read two parallel stories of women living their own worst nightmares. Situated in cities miles apart and some 690 years apart in history. Both women are widows who had only one son. They both came in contact with a strange man at the gate of the city and both stories end with sons being brought back to life and being returned to their mothers. In the end, both healers are hailed as prophets of God.

     There is some significance to the setting of the stories. Zarephath was a city on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea in Phoenicia between Tyre and Sidon in what is known as Lebanon today. In this area people primarily worshiped Baal. This would have been enemy territory for Elijah. Nain was further south inland in Galilee, near Nazareth, where people primarily worshiped God. In theory, Elijah faced the greater challenge, bringing a Baal worshiper to believe in God, than did Jesus who was working in the very heart of the Land of the people of God.

     The women met Jesus and Elijah at the city gates. If this were a modern story with no walled cities and dozens of roads leading into the city, they might have met downtown, or in a city square. City gates served a number of purposes in the Middle East throughout Biblical times. The most obvious of these being an entrance to a walled city and thus, as a part of the defense of the city, they would be guarded.

     The woman in Zarephath was at her worst the day she met Elijah. God had sent Elijah to continue his hiding in a place that wouldn’t be expected. When he asked the woman for a drink and then something to eat he opened the floodgates to her story. She was a widow with only one young son. Due to the drought and her poor circumstances they were down to their last bit of flour and she was fully expecting that she and her son would die of starvation after they had eaten this last bit. Elijah assured her that the Lord God of Israel will not allow the jar of meal or the jug of oil to run out until the drought was over. What a relief she must have felt, pardon from a death sentence!

     She was relieved, but she was still uncomfortable having this man of God living with them. And then her son got sick and died. She was, perhaps, more grief stricken at this time than she would have been earlier. She had already come to accept that they would die, and was prepared. But now, coming as it did after the great relief of the pardon, she was angry and she lashed out at Elijah. “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!”

      The second woman lived in a small, little-known town near Nazareth with her only son. We approach these city gates just after his death. A large group of mourners is coming out of the gate, possibly blocking the way. Her son is on a stretcher and the mother and other women follow crying and wailing. No one says anything to the large group of people waiting to enter the gate. No notice is taken of Jesus or his followers. But Jesus takes notice. He sees the woman, bereft and alone in the world now that her final provider has died. He feels compassion for her and, as we would be inclined to do, he says, “Don’t cry.” What else would he have said in that moment? Are there words that can take away the pain? 

            While Psalm 30 speaks of crying out to God, being heard, and being revived, neither woman asked for help. The woman in Zarephath, having already given up hope once, blamed Elijah for making God take her son from her. She wasn’t about to ask him for anything, let alone God! This woman was very much in the anger stage of grief. The woman at Nain was more likely in the depression stage. Her adult son, her sole provider, was dead and was about to be buried. All hope was lost, his death was the end for him, and for her as well.

            Despite the anger and depression; despite the hopelessness felt by both these women, God was not finished in their lives. In Zarephath, Elijah took the boy from his mother and took him upstairs. He cried out to the Lord! He asked that the child’s life be returned. God listened to Elijah and the boy revived. In Nain Jesus did something shocking. He reached out and touched the body on the stretcher. He told the man to get up, and he did. The man sat up and began to speak! Elijah took the boy back downstairs and, “gave him to his mother.” Jesus took the young man and, “gave him to his mother.”

            The reactions to these events were proclamation and praise. The woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”(v24) The crowd around the city gate with Jesus were amazed and, “glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us’ and ‘God has looked favorably on his people!” (v16)

       By restoring these sons to life God did far more than heal one person. He brought life back to mothers and sons. Life, hope, and a future. God, through Elijah and Jesus, was with these women through their worst nightmares and brought healing and hope and he is with us also. We may not walk out of our nightmares with the kind of healing that happened in these stories, but we do have hope, and healing will come.

