Year A — The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10)

Commentary for July 10, 2011


Click here for today’s texts

Genesis 25:19-34
As mentioned in last week’s commentary, there is not much press given to Isaac’s role as a patriarch of Israel. He always gets “stuck in the middle” between Abraham and Jacob, as if fathering a child was his greatest contribution. Certainly, he gets credit for that; he actually becomes the father of two strong twin boys whose lifelong struggles illustrate ours very plainly.

However, notice that, first, Isaac was a man of prayer. His faith in God is pretty quiet compared to the other dramatic stories that surround his, but when faced with the major obstacle of a childless wife, he does not plan and scheme as did his own father (see Genesis 16 for “The Hagar Affair.”) Instead, v. 21 tells us “Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife….”


Good example for us, eh? How often do we manage to make prayer our FIRST resort, rather than our last?


Psalm 119:105-112
How valuable is the word of God? The gospel lesson for today will be built around the image of “sowing the word” — it is precious seed, indeed. Psalm 119 gives us a couple of illustrations of just how helpful and important the word of God is to us.


“A lamp unto my feet” is about lighting the way in the midst of darkness. Have you ever tried to find something in the middle of the night, without turning the overhead light on? Ever had to traverse a trail outdoors after dark, especially on a moonless night? A “flashlight” ( our equivalent of the ancient torch or lamp) sure comes in handy, doesn’t it? You don’t have to illuminate the entire area…you just need a focused beam to show you the next step. 


There are “many dangers, toils and snares” that await us in life. The word allows us to avoid an awful lot of the latter, according to the psalmist. 


Isaiah 55:10-13
Another real-world image for the importance of the word of God. It is like the rain and/or snow that fall; they serve to water the earth, making ripe the conditions for the wheat (and other crops) to grow. When the wheat is harvested, ground into flour, then baked into bread — we can eat! The rain didn’t directly produce the bread, but it sure played a vital part in the process.


So with the word of God; it enriches our lives and produces the spiritual food that we need. 


Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13
God is praised for many reasons in this psalm text, not the least of which is that God answers prayer!

God also forgives our iniquity, which threatens to overwhelm us (sin is a heavy burden, you know.) God waters the earth, provides the people with grain, makes the meadows full of grass, which makes a rich haven for the flocks and their shepherds. These are strikingly mundane details, on the one hand; on the other, do we take time often enough to thank God for such everyday –and sometimes, miraculous — provisions?


Romans 8:1-11
Paul’s anguish, carried over from Romans 7, continues somewhat in Romans 8. However, the struggle of the flesh vs. the spirit is set in the context of the ultimate victory of Christ. (See 7:25 and 8:1.)


We tread carefully along a dualistic path when we preach here; implying that Jesus’ followers are no longer creatures of the flesh is less than realistic. Surrendering futilely to the difficulty involved in living as “spiritual” creations is not a proper option, either. 


Perhaps it is a postmodern reading (though I expect Luther would beg to differ,) but what a grand text for understanding the “both/and” nature of discipleship, as opposed to the “either/or” argument offered by gnostic heresy and spiritual elitists. 

We are both sinner and saint; we are flesh infused with spirit. We live with feet firmly planted in two worlds, at least while this one lasts. Which nature “wins” in the struggle of our daily lives? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? Which leader do we choose to follow?


Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
I like Dr. Chilton’s exegesis, which underlies his sermon effort for this week. The point of Jesus’ parable is not so much about our technique for “sowing the word” as it is about our constancy –without regard to success or cost — in doing so. 


Arguments are often made about the certitude of our demographic targeting, the success of planting churches in growing neighborhoods, and the conservation of scarce resources in underwriting the church’s “mission.” 

Is there room for the kind of action that Jesus seems to affirm, which Dr. Chilton describes when he writes,  We are called to sow the seed of the kingdom, indiscriminately, wildly, prolifically, tossing out bouquets of God’s love to everyone around us?”


Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

It was my Daddy who first pointed out to me that Jesus wasn’t much of a farmer. Daddy, on the other hand, was a good farmer, so I found myself compelled to listen to his reasons for this semi-blasphemy.

