Just Love

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to Matthew

 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called 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 Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,[a] drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.. (Mt. 9:3-10:23)

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 You will remember, I am sure,  in the upheaval caused by the murder of a black man, George Floyd, and others, killed in police actions because  of their colour, their ethnicity, their lowly place in society, the world is being forced to see the injustice, and trapped feelings of a suffering people – something it has been blind to until now, and to act? 

What will it take to change the way things are in the world?

When I was a little boy, I went to visit my uncle Bob. He had a fine henhouse, and a flock of chickens roosting in it.  And this day he showed me a chicken  that he had just bought and was going to place in the hen house with the others.

I went with him and watched as he opened up the hatch, and revealed the chickens sitting on the perch, in a row, next to each other.

He leaned in and moved some of the chickens along the perch and then took the new arrival and placed it  between two others on the perch. Or I should say he tried. 

The birds closed rank and the new bird was squeezed out, and it happened again and again, no chicken was willing to give up its position  – its rank if you like – signified by its place on that perch. and he finally put the new bird right at the far end of the perch.

The perch was plenty long enough for many hens, but those stubborn chickens didn’t want to give up their little piece of real estate.

Keep that story in mind for a minute:

My first job in Canada in 1967 was with an encyclopedia company as the office manager.  My boss was an American from St. Louis Missouri, a nice guy, big and bluff, and good natured. He went by ‘Woody.’

The subject of race came up and he told me that on one occasion, the blacks from the poor part of town in St. Louis began to march toward the white part of town, and had to cross a bridge.   He said, ” We weren’t going to allow them to cross that bridge so we got our weapons and went to stop them.

” Were they violent?” I asked.

“No,” he said, ” But we weren’t going to give them the chance.”

” Then what was the problem with them demonstrating?’

“They wanted my job!, ” he said, vehemently.

I said, ” They didn’t want your job, they just wanted an equal chance at getting a job.”

He laughed at my naivety. He didn’t see that point of view at all.

I was getting paid a hundred dollars a week, and he was getting five hundred dollars a week and in 1967 that was a lot of money. So you might think he would be a smart guy.

But when it came to race he was about as smart as uncle Bob’s chickens.

In our  contemporary version of the Gospel, we read that Jesus looked at the crowd and was moved with compassion for them. He was moved to the very depth of his being.

He was moved to compassion by  the world’s pain. He was moved to compassion for the sick. He was moved to compassion for those with no hope. 

The common people were desperately longing for God – why else would they follow Jesus in such great numbers? – And the pillars of orthodox religion  of his day had nothing to offer them.

People were ruled and exploited  by the Romans.   And exploited by the religious rulers.

They were at the bottom of the rung in that society. And no hope of any relief.

They were at the end of the perch, you might say.

Does it remind you of the situation in our society today?  Of those who are at the bottom of the pecking order and are exploited, or worse still ignored, by those above?  

And are so because of their colour, their education or lack of it. Their religious dress. Their difficulty with the language.  Their uncultured accent?? Their address?

There have been conferences over the years, where national and international leaders have gotten together to try and solve the problems that exist because of  prejudice, and the realisation that having so many disenfranchised people could be dangerous for society.

I remember a promise to eradicate world poverty by –  was it 2010?  It required, among other things, massive donations of money, lifting of tariffs, help and encouragement to improve weak  economies.

The Secretary General of the UN has asked where is that help that was so generously promised? 

Precious little has been forthcoming.

Why? Because helping others means that we have to sacrifice a little of what we have. And our leaders think we can’t handle that.  That we don’t want to be moved along the perch.

We feel sorry for disadvantaged people . We pray for them of course.

And prayer is good. It indicates our concern.

But you know, prayer without good works is dead.

Martin Luther had a friend who was in the same mind about Christian faith as he was. His friend was also a monk. They came to an agreement. Luther would go into the world and battle for Reformation, while the friend would stay in the monastery and uphold Luther with prayer.  So that’s what they did.