            “Burton-Edwards suggests in his notes on 1Kings 17:8-24 that the Lord God’s command to Elijah to “Go now to Zarephath” and live there with the widow in Sidon is basically a call to go and live with a vulnerable person. The command is not to go and do something FOR your neighbors who are vulnerable, but to go and BE WITH those persons. In other words, be in real relationship with them, which implies mutuality: spend time with them, love them, treat them as people from whom you have as much to learn as to teach, and from whom you need to be fed as much as you need to be feeding. (service planning notes GBod.com)

     In the words of a familiar hymn;      

             My hope is built on nothing less

             than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

             I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

             but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

 

             When darkness hides his lovely face,

             I rest on his unchanging grace;

             in every high and stormy gale

             my anchor holds within the veil.

God is that present hope in our worst nightmares, lean on him, and cry out to him! “May the God of hope fill us with joy and peace in believing so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we abound in hope!” (Living Faith 10.7)

God in Community


2759742066_57d26d0948      In the popular 2007 book The Shack, a man named Mack went into the woods to the scene of the greatest tragedy in his life to meet God. He wasn’t sure what to expect but he did meet God there in a very special way. He met the Trinity, three persons in community; there is a large black woman who goes by Elousia but allows him to call her Papa, which was Mack’s wife’s name for God, a small Asian woman named Sarayu, a gardener who was somehow never quite in focus, and a relaxed Hebrew handyman, complete with tool belt, named Yeshua. When Mack asked which one was God they answered in unison, “I am!”

Who is God? What is God? If there are three, how can we say there is just one God?

      In The Shack, author Wm. Paul Young gives names to the Trinity. The parent figure is Elousia. The word Elousia does not appear in that form in the Bible. One source says that the author combined the Hebrew name for God, El, with the Greek ousia which means being. So, being God, or the great I Am. The Spirit is named Sarayu a word that has several meanings including being the name of a river. It is a Sanskrit name which means “moving fast”, “air”, “wind” And the young handyman is Yeshua which, in Hebrew, is a shortened form of Joshua, and is derived from the verb “to rescue”, “to deliver.”

      We read just last week about the tongues of flame and the inspiration which allowed people to preach the Good News in languages they had never learned. We know that there is only One God, not three. In the light of the New Testament, we know that God’s word is Jesus and that the wind or breath of God is the Spirit. They are one!

      The word Trinity does not appear at any point in the Bible. In today’s Psalm, an emphasis is given to the majesty of God. “O Lord, our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth.” While it doesn’t mention anything about a trinity, it starts us off in considering to what extent God is an undefinable entity. The Lord is so awesome that the only way we can try to express it is in sharing and repeating all the marvels that have occurred at his hand.

     In Romans, Paul speaks of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within 5 verses. The Spirit is God’s love poured into us, Jesus was our means of access to Grace, and it is God’s Glory we share. Jesus is God’s grace, the Spirit is God’s Love and God is I Am.
In John, there is a brief explanation of the relationship amongst the godhead. The Spirit of Truth will reveal to us what Jesus had not, but not in the Spirit’s words but those given to it by hearing what is of God. And since what God has Jesus also has, and the Spirit speaks it may be inferred that they are one…clear?

      The term Trinity was introduced by a third-century theologian, Tertullian, to underscore the “oneness” of God. The doctrine of the trinity was first affirmed in the Nicene Creed which was agreed upon at the meeting of the church council in 381 CE. This creed affirms the Holy Spirit as, “the Lord, the Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father. Who, with the Father and the Son, is worshiped and glorified.” Saying that the Holy Spirit and Son are glorified is an acknowledgement that they are God.
The Celtic symbol of Trinity is called the triquetra and consists of three equal and intertwined loops, one continuous line with no beginning and no end. The Trinity shows the potential of a dynamic communion and loving relationship open to us all through the communion of the three parts of the trinity. God seeks a relationship with us and the relationship among the trinity is a powerful example of what our relationships can be, and what our relationship with God will be someday.

      In my own life and as a teacher, I have been brought face-to-face with the destructive nature of some human relationships. One student whom I had taught for several years came to me one morning in tears having had a break with family. In the hour we spent together before I had to teach my next class, the student shared more of her story of the past 10 months at home than I had previously known. I listened, tried to reflect what I was hearing to give openings to continue, and I felt frustration over the fact that I could do nothing to improve the situation. Over the years of teaching, I have seen too often the results that jealousy, blame, the importance of seeming to be in charge and in control, (these all too human traits) can have on family members.

