Trinity in Community

Originally posted on May 31, 2016

This is the sermon I presented for 22 May 2016 – Trinity Sunday.

The readings for this Sunday follow the sermon.

Listen to this sermon here.

I noticed something interesting in our lessons for today.

In every one of our lessons, the congregation, the community of believers is being addressed.

In our reading from Isaiah, Wisdom is speaking,

” To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.”

Wisdom is not speaking to an individual person, she speaks to all of us, to all that live.

In our reading from Romans, the Apostle Paul is speaking to everyone who lives in Rome. In Romans chapter 1 verse 7

” To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints”

Paul goes on to list all the people in Rome he is speaking to,
Jews and Gentiles, Barbarians, and Greeks.
The congregation of believers,
the entire Christian community.

In our reading from the gospel of John, Jesus is speaking to his disciples, and through them to all of us who are here today. Jesus is talking about how the spirit of truth, the holy spirit, who will speak to us individually, however, Jesus is addressing this message to the group,
to the congregation,
to the people who will become the Christian community.

When I was growing up, I thought of my relationship to God as that of a one-on-one personal relationship. My understanding of what it was to be a Christian was that it only involved Jesus Christ and myself. That if I believed in Jesus, and God our Father and Creator, that I was a Christian. That I would be guided by the Holy Spirit in prayer. But look at what Paul wrote to the Romans in our reading for today.

we are justified by faith
we have peace with God
we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand

Paul does not use I anywhere in this passage, because he is speaking about and to his brothers and sisters in Christ, the Christian community.

What I had not understood for so many years was how important the Christian community, the community of believers, is in our relationship with our Creator and God. All the theology I’ve been studying in the past several years has stressed that the surest way for a Christian to lose their way is for them to spend too much time by themselves.

Even the people that you would think were all on their own, like the holy hermits of the desert, or contemplative Christians: our brothers and sisters in abbeys and monasteries, live in community.

To become a Christian, all we need to do is to believe in the risen Christ, who was sent by the Lord God our Father and Creator. But to really live in Christ as a Christian, we are called to do more.
To study scripture,
to pray for understanding,
to listen in stillness for that quiet voice of the spirit of God,

And there is yet another thing that keeps us on the right path:
For our own Christian formation we should also live in a community with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is in the community that those insights we gain from our study and prayer and contemplation can be tested.
It is the community that grounds us and can help us when we let either our imagination or our fears get the better of us.
It is our brothers and sisters who mirror our beliefs and actions back to us, so that we are able to see ourselves as we are.

It is easy for me preach about community, but it is sometimes incredibly hard to live in community. Especially when that community is helping us to see our own faults. Is it not those people who are most like us, who irritate us the most?

(pause)

So what does all this have to do with the holy Trinity?

The last time I was scheduled to preach on Trinity Sunday two years ago, I was given this book by my mother-in-law, “What are they saying about the Trinity”, by Fr. Joseph Bracken. Fr. Bracken was a Jesuit priest on the faculty at Xavier University and he also preached at my wife Darlene’s church, St. Dismas in Waukegan, while she was growing up. By the time I received this book, I had already written my sermon, so I just put it aside.

This year, I was assigned Trinity Sunday again, so I finally read and studied Fr. Bracken’s book. I was astonished to find that among the more recent theories about the nature of the holy Trinity, many modern theologians are discussing the interactions between God’s persons as a community. That the experience of God in three persons by the first Christians has lead to a new understanding, a new modern philosophical realization of God as a community. Here is a quotation from one of these modern theologians, Juan Luis Segundo also of the Society of Jesus from his book “Our Idea of God”.

“For, as long as God has thus been conceived as a being totally independent of his creatures, human beings have tended ……, to imitate God in seeking their own self-fulfillment in terms of self-sufficiency and independence of others. If, however, God is understood to be a society of three persons who are sympathetically involved with men and women in history, then human beings will perhaps recognize more readily that they too have a basically social orientation, that the perfection of their nature lies in interdependence with others for the achievement of common goals, not in some unattainable ideal of independence and self-sufficiency.”

