Monthly Archives

June 2020

Welcoming Jesus

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Welcoming Jesus”

Rev. Art Ritter

June 28, 2020

 

Matthew 10:40-42

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

 

Dan DeLeon tells the story of traveling with a group of students from the Center for Global Education to the Mexican village of Amatian.  A resident of the village spoke to the group about his experience crossing the border and seeking employment in the United States.  While he was talking, his wife sat next to him quietly knitting.  The man, in his thirties, told the group about how when his wife became pregnant they had no money and no financial hope so he made the decision to go to the United States to find work.  Before leaving, he worked to save $500 to pay a guide to help him cross the border, risking the blazing sun by day and unseen hazards at night.  He carried a dehydrated older man on his back for the last part of the trip.  When the group crossed the border, they were immediately intercepted by the Border Patrol and taken back to Mexico.

Without money and ashamed, he started over.  He again saved $500 for a guide and took the same journey but this time made it into the United States where he found work.  He worked ten hour shifts at less than minimum wage, washing dishes.  He was treated poorly by his employers, laughed at by his co-workers, but since he couldn’t speak much English, he could not express his anger and hurt.  He put up with the abuse quietly because he had a goal in mind.  After three years the man saved up enough money, went back home to Mexico, and met his now three year old daughter for the first time.

DeLeon said that all the while the man was telling the story, his wife continued to knit but tears began to roll down her cheek.  Finally, a young student in the group, moved by the man’s story asked, “How can we help?  What can we do to change this?”  The man telling the story looked at everyone and said, “Just be nicer.  Don’t treat us like we are horrible.  Be kind.”

Just be nicer.  Be kind.  A cold cup of hospitality poured over the simmering heat of the world’s anger and resentment.  Small acts of compassion usher in the way of God on earth as it is in heaven.

For the past three weeks, we have been reflecting upon the 10th chapter of Matthew and the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples as he sent them out to preach and teach and heal in the name of the Gospel.  We can remember from the two previous weeks that Jesus knew his friends would receive something less than a warm reception.  He wanted to remind them that their task would often be uncomfortable because it would challenge the assumptions of the world; but that the mission was urgent and important because it was God’s intention.  There was going to be opposition and hardship.  He told them to travel lightly, to bring peace to those places where peace was first offered, but to move on quickly from places where they were treated harshly.  Those disciples must have wondered how they were ever going to succeed, how they were ever going to reach the hearts and souls of anyone out there in such a time or place.

Finally Jesus closed this bit of traveling and evangelism instruction with the lesson that we hear today.  “Whoever welcomes you welcome me.  Whoever even gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple-truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”  Jesus was telling them, and I believe telling us today, that the power of God wasn’t in a textbook or creed.  God’s mercy wasn’t a secret formula or an ability that one can magically obtain.  Jesus taught that we can bring people to God with the testimony of our struggle, when our kindness that is shared, and with the proclamation of Jesus that we share in gentle and compassionate ways.  He taught that we are drawn into a relationship with God through what we see in the actions of others and what we hear in the words of others.  If we can see God in others, they can certainly see and learn about God from what they see in us.

Nineteenth century English author George Eliot wrote, “the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts.”  A cup of cold water.  Such a little thing, the disciple must have thought that day.  But Jesus seemed to accent the important nature of minimal actions.  Even a cup of cold water.  While we might imagine our witness to the world involves huge sacrifice, heroic deeds, and difficult circumstance; here Jesus reminds us that most of the time following him faithfully and preaching the gospel can be a simple as giving a cup of cold water to someone in need.  Being a disciple is responding to Jesus’ love in small acts of devotion, forgiveness, and caring that might go unnoticed by many in the world.  Yet Jesus promised that if such acts are done in his name, they will have lasting significance in the building of the Kingdom of God.  Kindness creates hospitality.  Hospitality creating understanding.  Understanding broadens our experience of others and helps us to stand at their level.  Jesus is present each and every time that we offer kindness and hospitality to others.

Jesus said the participation in the Kingdom of God is the reward for those who are righteous.  We might prefer promotions and public acclaim or gold stars, or a round of applause.  But Jesus says that our reward is something less noticeable yet something more intrinsic.  We act in welcome and hospitality and kindness because such acts participate in and point toward the Kingdom of God.  We act in welcome and hospitality and kindness because such acts themselves bring us closer to God.  Welcoming anyone, especially those whom are most vulnerable in society or most challenging for us to accept, is to welcome Jesus and to participate in the Kingdom of God.  People will see us and they will see God.