But one night, the friend had a dream. He saw a huge field of corn, as big as the world, and one solitary man was trying to reap all that corn. He saw  the reaper’s face. It was Luther.  Luther’s friend saw the truth in a flash. He was meant to be down there with him, labouring in the harvest.

As we heard in today’s Gospel, this was something that  Jesus’s disciples had to do.  Jesus was sending them out to bring in the harvest.  

The harvest was – and is –  all those untold numbers of people who needed God in their lives;  who needed healing;  who were like lost sheep.  

There are some who can do nothing else but pray, for life may have rendered them physically or financially helpless. But for most of us, prayer is not enough. 

The men chosen by Jesus to go out into the countryside, telling of the coming of the kingdom of God, were ordinary men. They had no wealth, no position, no academic background, no social advantages.

But Jesus isn’t looking for extra-ordinary people. He is looking for ordinary people who are willing to be used to do extra-ordinary things.

God is always looking for hands to use. God is always saying. “Whom shall I send?”

Jesus had called these twelve men to go into the world as his apostles.  They would not be representing themselves. They would  represent him.  Nor would they be bringing their own messages. Representing Jesus they  would bring his message.

I often hear people talking about their faith in a way which tells you more about them than about the Jesus they are supposed to represent.

There are religious people who will  tell you they are for or against birth control, or abortion, or gay rights, or women priests, or dancing, or kneeling, or standing for prayer, or waving their hands while they sing hymns, or long sermons, or church ritual – all the things that they like or dislike and which define them and their faith  –  but who have somehow forgotten the compassion, caring,  and loving, that is expected from apostles.  

That’s us. Because we are – apostles.  

Believe it.

As an apostle we don’t do what we want to do, we try to do what he would do.

Like we need to be fascinated with Jesus rather than with ourselves.

God is looking out for us, so we can take our eye off that particular ball and look out for someone else, can’t we?

Several years ago, conductor Eugene Ormandy was leading the Philadelphia Orchestra.  It doesn’t matter what they were playing. Certainly not Mozart, perhaps Stravinsky. But at any rate, he was giving all of himself to it.  He was putting energy into it. To the degree that he dislocated his shoulder. 

Conducting!!

He dislocated his shoulder conducting an orchestra!!

Gerrouttahere!

I read that and asked myself the question: Have I ever dislocated anything working for Jesus? 

He gave his life, working for us.

I wonder what it takes.

I wonder how we get that fire of the Holy Spirit inside of us so that we just can’t stop doing stuff for our Lord;  just full of energy  trying to be like him.  

Dislocating something.

It’s all about motivation, I think.

Fear motivates people. Some people, anyway.

I heard a story about a young man who took a shortcut through a cemetery one dark night, and fell into an open grave.

He tried to climb out, scrabbling at the sides with his hands, but couldn’t make it., He tried shouting, but no-one heard him. He decided to sit down in a corner and wait for daylight.

A little while later another person cut through the graveyard and fell into the same open grave. This man, like the first, tried to climb out, using his fingernails and toes, to try and get a grip in the soil, but slipping back.  

The first man, sitting there in the dark, heard the newcomer trying to get out, as he had, and said, “You’ll never get out of here.”

But he did!

But fear doesn’t always work, does it? 

Think about it: We have been threatened with Hell for centuries, but it doesn’t seem to have made much difference to the way we live. 

People just don’t seem to fear the hereafter, as horrible as it sounds.

So we can forget fear .

What about compassion? 

Jesus’ heart wept for the people who followed him.

I think when I first saw a picture of a starving child, in Biafra, my heart wept. I think the first time I read about women and children being deliberately killed in war, my heart wept. I think the first time I  read about families being headed by nine year-old children in Africa, because both parents had died from AIDS, my heart wept.

