Category Archives: Family

the community of the Trinity

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Holy Trinity Icon (Moscow, Russia)

Romans 8:12-17
For Sunday, June 3, 2012
Trinity Sunday

One reason for each of this week’s readings being chosen is their shared focus on the Trinity.  Christianity is unique among world religions in claiming that God is both one and three.  He is one being in three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This passage calls out each of these three persons explicitly.  The Father is mentioned in relation to God’s children calling out, “Abba, Father” (v. 15).  The Son is mentioned in relation to our being “joint heirs with Christ” if we would share both in his sufferings as well as his glory (v. 17).  The Holy Spirit is mentioned in relation to our being led by the Spirit (v. 14) and the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God (v. 16).

Just as we experience 3-way community with our mother and father so does God experience 3-way community with Himself.  We are not meant to live only for ourselves but for one another.  This is why Paul encourages us in this passage to put to death the deeds of the flesh (read sinful self-absorbtion) so that we will experience the true life of the Spirit which is infused with peace and joy.

Point to Ponder:
What is your fondest memory of time with your Mom and/or Dad?  How might that point to the peace and joy of living in the Spirit?

that can’t be right?

For Sunday, April 29, 2012
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:5-12 

That can't be right?

Last weekend I heard a National Public Radio broadcast on which a speaker was describing to a live audience that while he grew up in a church, in wrestling with his homosexuality the conclusion he had reached about Christianity was, “That can’t be right.”  The sympathetic audience cheered loudly.

Christianity was being portrayed as intolerant, out of touch, authoritarian, and just plain wrong.  How could a loving God condemn to eternal damnation a guy who is just trying to listen to his heart?

I thought back to that broadcast while reading Acts 4, one of this week’s readings.  The first century Christians were not operating within a friendly audience either.  Yet their focus was to teach and proclaim in Jesus the resurrection of the dead (Acts 4:2).  At the same time their ministry did not stop with words.  They had also healed a crippled beggar (Acts 3:1-10).  The powers of the day (the priests, captain of the temple guard, and Sadducees) were saying, “That can’t be right“, yet the early church’s ministry served to put a question mark on the end of the statement: “That can’t be right?”   The crippled beggar, now healed, was standing for all to see.  This made Christianity and the resurrection of Jesus most difficult to dismiss.

We need to prosecute the church’s ministry today likewise.  First, we need to teach and proclaim the resurrection of the dead in Jesus.  This life is not all there is and this life can be filled with peace and joy if we will only let God come in and redeem our brokenness and alienation from him.  Then, just as the apostles pointed to a cripple healed we need to point to crippled lives healed as well.  Maybe the healing will be physical or maybe of some other kind.  In my own case I would point to the healing that continues to take place in me since the childhood trauma of my Mom’s mental illness.

To the homosexual who was speaking on NPR and to his sympathetic audience I would like to put this question:  How do we knowwhat is really right and really true?  Is it really up to each of us to put our faith in the emotions of each of our hearts?  How sound is this approach, especially if our hearts have been corrupted, which seems most likely given the brokenness we see in the humanity all around us.  The Bible speaks to this: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?”  (Jer. 17:9).

So yes, one way to look at the speaker’s situation is to say, “My heart tells me I’m attracted to my own sex so to claim otherwise just can’t be right.”  Yet another way to look at it is this: “Maybe there is something wrong with all of us.  Maybe part of this often manifests itself as a warped sexuality that sometimes presents itself in the form of homosexuality.  Yet maybe this isn’t what God intended and really isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.”

Secular culture encourages us not to address this issue.  The famous Seinfeld episode puts it this way: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”  Christianity says something different: there is something wrong with that.  First and foremost, the plumbing just doesn’t work that way, does it?  Why is that?

That can’t be right?

Readers Corner: How do you think the church might best be good news to homosexuals?

a light for people walking in darkness

Vladimirskaya Theotocos, Orthodox Icon, 12th Century


For Sunday, December 25, 2011

Nativity of the Lord, Proper 1
(Isaiah 9, Psalm 96, Luke 2, Titus 2)

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”  So starts Isaiah 9:2.  We Christians were once “people walking in darkness.”  We were those “living in the land of deep darkness“.  This latter phrase could also be translated “living in the land of the shadow of death.”  But while this was true of us now a light has dawned.    This is why we light up our homes at Christmas.  As our exterior illumination dispels the darkness of December so does the presence of Jesus dispel the shadow of death that once reigned.

Christmas has always been a difficult time for me emotionally.  It’s because of the trauma I lived through as a child as we struggled to cope with my Mom’s mental illness.  I’ve come a long way in terms of being able to enjoy  the holiday, but for me, the light has only dawned.  We’re far from noontime.  Yet this is okay.  The important thing is that the light has dawned and will only get brighter as I continue on this journey with Jesus.

Psalm 96 encourages us to “worship the Lord in holy splendor.”  What might “holy splendor” really look like in my local church?  My mind immediately goes to the beautiful cathedrals I have experienced in both Russia and right here in Milwaukee.  Yet the wise men who were with Jesus had no cathedral and yet certainly there was “holy splendor” in their worship of the baby Jesus, despite the straw all around.  They brought frankincense and myrrh.  Have you ever worshipped amidst the aroma of frankincense and myrrh?  A personal confession: I burn these as incense at home and find them wonderfully calming, affirming, and stimulating.  Bring some to your pastor.  Enjoy some together: might this be a way to bring some holy splendor into your Christmas worship?

What a joy as well to read Luke 2 this week.  I call this the Linus chapter, because having seen Charlie Brown’s Christmas so many times, I can’t seem to hear the words any other way.  “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  No matter who is speaking them these are good words indeed, so Linus, thank you!

This week’s final reading, Titus 2, proclaims clearly and wonderfully what Christmas ought to mean for each of us who have come to the manger: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and wordly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly.”  What a far cry from the vision of the world, which might sound like this: “For Hollywood has appeared, calling us to live lives that are self-actualized, glamorous, and glitzy.”  The problem: once the sugar high wears off all we’re left with is lives that are “self-indulgent, superficial, and vapid.”  Are you ready for something different?  Let the light of Jesus dawn.

Point to ponder:
You are standing by the manger.  You look into the baby Jesus eyes.  He looks back.  In this moment, what is God saying to you?  How can the light of Jesus grow a little brighter in your life this week?

whatever

Duccio di Buoninsegna, “The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekial” (1937)
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

For Sunday, November 28, 2010
First Sunday of Advent, Year A
Whatever. This is the default posture of our secular age toward faith. The problem is that “whatever” doesn’t work in real life, and deep down, we all know it. If I’m mad at my wife, I can say “whatever”, but that’s not sustainable, and I know it. If one of my kids is going off the rails, I can say “whatever”, but that’s not the reality of the situation. I love my wife. I love my sons. I want things to be right between me and them. I want things to be right at work and at church too.

This Sunday marks a wonderful opportunity to replace “whatever” with something sustainable. How about this: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and goodwill toward men”? This Sunday marks the move on the lectionary calendar from Year C’s “Season after Pentecost” (Ordinary Time) to Year A’s “Advent”.

What is “Advent”? Advent derives from the Latin adventus, which means “coming”. What is coming? Hectic days of shopping and family we don’t want to see. Only if what hangs over our existence is “whatever”. Let’s take that sign down and replace it with “glory to God in the highest” and just see what could be different.

Here is how “glory to God in the highest” sings through this week’s readings:

The mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established . . . and all the nations will stream to it. He will teach us his ways so that way may walk in his paths. Nation will not rise up against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord (Isaiah 2:1-5).

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem
May those who love you be secure
May there be peace within your walls
And security within your citadels (Psalm 122)

Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come (Matt. 24:36-44)

The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed (Rom. 13:11-14)

In response to “whatever” here was G.K. Chesterton’s reply:

“Any dead thing can float downstream. It takes a living thing to swim against it.”

Wishing you a joyous Advent Season.