The perfection of our nature, lies in our interdependence with others.

That independent, self-sufficiency is unattainable and unrealistic.

That, perhaps, our belief in the holy Trinity, our God as a community of persons, should make us think, should make us aware, of how much we depend on other people.

That we do not have to go it alone.
That God created us to live in community with each other.

When we realize that our strength comes through cooperation;
with our neighbors,
with our family and friends,
with our brothers and sisters in the church.

It is truly wonderful that we continue to find new insights in the most holy Trinity.

The Spirit of truth continues to speak to us.

It is just as Jesus said in our gospel reading.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.

Amen.

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
“To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth–
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.”

Romans 5:1-5

Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

John 16:12-15

Jesus said to the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Trinity Sunday

Originally posted on June 16, 2014

I was privileged to give the sermon at my church for Trinity Sunday.

The readings are at the bottom of the post.

I wrote three completely different versions of this sermon for this Trinity Sunday.

The less said about the first version of this sermon the better.

The second version of this sermon was all about paradox and mystery, it mentioned Lady Gaga, and the building of the Pyramids of Egypt – but after I read it to my wife Darlene – she said that’s great, but what does that have to do with the Trinity?

Nothing gets past Darlene.

Those of us who grew up in the Christian church learn our basic theology along with everything else. I don’t remember when I learned the word ‘rutabaga’. While still very young, I’m pretty sure I knew that it was something that you could eat – that is if you were hungry enough – but I really did not know what it was. Later on as you grow up you fill in the details. The Trinity is another word and concept that I absorbed as a child – learning what it was about from the context of how and when it was used.

The Trinity is something to do with God.

The Trinity is mysterious – The idea of the Trinity is a logical paradox.

It turns out that the Trinity is not that complicated an idea, it can be stated very simply. In fact, we define and affirm our belief in the Most Holy Trinity every Sunday when we recite the Nicene creed with it’s three sections for the three persons of God.

How and why did the first Christians arrive at this understanding of the nature of God?

There is a latin phrase “omne trium perfectum” which means that everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete.

We human beings really like to group things into groups of threes.

The past, the present, the future.
The executive, the legislative, the judicial,
The poor, the rich, the middle class.
Heaven, Earth, and Hell.
Small, medium, and large – or for people who go to Starbucks (trademark): tall, grande, and venti.

Grouping objects and events into groups of threes was as natural for the first Christians as it is for us today. I believe the theology of Holy Trinity was inevitable from the experiences of the first Christian community – the Christians who had known Jesus Christ as a man.

These first Christians were for the most part Jews and Samaritans who were very familiar with the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Moses – God the Father, and Creator. In our lesson today from Genesis we are reminded of the traditional story of how God created the heavens and the earth. These first Christians’ view of God was that of a parent; rewarding them for good behavior, punishing them for bad behavior, helping them when they get into trouble. In one of the commentaries I read preparing for this sermon – I learned about something else God had done which I’d never noticed before.

From Genesis chapter 3 verse 21:

” And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them.”

Earlier in Chapter 3 of Genesis, we have the story of the fall of man and woman – the original disobedience to God. Adam and Eve while hiding from God had made some leaf aprons to cover themselves, and I had always thought that in the story of the fall, Adam and Eve were still wearing their leaf aprons as they were driven from the garden. I had never realized that after God had pronounced punishment – to the serpent, to Eve, and to Adam that God then took time to make clothes for Adam and Eve.

God the Creator of the Universe, and Chief Justice, then switches roles to God the Father who even when his children fall from His grace, still loves them and provides for them even as he sends them on their way into the world.

The first Christians were very familiar with God’s first Aspect in the Holy Trinity: Creator and Father. These early Christians had became a Christian community, because they came to know Jesus Christ as a man during his ministry.

Who did they think he was at first?

A prophet like the great prophets of old, like Elijah, or Moses.

Only some during his ministry seemed to recognize his divinity – like John the Baptist, or the Samaritan woman at the well, or the Centurion who commanded the detachment of soldiers at the Crucifixion.