But there is so much of it, pictures in the papers, on television, news stories of millions threatened by starvation – the sheer numbers boggle the mind, that my heart can’t weep any more.

We can’t take it any more, and we pass by on the other side.

What is needed is a new motivation.

Not the pictures of starving children used in TV ads,  but a heartfelt compassion, and a love, and a desire to bring healing.   We need a vision of that vast harvest, and Jesus out there doing it all by himself, and a realisation that he needs each and everyone of us out there with him.

We have received freely. We are called to give freely.

And every time we do that, we move this world closer to the day when the kingdom of God will come on earth  –  the time when His will is done here, as it is in Heaven.

Where there will be no hatred, no fear, no discrimination, just love! Amen

Shouldn’t We?

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark

The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” ( Mark 3:20-35)

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There was a Catholic priest living in the Philippines, who was a well loved, hard working, and respected pastor. Unknown to anyone, however, he carried a sin within his heart – something he had done  whilst in seminary, and although he had repented of it  some years before, he still carried the guilt within him.

He had no sense of peace, no inner joy, no sense of forgiveness.

As it happened, there was a woman in his parish who deeply loved God, and who claimed to have visions, in which she spoke to Christ, and Christ to her. The priest was skeptical of her claims, so to test her visions, he said to her,” You say you speak directly with Christ in your visions. Let me ask you a favour. The next time you have one of those visions, I want you to ask him what sin your priest committed when he was in seminary.”

The woman agreed and went home. When she returned to the church a few days later, the priest said, ” Well, did Christ visit you in your dreams?”
She replied, ” Yes. he did.”

” And did you ask him what sin I committed in seminary?”

“Yes, I asked him.”

“Well, what did he say? “

“He said, ‘ I don’t remember,'”

That is what God wants us to know about forgiveness. When our sins are forgiven, they are forgotten. The past, with its sins, hurts, brokenness, and self recrimination – is gone, dead, crucified, remembered no more.

What God forgives, He forgives,

But in today’s Gospel Jesus tells us that there is a sin that God does not forgive.

A sin that cannot be forgiven.

A sin against the Holy Spirit.

This is an obvious puzzle, don’t you think?  That all the sin, all the heinous crimes, all the inhumanity of man to man, can be forgiven-  all but one. 

Sin against the Holy Spirit!

Why is that so?

And what is sin against the Holy Spirit?

Mark tells us that Jesus said this, because they –  the Pharisees- said abut Jesus, ” ” He has an unclean spirit.”

Does this mean that Jesus is angry and denying forgiveness to those who accused  him of working with Satan?
I don’t think Jesus, nor God would hold back forgiveness if forgiveness were truly sought.

Don’t you agree?

So what is all this about?

Well  it is explained by some who study these sayings closely,  that Jesus could not have used the phrase ‘ The Holy Spirit ‘ in the way we Christians use the term. The Spirit as we know it, did not come until Jesus had returned to his glory.

It wasn’t until Pentecost that men and women came to the supreme experience of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus must have used the term, they say,  in the Jewish sense of the term.

In Jewish thought the Holy Spirit had two functions. First was to reveal God’s truth, and the second was to enable the truth to be recognised. And acknowledged.

The Holy Spirit enables people to recognise God’s truth, when he enters their lives. The truth of how they are living, for example.

The old saying is that the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins.

That’s fine, but if we don’t do anything about it what is the point? .

Ignoring God’s truth, denying it, leads to a condition where one can look on the goodness of Christ, for example, and call it evil – as the Pharisees did.

When you can see goodness and call it something else.

When you can see the truth and deny it, and instead profess a lie to be the truth.

I have met people like that. They can lie to your face and not blink while doing it,

They can see a kind act and denigrate it. 

They can do evil and present it as virtuous.

And if you have no sense of guilt for what you have done; no contrition, no regrets, no remorse, then how can you be forgiven?

God cannot forgive someone who refuses forgiveness, laughs in the face of God, calls the Son of God, Satan’s minion.

