Sunday, July 14, 2019

Phil Kniss: Living on purpose

Love and Obedience
Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Colossians 1:9-14; Luke 10:25-37

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The concept of obedience has fallen on hard times.
And for good reason.

In some previous generations,
obedience to any and all authorities,
a parent, a boss, the government,
was generally considered absolute, and unquestioned.
And in an era that were even more patriarchal than today,
obedience was written into marriage vows,
that is, of the wife to her husband,
not the other way around.

Not infrequently,
that obedience came at significant personal cost.
There have been many people in our history,
and continuing to the present day,
that lose their own sense of selfhood,
because of a badly distorted notion of
obedience for the sake of obedience.
Power is so easily abused.
Authority so easily becomes authoritarianism.
Leaders easily get accustomed to having their own way.
And we end up with bullies as leaders.

So for those reasons, and more,
I’m glad that today we are often shy about the subject of obedience.
We choose more suitable substitutes,
like mutual respect, and
honoring the other or honoring the office.
And I’m really glad “obey” rarely shows up in marriage vows.

But . . . and you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you? . . .
it’s just possible we may have lost something
important and life-giving along the way.

One cannot read scripture—Old or New Testaments—
without facing explicit teachings about obedience—
mostly obedience toward God,
but toward some human authorities as well.
Obedience is associated with the good life.
While disobedience is associated with grave consequences.

Today’s Old Testament lectionary reading from Deuteronomy 30
is a prime example, here’s v. 10:
“For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you,
just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors,
when you obey the Lord your God
by observing his commandments and decrees
that are written in this book of the law,
because you turn to the Lord your God
with all your heart and with all your soul.”

And Colossians 1:9-10, in our epistle reading for the day,
likewise asserts that God has a will, a purpose,
and we have an obligation to live
according to that will and purpose.
It reads,
“ . . . we have not ceased praying for you and asking
that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will
in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord,
fully pleasing to him,
as you bear fruit in every good work and
as you grow in the knowledge of God.”

We read texts like that,
and we give them a nod,
but we often let them roll off our backs without much reflection.

Even talking about obedience as it relates to God,
makes us twitch.
Since obedience is not in vogue these days,
we substitute more suitable rhetoric.
Have you ever observed that we talk much more often and freely
about following God, or following Jesus,
than about obeying God’s laws,
or submitting to the commands of Jesus.

There’s a not-so-subtle difference there.
Following is softer.
Sounds like us opting for our personal preference.
Could go this way. Could go that.
All legitimate choices.
But I think I’ll follow Jesus.

There’s nothing wrong with that language.
Following Jesus is biblical, of course.
But it’s more than a personal preference.
The biblical language is much more demanding than we think.

Let me say it again.
We are told all throughout our scriptures,
that God has a will.
God has a purpose and intention for us and for creation.
Conforming to that will is obedience.
Not conforming to that will is disobedience.
Both have consequences.

This allergic reaction we often have to obeying the “law of God”
is not shared by many other world religions,
or even by Christians in many other parts of the world.
Our Jewish cousins
have a long-standing love for the law of God.
A ritual they have in every worship service,
is expressing their emotional affection for the law,
they physically kiss the Torah scroll.
Our neighbors and friends who are Muslim,
also have a clear and unmistakable reverence
for the authority of Allah,
and bowing low with one’s head on the floor,
is again, a regular and repeated ritual of worship.

I think it’s largely us Western Christians
who have hang-ups about obedience.
Like I said, I’m not faulting us for that.
The origins of that resistance are real and legitimate.
But blindly holding on to our resistance,
for the sake of resistance,
does not give room for nuanced reflection.
It is not the way of wisdom or maturity, it seems to me.

So how might we redeem the life-giving parts of obedience,
while continuing to reject the self-robbing parts?

The Jewish branch of our faith family knows very well,
that the law of God does not rob us of self.
Rather, it gives us a home, a place of belonging,
a knowing of who we are and whose we are.
The law of God gives a safe and secure home
to those of us who are free.
Yes, free.
The law does not primarily constrict. It frees.