Even after all the miracles, and signs, the disciples of Jesus were definitely still in the dark as to his divine nature, the Word made flesh, at the Last Supper. What a difference we see in the Apostles between the time Jesus was condemned and crucified and Jesus Christ’s Ascension into Heaven as related in our Gospel reading.

On the initial sightings of Jesus they are unbelieving, but later as they are given proofs that Jesus has actually risen, that having died Jesus is once again a living breathing man – most come to believe.

This first community in Christ had experienced the incarnation of God as a Man, a man as all men and women are meant to be, in full communion with everything that is good – one being with God. This first Christian community now had new stories of Jesus Christ, a personal savior and redeemer to add to their existing body of stories of God as Creator, and Father.

50 days after the Crucifixion, a group of about 120 believers in Jesus from all over the Jerusalem region had gathered together – it was the Jewish Feast of Weeks – to celebrate Moses receiving the law from God at mount Sinai. These 120 believers became the first Christians when the Spirit of God descended from heaven onto all of them like a rushing wind, causing them to hear the word of God in their own languages. The event we have come to know as Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came to everyone: Jew and Gentile, Men and Women, all those present, not just the original disciples. Only the disciples had been told by Jesus of the promise that he would send the gift of God’s spirit – although they had no idea what form it would take – so to everyone present it was a bewildering experience, and perhaps to many even a frightening one.

This shared experience of this Christian community in this event; this happening: the receiving of the Holy Spirit, along with their stories of Jesus Christ, their savior, and God the Father, I believe naturally developed into this first and greatest of Christian theological ideas – the Most Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity was a natural response of ordinary people who had directly experienced extraordinary events. The Holy Trinity was not something that scholars invented, it wasn’t based on esoteric theories or some arcane analysis of Jesus’ words. The first Christians simply grouped these three ways of experiencing God – and formulated the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

I am grateful for the many scholars and theologians who have studied the Holy Trinity through the ages. I have only begun to scratch the surface of this massive body of scholarship. As I am only an amateur theologian, there are only two additional points about the Most Holy Trinity that I feel qualified to make.

As fallible, human beings, we must never embrace these ideas about the nature of God like the Holy Trinity so strongly that we raise them up like graven images and worship the ideas – the theology about God – rather than God Himself. These ideas, are just tools, created by imperfect men and women through centuries of prayer, and thought. These ideas, we might even call them theories, about God are to be used prayerfully, and in humility to bring us closer to God and to each other.

If we use them to exclude each other,
If we use them to condemn each other,
If we use them to, in any way, hurt our fellow men and women we are not living as Christians in the way that Jesus Christ taught us to live.

To make my second point about the Most Holy Trinity – please bear with me – I need to do a Trinitarian analysis of an ordinary person. There is only one person I know well enough to use as my example – myself.

I have three major roles in my family.

I am Doug, the father of Olivia, my daughter.
I am Doug, the son of John and Carol, my parents.
I am Doug, the husband of Darlene, my wife.

I have these three roles in my family – as one person – however, I am not completely defined by these three roles.

I am also Doug the systems engineer who works for Optionshop in Chicago.
I am also Doug the dyer of cloth.
I am also Doug who has many other interests, aspirations and dreams.

If this relational Trinitarian description of Doug the man is incomplete, how can any description of the Most Holy Trinity – that we fallible human beings are capable of making – completely describe the immensity, the perfection, the eternal, limitless goodness that is God?

There is a legend about a Theologian of the Church St. Augustine of Hippo.

St. Augustine spent 30 years working on his treatise De Trinitate [about the Holy Trinity] – he lived from 354-430 AD. This legend – which is not part of his official biography – has non-the-less circulated for hundreds of years.

Bishop Augustine of Hippo dressed in his episcopal robes was walking by the seashore, pondering with difficulty the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. He approached a small child running back and forth between the sea and a pool on the beach with a seashell full of seawater. Augustine asked the child what he was doing.

“Can’t you see?” said the child. “I’m emptying the sea into this pool!”

“You can’t empty the sea into this tiny pool.”, Augustine said.

The child replied, “I will sooner empty the sea into this pool than you will manage to get the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity into your head!”