The prerequisite for forgiveness is the expression of penitence.

If someone does not accept what they are – doesn’t even know what they are, then how can they be forgiven?

There are many stories of men on death row who have accepted Christ as their Saviour and experienced forgiveness, and who went to their deaths quietly and at peace.   

There are as many stories of men on death row who laughed in the face of those who would bring Christ to them. and went swearing and cursing, and struggling to their deaths.

Then there are gracious examples of forgiveness coming from the victims, of terrible acts.

Corrie ten Boom had been a prisoner in a nazi concentration camp during the war and she and her sister had endured terrible degrading acts from one of the German guards. He had jeered at them and visually raped them as they stood naked in the delousing shower. 

Now, this man, one of the most cruel and heartless of the guards, was facing her, with hand outstretched, and asking, ” Will you forgive me?”

She says, ” I stood there with coldness clutching my heart but I know that the will can function  regardless of the temperature of the heart.

“I prayed, ‘ Jesus help me’ .

“Woodenly, mechanically,  I thrust out my hand onto the one stretched out to me and I experienced an incredible thing.

“The current started in my shoulder and raced down my arms and sprang into our clutched hands. Then this warm reconciliation seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to me eyes.

“I forgive you brother,” I cried with my whole heart.

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard, and the former prisoner.   I have never known the love of God so intensely as I did in that moment.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.” She says.

That guard knew his sin. And wanted – needed – begged for – forgiveness – from the person he had sinned against.

He was acknowledging the goodness in the woman facing him, and the evil he had done..

His former victim forgave him, and so, I am sure, did God.

Those whom Jesus says cannot be forgiven are those who know no guilt, and feel no need for forgiveness.

How can they be forgiven?

What for?

If they feel no guilt.

There is one condition for forgiveness and that is penitence. And as long as people see the loveliness of Christ’s love ,as long as they hate sin, even though they can’t leave it, even if they are in the mud and the mire, they can still be forgiven.

Praise God.

But those who have lost the ability to recognise goodness when they see it, and have so inverted their moral values that to them evil is good, and good is evil, then they can never be forgiven.

That is sin against the Holy Spirit.

When you come across that sort of person you are convinced that Satan must live within them.

In this modern era, however, I wonder if that way of being, that sort of behaviour, is a sign of mental illness, manifesting itself as evil.

And if that is so, that sin is caused be a mental illness, then could the actions of such a person, be understood by God?

And in His gracious wisdom, could He then forgive?

And if so, then, shouldn’t we?     

Amen.

There Is Hope!

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark.

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” ( Mark 4:35-41)

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Remember the story of David and Goliath? It is such a wonderful story. I remember hearing it as a little boy and being amazed. David may have been about twelve years old at the time,, and to think of a twelve year old boy taking on a giant like Goliath, a hulk whom even soldiers wouldn’t take on, is mind boggling

But David had some advantages, didn’t he?

Being a shepherd boy, with responsibility for a flock of sheep, maybe a couple of hundred, was a big job. Not only did he have to make sure that they found pasture, and water, and didn’t stray away, but he had to defend them from wild animals, like wolves and lions and bears.

He would have his staff, a crooked pole, used to pull lambs out of crevices they may have fallen into, and he would have a rod with which to beat off any attacking wild animals,  and he had his sling. And he was good with all those items. Especially the sling.  And he was confident about his skills.

We all have skills, don’t we?  

Some people can garden. They can tell you the name of just about any plant, flower, bush or tree, and somehow whatever they put into the ground seems to flourish.

Some people are carpenters, painters, plumbers, artists, musicians, cooks, chefs, bakers, organisers, dishwashers, singers, speakers – add your own skill to the list.  

I heard about a man who received a second notice from the National Revenue department for unpaid taxes. The notice said that unless he paid, the department would take legal action. He rushed down right away with a cheque.

