Part 1 of 2 short sermons
June 16, 2019
I don’t know many preachers who relish the idea of giving a sermon on the meaning of the Trinity, and even fewer congregations who want to hear one.
But, the first Sunday after Pentecost is designated as Trinity Sunday, so a few words about this essential Christian doctrine may be appropriate.
When my son returned from his vacation in Australia, he tried to explain his spectacular trip to the rain forest.
\He and Deborah started their journey on a sheer mountainside where they leaned over to see the top of the rain forest canopy through a fog thousands of feet below.
He said that it was breathtaking, like nothing he’d imagined before.
As they descended down twisting, narrow roads, sunlight subtly changed, air pressure and humidity increased, and weather underwent major shifts.
On the way down they saw ever-changing varieties of birds and other wildlife – animals he’d never heard of here in America, and then walking the rainforest floor was completely alien to anything they’d ever known.
He couldn’t find words to describe it … but it had meant so much to him that he couldn’t help but try.
Maybe you’ve been somewhere that left you at a loss for words as you tried to share your experience with others.
In the same way, an encounter with the divine drives us to try putting words to the indescribable mystery of what we experienced … we can’t help ourselves.
We want to share; we want to understand.
And so, we find ourselves stuttering and grasping for imagery that always falls short, but that still gives some flavor of our experience.
So, we talk about the three-in-one, one-in-three nature of God which in some way hints at how we’ve experienced God … although it is totally inadequate.
The Trinity might begin with our understanding that God has come to us as Creator, as Savior, and as our Advocate.
Or that the three natures of God are as the distant, transcendent holy One, the Son who walked beside us to show us how to live a Kingdom life, and as the intimate, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
And there are other descriptions of the Trinity, each incomplete, but each revealing something about our God who has gone to the ends of the earth to seek a relationship with us.
More importantly, the Trinity tells about the heart of God.
Within the Trinity we see that the essential nature of God is a continuous, circulating loving relationship between the three persons who make up the Godhead.
Their dynamic love flows between them, and their love within the Trinity cannot help but reach out to you and to me – almost like dancers who rush from the dancefloor to pull observers into the action.
The party is more fun if everyone is dancing.
We speak of Trinity not because we understand it, but because, however poorly, it describes something about the way God reveals Himself to us that seems real.
The question for us isn’t, “do I believe it” but, rather, “how do I believe it?”
There’s a way of holding a belief that says, “This doctrine perfectly contains God, and if you don’t accept this doctrine, then you don’t know God.”
There’s another way of holding a belief that says, “No words can contain God. But they can point in God’s direction … and by looking in the direction pointed by these words, my vision of God is improved.” (paraphrased from Brian MacClaren)
Embracing that understanding of the Trinity leads us deeper into our relationship with God.
Hospital Rooms, Lost Jobs and Desert Thugs
Part 2 of 2
Exodus 17:8-16 June 16, 2019
In today’s narrative, we join the Hebrew people early in their journey from Egyptian slavery to freedom in the Promised Land … but understand that they are not yet truly free.
They are not yet fully free because freedom is more than running away, even running away from something that had held us captive.
We are truly free only when we squarely face those things that would enslave us.
What enslaves most of us in some way or other is fear, so to be free means to no longer be afraid of facing life’s challenges.
The way to stop being afraid is to develop faith.
God led the Israelites through the wilderness for the same reason He will sometimes lead you down some hard road: to build your faith and to show you how to be free.
So far in this journey, the Hebrew people get mixed reviews.
When Moses raised his staff at the Red Sea the people showed the courage to walk across the ocean floor rather than to cower at the Pharaoh’s advancing chariots.
But not long after that they couldn’t contain their anxieties and so spread divisive rumors and complaints around the camp.
But God is patient, repeatedly forgiving the people for their rebellion and lack of faith; repeatedly providing for their needs; and repeatedly encouraging them along the way.
But God does not snap divine fingers to remove the trials that we must all face if we are to succeed along our journey.
In today’s reading, they are attacked by the Amalekites.