Upon saying that, the child, who was an angel according to legend, quickly disappeared, leaving Augustine alone, with the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.

God is too big, too powerful, too wise, for us to comprehend. Yet at the same time God is as personal as our fellow men and women we meet every day. To me, this is the true mystery of the Most Holy Trinity – how this immensely powerful being also is so immensely humble and respectful to we lowly, limited, human beings. Allowing us to make our own mistakes, always hoping that we will return to His fellowship, only providing His help to us when we ask Him, in Jesus’ name.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights– the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night– and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

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.

Matthew 28:16-20

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.”

Wisdom

wisdom.jpegto be chanted

Early morning,
In the darkness,
In the silence,
From the deep void,
A quiet voice.

Murmurs gently,
In the stillness,
In the quiet,
Emptiness speaks,
Can you hear it?

Sharing secrets,
From the empty,
From the formless,
Where All things come,
And All is known.

Wisdom whispers,
From that well spring,
From the abyss,
Listen closely,
As it draws near.

Empty myself,
Sit in darkness,
Wait in stillness,
Become the void,
The voice is mine.

 

Courage

March 12th 2020, Chelsea Manning was once again released from a year long imprisonment for refusing to testify in a grand jury hearing against JOHN DOE 2010R03793Julian Paul Assange.

I wrote to President Obama back in 2013 – after she was sentenced to serve 35 years at the military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

President Obama later commuted Chelsea Manning’s sentence to 7 years time served, Chelsea was released January 17th 2017.

My letter to President Obama – originally posted on August 26, 2013

 

President Barack Obama,

I ran across Chelsea (Bradley) Manning’s sentencing statement this morning. I think that everyone that goes to war as an idealist (and what twenty-something is not an idealist) at some point discovers the truth about war. If only we as a species could somehow teach this truth to our young so that they could learn it without having to experience war themselves every other generation.

The decisions that I made in 2010 were made out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in. Since the tragic events of 9/11, our country has been at war. We’ve been at war with an enemy that chooses not to meet us on any traditional battlefield, and due to this fact we’ve had to alter our methods of combating the risks posed to us and our way of life.

I initially agreed with these methods and chose to volunteer to help defend my country. It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. It was at this time I realized in our efforts to meet this risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.

In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror.
Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism drown our any logically based intentions [unclear], it is usually an American soldier that is ordered to carry out some ill-conceived mission.

Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy—the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, the Japanese-American internment camps—to name a few. I am confident that many of our actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light.

As the late Howard Zinn once said, “There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

I understand that my actions violated the law, and I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intention to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.

If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.

– Chelsea (Bradley) Manning (August 21, 2013)

Although, as I read through this again – it seems there is still a great deal of idealism in there.

This is the kind of person we should be trying to recruit into our military.
This is the kind of person who would never dishonor our country or our military by committing atrocities in our name; even when ordered to do so.

This is the kind of person that you have allowed to be imprisoned for up to 35 years.

I Believe in Mystery

Originally written for the Saint Hilary’s Episcopal Church – Prospect Heights, IL Newsletter – 2008

I believe in the power of paradox. All the worlds enduring religions have at their core a mystery. This essential mystery is powered by a paradox; something that cannot logically be true, yet must be believed by its members. Whether the belief inspires faith or the faith inspires belief, this tension is a source of energy sustaining a religion as it is transmitted to new believers through time. In the Christian tradition one of our essential mysteries is the nature of God, God in three persons or aspects, distinct yet indivisible, a logical paradox; a mystery.

I am an engineer by training, and have for the past sixteen years worked to maintain computer systems which are consistently and constantly available. In effect, I try to eliminate all the mysteries involved in the configuration of networked computer systems, resolving all the paradoxical, contradictory elements in their configurations so as to make them more reliable. In my work, I am constantly checking and rechecking, looking for paradoxes. These paradoxes act as signposts, showing me what I need to change to make that particular computer or group of computers work better.

