John 14:15-17 – Love and the Trinity

Trinity Love

[Jesus said] “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (NIV)

“The best love is the kind that awakens the soul and makes us reach for more, that plants a fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds.”–Noah, from the movie, The Notebook

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7)

Love makes the world go around. Love is the invisible spiritual and emotional atom giving our lives substance, energy, and meaning. God is that atom, constantly creating love within himself in an explosion of attentive fatherly protons, gracious messianic neutrons, and active Spirit electrons.

In this post Day of Pentecost time, as well as the anticipation of Trinity Sunday, we are reminded of the connection between God the Son, God the Father, and God the Spirit. Yes, as today’s Gospel lesson demonstrates to us, Christians serve a triune God – one God in three persons. Many metaphors have been attempted (attempt is the right term for my atom analogy) to try and explain the Trinity. The truth is, although some images are helpful, they all fall short. That is because I can no more explain God than I can explain my wife and daughters. Just as females are an enigma to males, so God moves, acts, and speaks in ways that are ofttimes puzzling to humanity. Maybe that is why Jesus said the world does not discern or accept the Holy Spirit. Far too many folks like nice tidy answers to clear questions. Jesus babbling about some person living in us appears highly nonsensical to a chunk of humanity.

So, for me, I continually come back to what I know and understand about the Trinity: It is an intimate fellowship of love. In love, the Father and the Son have sent the Spirit to be with us forever – the Spirit of truth. In a world where evidence-based reasoning typically eschews any sort of intuitive knowledge, there are many learned people who believe spiritual matters are best left to guys like me. Yet, we severely truncate our ability to know anything if our epistemic presuppositions are bereft of knowledge beyond our five senses. For Christians and many other spiritually sensitive people, we discern there are senses beyond taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing. Indeed, for those with spiritual eyes to see and ears to hear, there is a vast multi-dimensional world far above and beyond the habitation of our three-dimensional space. And love binds it all together.

I once asked an extremely secular-minded friend about love. He talked of loving words and actions that are derived from biological instinct and well-developed brain chemistry. After he spoke at some length about this, I simply asked him, “Does that kind of understanding about love help you in your relationships, especially with your girlfriend?” He looked at me like I had caught him with his hand in the cookie jar. “It doesn’t – and we are not doing so well in our relationship.”

I am not here to make digs at secular thinkers. In fact, I deeply appreciate the many friends I have whose worldviews are quite different than mine. I just have personally discovered that the Bible rings true for me (and it did not for many years when I was younger) and that the Trinity is a reality because of the Holy Spirit’s witness of truth in me.

Trinity Love 2

Love is a matter of the gut and the head as well as the heart. Love can no more be relegated to limited spheres of being than a mule can be tamed with nicely asking him to settle down. Love is much too big, expansive, and powerful to be contained. So, it resides within God because God is the only Being which can hold it. God’s words and actions are not merely loving – God himself is love. And God lovingly bestows that love to us in measures and in ways we can absorb it and know it. Just as people can die of a broken heart, so their hearts can burst if filled with such overwhelming love. The Father and the Son have graciously given the Spirit to be a kind of steward of love within us – dispensing love with great care and attention in ways we feel it and may not be able to explain it with words.

I take great solace in the fact that the Holy Spirit is my Advocate. We all have times in our lives when we just cannot seem to get anywhere – or do not have the ability to express what we want. In such times, we need an advocate, someone who has the weight to be heard by others – someone who has our back when we are experiencing limitations. The Spirit is such a person. And the Spirit advocates for us in loving ways for all parties involved. The only thing impossible for God is to be unloving and unkind; it is not in his nature. Because of divine love, God sent the Son, then the Spirit, to be with us forever so that we would never be alone and always have someone to champion our well-being.

Living in obedience to the God of Love is sheer joy and delight. Laboring for the Lord seems almost effortless when we have a true vision of God high above, surveying all creation with eyes of love for his people – as well as a vision of God below and right next to us, listening with rapt attention to our every word and himself delighted with each movement we make.

Look upon us, O Lord, and let all the darkness of our souls vanish before the beams of your brightness. Fill us with holy love, and open to us the treasures of your wisdom. All our desires are known to you, therefore, perfect what you have begun and what your Spirit has awakened us to ask in prayer. Turn your face toward us and show us your great love and glory. Then shall our longings be satisfied, and our peace shall be perfect.

–A Prayer of St. Augustine, 354–430 CE

Exodus 19:16-25 – An Awesome God

Mount Sinai

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared, and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.  All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. The Lord came down on the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So, Moses climbed the mountain.

Then the Lord told Moses, “Go back down and warn the people not to break through the boundaries to see the Lord, or they will die. Even the priests who regularly come near to the Lord must purify themselves so that the Lord does not break out and destroy them.”

“But Lord,” Moses protested, “the people cannot come up to Mount Sinai. You already warned us. You told me, ‘Mark off a boundary all around the mountain to set it apart as holy.’”

But the Lord said, “Go down and bring Aaron back up with you. In the meantime, do not let the priests or the people break through to approach the Lord, or he will break out and destroy them.”