He explained to the clerk, “I would have paid sooner, but I don’t remember receiving your first notice.  The clerk said, “ Oh, we ran out of First Notices. Besides, we discovered that we got much better response with the Second Notice.

There was a tax department employee using a skill he had learned on the job. 

That is where David had developed his skills. On the job.  But he had something else. He was young.

The young have a confidence that older people don’t have. We have learned that there are things we cannot do. We have tried things and failed, and we know our limits. We aren’t into taking risks.

Young people think they are indestructible. They think they know everything they need to know. Just you try and hold them back!

It is no coincidence that young people are conscripted into the armed services. We older folk would be too cautious.  We would be telling youngsters charging towards  the enemy, “Now you make sure you look both ways –  before crossing that barbed wire.”

So David had a second advantage over most of us – he was young, with the unlimited confidence of youth.

In our parallel story today, from Mark’s Gospel, the adults who followed Jesus, had seen the wonderful miracles he had performed. They had Jesus with them, right in the boat.  And yet they panicked when the storm blew up.

If Jesus had a bunch of teenagers with him, they would have been whooping and hollering as the boat heaved up and down, and side to side.

So David was skilled. He was young. He had confidence. But he had more.

He remembered his history. He remembered that God had saved his people.  He knew that his people had a special relationship with God – although it didn’t seem  too evident from the actions of the Israelite soldiery, who cowered in their trenches when Goliath came out and insulted them.  

So David went out to confront the big hulk. 

When Goliath ridiculed him, he retorted, “ I have come out to face you in the name of the Lord All-powerful. He is the God of Israel’s army. You have also insulted Him.”

Of course, we know what happened. The great big leap of faith that David took that day, paid off. His God was with him, and he was victorious.

The Philistines now saw that God was on the side of their enemies.   They took off.   The Israelites also suddenly were aware that God was  on their side. They chased after the Philistines.   

It took a young boy to show the power of God’s faithfulness that day.

Meanwhile, in our other story, the disciples are on the boat, and it is pitching and tossing, and they are afraid.

More than  that they obviously don’t believe that God is with them – even though he is right there, calmly sleeping in the bow.

”Don’t you care about us?” they asked Jesus.

And he calmed the waves, and the storm, and they were safe.

I don’t know how these stories resonate with you. But they do with me.

When I was fourteen years old and in high school, I was asked to read the lesson in school assembly. I didn’t go to school that day. I was given another chance, and I skipped school that day too.

And when I see young people here, doing things that are scary, and yet doing them, reading from the lectern, singing, or playing musical instruments, I marvel.

Of course, the time came when I had to do the things that had previously scared me. But by now I was better motivated.    

And motivation is important.

Bob Kuechenberg, formerly with the Miami Dolphins wrote about  his motivation for going to college.

Both his father and his uncle were human cannonballs in carnivals. His dad had always told him, “Go to college or be a cannonball.” You wouldn’t think you would have to think twice about that, would you?   But Bob had not made up his mind – family business, or college?

Then one day his uncle came out of the cannon and hit the Ferris wheel.

Bob  decided to go to college.

I hope it doesn’t take something like that for us Christians to become motivated.

Maybe this summer, it might be a good idea to look at our skills, and our preferences, and our motivation, and ask if  we are using any of our skills to serve the Lord.

And are we in the right niche in what we do as a Christian.  

One of the staves in the barrel that is used as a metaphor in the Natural Church Development program is called, ” Gift-oriented ministry.”  As a church we should be endeavoring to score high in that category.

We will be more effective if we are doing something that fits our skill set.

And then the question arises, “Are we too scared to step out and use our skills?

Are we motivated?

And while we are pondering these issues, perhaps we should remember that little boy, who confident in his skills and in his trust in His Lord, stepped out and saved Israel.  

And, just as important, we might remember those disciples, huddled in  fear  in that pitching boat, who eventually found their confidence, and their particular niches in ministry.

