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)
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.
Jesus Is Rejected by the Jews
22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”
Sheep may not be the best candidates for the “Most Independent Thinker” award, but they know how to keep safe. Although we don’t come in contact with too many shepherds and their flock in today’s world, we know a few things about the relationship between the caretaker and the sheep. Like many animals, they grow accustomed to distinguishing human voice – they can recognize the nuance between their shepherd and the voice of a stranger. They stick together for the most part and will follow their shepherd where ever he or she may lead them. They don’t tend to rely on instincts outside of those that reflect the “herd” mentality – stay close to your leader and keep your friends and family close as well. Maybe they are pretty smart after all, since they tend not to wander off on their own to rely on their own survival instincts.
The Bible is full of sheep and shepherd stories and Jesus uses this role of leading people who follow him to teach throughout his many lessons. Now, I don’t know about you, but I really like the fact that I have free will to do with as I please. In fact, I am quite adept at doing exactly what I please, when I want to do it and how I want to do it! Luckily for me (and through an abundance of grace and mercy), things have worked out nicely for me most of the time. But when they don’t work out well, and I find myself away from the flock and feeling alone and lost, you can be sure that the reasons I find myself there can be traced directly back to my own wanderings. No one led me there and my reliance on my Lord is often nowhere to be found.
So how do we balance our God given ability to make our decisions with our need as Christians to follow our shepherd Jesus Christ? I think I would be the richest woman in the world if I discovered the formula for this that was 100% foolproof. Instead, we all have our good days and bad days (or good years and bad decades) of the results of this imbalance of power. It’s not like we don’t want to follow God’s will for us; not too many believers in Christ wake up and make the decision to deliberately ignore anything God might be saying to us! Instead, we have to make the time to follow Christ AND to use our free will in combination with one another. You’ve heard that story/joke about the man trapped on the roof of his flooded home and he passes on several opportunities to be rescued with a heartfelt, “No thanks, God will save me,” only to drown and hear God’s response to his question about why he wasn’t saved with: “I sent you a boat, a helicopter and several other opportunities and you passed up on them all!” God puts opportunities in our path and may even send us a slight (or strong even) nudge and it’s our job to follow the path.
The gift of everlasting life seems like an enormously generous offering in light of our smallish effort of just “following” him. Trusting in God and his will for us takes courage and guts, because many of the paths in front of us seem much easier than the surrender of following God. He promises us that the enemy will not snatch us from him when we put ourselves in his care. He has told us this again and again, yet we do not believe, just as the Jews in this story who want Jesus to tell them plainly that he is the Messiah (as if all the teaching and miracles have just not been enough yet). But our job is simple: Love God with all our heart, love the people of the world and follow his path to do his work on the earth. Simple, but not easy when we want to be our own shepherds.
Dear Lord, the great shepherd of your people, help us to trust in you with all our heart, all our mind and all our soul. We ask you to lead us in your ways and show us mercy when we stray from the flock. We want to follow you, love you and serve you. We ask this in the name of your son Jesus Christ. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus before Pilate
23 Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus[a] before Pilate. 2 They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.”[b] 3 Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.” 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” 5 But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.”
Jesus before Herod
6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. 9 He questioned him at some length, but Jesus[c] gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. 12 That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.
Jesus Sentenced to Death
13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”[d]
18 Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” 19 (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) 20 Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” 23 But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
The Crucifixion of Jesus
26 As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28 But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus[e] there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”]][f] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah[g] of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him,[h] “This is the King of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding[i] him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah?[j] Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into[k] your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The Death of Jesus
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land[l] until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed;[m] and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. 47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.”[n] 48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49 But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Remember the childhood game of “Hot Potato?” The goal of the game was to pass an item of some sort from one person to another while music played. When the music stopped, the person holding the item (or “hot potato”) was out. No one wanted to be holding the item when the music stopped! That game reminds me of the passing of the buck as Jesus was brought before Pilate. As Pilate begins his inquisition, he soon realizes that this is somewhat of a witch hunt; no real crimes have been committed by Jesus. He asks if Jesus is Galilean, and when he learns that is true, sends him off to Herod, who just happened to be passing through the area. I’m sure he did so with a big sigh of relief, thinking that now this problem of Jesus and what to do to appease the chief priests and crowds that have gathered has just been taken off his plate.
