Sermons (Texts)


07.24.16 (July 24, 2016)

posted Jul 28, 2016, 12:13 PM by David Hawkins   [ updated Jul 28, 2016, 12:16 PM ]

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07.17.16 (July 17, 2016)

posted Jul 19, 2016, 12:18 PM by David Hawkins

07.03.16 Sermon (July 3, 2016) “It’s too Easy!”

posted Jul 12, 2016, 9:14 AM by David Hawkins

06.26.16 Sermon (June 26, 2016) “Excuses, Excuses”

posted Jul 12, 2016, 8:52 AM by David Hawkins

Old Testament Reading: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel." 

But Elisha said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.
Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan." 

But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." 
Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." 

He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not." As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 

Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, "Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

New Testament Reading: Luke 9:51-62

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 
When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." 

And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." 

To another he said, "Follow me." 

But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." 
But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." 
Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." 

Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Sermon: "Excuses, Excuses"             Rev. David Hawkins

For the last several weeks, we’ve been exploring the nature of God, and the nature of the person of Jesus Christ. We’ve talked about what the Trinity means, the idea that God is God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and that each of these three persons are equally worthy and deserving of our worship and adoration. 

We’ve also talked about Jesus Christ, who he was in his time, and who he is to us in ours. We talked about him as a Prophet, as a Priest, and as a King, and we compared him to some famous people in the Old Testament in these roles. 

We compared him as a prophet to the Prophet Elijah, who advised King Ahab against the political alliances he was forming with surrounding empires. His words fell on deaf ears, and Elijah soon found himself in conflict with Ahab’s wife, Queen Jezebel. 

We learned from the comparison between Jesus and Elijah that they were recognized as prophets when they brought someone back from the dead, that their prophetic office was fulfilled in their willingness to reach out and heal, rather than simply their willingness to speak out and condemn. Prophecy is more than predicting the future. Prophecy is living out the Word of God. 

We then compared Jesus’s actions as a Priest to the actions of Queen Jezebel, who was a Priestess for the cult of Baal. She encouraged the worship of a foreign god, to the point of outlawing the worship of the God of Israel, putting to death all the prophets except Elijah. She arranged for the death of the owner of a vineyard that her husband, the king wanted. 

We saw that her priestly office was fulfilled as an exercise of power. She used her position as priest to control, to abuse her status, and align herself with political authorities. 

What a contrast with Jesus, who fulfilled his priestly office by reaching out to a sinful woman, a woman condemned by the Pharisees and by polite society. He allowed this embarrassing woman not only to sit in his presence, but to anoint him in the manner of the ancient prophets and kings. Rather than banish her to the margins, he lifted her up to his level, and to the level of those around her. 

Then, last week, we compared Jesus as King to King Ahab. We looked at the way Ahab passive-aggressively gave his power and authority to Jezebel. We looked at the way he allowed for the destruction of the religion of his people. We looked at the way he trusted in the political alliances he made for the sake of expediency with his enemies. 

 And then we looked at Jesus, the way he went into an unclean foreign country, into an unclean part of that country, and reached out to an unclean madman running around naked in that unclean part of that unclean country. He healed the man of his many demons, and even showed a measure of grace to the demons themselves, granting their wish to enter a herd of pigs nearby. Of course, demons being demons, they soon destroyed themselves and the herd of pigs by drowning themselves in the sea. 

The contrasts between what the world thinks prophets, priests, and kings are supposed to do, and what Jesus actually does could not be more stark. In every case, Jesus has the power and the authority to condemn, to shun, to marginalize, and in every case, he chooses instead to reach out, to heal, and to forgive. This is not what we expect from a prophet, priest, or king. But by his actions, Jesus redefines what that that office really means.

In the next few weeks, we are going to be looking at what this new understanding what power means for us and for our lives. We are entering into a new season of church life, the season of Ordinary Time, during which we will look at the ways that our worship of God informs the way we live, with each other, and with the world. 

And today we begin with a startling description of what true discipleship looks like. 

And it’s not easy. 

Three times, prospective disciples of Jesus are given the terms of what it might mean to follow him, and three times, it looks like the terms are too much. And understandably so. Jesus insists that his followers give up their attachments to this world, to give up their dependencies and their conveniences. Sometimes he asks them to give up the expectations of food and shelter. Sometimes he asks them to give up their obligations to the communities and their families. And sometimes, he asks them to give their families altogether. It is a harsh and unyielding vocation, this idea of discipleship, and those who seek it out aren’t rewarded in any material or financial way. 

And the reality is, these three prospective disciples had the law and tradition on their side. The ten commandments make it clear that we are to honor our mother and father, and after all, that’s all they wanted to do. They had an obligation that was commanded by God himself. 

And yet Jesus calls them away from all that, from their family, from their parents, from the Law itself. This is hard. This is perplexing. And it’s too much for these three. They turn back to their families, to their homes, to their beds, to their tables, to their friends, to their comfortable way of life. 

What a difference this idea of true discipleship is to our present day understanding of the Prosperity Gospel. If one was to believe folks like the Copelands or Joel Osteen, or any of the other peddlers of ‘name and claim it’ theology, all one needs to do in order to guarantee money and health and security for you and your family, is to follow Jesus. 

The problem is, this isn’t at all what Jesus says. He says exactly the opposite. In order to follow Jesus, you have to give up any expectation of these things. Because the path to which Jesus has set his face does not lead to the bank. It leads to the cross. 

And this is a hard truth for those in Jesus’ time and for us in ours. In fact, it may be even harder in our time, because we have grown so accustomed to Christianity being something that is a benefit to us, that when it is inconvenient, our first instinct is to cry, ‘foul!” Like the three prospective disciples of Christ mentioned in our story today, we want the privilege of following Jesu, without the obligations or the consequences. 

When I was in college, many, many years ago, I remember a friend of mine, a dear Christian young lady, who was enrolled in a theatre workshop class. Their assignment every week was to learn to sing, dance, and act a scene from famous musicals. Which sounds pretty fun, if you ask me. 

And it was, until they were assigned a scene from Stephen Sondheim’s’ Follies, with the song, “Can that Boy Foxtrot,” which is a slightly risqué tune in which every time the female singer gets to the word ‘Foxtrot’, she would hesitate on the ‘F’ (as in, “But, oh, can that boy, f-f-f-f-f-foxtrot”) leading the audience to think that, for a moment, she was going to say something quite different. Maybe f-f-f-f-fry chicken. Or perhaps, ‘oh, can that boy f-f-f-f-f-f-find Dory.’ I don’t know. 