Alyce McKenzie tells of an interview that actor Michael Douglas had with Oprah Winfrey.  He spoke of his relationship with his father, Hollywood film legend, Kirk Douglas, and told this story.  “My dad called me the other night and said, ‘Michael, I was watching myself in an old movie earlier tonight and I didn’t remember making the movie.’  ‘Well, Dad, you made 75 movies and you are 94 years old.  Don’t be so rough on yourself for forgetting one on them.’  ‘No, Michael, you didn’t let me finish.  I realized halfway through that it wasn’t me.  I was watching one of your films.’”

McKenzie writes, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if certain aspects of our lives and ways that we relate to others were all but indistinguishable from Jesus’ own example?  What if we reminded others of Jesus, just a little bit?

Yvette Flunder, pastor of Refuge United Church of Christ in San Francisco, and frequent speaker on the Living the Questions videos we have viewed at our Mayflower Café writes that there is no ball and chain upon the heart of the body of Christ.  Welcome is crucial to the gospel and to the Kingdom of God because it actually represents Jesus.  Flunder writes, “See, when Jesus liberates us from having to distinguish between who is deserving in our judgement and who is not, the shackles of partially are loosed so that we can freely offer more and more of those simple acts of kindness to all of God’s little ones.”

Max Lucado writes, “Hospitality opens the door to uncommon hospitality.  When you open the door to someone, you are sending the message, ‘You matter to me.  You matter to God.’”  That is a wonderful way of looking at it.  Who among us would not want to assure the next person we meet, the next person we talk to, the next person who looks upon us: that they matter to God.  Church growth expert Lyle Schaller often said, “Always welcome people.  Practice hospitality.  If you are uncomfortable knocking on doors, make sure that you at least open your own door.”

Offer the cup of cold water of kindness to the stranger on the street or at the market, especially behind the masks we need to wear today.  Offer the cup of cold water of kindness to those with whom you share the road.  Offer the cup of cold water of kindness with someone who expresses a view that differs from your own worldview.  Offer the cup of cold water of kindness to someone in need.  Offer the cup of cold water in places in which you have no relationship with others, so there is a space where you can listen and learn and value until all rough places become a common ground.

In God’s eyes, with mercy and love, there are no small gestures.  When we give our lives away for a purpose beyond ourselves, we gain by bringing ourselves closer to God.  Look for people to whom you can share a divine welcome.  Look for places where you can bring a cold cup of water.  Know that even your smallest act of compassion will make our world a better place and will bring the Kingdom of God that much closer to hand.

 

 

 

 

The Great Divider

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“The Great Divider”

Rev. Art Ritter

June 21, 2020

 

 

Matthew 10:24-34

“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

One of the 20th century prophets that I always admired was Clarence Jordan.  Jordan, who died in 1969, left behind a legacy of achievement that continues today.  He was a man of genuine faith, standing for his Christian principles in the face of serious opposition.  But what I respected about his story was that he always seem to stand by his principles with a great sense of humor.

Jordan was an agricultural major at the University of Georgia and then a graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned a PhD in New Testament.  I first became aware of him when a mentor of mine in seminary would sometimes offer the weekly Scripture reading from Jordan’s folksy but amazingly accurate The Cotton Patch Gospels.  Clarence Jordan’s crowning achievement was the founding of the racially integrated Koinonia Farms in Americus, Georgia in 1942.  Koinonia Farms is a Christian agricultural community which raises crops to feed the hungry and is a place where people can go to work and serve and find hospitality.  Koinonia Farms was actually the birthplace of a more well-known service project- Habitat for Humanity.

As you might imagine, Jordan’s racially integrated project was not well received in the mid-1940’s Georgia.  When the farm tried to sell peanuts from a roadside stand, the Ku Klux Klan dynamited the stand.  Stubbornly, Jordan put up another stand.  It also got destroyed.  Jordan, always with that courageous sense of humor then resorted to mail order ads saying, “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia.”  When accused of having conversations with reputed Communist Myles Horton, Jordan wryly answered back, “I really have trouble with your logic.  I don’t think my talking to Myles Horton makes me a Communist any more than talking to you right now makes me a jackass.”

There is an old Nordic saying about the Scandinavian people.  It goes something like this:  “It is the north wind that made the Vikings strong.  Without the north wind, the Vikings would not have survived for so long.”  The point of the saying is that if the Vikings would have lived in a much warmer and suitable climate, they never would have developed the strength and resilience needed for them to become a successful people.  It was the north wind, the cold wind that made them stronger.  British historian Arnold Toynbee once wrote, “It is the difficulties that lead to a flowering of a civilization.  Any civilization which does not have difficulties or obstacles will not be a great civilization.”

