Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Monday, May 26, 2008


"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside very weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us ...” Hebrews 12:1

Today we pause to say "Thank you" to all to those soldiers, marines, sailors, nurses, and airmen who have died in the service of this country.

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who fought and died for their country. They fought and died for what their country stands for--freedom and justice for all people. They answered the call to service. Their answer to that call was witness to their commitment to a noble cause.

In service to that call, they sacrificed their lives. They are part of the great cloud of witnesses we honor and remember today.

Remembering, or remembrance, in the Bible is what forms identity and determines conduct of the people of Israel and the early church.

When the people of Israel remembered how they were freed from slavery in Egypt and the God who gave them their freedom, they remembered who they were and whose they were. They remembered God is a God who loves righteousness and justice. When they remembered, they knew God expected them to treat one another and the stranger with righteousness and justice, kindness and mercy.

The early church was built on remembering Jesus Christ--his life, death and resurrection. Every Sunday was, and is, a memorial day in which all that God has done for the church and the world in Jesus Christ is remembered. This remembering is how God reminds us who we are and whose we are. Our remembrance causes us to witness to Jesus Christ in the world and follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In like manner, when we remember our fallen brothers and sisters, we remember who we are and whose we are. We honor their memory when we honor the cause for which they fought and died--the principles upon which our country was founded, namely freedom and justice for all people.

We honor their memory when we work for justice and peace in the world; when we become a non-violent and peaceful people who lives justly with kindness and mercy for all.

We honor their memory when we live in such a way that violence and war will be prevented and eventually abolished from the face of the earth.

We have a responsibility to our fallen brothers and sisters, a responsibility that calls us to be good stewards of the freedom we enjoy and often take for granted.

One of the responsibilities of freedom is to love justice by seeing to it that all people are treated justly

To work for justice and honor their memory is to be advocates for peace and non-violence.

When I was at the Vietnam War Memorial on Memorial Day weekend in 1995, I attended the Memorial Day Writers Festival. Listening to those soldiers share their experiences, I walked over to a Marine who had just finished reading some of his poetry. I introduced myself and thanked him for his words, his witness, and his courage. Then I asked him if he could give me any advice about what I could say to the veterans I was to address back home during our community Memorial Day cermonies. He told me the one thing that should be said :

“The greatest honor and witness and memorial we can give to our fallen brothers and sisters would be to live our lives in such a way that war will never again be an option for nations to resolve their conflicts.

“The greatest honor we can give to their memory would be to give our children a world in which justice and peace are honored and war is no more.

“The greatest memorial we can build is a world in which young men and women will never again have to suffer and die on battlefields.”

Let us be a people who love justice and make peace for our children and grandchildren.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Trinity = Love

            The essence of the trinity is not the functions that are usually emphasized in an effort to avoid using the masculine terms of the traditional divine name. In their place creator, redeemer, sustainer, or similar functional terms are used. While the actions of God are certainly important, they are not the essence or power of God. I contend that emphasis on these actions, or functions, to the neglect of the true nature of the trinity do little to help Christians relate to God or to one another.

            In fact it is an incipient modalism. Describing the triune God by function implies that God can be separated. The creator does not require the redeemer. The redeemer does not participate in the work of creation. The sustainer does not take part in neither creation nor redemption. Each function can be seen as independent of the others. There is no necessary relationship within or between them. This is, of course, antithetical to the Biblical trinity.

            Another problem posed by emphasizing the functional names of creator, redeemer, sustainer (or creator, Christ, Spirit) is functional unitarianism. This approach affirms the unity and one-ness of God; which is a good thing. However, it also lends itself to a unitarianism that neglects the uniqueness of the persons of the trinity. The functional naming of God can be interpreted as a singular God (monad) who performs the three divine functions of creator, redeemer, and sustainer alone. Consequently, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit become redundant and we end up with a unitarian God.

            This is a problem because the essence and power of the doctrine of the trinity is the inherent relational nature of God in communicates. The trinity reveals that God’s nature is revealed in the relationships within God’s self. In other words, God’s nature is not revealed in function or action. God’s nature is revealed in relationships of self-giving love. This relational nature is revealed in the traditional Trinitarian name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

            When wrestling with the nature and name of God one must begin by acknowledging that we are struggling with mystery. Evidence of this is the truth that the Trinitarian name is not meant to assign gender to the persons of the Trinity. Rather, the formula is intended to communicate God’s relational nature. The essence of God’s inner life is the relationship of Parent, child and Spirit. God the Father is not a solitary, divine patriarch. Rather, God is Father/Mother because of God’s relationship with the Son. The relationship shapes the name. Jurgen Moltmann puts it this way in his The Trinity and The Kingdom: 

