Tag Archives: Father

The Experience of God

[There is a comment on John 16:12-15, gospel reading for Trinity Sunday year c, to be found if you click here]

Descriptions can be less than helpful! “Sheets of a naturally derived, cellulose based material, joined and pivoted at one edge, usually of a light colour marked on one or both sides with a darker pigment.” tells you nothing very useful about a book. In much the same way, attempts to describe and analyse God, who is beyond human description and definition, may not be of great value.

Yet reading Romans 5:1-5, we learn something of the Christian experience of God, and how that may be remembered and shared. Jesus, we are told, has sorted out our relationship with God. Now we may find peace and grace, if only we have faith. Having peace does not mean a problem-free life. Yet even troubles lead on to hope – hope which, because of the Holy Spirit, is well earthed and not just hopefulness.

Almost without realising it, we have spoken of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The point is not to define or “pin them down”, but to welcome what they are doing in and around us. Paul is keen to tell the Roman Christians that the events of Jesus life and death apply to and for them. He also wants their lives to be transformed by that good news. As he speaks of God, he talks about the triple activity quite naturally. [We could look at John 16:12-15, today’s gospel reading, and find the same sort of reference to the three, working closely together].

On Trinity Sunday, we think of God. Let it be of the awesome and wonderful God, who has astounded and delighted greater minds than ours, and never of some dry theory. We shall not be examined on theory, whether in the philosophical terms of the early centuries, or of our own time. But we shall be judged on whether we have taken the opportunities to know God in practice. If our prayer, action and reflection have brought us to some understanding of what God is doing and wanting, it will show. If our experience makes us want to be more like God, that too will be plain. A difficult test? But a glorious transformation of human life and relationships.

Normal

You might think it strange that the Sunday after Christmas we read of Jesus as a 12 year old. (Luke 2:41-52), but it makes clear that Christmas is no “baby story”. The baby grows to a normal youngster, here on the edge of adult status.

There is a play on words when Mary and Joseph catch up with Jesus in the temple. His mother speaks of her anxious search with “your father” – as Joseph was in many ways. Yet Jesus speaks of “my father’s house”, meaning the temple, and God. Jesus has come to know who he is, and to recognise God for himself. It does not mean that he rejects his human family, nor the need for obedience to them. Nor was he teaching in the temple – he was listening, though his questions were full of insight.

This is our only glimpse of the story between the visit of the Wise Men and the start of Jesus’ public ministry. It shows a real child, though one in whom there is a growing understanding of a special status and purpose. It reminds us that the one who comes into our world is God, and also fully human.

It is also important in reminding us that the Son of God has, in his perfect humanity, to be obedient, and submit to those who do not understand as he does. If he was hurt by the rubuke and frustrated by their lack of understanding, it is not made the excuse for an argument, still less for abandoning his family. It is not always easy for people who understand to do that.

Trinity -?

If you use your computer bible to search, you will find the word “Trinity” absent from the New Testament. So why do we call this first Sunday after Pentecost “Trinity Sunday”?  Because Christians asked questions about God, and found answers which are still important from scripture.

It began with questions about Jesus. “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:22) – Jesus taught with authority; he did miracles: not only healing, but controlling the rough sea. John says much about the Father and the Son – “All that my Father has is mine;” John 16:15. Paul calls Christ “the visible likeness of the invisible God” Col 1:15, and several of his letters begin “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ [together, like that] give you grace and peace.” 1Cor 1:3

Then the Holy Spirit, who came to Jesus at his baptism, and to the disciples at Pentecost, is recognised. The word Trinity may be absent, but the trio appear as in Mt 28:19  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”

Why does it matter? It might seem a remote and theoretical discussion – but isn’t! God is not a lonely old man creating the universe as a hobby, nor is he just Jesus the man.  God is a relationship!  Have you ever thought about that? A relationship beyond our understanding, with sympathy and communication!

Relationships are a popular concern: Teenagers, parents of children, children about parents, we all wonder about community, and the threat “they” pose – whoever they are.  God is a relationship. Christians must learn to relate, like God. The world will watch to see if we can cope with one another, and doubt claims to bring forgiveness is we are not even speaking to one another.  I am glad the gospel, which shows Jesus relating to all sorts of people, also tells me that failure in the disciples was forgiveable, as long as they kept with him and kept trying.