Anyway, my friend objected to this song on the basis of her religious faith. And while I thought this was a harmless bit of showbiz fun, she refused to do the scene, and I respected her for that. Until she got an ‘F’ (how ironic) for that week’s grade which lowered her overall grade for the semester to a ‘B’.

Well, that was just unfair. She raised all kinds of heck, lodging a formal complaint with the university, claiming religious persecution, the whole nine yards. And while I respected her choice to not do the scene, I couldn’t support the way she objected to what happened as a result. I fact, I encouraged her to accept the grade as sign of her religious dedication -- to wear her metaphorical stripes for Jesus with pride. 

After all, we don’t really get very many chances to be martyrs for our faith anymore. Hardly anybody is getting fed to the lions, or being burned alive for what they believe. I thought that this was a great chance for her to actually put herself into a difficult situation for her piety. But, for her, it was unjust, and she fought it all the way. 

She wanted the privilege of walking with Jesus, without the consequences. 

And we see this today in our fight over whether or not court administrators should have to sign wedding documents for same sex couples, or whether or not bakers should be required to make cakes for same sex weddings. I respect those who declare that in the name of their faith, they will not do certain things. I may not agree with them, but I respect them. But then they want their cake and to eat it, too. They want the privilege of living the Christian life without the obligations that go along with that life. 

But it doesn’t work that way. It didn’t work that way back in Jesus’ time, and it doesn’t work that way today. The reality is, a life of discipleship will put you into conflict with the world’s values. Living what you believe means that sometimes you find yourself at odds with what people around you think about things, what the law thinks about things, even sometimes what your family and your friends think about things. 

And sometimes, living out what you believe means taking a hit on your reputation, on your career, even on your relationships with those you love. Being a disciple means things, and sometimes it means hard things, things that you don’t see coming, things that make you wonder if being a disciple is everything it’s cracked up to be.

It would be easy to offer up rationalizations and excuses for not fully living the life of a disciple. It would be easy to find this or that reason to take a break from the hard demands of what it means to follow Jesus. It would be easy to even claim the cloak of the law or tradition, or politics or ideology to avoid the harsh demands of discipleship. “But I have a family to think about!” “Isn’t sharing what you own communism?” “Won’t loving your enemies and welcoming the refugee compromise national security?” “How do I decide between the law and following Jesus when it looks like they lead in opposite directions?”

These are the sorts of questions that the earlies disciples asked, and they are the same questions we ask today. 

And Jesus gives us the same answers. If you want to follow me, he says, you’ve got to let go. Let go of the idea that it’s going to be easy, let go of the idea that people are going to admire you and thank you for what you do and say, let go of the idea that your decisions will be simple and your obligations few. 

In short, let go of the idea that you are going to be in charge of what happens to you from here on out. Let go of the illusion that you get to decide how life impacts you. Because setting your face to Jerusalem means turning your back on any expectation you might have had that you are in control. 

And for most of us, that’s a hard thing. In fact, for most of us, it’s too hard. 

And it was too hard even for the most dedicated of Jesus’ followers. Even the twelve original disciples found the demands of Jesus’ path too much. They consistently misunderstood what it meant to follow him, and at the end, at his moment of greatest need, they could not stay with him, and they fled into the night. 

But this is also the Gospel message. Jesus asks us to go with him, and he forgives us when we can’t. He makes no promises about how much you’re going to make, about how safe and secure you are going to be, how healthy it will make you, or even about how happy you will be. In fact, he makes no bones about it, it will cost you everything you have, it will cost you everything you own, everything you hold dear. But he does promise that when we falter, when we stumble, when we just can’t imagine facing the world as a disciple, Jesus will take us the rest of the way.

And it will be worth it. We will see things that we simply can’t believe, we will experience life in its fullest measure. We will be brought through fire and water to the other side, and we will sit at a banquet table that is overflowing with eternal food. We will sit at the foot of the throne of God, and we will sing with choirs of angels and archangels. 

Being a disciple isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And it’s much, much more than any of us can imagine. But in the end, it’s not about doing it perfectly, or even about being perfect. It’s about willing to be imperfect, to not know everything, it’s about willing to be vulnerable to the dangers of the world, to be willing to turn your face away from the comfortable, the secure, the known, and walk to a place you’ve never been before. 

And Jesus doesn’t promise us that it will be easy. But Jesus does promise that if we take that first step, he will be there beside us the whole way. 

We just have to decide if that will be enough. 

How majestic is the name of the Lord our God! 
Amen.

06.12.16 Sermon (June 12, 2016) “Prophet, Priest, King, Pt. 2”

posted Jul 12, 2016, 8:48 AM by David Hawkins

Old Testament Reading: 1 Kings 21:1-21a

Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. And Ahab said to Naboth, "Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money." 

But Naboth said to Ahab, "The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance." Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, "I will not give you my ancestral inheritance." He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.

His wife Jezebel came to him and said, "Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?" 

He said to her, "Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, 'Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it'; but he answered, 'I will not give you my vineyard.'" 

His wife Jezebel said to him, "Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite."

So she wrote letters in Ahab's name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city. She wrote in the letters, "Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly; seat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him, saying, 'You have cursed God and the king.' Then take him out, and stone him to death." 

The men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. Just as it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, they proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the assembly. The two scoundrels came in and sat opposite him; and the scoundrels brought a charge against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, "Naboth cursed God and the king." 

So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death. Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, "Naboth has been stoned; he is dead."

As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, "Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead." As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.

Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. You shall say to him, "Thus says the LORD: Have you killed, and also taken 
possession?" You shall say to him, "Thus says the LORD: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood."

Ahab said to Elijah, "Have you found me, O my enemy?" 
He answered, "I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the LORD, I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel;”

New Testament Reading: Luke 7:36-8:3

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him-that she is a sinner." 
Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." 

"Teacher," he replied, "Speak." 

"A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" 

Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." 

Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." 

Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Sermon: "Prophet, Priest, King, Pt. 2"             Rev. David Hawkins

We are in the part of the church year following Pentecost, which is when we remember the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about the nature of God, especially how that nature is revealed to us in the Trinity, the idea that we worship God the Father, Creator of the Universe, God the Son, the redeemer of creation, and God the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and strength. 