He based his opinion on this parable of the sower. Daddy quite reasonably pointed out that Jesus understood good farming, he just didn’t practice it.

No good farmer would throw his seed around, hither and yon, wildly and indiscriminately, the way the sower in Jesus’ parable did.

Jesus’ explanation of the parable shows that he understood it was a bad idea to sow seed on the path or in the rocks or in the briars; so why did he say that the sower did that?

I pointed out to Daddy that Jesus wasn’t teaching agriculture in this story; he was preaching the gospel; but Daddy would not be persuaded.

(Though Daddy said the Gospel was more important to him than farming, I’m not really sure that was true.)

Be that as it may, that conversation got me to thinking and opened up to me a whole new way of looking at this story.

For many years I had focused on the easy, three-point sermon or Bible study about why people fall away from the faith.

You know; some people are just too involved in the world to pay attention to spiritual things; they hear the word, but not really, these are the path.

Other people get all excited about the Gospel for a while, but then their excitement dies down because they don’t grow in their faith; they are the rocky ground.

Then there are the ones who lose their faith when trouble comes, when sickness and persecution and trial attack their lives. These are the ones in the thorns.

Then this classic three-point sermon ends with an admonition not to be bad soil, not to be hard of heart, or not to be too busy with the world or let the normal difficulties of life kill your faith.

And the remedy for being bad soil is to be good soil; which usually ends up sounding like, “Be good little Christians and listen to the pastor and come to church a lot and be on a committee and your faith will grow.”

Which is all very nice; but really isn’t what Jesus is talking about in this text.

The more I looked at it the more I realized that Daddy was right; Jesus was a lousy farmer; but he was a great preacher and storyteller.

Jesus’ point in this story was NOT to fuss at those who fail to receive the Gospel, or those whose faith begins to fade or those who abandon the faith in the face of trouble. His point here is to encourage those who go out to sow the seed of the Kingdom of God.

When I was in college, I worked on a tobacco farm in Eastern North Carolina. It was in the early days of mechanized tobacco harvesting and we worked on a contraption pulled by a tractor through the field.

The harvesters, “the croppers” we were called, sat on low seats a few inches from the ground. We “picked” the leaves of the plants and put them in a conveyer belt system that carried them to a platform about 10 feet in the air where the “stringers” tied the leaves onto the tobacco sticks to be hung in the barn for curing.

Our harvester was malfunctioning. The conveyer system wasn’t working properly and leaves were dropping out behind us. We kept stopping and starting while trying to fix the machine.

There was a precocious 6-year-old boy who was a friend of the family and was watching us work. He observed our troubles for a while and then walked up to the Farmer and said, “Well, You can’t elevate’em all, can you Mr. Virgil.”

“You can’t elevate’em all” is at least a part of Jesus’ message in the parable of the sower. Even Jesus could not always “Elevate’em all.” Over in the last chapter of Matthew is one of my favorite lines in the Bible.

Matthew 28:16-17 – “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him they worshiped him; BUT SOME DOUBTED.”

But some doubted! What do you have to do to convince some people? Jesus got himself killed and then God brought him back from the dead and these eleven, who had been with him from the first, saw him in his resurrected state and yet, some doubted!

You can’t elevate’em all, can you Mr. Virgil?

That’s point one of this parable. Here’s point two.

You can’t elevate’em all, but you should try.

Remember I said Jesus was a bad farmer but a good preacher? Here’s why.

A good farmer prepares the soil, and then carefully avoids the path and the rocks and the briars. A good farmer doesn’t waste his seed and his efforts on spreading seed where it is unlikely to grow.

But we’re not farmers, we’re preachers. Not just me, all of us.

We are each and every one of us called upon to spread the good news that God loved the world so much that Christ came down from heaven to live among us and died to save us from our sins. 
 
And that God loved the Christ so much that God raised him from the dead, and God loves each one of us so much that God will raise us from the dead.