It’s the first word in the Ten Words (or Decalog) or Ten Commandments.
In the Jewish system of counting,
they begin with this as Word 1:
I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of bondage.
Then their Word 2 is our first commandment
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

In devout Jewish households, this get reinforced
multiple times a day in the Shema.
The God who gives us freedom, has given us a law.
And we are to love our liberating God
with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Over and over they remind themselves,
The God who brought them out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of slavery,
welcomes them into a house of love and security and freedom,
through obedience to the law.

It does not need to be different for us.
If we can be intentional and reflective long enough,
we too might put aside our instinctive resistance,
and see God’s love embedded in God’s law.

These commandments of God do not constrict us,
they do not reduce our selfhood.
On the contrary, they free us to be whole people,
they free us to be the people God intended us to be.

Let me repeat . . . “the people God intended us to be.”
That phrase points to a core truth for people of faith.
We believe that God has an intention for us,
and for all creation.
Maybe you take for granted that everyone believes that.
That’s not the case.
Not even all Christians seem to grasp this.

We Western Christians been shaped by a secular view of life
that asserts we are autonomous beings.
We think human freedom means
we can be a law unto ourselves,
as we don’t infringe on somebody else’s right
to be law unto themselves.
We think freedom is not only choosing our means,
but also choosing our ends,
choosing our own self-made life purpose.

Well, that runs counter to one of the major claims of our faith—
that our purpose is already determined,
and it was determined by our Creator.
We were created in love, created by love, created for love.
It is God’s gift to us, that God made us with purpose,
that our life has a purpose.
God has a will for us,
and God makes that will known to us.
We are created for and called to obedience,
not to restrict our freedom,
but to show us a grace-filled path
where we discover the life we were made for.

Not everyone in downtown Harrisonburg today will agree with you,
if you make the claim that we are handed our life purpose,
and do not get to choose our own.

To many in the modern secular public,
asserting that there is a moral law outside ourselves,
a meta-narrative for our lives,
a meta-purpose for our existence,
is almost scandalous.
That notion seems to undercut individual freedom.

But no, we have plenty of freedom, plenty of choice in life.
We can choose any number of different paths
toward our God-given purpose.
We are even free to reject that purpose,
and live in rebellion against our Creator.
But what we cannot do, is choose a different purpose.
We are not able to choose our purpose,
any more than we are able to choose our species.
Our purpose, our end, our telos, to use the Greek term,
was given to us by the one who made us,
the only one who has the authority to do so.

Therefore, I am morally responsible to God for the way I live my life.
I worship a God who has a will,
and whom I am called to obey.
I have plenty of freedom,
but God my Creator, has a prior claim on me,
even as I exercise my freedom.
And that claim has its origins in love.

That’s why the Good Samaritan stopped to help the injured man.
He wasn’t blindly submitting to a coercive legal regulation.
He was living naturally out of his love and worship
of a God who has a will,
and whose will is to show love to the suffering neighbor.

Therein lies the key to redeeming obedience,
and associating it with love, instead of authoritarianism.

In Christ, love is always connected with obedience.
It was in love that God created us.
And it was for love that God created us.
God gave us an identity and purpose
to reflect the divine image,
to embody love for God and others.
So to obey God is to live in love,
and obey the loving commands of God,
and live in the love and security of God’s law.

Obeying the commands of God
is an act of loving friendship with God.
As Jesus told his disciples in John 15,
“You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I do not call you servants any longer . . .
because a master doesn’t tell a servant everything.
But I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything my Father told me.”

Love puts a different spin on obedience.
These “commandments” of Christ are coming from a friend.
Not from a taskmaster to a slave.
Not from a big bully of a boss to the underlings.
But compelling invitations . . .
from a friend who is being open and transparent.

God in love created us with a purpose.
Then God invited us to live on purpose.
To obey.
To listen.
To lean toward.
I found it interesting to learn that there are two root words
behind the word “obey”
one means “to hear”
the other means “in the direction of.”

