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You Are Ready
May 26, 2013
05-26-2013 Sermon It has been a long journey. For the disciples, it began with a hand out stretched, a few words offered, and that was it. The disciples, these young followers of Jesus, had walked alongside their teacher from the backwoods of Galilee to the bustling streets of Jerusalem. Their teacher had taught them many things, new ways of seeing the world and understanding their God, yet for much of the journey, the disciples had to live as though standing in a dimly lit room, only able to see one thing at a time, the whole picture never fully coming into view. Widows and sheep, demons and miracles, synagogues and storms. What is Jesus up to? What is the point of all this? How do I fit into this story?
Then their world came crashing down. Confusion and fear, arrest and betrayal, cross and crown, earthquake and death. In those dark times, it felt like all had been lost. Alone and scared, the disciples were then jolted from their despair by the frantic words of Mary, “He is Risen!” Running and witnessing, empty tombs and brilliant angels, a savior with a heartbeat – standing in their midst. Once again their world had been turned upside down.
As the meaning of Jesus’ life struck home with the disciples, a new reality crept into their world. This Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus had said to them that “I and the Father are one.” Could it really be that this flesh and blood savior was one with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? The God who created the world, who thundered from Sinai, who rescued the people of Israel, and who appeared as fire and cloud in the Tabernacle? And even more incredibly, that this God had sent a Son into the world to bring peace, heal the sick, die to set us free, and to be raised up to new life?
As the disciples were just beginning to realize the meaning of Jesus’ message, the time had come for Jesus to depart from this world. In his farewell to his beloved disciples, Jesus says that “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, the Spirit will guide you into all the truth… All that God has is mine, and for this reason I say that the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.” And then Jesus was gone.
Days later, the promised Spirit showed up. Roaring wind and dancing flame, new languages and bold proclamations. At last, the fullness of God was revealed. God the Father, the Mother, the Creator, the Eternal. God the Son, the human, the redeemer, the savior. God the Spirit, the wisdom, the fire, and the counselor. At last, the disciples saw clearly, as if that half dimmed room had been flooded by light. The message was clear. Go and tell what you have seen. Share this good news of the Gospel in the name of God, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Change the world. Bring peace. Spread hope. Be love. It had indeed been a long journey. But now, the disciples are ready.
To those who are new to the church, what we do here must look very strange. We put water on babies, carry big crosses, wear funny robes, eat little pieces of bread dipped in juice, and light asymmetrical candles. What does this all mean? What is going on here in this community? I think that I first came to understand what this was all about when I read The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. In their wanderings, two of the main characters, called hobbits, meet a talking tree. They introduce themselves and the conversation proceeds: I’m a Brandybuck, says the first hobbit, Meriadoc Brandybuck, though most people call me just Merry. And I’m a Took, says the second hobbit, Peregin Took, but I’m generally called Pippin or even Pip. Hmm, but you are a hasty folk I see, said the talking tree, I am honored by your confidence, but you should not be too free all at once. I’ll call you Merry and Pippin… but I am not going to tell you my name. For one thing, it would take a very long time. My name is growing all the time, continues the talking tree, and I’ve lived a very long long time, so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to in my language. It is a lovely language, says the tree, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.”
The church is a place where we tell of our name, to ourselves, and to the world. And our name is a long one, one that has been growing since the creation of the world. Our name is a very long story – of how we were made, of how God chose us, how God liberated us from bondage, how God planted us in the promised land, of how God has given the story a new twist, giving our name meaning in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Because our name, our story, has been growing for so long, it takes a long time to tell who we are, to recount the story of our life as a people.
On this Trinity Sunday, we take a moment to pause and reflect on the long story we have just experienced together. It began in Advent, with the mystery of a promised savior. Then came Christmas, when joy and light returned to the earth, when God became flesh and dwelled among us. We adored this Christ Child alongside the Magi and listened to him as he taught. We were amazing by the miracles he performed. We were challenged by his bold and dangerous teachings about loving our enemies and working to bring justice to the oppressed.
Then we began the long walk through the season of Lent, as we prepared ourselves for the sorrow of the cross. We washed each other’s feet and broke bread on Maundy Thursday. We felt the tremendous quiet as the last candle was extinguished on Good Friday. Then on Easter Sunday, we gathered to celebrate our risen Lord. Our celebrations continued until the Day of Pentecost came, when we witnessed the Holy Spirit descending upon the world, empowering us to share the good news.
Next Sunday we begin the season of ordinary time. But this time is anything but ordinary. It is a time for us to take the story we began telling in Advent back in November, and tell it to the world. It is the time of year we go on mission trips. The season where we can spend more time with our families and volunteer a little more. This summer we will take up new challenges in the pulpit and offer special opportunities for you to live into this epic story. The season of ordinary time will continue until the days once again darken, the air grows colder, and we return once again, to the season of Advent.