That’s Good News. And it’s our job to tell everybody. And, all too often, we don’t. We try to decide who the right people to tell it to are. We try to decide who will fit in with us at our church. We try to figure out who we want to be a part of our church, and that’s just wrong.

In this parable Jesus shows us that to be a good sower of Gospel seed,

a good preacher of the Kingdom, a good spreader of God’s love and mercy we have to spread it to everybody; whether they deserve it or not; whether they are likely to receive it or not; whether we like them or not. 
 
Doesn’t matter if they are Paths, Rocks or Briars; it’s our job to throw the Gospel at them.

We are called to sow the seed of the kingdom, indiscriminately, wildly, prolifically, tossing out bouquets of God’s love to everyone around us.

Who knows; they might need it and they might grow.

Amen and amen.


Year A — The Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9)

Commentary for July 3, 2011
Click here for today’s texts

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
An evocative story, on several levels. Poor old Isaac and his story so often get short shrift when compared with the other “patriarchs” of Genesis! Even in today’s text, he is almost secondary — an adornment to the text, which focuses on the faithfulness of Abraham’s servant and the willingness of Rebekah. But, I digress…

Since we read last week’s text concerning God’s testing of Abraham, the years have passed, Isaac has grown to marriageable age, and “the LORD has greatly blessed” Abraham. Unlike Tevye (of Fiddler on the Roof fame,) he IS a wealthy man!


Just one more detail needs to be managed: a proper wife for Abraham’s heir. The arrangement between the servant and Abraham is both intimate and intricate — 24:1-4 indicates the servant (most likely Eliezer, who has been Abraham’s house steward for many years, cf. 15:2) was asked to place his hand “under Abraham’s thigh.” 


That’s about as intimate as it gets, don’t you think? It is highly likely that this involved grasping Abraham’s genitals, as if to say to the servant, “Look, this is my entire future family we’re talking about here…this is IMPORTANT!” 


Certainly, the servant took his commission seriously. The almost painful repetition of the story word-for-word at each telling of his assignment serves to drive home the point that he did NOT want to mess this up. And, he doesn’t. The servant even prays to the “God of my master Abraham” for guidance. He is faithful in every detail.


Thus, the story positions Rebekah as divinely destined to fill her role as wife to Isaac, and bearer of the continuing line of covenant-bearers (after a little folderol with pottage and birthrights and such…more on that later.)


I love the line in v.64: “When she saw Issac, she slipped quickly from the camel…” The Hebrew word is napal, which usually means “to fall, or to cast (as in cast lots).” She fell off her camel when she saw young Isaac! Theirs is an actual love story (see the conclusion in v.67.) 

Those are so rare in these harsh times; maybe I’m overly romantic and I’m just stretching the interpretation a bit here, but indulge me, will ya’? There’ll be plenty of time for drama later.


Psalm 45:10-17
Psalm 45 matches nicely with the Rebekah/Isaac story. “Forget your people and your father’s house, for the king will desire your beauty…. [You] will have sons, and [God] will make them princes in all the earth.”


These primal stories were important for the Hebrew people as they looked back and saw the faithfulness, not only of their ancestors, but of God in keeping God’s covenant promises.


Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Where do you find better love poetry (to celebrate a love story) than in the Song of Songs? Gotta love the eternal optimism of youth in this paean to the power of love: “the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come….”

Zechariah 9:9-12
The prophet’s words echo the singing of the “daughters of Zion and Jerusalem” — and remind us that God’s purpose has often been ushered in on the backs of lowly animals like camels and donkeys. All God’s creatures got a place in the choir! (a pretty cool video of this song can be found here)

Psalm 145:8-14
Nationwide Insurance has made their impression on the American psyche with their trademark slogan, “Nationwide is on your side.” They’ll be there for us in times of trouble, right?

The psalmist predates Nationwide by several thousand years with his assertion that “The LORD upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.” That’s who’s on your side!

Romans 7:15-25a
I’ve always considered this stretch of Romans 7 to be one of the Bible’s most honest moments. The Apostle, prone to bluster and braggadocio so much of the time, here identifies the most human of frustrations: “I don’t understand my own actions.” 