Last week, we began to look a little closer at the person of Jesus Christ, to explore just a little bit who he was in his own time, and who he is to us in ours. 

And one way of describing Jesus is to think of him in three ways, as a Prophet, as a Priest, and as a King.

Last week, we saw Jesus in his role as prophet, and we compared him to the Prophet Elijah. Both of them raised the son of a widow from the dead, and both of them were recognized as prophets by doing so.

This week, we will again compare Jesus to someone in the Old Testament in an effort to learn more about him. But this time, instead of comparing him to Elijah, we will contrast him with three other kinds of priests.

The first priest we’re going to look at is Queen Jezebel, the daughter of a Phoenician king, Ethbaal. King Ahab of Northern Israel married her, thinking that if there was some kind of political connection between him and some of the surrounding empires, maybe Israel wouldn’t get beat up so much. 

On the surface, it was a good plan. Of course, the prophets of Israel warned him against doing this, telling him that it would be better for Ahab to lean on the strength of God, rather than trusting in political solutions, but Ahab decides to go in a different direction. And history tells us he paid a dear price for it.

You see, Jezebel was more than just a pretty face. She was also a priestess of the Baal cult in her native country, and she brought Baal worship with her to Israel. Not only did she bring Baal with her, she brought with her the desire to replace the God of Israel with her own religion, and she succeeding in killing off nearly all of the prophets of God during her reign. Only Elijah was left. 

Not only did Jezebel seek to replace the religion of Israel with her own, she used her power as priest and queen to get what she wanted in other ways. For instance, in our scripture today, she noticed that her husband really wanted a particular vineyard, but the owner of the vineyard told him that it was not for sale. So Jezebel arranged for the owner to be brought up on charges of blasphemy, and had him stoned to death. Problem solved. 

Now, we know that Jezebel eventually met with a horrible death, thrown from her balcony to the ground, eaten by dogs, but she was in control for a long time, and she did a tremendous amount of damage during her reign. She is what we might call a bad priest.

In our New Testament reading we see a different kind of religious leader, a different kind of priest, Simon the Pharisee. The Pharisees were members of a relatively new religious office, a sort of house priest for local synagogues and house fellowships. They were known primarily for their piety and their insistence on the righteousness of the law.

Jesus has been invited to Simon’s house for dinner, but curiously, Simon offers him none of the normal hospitalities. No welcoming kiss. No water to wash his feet after the journey. No oil to soothe his skin. It’s as though Simon is saying, “Yes, I know that I’m supposed to invite you in, but I don’t have to like it, and there’s no need for you to stay.” It’s a cold reception, and you can tell Simon doesn’t really want Jesus to hang around. 
But there is someone in the house who is glad to see Jesus. A woman from the town, a woman who apparently is well known among the people for her particular sin. Now, we don’t know exactly what her sin was, but we do from the way people react to her that is a salacious one. You know, the kind that people gossip about. The kind where it is easy to point the finger, and whisper and judge. That kind of sin. Our favorite kind of sin. The kind of sin that maybe we don’t commit, but one that is easy to identify in others. 

She should be ashamed of herself. She should be embarrassed to be there. She had no business coming to the house of a Pharisee, yet here she was, at the feet of a supposed holy man, making a spectacle of herself. How can Jesus allow this? How can Jesus tolerate her touching him? If he was any kind of real Christian, Jesus would have thrown her out, denounced her and her sin, pointed her depravity out for all the world to see. Instead, he lets her anoint him. Disgusting!

But for some reason, Jesus doesn’t think so. He can tell what Simon and other guests are thinking, and it doesn’t faze him. He knows what’s in her heart, and, even more importantly, he knows what’s in Simon’s. And so, rather than denouncing the woman, he offers a short parable for Simon’s benefit. A parable that reminds Simon that grace is not something we earn, and that true gratitude is a response to grace. And, as long we think we have earned forgiveness, we will never be thankful for it.

It’s a tough lesson, one that Simon and his friends don’t want to hear. They immediately start questioning how Jesus could even think that he was in a position to forgive sins. Who does he think he is, anyway? Only the priests can forgive sins. 

Does Jesus fancy himself a priest? A priest wouldn’t associate with sinners. A priest wouldn’t let this woman off the hook. After all, isn’t it a priest’s job to accuse, to judge, to point out the sins of the people? Isn’t it the priest’s job to condemn, to maintain the holiness and purity codes? If the priest is going to go around forgiving people, then what’s to stop them from just sinning willy-nilly everywhere? If the priest doesn’t build the walls between who is saved and who is not, who will? 

Evidently, Jesus doesn’t think so. He thinks that his job is to tell this sinful woman, that she is welcome, that she is forgiven, that she is worthy of his love and attention. 

And so, here in our scripture readings, we have a few different pictures of what it looks like to be a priest, and I think we still see these pictures today. We have priests who had align themselves with power, who use their position to get their way, who seek to establish their religion and only their religion, who will do anything to keep their status quo. We know these kinds of priests. They didn’t die out with Jezebel. 

We see another kind of priest in the person of Simon. The kind of priest who sees himself as the gatekeeper, as the righteous scold, the decider who is in, and who is out, the social guardian of morality. When he thinks of forgiveness, he doesn’t see gratitude. He sees lack of proper shame. He doesn’t see grace. He sees letting people off the hook. 

And we see a third kind of priest. We see Jesus Christ, living out the will of God. This is what he came to do. This is why he is here. Not to sit in the halls of power. Not to command armies, or to introduce a sort of religious dictatorship. Not to accuse, judge, or condemn, but to save. To forgive. To tell those who are ashamed, who are embarrassed, to rise, to be whole, to reclaim their rightful place in society. This is what a priest looks like, Jesus says to the world. Someone who welcomes, who forgives, who brings those who have been shunned and marginalized back into society. 

But there is one other priest, I think in these stories that Bill read today. One that sort of gets overlooked in the midst of everything else. 

We can’t forget that the woman at Jesus’ feet anoints him. This is a very specific word, used in a very specific way. The woman anoints Jesus. The woman uses oil to signify who Jesus is. This is also the function of a priest. To anoint kings, to signify to the world that this person is recognized by God to have authority over our sins and over our salvation. 

As we’ve talked about before, the word priest has many meanings. And as we’ve seen in our scriptures, the office of priest has been filled in many different ways. Sometimes the office of priest is abused. Sometimes it is used a weapon against those who stand in the way of power. Sometimes, the office of priest has been interpreted to mean someone who is in charge of pointing out the sins of others, of closing the door to those who aren’t worthy of God’s love. We have all seen these ideas of what it means to be a priest in action. And some of us have been wounded by them.

But we also see what Jesus thinks being a priest is all about. It means gentleness, it means compassion, it means love, and it means forgiveness. In the person of Jesus Christ, we are given a different picture of what it means to be a priest. 

Now, in our time, for many folks, the office of priest is reserved for the ordained clergy. When we think of the word priest, we think clerical collar, we think hierarchy, we think church, we think all kinds of ecclesiastical things. 

But one of the founding tenets of our Reformed faith is the idea that there are no functions of what a priest does that are reserved for a special class of people. We Presbyterians teach that we are members of the priesthood of all believers. Jesus has washed our feet. In our baptisms, we have been anointed by the Holy Spirit. We have more authority than we think we do. We are all priests, to one another, and to world. 

And so we have a choice to make. What sort of priest are we going to be? 

How majestic is the name of the Lord our God! 
Amen.

06.05.16 Sermon (June 5, 2016) “Prophet, Priest, King, Pt.

posted Jul 12, 2016, 8:45 AM by David Hawkins   [ updated Jul 12, 2016, 8:46 AM ]

Old Testament: 1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24)

Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you." So he set out and went to Zarephath. 

When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink." As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." 

But she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die." 

Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth."

She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah. 

After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” 

But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” The LORD listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” 

So the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.”


*New Testament Scripture: Luke 7:11-17

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep."

Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 

Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!"and "God has looked favorably on his people!" 

This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

Sermon: "Prophet, Priest, King, Pt. 1”              Rev. David Hawkins

For the last few weeks, we’ve been thinking about God in terms of the Trinity. As we discovered with the children and the youth, the banners, and the decorations and paraments here in the sanctuary reflect this discussion. 

Our God is one, in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Or, if you prefer, God the Rock, God the Redeemer, God the Friend. For those who would like to take this concept even further, there is the Feminine version, God the Mother, God the Child, and God the Womb. 

No matter how you frame it, the concept of Trinity is a hard one to rationalize, and for me, it is sufficient to say that the main thing to remember is that these three persons of God teach us about the nature of God. That is to say, the person, the work, the ministry of Jesus Christ shows us the nature and the will of God. The Holy Spirit is the movement of God in our midst even today. There is a dance between the three persons of God, a dance that shows us who God really is.

And so, while it may be difficult, if not impossible to precisely say what the Trinity means, for me it is enough to simply confess my own faith in God, and in Jesus, and in the Holy Spirit, in a way that does not divide them or preference one of them over the other. They are the same, after all, each deserving and worthy of our worship and praise. 

Today, we are moving into another 3-fold discussion of the nature of God, this time talking about the person of Jesus Christ. Who was he, to the people of his time, and who is he to us?

For the next few weeks, we will talk about Jesus in terms of his roles as Prophet, Priest, and King, and today, we begin with Jesus as Prophet.

Last week, we looked at two scriptures that seemed to have nothing in common, the story of the Elijah calling fire down from heaven to the mountaintop in a competition with the prophets of Baal, and the story of Jesus healing the servant of a centurion. 

This week, we encounter two stories that seem to have just about everything in common: a widow, a son, a death, and a resurrection.

But they are not quite the same. In our Old Testament lesson, Elijah knows the widow, knows her pretty well. He’s been staying at her house, and they know each other well enough for the widow to really lace into him when her son dies. “Why do you do this to me?” She asks. “You come to me to make me remember my sin, and look what happens – my son dies. What do you have against me?”

It’s a legitimate question. The widow shelters the prophet, does her best within her limited means to provide food and support, and yet, there is nothing in it for her. The one thing she cared about, the one thing she loved, was taken from her, without any sort of help from the man of God living in her own house. 

I think we can understand her anger and her pain. Many of us have lost someone precious to us. We have felt the sense of confusion, the despair, the feeling that we must have done something to deserve this, that we have somehow offended God, or, in our bleakest moments, we have thought that there is no fairness in the universe, there is no sense of justice, no meaning in the events of our lives. 

Many of us have lashed out at God in these times, asking, “What do you have against me? What is my sin, that you would do this to me?” Or, we may have even asked, “Do you even exist, God? If you do, how could you let this happen? What is the meaning of this?”

And to be honest, I don’t have answers to these questions. Some folks think they do, but they really don’t. They have clichés, they have pleasant sounding platitudes, but they don’t have answers. There are not answers to these kinds questions on this side of the veil. 

And the prophet Elijah doesn’t try to answer. He doesn’t defend God, he doesn’t say things like her son is in a better place, or that God needed another angel. Elijah did the one thing that he could do, listen to her pain, then pray his heart out to God. He went to God in anguish, and pled for the life of this boy. 

And God brought the boy back to life.

God heard the prayer of Elijah and brought the widow’s son back to life. 

Now, I wish that I could say that this is all it takes. A heartfelt prayer from a person of faith, and voila, resurrection. But that’s not real life. The Bible is full of stories of men and women of great faith who pray, fervently, faithfully, but who still experience life and death in all its seeming capriciousness and pain. Let us not forget that Jesus himself, on the night on which he was betrayed, prayed for the coming test to be taken from him, that he might not, if were the Father’s will, be put through this crucible of torture and death. 

And so we know that faith and prayer alone don’t guarantee miracles. Elijah didn’t pray with certainty that God would intervene. But he did pray with hope, and he did pray with the sure knowledge that God would hear him. 

And God moved. And the widow’s son was brought back to her. And she recognized Elijah as a prophet, bearing the Word of God.

In our Gospel story, many of the elements are the same. But in this story, Jesus doesn’t know the widow. In the Gospel, we have the incongruous picture of two parades crashing into each other at a crossroads. One parade is the entourage of Jesus and his disciples, fresh from the healing of the centurion’s servant. By this time, Jesus has chosen the twelve, he has healed the man with the withered hand, he’s preached the sermon on the mount; this is a joyful parade, a boisterous, lively, noisy mob of people who just about can’t believe what they’re seeing. 