To obey God,
is literally to lean toward the sound of God’s loving voice,
to orient our lives toward God’s purpose,
to live on purpose.

God wants to love us into serving God’s purpose,
not force us into serving.
A God who calls us friend.
A God who doesn’t hold back crucial information,
so as to exert power.
But a God who is willing to reveal, to be transparent,
and then trust us to respond in kind.

That is the kind of God we should be lining up behind,
eagerly wanting, choosing, to obey.
So that we might live the whole and full life God intends.

Then, as it says a little later in Colossians, ch. 3,
we will “put on love” as a garment, as clothing.
And that love ties it all together—
“Binds into one every dissonant part,”
to use the poetic version of it,
which we find in STJ 38 — Beloved, God’s chosen.
Let’s sing together.

—Phil Kniss, July 14, 2019

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Sunday, June 30, 2019

Mark Hurst: Trees planted by water

Jeremiah 17:5-8
Luke 6:43-45

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Sunday, June 23, 2019

Paula Stoltzfus: Sound of sheer silence

Children of God through Faith

1 Kings 19:1-15
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

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I have never lived through a major natural disaster. I have heard that tornados or hurricanes can sound like a freight train barreling through.  Nor have I felt the earth shake under my feet, causing my visible world to crumble.
The closest I’ve experienced is Super storm Sandy, back in 2012 in PA. It caused our great big pin oak tree in our backyard to whip it’s long gangly limbs over top the house.  It caused us enough concern that we moved everyone to the front of the house to sleep. When the kids were already asleep we heard something hit the roof hard. From inside we couldn’t see anything and we weren’t about to go outside to check it out. It wasn’t until the morning that we discovered that one of the branches had sideswiped the corner of our chimney off, which had fallen on the roof, rolling off onto the yard. Thankfully no harm was done. I recognize that this is very minor damage done.  But I remember the uncertainty I felt that night.
Our experience seems minor compared to a major storm.  Those in Puerto Rico are still rebuilding from Hurricane Maria.  Those in the Midwest are dealing with devastating flooding. When tornadoes strike, damage can be catastrophic.  Recently in Morgantown, PA, the farm where John grew up experienced a tornado which flattened a cinderblock two story farm building.  Wind, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and rains, can make a raging storm.  
Elijah’s stormy experience was a little different than a raging storm in such a way.
Before Elijah’s experience in the mouth of the cave, Elijah witnessed God’s power through powerful acts of nature.  Elijah had witnessed God’s power coming down in the form of fire, striking an alter of water logged wood and freshly slaughtered sacrifice, consuming everything.  This was an act that proved to the people present that God was the true God and not the false god of Baal. The fire was one of wonder and a tangible sign that God was real. 
Elijah’s work at proving God’s power was a threat to those that ruled, namely Jezebel.  A threat was made on Elijah’s life, which was enough to make him flee to the wilderness and eventually to Mt. Sinai.
Mt. Sinai was associated with God’s presence. This was the same mountain where Moses met and talked with God.  Elijah was seeking God in the midst of his insecurity.
It is curious as to why Elijah fled to begin with.  He witnessed the power of God firsthand! Why wouldn’t he trust God to provide for him?
I don’t think we have to think too hard as to possible reasons for Elijah fleeing.  We ourselves have witnessed at one time or another God’s power, provision, and grace.  That is what brings us here is it not. We believe that God is real. That God is a God of love that draws us to God’s self.  That God gives us the meaning in life that we often search aimlessly for in the world.
But, when faced with our deepest insecurities, fear, and failures, we cower or run into the wilderness to escape our reality.  For if we don’t have to face it, then maybe it would go away.
The threat on Elijah’s life seemed to turn him to come face to face with his insecurities that completely overwhelmed him. As a result, Elijah ran, wanting to die, not by Jezebel’s sword, but from starvation.  
On this mountain, Elijah did not see or hear God in any of these natural disasters, the wind, earthquake, or fire.  God was not speaking to him as he had experienced God before. For Elijah, this absence may have made him more discouraged, feeling very alone.
How much do we do the same thing?  When we are faced with our deepest insecurities, scars, and  wounds, we run.  
Run, to keep ourselves so busy we don’t have to think about what’s right at our back, for we don’t have time.  
Run, to make enough money in order to attain all our financial goals, even at the expense of our relationships. 
Run, into the arms of technology, in attempts for our minds to escape any open space to think and be.  
Now don’t get me wrong, business, money, and technology are not bad in and of themselves.  But if our use of these resources are in order to move away from spirit lead work of reconciliation with ourselves and others, then we too risk starving ourselves from God’s love and grace, from meaning and purpose, from our identity as one of God’s beloved.   
In Elijah’s case, God didn’t let Elijah starve completely.  Instead God sent a messenger to feed him just enough to keep him going.  It wasn’t until Elijah experienced the absence of God in the natural disasters from the mountaintop, that Elijah finally heard God.  This time in sheer silence.