Sin is a powerful force in our lives, even after our acceptance of Christ and commitment to walk in his ways. It’s kind of the ultimate inconvenient truth that is outlined here — “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” Don’t you hate it when that happens?

There is help– and, ultimately, victory — in Christ. But it’s a grind sometimes.

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Christ’s words to close this section of the gospel reading are the perfect prescription for the woeful misery described by Paul in Romans (see above.)

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Lord, let me take up your yoke just one more day — today.

Always a bit of a dilemma for the preacher when Sunday falls astride a major patriotic holiday. Dr. Chilton resolves this tension nicely in this week’s sermon from Romans 7.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

For many people, Independence Day is simply an excuse for a long weekend in the middle of summer; a chance to take a little trip, to get into a summertime sort of mood. Go to the beach or the mountains or the lake, grill out and chill out.

A few years ago, a writer in the Nashville paper complained that churches don’t celebrate Patriotic Holidays anymore, by which he meant, I presume, the playing of patriotic music, etc.

A pastor wrote back saying that the church has a higher agenda than a secular holiday, that the church is obligated to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ above all else.

I found myself agreeing with each of them. As the son of a man who served and suffered in Europe in WWII and as the nephew of a man who died in the Pacific at the age of 19 fighting the Japanese,

I too lament our turning a “Holy-Day” intended to show respect for the sacrifices of many that have secured and protected our Freedom, our Independence, into an excuse for a long weekend.

On the other hand, the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot take second place to any other agenda in the life of the church. And, I keep thinking about all Jesus’ words about being peacemakers and turning the other cheek and forgiving our enemies.

We have drawn the lines of discussion about this in such a way that it is difficult to keep God and country in right relationship. We have trouble talking about this subject in the church without either dishonoring the dead or glorifying war.

True story. Small Southern town. The Town Council asked a young architect and landscape artist to create a Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial out of a narrow vacant lot downtown.

He landscaped the lot into a grassy knoll with winding walkways, flower beds and park benches. He created a monument, moderately sized, out of local granite. On the two side panels were listed the locals who had served and died in Vietnam. In the center he designed an etching of one weary soldier carrying a wounded buddy on his shoulders. It was cruciform without being a cross. It was meant to evoke service and sacrifice and “no greater love”.

The Town Council approved everything but the center picture. They got a stone cutter at the quarry to etch in the scene of raising the flag at Iwo Jima instead. They even painted the Red, White and Blue on the Flag. Wrong symbol from the wrong war.

By replacing the cruciform symbol of service, sacrifice and suffering with one of victory and triumph, the town council demonstrated America’s ambiguous attitude toward the wars which our country has fought. On the one hand, we lament the loss of life, we honestly mourn those of our families and communities who died, we carry a deep sorrow for their pain and suffering. We mean it. We are not hypocrites.

But, on the other hand, we sometimes get carried away with our pride in America’s military might, with our “won-loss” record if you will.


As Christians, we must always shy away from the glorification of war.

War is mean, nasty and ugly. It is the result of the failure of humanity to settle issues of economics and ethnic tensions peacefully.

War is the eruption of our inherent sinfulness on a national and global scale.

War occurs when pride and materialism and greed and hatred of the other overwhelm within us the divine call to peace with justice.

For Christians, war comes when we forget that we are not of this world, but are sent into this world by the Prince of Peace, to spread the Gospel of Peace.

As Paul says in Romans: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

One of my childhood pastor’s explained original sin this way:

“Original Sin means that there is something in us that just can’t wait to mess up a good thing.”

The longer I live, the more right he seems. At the beginning of the 20th Century, much was written about how the world was on the cusp of its greatest Golden Age. Science, technology, learning were leaping ahead at a record pace. The end of war and disease and poverty were practically in sight, or so it was thought.

A look back at the last 100 years shows a much different picture. We have seen two world wars, the rise of totalitarian governments, the use of weapons of mass destruction, new diseases and behavior related health problems. We are trying to destroy the earth and sea and all that is in them.


