Today, as we celebrate our nation’s birth, perhaps no greater symbol more visibly displays the desire, and call, upon our citizens to patriotism than our American flag.
In May 1776, it was not only their shared allegiance to their soon to be nation, but their shared faith that birthed our American flag. Two Episcopalians George Washington and Betsy Ross, who worshiped together at Christ Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, worked with a small and secret committee to design an enduring symbol for our new nation’s future.
The end result was spelled out in the fabric of Old Glory – white stars on a blue background, with alternating stripes of red and white. The stars would grow in number as the states did… from the original 13 to the 50 there now. Blue, the symbol for vigilance, perseverance, justice and freedom. White for purity and innocence. And Red, hardiness, courage, valor and, of course, the price of blood so often paid for the freedom we now enjoy.
God’s blessing of America, like many things God does, is a partnership arrangement.
For those who love our country and all for which it stands, when called to pledge our allegiance – we stand, we remove our hats, we silence our conversation. We place our hands over our hearts and we promise yet again our loyalty – as we should – to the essential intangible qualities of a free land entrusted to our care by God Almighty.
Regardless of the polarizing strains of identity politics that some promote, the vast majority of Americans still hold to the reality that we are “One Nation Under God,” and that, as our Declaration of Independence states, we are “…endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable Rights… among them, Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Today, many of us will sing in celebration, Irving Berlin’s words, “God Bless America.” But for our time, it might as well be as much of a prayer as it is a patriotic hymn.
A minute or two with the headlines of any newspaper, or the first two minutes of any news channel, are enough to tell us that we need something beyond ourselves to help us. Whatever we are doing on our own, is doing little, if anything to stem the tide of cultural divisiveness, racial disharmony, pervasive political corruption and unceasing violence. We need something beyond ourselves – to help us, to save us – to bless us.
While I offer these words as a Christian pastor, my work alongside religious leaders from all traditions, would agree – that God’s blessing of America, like many things God does, is a partnership arrangement.
Yes, God’s blessings are always initiated with God Himself, but all the great stories of faith offer a deep truth – that much of what God does – is done not just “for” those made in God’s image, but “with” them – alongside them. Abraham, the Father of Hebrews, Christians and Muslims – was promised by God an inheritance, but in order to claim it, he would have to set himself on God’s path – trusting and believing, by faith, that holding God’s hand, he would ultimately receive that promise.
What, today, might help us in that partnership with God? For your consideration — using the flag as a kind of background, let me offer a few suggestions as a 4th of July meditation of sort.
First, let the red in our flag recall for you the word, “Remember.” Remember the price paid for your freedom – from the Alamo to Gettysburg, from Anzio to Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq. Remember, too, those who responded to terrorist attacks within our own borders. It is impossible to really take in the sacrifice of life, limb and loved ones for the cause of freedom, but it is not impossible to be eternally grateful.
Only weeks ago, my wife and I visited Omaha Beach in Normandy. As we walked off the beach, a young couple was laughing as they snapped photos with two of their toddlers – a scene not possible on the same beach that only 79 years before was soaked in the blood of allied soldiers who paved the way, not just for a free Europe, but a free world – and a scene that absolutely would never have been if the launch of D-Day had not turned the tide of that horrible war.
Later, as we gazed upon the over 9,000 graves of Americans buried just above that same beach, no words fit what only the heart could feel – humility and gratitude.
Around our globe, we see the birth pains of nations hoping and praying for what you and I have had for well over 200 years. Remember. Remember the price that has been paid. And remember a price that high is also a treasure impossible to value – except through the gift of grateful remembrance. So – remember.
From Fox News Opinion. A nice reflection and so very true. Read it all.
Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) gave the United States — and the world — some of the most inspirational words ever written.
She penned “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in November 1861, during a wartime tour of Washington, D.C., as Americans realized with gloom that the seven-month-old Civil War would be longer, darker and deadlier than anticipated.
Howe’s masterpiece has been called America’s fight song. Its lyrics inspired the United States to spiritual resolve and sacrifice.
Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.
Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Sacred Scriptures contain the Word of God and, since they are inspired, really are the Word of God…
This sacred Synod urges all the Christian faithful to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excelling knowledge of Jesus Christ.” “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself…
And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for “we speak to him when we pray; we hear from him when we read the divine saying.”
From Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation by the Second Vatican Council
We sat down to table and the officer began his story: “I have served in the army ever since I was quite young. I knew my duties and was a favorite of my superiors as a conscientious officer. But I was young, as were also my friends, and unhappily I started drinking. It went from bad to worse until drinking became an illness. When I did not drink, I was a good officer, but when I would start drinking, then I would have to go to bed for six weeks. My superiors were patient with me for a long time, but finally, for rudeness to the commanding officer while I was drunk, they reduced my rank to private and transferred me to a garrison for three years. They threatened me with more severe punishment if I would not improve and give up drinking. In this unfortunate condition all my efforts at self-control were of no avail and I could not stay sober for any length of time. Then I heard that I was to be sent to the guardhouse and I was beside myself with anguish.
“One day I was sitting in the barracks deep in thought. A monk came in to beg alms for the church. Those who had money gave what they could. When he approached me he asked, ‘Why are you so downcast?’ We started talking and I told him the cause of my grief. The monk sympathized with my situation and said, ‘My brother was once in a similar position, and I will tell you how he was cured. His spiritual father gave him a copy of the Gospels and strongly urged him to read a chapter whenever he wanted to take a drink. If the desire for a drink did not leave him after he read one chapter he was encouraged to read another and if necessary still another. My brother followed this advice, and after some time he lost all desire for alcoholic beverages. It is now fifteen years since he has touched a drop of alcohol. Why don’t you do the same, and you will discover how beneficial the reading of the Gospels can be. I have a copy at home and will gladly bring it to you.’
“I wasn’t very open to this idea so I objected, ‘How can your Gospels help when neither my efforts at selfcontrol nor medical aid could keep me sober?’ I spoke in this way because I never read the Gospels.
“‘Give it a chance,’ continued the monk reassuringly, ‘and you will find it very helpful.’
“The next day he brought me this copy of the Gospels. I opened it, browsed through it, and said, ‘I will not take it, for I cannot understand it; I am not accustomed to reading Church Slavonic.’
“The monk did not give up but continued to encourage me and explained that God’s special power is present in the Gospel through his words. He went on, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later. One holy man says that “even when you don’t understand the word of God, the demons do, and they tremble”; and the passion for drink is without a doubt their work. And St. John Chrysostom in speaking about the power of the word of God says that the very room where the Gospel is kept has the power to ward off the spirits of darkness and thwart their intrigues.’
“I do not recall what I gave the monk when I took the copy of the Gospels from him, but I placed the book in my trunk with my other belongings and forgot about it. Some time later a strong desire to have a drink took hold of me and I opened the trunk to get some money and run to the tavern. But I saw the copy of the Gospels before I got to the money and I remembered clearly what the monk had told me. I opened the book and read the first chapter of Matthew without understanding anything. Again I remembered the monk’s words, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later.’ So I read another chapter and found it a bit more comprehensible. Shortly after I began reading the third chapter, the curfew bell rang and it was no longer possible for me to leave the barracks.
“In the morning my first thought was to get a drink, but then I decided to read another chapter to see what would happen. I read it and did not go. Again I wanted a drink, but I started reading and I felt better. This gave me courage, and with every temptation for a drink I began reading a chapter from the Gospels. The more I read, the easier it became, and when I finally finished reading all four Gospels the compulsion for drink had disappeared completely; I was repelled by the very thought of it. It is now twenty years since I stopped drinking alcoholic beverages.
“Everyone was surprised at the change that took place in me, and after three years I was reinstated as an officer and then climbed up the ranks until I was made a commanding officer. Later I married a fine woman; we have saved some money, which we now share with the poor. Now I have a grown son who is a fine lad and he also is an officer in the army.”