There is hope for all of us      –   in God’s service.

Amen.

Three In One

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to John.

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. ( Jn.3:1-17)

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A father of five children had won a toy at a raffle. He called his kids together to ask which one of the five should have the present.  “Who is the most obedient?” he asked. “Who never talks back to mother? Who does everything she says?” 

Silence. 

Then all five kids shouted together,  “You play with it daddy.”

Fathers are pretty important, aren’t they?

And ‘Father ‘is up there with the ‘Son’ and the ‘Holy Spirit’ in the Trinity, the threefold God we Christians affirm .

We affirm the threefold God, but in worship, one person of God might  be emphasized more than the others, depending on which denomination you belong to. 

Some Christian denominations emphasize Jesus, and tend to downplay the Father or the Holy Spirit. Some emphasize  the Holy Spirit, downplaying the other two persons, whereas others emphasize worship of the Father. 

I think Anglicans tend not to emphasize Jesus, because doing so smacks of those television evangelists, with their floppy Bibles, and the way they use the name  ‘ Jeehhezzzus.’    

Anglicans  tend not to emphasize the Holy Spirit because that would call for being led by the Holy Spirit into some actions that don’t sit well with Anglicans. Like waving of arms,  ‘ dancing in the Spirit ‘  laughing out loud,  telling anyone and everyone who will listen, of the joy of the Spirit.

So for us it’s the Father. Or Mother. Creator of all things. God Almighty. ‘ Father ‘ is kind of  the least challenging, don’t you think?

I have to say, however, that I am not too comfortable with a theology which doesn’t challenge.  What is the point?

I remember as a teenager, listening to sermons, and waiting for the challenge. I remember one preacher, who always liked to finish with a challenge.  You knew a challenge  was coming because that paragraph always began with the words, ” May we……”

I have to confess ( to my shame)  that I was relieved when the ‘challenge’ didn’t really call for real effort..

Some research has been done into why one  person of the Trinity is routinely emphasized in a particular denomination.

There are clear signs that point to a particular preference and how that preference affects their theology, liturgy, and the way the community relates to the outside world.

There was research done on the subject some years ago. I don’t remember much about it, so won’t comment, right now,  but the fact that we may emphasize one person of the Trinity over the other two is a good reason for having Trinity Sunday on the calendar.

Trinity!!

Remember? 

We  worship the  God we know as  Father, and Son and  Holy Spirit.

After much debate and controversy the concept of the Trinity only became orthodox Christian doctrine dating from the Council of Nicaea in the year 325.

And Trinity Sunday is the  time when ‘we’ try to explain the complicated theology behind the concept of the Trinity, and is something ‘we’ preachers tend to avoid.  

Metaphors have been used, such as the stream of water that if you place your hand in it becomes three streams.  All streams emanate from the one source, and are of the same substance, and although they appear to be separate, are in fact one.

Another metaphor is the clover leaf. On the one shoot are three identical leaves. 

But I think that what really matters to us Christians is how the Father, Son and Spirit  are manifest,  in our lives.  What do the three persons of God mean to us personally? 

I remember at school, in a chemistry class, examining the chemical reactions that take place when soap is used in water. What about the calcium or chlorine in the water? What is the composition of the soap? What chemical reaction leaves that scum floating on the surface? 

The teacher took a long time getting us to follow his reasoning, and to figure out the equations.

Then one boy raised his hand. “Sir, how does the soap get your hands clean?” he asked.

The teacher replied, “Well…. I think it dissolves the sweat…. doesn’t it?

That question was about where the ‘rubber meets the road’ wasn’t it?

Where ‘the rubber meets the road ‘ for us, comes in the question – how does each person of God, specifically affect us, and how? 

Perhaps if we think of God as the head, Jesus as the heart, and the Spirit as the hands, it  might  help us to get at the answer.