And they run into the mourning processional of the widow, who had just lost her son. A completely different kind of parade, a parade of death and silence, punctuated by wailing and sobs of grief. A parade of sorrow and loss. 

And when these parades collide, Jesus’ heart is broken. Unlike Elijah, he has no idea who this widow is. He just knows that she is forsaken. And so he reaches out to her, to her son, and he bids him rise, and he does. Not because the widow asked him to. Not because of her faith, or even because of her prayer, but because she was desolate, and Jesus loved her. 

And like Elijah, it’s when Jesus raises her son from the dead, that people recognize him as a prophet, bearing the word of God. 

This is the first office of Jesus Christ: the office of prophet. This was his first job, if you will, to be the bearer of the Word of God. In fact, in the Gospel of John, Jesus doesn’t just bear the Word of God, he is the Word of the God. Jesus is the thought of God, spoken. Jesus is the will of God, enacted. Jesus is the desire of God, lived out among us. 

Jesus is what the Word of God looks like, when it is alive and moving among us:  compassion, love, reaching out, touching, healing, bringing life into the barren places. 

In both of our stories today, the prophets of God are recognized, not by their amazing fortune telling abilities, their willingness to name the anti-Christ among us, or by their scorched earth polices of pointing out the sins of the people, but by their willingness to reach out to those who are hurting and bring healing and life. This is what a prophet looks like, someone who is willing to be with someone else who is in pain, to bear that pain with them, and to offer relief. 

And there is one more component to the prophetic office that Jesus fulfills, and that is an economic one. We can’t forget that in Jesus’ time, widows had literally nothing. A widow was dependent on her deceased husband’s brother for sustenance. If that was not forthcoming, then she was dependent on her father’s support. If that didn’t exist, then she could lean on the assets that her husband left behind, at least, she could as long as she had a male heir. 

If her son had died, all of her assets would revert back to her husband’s family, and she would be left with nothing. She would be shunted off to the margins of society, with no prospects, no way of supporting herself, no help from any quarter. This was the situation that Jesus encountered on his way to Nain. 

It wasn’t just emotional. As horrifying as it was to lose a son, as devastating as that would be, the reality was that for the widow, losing her son also meant that she was losing literally everything else as well. 

And when Jesus sees her, reaches out. He reaches out to this marginalized woman, and in reaching out, he commits an unthinkable sin, he touches the unclean death bed, and brings the widow, and her son, back from the abyss. Not because she did this or that, or said this or that, or believed this or that, or had earned this or that. 

But because he loved her. 

This is what prophecy looks like. The Word of God, actually taking hold, in places of poverty, sickness, and death, and doing amazing things out of love. It’s not about naming current politicians and world events in terms of the apocalypse. It’s not about naming the sins and depravations of the world. Both Jesus and Elijah are recognized as prophets when, by the spirit of God, they bring life to places where life seems to have been lost forever.

And now it all comes full circle. This is what the concept of Trinity teaches us about God. Jesus, in his role as prophet, is doing the will of God when he reaches out to this woman in the power of the Holy Spirit. And in Jesus Christ, God knows all about what it means to lose a son. The meal we are about to eat is that very Word of God, given to us, raised from the dead, that we might also taste what God has in store for each of us. 

There are going to be times in our lives when we are sure that nothing can bring us back from the edge. There will be times in our life when everything is bleak, nothing makes sense, when we feel like life has lost all meaning. During these times, we depend on the prophetic, healing touch of Jesus, through the hands of our friends, our family, our church. We depend on that touch to remember that God stills loves us, still knows us, still cares for us.

And sometimes, we ourselves are that healing touch. It might be simple card, a note, a phone call, a visit, the willingness to listen, a charitable gift at the right time, or speaking a word of truth for those who cannot speak for themselves that brings life back into a lifeless situation. Be ready for that moment. It could come at any time, to anybody. And when the time comes, any one of us, even you or me can be a prophet of God.

How majestic is the name 
of the Lord our God! Amen.

05.29.16 Sermon (May 29, 2016) “The Lord indeed is God”

posted Jul 12, 2016, 8:40 AM by David Hawkins


1 Kings 18:20-21 (22-29) 30-39
So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” 

The people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred and fifty. Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.”
All the people answered, “Well spoken!” 
 
Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 
 
So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. 

At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response. 

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come closer to me”; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name”; with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. 

He said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” Then he said, “Do it a second time”; and they did it a second time. Again he said, “Do it a third time”; and they did it a third time, so that the water ran all round the altar, and filled the trench also with water. 

At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 

Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.”

New Testament Reading: A reading from Luke 7:1-10, page ?? in the pew Bible (Liturgist)

“Please Stand for the Reading of the Gospel”

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 
 
And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 
 
When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

Sermon: “The Lord indeed is God”

These two scripture passages today might seem to have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Our Old Testament reading is a spectacular story of the Prophet Elijah engaging the prophets of Baal in a supernatural showdown, with vivid images of a bull, water, blood, a mountaintop and fire. And the Gospel lesson tells the story of a centurion who asks Jesus to heal his servant.

Like I said, two seemingly completely different stories.

But maybe not.

Because when it comes right down to it, both of the stories are really about one thing: trust.


Who do we really trust when things go bad? Where do we put our ultimate trust? Where is our ultimate security? What, or who do we really worship, when the chips are down?


Elijah was a prophet during the reign of the famously evil king Ahab. Ahab was nominally a Hebrew king, but he had married Jezebel, a foreign woman from Phoenicia. And while this might have been something of a scandal, the problem was not so much that she was from out of town, the problem was that she brought with her a whole passel of other problems.


Most of these problems had to do with the entanglements that she brought with other countries. Alliances with other rulers, relationships with other political systems, these things were problematic for the Kingdom of Israel. Getting involved in the affairs of other countries might have seemed like a good idea, it may have looked like it might help the with the security of the nation, but instead, it just brought more conflict. It diluted their power. It made them dependent on other countries.


And beyond the political sphere, Jezebel brought with her her own gods. Especially, she brought with her Baal, the original ‘rider of the storm’, the god of wind and sky and fertility.


Now, in order to understand why this was a big deal, we have to remember that the Hebrew nation thought differently about God than the surrounding nations did. The one characterizing mark of the Hebrew nation was its belief in one God, the God of Creation, the God of the universe.