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  Perhaps Jesus never spoke more challenging words.   Perhaps he never spoke more divisive words.   We can wrap our arms about the sweet, innocent baby born in a manger.  We can be motivated by his teachings about the nature of discipleship.  We can be encouraged and inspired by his healings and his lifting up of the downtrodden.  But here Jesus speaks some painfully challenging words that give us pause and make us think again.  Following him will not bring peace, but a sword.  We are not to cling to the loyalties of earthly relationships but give our life for the sake of God’s Kingdom.  Our loyalty to Jesus may put us at odds with our parents, our family, and our friends.  We are to remain firm in our commitment to Jesus and his mission, even when that commitment generates conflict for us.  Jesus taught of us taking up a cross and losing our life for his sake.  He urged us not to try and follow a middle of the road path of faith that makes us comfortable.  In following him, there will be no compromise, no peaceful walk.  Jesus called his disciples to be peacemakers but he told them and us that the very act of making peace and healing and restoring will threaten the foundation of cultural assumptions of power.

These words of Scripture this morning are words that perhaps I would rather not hear.  These are words that challenge me rather than comfort me.  These are words that prod me rather than offer me the promise of reward. These are words that promise division not unity.  These are words that challenge instead of comfort.  These are words that prod me rather than reward.

The teachings of Jesus are a bit frightening, perhaps in every age and time.  But they seem to be especially challenging given the tests and trials of our own experience.  Believing in Jesus is risky business.  There is a cost involved.  Our human relationships with family and friends will be altered.  We will have to decide whether to point out the truth about our own sins and seek forgiveness and turn our behaviors around.  We have to decide if we have the grace within us to forgive our wounds and move on with our hurts.  We have to decide whether we point out the sins of our society or simply stay quiet, compromise, be agreeable and let someone else be responsible for the change.  We will have to choose whether to proclaim that the Kingdom of God can happen right here and now or play it safe and continue to ignore the change that can end the mediocrity and sometimes tragedy of what is what is happening around us.  As we consider the work of Jesus, we all have to decipher whether or not we will embrace the call that might divide or simply choose the urge to keep things calm and settled.

Jesus knew it would be hard.  But he didn’t send his disciples out to proclaim his Kingdom without some kind of help, some kind of encouragement.  They may have been hopelessly naïve about things but at least he gave them a bit of comfort and reassurance. Alyce McKenzie compares these reminders to the beads of a pearl necklace or a wrist bracelet.  They are things we can feel wrapped around us and reminders we can count upon and trust even in the midst of every challenge of faith.  He promised this.  Everything will be known to you.  Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered.  God knows you well.  Even the hairs on your head are counted.  You are of more value than the many sparrows.  If you acknowledge me before others, I will acknowledge you before God.  Those who find their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  Remember these things and trust in my presence.  That is how you will get the job done.

Donald Miller, in his book Blue Like Jazz: Non-Religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, writes, “The trouble with deep belief is that is costs something.  And there is something inside me, some selfish beast of a subtle thing that doesn’t like the truth at all because it carries responsibility, and if I actually believe these things I have to do something about them.  It is so, so cumbersome to believe anything.  And it isn’t cool.”

Edward Markquart tells the account of Spanish essayist and philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset who was speaking about the French impressionist artist Paul Gauguin.  Most of Gauguin’s admired works were produced in his early years.  As time passed, Gauguin grew less creative and inspired and less productive in his work.  He grew disillusioned and distant.  He even attempted to take his own life by swallowing arsenic.  Ortega y Gasset said of him, “His creative energies degenerated into hobbies.”  What a terrible thing to say about someone: their passion turned into a mere hobby.  But perhaps that is what Jesus was warning us about in the words of the gospel this morning.  When our creativity and passion and courage leaves us, our faith is nothing more than a hobby.  When we fear standing out from the crowd or are worried that our actions might cause division we have lost the spirit we need.  When we think of our faith as something that will bring us a sweet life with no problems and there are no chances we have to take, then we will end up being much less of a follower of Christ than Jesus wishes.