“God is love”. (1John 4:8,16). We quote the example of Jesus, both his behaviour and his sacrifice in accepting death by crucifixion, but love is what God is, as well as does. Jesus mission is an overflowing of a quality always in the Trinity – or do I mean among the Trinity?  So “Trinity” is shorthand from after New Testament times for a biblical picture of God as a relationship, important for our dealing with people and especially other Christians.

The Son is not the same as the Spirit, and neither is the same as the Father. Is this dry theory? No.  Different and equal, not in competition, working perfectly together, accepting themselves and one another, reaching out together in love and service – but who am I taking about?  God, yes.  The Church – ideally, as it shows the God it trusts.  Every Christian individual, despite our fragmented structure?

Just as we are tempted to think we understand God (that has to be a laugh), we think we have it right, that our tradition is valuable – (which is true).  We face a temptation: we have it all right, our tradition is enough.  Wrong.  God, unity in diversity, makes us think about being different together.  God, love without competition, makes us think of using different gifts in the service of all.

I wonder if I have persuaded you?  Those who followed Jesus of Nazareth came to know God, and recognised relationship in God.  So Christians, even if not good at relating, must be interested and learning – about love, unity, communication.  As the early Churches worshipped and thought, they recognised in God diversity and unity. We need to take that model of unity seriously; not all being the same, but having a shared life and goal.  I can’t fill in the details, I can suggest that if we get closer to God, it should become clearer and easier.

I must end with words from 2 Corinthians (13:13)  “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you – us – all.”

Deserving? (Pentecost 2c)

 

As I get older, I am reminded of the need to know what I am doing. It is too easy to “lose the plot” – a theme which comes up in this week’s readings. Paul (Galatians 1:6-7) seems to think the Church in Galatia may have forgotten the basis of the gospel, and coincidentally Luke seems to record a similar contrast (Luke 7:1-10).

Jesus is in Galilee, in Peter’s home town near the fisherman’s lake. There is a delegation of synagogue leaders, who ask him to heal the slave of a Roman soldier. This is odd. The soldier is not part of the Jewish community, and he works for the occupying army! But it seems that he has built their synagogue. To the Jewish leaders, he deserves Jesus attention and favour.

That’s not too hard to understand. There are still people in Church, and outside the congregation, who think God owes them a favour or two. That is wrong – because God owes nobody. And it has missed the point, which is a great pity.

Now look at the attitude of the Centurion:

  • there is faith. He trusts Jesus, to be able to heal, and to want to heal. He explains that he knows about authority – and recognises that Jesus has it, in a rather different way to the military.
  • But there is also humility, especially, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof;” Luke 7:6 Unlike the synagogue leaders, this man knows he does not deserve Jesus favour. He has not “bought” anything with his gifts, except that he now knows where to look for help, and his own real status. And what is his status? He is a child of God, asking the Father’s help and love.

This is the importance of remembering the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus. What is that Good News? That God will give us what we deserve? – No, for nobody is good enough, or up to God’s standard. Nobody (including retired Vicars!) The Good News is that God does not give us what we deserve, but offers love, forgiveness and life for free – because that is the sort of God he is! The centurion had it right. He understood that Jesus might be embarrassed – or criticised – for going to the house of a foreigner, a Pagan, so he does not ask him to come in. He understood that he needed to ask, knowing he depended not on his reputation, but on Jesus’ grace. He understood that trusting Jesus was the way to get what he needed, and more. Some people still like to use his words as a prayer: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Jesus was amazed how well he understood, and Luke records the comment, along with the fact that the slave was healed.

That is the gospel: because of Jesus, God’s love is offered to us, as freedom, forgiveness, healing, new life – all the things we need, (though not always what we think we want!). The synagogue leaders, and some people in Galatia, got that wrong, which was dangerous. It risked losing the benefit – or perhaps even worse, stopping other people enjoying it. It is still important to know what Jesus offered, and how to help people get it!

 

Trinity and Relationship (Trinity c)

Trinity Sunday, but does it matter in practice what the early Christians thought, from a very different philosophical background?  I don’t feel bound to their ideas, as I do to the New Testament, but I think there is value in the idea of Trinity.