God created the universe, and us, and placed us here on this His world. He loves us and wants us to live a life that is faithful to Him. In return for His loving us, we love Him, and try to live for Him.  This is the same God with whom the Israelites entered in covenant. “I will be your God and you will be my people,” He told them.

Further, He told them through Moses, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

The covenant involved obeying God’s law, and living as God’s people.

God asks the same of us, and promises the same to us.

This God, then, is a God we can understand, as we agree to live for Him – in covenant relationship as it is called. A God that we can reason about. And talk to.

And worship!

Of course, the Israelites, once they were in their own land broke the covenant. In fact they  broke it soon after it was made by creating a golden calf  and worshipping it, there in the wilderness,  before they ever came into their own land.

God the Father was like a great and good parent, but a parent against whom they, and we, could rebel.

He was in their head, but not in their heart.

It is more difficult to reason from the heart, but easier to love.

Jesus, by his life, and his love, and his sacrifice points us to God as our Redeemer, our Saviour.

And he explained this superbly, when he told the story of the Prodigal Son. 

You will remember that the younger son was given his inheritance, and straightway went out and  blew it all.

After living for a while as the equivalent of a street person, he came to his senses and went home to his father. He didn’t expect to be treated well. He had after all shamed his family, and himself. He hoped only to be treated as a servant in his father’s house.

But his father had missed him; had pined for him; had longed for his return.

And when the father finally caught a glimpse of his son, over there in the distance, he ran to him,  and embraced him, and welcomed him back, with celebration and reinstatement as a son of the family. 

God longs for, pines for, sorrows over, the rebellious and the wayward, and He goes more than halfway. Instead of punishing us, He takes our  punishment for us, and makes it easier for us to return.

That is God in the heart. Jesus the Son.

We become not slaves, nor servants, nor robots, forced to do His will  – we become children of God – in harmony with Him, and in communion with Him.

And if we are loving children of God, we want others to know Him the same way, and have the same benefits – to know Him as we know him.

One little boy was taking this idea very seriously. He was working hard on a drawing and his daddy asked him what he was doing. The little boy looked up from his pad, and said, “ Drawing a picture of God.”  His daddy said, “You can’t do that honey, no-one knows what God looks like.”

The little boy was undeterred. He looked at his drawing, added a few more strokes of his pencil, and said, “They will in a few minutes.”

We want to share our views about God with everyone else. We want people to know how fabulous it is to be loved by Him and to love Him back. We want people to know how liberating it is to bring the garbage of our lives to God, and not only to be forgiven but to be welcomed with open arms.

We want people to know how much fun it is to be a follower of Jesus.

And we get to this place by accepting God as Father;  accepting Jesus as  Saviour; and accepting the Holy Spirit as enabler.

The Spirit of Christ is what enabled David Livingstone to travel through darkest Africa; and other missionaries, likewise, to travel to the nethermost regions, of the world,  to bring knowledge of Christ .

Missionaries developed written languages where there weren’t any, and then translated the Bible into  those languages. They worked in tropical heat, or arctic cold. They worked with the light from candles, or whale oil lamps, fighting off weird and dangerous diseases – to bring to people – people like you and me – people from next door – down the street –the joy of  knowing God to those who knew him not.

Their willing hands were the hands of the Holy Spirit.

God here (head) Jesus here( heart) and the Holy Spirit here (hands).

One God – creating, loving, healing, forgiving, enabling, being – with us, His children in this world.

We are blessed in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

David Livingstone (/ˈlɪvɪŋstən/; 19 March 1813 – 1 May 1873) was a Scottish physician, Congregationalist, and pioneer Christian missionary[2] with the London Missionary Society, an explorer in Africa, and one of the most popular British heroes of the late 19th-century Victorian era. He had a mythic status that operated on a number of interconnected levels: Protestant missionary martyr, working-class “rags-to-riches” inspirational story, scientific investigator and explorer, imperial reformer, anti-slavery crusader, and advocate of British commercial and colonial expansion.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia