12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 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. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Jesus words from the Gospel of John speak about one of great mysteries of the Christian faith. Christianity is monotheistic; we believe in one God. But within our God is the belief in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – all three in one, making up the Trinity. Yesterday, we celebrated Trinity Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost.
That our God is complete only within the Trinity is too complex for us to understand at the deepest levels. The Book of Common Prayer has in the catechism this simple question and answer about the Holy Spirit:
The Holy Spirit
Q. What is the Holy Spirit?
A. The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity, God at work in the world and in the Church even now.
God the Creator was present from the beginning. As was foretold in the Old Testament (Isaiah especially), God sent his Son to live as one of us and die for our sins – the second piece of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit was sent as the one true Advocate after Jesus ascended to heaven for the last time after his death and resurrection (see last week’s blog post here https://paigehanks.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/the-fire-of-gods-love/) This was the final piece of the Trinity revealed to God’s people. One God in Three Persons; the Blessed Trinity.
Now, I am a simple girl that sees the world as pretty black and white. I love the structure that comes with rules and tend to be literal in their interpretation. But let’s face it – literally speaking, the Trinity makes no sense. Is it three Gods? How does God come as a man then rise from the dead as Jesus? The Holy Spirit???? Kind of creepy if you just focus on this formless and shapeless being that does God’s work in the world without the context of understanding that this just isn’t for us to fully understand. But I like to understand my world and so I need a little something to help me.
For me, the Trinity is a system. To compare, we have a nervous system in our body, along with muscular, digestive, skeletal, reproductive, respiratory systems, etc. Any one of those systems cannot make our body work as a stand alone. The muscular system helps us to move our arms, legs, and bodies to move throughout our lives. It is useless without our nervous system to tell which muscles to move and when. There is nothing for the digestive system to do if we don’t have muscles moving to get the food to the stomach. We are an intricate melding of systems to make the one body work. Science has helped us understand these systems and many others in the world, providing structure and order to a complex concept.
I like to think of the Trinity as a system. God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit – all are necessary for the fulfillment of God’s purpose in the world. God created us and gave us the talents and capabilities to do the things he has designed for each of us. Jesus came to the world to save us from the unfortunate decisions we make and give us a promise of eternal life with God. And the Holy Spirit resides in and around us, guiding us to do the work God the Creator intends us to do. I’m sure it is way more beautiful and simple than this rudimentary explanation, which will be revealed to us when we are granted complete healing upon our death; but for now, this systems thinking of the Trinity helps me wrap my brain around the awesome wonder that is our God.
For me, awakening to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is my focus. I just came back from a Centering Prayer Retreat at St. Mary’s in Sewanee, TN (http://www.stmaryssewanee.org/). I feel closer to the Holy Spirit part of the system through the learning of the technique of Centering Prayer and hope to develop this habit fully in my prayer life. Each of us is called by God to do his Kingdom Work. I pray that I may feel the power and presence of the Holy Spirit every day as I discern how God is planning for me to live out his Word.
God the Creator, thank you for the gift of the Trinity. Your grace and mercy in our creation is awesome and we praise you. Send us out in the world to serve and honor you in all we do and say. We ask all your blessings through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. AMEN
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Coming of the Holy Spirit
2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Peter Addresses the Crowd
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
The image of fire invokes strong responses from people. Being warmed by a fire on a cold winter’s night is a comforting feeling; seeing a fire burn through a hillside during fire season strikes fear in our hearts. The heat of a fire can keep you alive and it can take away your life in a flash. Vivid images, both positive and negative, come from just hearing about the word fire.
The Bible is full of stories about fire and the way God uses it to get our attention. Moses and the burning bush, where God makes a very clear point about what he wants Moses to go and do for the people of Israel. The story in Daniel of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego coming out of a furnace completely unscathed after Nebuchadnezzar attempts to get all to worship him, only to find himself declaring to the people that all should worship God alone. And the story above from Luke’s writings in Acts, describing a confusing and maybe quite terrifying day when the Lord sent the Holy Spirit to live among the people, with each person present receiving tongues of fire on them.
We can’t begin to understand the power of God and when we try, we always will fall short because our human minds just can’t comprehend the power and glory of our Father. But I would venture to say that he uses fire in those three examples to get our attention. Quite successfully, don’t you think? I’m sure that God can create any sort of imagery possible, but these three examples were transformative to those who witnessed them.
On the day of Pentecost, seven weeks (about 50 days) after Jesus’ resurrection, over 100 of his disciples were gathered together to pray. Jesus was already gone to be with the Father and a loud rush of wind entered the place where they were. Were they scared? I bet they were! Wind…then fire? Then everyone speaking in different languages and onlookers (who were those folks, I wonder???) thinking they were drunk at 9 in the morning! Then Peter addressed the crowd, reminding everyone of the prophet Joel’s words about God sending his Spirit to help spread the knowledge of God to all. I am pretty sure that quieted down the doubters!
All the different languages, the rush of wind and the fire – pretty hefty imagery. And for good reason – those 120 folks were to go out and evangelize to the world and that legacy continues today to Christians everywhere. It does little good in furthering God’s kingdom to rest on our faith while others wander through life without knowing the love of God. Evangelism is a pretty scary word for many Christians (especially us Episcopalians), but it really is pretty simple. Live God’s word in your life. Love your neighbor. Tell how Jesus has changed your life. Pray for others. No need to yell and scream, to judge or condemn; just love.
I may not have a visible tongue of flame visible around me, but I am called to do the same things as those folks on the day of Pentecost over 2000 years ago. Go out in the world and share the Good News.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit, we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Jesus Christ Our Lord. AMEN
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
When I was a freshman in college, I experienced one of the greatest social experiments for students this age – I pledged a sorority. I went to college far from home; no phone back then (much less a cell phone!!), no T.V., no car and not a soul that I knew. Sorority rush was a few weeks after I arrived and I immediately felt a sense of belonging on my bid day. I not only had new friends, but I also spent the semester learning about the beliefs of our founders and was introduced to a life long focus on serving others and philanthropy within a community, separate from my parents and my childhood and something I could own and believe in.
I remember standing in line on bid day and there was a group of girls in front of me that clearly all knew each other. They laughed at jokes that had unspoken insider information and already seemed to have that “sisterhood” thing before even accepting their bid. But some of them weren’t like girls I had ever known. They dressed differently, talked with strange accents from parts of the country I had never visited – and I was quite intimidated. Fast forward 27 years and these are some of my lifelong friends and sisters. All I needed was the “invitation.”
Being a follower of Christ is so much greater than my sisterhood in my sorority. Some obvious differences include that EVERYONE is invited to believe and follow Christ, no one who chooses to live a life in Christ will ever feel rejected in that relationship and we don’t have to DO ANYTHING to be deserving of acceptance. This verse from John describes the complex and simple dichotomy of the relationship of Jesus with God – both praying to the Lord and depicting his role as part of the Trinity, therefore inclusive WITH God. His words from verse 22-24 are a clear articulation of Jesus’ desire to share his knowledge and love of God with his friends and followers, as well as for you and me.
The world gets a lot more simplified when we view it through this lens of love. Loving our neighbors as ourselves, God’s love for the world and its people illustrated through sending his Son to take away our sins, loving our enemies, and trying to love ourselves as God loves us. All the other stuff we experience in the world can be flipped around if we filter it with love. Just try feeling anything other than love for someone who wrongs you when you remember that he or she is a child of God, just like you! It’s much harder to hang on to hurt when we are invited to love. Loving Christ and others through him makes everything easier to handle and the world a much better place.
God of love, open our hearts to reach out in love to those around us; at home, at work, at school, in our community and those we don’t even know. Help us to feel your love for us each day and to live out our lives in a way that honors your greatest commandment. We thank you for your many gifts and we ask you to lift our eyes to you to feel your love for us. In your name we pray. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Heals on the Sabbath
5 After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Now that day was a sabbath.
This picture is of the stained glass window just behind the altar at our church, St. Peter’s, McKinney, TX (http://www.stpetersmckinney.com/). In today’s sermon by Fr. Michael, he discussed the meaning of our window – the focal point of the church. There is a great story there about how the church once faced the other direction after being rebuilt by fire, and that the window was covered by the choir loft for years before the church was reoriented to the south wall. If you look closely at the picture above, you can see that there is an angel coming down (head is down and feet are up in the window) and the bottom of the window is the water being “troubled” by the angel. Fr. Michael also pointed out something I had missed completely on the first read through of this passage – verse 4 is missing above. He explained that there was some controversy about this verse not always consistently found in early Biblical writings and this is the text for verse 4:
4 for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well from whatever disease that person had.
Today’s Gospel reading is a story of healing at first glance. Jesus heals a long-sick man who is found waiting at the healing pools by the Sheep Gate (the place the sheep were brought in to be sacrificed). But I want to focus on the troubling of the water. In high school, I first heard the song, “Wade in the Water,” a negro spiritual (here is a link to one version http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7FmBB3UUH0). One of the lines says, “The Lord’s gonna trouble the water.” This song was one of many songs used as a language secret to slaves from their owners to help slaves find their way to freedom. Simon and Garfunkel sang “Bridge over Troubled Water which was a #1 hit on the Billboard charts in 1970, written by Paul Simon as lyrics intended to provide comfort to those in need. The waters where the paralyzed man received his healing from Jesus were the same – a place to give hope to the hopeless. There is even a documentary about Hurricane Katrina called “Trouble the Water” that will debut at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, providing hope in one of the most devastating “troubled water” natural and man made disasters in our country’s history.
Obviously with this much well known focus on troubled water, this image is a powerful one. If troubled water comes by sending an angel to create healing, helping slaves become free, giving comfort to those in need, then where can we find troubled water or trouble it for someone else today? Each of us has the opportunity at some point in time to be there for a person in need. God calls us to do his work in the world and help people come to know the redeeming love of Jesus. In the Episcopal church, we state our beliefs in the Nicene Creed every week during our worship. The last portion of the creed sums up those beliefs about Jesus’ saving grace:
In summary, we (not in isolation intentionally!) believe in the Trinity and our community of faith; we are forgiven and will live forever with our Lord in a perfect healing, all because Jesus came and gave his life for us. No more waiting in the pool for healing, no more slavery or need for bridges over the water – instead, living our life in Christ gives us the hope, grace and mercy to see past all conflicts and challenges and focus on our call to love one another. All of us are in need of healing of one kind or another, and we can be that healing (troubled) water for each other.
Healing Lord, help us be a source of strength and comfort to those we meet and those we know and love already. Help us provide hope to others in need and sustain us with your love and grace. We love you, we worship you, we vow to be your hands in the world. AMEN.