Most of the nations around Israel believed in many gods, local gods, gods that had specific tasks. This god was the god of rain. This other god over here was the god of fire. That god over there was the god of crops.


Also, the gods were usually tied to a specific area or country. This god was the god of say, Assyria. That god was the god of say, Phoenicia. Gods were local. They had roots to the community.


And when King Ahab married Jezebel, she brought some of these gods with her, and introduced them to the people. And here is where it got problematic. Instead of remembering their covenant to the one God, the God that had delivered them from slavery, who had brought them through the sea, the God who had led them in the desert, and delivered them into the promised land, instead of remembering the promises they had made to worship that one God alone, and to be His people, when faced the prospect of worshiping another god, the people said, “hey, why not?”


Why not have another god or two, just in case? Why not hedge our bets, just a little bit? Why not include some other little gods, along with our big God, just cover all the bases? After all, it seems like it’s working for these other countries. Let’s worship both, just to be safe. You can never have too many gods after all.


And then, once Baal worship began to take hold, Jezebel began to persecute and kill the prophets and the priests of the one true God of Israel, until finally, there was only Elijah left to speak for God.


And this is where we catch up with the story. It has come down to this question: who is God, really, for us? Will we worship the gods of another country, of another culture, will we trust in the religious traditions of someone foreign to us, or we will trust in the God of our Fathers and Mothers? Who do we really worship, when it comes down to it? Baal, or God?


Elijah proposes a test of these gods, with some pretty potent symbols. A sacrificial bull, symbolizing the trust that Abraham showed when commanded to sacrifice Isaac. The twelve stones, representing the twelve tribes. The water poured out twelve times, a reminder of the drought that had stricken the land.


First, the prophets of Baal try to summon their god, to no avail. Our text suggests that they are walking around the altar chanting, and then limping around, but the original Hebrew text says that they are actually hopping around in a circle. In fact, all of the activities of the Baal prophets seem to be somewhat ridiculous on the face of it. Hopping, cutting themselves until they bleed, chanting ‘oogah, oogah, oogah.’ It’s all about what they can do to bring Baal to the mountain. It’s all about their worthiness, all about doing, saying the right things.


And Elijah encourages them. “Shout louder,” he says. “Maybe Baal is asleep! Maybe he’s on a trip somewhere. Keep going, you’re doing just fine!”


But, no matter what they do, no Baal. He doesn’t show up.


But then God does. He really shows up. The fire comes to the mountain and consumes everything. The bull, the altar, the stones, the water itself. The fire of God comes to the mountaintop, and the people remember his power and his presence, and they worship him. Once again, they place their trust in the God of Abraham, the God who had fed them manna, who had given them water from the rock.


In our New Testament reading, we see a similar story about trust. The centurion is a non-Jew, who had begun to worship the God of the Hebrews. He has not taken the final step of becoming a Jew by getting circumcised. But, he follows the law, he observes the Sabbath, and he has participated in the life of the Hebrew people, even to the point of building them a synagogue, a gathering place for worship.


And the Hebrew people are grateful to him, and when his servant is ill and needs help, they vouch for the centurion, proclaiming to Jesus his worthiness, asking Jesus to help him.


But interestingly, the centurion himself does not assume that anything that he has done makes him worthy of Jesus’ time and attention. He himself says that he is not worthy, that Jesus shouldn’t even bother coming to his house. But, the centurion also recognizes the authority of Jesus, and he says that he knows that Jesus can heal his servant, and that if he would just speak the word, his servant would be healed.


And this is a remarkable trust. It’s remarkable because the official religion of the Roman Empire was a hodgepodge of different gods, not so different from the ancient Mesopotamia. And, above all, was the worship of the Emperor, the God-king. It is amazing that this Roman soldier, who had so much invested in the power structure of his community would choose to worship the God of the vulnerable, the God of the oppressed, the occupied, the marginalized instead of the cultural gods of his society.


And, like the fire on the mountaintop, we see the result of this trust. It’s not anything that the centurion has done that causes Jesus to heal his servant. It’s not the support of the elders of the synagogue speaking on his behalf. It’s only trust, and when the centurion trusts Jesus, Jesus shows up, and his servant lives.


Sometimes we think we need to hedge our bets. We indulge, just a little bit, in the idol gods of our culture. We bring the local gods of greed, of selfishness, of fear into our religious system.


Sure, we believe in God, but we also believe in the ‘-isms’ of our age. Capitalism, Socialism, Patriotism whatever, we trust in in these systems to provide our needs. Sure we say that God will save us, but let’s do everything we can to build walls, guns, bombs, just to help him out. Sure, we think that God loves us and forgives us, but we set up rules and codes of behavior for others to climb over before we can associate with them.


And so while we may not immediately recognize Jezebel and Baal in our midst, we know them better than we want to admit. And while we may not want to face it, sometimes the faith of those we would least expect it rivals our own.

Both Elijah and the Roman Centurion challenge us to consider who it is that we truly worship. Are we hopping around to the tune of the false gods of our contemporary society, the gods of money, fashion, fear, power? Are we cutting ourselves until we bleed to satisfy the gods of national pride, the isms of political systems?


Or do we simply trust in the God of Jacob, the God of Israel, the God of the cross, the God of Easter, the God that came to us, and conquered death?


This is the question, not just of the age of Jezebel, but our own, the question of the ages. Is God sufficient for us, or should we hedge our bets? Do we believe in His power, or do we think he needs some help? Do we trust in the healing power of Jesus, or should we place our hopes in the idols that are easier to control, easier to manipulate, easier to see and feel, and understand?


Because the reality is, it’s going to be one or the other. We can’t worship both Baal and God. It doesn’t work. We will always be limping around in circles if we try. The gods of this world require sacrifice and blood, and we will never be good enough for them.


Trust in God. Know that when you need him, he will show up in a mighty way. Let go of the lesser gods of our culture. They won’t always be there for you when we need them. And know that the Lord indeed is God, and he loves us, and he forgives us and he heals us when we trust in him.

How majestic is the name of the Lord our God!
Amen.