—The Way of a Pilgrim
What a wonderful story of the multifaceted ways in which Christ works in our lives! The issue here is alcoholism, but don’t restrict the lesson to that. Christ can heal any affliction if we let him. Notice first how Christ uses human agency (the monk) to introduce the young soldier to his Gospel. Notice how the monk abandoned his agenda (begging alms for the church), at least temporarily, to address a person’s needs that he perceived. We have to be ready to see others in pain if we ever hope to help them address it. Notice too the monk’s gentle persistence and the faith he has in the transformative power of the Gospel in people’s lives, a faith based, in part, on past experience.
Next, pay attention to how Christ used circumstance instead of understanding to stay the young soldier’s hand from drinking. He read the Gospel without understanding it, but was prevented from going on a drinking binge because he had lingered too long in his quarters to read it. Was it really coincidence that the soldier found the gospels before he got to his drinking money? This is how God typically works to control the circumstances of our lives in a wise and loving way, but we have to pay attention to realize it!
Finally, mark how understanding occurs—through persistent reading. Ask anyone who reads the Bible regularly and systematically and you will hear this same answer. God grants understanding to humble minds willing to submit to his word (as opposed to trying to make his word submit to their agendas, which sadly many try to do, especially today) through our persistent reading of his word. God doesn’t beat us over the head to make us learn (usually). Instead he uses ordinary people and circumstances along with our own efforts to speak to and transform us. Under normal circumstances it would have been best if the soldier had read the gospels with others and learned how to interpret them from the tradition we have, but that didn’t happen in this case. No problem, though. God can use even less than ideal circumstances to break through to us, as the young solder discovered. That may not be sexy enough for some of us but it is much more effective over the long haul.
If you are struggling with your faith, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this story and its lessons. Maybe you should even pick up the gospels and start to read them yourself. Here is indeed balm for your soul!
For those of you who have ears to hear, listen and understand.
Many different explanations have been proposed for the problems that beset us. While there are undoubtedly multiple causes at work here, what I want to focus on is what I believe to be a fundamental yet neglected factor: the sea change that has taken place in American religious life. As Ross Douthat has observed, a map of America’s religious past, “would look like a vast delta, with tributaries, streams and channels winding in and out… but all of them fed, ultimately, by a central stream, an original current, a place where all the waters start.” That place is “not the orthodoxy of any specific Christian church,” but “the shared theological commitments that have defined the parameters of Christianity since the early church.” For the past half-century, however, that spring “has gradually been drying up,” so much so that we are witnessing “the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity” in America.
The transformation of our religious landscape includes: the rapid demographic decline of American Christianity (according to Pew, the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as Christians has declined by 12 percent between 1998 and 2018, and current projections are that within a few decades, less than half of Americans will identify as Christians); the increasing marginalisation of Christians and accelerating de-Christianisation of American culture; the declining importance of religion in the lives of Americans; the rise of the so-called “nones”; the emergence (especially among the young) of a deep-seated scepticism of — and even hostility toward — organised religion; the undisguised contempt of cultural elites towards Christianity; the emergence of religious traditions native to Asia and the Middle East as presences on the American scene; and the rise of what are sometimes called “remixed” religions or do-it-yourself religions. As late as 1931, the Supreme Court could describe Americans as “a Christian people.” Would anyone make that same claim today?
I was talking with some folks recently about the painful split looming for their congregation over the issue of “inclusion,” i.e., whether to welcome and accept gays or not. I could hear the hurt in their voice and feel their pain as they described how it was going to tear apart their beloved congregation, not to mention themselves. I get it. They truly love the Lord and are trying to obey his command for us to love one another. I’ve also sadly been there and done that with the episcopal wars about 20 years ago and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I have great compassion for them as well as sadness because this is not going to turn out well for them or anyone else; it will rip their parish family apart, and all for a false agenda and lousy theology. I also have great anger for those who are trying to foist that false and incoherent theology and agenda on our churches, all in the name of “inclusion.” But what does it mean to be inclusive? The way the issue is framed is that inclusive folks are loving and accept folks as they are (in this context homosexuals—see the way the issue was framed above) while those who are not inclusive are haters, bigots, judgmental, and self-righteous. But that is utter nonsense and those who argue this way are either ignorant of the story contained in Scripture and/or deliberately deceptive in their teaching.