      There is none of this to be seen in the relationship among the Trinity. In several places, including the Great Commission, we are called to baptize in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. There is no sign of jealousy, power struggle or priority here. The Spirit was the final sign of our adoption by God. As we are told….we are heirs, with Jesus, of the inheritance of God.

      The Presbyterian Church is a part of the Reformed tradition and a part of that is a focus on the Trinity. There are some Christian churches out there which we might call “Jesus only” churches. In their services, you will hear little mention of God the Father or Spirit; just Jesus. There are also some “Spirit” churches in which strong emphasis is put on the Spirit. Likewise, of course, there are God churches which either do not recognize the Trinity or at least do not focus there. We were told, however, to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In our services of worship, you should hear at least some reference to all the parts of the Trinity each week. We pray to God in the name of Jesus, and we call on the Spirit to inspire and sustain us in our faith.

      The formula of the Trinity reminds us of the mystery of God which will never be fully understood in this world. No matter how much we study about it, nor how much thought we put into this, God transcends us and our ability to name Him. But we can say, in the words of The Lorica by Steve Bell…

I bind unto myself today the gift to call on the Trinity
The saving faith where I can say Come three in one, oh one in three.
Be above me, as high as the noonday sun.
Be below me, the rock I set my feet upon.
Be beside me, the wind on my left and right.
Be behind me, oh circle me with your truth and life.

Readings were: Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-15, and John 16:12-15

Young, William P, Wayne Jacobsen, and Brad Cummings. The Shack. Newbury Park, Calif.: Windblown Media, 2007. Print.

Hymn Page Updated


If you are looking for hymn selections for Trinity Sunday my suggestions from the Presbyterian Church in Canada Book of Praise.

Are you ready for Baptism?


  Pentecost Banner 

      In John 14 we read that Jesus promised that God would provide a friend for us so that we would never be alone. This friend was the Spirit of Truth. Today is the season of the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. Happy Easter everyone, and happy birthday!

     In his Interpretation series book Acts, William H. Willimon discusses a number of views and perspectives on the Pentecost reading. It is interesting to note, as he does, that the actual event of Pentecost is far overshadowed the sheer number of verses, by Peter’s immediate interpretation of the events for those shocked disciples and for the even more bewildered crowd. One of the interesting things he spoke about was the value of looking for parallels between the creation story, the birth of Jesus, and the birth of the church. The Spirit was the instrument of God’s power in all three of these events. Setting aside the creation for a moment, both the birth of Jesus and the birth of the church were foretold in the works of the OT prophets. They were both made possible through the power of God and through the work of the Spirit. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. The church was the culmination of the promise of Easter and was given life and inspiration by the breath and flame of the Holy Spirit.

     The Pentecost scene in Acts concludes with the first Christian sermon proclaimed by Peter. Peter’s sermon followed a three-step pattern which is common in the church even today. He explained the day’s events in terms of scripture, he proclaimed The Gospel of Jesus Christ, and he encouraged all in attendance to be baptized.

     In The Message translation, Acts 2 says, “Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.” The power that had breathed creation into being empowered the disciples on the day of Pentecost. They had been in hiding since Jesus arrest and crucifixion, had been with Jesus for 40 days, had the scriptures opened to their understanding, but were still not ready to proclaim the message without this gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of wind and flame.

     Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is generally thought of as God’s presence in us. In the reading from John today, Jesus called the Spirit an Advocate which may be translated as: “Comforter”, “Counselor,” “Helper.” He also refers to it as the Spirit of Truth and tells us that not just anyone can receive the Spirit because not everyone sees and knows the Spirit. We are only able to receive the Spirit through first knowing and believing in God (God being in Christ and Christ in God).

     Why was the Holy Spirit represented in the Biblical account of the birth of the church as wind and flame?  We first met the wind in Genesis 1:2 where the wind swept over the waters. Winds can do many things; they may blow, stream, issue, freshen, gather, bluster, sigh, moan, scream, howl, and whistle. The wind has been called a breath or an aura. We have read throughout the Bible stories with winds, perhaps most notably the two stories of Jesus and the disciples on the sea in a storm. In both cases, Jesus was able to calm the storm and the disciples marveled over his having power even over the wind.