05.22.16 Sermon (May 22, 2016) “Trinitarianism 102”

posted Jul 12, 2016, 8:38 AM by David Hawkins

Old Testament Reading: Romans 5:1-5

 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

 New Testament Reading: John 16:12-15

  "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 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. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

 Sermon: "Trinitarianism 102"             Rev. David Hawkins

 Today, we will finish what we started talking about last week, that is, the idea of the Trinity – the idea of a God that is one, yet, is apprehended by us as three: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Now, of course, we could go from here into talking about whether or not the gender specific word “Father” is the best word to describe God. We could go into a long discussion about whether or not other words, other syntax better describes the role and the function of the Trinity.
Because the reality is, for some, words like, "Mother, Child and Womb" or "Rock, Redeemer, Friend,” better express the nature and the meaning of the Trinity. But, for others, these changes to the classic formulation sound artificial, or somehow trivial.
But we’re not going to go there, at least not today, no matter how fun that sounds. We’re not going to redefine the Trinity today. But I do hope to rediscover, if just a little bit, how important this difficult and controversial doctrine is to our lives.

Last week, we introduced the idea of the Trinity by first talking about the role of the Holy Spirit. We remembered when Jesus was with his disciples during the last week of his life, during the last meal he ate with them, and he was trying to get them ready for what is to come.

And this was quite a discussion. In fact, these five chapters of John, 13-17, that cover these final words of Jesus are nearly one fourth of the entire Gospel. They are so significant that they have their own Title, “The Farewell Discourse,” and they cover some pretty wide-ranging theological ground.

It’s in the Farewell Discourse that we are given a new commandment, to love each other as he has loved us. It is in the Farewell Discourse that we hear Jesus tell his friends that he is going to die, but that he will rise again. It is in the Farewell Discourse that Jesus washes their feet, tells them that he is the way to the Father, that he is the truth, the way and the life. And, it is during the Farewell Discourse that Jesus reveals the work and the role of the Holy Spirit.

Now, Jesus wasn’t trying to create Trinitarian Doctrine during the Farewell Discourse. He wasn’t trying to introduce a brand new, obscure, difficult theological concept. He was trying to reassure his friends that they would not be alone in the coming trial. He was trying to let them know that no matter what was going to happen in the next few hours, no matter how terrible, horrifying, and catastrophic things might appear to be, he would still be with them. 

Jesus knew that his disciples weren’t ready for what he was telling them. He knew that they weren’t ready to consider the idea that he might die, that their world would be shattered before the dawn came. Jesus knows that there are things that we are never ready to hear, things we can’t bear even thinking about: the diagnosis of untreatable cancer, the news of the death of a loved one, trying to come to terms with natural and manmade disasters that threaten whole communities. There are some words that we will never be able to hear, or to understand, at least, not on our own terms.

And so, Jesus is trying to get them ready for what is coming. And part of getting ready is the knowledge that he will still be with them. He will be sending himself, in the same way that God sent him, to be with them. That in the Holy Spirit, they will know who he is, and who they are.

And so, rather than trying to explain the what and how of the Trinity, that is, trying to talk about how the Trinity is one God, yet in three persons, distinct, yet unified in essence and purpose, rather than trying to search for metaphors that ultimately fail in fully describing the mystery of God’s revelation of God’s own self, I want to focus on the who and why of the Trinity.

First, the who: The Trinity is God. The trinity is God showing himself to us in ways that we can understand. The Trinity is God bending to earth, stooping to our level, limiting himself so that we see for ourselves his love for us. God comes to us, not just in the majesty and power of creation, but also in the accessibility and vulnerability of a baby. In Jesus Christ, we know God. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we know who God is, and what he wants, and what he will do to get his way.

Second, the why: The Trinity shows us what relationship looks like. Distinct, yet unified. One essence, but three persons. One purpose, three people showing us the way. Sacrificial love, eternal forgiveness, everlasting covenant. We find the truth of God in the person of Jesus, and we find the presence of Christ in the moving of the Spirit. It is in relationship that we discover God, and what he wants from us. God so wants to be in relationship with us, that he became us. And in the power of the Holy spirit, we are bound eternally to that relationship.

And so, what does this whole concept of Trinity have to do with today? What does this hard to understand doctrine have to do with us, on the Sunday when we are getting ready to say goodbye to our Seniors?

I think is has everything to do with it.

Because the Trinity doesn’t just describe God. It also describes us. And it describes our relationships, with God, and with each other.

Because God has poured himself into our humanity, we have been brought into a wide and eternal relationship. Because God decided, for his own mysterious purposes, to become us, our relationship with him has changed to something bigger than just you and me, or us and them.

The relationship of the Holy Trinity includes us. We, also, are in relationship with each other, in ways that defy explanation. We are part of each other, yet distinct. We are unified, yet we are also different persons, following God in ways that are unique to us.

And so, to our graduating seniors, here is what the Trinity means: Be in relationship. Be in fellowship. You may find yourself in an unfamiliar place, in a town where you don’t know anybody. Get involved in a church. Get involved in something. Become part of the fabric of your community. Trust that the Spirit of God moves wherever you go in the same way it moves here. Let that Spirit bind you to a congregation, and be with them in the same way you are here with us.

Love and forgive those who cause you problems. There will be people that you meet who have forgotten, or have never learned that we are all in this together. Show them what being a Christian really looks like. Be graceful, don’t let competition and ambition get in the way of compassion and friendship.

And above all, remember that we are the face of God to the world, in the same way that the Trinity teaches us that Jesus Christ is the face of God to us. Work toward presenting a face that Jesus would recognize. A face that teaches, heals, welcomes, forgives, and gives, and gives, and gives.

Pretty soon, you will be making your own decisions about life. Where to live, who to live with, how to account for your time and your treasure. There will be many different calls for your attention. You will encounter just about every temptation you can imagine, and some you never have even thought about.

Parents, trust that God is with your Children, even when they are far from us. Know that the Holy Spirit is still working in them, even when they make choices that seem to us to be dangerous or destructive. Don’t give up on them, even when it seems they’ve forgotten everything you’ve taught them. Remember that God will never leave them.

Seniors, trust your gut feelings. When you think a situation is wrong for you, get out. Remember who you are, and who you belong to. Let the Spirit be your guide, your friend, and your counsel.

Oh, and one more thing: call your mom from time to time. She’d love to hear from you.

 

How majestic is the name of the Lord our God!

Amen.