How can I say this? After all, aren’t we all sinners in desperate need of Christ’s healing love and forgiveness? Of course we are! None are without sin. None have any hope without the saving Death and Resurrection of Christ, so shouldn’t all Christians be “inclusive”?
But that is not what the inclusive crowd is talking about. Instead, an incoherent theology is being propagated that is actually hateful toward those these folks profess to care about. God the Father accepts us all for who we are and how we come to him, warts, sins, ugliness and all. But Christ did not die so that we can keep on sinning. His Death is not a get out of jail free card that allows us to live in open and ongoing rebellion against God’s good will and purposes for his creatures, especially his human image-bearing creatures, and his created order. Christ died to set us free from our slavery to Sin, a slavery that must lead to our death without God’s gracious intervention in and through Christ. Freeing us from our slavery to Sin’s power is the truly loving thing to do! So being inclusive should never, ever be about accepting a lifestyle or belief that will lead to death and eternal destruction. There is nothing loving about that; just the opposite in fact. Yet that is what we are being asked to do in the name of “inclusion”. It’s all about elevating individual identity to idol status and the acceptance of that identity and the lifestyle it usually produces, a lifestyle that is antithetical to the gold standard of God’s created order (one man, one woman in a lifetime monogamous relationship, see Gen 1.26-31, 2.18-25). We are being asked to bless what God consistently condemns and that cannot and will not stand. There is no way this is the “loving” thing to do. What Christian who takes his or her faith seriously would accept and bless an unrepentant adulterer or an unrepentant murderer or child molester or thief? Where is the sanity or goodness of embracing those lifestyles/behaviors in the name of inclusion and tolerance? Why then would we be willing to give a free pass to a lifestyle and behaviors Scripture clearly condemns in the name of inclusion? How is that a loving thing to do?
No. If we love the person we would encourage that person to abandon any wicked lifestyle and give his/her life instead to Christ, to start living his/her life in a way that is pleasing to God and consistent with God’s will. Instead of embracing a false identity in sexuality or whatever else, we would encourage that person to find his/her identity in Christ because only Christ can truly heal us and allow us to reject our sinful nature and the lifestyle it produces. We would do this all very gently, humbly, and with great compassion, tenderness, and reticence because saying hard but true things to those we love is never an easy thing to do, despite being the right thing to do. We wouldn’t bless adulterers because they were “built that way” or buy the argument that being an adulterer is the only way they can find true happiness so why would we make an exception in this case, especially when God does not bless homosexual behavior? Instead, if we loved them we would call them to repentance, just as Christ and his Father do, just as we try to do for ourselves. Denying self, taking up one’s cross, and following Christ does not produce a self-indulgent or self-centered or disordered lifestyle. There is no coherent orthodox theology that would espouse this, especially if we believe that Scripture and Christ represent the authoritative word of God the Father.
It is also critically important in this discussion to consider these things from a practical perspective. What do I mean by that? I mean that the issue of a person’s sexuality just doesn’t come up very often if ever in the daily life of a parish family. I was a parish priest for 15 years and never once did I have to admonish a parishioner for his or her sexual preference or identity (unfortunately I had to do my share of admonishing, but not for things like this). Why? Because we called all people to repentance and confession on a regular basis and trusted they would take their sins to God with a truly penitent heart. We didn’t target one group of people and/or elevate one set of sins over others. All sin is death-dealing and destructive and so we encouraged people to lay their sins at the foot of the cross through confession and repentance and let the Lord heal them in his good time/ways. We also encouraged our parish family to encourage and exhort each other to holy living, clergy included. Now had someone asked me to bless a sin or a sinful lifestyle or elevate an identity to idol status in the name of inclusion so that it became a public scandal that had the potential to destroy our parish family, I would have had to address the issue with that person in the manner I just discussed above, but privately. I know of no church that asks newcomers about their sexual preferences/lifestyles as soon as they walk through the door the first time, so this argument is based more on theory than the reality of actual parish life. The fact is, many who stay away from church do so because they don’t want to have to come to terms with their sin or they don’t believe there will be any consequences for living a life of rebellion against God. There’s more to it than that, but not less.