John 16:12-15 has Jesus telling the disciples that the Holy Spirit will relate “what he hears”, making clear a very close communication and co-operation between Father, Son and Spirit.  The New Testament never fully explains the relationship, but shows that Jesus has the Father’s power and authority, as well as approval.  (This is a feature of many miracles, and explicitly in the forgiveness, as well as healing, of the paralysed man let down through the roof Mark 2).  Father, Son and Spirit are associated in the Great Commission (Matthew 28), and the “Grace” 2 Corinthians 13, extending the unity of Father and Son Colossians 1, John 10:30, John 17:11 etc.

But why does it matter?  I suspect that for many people, God is pictured as a lonely old man orbiting through the universe and looking for someone to talk to.  That is rubbish.  But it is rubbish because God is a relationship. Father, Son and Spirit are so close, in such perfect communication and unity of purpose that they really are one.  You can speak of any of the three being fully involved in what any of the others does.  That is not mere theory.  It means that relationship is at the heart of Christian life.  Difficult though we find other people (rather as we find ideas of the Trinity mindbending), they are not optional.  If God is a relationship, and we are made in God’s image, relationship is of key importance, to our spiritual life as much as to our practical existence.

When we get tired of “meetings”; when Church politics and personalities irritate or worse, we need to remember that other people are not optional.  Part of our Christian living is to learn the quality of communication and unity of purpose which is God.  Which takes us to another of Trinity Sunday’s readings: Romans 5:1-5  – for those who know God’s grace, difficulties are part of the pilgrim route, schooling the character and leading to hope.  I suggested, slightly tongue in cheek, at Bible Study that our Ministry Area should adopt the motto “We also boast of our troubles”.  (The version of “sufferings” in the Good News Bible).  It might give a new perspective!

Mothering Sunday – a Christian festival?

I have a mixed relationship with “Mothering Sunday”. Yes, celebrating mothering, or perhaps positive parenting and families, is good; the encouragement to affirm and say thank you is helpful. So what’s wrong? The danger of ignoring those for whom families have not worked, and indeed caused pain or damage: the broken and divided families, memories of control, abuse, violence, argument; those who longed to be parents, but could not, or whose experience of parenthood was hard.

So let’s have some reality. Yes, for most of us families have been good, not always giving us what we thought we wanted, but often providing what we needed. I think Jesus would recognise that. He had two good parents in Mary and Joseph, and we read (Mark 6:3) of four brothers and more than one sister. As the eldest (Mary’s “firstborn” Luke 2:7) we guess that he stayed at home long enough to leave Mary with his brothers running the business to support them all (Joseph does not appear again after the incidents of Luke 2:42-52 when Jesus was about 12). But during his ministry, Jesus breaks free from family control (Mark 3:32-34, as Lk 8:20ff and Mt 12:46ff) – and there are words which must have been hard for Mary! Later she is cared for at the cross (John 19:26-7), and becomes part of the early Christian community (Acts 1:14).
There is a choice of gospel readings today. We can take Jesus’ words from the cross, instructing John to care for Mary (John 19:26-7), or Simeon’s words to Mary and Joseph when they brought the baby Jesus to the Temple – words that amazed them, and left Mary with much to think about (Luke 2:33-35).

Perhaps my favourite, though, would be the parable of the Prodigal Son – or should we call it the Loving Father (Luke 15:11-32). It is a story in three acts. First the younger son takes his money (no doubt causing much pain) and goes. Not a great deal is made of his route to the decision to return – no doubt there are many factors – but he makes the decision and the journey we might call repentance.

The second act belongs to the Father. Love is on the lookout, and offers not only a warm welcome, but also a shield through the village from hostile comment and action. As a picture of a generous God, it can be a little difficult to hold in focus. (Can God really be like that? Even if Jesus says so?)

The third act is more familiar. The resentment and self-righteousness of the elder brother sounds familiar. He is ready to think the worst, and offers no forgiveness – a challenge, not only to the proud of Jesus’ day, but to all of us. If we have avoided scandalous wrongdoing, and offered a measure of service, isn’t there strong temptation to want to claim our reward, and to denounce the cheats who enjoy the Father’s love? The question we don’t want asked is, “Who is cheating the gospel?”