We tell the story of the Trinity over and over again because the story keeps growing. Come November, you will have new experiences to add to the story that began when God said let there be light. You will be reshaped by the telling of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You will find new passion again and again in the fires of the Holy Spirit. We are called to keep adding to the story, to keep calling upon the name of our God. To hear and hear again the Good News of Jesus Christ. So on this Trinity Sunday, as we begin to transition into a new season in the church year, we celebrate not just who God is, but what God is doing in this world.
But on this Trinity Sunday, there is no Bible story for us to experience. There is no parable that illustrates this. There is nowhere in Scripture that Jesus says, “and now let me clearly explain the doctrine of the Triune God.”
The Trinity is not merely an abstract concept that is best kept to the exercises of the mind. Rather, the Trinity is a story to be told and a name to be claimed by. We tell the story of the Trinity because stories are the way in which a diverse humanity best connects with God. When Jesus wants to explain a complex theological issue to his disciples, he tells them a story about a house with many rooms, a shepherd who has lost his sheep, a father whose prodigal son has returned home.
God the Creator is the main character in many a story as well, with that whole Moses and the Red Sea, 10 commandments, wandering for 40 years, promised land epic. And who could deny that the Holy Spirit has a flair for the dramatic? It bursts onto the stage in flames and then leads the people of God for 2,000 years in that crazy story that we call the church. The stories that scripture tells about God help us wrap our minds around the question of who God is what God is like.
Okay Presbyterians, buckle up, I’m gonna talk about evangelism for a minute. If I was sitting next to someone on a bus, and the person asked me why I believed in God, I would tell them a story. I would tell them of how God has been good to me, how God has been there for me, and the ways I see God working in this messed up world. I could go into a 10 minute lecture on Trinitarian perichoresis or the filioque controversy, but there is something to be said about the universal accessibility of a story. I could try in a 15 minute sermon to sum up Calvin or Barths theological arguments for the Trinity, but frankly – I’m sure there are some of you out there who could do a better job of it than I could and, if you are really interested, we’ve got the books in our library and San’s office hours are 9 – 5. We can never fully know God. But at the end of the day, the way I know best to understand even just the little toe of God, just the hem of God’s robe, is by telling you a story.
It has been a long journey. For our graduates, their story began with a hand outstretched, a few steps taken, first words, and eyes opened wide in wonder. Then came the goldfish crackers and juice boxes, coloring books and Elmer’s Glue, calculators and quizzes, football helmets and guitar picks. Our graduates, these young men and women, have walked alongside their teachers and parents in classrooms, homes, and churches. Their teachers and parents have taught them many things, new ways of seeing the world and their God.
We watched as you learned about Noah and the Ark, we laughed when you were fidgety at your baptism, we sang Jesus Love Me alongside you, we talked with you as you wrestled with the tough questions of faith, we had tears in our eyes as you professed your faith for the first time, and we sat in awe as you preached your sermons on Youth Sunday. It is a difficult process to learn, and often it feels like you are standing in a room dimly lit, or perhaps sitting in a room dimly lit, hunched over your late night algebra homework or putting the finishing touches on an essay.
And there were those dark times too. Heartbreaks and disagreements, fender benders and disappointments, bad report cards and not to mention that whole super awkward middle school metamorphosis stage. No doubt at those times, our graduates found themselves wondering, “where is God in all this?” “What is the point?” “How do I fit into this story?” But those dark times did not last forever. You scored touchdowns, aced classes, took your curtain calls, and taught kids how to catch a baseball.
You began to see that some of your questions about God had answers. You saw God’s love as you went on Mission Trips, felt the exhilaration of Youth Camps at Mo Ranch, and began to realize the gifts God gave you as you served the church of Jesus Christ. And then, one by one, your acceptance letters began to arrive in mail and we watched with joy as you read the word, “Congratulations” printed on collegiate letterhead. And we stand with you now, as you are about to graduate and take the next big steps in your life, and we find ourselves saying “we still have many things we want to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”
Because now is the time for you to go from this place into new realms of adventure. New teachers, new friends, new experiences. But we know that the Spirit of Truth will be with you, in roaring wind and dancing flame, new words and bold proclamations. We know that the Spirit of Truth will be your guide and guard. And the message that the Spirit will say to you is clear. Go and tell what you have seen. Share this good news of the Gospel in the name of God, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Change the world. Bring peace. Spread hope. Be love. It has indeed been a long journey. But now, graduates, you are ready.