In light of what I have just said, does all this mean I advocate that we hate people and reject them? Certainly not! God forbid! A truly inclusive church invites all comers, no matter how bad they are, to come and die to Christ, to subject themselves and their lifestyles to his lordship so that he can begin to heal them of their sin-sickness that will allow them to find real life, real joy, real peace. We all are in the same boat when it comes to this and we all desperately need the help and love and power of Christ and him alone if we are to have a hope and a future. This is the kind of inclusion that is truly life-giving and affirming. Blessing false identities and the death-dealing lifestyles they typically produce is not the loving or coherent thing for Christians who profess to be orthodox to do.
By all means, love folks and take them as you find them. Be and do for them the way you want God and others to be and do for you. Welcome them and help them become part of your parish family. Just don’t be content to leave them where they are, any more than you should be content to wallow in your own sin-sickness. Instead, encourage one and all to develop their identity in Christ and ask them to encourage you likewise, because Christ is the only way to life, now and in the world to come. Bid them, in other words, to come and die to Christ along with you so you all can find real life. That is the only loving and inclusive thing to do.
For those with ears to hear, listen and understand.
Heavenly Father, you entrusted your Son Jesus, the child of Mary, to the care of Joseph, an earthly father. Bless all fathers as they care for their families. Give them strength and wisdom, tenderness and patience; support them in the work they have to do, protecting those who look to them, as we look to you for love and salvation, through Jesus Christ our rock and defender. Amen.
I was reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans this morning. In chapter 9 he deals with the issue of why so many Israelites had rejected Jesus as their Messiah, especially if they were God’s chosen people (which they are). That conversation must wait for a different day. What caught my immediate attention was this. In his opening thoughts, Saint Paul speaks of his own deep personal pain over their rejection of Jesus saying that, “I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ! [emphasis mine]—if that would save them” (Romans 9.3).
Did you catch that? Saint Paul equates being cursed with being cut off from Christ! In other words, if we do not have a relationship with Christ we are looking at eventual eternal destruction. Christ is the only way to God the Father, our only Source of life, because only Christ’s atoning death makes reconciliation with God the Father possible and cleanses us sufficiently to live in God’s direct Presence as the Christian hope contained in the NT promises. Without Christ, we are all without hope and a future. How do I know this to be true? Because Jesus Christ is resurrected from the dead, an event with solid historical evidence and the evidence of the shared experience of hundreds of millions of lives of Christians over time and across cultures.
This thinking and theology does not play well with modern audiences, at least in the west, which is unfortunate for obvious reasons. Instead, we are often told to “choose love, not hate.” I couldn’t agree more. What I disagree with, however, is the definition of “love” that most have in mind when they say this. But if you are in agreement with what Saint Paul says above, then you are on the right track.
True love always seeks the best for the beloved. Saint Paul loves his fellow Israelites so much, i.e., wants the best for them, that he is willing to be cut off from Christ—willing to submit to eternal destruction—if he could get some of them to believe that Christ is the only way to God’s promised new world as explained above. Being cut off from Christ, whether we fall away from him or are too proud and arrogant (and foolish) to believe in him in the first place, results in Death and eternal destruction, in being cut off from the Presence of the living God who is our only Source of Life forever.
How is advocating for beliefs/lifestyles that magnify our brokenness and rebellion that result in our alienation from God our Father and our eternal destruction in anyone’s best interest?