Herod has waited for this for a while – a chance to see what this Jesus can really do! He has heard about the miracles and the great following of Jesus, but Jesus is no trained monkey. He doesn’t perform miracles on command for Herod at all, much to Herod’s disappointment, I am sure! So Herod and his authorities dressed him to mock him as a king, and then sent him back, passing the hot potato yet again. I have this image of Pilate smacking his forehead and shaking his head, as this problem appears right back in his lap. But instead of decision making, the job of Pilate in the first place, he turns to the crowd and asks them their thoughts. Passing the hot potato, yet again.
The Disney movie “Shrek” has a mob scene at the beginning of the movie, where the townspeople are chasing after this cartoon ogre with pitchforks and fire. As you watch the movie, Shrek’s loveable and caring sides come out, and you forget all about how the townspeople were gunning for Shrek from the start. That “mob mentality” ruled the day on that sad Friday all those years ago. The shouts to release Barabbas, a known murderer, and to crucify Jesus may have started with just a few of the folks in the crowd, but the adrenaline and frenzy of the crowd grew and grew, just like at a sporting event or rock concert. Before you know it, you’re high fiving strangers after a play as if you actually had a hand in the action on the field. From our 20,000 feet view of 2000 years of time passing, it seems incredulous that the very people who had witnessed Jesus living his life with love and extraordinary miracles would just turn on a dime and demand his death. So Pilate passes the hot potato this last time, reluctantly agreeing to the wishes of the crowd, even when knowing that the decision had no basis on fact.
How many times do we as Christians pass the buck when God leads us to a place where we would rather not be? “Not me, Lord; this is too hard, the burden too great,” we say to ourselves. “Maybe someone else will help that guy out.” “Maybe another person will support this ministry.” “We had a late Saturday night with friends – I think we’ll just sleep in on Sunday morning.” You know we’ve all said one or more of these types of responsibility avoidance statements. Pilate saw his hands as clean from Jesus’ bloodshed, because he only just did what the people demanded. But when we avoid our responsibilities, commitments, and duties and the hands and feet of God in this world, they don’t go away.
As we enter this Holy Week, listen carefully and answer God’s call to us. It may be a quiet whisper in the wind or a shout from a mountaintop. Don’t deny Him when He calls.
Dear Father, we know you love us. We don’t deserve the grace and mercy you pour out on us every day. Give us the will to persevere and do your work to glorify your name, even when it seems to hard or the crowds are leading us elsewhere. Thank you for giving your son to die for us. We love you, Lord. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
The Mission of the Seventy
10 After this the Lord appointed seventy[a] others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’[b]
As long as I have known my Mother-in-Law, she has been a worrier. We have a joke in our house that we can just tell her our worries and she’ll free us up to live without the worry anymore, because she is doing all the worrying FOR us! But in reality, worrying just gets in the way of our close relationship with Christ, because worrying is the very thing Jesus tells these early evangelists NOT to do as he sends them to unknown destinations to spread the word of God to unbelievers in a time where it was inherently dangerous to do so. Sending them out “like lambs in the midst of wolves” speaks of Jesus knowing full well the dangers that each of us face as we carry our torch of faith into the broken and misguided world in which we live. Yet he asks us to press on, just as he directed these seventy chosen faithful when he told them to stay put, no matter the welcome.
But let’s be real. If I am in an uncomfortable setting, the last thing I want to do is to stay there! And who likes to be rejected when we try to form new relationships and step out of our comfort zones? But if we stand firm in our beliefs and listen to God as He calls us into the world to do the work of the Holy Spirit, even when we we are sincerely uncomfortable, He reminds us that we are sharing the Kingdom and our works may not produce the fruit we want, but rather what HE wants. And when you think about it, growth is uncomfortable!
Stay strong, dear followers of Jesus. For as we go out into the world, Jesus reminds us that in doing so, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” How can we want more for our world if we worry about going out into that world? We are armed with faith and love and that really is all we need to make a difference.
Father, send us out into your Kingdom to do your good works. We give our worries up to you. Guide us and protect us in Jesus’ name. Amen.