Trinity Sunday, May 26, 2024: Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17; Psalm 29

It is a fearful thing to see God. God reveals themself to Moses through the burning bush; even when delivering the commandments, Moses does not see God’s face. When Isaiah sees the Lord, sitting on his throne, he is distraught: “Woe is me!”

Today is observed as Trinity Sunday, the day when we focus in particular on the central mystery of Christianity: the idea of “God in three persons”: one God, with three aspects. I grew up with “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”; not all families, however, are healthy, and that language can be difficult for some. Some now use “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer”, which provides a functional description, if not exactly a person. I find both helpful, but also reminders of the fundamental mystery of three “persons” making one God, one God with three aspects. It’s not surprising that there are Jewish and Muslim theologians who doubt that Christianity is a monotheistic religion.

I don’t pretend to understand the Trinity, but reading Isaiah this week, I wondered if the fear he expresses is a clue. It is, after all, easier to see the face of Jesus than the face of God. The concept of the Trinity to some extent makes God more accessible. When we see Jesus, we are reminded, we are seeing God. One of the ways I find the Trinity helpful as a concept is that there is always at least one person of the Trinity with whom I feel a relationship. Sometimes it’s Jesus, sometimes it’s the Creator God, occasionally it’s the Spirit.

Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans that we are “children of God”. As children of God, we are, *with Christ*, God’s heirs. That places us in a special place in relation to Jesus, but also in relation to each other. Anyone with siblings knows that being siblings is not a guarantee of getting along, or liking each other. But most of the time, we understand our connection to them, and often, our shared histories and mutual obligations.

The Trinity is a mystery. But it is a mystery that holds us together. May we hold the mystery in our hearts, and always grow in our relationship with God: three in one and one in three.

Pentecost, 19 May 2024: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15; Psalm 104:25-35, 37

The spirit descended on the house. “And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.”

At a former church I attended, we read the reading from Acts in many languages: we started with ancient Greek, ended with English, but we used all the languages known by church members. You heard the cacophany. It wasn’t that easy to pick out any one language, though.

Recently I’ve wondered if what really happened was that people heard what they needed to hear, if what was preached spoke to their varied needs and feelings. That is no more miraculous than the multiple languages, but speaks to the ways we hear the words of the gospel in different ways at different times.

In Ezekiel’s account of the Valley of the Dry Bones, bodies are not fully alive until they receive the spirit. We need the spirit, which comes among us on the day of Pentecost.



7th Sunday of Easter, May 12, 2024: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19; Psalm 1

There are Sundays when parts of the readings are difficult to reconcile with life as we know it. John’s gospel today is primarily Jesus’s prayer before his ascension: directed to God, it is spoken aloud so the disciples hear it. Jesus asks God to “protect them. . .that they may have my joy made complete.” Insofar as we know the fates of the disciples who are listening to this, they were executed for their work in spreading the gospel of Jesus. So whatever protection God offered, it did not protect them from a terrible death. And what is the joy that has been made complete? And then Psalm 1: “Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked”. Really?

The problem is that we can point to any number of examples in the world today of people who have most certainly not walked in the counsel of the wicked who are far from happy, and certainly have not been protected. Whether victims of war in Gaza, Sudan, or Ukraine; victims of environmental disaster around the globe, we can point to people who have lost loved ones, or homes, or communities through no fault of their own, other than living where they live. And yet, we always find amidst the despair signs of hope.

The promises John makes are not, of course, focused on physical experience as much a spiritual experience. You may face danger, and loss, but the protection is that you are not alone: God is with you. God may manifest themself to you through people who care for you or help you, or even just show that they recognize your suffering. Those who have suffered profound loss, for instance, often talk about the importance of feeling not just God’s presence and love, but also practical assistance from those who show up.

In recent weeks, students concerned about the war in Gaza have set up tent camps at many colleges and universities. While they have demands focused on the divestment of university funds from Israel, the immediate impulse is simply to do something to call attention to the unimaginable suffering of the people of Gaza: 35,000 dead, thousands of children left without surviving parents, all hospitals and universities destroyed. It feels important to many to show that this suffering is seen.

The joy and happiness that we read about in today’s gospel is not, of course, the casual happiness that we so often talk about, or recognize on social media with confetti. It is rather joy and happiness of the spirit, grounded in relationship with God and Jesus. It is the knowledge of that connection that carries us through. We are not protected from bad things; we are protected from being alone. May we always feel God’s presence with us.


Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2024: Acts 10:44-48; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17; Psalm 98

Today’s readings focus on inclusion, community, and friendship: these are things the Church talks about a lot, but does not always act on. In Acts we hear Peter preaching to a mixed audience of Jewish Christians and Gentiles. A big controversy among the followers of Jesus in the early years was who could be a part of the movement. Jesus was a Jew, and his disciples were Jews. He presented himself, and his disciples understood him, as a fulfillment of the Hebrew scriptures. Was his gospel only for the Jews? Or for everyone? Paul had always been preaching to the Gentiles, but Peter was the apostle to the Jews. Peter was not as conservative as some, who held that to be a Christian you had to be circumcised and keep the rabbinic laws. But he still maintained a separation between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. The final agreement for inclusion is recorded at a Council in Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15.

In today’s reading from Acts, we hear the end of the story where this is in play. The story actually starts with Cornelius, a Roman officer in Caesarea, having a vision of an angel, who tells him where to find Peter, who is staying in the nearby town of Joppa. At the same time, Peter has a vision: he is hungry, and the vision is of many creatures, with the command to “kill and eat”. Peter asserts he has never eaten anything unclean. The voice tells him that “what God has made clean, you must not call profane” (10:15). When Cornelius’ men come to find him, he hears a voice from God telling him to go with them. He goes, along with some of the believers in Joppa. At Cornelius’ house, there are the members of his household and others.

Almost the first thing Peter says at Cornelius’ house is “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” (10:28) Cornelius asks to hear “everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us”. So Peter unfolds the Gospel, from John the Baptist, to the ministry of Jesus, to his death and resurrection. While Peter preaches, the Holy Spirit descends on his listeners, even the Gentiles, who were speaking in tongues and extolling God. So Peter orders that they be baptized. The answer about inclusion at this moment ended up being simple: if the Gentiles could hear the Gospel, they could be baptized. Peter had learned that he “should not call anyone impure or unclean” (10:28). Cornelius was changed, but so was Peter.

In the Epistle, we are reminded of our community with other Christians: if we are children of God, we love all the other children of God. And then in John’s Gospel, in his final instructions to his disciples, Jesus commands them to “love one another as I have loved you”. He continues, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

This is all difficult. It is very difficult to love all of God’s children. Furthermore, we are much more likely to be willing to lay down our lives for our families, not our friends. Many of us have close friends about whom we care deeply. But I would be surprised if many of us think of ourselves as being willing to die for them. What we do is talk about friends who are “like family”. We try to incorporate close friends into family. But Jesus calls out friendship, a chosen relationship outside the structures of society, as central. His disciples are not a pseudo-family, they are friends.

What would it mean to elevate friendship to the highest level of importance? What would it mean for the church not to describe itself as a family, but a group of friends? What would it mean for us to accept that we should be willing to die not for our families, but for our friends? What would it take for us to accept the challenge to love all the other children of God? What would it take for us to actually welcome everyone in our churches? Probably as much as it took for Peter to accept that Cornelius and his household and friends should be baptized!

But it is possible. It was possible for Peter, so it is for us. For, as the Psalm reminds us, we can “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.”