So, Moses went down to the people and told them what the Lord had said. (NLT)

As Christians await the Day of Pentecost and the giving of the Spirit, the Revised Common Lectionary reminds us of another great anticipation from the Old Testament. The ancient Israelites were amazingly delivered from Egyptian slavery, miraculously walked through the Red Sea, and traveled with wondrous anticipation to Mount Sinai. Now, in today’s reading, they are about to meet with God!

The scene of this meeting is not exactly the romantic highland encounter of the Man from Snowy River (my wife’s all-time favorite movie). The landscape is much more akin to the dark and volcanic Mount Doom from The Lord of the Rings. The picture appears more foreboding than loving. The thing about mountain top experiences is that they are not all monolithic one-size-fits-all encounters with bright rainbows and happy skipping unicorns.

Holy Scripture is replete with mountain experiences. Mountains serve as symbols for significant encounters with a mighty God. Whether it is Christ’s transfiguration on a mountain; or, the giving of the law on a mountain; the awesome mountain serves as a tangible symbol of divine majesty, strength, and sovereignty. And, I might add, conversely, valleys in Scripture are symbolic of difficulty and suffering.  Our God is a God of both mountain and valley. That is, the God of the Bible is both transcendent and immanent; he rules with power and might high above us on his holy mountain; yet, he also comes near to us in the valley of the shadow of death.

Leading up to the giving of the Ten Words (Commandments) in Exodus 20, Exodus 19 portrays an awesome scene of God in his transcendent holiness and power. In fact, the experience was so otherworldly that the people were afraid to even come near the mountain. The Israelites needed limits placed on themselves because of God’s holy presence. Just like coming too near the immense power of the sun will destroy us, so getting near God can ruin us if we do not respect his holiness.

Respecting God’s power and transcendence brings the reality of his immanence into greater appreciation. God has gone to extreme lengths to reveal himself to his people. For the Christian, it all culminates through the incarnation of Christ, the sending of the Son. In Jesus, the transcendence and immanence of God meet perfectly to bridge the chasm between humanity and the divine.  Because of Jesus, the awesome sounds of thunder and trumpet do not lead to fear; they announce grace to those who approach God by faith.

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant….

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time, his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:18-29, NIV)

Our God is an awesome God. As Christians anticipate Pentecost, we connect the consuming fire of Mount Sinai with the fire of the Spirit. The divine drama of both experiences has provided God’s people with spiritual power. Both the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery by God and the deliverance secured on Mount Zion from spiritual slavery by Jesus are meant to free us to do the will of God. With God’s Word and God’s Spirit given to us, we are emancipated from an empty way of life to experience the fullness of Christ.

May the Spirit who hovered over the waters at creation breathe life into your spirit.

May the Spirit whose presence on the mountain was a consuming fire grant you a revived spirit.

May the Spirit who overshadowed the virgin Mary at the conception of our Lord overwhelm your spirit with joy.

May the Spirit who set the Church afire on Pentecost aflame every spirit on earth with the love of Christ.

And, may the Spirit who exhorts, encourages, helps, and comforts be your blessing and your life today and always. Amen.

Psalm 99 – The Holy Helper

holy mountain
“Extol the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy.” (Psalm 99:9, NRSV)

Our ideas of God take shape in the many ways in we live our lives.  A God who is always right, fair, just, and loving in everything he says and does is a God we can place our complete trust.  A cranky god who is aloof and indifferent does not help anyone.  Yet, with the true God of all creation we can be assured of a strong spiritual support for any and every situation.  When we have as our ally a robust theology which informs how we think and gives shape to how we act, then we can step forward with confidence knowing that God has our backs.

Sound theology needs to be identified, nurtured, and expressed in daily life.  Remember, the Old Testament psalms are the church’s prayer book.  Each individual psalm is meant to be an inspiration to prayer, as well as serving as the actual prayers themselves which we can utter to God.  To use the psalms as boots-on-the-ground prayer is essential to providing a firm foundation from which to know and serve God.

I have provided my own translation of today’s psalm which captures the spirit of the text.  I encourage you to pray it over slowly, several times, and with appropriate emotional flavor behind the words:

The LORD rules everything; let all people everywhere who live unjustly, shake in their boots!

            God sits enthroned above all creation; let the earth rumble on its foundation!

The LORD is great among his people.

            In fact, He is far above all people.

Let everyone, no matter who they are or where they are from, praise Your great and awesome name.

            He is holy!

Mighty Ruler, the lover of everything that is just and right,

            You are the One who established what is fair and equitable.

You labored behind the scenes for causes which are just and right,

            and brought harmonious relations to folks at odds with each other.

Magnify the LORD, our God!

            Approach Him with great and mindful humility!

            He is holy!

Godly people of old such as Moses and Aaron were among his devout followers.

            Those like Samuel were among the humble who called on His Name.

People from times long ago have cried out to the LORD, and He has answered them.

            He spoke to the ancient Israelites in a great pillar of cloud.

They sought to keep and entrust His gracious rules given to them.

O LORD our God, you answered them.

            You were a forgiving God to them,

            yet, you also were the One who held them accountable when they slid off the rails.

Magnify the LORD our God!

