Tag Archives: The Shack

Adoption for all!


trinity-sunday-clipart-1This is my sermon for Trinity Sunday2018.

Today marks the beginning of the second half of the Christian year when the focus changes over from Christ’s Career to our response to it. It is one of those Sundays which is more difficult for ministers if they use it as the one opportunity in the year to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. Since the doctrine took the early church a mere 400 years to settle on a doctrine which they could agree, I have decided to avoid trying to explain it in twenty minutes. As the year turns over to a focus on our response to Christ’s career, that will be our lens.

Romans 8: 12-17 is actually one of the main passages that was used in the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. While our Isaiah passage today spoke of the transformation of Isaiah from an observer to a prophet who, after he was cleansed of his sin, responded by voluntarily beginning an often dangerous life as God’s prophet; and the story of Nicodemus night-time visit to Christ was used by John to make clear the separation between flesh and spirit; Romans focuses on our transformations through the Spirit to members of God’s family, and from slave to child.(Achtemeier) So let’s begin looking at the transformation available to us. In Romans the writer talks about us being adopted as God’s children, and thus as brothers and sisters of Christ.

Family is the first and most central relationship of our lives. We start with the family into which we are born or adopted and then raised. As children in the family we begin as completely dependent on our parents for everything and move gradually to become independent. This gradual change in the balance of power is a constant push and pull between parents and children. For most of us, we then move out on our own and then create a new family with our own spouses and children.

When we try to explain our closest relationships with friends we often refer to them as being, “as close as family,” or “just like brothers or sisters,” or “our other parents.” That is not what is being spoken about in Romans. We read there that after our transformation from being led by the flesh to being led by the Spirit, we “are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.

How do we respond to that adoption? Take a look back at Psalm 29 to see how God is described.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
Sirion[b] like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes
with flashes of lightning.
The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;
the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord twists the oaks[c]
and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
11 The Lord gives strength to his people;
the Lord blesses his people with peace.

That definitely describes someone to whom we will run, maybe climb into his lap, and say, “Daddy, daddy!” Well maybe not. Do you remember the first time a former teacher asked you to call them by their first name? It feels so strange to go from saying Mrs. Scott, or Professor Mark, to Cathy and Jamie. If that is difficult to call regular humans by a more familiar name, how much more difficult is it to imagine that it is ok to call God “father”, “dad.” But it is that very privilege which we gain through the Spirit. We aren’t “as close to God as family.” We, “are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ”

Along with the privileges of family come responsibilities. We make commitments to our families, we make sacrifices for our families, we share our resources with our families. As members of God’s family we also have commitments to make and meet. This is our response, the topic of the rest of the Christian year. The rest of verse 17 says, “if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” Like Isaiah, in saying, “‘Here am I; send me!’” would live a life of being both honoured by the people, and running for his life and hiding in a cave to avoid the soldiers of the King; we have to accept the risks associated with being God’s family members.

Paul Achtemeier said, “The transformation wrought by God’s Spirit is such that one becomes a foreigner to the culture to which one once belonged.” This is a tough thing to see for many of us as we were raised in a time when Western society seemed to assume that people were Christian. To be a Christian at this time was to be on the inside, on the side of power. It seems like that was not actually the role intended for Christian life. With the secularization of Western societies, it is much easier to see the risk of being part of this family.

In his notes on Romans 8, Scott Hoezee writes about a story he read in a book by Richard Lischer called The End of Words. which illustrates why it is one of those stories we can never hear too often. It isn’t annoying like The Song That Never Ends.

“When the adopted child repeatedly asks her parents to recount the events surrounding her adoption, the story must remain the same.  And woe to the one who introduces omissions or changes in the sacred formula.  “And then out of all the babies in the orphanage you chose me, right?”  Could parents ever tire of telling that story?  Would they ever dare substitute another for it?  If telling God’s story strikes us as repetitious, that is because it is.  It is repetitious the way the Eucharist is repetitious, the way a favorite melody or gestures of love are repetitious, the way the mercies of God that come unbidden every day are repetitious . . . Such stories do not entertain, they do something far better.  They sustain.  They do not inform, they form those who share and hear them for a life of faithfulness.”

You know the song They’ll Know We Are Christians? According to this people would know that we are Christians by our love. I do not disagree with this, but as I hear over and over again from atheists and secularists, any good person can show love. So how do we show the difference? We are the ones who call God “Father.”

For some people the word “father” brings on unpleasant memories and connotations. We can choose any form to use. We can call God “Mother,” “Father,” or, as the man in the novel The Shack we can say, “Papa.” The point is that we accept that adoption and live our transformed lives as children of God.

 

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.