Thursday, June 30, 2011

Faith like Rebekah

  Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel, is an incredible woman of faith.  We don't usually hear too much about her.  No doubt she expected to live and die in Paddan-Aran (in modern Iraq).  People did not generally move around as much as we do today.  However, God had other plans for Rebekah.  One day she is out getting water at the village well and her life changes for ever.
  As she comes to the well, a man asks her for a drink of water.  She does not know that this man serves her relative, Abraham.  Nor does she know that the servant has come to find a bride for Isaac, Abraham's son.  In an act of gracious Middle Eastern hospitality, she offers to give the stranger a drink.  But she does not just stop there.  She waters the camels as well, going above and beyond the call of duty!
  This is exactly what Abraham's man had prayed for, a kind and caring woman who exceeds expectations.  The icing on the cake is that she is related to Abraham!  Rebekah takes a huge leap of faith.  She does not know Isaac, perhaps she's heard of Abraham.  We do not know.  But we do know that she was given the opportunity to say "no."
  Rebekah could have chosen to stay in the safety and comfort of Paddan-Aran.  How easy that may have been!  Instead, she opens herself up to following the will and direction of God.  In a tremendous act of trust, Rebekah willingly leaves it all behind-- friends, family, all she's ever known-- to journey to a new place and to marry Isaac.
  Rebekah is richly rewarded for her faith.  She gives birth to twins after a difficult pregnancy.  Even before they were born, the two boys wrestle with one another.  A prophecy predicts that she will give birth to two nations, although the younger will be the more powerful.  Perhaps you may have heard of theses two boys, Esau and Jacob.  Of course, we know Jacob better as Israel and as the father of many nations through his 12 sons. 
  And so the promises God made to Abraham (descendants, land, and blessing) begins to be fulfilled.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Holy Trinity

This Sunday we celebrate Trinity Sunday- the one, yet three-ness of God.  For centuries, Christians have proclaimed their belief that God is one.  Yet in that One are three separate and equal beings: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (or Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer).

The Trinity is one of the hardest concepts to understand.  How can there be only one God but three persons within the one?  It defies human logic and physics.  St. Patrick used a three-leaf clover to explain it.  Mrs. Mailloux (my freshmen religion teacher at Nazareth Academy) used three lit matches that made one flame to explain it. 

Others have turned to human relationships to explain it.  For example, a woman can be a mother, and daughter, and a wife.  Such an explanation seems to flirt with modalism-- the (heretical or unorthodox) doctrine that the Persons of God are not permanent but that God "morphs" into each of the beings as needed.  And, of course, one can have more than three "hats"-- sister, niece, co-worker, friend for instance.

Ultimately, God is a mystery.  Here and there we may see glimpses of it, as when we revel over the beauty of a sunrise.  However, as human beings we have limits.  One person cannot know or comprehend all that there is to know.  If we could fathom the depths of God's Triune nature, I think what we'd find would blow our minds.

In the end, God is always more than we can imagine or even begin to describe.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pentecost

               Originally Pentecost was a harvest festival, the Jewish Festival of Weeks.  Fifty days after the Passover, by the Law of Moses, all Jewish persons were to be in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast (Leviticus -22).  This explains the presence not only of Jesus’ followers but also of Jews from all over the Mediterranean.  There they worship at the Temple and offer the first fruits of their harvests.  The offerings would be dedicated in thanksgiving for God’s bounty.  Prayers would be offered for continued prosperity.
                As the disciples gather for the Festival, a strange thing mystifying happens; the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in them just as Jesus promised.  Jesus ‘ disciples are made bold and begin to tell the good news of Christ.  By the Spirit’s power the eleven speak in foreign languages.  Those gathered are able to hear the disciples in their native tongues.  The disciples’ message of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection is made available for all to understand and embrace.  This reveals the all-inclusive, all-encompassing nature of the Gospel’s mission.
                So it is that the annual ingathering becomes an abundant outpouring.  How truly Jesus predicted, “the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few” (Luke 10:2).  During the festival an incredible harvest is brought to God through Christ.  3,000 people come to Christ that day (Acts -42).  This gives the truth to Jesus’ promise in our Gospel lesson: “The person who trusts me will not only do what I'm doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I've been doing. You can count on it.” (John 14:12; MSG).
The Holy Spirit is proof that the disciples can, indeed, count on it.  The Holy Spirit is the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise.  By the power of the Holy Spirit the disciples do go on to do great things. . . things far more wondrous than speaking in tongues.  The sick and the disabled are healed.  The dead are restored to life.  Repentant sinners receive forgiveness.  More importantly, perhaps, the Gospel of Jesus Christ spreads beyond Jerusalem.  The good news of restored relationship with God is shared with every tribe, language, people, and nation until it reaches even the ends of the earth.
                But such works are not for the disciples’ own benefit or personal glory.  Each disciple is given a different gift so that the message of the Gospel can be proclaimed in a variety of ways, both in word and in deed.  All of these gifts compliment each other and are united, as Paul reminds us later in I Corinthians 12.  The diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit blend in harmony so that God’s kingdom is built up here on earth.  All so that Jesus’ ministry of sharing God’s reconciling grace continues.  After all, if the Body were all eyes it would not be able to get anywhere.  There would be no sense of movement.  If the Body were all feet there would be no sense of sight.  There would be no vision to guide the Body.
                In this respect, Pentecost presents modern disciples of Jesus with a promise and a challenge.  You and I each have our own part to play in the Body of Christ.  That is the promise of Pentecost: we belong by the grace of God and the Spirit gives us what we need to fulfil God’s plans for us.  Now for the challenge:  putting those gifts to use for the service of others and for the glory of God.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ascension Day

Today is 40 days after the joyous celebration of Easter.  Forty days have passed since we heard the wonderful news that death could not keep Jesus in the ground; the tomb where he was laid is miraculously empty.  Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, Jesus' return to God's eternal Kingdom.  Along with Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, and All Saints' Day, the Ascension is one of the seven principal feast days of the Church.
When you go to the Holy Land, there is a little silo-looking building.  It sits on the Mount of Olives, facing Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley.  Several thin taper candles provide the only light.  At the very center of the building is a place in the floor that is marked off by a border.
Inside the boundary, like a picture in frame, is the impression of a single bare foot.  Legend has it that this foot is no ordinary foot, however.  Tradition has it that this footprint is all that Jesus left behind as He ascended into heaven to take His place in glory at God’s right hand.
We have the scene depicted so beautifully for us in the window above our Altar here at Trinity.  You can see both the fear and the reverence of the moment.  One can feel the utter dismay of Jesus’ followers as He leaves them yet again.  No doubt they thought that Jesus was here to stay.  That He would stick around this time.
The message of the Ascension is clear.  It’s up to us now.  We are called to carry on Jesus’ mission and ministry.  You and I are to go forth into the world to as Christ’s heart and hands.  We may be the only Bible a friend reads . . . the only way a family member encounters God’s love in Jesus.