I love legends, stories of gods and goddesses, hidden worlds, hero’s and forest spirits like the Green Man, those ideas in our collective myths that contain that paradoxical element of mystery. In this love, I am myself a paradox. I love the paradoxical, but I make my living eliminating paradox and making plain that which is contradictory, and in my art the mystery lives.

My Green Man – Batik – 2006

 

I am a face in the trees,
Amid the thickest leaves,
I am here and there,
I live everywhere,
I am of myth and lore,
You’ve ne’er seen me before,
But I watch you, see?
Oh, you can’t find me!

Jon Breckon

Listening in Profound Silence

Originally posted on August 11, 2014
I was privileged to deliver the sermon at my church yesterday.
(Readings are below)

Listen to this sermon here.

It took me quite some time to discern the common thread in our readings today. But since we are in the season of Pentecost, I should have known that our readings would have something to do with prayer and being in communion with the Spirit of God. All of our readings this Sunday, present to us, examples of prayer and discernment with the Spirit; from several different points of view.

The most obvious example of prayer and discernment is in our Gospel reading from Matthew. A typical day in Jesus’ ministry on earth. After a long day of preaching and teaching, Jesus sends the people and his disciples away and secludes himself to pray. What could be a more typical a passage in any of the Gospels? But notice how long Jesus is praying in this passage – He prays through most of the night into the early morning. My impression is that Jesus often prayed into the early hours of the morning. It was probably the only time of day when he could be alone, when it was quiet; that time of stillness, to reflect and to allow the Spirit of God the time and space to speak to him.

Jesus shows us how important it is to have this time for prayer and reflection by His example.

We see something similar in our reading from first Kings. The prophet Elijah was fleeing for his life from King Ahab and especially Queen Jezebel. Elijah was the sole remaining priest and prophet in Israel, all the rest of the priests having been killed by their majesties Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah finds refuge in a cave high up on a mountain. He must have been relieved to have found this hiding place, this place of safety, this place to reflect, this place to pray, this place to wait and to discern what God wanted him to do next. Elijah is told that God is going to visit him just outside this cave on the mountain.

A mighty wind storm sweeps past. Elijah does not even go outside, because he knows that God is not in the mighty wind.

Then an earthquake shakes the mountain, again Elijah does not bother to go outside, because he knows that God is not in the earthquake.

A fire then sweeps over the mountainside, and again Elijah does not stir from his cave, because he knows that God is not in the fire.

Only when the sheer, profound silence settles over the mountain does Elijah get up and cover his head, as is the Jewish custom when in prayer, and go to the mouth of the cave because God is in that sheer, profound silence.

It is in this profound silence, when we are calm, when we have emptied our minds of our concerns and our worries, when our thoughts are quiet; that we may be able to hear the Spirit of God speaking to us.

What is our prayer life actually like?

Again from our gospel reading, we read that after Jesus was finished praying he walks across the water through a violent storm to where the disciples were struggling to keep their ship afloat. They see Jesus out in the storm, walking on the water – they hear him over the sound of the storm – and think they are seeing and hearing some sort of ghost across the water. Peter asks Jesus to command him to walk across the water, and Jesus calls to Peter to join him.

This passage about Peter crossing the water feels like many of my experiences with prayer. How often have I started to pray, to attempt to walk across that gulf that separates us from God – only to start to sink, to be distracted by

the violent storm that sometimes is the world around me,

the violent storm that sometimes is my own thoughts and fears,

and finally as I am going under I call out to be saved:

O God, make speed to save me!

O Lord, make haste to help me!

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me!

For 1500 years, Christians have prayed these three, simple, prayers to our Lord: to be saved, to be helped, and for Jesus Christ to show us His mercy.
As fallen human beings, I believe we all have these problems in prayer; I certainly do.

It seems that, most Christians since the time of the apostles have had these problems in prayer.

That is why, we must continually practice prayer, and through trail and error find out what works best for each one of us, at each stage of our lives; to help us in listening to the Spirit of God.

In all our examples of prayer, reflection, and discernment up to this point – we have concentrated on that journey of faith that we travel alone, in our personal relationship with the living God.

Paul in our reading from Romans, takes our discussion to the next level.

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?

