Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Voice of Wisdom -- A Sermon for Trinity Sunday

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
I haven’t done a lot of square dancing in my life, but I’ve done enough to know the basics.  One thing I know for sure is that the Caller plays an important role in the success of the dance.  The Caller guides the dancers in their movement and their steps, and if you don’t follow the Caller’s voice, you’re liable to cause a bit of chaos.  But, if you heed the Caller’s voice, you’ll be successful in your dance.

It’s Trinity Sunday and we hear the voice of Wisdom calling out to us, inviting us to join with God in a holy dance of joy!  If you go out into the narthex and look at our Core Values statement, you’ll find one that calls for us to be spiritually joyful. That is, our life with God should be filled with joy.  

As that great hymn of the faith that opens our hymnal declares:
Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, God of Glory, Lord of love,
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee, opening to the sun above. 
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness, drive our fear and doubt away; 
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day.  (Henry Van Dyke).  
I was reminded this week by Luke Timothy Johnson that we moderns have been formed by an Enlightenment vision that is very empirical.  We’ve been trained to think of faith in very cognitive or intellectually focused ways.  We’ve also been trained to see our faith being very rule-oriented.  Being a Christian means behaving properly!  

In this way of looking at things God is the creator and the law giver, which means that God is finished with us, at least until judgment day!  So, just obey the rules and you’ll be okay! 

But is this the gospel of Jesus?  Is this the good news that will lead us to being spiritually joyful people?  Now, a rule-based religion is simple and efficient, but does it allow us to experience the presence of God in our world today?   

As you think about these questions, let me suggest that we might find some helpful answers in the Christian belief in the Triune God.  Now, I know that some of you don’t consider yourselves Trinitarians.  You might even think that it’s odd that a Disciple congregation would celebrate Trinity Sunday.  I understand your dilemma, but I’m going to ask that you indulge me for a few moments.  

Although the Disciples don’t have an official position on the Trinity, I find the Trinity to be a very helpful doctrine.  One reason why I embrace a Trinitarian vision of God is that I was raised with it.  I grew up as an Episcopalian, reciting the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed.  Our hymnal calls these Affirmations of Faith rather than creeds.  Whether you call them affirmations or creeds, they invite us to confess faith in the one God, who is revealed in Jesus the son, who is of one substance with the Father, and in the Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.” Like I said, It’s just the way I was raised, and I can’t get it out of my head!

But that’s not the only reason why I embrace the Trinity.  I’ve come to believe that the Trinity helps us envision God in relational terms.  God isn’t a solitary entity, but is instead a God who exists relationally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

Can you envision these three persons of the Trinity entering into a dance, and then inviting us to join in, with Wisdom serving as the Caller?  As Bruce Epperly puts it the “Trinitarian God is constantly dancing, growing, choosing, and changing.”  He goes on to say that “the Trinitarian God suggested by today’s [lectionary] passages embodies loving fidelity through intimate and changing relationships with the unfolding world and its inhabitants.”

  Although our reading from Proverbs 8 doesn’t speak of Wisdom in divine terms, there’s something about this description of Wisdom that can help us re-envision the nature of God.  

In verses 22-31 Wisdom is portrayed as the first act of God’s creation.  Before God did anything else, God created holy wisdom, who is envisioned in feminine terms.  She is the one who works alongside God creating the world in all its diversity.  That is, she serves beside God as the master builder.  This is a beautiful word, but that’s not the end of the story.   

Too often we think of God as being out there – what theologians call the “wholly other.”  This God creates and gives laws, but is otherwise disengaged from our lives.  This is the Deist vision of God, which ultimately leads to practical atheism.  God may exist, but God isn’t involved in our lives, so we make the best of what we have.  But, such a religion has a purpose – it helps support morality.

But surely the Christian faith is more than the kind of rule keeping that leads preachers to use words like “should” and “must” and “ought.”  Although this kind of religion is simple and straightforward, there’s very little grace to be found in it.  Besides that, it leaves little room for the Spirit to move. 

In contrast to this form of religion, Jesus came into the world offering us the Gospel.  He offers grace, and invites us to root our doing in our relationship with the Living God, who comes to us in Jesus, and indwells us through the Holy Spirit.  There is a place for doing good, but it’s not the prerequisite of faith, it’s the result of our lives being transformed by our dance with the living God who comes to us as Trinity. 

The Proverb closes with these words:  
And I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race. (Prov. 8:30a-31 NRSV).
You get the sense here that God delights in creation, including the human race.  We’re not an afterthought.  We’re not a mistake.  We’re not a special project.  No, we’re God’s delight!   

This is a great word, but I’d like you to hear it in a different key, one that I think brings out even more this sense of joy.  Hear this word from the Common English Bible:  
I was having fun, smiling before him all the time, 
frolicking with his inhabited earth and delighting in the human race.  (CEB).
“I was just having fun, smiling before him all the time . . .”  Does that sound like church?  Does that sound like something you would do with a God who is a rule giver and a score keeper?  Indeed, does this sound like what worship is supposed to be like?

Last Sunday we were treated to a song by our children.  And as the children and their leaders sang the song “This Little Light of Mine,” one of our  children broke loose and began to dance before the Lord.  What joy there was in watching Sylvia dance.  I believe that God took delight in that scene.  Yes, I believe the Spirit was present in that moment.

And so here we are, standing before God.  As we gather in the presence of God, can you hear the voice of Holy Wisdom calling out to you:  “Shall we dance?”  If you can hear the invitation, are you ready to break loose and enter into a dance that’s already taking place within God’s divine nature?  Are you ready to share in the relationship that God experiences within God’s self?  And are you ready to share with God in having fun, smiling, frolicking, and delighting with God in God’s creation, which includes humanity?   