“If we think in Trinitarian terms … we begin with the second definition [of God the Father] in the Apostles’ Creed: God the Father is the Father of his only begotten Son Jesus Christ, who became our elder brother. It is in respect to this Son that God must be called ‘Father’. His fatherhood is defined by the relationship to this Son, and by the relationship of this Son Jesus Christ to him. Consequently, in the Christian understanding of God the Father, what is meant is not ‘the Father of the universe’, but simply and exclusively ‘the Father of the Son’ Jesus Christ. It is solely the Father of Jesus Christ whom we believe and acknowledge created the world. It is in the Trinitarian sense that God is understood as Father – or he cannot be understood as Father at all. But anyone who wants to understand the Trinitarian God as Father must forget the ideas behind this patriarchal Father religion – the super-ego, the father of the family, the father of his country, even ‘the fatherly providence’. He must gaze solely at the life and message of his brother Jesus: for in fellowship with the only begotten Son he will recognize that the Father of Jesus Christ is his Father too, and he will understand what the divine fatherhood really means. The name of Father is therefore a theological term – which is to say a Trinitarian one; it is not a cosmological idea or a religious-political notion. If God is the Father of this Son Jesus Christ, and if he is only ‘our Father’ for his Son’s sake, then we can also only call him ‘Abba’, beloved Father, in the spirit of free sonship.” 

What this tells us is that the essence and power of trinity is self-giving love. The writer of 1 John expresses this truth bluntly: 

“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16b). 

Charles Wesley powerfully expresses this truth in his hymn “Wrestling Jacob:” 

“’Tis Love! ‘tis Love! thou diedst for me,

I hear thy whisper in my heart.

The morning breaks, the shadows flee,

Pure Universal Love thou art:

To me, to all, thy mercies move –

Thy nature, and thy name is Love. 

Therefore, the triune name of God does not connote gender or patriarchy; it is a theological formula that communicates God’s nature. Like any mystery this presents a challenge to all who seek to know and understand this God who is creator, redeemer, and sustainer of the world. The gift of faith equips Christians to wrestle with and live into the mystery that is the triune God who is revealed in, with, and for the world as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

For example, God’s triune nature sheds light on the meaning of humans as being created in the “image of God.” We can safely say that to be created in the image of God does not tell us that human beings look like God or that God looks like us. Since God is Spirit and spirit by its very nature cannot be seen, the image of God does not mean that God looks like us. What it does mean is that we share something of God’s character. Because love is the essential character of God, to be made in God’s image means that human beings are created with the capacity to give and receive love. In other words, human beings are “hard wired” for relationship. We are created for God and for one another. 

Bishop Desmond Tutu describes this essential human nature with the concept of ubuntu. Roughly translated, ubuntu means “I am because we are.” In other words, “I can only become fully me as long as I am part of the community.” Human beings need love and relationships in order to become fully the persons God created us to be. 

The doctrine of the Trinity also gives us a much more faithful and robust understanding of sin than believe in the unitarian god. I’ll deal with that in my next post.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"Baptized into One Name"

Matthew 28:19
Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

As we prepare to celebrate Trinity Sunday, here is a sample of trinitarian theology in the form of poetry by Charles Wesley:

Baptized into one only name
The Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
One nature we in Three proclaim,
One God for our salvation trust:
One God eternally abides,
One undivided Trinity,
And the whole Deity resides
In each of the mysterious Three.

Each Person properly Divine,
Co-equal in majestic power,
With all his heavenly host we join
The great Jehovah to adore:
And worshipping the Triune God
In confidence of humble love,
We soon shall reach his bright abode,
And see his open face above.

[#105 from Hymns on the Trinity, 1767 (LM)]

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pentecost Reflection

“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:21-22). 

            This text tells us that the risen Lord is the Jesus who was crucified. We know this because he carries the marks of the cross in his body. The nail marks are his ID. When he appears to his frightened disciples the first thing he does is show them the marks of the cross. Only then do they relax and believe the report they had received earlier from Mary, John and Peter.

            Jesus greets the disciples in the usual way, “Peace be with you.” He shows them the marks of the cross and then repeats, “Peace be with you.” The word he spoke to those frightened friends is “shalom.” The risen Jesus, the one who was crucified, dead and buried, came to his friends to give them God’s shalom, which is peace and much more.

            Shalom is God’s intention for the world. It is the single word that describes the coming reign of God. This shalom is peace with justice, righteousness, and loving kindness. It is the world in which all have access to life and health and love. Shalom brings forgiveness and reconciliation. It brings healing and wholeness. Shalom is God’s will for creation. Jesus is the incarnation of this shalom. It breaks into the world through his life, death, and resurrection. He gives everyone access to this shalom when he breathes the Holy Spirit into the lives of his followers.

            As he gives this shalom to his followers he also tells them they have a job to do. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” In other words, the followers of Jesus are sent out to be witnesses and agents, evangelists, of God’s coming reign of shalom. How do they do this? They do it by imitating Jesus. He sends them into the world to do what he did: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength; Love your neighbor as yourself; and “love one another as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” The gift of shalom is given so that the community of Christ can share it with the world. It is not given to be a personal blessing and benefit for their own comfort and enjoyment. Shalom is given to the disciples so that they can go and share it with the world that God loves.

