Moving Toward the Trinity
2008-05-12 by Joretta Marshall

Each of the texts this week can, on its own, supply rich and powerful insights into our life and faith. Each is a text worth drawing upon in preaching this coming Sunday. In these texts we find the imagery of the creation stories, the power of the psalmist to articulate a vision of this Creator-God; the reminder that “faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love”, and the call to join the activity of Christ and the Spirit in the world. What an abundance of wisdom for theological reflection.


What strikes me about the texts together is that they engage us in the theme of relationship. So many theological questions jump to my mind: What does it mean for God to be the embodiment of relationality through what we know as the Trinity?  How does God – Creator, Judge and Redeemer, Sustainer – come to life in the world through God’s relatedness? Does the Trinity suggest to us that God not only desires “right relationship”, but that this Holy One cannot be anything other than relatedness? Is the good news this week that relationality is so embedded in God that humans cannot be anything other than relational?  What does it mean to move toward the Trinity?


As I write this blog, I am in the midst of living out a day where we honor a piece of our relationality as human beings through our celebration of Mothers. I happen to have one of those Mothers whom it is easy to celebrate; but I also know that this not common and that there are many for whom this day brings up feelings of despair, hurt, pain, anger, or hopelessness. What is clear is that relationships bring to us a richness that includes feelings of love and care, as well as hurt and pain. Our experiences of relationships are not one-sided or simple; they are often not either good or bad. Instead, our relationships are marked by tensions and creative possibilities. I wonder how this complexity about relationships mirrors the God in whose image we are created?


As I sit in this moment thinking about the texts for the coming Sunday, I am aware that the way that God lives in relationship with the Godself ought to have an impact on the way that I live in relationship with all of creation – the earth, other human beings, myself, my family and neighbors. During this coming week on this blog, I invite you to reflect and engage one another in what it means to be created in the image of this God of relationality. How does our capacity for right relationship get compromised through our arrogance or our human limitation, through our hate or our anger? How do we claim the redemptive gift of relationality when it is also one of the places of our deepest pain? Is there not something in all of this complexity that is also reflective of God’s experience through Mother/Father, Christ and the Spirit? What does it mean for human beings to move toward the Trinity?


I look forward to your insights and gifts to this conversation with a focus on relationality.

Holy Spirit through Alan, Steve and "Lectionary Homiletics"
2008-05-08 by David von Schlichten

Thanks to guest blogger Alan Meyers for his extensive entries for this week. Scroll down to drink his perspicacity, as well as Steve Schuette's reflections on the danger of simplistic, dualistic labels and the Holy Spirit's label-challenging feat on Pentecost.

Here are highlights from this week's articles in "Lectionary Homiletics":

First, there are two "Exegesis" articles, one for Acts 2 and one for John 7, a gospel option for the Day of Pentecost. The former is available under Share It! as a free sample.

"Lesson and the Arts"

Richard Eslinger recalls El Greco's painting "Pentecost" from circa 1600, which features women receiving the Holy Spirit. Hallelujah.

"Scripture and Screen"

Dan R. Dick focuses on The Wizard of Oz, which reminds us that what we seek is within us. Likewise, God places "our heart's desire within us from the very day we were born" (p.45).

"Preaching the Lesson"

Anna Carter Florence meditates on John 7 and the idea of thirsting for living water. Jesus invites all of us to drink, but we humans tend to put stipulations on who is allowed to do so. We Christians are not to fixate on determining who is allowed but instead to care for the thirsty of all sorts.

Florence also notes that Jesus himself thirsts from the cross and then, through death, gets to drink. His thristing is about far more than fulfilling scripture or feeling physically dehydrated from crucifixion.

I am contemplating preaching on the third article of the Apostles' Creed, which concentrates on the Holy Spirit and her children: the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. As part of preaching about the Church, I could draw from the tradition of calling the Church "Mother." 

Speaking of water, being in the hot tub has made me crazy-thirsty. Thank you for the thirst and for leading me to drink, ever

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Beyond Labels
2008-05-07 by Steve Schuette

Greetings to Alan.  I grew up in St. Charles, and knew, second-hand, Dr. Conover, a predecessor at Lindenwood.  His wife was my violin teacher….long, long ago.

            Some thoughts….the Spirit, at least for the Christian texts, seems deeply connected with resurrection.  It is the ultimate “deed of power” that each in their own language are inspired to speak about.  It “shakes lose” this power of God that otherwise might be a historically limited event and makes it an ongoing story.

            So what does that mean?  It seems to me we are more into labels than perhaps ever before.  We label “us” and “them,” “good” and “bad,” “citizen” and “immigrant” or even “alien.”  In light of modern experience isn’t it astounding that such a diverse group should, centuries ago, hear a common message and affirm it together?  Or maybe we think of all ancients as part of a monolithic culture.  If so maybe we’ve lost the point of this story.

            In our group’s lectionary study our discussion wandered to another group that carries a label:  convicts.  This is a label that sticks.  The laws make sure that an individual never “once was” but will “always be” a convict, no matter how limited the crime or deep the rehabilitation.  In fact, the virtual idea of rehabilitation seems gone from the discussion completely.

            What would it mean to take this text seriously, as well to take the Holy Spirit seriously?  For beginners it might mean that all our cultural differentiations, even the most fixed and settled, need to give way to a new reality that changes everything:  “them” and “us.”

Who is the Holy Spirit? More thoughts
2008-05-05 by Alan Meyers

         Yesterday I wrote about the Holy Spirit as the one who makes it possible to know Jesus. Here are some more thoughts for Pentecost.  

            2. The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. The Spirit is the third way in which Christians experience the reality of God. The followers of Jesus had known God's presence in Jesus, whom they knew as "the Son" (Mt 11:27; Jn, passim). This, however, was already a new way of knowing God, whom people from a Jewish background had previously thought of as "Father" (Ps 68:5, 89:26, 103:13). Jesus, the Son, different from the Father, nevertheless enabled people to know the Father as never before (Mt 11:27). Now, at Pentecost, after the physical presence of Jesus had gone away, his followers experienced God in yet a third way, as the intimate personal power of the Holy Spirit. A difference in experiences of God points to a real difference within God's own being, else there is no true revelation of God at all, as Karl Barth insisted. Hence God really is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not only for us but also in his own eternal being.


            The completeness of God's self-revelation at Pentecost will be celebrated next week, on Trinity Sunday. For now, however, at least one Trinitarian theological observation seems appropriate in light of today's readings, specifically Psalm 104:30. While the Spirit certainly is known by Christians as the one who comes to help them specifically in their weakness (Rom 8:26), he is also the hope of the whole creation (Rom 8:22-23). The works of the Trinity toward the creation are undivided. The Holy Spirit is active not only in redemption, but in creation. Hence there is no ground for confining the Spirit to a separate "spiritual" realm apart from the common round of everyday, physical life. The Spirit is the Creator and Lord of all life. The Spirit's power and presence can be known not only in the exhilaration of joyful worship and the quietness of personal prayer, but in daily work and play, in the company of family and friends, in the exercise of body and of mind.

             3. It should go without saying, however, that the scripture readings for Pentecost show that the Spirit's activity and the knowledge of Jesus and the presence of God are experienced above all in the Christian community. The disciples on Pentecost were all together in one place (Acts 2:1). Paul emphasizes that "in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (1 Cor 12: 13), and that the variety of gifts the Spirit gives are all given for the service of that one body, for the common good (v. 7).  

Who is the Holy Spirit?
2008-05-04 by Alan Meyers

  Who is the Holy Spirit? A joke that was current years ago had it that the Spirit was "the forgotten man of the Holy Trinity."  The churches used to have little to say about the Spirit. That situation has changed considerably since the great success of the Pentecostal churches and the surge of the charismatic movement in the older denominations in recent decades. Whether or not they are members of those groups, more Christians now are conscious of the reality of the Spirit. Still, the arrival of Pentecost each year gives Christians an opportunity that should be welcomed to remember this greatest of God's gifts, and to reflect upon the Spirit's activity in the life of God's people.  

            Who is the Holy Spirit? The Church turns again on Pentecost to the locus classicus for answering this question, to the second chapter of Acts. The other readings for this Sunday will also support our search for understanding.


            1. The Holy Spirit is the one who makes it possible for someone to know the full truth about Jesus, through a real, personal encounter with the living Christ. "When the day of Pentecost had come," Acts tells us, "[the followers of Jesus] were all together in one place." What were they doing while they were together? It is hard to avoid the supposition that they were talking about Jesus their Master, only seven weeks before crucified, dead, then risen, and ascended into heaven. Their minds were still whirling. What did it mean? What was the significance of all this, for them, for God's people Israel, and for the world?


            Suddenly, as they talked together, they were filled with the wonder and the mystery of it all. They came to a new sense of the salvation God had accomplished in Jesus. They felt the living presence of their Lord, invisible now, but more real and more powerful than ever, and through him the presence of God. Their joy reached critical mass, and exploded into action. They knew they were in the Spirit of God.


            The Greek word for "spirit," of course, is "pneuma," the same as the word for "wind." As the wind picks up dead leaves or grains of dust and moves them around as though alive, the followers of the risen and ascended Jesus felt themselves moved and given new life by their Lord. Remembering the experience later, then, they recalled it as a mighty wind that filled the place where they were meeting (Acts 2:2).


            They experienced the Spirit also as fire. Fire in the Old Testament is one of the signs of the presence of God (Gen 15:17; Ex 3:2, 13:21, 19:18). A personal theophany happened to every individual there: "Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them" (Acts 2:3). Every disciple was in the grip of God. The Spirit formerly had been an experience of prophets and special charismatic heroes like the judges. Now, the wish of Moses was granted: all the people could be prophets, all possessed by God's Spirit (Num 11:29).


            They described the divine fire as "tongues" no doubt partly because of a specific effect the Spirit had on them: they began to speak. They had been talking before among themselves about Jesus. Now, they were able to speak with such power and conviction that even people who knew nothing previously about Jesus could understand. People from far away heard the disciples speaking as though in their own native languages about God's mighty deeds, that is, about the cross and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:11). People from all over the world found themselves starting to be gripped by the same Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus.


            The idea that the Holy Spirit is the one who reveals the truth about Jesus in and through believers is found clearly in today's lectionary reading from 1 Cor 12:3-13: "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit." Paul's main point in this famous passage seems to be, however, that different followers of Jesus will witness to him in different ways. "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit." In the churches we usually connect this,  rightly, to the idea that some people sing in the choir, some serve on the congregation's governing board, some teach Sunday School, and so on. We could, however, see in it a corrective to the common tendency among Christians to assume that there is only one way of expressing the truth about Jesus. In my undergraduate systematic theology course we examine a variety of metaphors that have been proposed for understanding the work of Christ. The ideas of satisfaction and substitutionary atonement are not the only ways this can be approached.  We can also understand what Jesus does as an act of self-giving throughout his life, self-giving that leads to the cross but does not begin there. We can see his work as revealing the love of God. There may be value in many different metaphors for gaining insight into this great mystery. A student recently balked at this, saying that we need to make up our minds: surely there is only one way of understanding the Doctrine of the Atonement?  Pentecost may show that student that he is wrong. The unity in Christ that the Spirit creates is a unity in diversity.


            More thoughts tomorrow.

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