Jesus’ passion was in bringing the Kingdom of God into being and serving it in ways that challenged the tradition and institutions and relationships of his day. In that regard, he was truly a divider.  “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  These are difficult words for us to hear.  Perhaps he meant that he did not come to bring passiveness and contentment.  Instead he brought a desire for peace that would move his followers to seek justice, healing, forgiveness, and mercy, for all of the world, and for all of God’s people.  He came to open our eyes.  And that is a challenging thing.  That is a good and challenging thing for all followers of Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

Shaking Off the Dust

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Shaking Off the Dust”

Rev. Art Ritter

June 14, 2020

 

Matthew 9:35 – 10:23

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

 

I am well aware of the frustration of social media.  I don’t spend as much time as I used to posting on Facebook or reading the latest Tweets on Twitter.  While social media is a good place to find some attention diverting humor and personal updates from old friends, these days it is also a setting for much anger and venom and false information.  I have talked with many people who are weighing the need to block or unfriend others whose views not only disagree with their own but whose views they might even find offensive or even dangerous.

A couple of months ago, in the peak of the COVID 19 crisis in Southeast Michigan I read a Facebook post contributed by a former high school classmate.  The basis of the post was that the coronavirus was a hoax and that no one other than a few older people were getting sick and that the governor’s stay-at-home orders were unnecessary and even a political stunt.  While I normally ignore these kinds of posts, something moved me that day to respond- not in anger or in judgment, but in what I thought was a presentation of some measured facts.  I told her about what I knew to be the conditions at the local hospitals here in SE Michigan and about the trials of the doctors and nurses here.  I told her that I knew of people in my congregation with the virus.  I told her that I thought COVID 19 needed to be taken more seriously.  Within minutes my former classmate and two of her Facebook friends had responded to me.  It wasn’t pretty.  I was “accused” of being taken in by the reports of the mainstream media and too easily accepting the leftist conspiracy that was attempting to control all of us.  I was taken aback, a bit stunned, and I have to admit, even hurt that the nature of my words were completely ignored by the certainty of their response.

At that moment I decided to take a break from posting on Facebook.  I still use it for church communication.  I still check it each day to read updates from friends and family.  But I seldom, if ever make a post or comment on another’s post.  I certainly avoid anything political.  In these important times with so much happening around us, I feel a bit guilty for my silence.  I want people to know where I stand but it just didn’t seem like Facebook was a place to engage in any kind of constructive dialogue.  On that day, as far as Facebook is concerned, I shook the dust off my feet and moved on quietly.

I read an article this week written by Karoline Lewis, a professor at Luther Seminary in Minnesota.  The article, written about a year ago, described the first time that she was “trolled” on Facebook.  She had always expected it to happen but when it did she felt quite stung by the hurtful comments.  Lewis said that in her social media posts, she tries to be faithful to her own commitments, to her own truth, and to her own faith.  If someone doesn’t agree with her, that is fine.  That is the nature of discourse.  But when the dialogue devolved into inflammatory remarks, she- like me, backed off from social media.  Lewis offered a quote from journalist Charles Blow saying, “One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm.  The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient.”

In the 10th chapter of the gospel of Luke, Jesus prepares to send his disciples to go out and spread the good news of the gospel.  Jesus was a realist and he knew the truth about the human condition.  He wasn’t as naïve as I was when making my Facebook comment.  He wanted to make certain that his followers knew that this discipleship business wasn’t going to be a cakewalk.  For one thing, the disciples weren’t yet qualified to be good gospel salesmen.  They were rather clueless to the shape and manner of Jesus’ mission.  Scott Hoezee writes that it was like sending high school students out to build a skyscraper.  It was an impossible task to begin with.

Jesus also knew that he was going to be rejected and that consequently those who spoke for him would also be rejected.  The task is urgent and the message is important, but it isn’t going to be as easy or as well received as you wish.  “Cure the sick.  Raise the dead.  Cleanse the leper.  Cast our demons.  But don’t get too comfortable in your tasks.  Prepare for failure.  As you enter the house, greet it.  If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”

I have shared with you before that during my senior year of high school I spent a few days campaigning for then Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern.  I still have one of his campaign signs in my Tiger Den at home.  I was pretty naïve about it all, expecting to change the world, or at least expecting to change the hearts of voters in Grand Rapids, Michigan where a group of us knocked on doors one Saturday.  I soon found out that duh, conservative Grand Rapids was not a George McGovern stronghold.  Not everyone wanted to hear what I had to say.  I don’t think anyone wanted to hear what I had to say!  I had a few doors slammed in my face.  I was called a few names.  My excitement was quickly tempered by a strong yearning to call it quits and just go home.  Jesus’ disciples must have experienced that same kind of reception.  Rejection.  An unappreciative crowd.