Of course having a real relationship with Christ means that we must have the willingness and humility to repent of (turn away from) following our own path to happiness because such a human-devised path doesn’t exist and never has. The only path to true happiness and thriving in God’s created order is following the path that our Creator has set out for us because only our Creator can really know what is best for us that allows us to thrive; he is our Creator after all. This is not easy for humans because we don’t want to be the creature. We want to be the Creator, but we lack God’s wisdom, (fore)knowledge, and power (for starters). Thriving in this mortal life begins with following the 10 Words (Commandments—Exodus 20) and ends with imitating Christ, the living embodiment of God our Father and his 10 Words.
If you really want to thrive—and let us be very clear, God created us to thrive and wants us to thrive as evidenced by the creation narratives before the Fall (Genesis 1-3) and elsewhere in the Scriptural narrative, not to mention the lived experience of hundreds of millions of humans over time and across cultures—then choose Christ. It is the only way to succeed. Period. End of story. But be warned: following Christ is not easy or for the faint of heart because we are all profoundly broken and sin-sick creatures. Yet what worthwhile endeavor in life is ever easy? And what is more worthwhile than choosing to follow Christ who is our path to thriving in this mortal life and enjoying God’s promised new heavens and earth forever?
So by all means, choose love and not hate. But be careful what kind of things and people you choose to love and hate. There is only one Way to thrive and to enjoy eternal life. Those who advocate for the unjust, the wicked, the perverse, the disordered, or the chaotic loves that swirl in and around us and which lead to our mortal death and eternal destruction have never offered any kind of explanation as to how this is a “loving” thing to do and how their beloved will thrive. Please don’t be the fool who rejects Christ and is cut off from him. Choose love. Choose Christ. Choose to live and thrive, even in a dark and desperate world or in the chaos of your own life.
For those of you who have ears to hear, listen and understand.
“My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity, the day when we focus on the triune nature of God, i.e., God in three persons. But as our video pointed out, this is no easy task for mere mortals, especially for someone with a peabrain like mine, and I will leave it to the Great Thinkers, the Church Fathers and Doctors, to explain the nature of the Trinity. For Small Thinkers like me, I have found it helpful to understand our triune God by looking at how God has chosen to reveal himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As we look at each, we must always remember that while we are talking about three different persons, we are also talking about One indivisible God. Clear as mud? Wonderful. We’re off to a good start.
Before we look at how God has chosen to reveal himself to us, let us keep in mind that while there is no formal doctrine of the Trinity articulated in the NT, a formal doctrine would eventually have to be formulated by the Church based on the writings of St. Paul and others. Take, for instance, these introductory verses found in his first letter to the Thessalonians:
This letter is from Paul, Silas, and Timothy. We are writing to the church in Thessalonica, to you who belong to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. May God give you grace and peace. We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly. As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ. We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people. For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true (1 Thessalonians 1.1-5a, NLT).
Notice carefully how St. Paul describes the nature and work of God in three persons. He speaks of the Father’s great love for us made known in and through the work of the Son, mediated by the work and power of the Holy Spirit. So let us not fall for the baloney that the doctrine of the Trinity was some unnecessary and overly-complicated human invention. It’s not. It comes directly from God, who chooses to reveal himself to us as such.
Especially appropriate for Father’s Day we begin with God the Father, the ultimate Progenitor, Creator of all that is and Source of all life. As Genesis 1-2 tell us, God created the heavens and earth, himself existing from all eternity (try wrapping your mind around that little nugget!). Genesis tells us that God created this vast cosmos out of nothing, giving us a glimpse of God’s awesome power. As St. Paul would tell the Romans, we worship a God who creates new things out of nothing and who raises the dead (Romans 4.17). So we can have confidence in God to accomplish his purposes. Because God is good, God created all things good and then enigmatically created humans in his image to bring God’s goodness and wisdom to bear to run God’s creation on God’s behalf (Gen 1.26-28; Ps 8). As Genesis 1-2 also tell us, before our first ancestors rebelled against God, they lived in perfect communion with God the Father, obeying his creative intentions (bearing his image faithfully) and enjoying the perfect health, peace, and happiness that accompanies perfect communion with the Father. This poignant picture of the Father communing with his human image-bearers reminds us that God created us to share in his glory and to enjoy perfect happiness, health, and freedom, the kind that comes only in obeying God’s good and creative intentions for us. If you are interested at all in obeying the general will of God the Father, pay attention to the creation narratives.