Sheer silence…absolute, utter, complete silence.
I want you to do an experiment with me.  I want you to help me create the sounds of these natural disasters. 
Sometimes silence can be disturbing and sometimes it can be peaceful.
Another story of a storm finds Jesus and his disciples in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee when a storm comes upon them whipping the waves and boat.  The disciples, fearing for their lives, awaken Jesus, who was sleeping through it all. Jesus commanded the wind and the waves to cease, and there was peace.  It was at the end of this boat ride that they landed on the shore of the Gerasenes and met the man possessed by demons.
It is going from one storm on the water to another, the storm raging within this man’s soul. Just as Jesus spoke peace to the water, Jesus calmed the internal storm of this man, offering him freedom from the Legion.  
I would expect the towns people to be in awe and praise God, for they no longer had to endure a crazy man running around naked.  I recognize that the swineherders had a significantly downsized herd of pigs, which I’m sure caused quite a stir.
But it is not abnormal for sometimes as one experiences healing in their journey, it often upsets the norm for someone else.  
I find family systems fascinating.  We each live within a family system, beautiful and challenging as they all are.  We learn certain communication patterns and ways of associating with one another.  When those patterns are changed by one person it can change the whole system. It can be disorienting and at times disturbing.
I think the same can be said for this man possessed by the demons.  He was accepted as the “mad man” in their community. They had learned to live with his crazy behavior.  I would venture to say he was also an easy scapegoat for the wrongs within their community.
Jesus’ healing act very well literally and figuratively threatened their economic and social rules of operating.  The swineherders lost their source of income and the community’s social order was turned on it’s head.  
Jesus freed the man at the bottom of the social order and gave him his humanity back.  Their community’s way of operating and communicating was threatened, and they wanted Jesus to leave.   
Debie Thomas, a commentator on this passage wrote, “humans often prefer to stick with the demons we know, rather than embrace the freedom we don’t.”
The Israelites exemplified this when they were freed from the Egyptians.  Initially grateful for deliverance from bondage, later they complained from their hunger pains, that they would rather be back enslaved where they at least knew where their next meal was coming from.
Our own social system is not unlike the Gerasene community.  We like to say in our democracy that everyone has a chance for a better life, but our history of western European dominance, has repeatedly demonized minorities and remains a troubling reality to this day.  Racial reconciliation is as much a need now as it was in the civil rights era, the civil war, and years of settlement.
We need to work at listening to each other, those of us who have experienced racial prejudice and those who have experienced racial privilege.  It is in looking towards one another in our humanity that we are freed from the social order that is so strong around us.  
This could pertain to any difference we face today; political, theological, faith tradition, generation.
Paul’s own conversion experience was a transformation from being bound to the Jewish law to freedom through faith in Jesus.  His being bound by the law caused him to persecute those not following the law. Paul’s freedom came from him literally becoming blinded by God’s grace which radically shaped his ministry thereafter.  
In Galations, we find Paul casting a vision to a community who was wrestling with the law and Jesus’ life and teachings.  This vision was radical for them. They were so entrenched in the social hierarchy that it would have difficult for them to see a culture where there were no distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave or free, male or female.  
Paul was risking upsetting the social order by proclaiming that it is through faith in Christ that they were all one.
This is good news!...Right?...Maybe?
That means the last will be first and the first will be last.  That means that there is no one better than another. That means that we are all God’s children.  That means we are freed from the law to live by faith from a place of belovedness, not for what we have done, but simply for who we are right now.  Embracing our belovedness sends us to be-love to someone else.  That, my friends, is extending humanity to another, to see them in their belovedness.
When we are in the space of God’s love, it is surrounded with a peaceful silence.
Elijah, wrapped in his fear, came face to face with God’s love for him, not in the storm, but in the silence.  He was given a renewed sense of his identity and purpose and was sent from that place.
Jesus, spoke peace in the storm, bringing humanity, dignity, freedom and peace in the silence.
Paul’s exortation to the Galations freed them from the bounds of the law and into God’s grace through faith.  This means that where there were social stigmas before, there were no longer.
God is with us in the same way today.  When the storms of life are raging, God stands by us.  When the silence is deafening, God is present with us. When the silence speaks the peace we long to hear, we are present with God.  Do not be afraid, God calls us each by name, we are God’s beloved.    