            Jesus knew the disciples were not capable of living this mission for the world on their own. They were frightened and fragile men and women who would soon revert to their old habits and eventually blend into the world as though nothing had ever happened. That is why he gave them the gift of himself and his Father. He left them with the Holy Spirit. “[He] breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” The Holy Spirit will be their “comforter” and “advocate.” The Holy Spirit will be the power of God living and working in them. The Holy Spirit guide, equip and empower them to live the mission of Jesus in and for the world. With the Holy Spirit they will be able to give and receive forgiveness and to be witnesses of “God’s deeds of power” for the world.

            This passage from John’s gospel and the story of Pentecost found in Acts 2 reveal that the gifts of God’s shalom and Holy Spirit are given to equip and empower the community of Jesus for mission. While the peace of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit are certainly wonderful blessings for the church, they are given so the church will be a blessing for the world. The church is blessed to be a blessing. The church is gifted and commissioned as a sign-community of the coming reign of God. It understands that it is not the kingdom of God. But the world can get a glimpse of life in God’s reign when it sees and experiences the church’s life and witness.

            Pentecost reveals that the Church that emerged from that community of frightened followers of Jesus is equipped and commissioned for mission. Its mission field is the world that God loves. 

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Grace ... a thought that changed the world

This is one of my favorite songs. I think we need it today:

The Problem of Pride

In light of the outcome of yesterday’s debate and voting on petitions related to human sexuality, I offer these words from John Wesley. They are taken from A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. This is the beginning of a series of advices Wesley offers to those who are earnestly striving toward perfection in love, aka Christian maturity. Dr. Marjorie Suchocki referred to this passage in her very eloquent comments on the floor of General Conference. I commend them to you now. 

"Q. 32. What is the first advice that you would give them?   

"A. Beware and pray constantly against pride. If God has cast it out, see that it does not return. It is every bit as dangerous as desire. When you think there is no danger, you may slide back into it without notice. 

You may say, ‘Indeed, but I credit all I have to God.' You may do so and be proud nevertheless. For it is pride not only to credit anything we have to ourselves, but to think we have what we really do not have. For example, Mr. L credited all the light he had to God, and so far he was humble. But then he thought he had more light than any man living. This was palpable pride. So you credit all the knowledge you have to God and, in this respect, you are humble. But if you think you have more than you really have, or if you think you are so knowledgeable of God as to no longer need man's teaching, then pride is at the door. Yes, you need to be taught, not only by Mr. Morgan, by one another, by Mr. Maxfield, or me, but by the weakest Preacher in London, yes, by all persons. For God sends to us those whom he will send.  

"Therefore, do not say to any who would advise or correct you, 'You are blind. You cannot teach me.' Do not say, 'This is your wisdom, your human reason.' But calmly discern the thing in the presence of God.  

"Always remember much grace does not imply much light. These do not always go together. As there may be much light where there is but little love, so there may be much love where there is little light. The heart has more heat than the eye and yet it cannot see. God has wisely assembled the members of the body together such that none may say to another, 'I have no need of you.'[1] 

"To imagine none can teach you but those who are themselves saved from sin is a very great and dangerous mistake. Do not entertain it for a moment. It would lead you into a thousand other mistakes from which you may never recover. No, supremacy is not founded in grace, as the madmen of the last age talked. Obey and respect 'those who have charge of you in the Lord,'[2] and do not think you know better than they. Know their place and your own. Always remember that much love does not imply much light.  

"Neglecting to observe this has led some into many mistakes and into the appearance, at least, of pride. Beware of the appearance, and the thing! Let there 'be in you that lowly mind which was in Christ Jesus.'[3] And 'clothe yourselves with humility.'[4] Let it not only fill, but cover you all over. Let modesty appear in all your words and actions. Let all you speak and do show that you are small, humble, and common in your own eyes.  

"As an example of this, always be ready to own any mistake for which you are responsible. If you have at any time thought, spoken, or acted wrong do not deny or dodge your responsibility. Never dream that this will hurt the cause of God. Rather, it will further it. Therefore, be open and frank when you are accused of anything. Do not seek either to evade or disguise it. Let it appear just as it is and you will by this not hinder, but beautify the gospel.” (from A Perfect Love: Understanding John Wesley's 'A Plain Account of Christian Perfection', pages 73-74.)

A prayer for the people called United Methodists: 

God of grace and holiness,

we have sinned against you and your church.

Once again our pride has damaged your church and its witness to the world.

Once again we have rejected humility and love in favor of pride and arrogance.

Once again our prideful certainty has caused us to disobey our Lord’s command to “love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Forgive us, O God.

By your grace, help us to repent of the sin of pride.

By your grace, help us, once again, to forgive one another.

By your grace and in the name of Jesus Christ, cast out the demon of pride from among us; and replace it with humility.

Send your healing Spirit to bind the brokenness of our communion.

Comfort especially those faithful gay and lesbian sisters and brothers, your beloved children, who have been, once again, hurt and excluded and oppressed by your church’s pride and arrogance.

“Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”[5]

[1] 1 Corinthians 12:14ff

[2] 1 Thessalonians 5:12

[3] Philippians 2:5 cf

[4] 1 Peter 5:5

[5] from The Book of Common Prayer