     Fire has frequently been used as a symbol of the presence of God in the Bible. We see God in the burning bush as the fire that burns but does not consume. This very image is used as the symbol of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The Jews were led by God in the form of a pillar of fire in the desert at night. We know that fire is one of the main reasons for the success of the human species on our planet. We cook with it, we heat our homes with it. We think of flames, blazes, conflagrations, but we also think of enthusiasm, verve, kindling, igniting, inspiring, and arousing.

     There were Jews and proselytes from all over the world, which is to say from every direction, in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. If each one spoke in their native languages they would have been unable to understand each other because, since the days of Babel, there were many different languages. Most of the people in the Roman Empire were able to speak Latin or Greek in order to communicate, but still, they had not been able to hear the message of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection in their own native languages until this event. To hear the good news in terms familiar to you since birth. Centuries later, this was the goal of Luther who wanted the Bible translated so that the common people could read it for themselves. This desire to meet the word in our own tongue continues. We have the Bible in its original Hebrew and Biblical Greek, King James English, contemporary language of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s etc. and as of Nov 2014 the Bible Society has translated the whole Bible into 531 languages, and 2,883 languages have at least some portion of the Bible; the work on translation continues.

     What was the big news that the disciples began telling in many different languages when the Spirit entered them? This is the good news…that God sent his only son to be one of us. That Jesus suffered and died on the cross to atone for our sins that we may have eternal forgiveness and that Jesus, who returned to the Father in heaven asked God to provide us with a comforter, a supporter, and inspiration to stay with us forever…the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ was and is in the Father and the Father was and is in Christ. Those who believe will continue in the mission of Jesus in the world. Jesus will do whatever we ask in His name so that the Father will be glorified through Him.

     Many of us, here today, were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Some of us were baptized as babies, some later on or even as adults. This is the third section of Peter’s sermon, “repent and be baptized every one of you…so that you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
Are we ready to begin a new life today? Are we ready to have the Spirit blow through us, and through our lives, consuming all the dust and waste in the incinerators fire, and refreshing us as a gentle breeze in the summer? For those who may be new to the Good News, are you ready to let that spark ignite into action? Are you ready to follow Peter’s challenge and be baptized? For those of us who have been there and done that, are we ready to be aroused, to feel again the enthusiasm for the work of Christ? How do we receive this gift? Believe in God, and in the precious gift of his son Jesus Christ, and open your heart and you mind to the indwelling Spirit and begin to feel the warmth of the flames in your soul.

As Long As We Seek The Kingdom


 

While a student at theological college in the United States Bernard Travaieille was playing basketball with some friends. They were using the court at a nearby school, where a friendly old janitor would patiently wait until they had finished their game before locking up. One day Bernard noticed the janitor was reading the bible. In fact he discovered the old janitor was reading the Book of Revelation.

Bernard was surprised. It was a difficult book to interpret even for highly trained bible students! “Do you understand it?” asked Bernard.

“Oh yes, I understand it” the janitor replied.

Now Bernard was really intrigued. Here was this book that baffled scholars, that was the focus of every conspiracy theory known to humanity, and this old man, a janitor with little formal education, claimed to understand it! “You understand the Book of Revelation?! What do you think it means?” asked Bernard.

The old man looked up at him and very quietly said, “It means that Jesus is gonna win.”

It was just last week that we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus and read the events of that morning. According to John, later on that same day, Jesus met with the apostles in a locked room and after showing them the wounds in is hand and his side he breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit. This sounds a lot like Pentecost except there were no tongues of flame and speaking in many languages. This was the Christian Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the sending out. “As my father sent me, so I send you.” This may seem odd to you, it caught me unawares.  Unlike the synoptic Gospels, John did not place this story in the context of the Jewish day of Pentecost, the end of the Jewish Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot, which falls on the fiftieth day after Passover.