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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Phil Kniss: The aesthetics of the Gospel

Trinity Sunday: Beauty & Faith
Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

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God speaks to us in beauty.
God shows up for us in beauty.
Or, to say it another way,
beauty is God’s love language.

If you want biblical evidence,
it’s all through the Psalms.

We read one of many creation psalms this morning,
“O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?”
Just the sight of natural beauty and grandeur,
make the psalmist contemplate the most existential question,
and pose that question to God.
“Who are we? that you love and care for us so much?”

Part of this sermon I happened to write sitting outdoors in the shade,
breeze blowing,
by Cooks Creek, a pair of mallards swimming by.
I didn’t set out to do that because of the topic.
It’s just where I found myself working.
Maybe the Spirit drew me there.

How many times have you heard someone say,
or have you yourself said,
the place where I experience God’s presence most closely,
where I hear the voice of God most clearly,
is watching a sunset,
or gazing on purple mountains,
or listening to the roar of the ocean,
or deep in the quiet of a forest.

And last night I was in the Bach Festival choir
and we sang Haydn’s great oratorio, the Creation.
“The heavens are telling the glory of God,
with wonders of his work resounds the firmament.
In every land is known the Word,
every ear will hearken; never tongue be dumb.”
I was overwhelmed by that experience of majesty last night,
and the divine voice still echoing.

God speaks to us in creation, in nature.
And I believe that not just because it’s usually quiet out in the woods,
so we can hear our thoughts better,
although that’s part of the equation.
It’s the actual aesthetics.
It’s the beauty.
It’s the wondrous order of the created world.
The symmetry, or asymmetry, of a leaf, or flower, or butterfly.
It’s the grace of a deer, or a hummingbird.

Now, I say all this
about beauty, and aesthetics, and existential mysteries,
because I am preaching on a topic
that usually uses the other side of our brain—the Trinity.
A topic known mostly by the rational, philosophical,
and intellectual arguments it has produced.

Throughout church history,
when the Trinity is spoken of, usually,
it’s someone trying to explain it in words or analogies,
trying to put it into some intelligible rational framework,
trying to say it in a way we can get our heads around it—
at least, the left side of our heads,
our left-brain, logical ways of thinking.

It has been this way for eons.
Back in the fourth century—the mid 300s—
common people on the streets
were getting into arguments with their neighbors over the Trinity.
It was a big deal.
And that’s an understatement.
There was a huge theological controversy at the time,
between Arius and Athanasius,
and Arius decided to put his radical ideas to music,
so they could spread more easily
among the common people in the streets.
The conflict was most heated in Alexandria, Egypt,
where these two theologians lived,
but it spread throughout the Roman Empire.
People on the streets were singing ditties, based on popular tunes,
the words claiming the Father alone was true God,
but that the Son was neither co-eternal nor uncreated,
since he proceeded from the Father.
One vegetable seller, I read,
when giving his customers what they ordered,
would throw in, for free, an unsolicited theological discourse,
on whether the Father was greater than the Son.