What happened? Well we did. We, the human race. We, all of us. Original sin erupted and continues to erupt in our persistent habit of messing up a good thing.

What we do on Independence Day is weep for those who lost their innocence and perhaps their lives in the service of their country.


Independence Day is an opportunity to prayerfully remember those who have suffered and died because of the world’s inability to live love and justice on an international scale.

My Daddy lived until he was 80. Until he went to the hospital a week or so before he died, he lived in the house he was born in.

The only time he spent any real time away from there was when he was in Europe in WWII.

He never told us much about it until the last year of his life, and then in bits and pieces.

Buddies who were there one minute and blown up the next, little French and German children stepping on mines or begging for food.

As I sat at that kitchen table, listening to him talk, coffee cup in one hand and cigarette in the other, I began to understand his years of staring into the distance, the emotional distance, the stoic devotion to duty.

Then he began to weep, his 80 year old shoulders going up and down, as he cried for someone named Willie from Oklahoma and I cried for Willie and Daddy and millions of others, American and English and French, Korean and Vietnamese and Iraqi and Afghan and all those caught up in the senselessness and pain.

Freedom is a gift and a responsibility and a burden. We are called to what one Ethics Textbook called “Responsible Freedom.”

With the gift of freedom comes the responsibility of respecting and protecting the freedom of others.


As Christians we must always celebrate our country’s efforts to live out that responsibility without turning a blind eye to our failures and imperfections.

Only God is perfect, and only Jesus was sinless and all the rest of us, as individuals and as countries, do our best and pray for God’s mercy and forgiveness.

And the Good News, God’s mercy is great, Jesus’ love is wide and our sins are forgiven. Thanks be to God.

Amen and amen


Year A — The Second Sunday of Pentecost (Proper 8)

Commentary for June 26, 2011
Click here for today’s readings

Genesis 22:1-14
I’ve often wondered why God felt the need to “test” Abraham. I mean, geez, just take a gander back over everything that’s happened to him since God called him in chapter 12. What else does the man need to endure in order to demonstrate his faith in God’s plan?

Okay, there was that little white lie about Sarah being his sister, and the dalliance with Hagar that produced a  soon-to-be mortal enemy of Issac, the child of promise. But, other than that….

I suppose God doesn’t need a reason to allow a little testing in the lives of God’s people of faith; this story certainly sets the bar at the impossibly high level of willing sacrifice of one’s own child. The other thought I have often had when considering this story is that it would have been much more tolerable for Abraham to offer his own life than it must have been to consider placing Isaac on that altar.

There is the issue in this text of violence to children, and it seems awfully harsh to our 21st-century sensibilities. Certainly, I cannot justify a hermeneutic that would make such actions the norm or desirable for “faith-testing” in our day and time. I cannot speak for God on this one.

All I know is that Abraham trusted and God provided. Isaac survived, as did the promise of God.

Sacrifice and deliverance never dwelt more closely together than at the moment God’s command stayed Abraham’s hand on Moriah — that is, until the cry of the Christ at Calvary.

Psalm 13
“How long, O Lord?”

Countless lips have breathed the prayer, before and after the psalmist set this text. There are those moments in life that we feel that God has certainly forgotten about us — or, at the very least, that God is not paying attention!


With darkened eyes and shaken soul, it is still the song of our salvation that lifts from a trusting heart. Is it naive to remember the goodness of God from our past in hopes that God will hear our prayers yet again in our next time of trouble?


Naive, maybe; faithful — certainly.


Jeremiah 28:5-9
“Not so fast, my friend!”

Jeremiah throws down a bit of a gauntlet before his colleague, Hananiah, who was most likely trying to soothe some political feathers with his prophecy about Israel’s soon redemption from the oppression of Babylon. Jeremiah, fit with a wooden yoke about his neck, was all for Hananiah’s optimistic prediction.

But, he knew that there was a lot more to this prophetic gig than fancy words and popular remonstrations against an unpopular oppressor. In order to proclaim, “the word of the Lord, ” it is helpful for one to have actually gotten a word from the Lord!