Likewise, not everyone wants to hear about the Kingdom of God.  Karoline Lewis writes that perhaps our own world is not much different than the mission field into which Jesus’ disciples were sent over 2,000 years ago.  As modern day disciples, trying to speak and live out the gospel message we must remember to do our work not with naïve innocence but with eyes wide open.  There are many around us who are all too comfortable in their understanding of the world.  There are many who refuse to see their sin.   There are perhaps many more who fail to see the sins of society and our culture.  There are many who only want to hear a gospel message that will save their own skin.  They do not want to know that the Kingdom of God is near because if that is true they will have to change and be moved from their places of comfort.  They will be challenged.  And so it is easier to reject the message and messenger who brings it.

Dallas Willard writes that when he was a young boy, electricity was just coming in to his rural hometown.  Yet even when the lines were up and the power was running to homes, many continued to use their old kerosene lanterns, scrub boards, ice chests, and rug beaters.  A new and better idea waited for them but they just didn’t trust it.  They thought it to be too much of a hassle, or they simply didn’t believe what they were being told.  Certainly they were more comfortable sticking to the old ways.

Jesus knew the danger of opposition and the discouragement of rejection.  He sent his disciples out in pairs hoping that they would come to understand the value of one another in preaching the gospel message.  He told them to travel lightly, to not expect times and places of satisfying success and complete comfort.  And he told them that if they were rejected, they should simply shake the dust off their sandals and move on.  Not everyone will have the ears to hear what you are saying.  Be prepared to fail and don’t be discouraged by your failure.  Don’t take it to heart.  Don’t allow the hurt of rejection to affect you.  Do not be controlled by the opinions and malice of others.  Don’t lose the joy of the gospel message.  Don’t hide behind palatable platitudes.  Don’t just go through the motions of discipleship.  Keep moving.  Get over the sting of rejection and seek out those who will receive our love and our message of the good news of Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

Perhaps my decision to mute myself on social media wasn’t the correct one.  Perhaps I need to understand that in shaking the dust off my feet, I move on but I don’t give up.  It is God who can take the dust of any failure and create something fresh and new.  It is God who can speak through any spirit of indifference and rejection with a fresh word of creation that can bring a desire to begin anew.

 

 

It’s All Relative

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“It’s All Relative”

Rev. Art Ritter

June 7, 2020

 

Matthew 28:16-20

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. And Jesus came and said 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. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

 

If you think that your family has problems, consider the marriage mayhem created when 76 year old Bill Baker of London recently wed a woman named Edna Harvey.  She happened to be his granddaughter’s husband’s mother.  That is where all the confusion began, according to Baker’s granddaughter.  The granddaughter said, “My mother-in-law is now my step-grandmother.  My grandfather is now my stepfather-in-law.  My mom is my sister-in-law and my brother is my nephew.  But even crazier is that I’m now married to my uncle and my own children are my cousins.”  Kind of reminds me of that old silly song, “Now I’m My Own Grandpa!”  A commentator remarked that because of this, the granddaughter should gain some profound insight into the theory of relativity.

This morning is Trinity Sunday.  Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday in the Christian year that is devoted to a doctrine and not an event or feast or person.  It is the day in which preachers usually bring out the same old tired clichés: holding up images of triangles or shamrocks; pointing out H2O’s ability to be water and ice and steam; or bringing up that age old story about the three blind men in the same room with an elephant.  Preachers are always trying to find a way to make the difficult concept understandable in the minds of their listeners.

The doctrine of the Trinity is not biblical.  The Trinitarian formula appears in Scripture only once, in Matthew 28, during the Great Commission when Jesus tells his disciples to go forth baptizing others in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The doctrine of the Trinity was first formulated in the fourth century and then developed throughout the succeeding centuries.  It has been the subject of many debates within councils of church authorities.  It has been the focus of wars between rulers and peoples.  It has been the starting point for many heresies and excommunications.  Today the doctrine of the Trinity is something that we usually accept without much thought, probably because we think that we are supposed to accept it, even if we don’t understand it.  Questioning it seems impolite and it may hurt our heads trying to really wrap our brain around its issues.  Martin Luther, in great wisdom once said, “To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; to try and explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity.”

Essentially the Trinity confirms that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We modernize that to say that God is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.  Back in the fourth century, when all of the Trinitarian talk first started, St. Augustine had a wonderfully simple idea.  He developed a metaphor for the Trinity that said God is Lover, Beloved, and Love itself.  I am also fond of H.C. Read’s explanation of Trinity that I have shared with you before:  God everywhere and always; God there and then; God here and now.”