So heated was the public debate
that Emperor Constantine summoned a council to Nicaea,
in modern-day Turkey,
to settle these questions.
After months of negotiations,
they came up with the Nicene Creed of 325 A.D.
That settled some basics, about the divinity of the Son,
but it didn’t settle all questions about the Trinity.

There was another council in 381, and 451, and 589,
held in Constantinople, Chalcedon, and Toledo, respectively.
Every generation or so, they had to go through the arguments again.
Popes and kings and emperors got into the fight.
And they still didn’t get it all figured out.
So in 1054, the whole Christian world split in two, east and west.

Clearly, there was something important at stake.
Maybe to us, some arguments sound like
parsing a word or two in a creed.
But the arguments meant something to those arguing them.

Now today,
it’s not my intent to sort out the substance of all those arguments.
I don’t have enough time in a 20-minute sermon
to outline all the fine points.
And I have a basic commitment in my preaching,
not to bore you to tears.

So, I’m not dismissing the significance of theological arguments,
because I think theological debate is important,
But I want to speak of the Trinity
with a language other than logic and rationality.
I want to speak of the beauty of the Trinity.

We opened this worship service with a hymn
you may or may not have paid much attention to,
since we were still in the gathering mode,
still getting settled into our space.
So turn again to #2 in the blue hymnal.
This is an old Mennonite hymn,
that borrows heavily from the aesthetic sensibilities
of high church liturgies.
Notice all the phrases that sound like it could have been written
by a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox hymn writer.
Starting with the phrase, “holy place,”
and then “perfumes sweet”
“golden censers”
“fire of sacrifice”
“saints bending”
“holy light”
“holy bread”
and other words and metaphors that conjure up
the pure sensory experience of worship.
“Smells and bells” if you will.
Now for the real surprise, look at the date and author of the text.
1901, S. F. Coffman.
S. F. Coffman was born at Dale Enterprise, a few miles out Rt. 33,
although he grew up mostly in Elkhart, Indiana,
and raised his family in Ontario.

It was in 1901, the year he wrote this hymn,
that back here in his home community
Virginia Mennonites divided
over several issues of worship order—
like Sunday School, ordination by lot, and revival meetings.
Coffman’s father was a famous revival preacher.
That division formed the Old Order Mennonite group in this area,
which continues to worship, to this day,
using the same old order of things,
same worship practices,
same hymnal,
same unadorned meetinghouses.

If you’ve ever been inside Pleasant View O.O. Mennonite Church
just west of Dayton, built in 1902,
then you know exactly
what all Mennonite worship spaces in our area
looked like in the year this hymn was written.
There were no golden censers to be found.
No incense.
No holy fire or holy light or holy bread.
They were, and are, plain spaces.
White walls.
Wooden benches.
Only a few cushions.
No pictures on the wall.
No crosses.
No religious symbols of any kind.

Yet, S. F. Coffman, whose faith took shape
in a stark and stripped down worship space like that,
was able to write this hymn.
With highly sensory metaphors, he could conjure up
the visual, aural, olfactory, and tactile experience of beauty,
in the worship of the Triune God.
That’s a paradox that strikes me every time we sing this hymn.

Someday I want to ask some of my Old Order friends
if they know this hymn,
and what the words conjure up for them.
I know they appreciate beauty.
But it is certainly expressed differently.

But back to the aesthetics of the Trinity.
Why focus on beauty?

Brian Zahnd is a pastor, author, and speaker I respect.
I’ve heard him in person several times and been inspired by him.
The pastor of a large non-denominational church in Missouri,
he preaches a biblical Gospel of peace,
and has a passion for Christ-centered social justice.
Kind of an outlier among evangelical preachers,
a friend of Anabaptists,
and making an impact in the Christian world.