What in the world is Paul talking about here? John Gill, the first Baptist theologian, in his commentary on Romans 10 verse 15 really helped me to understand the meaning of this passage.

Ordinary mission is of [people] to be pastors and teachers …. for whom Christ sends forth into such service, he bestows gifts on them, fitting them for it …. and it also includes a call unto it, which is …. by the Spirit of God ….. and the inclination of the heart to this good work which he forms; and which arises not from a vanity of mind, and a desire of popular applause, ….. but from a real concern for the good of souls, ….. being willing to deny themselves, and forsake all for Christ.

Paul’s 4 questions in our reading from Romans, are about how we are to call and select our ministers; our leaders and teachers in the community of Christ. Paul is laying the organizational groundwork for growing Christianity from a small group of believers to an organization – a Church. He is asking how we should listen for; and experience; the Spirit of God, when we believe we are being called to ministry in that larger Church organization.

It has been more than two years since I started my own discernment process. Feeling a call to ministry; I met with my discernment committee here at St. Martin’s and we feel that this call is to diaconate ministry in the Episcopal Church. I had no idea what discernment meant before I started this process. I thought that it would involve an objective, logical analysis of the needs of the greater church, the needs here at St. Martin’s, and how my skills and talents could be used to meet those needs. I was thinking about church ministry in terms of getting hired to do a job, or fill a position or role – as in a business.

I had (and still have) a great deal to learn about discernment!

However, I have learned what discernment is not.

Discernment is not about what you want.

Discernment is not about your talents.

Discernment is not about what the church needs.

Discernment is about listening to the Holy Spirit and letting God direct you to where you should be.

Discernment does not end after you are called to some ministry. Discernment continues. The proper place for you today may not be where God needs you next year.

As I started to understand what discernment is about, I was surprised by how familiar it turned out to be. It seems I have been in discernment all along, I just did not know what I was doing, and I have been using it for trivial things. All this time, in my work when I have been stuck on some network or programming problem. I clear my mind, to either not think about anything at all, or to think about something completely unrelated to my current problem. And then suddenly, from out of nowhere, I will receive an idea about how to approach that particular problem, or how to put together a solution. The artist waiting for inspiration, or the engineer waiting for that technical insight are in discernment. They are opening themselves; allowing their own divine nature to commune with the divine nature which is present in everything in the universe around us. When we are inspired, we manage; for just that brief instant to hear God’s voice, the Spirit of God, speaking to us.

I have found that in discerning what God wants me to do – I am discovering what I am capable of becoming:

I am learning who I am.

God as our Father and Creator, knows us far better that we know ourselves.

It is a startling and humbling experience to be 51 years old and to be finally learning who I am.

I’d like leave you with this thought.

Discernment is for Everyone.

Not just those people, who are the clergy.

Not just those people, who are on the vestry.

Not just those people, who are being called to ministry.

Not just those people, who are working on revising our mission or vision statement.

Everyone.

We should all be trying to be present and aware of God’s spirit speaking to us in our reflections, our thoughts, our feelings, and our prayers.

We should all be finding time, each day, to listen to that sheer, profound silence; allowing the Spirit of God the time and space in our lives, so that we may hear the quiet voice of God.

1 Kings 19:9-18

At Horeb, the mount of God, Elijah came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

Romans 10:5-15

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

My Father – 31 Jan 2020

A familiar voice over the phone,
“About two hours?”
“Hello?”, I replied.
“OK, about two hours. I’ll be with you in a minute, Ladies.”
“Hello?”, I replied.
A phone call from my father,
just checked into the nursing home,
ended abruptly without an acknowledgement.

Two days later, my sister told me a story.
A female orderly, threatened by my
angry father, allowed him to make a call.
He needed to get his truck fixed.
A truck he no longer owns.

I recall a similar event.
The control module in his Chevy truck failed.
It was ’87 or ’88, late summer, Akron, Ohio.
I was studying Engineering after my time in the Navy.
Outside the professional offices of our HMO.
I picked him up to buy a new one.
It was the first time he ever let me drive him anywhere.
As his peer, I might finally be his friend.