But if we are going to have any kind of relationship with God the Father, we have to know more about him than his creative work. We have to have some idea of the Father’s nature as well. Is God really lovable? Is he worthy of our first loyalty and ultimate obedience? Before the Fall, our first human ancestors instinctively and consciously knew the answers to these questions because they enjoyed perfect communion with their Father, and God chose to reveal himself to them in ways they could comprehend. After the Fall, this knowledge was lost (Gen 3.8-10) and as a result, the power of Evil and Sin ushered in madness, Death, alienation, and chaos into God’s good world, corrupting it and causing God to curse it and us. Why the curse? Was it because God just doesn’t know how to have a good time? Is it because the Father is a divine child abuser as some have arrogantly charged (a charge so ludicrous that it illustrates unhappily how our sin-caused alienation from God has caused us to no longer know God our Father)? Certainly not! God cursed his good creation and creatures because God can tolerate no evil or injustice in his world, and that is ultimately for our good. As we shall see, if we hope to spend an eternity in the Father’s direct presence, who wants to be bedeviled by the Evil, folly, chaos, madness, and alienation we experience in our fallen state?
But if we only look at God’s justice, we miss huge parts of God’s nature. For despite our attempts to usurp God’s power and our ongoing hostility and rebellion against God, the heart of the Father beats love for his wayward children. Hear what Scripture has to say about the love of God: Saint John tells us that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3.16), and that anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love (1 John 4.8). The psalmist characterizes the Father as “merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. The Lord is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation” (Ps. 145.7-8). Jesus tells us likewise when he tells us to imitate the Father by loving our enemies as well as our friends (Matthew 5.43-48). Elsewhere, the psalmist declares how precious the Father’s love for us is because God saves both humans and animals, providing us with much-needed shelter from the storms of life (Ps 36.6b-7).
Scripture also declares God’s patient, steadfast love for us, despite our ongoing rebellion. As you listen to these gracious words, imagine your heavenly Father speaking them to you and take heart.
But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom; I gave Ethiopia and Seba in your place. Others were given in exchange for you. I traded their lives for yours because you are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you. “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will gather you and your children from east and west. I will say to the north and south, ‘Bring my sons and daughters back to Israel from the distant corners of the earth. Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them’” (Isaiah 43.1-7, NLT)
My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all. How can I give you up? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like [my enemies]? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy [Israel]; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath (Hosea 11.7-9).
Do you hear the tenderness and compassion in these verses? Israel had indeed been intent on running away from their God, but the Father’s generous heart would not give up on his wayward children. This is the love and compassion and mercy and tenderness we give up when we thumb our noses at God and refuse his gracious overtures. This is what causes us to live in darkness and chaos, feeling alone and afraid. This is the cost of human sin and rebellion against God the Father.
But as these OT passages attest, God is not put off so easily because God the Father is good and faithful, even in the face of our unfaithfulness as St. Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Tim 2.13). And so at just the right time, God the Father took on our human flesh (or in NT parlance, the Father sent the Son) to free us from our slavery to Sin and Death and to establish the basis for restoring God’s good creation gone bad. St. Paul summarizes it best in his letter to the Galatians. Pay careful attention to the trinitarian nature of this passage and the role of each:
But when the right time came, God sent his Son [God became human], born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir (Galatians 4.4-7, NLT).