Preachers, we had best take note.

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
Sometimes, it’s just good to know the secret handshake and be a part of the club. Verse 15 is one of my new favorites: “Happy are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your countenance….”

Romans 6:12-23
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a lot of “slave and master” language in the Bible. This is just one more bit of biblical anachronicity that tends to make us uncomfortable. But, in this instance, I think it’s worth it to try and get past our cultural misgivings in order to understand the power of the image.

We do tend to offer our allegiance to causes outside of ourselves, don’t we? We can become “slaves” to all sorts of things in life: our work, our play (are you ready for some football?), our desire for success or acceptance.

The Apostle here writes about our slavishness to sin, pretty much a done deal if you accept the theology that underlies the rest of Romans. We’re chained to a sinful lifestyle, and it ain’t pulling us nowhere but down!

In Christ, God offers us the chance to become slaves to righteousness. We “surrender” and “present” ourselves as “living sacrifices” (see Romans 5:1-2, a powerful image when coupled with the Isaac story, above.)

This slavery, however, has a much different result: not death, but instead the free gift of eternal life in Christ.

Matthew 10:40-42
Four sure-fire ways to reap a heavenly reward: 

  • offer a cup of cold water to a child (I suppose juice or even Kool-aid might do) 
  • welcome a righteous person
  • welcome a prophet
  • welcome the one who comes in Jesus’ name 

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Some things ought to be obvious, but apparently they’re not.  This is the reason we have government warning labels on everything.
I read one on a beer bottle once:  Consumption of large amounts of alcohol may impair judgement.
I was visiting an older parishioner once.  She asked me to help her sort her medicines.  On the side of her prescription sleeping pills I read; May cause drowsiness. 
Like I said, some things ought to be obvious.  Like the words of Jesus in our Gospel lesson; whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones . . .
Gee whiz, does Jesus think he has to tell us to be kind to little children?
Well, the alarming statistics about child abuse in this country would indicate that there are a large number of people who do indeed need to be warned and reminded about that.
And also, ordinary kindness and generosity to little children is only a part of what Jesus is getting at here.  There is a much more complex meaning in these three short verses.
The text comes at the end of a sequence in Matthew’s gospel in which Jesus has been preparing his disciples to go out into the world to preach the Kingdom.  He is telling them how to respond to the variety of ways their efforts will be received. 
When he says, whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me Jesus is drawing line from the disciples through himself to the creator God.  To welcome a disciple is the same as welcoming God into your home.  This is a twofold promise.
One the one hand it reminds the disciples to be humble about the reception they receive, for that welcome is not for them, it is for God.
On the other hand, it reminds them that they do not go out representing themselves and their own wisdom and power; they got out representing God.
We all need to remember this as we go about our business of being Christians, disciples of Jesus in the world.  It is not about us, it is about God.
Then in verse 41, Jesus drives the point home by reminding the disciples of the biblical stories of prophets and righteous person being received as a way of honoring God and serving God.
And in verse 42, He makes one of his classic reversals, turning things upside down and inside out; taking our expectations and rearranging them. 
Just as we’ve gotten used to the idea of honoring important people, like disciples and prophets and Lutheran pastors as a way of honoring God, Jesus switches to talking about children:  and whoever gives even a cup of water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple. –
See what he did? The disciples were feeling pretty good, thinking about being connected to the prophets and Jesus, and even God, and then the tables are turned and they are being compared to children.
The message of Jesus, the message of the Kingdom of God, the message that is the Gospel is a message of reversal, of upside down and sideways values, there those who are seen by the world to be on top are known to really be on the bottom, and those on the bottom are esteemed by God as the most important of all.
In this little text Jesus subtly moves the disciples through a sequence that leads them away from thinking about how important they are to thinking about how they can serve the least important people in the world in the name of Jesus.
A child can do no work, a child possesses no power with which to bestow favor, a child has no wisdom or prestige or significance to share.  To the ancient world, most children were nothing more than a nuisance, another mouth to feed, another brat under foot until they became old enough to work at the age of 5 or 6.
  