One of the things that struck me most as I contemplated the Trinity is its emphasis on relationship.  Too often our faith is more mechanical than spiritual, more in our head than in our soul.   To get closer to God we might go to books for answers or test ourselves through the discipline of religious laws that measure our purity.  Yet at its simplest explanation, the Trinity teaches us that God is not an academic concept or distant law giver.  God is relational.  We truly find God when we consider the ways that God is in relationship with us.  It is when we live in relationship with God and in God with others that something of structure truly becomes something spiritual.

In her book The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers divides creative action into three categories:  idea, activity, and power.  For example, if someone is to write a novel, they must first have an idea for the book.  Then the book has to be written, chapter by chapter, bringing the book into being.  Once the book is written and published, it does no good unless other read it.   But once read the book begins to effect the reader.  It has a power of its own.  It moves them to think and act differently.  Idea, activity, and power.

Sayers’ metaphor seems to fit how we contemplate our experience of God on Trinity Sunday.  It draws our attention to the three-way interpersonal relationship of God the Creator, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  God as Father is the creative idea.  God as Son is the creative activity.  God as Spirit is the creative power.  Each is necessary for the other.   The Trinity makes us see that we are invited into relationship in a way in which God can be personally experienced, where rigid doctrine becomes living faith.  As God’s love and mercy and grace is more easily understood when we are in relationship with God; such love and mercy and grace can be more clearly lived when we are in relationship with others.  The true meaning of what God creates and calls us to be comes when we are in relationship with God and with others.

As you know, this has been a difficult week in our country, beginning with the events of Memorial Day in Minneapolis, as George Floyd, a Black American died while a police officer’s knee was upon this neck.   This has happened too many times recently, with Black Americans as victims.  At first there were peaceful protests.  Then some of the protests grew violent.  There was looting and rioting and arson.  Bricks and other dangerous objects were thrown at police.  There were tear gas and concussion grenades tossed at protestors.  Politicians postured and made threats.  Accusations were raised about who really was behind the violence.  Many supported the actions of the protestors.  Many were so upset with the looting and burning that they could not listen to the concerns of the protestors.  At the end of the week, thankfully many of the protests were peaceful and included large groups of young people.  I struggled with this week even as I wrestled with the concept of the Trinity this week.

I read a powerful Facebook post by our former Director of Music, Marcus Peterson.  Marcus wrote from his heart.  He said, “I’m upset, enraged, afraid, scared, hopeful, and black.  Being a 6’7 and a half” black man is seen as scary, and I’ve been given this look of fear many times throughout my life.  People purposely cross the street to avoid running into me …. I have been give strange looks when I walk at night, and so much more.  I’m afraid to jog anywhere other than my apartment complex or my neighborhood at home, even then I am hyper aware.  I share these experiences because we do notice and there has to be change.”

Marcus’ words were a slap in the face for me.  I thought to myself, if I did not know Marcus I might be fearful of him too.  From a distance, if I saw Marcus walking toward me my rational assumption might be to try and avoid him to protect myself.  That is sad.  It brings me no small amount of shame.

But I know Marcus.  I know him as a gentle, compassionate, thoughtful, funny, and talented young man.  To think anything else is just plain silly.  I know Marcus and long for what is best for him because we have a relationship.  We have shared experiences together.  And because I know him I am moved to examine my own attitudes toward racism and move to change my thoughts and behavior.

Things need to change.  Racism is present in our world and our society and its institutions and in us.  And it is wrong.  Change can only come when we seek the intention of God, when we are active in ways that bless others and we feel blessed by God.  In this case change can come when we seek relationships that create understanding, demand justice, and reach out in love.

Thankfully all of us here at Meadowbrook have more of a soul and heart experience of Marcus that creates trust and love, rather than a head and logic assessment that generates fear and suspicion.  Our heart and soul relationship with God needs to move us to act as God’s faithful people.  As we experience God as a creator of good and as a liberator from bondage; as we experience Jesus as a healer and Risen One who breaks down the barriers of death and oppression; as we experience the Holy Spirit as an instrument of change and energy toward hope- we want to be the force of that triune God.  God desires that we be less concerned with our comfortable prejudices, our easy political persuasions and our rigid moral judgments; and more concerned with creating relationships which focus the needs and aspirations of others.   God yearns that we would reach out to others in loving action so that our experience of them has a power to teach us something different, something holy and transforming.   We learn this by experiencing God’s creating and redeeming and sustaining power ourselves.