He’s written a book entitled, Beauty Will Save The World:
Rediscovering the Allure and Mystery of Christianity

He draws on the ancient tradition of artists, sages, and theologians
who connect the beautiful with the sacred,
who see in our art our longing for God.

He suggests we live in a day when pragmatism
and utilitarian “morals”
have largely displaced beauty as a value.

Here’s part of what he wrote,
“We are generally more accustomed to defend Christianity
in terms of its truth and goodness.
But beauty also belongs to the Christian faith.
And beauty has a way of sneaking past our defenses
and speaking to us in unique ways . . .
Everything about Jesus Christ is beautiful!
His life, his miracles, his grace, his teaching—
even his death, and certainly his resurrection—
they are all inimitably beautiful.

A Christianity enchanted by this beauty,
formed by this beauty,
and reflecting this beauty,
has the opportunity to present to a skeptical and jaded world
an aspect of the gospel that has been too rare for far too long.
Where truth and goodness fail to win an audience,
beauty may once again captivate and draw those it enchants
into the kingdom of saving grace.

He adds,
“Our task is not to protest the world into a certain moral conformity,
but to attract the world to the saving beauty of Christ.
We do this best . . . by enacting a beautiful presence
within the world.
The Western church has had four centuries
of viewing salvation in a mechanistic manner,
presenting it as a plan, system or formula.
It would be much better if we would return
to viewing salvation as a [beautiful] song we sing.”

I think the same thing could be said about the doctrine of the Trinity.
It’s something of beauty,
to take in,
to contemplate with wonder and awe.
It’s not something to win a rational argument about.

The doctrine of the Trinity
is simply a way for us to describe in words,
what we experience when we start to inhabit the Gospel story,
when we dwell in the scriptures,
and start to grasp the story of God and God’s people.

What is more beautiful than the affirmation of faith
we heard from Romans 5 this morning?
“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.

There . . . is the Trinity—
not in a wordy rational proposition,
but in sublime words of exaltation.
This is not a triangular flow-chart for the Godhead,
showing how neatly it fits together,
and how Jesus Christ and the Spirit proceed from the Father,
or is it that begotten?
No, the apostle Paul,
who can get pretty dense and wordy other places,
here is just overflowing with giddy praise
for the God who shows up, in grace and glory, everywhere.
It’s like he’s standing at the edge of the canyon,
pointing to the west, and saying,
Would you look at that sunset??
It’s just gorgeous!

And Jesus himself spoke of the coming of the Spirit,
as a wonderful treasure to marvel over,
not a new plan or formula to memorize.
In fact, in our reading from John 16 this morning,
it was almost like Jesus was warning us
not to get caught in the weeds,
but to enjoy the big picture.
He said, in v. 12,
“I still have many things to say to you,
but you cannot bear them now.”
In other words, don’t worry about it!
“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.”

The Holy Trinity is a thing of beauty.
It’s a beautiful thing to discover a God
that meets us wherever we need to be met.
God is the all-powerful and just creator of the infinite universe.
And God also comes and lives among us,
moves into the neighborhood,
shares our humanity,
shares even our suffering and brokenness.
And God is present with us by the Spirit, in our very breath,
God’s Spirit shows up and does not leave us bereft,
always and ever available to us.

This, our one Holy God
is both power and presence
shows justice and mercy
inhabits the material and spiritual.

That is beautiful.
It’s just beautiful.
It draws us in.
It is alluring, in the best sense of the word.

Contemplating the Trinity,
is like examining a multi-faceted gemstone that reflects the light
in different colors and intensities,
depending on the angle from which we’re viewing it.
The Trinity helps us see God from different angles,
all beautiful in their own way.

Speaking of aesthetics,
just for the joy of it,
we are going to sing a song we sang last Sunday,
on Pentecost Sunday.
It worked for that Sunday.
It works for this one.

Because it exults in the delight of a multi-faceted God,
who shimmers like light shining through a prism.
Sing the Journey 16 – Praise with joy the world’s Creator

—Phil Kniss, June 16, 2019

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