So when Jesus bestows upon them the same value as disciples and  prophets and righteous persons, indeed, if you follow the logic of the text, the same value as himself and God; when Jesus does this he has done an incredibly radical and unheard of thing.
And it is just this sort of radical and unheard of thing to which we modern day disciples and sent ones, 21st century prophets and persons who aspire to be righteous, have been called.
We have been called to go out in the name of Jesus Christ to share our stuff and God’s love with those whom the world rejects and turns its back on.
We have been called to give radical hospitality to illegal aliens and people who keep failing in life and to those unable to work and take care of themselves.
We have been called to look at people not with our own eyes but with the eyes of Christ.
We have been called to love the loveless, not with our cold and shriveled hearts, but with the heart of Christ which overflows with love for all.
We have been called to care for others whether they deserve it or not; because none of us is disciplined and righteous and prophetic enough to deserve the love of God; it has been given  to us as a gift, and we are called to give it to others free of charge and free of judgement.
Yes sisters and brothers, we have been called to the ministry of welcoming and receiving and giving and loving and the only question left is,
“How will we answer that call?”
Amen and amen.

Year A — Trinity Sunday

Commentary for June 19, 2011
Click here for today’s readings

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
In the beginning, before there were any of the spectacular results of creation/order, the ruach — the Spirit/Breath/Wind that comes from God — was moving (or hovering, or even “brooding” as a mother hen) over the stuff of primordial existence. I like the mysteriousness — the ethereal, quasi-substantial, almost eerie beginning of this Genesis passage.


Before anything was solid, well-lit, clearly defined or ordered to the smallest detail — God was there, stirring the pot and sticking God’s finger into the stew, so to speak, trying and testing the recipe.


There is great comfort to be taken from the care with which God sets the world in place; each creature, every cloud, the mountains, the trees, the lakes, the oceans — all get the determined (and, I believe, delighted) focus of the Creator at one moment or another.


That God cares enough to put “our” world in such good order is an assuring bit of knowledge. But, I must admit that I appreciate all the more the fact that, even when life is chaotic — unformed, coming apart at the seams — the Spirit of God is still and always there. 


We can all use a little “brooding over” from time to time.


Psalm 8
IMHO, one of the finest choral settings (ever) of this psalm text is that of Tom Fettke and Linda Lee Johnson, released as “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name” in 1978 (see link for anthem here.) 

If you are unfamiliar with this piece — or if you would just like to enjoy a moment of worship thanks to the wonder of internet technology — here is a very nice recording of its performance by the combined choirs of Beymer United Methodist Church, Hope Presbyterian Church, First Presbyterian Church, and the Polk Community College Chorale of Winter Haven, Florida.

Alleluia!


2 Corinthians 13:11-13
One of the “trinitarian formulas” included in the New Testament, of which there are not many. (See Dr. Chilton’s comments in the sermon, below.)


Note the absence of “Father, Son, Spirit” language here — instead, a focus on grace, love, and communion (koinonia) as the outworking of God’s personalities.

How might we need to be open to re-imaging in our understanding of God’s unique three-in-one existence as part of our own theology/worship today?


Matthew 28:16-20
As part of the “Great Commission” — which, in evangelical circles, at least, often focuses mainly on Jesus’ command to “GO” into all the world — Matthew’s gospel records one of the few references to “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” as part of the injunction to baptize in the name of God.


Commentators differ as to whether this quote is original with Jesus, or was a later insertion by the worshiping community as they worked out what it meant to know” God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.” (from the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy by The Rt. Rev. Reginald Heber)


Personally, it matters little to me whether the words came from Jesus’ lips on the day of his departure; they are the truth for our worship and practice today, as they have been for generation after generation of Christ’s followers. 