            Humble yourselves and worship at His holy mountain,

            because no one is like the LORD our God, a holy Helper!

Amen.

Genesis 6:5-22 – The God of Emotion

flood of tears

The Lord saw that the human beings on the earth were very wicked and that everything they thought about was evil. He was sorry he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. Sothe Lord said, “I will destroy all human beings that I made on the earth. And I will destroy every animal and everything that crawls on the earth and the birds of the air, because I am sorry that I made them.” But Noah pleased the Lord. 

This is the family history of Noah. Noah was a good man, the most innocent man of his time, and he walked with God. He had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. 

People on earth did what God said was evil, and violence was everywhere. When God saw that everyone on the earth did only evil,he said to Noah, “Because people have made the earth full of violence, I will destroy all of them from the earth. Build a boat of cypress wood for yourself. Make rooms in it and cover it inside and outside with tar. This is how big I want you to build the boat: four hundred fifty feet long, seventy-five feet wide, and forty-five feet high. Make an opening around the top of the boat that is eighteen inches high from the edge of the roof down. Put a door in the side of the boat. Make an upper, middle, and lower deck in it. I will bring a flood of water on the earth to destroy all living things that live under the sky, including everything that has the breath of life. Everything on the earth will die. But I will make an agreement with you—you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives will all go into the boat. Also, you must bring into the boat two of every living thing, male and female. Keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, animal, and crawling thing will come to you to be kept alive. Also gather some of every kind of food and store it on the boat as food for you and the animals.” 

Noah did everything that God commanded him. (NCV) 

When I was a kid, the picture of God I had in my little head was of a white-bearded old guy sitting in the clouds looking bored and paying little attention to the humans below. Maybe, once-in-a-while, he would take his divine BB gun and shoot people in the backside, just for some fun. Although I have considerably moved on from that type of theological vision, it seems to be a common caricature of God that he is often indifferent – and even more so that God lacks emotions (except maybe anger). 

The Holy Bible says a lot about humanity. It says even more about God. In fact, Scripture is primarily about revealing who God is – the Lord’s character, attributes – and, yes, emotions. Much like my childhood misunderstandings of God, I am not sure why so many people tend to view God as lacking in feeling and emotion. Maybe the Enlightenment with its focus on reason, logic, and classification simply drained all emotion from God. It could be that contemporary humans project on God their own stoicism toward emotions. Perhaps we see emotions as unreliable and fickle, characteristics that God would not possess – and, so, we jettison any thought of God as feeling deeply about things. Whatever the reason, we will fail to know God as God unless we come to grips with a verse like this:  

The Lord saw that the human beings on the earth were very wicked and that everything they thought about was evil. He was sorry he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.”(Genesis 6:6, emphasis mine) 

Broken Heart

Rather than our emotional human nature being a result of the Fall, it is instead a part of our original design of being in Paradise with God. As God’s image-bearers, we carry the mark of God with feeling deeply about things, just like our Creator. In those times when sadness seems as if it might swallow us whole, we just may be closer to God in that moment than any other. God has a heart, and that heart has been hurt and broken more times than we could ever imagine. God’s emotions moved him to action. God’s sorrow led to destroying injustice. 

The thoughts, attitudes, and actions of violent and unfeeling people very much trouble God – to the point of being heartsickIt is our emotional makeup which connects us and bonds us with the divine. The inability to feel is the ultimate disconnect from God. 

Jesus also felt deeply about a great many things – so much so that he died from a broken heart. Recall that ithe seminal Sermon on the Mount Christ’s first words to the large gathering of people were: 

“Blessed are those who mourn.” (Matthew 5:4)  

We underestimate the importance and the power of emotions to our peril. Biblical writers often purposefully contrast differing persons in their stories. In today’s Old Testament lesson, that contrast is most vivid between God and wicked humanity. Humanity had gotten to a point where they felt nothing. The violent behavior was a direct result of their emotional selves split-off from the rest of them. People were bifurcated, their humanity chopped as if a meat cleaver separated their feelings from themselves. Whenever we observe belligerent bullying, hate speech, meanness, and oppression – there you find a paucity of emotions. It is not the presence of feelings that brings about wickedness; it is the lack of emotional awareness and the absence of feelings which is the highway to a watery grave. 

We are in the “Last Days,” that is, the time before the final event in the Christian tradition’s understanding of historyChrist will return to judge the living and the dead. The righteous will enjoy God’s presence forever; the wicked, not really. These days are too often characterized by the kinds of behavior which lack the emotional depth of godly love and a heart of compassion: 

There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” (2 Timothy 3:1-4, NIV) 

For me, learning to name my emotions and to observe where I carry those emotions in my body has been most helpful in connecting with my feelings – and connecting with my GodAnd, I must add, such an emotional awareness and kinship with feelings has brought personal wellness and compassionate ministry to others. 

So, receive this blessing today: 

The eyes of Jesus gaze upon you, stirring his heart with compassion. 

The gaze of Christ sees your heart, your joy and sorrow. 

The gaze of Christ sees your future, filled with the healing of emotions expressed. 

The eyes of Jesus gaze upon you, filling his heart with adoration. Amen.