The Amalekites remind me of outlaw motorcycle gangs – the 1-percenters – who roar through the desert on their Harleys, sweeping down upon unsuspecting towns or campgrounds to brawl, pillage and terrorize.
The Amalekites were descendants of Esau, the older brother whom Isaac had cheated out of his inheritance and they became long-time enemies of the Hebrew people.
So, this hardened band of desert thugs descended on this exhausted band of people who just a few weeks earlier had been making bricks for Pharaoh.
Hardly an even match.
Moses later spoke about this surprise attack:
Deuteronomy 25:18 When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God.
Understand that those lagging behind would have been the sick, pregnant women, the elderly, and young children … the Amalekites’ brutality would be remembered for generations to come.
As we heard from Priscilla’s reading, God’s hand was with the Hebrew people in this battle, but it had to be a cooperative effort.
Life with God is a partnership – divine presence and humans acting in concert.
God would not rescue the people if they had been passive.
On the other hand, without God the people were out-gunned by the desert warriors.
So, Moses summons Joshua who gathers some men to face the onslaught of Amalekites.
Moses strategically climbs a hilltop where he assumes a prayer stance and from which he can be seen by his fighters who need the visual reassurance that their leader and their God are with them.
Did you notice that while Moses was praying the Israelites were winning … but whenever Moses lowered his hands the veteran Amalekites warriors gained ground?
That tells us a couple of things:
First, that Moses tires in prayer before Joshua, who was all pumped up by the action, tires in battle.
Prayer that matters can be hard work.
Vivienne has shared before about a time when her son Tim was living on the streets and was in a particularly dangerous place.
Once in the middle of the night, she was awakened from a deep sleep, feeling a strong urge to pray for Tim.
She got up and prayed for an hour or so, yet she didn’t feel any release from her anxiety, and no assurance of his well-being.
So, she turned to God and said, “I’ve prayed and prayed but I don’t feel anything.”
And God replied, “That’s because you are not through with this prayer yet.”
So, she went back to prayer and Tim survived.
And when I say Tim survived, it is in the context of past times when people were shot right in front of him and times in prison when people around him received brutal beatings.
Prayer that engages God against our enemies, prayer that gives us the strength and confidence to stand-up to our deepest fears … that kind of prayer can be hard work.
So, Moses asks Aaron and Hur for help, which is the second lesson here: God does not want us to face life’s challenges alone.
Exodus 17:12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.
You and I are blessed to be a part of an encouraging, supportive and prayerful community.
After I sent out one of my e-mail updates about Larry’s hospitalization, someone replied: “our families are going through a lot of stuff.”
Except she more appropriately used a profanity for “stuff”.
But they aren’t going through it alone.
In this faith community, we stand beside one another as we face Hospital Rooms, Lost Jobs and Desert Thugs.
We visit, we pray, we encourage, sometimes (we) are able to offer financial help.
In this faith community, you are not expected to pretend that you are someone you’re not … you are loved and accepted for who you are.
This faith community is all about growing together in our relationship with God, helping each other through our difficulties, and serving those around us on behalf of our loving Lord.
So, Aaron and Hur assist Moses in prayer.
Now with the community united in prayer the tide changes until the Israelites win the battle.
They win the battle – but not the war.
In fact, the Amalekites will continue to plague the Hebrew people for generations to come.
You see, you will always have some enemies in your life.
You will always have critics, problems, and bullies.
You will never find freedom by just running from them … you are not free just because you can run and hide.
True freedom is facing them because you’ve learned that with God and with the action and prayer and support of your church, you can stand-up to anything.
The Hebrews still have a way to go, but beginning with this battle, the former slaves transform into a formidable army.
Most people do not know just how strong they are, and so they shy away from problems too soon, they offer token prayers of desperation, they dare not dream great dreams for themselves.
When we settle for running from our problems, we become smaller people.
Desert thugs are a fact of life but with God we learn how to be free despite them … actually because of them.
This is the freedom God wants for us that only comes as we discover God deep in prayer, as we lean on other faithful people for support, and as we face our fears that would bully our life.