Let us not strain too mightily at theological gnats in order to swallow doctrinal camels, thereby missing the joy of God’s presence in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God’s people.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

I’m doing this from memory, because I haven’t seen a copy — mine or anyone else’s — of Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice in about 30 years.
In that book, Cleaver tells of his first encounter with Christianity, in a religion class at Soledad Prison. He remembered being asked to come up with an explanation of the Trinity. He studied the text and the Bible and had an idea. He said they went to class and the teacher, a local minister, asked if anyone could explain the Trinity. Several people raised their hands, Cleaver included.
The minister/teacher pointed to first one, then another. After each one, he said. “Wrong, sit down.” Before he got to Cleaver, he quit and said, “This is the point. It’s impossible to explain the Trinity without getting it wrong.” Cleaver was glad he had not been called on. He was sure his comparison to three-in-one oil was going to get a giant putdown.

Although his teaching style was a bit rude, the teacher had a point. Explaining the Trinity is tricky, nigh on to impossible.

The most common way most of us think, and talk about it, is heresy.
It’s called modalism and it goes like this:
There is one God, who we experience in three modes. Like I’m one person, but to my wife I’m husband and to my sons I’m father, yet to my parents I’m son. One person, three ways of being known. Makes sense, right? Sure, but it’s wrong!
I am reminded here of my Aunt Mildred on the telephone.
After a long gossip session she would say, “Well, I would tell you more, but I already told you more than I heard myself.” At least, that’s what Uncle LW said she said.
When we try to explain the Trinity, we usually say more than we heard ourselves. Because the Bible refers to the Trinity, but does not explain it.
In our lessons for today: Genesis has the Spirit moving on the waters and God creating the world by speaking it into being; and since John’s Gospel says that the Son is the Word of God, Christians can find traces of the Trinity in the creation account — if they are so inclined.
The New Testament and the Gospel readings are more explicit; using a couple of varying “trinitarian formulas;” one referring to baptizing in the name of the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” and the other giving the order differently and not using the term father and stressing more peace, love and grace than the particular persons or names.
No where do we find the word trinity or an explanation of how God is both three and one at the same time. Like I said, we have to be careful not to say more than we heard ourselves.

Me, I’m lazy. I use golf theology. Used to play golf with a minister friend of mine and we came up with the term.
We got to thinking about all the people we knew who spent a lot of time on the golf course complaining about their lie, or trying to improve their lie, legally or, most often, illegally and sneakily, moving the ball out of sand traps and from behind tress when they thought no one was looking.
Or they were obsessing about their score, or they were trying to improve their score, or they were lying about their score, etc.
And we realized that neither of us worried too much about all that. We were just glad to be out of the office and out on the golf course, whacking away at the ball in the general direction of the hole.

Then, being preachers, we started thinking of all those pastor friends we knew who were always trying to improve their theological lie, trying to make things make better sense, etc. And we decided that we were golf theologians, we preferred to take things as they came, to play it as it lay, to whack away in the general direction of heaven.


So, rather than spend a lot of time on the philosophical understanding of the Trinity, I prefer to think a lot about the Trinity’s implications for the Christian life.
I like to meditate on the fact that God exists in community, in a family, a family of equals who share one calling and goal and life, but exist within that community and family as unique individuals who are stronger together than they could ever be apart.
That makes the church make a whole lot more sense to me, because if we’re made in the image of God and God needs community, then it makes sense that we need community too; a community that is called together to move in the same general direction, loving each other and serving the world.
And sometimes when I think about the Trinity, I think about how each of us has different spiritual personalities and how some of us respond to the Father, the Creator, and how others of us really resonate to God in Christ, the Son. There are many others who are drawn into the Godlife by the Spirit.
It just fascinates me how the idea of the Trinity manages to touch all those spiritual bases and keep them all in balance.
Our calling today, on this Holy Trinity Sunday, is neither figuring out the Trinity nor explaining it.
Our calling is living the Trinity in our lives and in the holy and loving community we call the church.
Our calling is to join with one another in caring for creation.
Our calling is to take up our cross and follow the Christ in the work of spreading God’s love in the world.
Our calling is to pray together and to be open to the leading of God’s Spirit on our lives, come what may. AMEN