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Trinity Sunday
May 26, 2013

Sunday, May 19, 2013

We Are Children of God! -- A Sermon for Pentecost Sunday

Romans 8:14-17

“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”  

With this simple song, our children invited us to celebrate Pentecost Sunday by letting the light of God’s Spirit shine through us.  When the Spirit of God descended on the people of God, like a mighty wind, that Pentecost Sunday, flames danced above each head.  This flame symbolizes the light of God that shines through us, lighting our pathways as we journey with God into the world.  Bearing this light, we fulfill our calling to be a blessing to our neighbors – whether close by or far away.  

Not only does the song remind us that God has filled us with the light of the Spirit, but it also reminds us, that even if we’re adults, we’re still children of the living God.  As Paul puts it: “All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters” (Rom. 8:14 CEB).  

Of course, none of us are God’s natural born children.  No, we’ve been adopted into God’s family through the Spirit.  And, as God’s adopted sons and daughters, we’ve become heirs of God through Christ, our elder brother (Heb. 2:11-13).

So, what does it mean to be a child of God?  Above all else, it helps define our identity.  We all ask this question: Who am I?  Don’t you want to know who you are and why you are the way you are?  Science tells us that genetics plays a role, but so does the world in which we live – our parents, our friends, our church.  It’s not a question of nature versus nurture.  Both are involved!  And as God’s children, surely God plays a role.  In Jeremiah 1, the Lord says to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you, . . .”   

As we come here today to celebrate Pentecost, what does this declaration that we’re all children of God have to do with our identity?  What difference does it make? 

You might answer in terms of behavior, but surely there’s more to this than simply following divine law.  After all, the message of Romans is that in Christ, grace supersedes law.   

Perhaps the answer lies in Paul’s next statement: “You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear.” Because we’ve been made children of God in Christ, there’s no need to fear.  

This is an appropriate word for our times, because there’s a lot of fear in our midst.  If you don’t believe me, just check out all the conspiracy theories that get passed around through e-mails and social media.  It’s bad out there!!  Or, so I’ve been told!   

Now, just because we’re free from bondage to fear doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prudent about security.  Just the other evening, at the stewardship meeting, we talked about this very subject.  Having participated in a presentation on church security offered by the Troy Police Department to  the Troy Interfaith Group, our stewardship chair decided we should talk about protecting our building and the people who come to it.  Even if we sit here in one of Michigan’s safest cities, doors need to be locked when no one is here.  We need to be vigilant about who is coming and going.  And since we have a growing number of children, we need to make sure they’re protected. Yes, there are reasons for being careful and vigilant, but that doesn’t mean we have to live in fear. 

After all, the God whom we serve is defined by love, and as the Scriptures say – “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 Jn 4:18).  Besides, as Paul writes later on in Romans 8: “If God is for us, who can be against us.”  Yes:  
35 Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,  
We are being put to death all day long for your sake.
   We are treated like sheep for slaughter.  
37 But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. 38 I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers 39 or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.
If we can accept this as a word from God; if we Believe that God will be true to this promise; if we will let the Spirit reign in our lives; then, as children of God, we’ll be ready to head out on the adventure that lies ahead of us.

I enjoy watching our little ones run around without any sense of fear exploring their environment.  They seem to know that it’s okay to check things out, that their parents and grandparents and other recognizable faces are there to protect them.  This childlike curiosity is a key to the Spirit-filled life.  Walking in the Spirit is a spiritual adventure.   

Now, this childlike curiosity is the result of trust.  Our children know that their parents are nearby.  It’s the kind of trust that allows us, as God’s children, to address God as “Abba!  Father!”   

So off we go into the world, filled with the Spirit of God, who is our parent.  We go out into the world, knowing that since we’re God’s children we’re also heirs of all the promises that go with that status.  Every promise God made to the children of Israel has now been passed on to us as well.  We don’t replace the Jewish people, but in Christ we are now joint heirs with them of the promises made to Abraham, including that covenant calling to be a blessing to the nations.   
So, as God’s children in Christ, we receive this Pentecost power that empowers us to bear witness to the good news that Jesus is risen from the dead. Death has met its match, and as a result we can now embrace the life that God has set before us.  Yes, we’ve been commissioned by Jesus to go into the world and be his witnesses.    And as his witnesses, we go forth with the promise that Jesus makes to his disciples on the eve of his death.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus says to his  disciples. 

Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves.  I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works I do.  They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father.  I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father can be glorified in the Son.  (John 14:11-13 CEB).   
This may seem like a tall order, but as the children of God, we’ve been gifted for this work, and we’ve been given a Companion, the Spirit, who will be with us forever.  
So are you ready to head out as children of God on this next adventure in the Spirit?

Now, being children of God doesn’t mean that there won’t be challenges ahead.  Even as Jesus faced suffering, we may face it as well.   Theologian Karl Barth puts it this way:
In the Spirit, we are enabled to know the meaning of our life, as it is manifested in suffering.  In the Spirit, suffering, endured and apprehended can become our advance to the glory of God. This revelation of the secret, this apprehension of God in suffering, is God’s action in us. (The Epistle to the Romans, p. 301).  
As we discussed the meaning of the cross of Jesus at the Wednesday Bible Study, we talked also suffering.  Although we might not know why people suffer, and though God doesn’t always come to our rescue, that doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us.  God is still there with us, because we are children of God, and God is always present with God’s children!

So, as children of the living God, and as heirs of all the promises of God, may the light of Pentecost shine through you as you venture out into the world!  Be not afraid – God is with you through the Spirit, whom Jesus has sent to us.    

Preached by: 
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) 
Troy, MI 
Pentecost Sunday 
May 19, 2013