Why did the Father do this? Because he desires life and goodness and health, not death and destruction and chaos. And so the Father’s love for us was and is made known supremely in Jesus, the Son of God. The coeternal Son who existed with God from all eternity (Jn 1.1-5) took on our flesh to destroy Sin’s power over us and to bear the Father’s just wrath on our sins to spare us and make us fit to stand in God’s direct presence forever (Rom 5.6-11, 8.1-4; Rev 7.9-17). All who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to be a sacrifice for our sins, and who was raised by God from the dead, are washed clean by his blood shed for us on the cross. As St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson this morning, this was an act of pure grace on the Father’s part. None of us deserve this mercy because before Christ’s Incarnation, we were still God’s enemies. But those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and only those who believe Jesus is the Son of God, are no longer God’s enemies. Instead, we are God’s children (Jn 1.12) and therefore we have a future hope and inheritance: God’s new world, the new heavens and earth. In Christ, we see the very heart and face of the Father healing the sick, casting out the demonic, and defeating Evil and the powers behind it. And because of the resurrection, those of us who are united to Christ by faith are promised a share in God’s new world. As St. Paul reminds us in Rom 6.3-5, those who have a relationship with Christ, i.e., who are in Christ, share in both Christ’s death and resurrection (and if we love God and others as he loves us we definitely are “in Christ”). I don’t have time to develop this today. Suffice it to say that St. Paul proclaims to us that eternal life, bodily life in God’s new world where we live directly in God’s presence, unlike we do right now, is our destiny (1 Cor 15), i.e., we are resurrection peeps. Christ’s resurrection also validates the unlikely claim by the NT writers that on the cross God defeated the dark powers (Col. 2.13-15) who have invaded his world and corrupted it, wreaking havoc and pain and misery and suffering on anyone and everyone. If you do not see the Father’s love for you made known in the Son’s work and love, you are truly to be most pitied.
God the Father makes all this known in and through the power of his Holy Spirit, who reveals God’s truth to us, makes Christ known and present to us, and equips us to live like the truly human image-bearers God created and wants us to be. In other words, he makes us living stones in God’s new Temple built on Christ (1 Peter 2.1-6). Without the Spirit, we cannot possibly know God or Christ. We cannot possibly know the Truth. We cannot possibly love or forgive or be gracious or merciful or kind or compassionate. As our Creed proclaims, he is the Lord, the giver of life. Even when you hear lousy sermons on the Trinity like this one, the Holy Spirit will overcome and make God in three persons known to you. He makes your prayers efficacious and gives you power to serve and be humble, to be genuine people of God. There’s much more, but I’m out of time.
So why should knowing God in three persons matter to us? Just this. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have overcome our sin and rebellion, restoring us as truly human image-bearers of our Father. If you want to live life with meaning, purpose, and power, the only way you can do that is to know and worship our triune God because this is the real God, not some false or incomplete imitation of the Real Deal. This one God wants to heal us and equip us to be real children who bring to bear God’s love and goodness to his broken and hurting creation. How can we do that if we don’t know the Father’s love made known supremely through the Son and imparted to us in and through the Spirit? If you seek wholeness and healing and blessing in the midst of a chaotic world, if you seek to love as you have been loved, if you seek real comfort for your grief, if you are aware of the Father’s great love for you despite your sins and rebellion, you are already in his loving grasp. We cannot imitate him who we do not know and we come to know our triune God through prayer, Scripture, the Eucharist, tradition, and fellowship, all in and through the power of the Spirit. Most of all, we know we worship the real God if we are resurrection peeps who claim for our own the promise of Christ’s resurrection because only in his resurrection will we know completely the love, mercy, kindness, and justice of God to heal us and make us entirely whole again. Of course we’ll schlep along in this mortal life and get it wrong at times. Many of us will get it wrong more than we’ll get it right. But despite this, we don’t lose hope. Because we know God our Father, we dare believe in his great promises to heal, redeem, and restore us, promises validated in the Son of God’s death and resurrection. We know it because we are God’s people who have the Holy Spirit living in us. Let us therefore live as people with power and hope and love, with charity and great grace, daring to allow the Father to make himself known in and through us by faithfully imitating Jesus the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity, not only today but every day, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.