 

05.15.16 Sermon (May 15, 2016) “Trinitarianism 101”

posted Jul 12, 2016, 8:36 AM by David Hawkins


The Acts of an Easter People: Acts 2:1-21 

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

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. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 
 
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 
 
Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-- in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." 
 
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" 
 
But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine." 
 
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. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 

'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. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'

*New Testament Scripture: John 14:8-17 (25-27) 

Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." 
 
Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. 

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 

"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."
 Sermon: "Trinitarianism 101”  Rev. David Hawkins

Last week, I was inspired by the Youth as they chose to tackle a difficult scripture passage from Revelation. They didn’t shy away from sinking their teeth into the hard words of the final book of the Bible, and they did an amazing job bringing these old, strange words into our 
modern world. 


The Youth inspired me so much in fact, that I decided to honor their work by continuing to look at a different difficult concept, and that is this idea of the Trinity.

And while all you Liturgical nerds out there already know that next week is the when we are supposed to talk about the Trinity, I decided to go ahead and get started early. Because this might take a couple of Sundays to talk through.

The idea of the Trinity defies conventional grammar and rational definition. This idea of one God, but in three persons, has been the source of a ton of conflict through the years.

In fact, one of the great splits in the church, the schism between the Western “Roman” Church, and the Eastern, “Orthodox” Church was a difference in understanding what the Trinity was. It was a relatively small difference. One wouldn’t think that it should have mattered all that much. But it did, and it resulted in a break in communion that has lasted more than a thousand years.

And so, let’s get one thing straight first. Nothing that I am going to say about the relationship between God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is going to have an effect on my, or your salvation. While theologians have gone round and round in circles trying to figure what this relationship might mean, and how to talk about it, nothing that we are going to talk about here today is going to alter your relationship with God. That’s between you and Him.

Now, having said that, the way we talk about the relationship between Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit does mean things. At least, Jesus thinks that it means things.

In our scripture from John, we see Philip sort of sticking his foot in his mouth about misunderstanding who Jesus really is, in relationship to God, and Jesus doesn’t waste any time in explaining that if you really want to see the Father, just look at him. If you want to know the way, the life, the truth, then do the things that Jesus did.

And so, Jesus evidently thought that is was worthwhile to consider the relationship between himself and God. In fact, he thought that this relationship was the one thing that would keep his young Christian Community from falling apart after he died. Jesus knew that his followers would be demoralized, persecuted, accused of all kinds of things, and they needed to know that they were not alone.

And so, when he talks to his friends about what it means to know God, he puts it in the most personal terms possible. If you know Jesus, if you walk the way he walks, if you teach, heal, welcome, forgive, feed, clothe the way he does these things, then you will know the Father.

Jesus is the face of God, right before us. Jesus is the will of God, the Word of God, the presence of God, the love and life of God. If we desire to know what God wants of us, we need look no further than to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

This the first thing we need to know about the concept of ‘Trinity’: the connectedness between God and Jesus. In Jesus, we see God. We see what God had in mind for us when he created the universe. We see what God hopes for us when he parted the Red Sea. We see what God desires from us when he fed the tribes in the desert. In Jesus Christ, we see the connection between God and his people. It’s not an academic thing. It’s a personal thing.

And the way we think about their relationship informs the way we think about our own relationships. God came to be one of us. God came to be here for us. And by the way he led his life, he calls to be there for each other.

This sense of mission is at the heart of the trinity. The trinity is not a doctrine that you must believe in order to be a Christian. It is an understanding of who God is that calls us to action.

Of course, up to this point, I’ve only been talking about two persons of the Trinity, God the Father, and God the Son. I haven’t even started talking about God the Holy Spirit.

And that’s entirely Presbyterian, isn’t it? We are pretty leery about talking about the Holy Spirit. We’re not generally willing to go there.

And for good reasons. Discussions about the role and the meaning of the Holy Spirit have been fraught with demands for demonstrations of the manifestation some sort of power of the Holy Spirit in order to prove that you are a Christian; that belief in the Holy Spirit means speaking in tongues, playing with snakes, rolling around on the floor; and that a Holy Spirit oriented worship service means a raucous, thoughtless, irrational expression of Christianity that makes Presbyterians shudder and look away.

If that is what the Holy Spirit is all about, we say to ourselves, then we just won’t talk about it. Or think about it. We certainly won’t consider what the Holy Spirit means for our lives.

But in today’s Scripture, John offers us a different picture of the Spirit. There’s nothing ridiculous or frivolous about the Spirit. There’s nothing in here about litmus tests or prescribed demonstrations of one’s Spirit-given power.

Jesus talks to his friends about the Holy Spirit, not in a way that demands strict codes of behavior but in a way that comforts and encourages. The Holy Spirit, he says, will come to you in order that you may know that you are not alone, to remind you that I will be with you forever. I am sending an advocate, a partner, a friend. I am sending someone that you can count on when all else fails. The Holy Spirit is the living, everyday connection between you and me, and as long as you are engaged in the work of the Kingdom of God, you will be given what you need to carry that work out.

Again, this understanding the Trinity is not something that we have to believe in order to be saved. Rather, this understanding of the Trinity is one that calls us to action. It’s one that reaffirms our connection to God, rather than one that creates division and schism. If we see the Holy Spirit as the force that binds us to God, that wind that gently guides us to better choices, that voice of comfort and reassurance, then maybe we Presbyterians can find a way to talk about the Holy Spirit without feeling a little bit strange inside.

And I think that we need this knowledge of God. Especially on those cold, wet rainy days of our lives that we all have from time to time, I think we need this reminder that God is still with us, that Jesus has not left us, that we are not alone.

In this meal that we are about to celebrate, we see the whole person and work of God. We see the life of Jesus Christ, given to us. We see the promise of God’s salvation given to us. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are brought into the presence of God the Father, and God the Son, if only for a moment, to feast at the table of the saints, forever, and ever.

The Trinity doesn’t have to be a hard or weird thing. It doesn’t have to be an academic exercise. The Trinity is a gift. The gift of knowing who God is, and what God wants from us, in a real, and life giving way. In the Trinity we discover a God who gives himself to us, and calls us to give ourselves to him, and to each other, and who then gives us the tools to do so.

It’s that simple. And yet it is so very difficult. Because let’s face it, if it were easy, everybody would be doing it.

 
Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might be to our God
forever and ever. Amen.
 

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