 Now it is time for a change of time and scene into the book of Acts. The Apostles had been in prison for spreading the Good News in the temple. Just as they had sought to eliminate the threat  they felt to their authority in the teachings and popularity of Jesus, the temple authorities were doing all they could to shut down the “Jesus commotion”  which had sprung up in force after the resurrection. They had warned the Apostles, threatened them, and then jailed them, but they were released from prison by an angel. Did they stop as they had been commanded? No, they were no sooner free than they were back in the temple and teaching the people the rest of the story of life.

            When the council heard that they were back at it, they immediately ordered their arrest and the apostles are brought before them again. Rather than beginning the interview with trying to find out how they got free, perhaps fearing that the answer may lend credence to their message, they begin with something akin to, ‘How many times have we told you to stop?!’

The story the apostles were sharing cast the council in a rather poor light,“bringing this man’s blood on us.”  These were the men who had feared Jesus and his growing popularity to the extent that they arranged for him to be crucified. The apostle’s problems are with the authorities and not with the Jewish people in general. It is important to remember that the average Jews had not had anything against Jesus, and did not have anything against the apostles.

In response to the outraged members of council, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29). Saying this, Peter was saying not only that we don’t need to blindly obey the orthodoxy, but that the orthodoxy is supposed to be following God just as we are. The temple officials had been afraid of losing their power and here was Peter, pointing out that they had moved from being what they are meant to be, followers of God, to working as power brokers for the Romans (Willimon)

            In Revelations 1:4-8 John gives new titles to Jesus perhaps to assert that there was far more to be said about Jesus than just what he had said about himself. He first states who Jesus is; the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings of the each. And secondly, the three things Jesus did; freed us from our sins, made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father (Boring p 78).

            In the Old Testament, the terms Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven are synonymous, especially because it was not acceptable to speak the word God and they thus replaced it with heaven. In the New Testament, the focus of the Kingdom of God is on the role of God in shaping human experience and the power behind the kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven seems to be more about the area, or the extent or range of the Kingdom. In this opening part of Revelation, John uses the term kingdom to refer to us. Having shaped us into the body of Christ perhaps he meant that we become the area or the range of the kingdom, extending to all who believe.

Just as Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council, looked after the body of Jesus, a respected rabbi named Gamaliel pointed out to the council that if the Christ movement was from man and not from God it would fall apart; but it would be foolish to try to block a movement of God! After all, look at all that had happened to armies such as those of Egypt and other kingdoms of the past when God opposed them! Just look at the great empires, Greece had already fallen to Rome and we know that in the end even the great Roman Empire collapsed. Things that are started by people eventually crumble, in time they pass away but God’s kingdom is eternal.

For years we have been hearing about the decline of Christian churches. In North America and Europe this seems to be the case, the secularization of society has more people going to the malls on Sunday than to church, at least the mainline churches. We have been told that Christendom is dead and there are many who view that as a great failing. I would like to point out, however, that the church is, perhaps, never as strong as when it faces persecution. In the early community of believers there had already been people persecuted, and killed for preaching about the resurrection. Look to the areas of the modern world where life is the least free, or the hardest for economic reasons and you see the church flourishing. Look to the southern hemisphere, to many countries in Africa, and you will see faith more alive and vital than has been common in the west for centuries.

            Both Gamaliel and Joseph of Arimathea were well known and respected members of the council and yet they spoke out in defense of Jesus and the apostles. They weren’t seeking earthly authority for themselves, they were both looking for the kingdom.  They recognized that the kingdom was a part of the establishment so long as seeking the kingdom.

God exalted Jesus whom man had condemned. He sits at the right hand of the father and we read about him this morning in the Psalm; “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly, the right hand of the Lord is exalted; the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.” (Psalm 118:15-16).  The temple authorities couldn’t keep the Apostles in prison any better than they kept Jesus in the grave. This Jesus commotion which we read about in Acts continues to this day. We are a part of it, “priests serving his God and Father,” (Revelation 1:6) and it up to us to enter the temple of society and share the Good News.

 

story at the beginning came from: Reported by Bernard Travaieille in Illustrations Unlimited

William H. Willimon – Acts – The Interpretation Series

M. Eugene Boring – Revelation – The Interpretation Series