Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Trinity Sunday- God uses impossible situations

I'm not going to preach the sermon the Lectionary wants me to preach today. It is Trinity Sunday, so I could talk about God at creation and the Spirit of God hovering over the water. I could talk about God speaking in a plural voice- "us", "our". We could go to Collossians 1 or John 1 and read about Jesus being one with the creator in a way that he is the creator- 
"[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Col 1:15-17)

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:1-3)
I could talk about the 3 fold pattern that arrives in the New Testament- Father, Son, Spirit. Paul's blessing has a threeness to it- 
"the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all". 
Jesus says to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
It's hard to imagine Moses or one of the prophets including their name in such an intimate way alongside God's. Moses doesn't say circumcise in the name of God, Moses, and the Torah. There is something profound and challenging happening in those passages. We might also look at how the disciples, as monotheistic Jews, worshiped Jesus. 
    That would be an interesting sermon (i think), but something else was striking me when I was reading our Matthew reading.   

When we join the disciples on the mountain in Galilee at the end of the Gospel of Matthew we read that “some doubted”. It seems like a strange thing to be standing in front of the resurrected Jesus and have doubt. What is that about? Well we read that the 
“eleven disciples” went to Galilee. When we hear the number 11 we are reminded that the 12th has died by his own hand after betraying Jesus. They know how fragile they are. Maybe they aren’t sure they can fully trust one another if one of the inner circle of disciples has betrayed Jesus. Perhaps there is danger within their own number. 

They know there is definitely danger from outside their circle. The authorities that had brought Jesus forward to be crucified were no friends of the disciples. No doubt they had been hiding from the authorities. Maybe staying indoors. Maybe avoiding places where they might be spotted.

They are a group of beaten up disciples. Some of the disciples doubt in Matthew’s gospel. Some of the oldest manuscripts we have of Mark’s Gospel end with, 
“trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid”. (Mk 16:8)

They stand in front of the resurrected Jesus, but they are still beaten up, emotionally fragile, wary of capture and betrayal, and confused. And what does Jesus say to them? 
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
 To this broken and beaten up group of disciples who had been hiding, Jesus tells them to go and change the world. Jesus has much for faith in them than they have in themselves. Sure, Jesus is resurrected, but they aren’t Jesus. They are happy he is alive again, but what does that mean for them?

I don’t think it is unusual for us to feel like this. Sometimes we feel like we can just barely hold our lives together. Sometimes it feels like we are just holding onto our faith by our fingernails. And we come to church or we read our bibles and what Jesus is asking of us seems too much. Jesus’ words here are just as much for us as for those original disciples. 
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
 When was the last time you went to the nations, or even supported someone going to the nations, or even known someone going to the nations to teach the ways of Jesus? We usually don’t even have the energy or courage to speak to the person across the street about the way of Jesus. I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty. I think I’m just pointing out our situation. Rather than looking at ourselves as individuals, we could look at ourselves as a church. Given our numbers, our average age, and our income and expenses, how do we feel able to live out Jesus’ commission?

This is not a new situation for God’s people. We can look through the Bible and Church history and it seems like that is the kind of people that God seems to use. When God came to Moses in the burning bush Moses thought God should find someone more worthy of the task. He was a murderer on the run from Egypt and now living as a shepherd in the wilderness and had a speech impediment. The Hebrews themselves were apparently chosen by God but were a group of slaves in Egypt. In submission to one of the most powerful nations in the world at the time. In the book of Judges, Gideon said something similar to Moses when God called him. Gideon responded to God’s call saying, 
“Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house” (Judges 6:15).
 The prophet Jeremiah responded to God’s call saying, 
“Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth” (Jeremiah 1:6).
 We can look at Elijah on the run from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel who had been slaughtering the prophets of God and supporting the worship of foreign gods in Israel. Elijah want to die. He felt like he was the only one left who worshiped God. He felt that the deck was stacked against him. We could look at the Exile to Babylon and Haman’s plot to kill the Jews and how impossible it seemed for Ester to do anything about it. We could look into the Early Christian communities facing the persecution of the Roman Empire. Their members being told to sacrifice to the emperor so they could buy food, and avoid being thrown to the lions in the coliseum.

And perhaps we can be bold enough to include ourselves here. We as a little church. Facing our own struggles. How can we possibly do what God is calling us to do?

And yet we look back from our standpoint and we see that indeed God did use Moses to release the Hebrew slaves from the hand of Egypt. The Hebrews did establish a nation and were shaped by God. God did use Gideon to rescue his people. Jeremiah did become a prophet of God, speaking His truth to the people and his words are still read all over the world by God’s people. Elijah was not the last God-worshipper. We stand as a testimony to that 3000 years later. The Babylonian Exile was not the end of God’s people. The persecutions of the Roman Empire was not the end of the Early Christian community. In fact by the late 4th century the Roman Empire had become officially Christian.

And so perhaps we could be bold enough to say that whatever preserved those individuals and communities against the odds, might just be able to preserve us as well. Perhaps that same power is available to us.

I was once told that when you are doing Bible study and you see a “therefore” you should ask what the “therefore” is there for. Jesus says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

We are often looking at our situation through limited human perception, rather than through God’s eyes of possibility. Jesus was not saying we have the power to do what he is saying. He is saying we can do what he is asking because of the authority he has. Jesus has all authority therefore we ca do what he asks as long as we are relying on him. It’s his authority and power that allow it to happen, not us.

Psalm 127 says, 
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.”
 We can try to do it all on our own, but if what we are doing isn’t rooted in lives of prayer and faith relying on God, whatever we create will be in vain.

On Trinity Sunday we are reminded of the powerful creativity of God in making the universe. We are also reminded of the mystery of God as being three persons and one God. God is beyond our comprehension both in power and in the very core of God’s nature. When we delve into God’s being there is a certain point where words become useless.

This is the God who is with us. When we join with God there is no power that can stop it. But that is the key. Are we joining what God is doing, or are we merely asking God to support what we are already doing? Are we doing what matches our tastes, and our habits? Are we asking God to join us, or are we willing to do what it takes to submit our wills to join God in what God is doing? If we are joining God in what God is doing, nothing will be able to stop us. And we can see that looking back on our spiritual history. Jesus is the greatest representative of that. He submitted himself to God’s will and in the end it led to a resurrected life and the start of a movement that would overtake the world with the love of Christ over the next 2000 years.

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