May 31, 2015 – Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday May 31,2015 (Ps 29, Romans 8:12-17) Acts 2:14a, 22-41

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Things happen in threes. The church calendar serves up three big Sundays in a row at this time of year. First Ascension, with Jesus rising into the heavens. Then Pentecost, last week, with the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven. Now today we’re in Trinity Sunday, hardest of the three to explain… Since the Trinity is God, not an event. So…

Preparing for Trinity Sunday, I’ve been trying to envision God in triplicate – trying to see beyond a stick-figure-two-dimensional-God – to God who comes in holy splendor as Creator of the universe – and – the down-with-us-in-the-dust-God who takes on human flesh and lives in our neighborhood – and – the wondrously mysterious God who comes to us as Holy Breath, Wind, Fire, Advocate, Comforter… and all the words finally give up…as we’re simultaneously celebrating God the Trinity… and…

Back on the Day of Pentecost where we left off last week… The apostle Peter’s preaching, and the fire and wind of the Holy Spirit are blowing and burning, and everyone’s catching fire with the Spirit. Peter indicts the gathered crowd for complicity in the murder of Jesus, and the whole crowd actually pleads guilty to the charges, asking together-as-if-with-one-voice, “what should we do?”

Peter says “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Repent means literally turning. And repentance rolls out together with release from sins and receiving the gift of the Spirit, “For the promise (of the Spirit) is for you – for your children – and for all…”)

Last week we heard Peter explaining to the gathered crowd that the sound of disciples speaking in many languages all at once was due to the coming of the Holy Spirit – a happening Peter explains first with a quote from the prophet Joel, who foretold God’s outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh, with visions and dreams and sons and daughters prophesying….and –

Last week some of us were speaking, not in the language of first century Parthians, Medes, Elamites and Mesopotamians – but in French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Swedish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Korean, Tagalog – all spoken simultaneously in our attempt to replicate the sounds of Pentecost. (This probably worked at least somewhat, as I could see people looking amazed…Wondering what was in the coffee that morning…)

Now Peter’s preaching repentance – laying blame for Jesus’ death on those assembled. Yet at the same time inviting one and all to repent – turn to God – be baptized – receive the Holy Spirit. Naming the need of repentance, and inviting all to receive Jesus, at the same time…

And wonder of wonders… All who welcome the message are baptized… Three thousand-some are added to the number of the church (which had numbered just 120 a few days earlier). The message is heard thanks to the Holy Spirit.

The message is heard also because Peter can preach repentance from experience. Peter knows he has denied he even knew Jesus, three times in one night, just seven weeks ago. He remembers Jesus reminding him of his denial after his resurrection, asking three times, “Peter do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?” Peter remembers saying back to Jesus, three times, “Yes I love you. Yes, I love you. Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” And Jesus saying again three times – “Feed my sheep. Tend my lambs. Take care of my flock.” A three-times-three-trinitarian call-and-response-conversation. Peter remembers his sin – and the firm yet also patient and gentle way Jesus calls him back into repentance. Now Peter can preach repentance, because he remembers well his own repentance.

That’s why I, and probably most pastors, identify with Peter… Maybe more than any other character in the bible. Peter falls down as much as any of us. But he gets up again every time… And here’s Peter, continuing the work of Jesus…. And now suddenly, thousands coming to Jesus… Receiving the Holy Spirit…

And the Spirit is asking us to ponder… How we can get there from here…

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I’ve been reading a book with a great title, The Conversion of the Imagination, about how St Paul the apostle re-imagines the words of the Old Testament (the only bible there was then in the first century AD –) in the context of a New Testament only beginning to be written down… Under the Holy Spirit’s influence, the apostle Paul and other apostles heard the words of scripture in the Torah, the prophets, and the psalms of Israel – coming from the mouth of Jesus…And the voice of God the Father speaking of Jesus… Making ancient words of scripture new again.

We need to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us re-imagine all the bible. Ask the Spirit to sanctify our imaginations to hear the life and death and resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, and Pentecost, and all the book of Acts – as all happening here and now, among us and within us… Because Jesus said the kingdom of God is within you and among you… So God’s word is to be heard in the present tense.

Yet I confess, I often have a hard time even imagining three thousand people coming to join us all in one day. Overhearing our worship, coming close to listen. Believing in Jesus, in the Spirit’s power, asking to be baptized on the spot. I’d like to imagine this all happening. But I confess my imagination still needs conversion.

I know that Pentecosts still happen. Not just in far-off places, also near at hand. I remember our preaching professor at Boston University, Anthony Campbell, a Baptist pastor, telling us about getting a call from a pastor across town in Boston – saying, “Rev. Campbell, come over quickly please, lend a hand. I’ve baptized two or three hundred people today and I’ve got at least that many more to do… My hands are getting tired.” (Baptists dunk, which takes more arm work than Methodist sprinkling.) And yes, I’ve heard and seen some of what the Spirit can do when conditions are right…

So I need to keep asking God to convert my imagination… And I need to keep repenting, because… When I think of 3000 people in church all of a sudden…I confess, my first thoughts can come out all wrong. Like, “there goes my summer.” Not much fishing or even reading time, if we have 3000 new converts to watch over and take care of.

So yes, I need to keep repenting and keep practicing 90 degree turns…

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So… I’ve started reading yet another book… this one titled Slow Church

Thinking even if I’m a bit afraid of the thought of too much, too many, too fast… I can probably handle bigger numbers with the Spirit’s help, at a slower pace… And in our household I have a reputation for buying too many books. But when this book arrived, and Reah saw the title, she actually said, “I want to read that book!” And she has been. We’ve been passing it back and forth, both enjoying the reading and the talking about it…

Slow Church is about slow and patient growth… Without chemical fertilizers or artificial growth hormones (so to speak). Slow Church is about paying attention to Jesus, and paying attention to our location in time and place. About getting to know our neighbors and neighborhoods with new understanding, and hearts strangely warmed. About learning to tell the story of Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus and the Church, not always in that order and usually not all at once. But telling the story of God and God’s people… Fully involved in the story ourselves, personally and congregationally, again, as at Pentecost…

Everything depends, of course, on us depending on the Holy Spirit. Preparing under the Spirit’s guidance… Gathering together for prayer and worship and study and service…

And of course the details of how we are to be God’s people in this place requires the patient practice of discernment. Learning to teach, proclaim, and model faith for others depends on long and patient faithfulness to our eternal God. Depends also on our learning to know our own local context from a God’s eye angle of vision.

And as I try to imagine our gracious God who is beyond all imagining – I’ve also been reminded of a humble story told in three voices from the Orleans County (Vermont) Chronicle weekly newspaper. (Which I read thanks to Joyce McLane, who grew up in that county, and passes her paper to Phil and Kathy Burgess, who used to have a camp in Barton, who then pass the paper to me)… Recently the Chronicle underwent a transition that serves as a parable for the Slow Church Way… of translating the gospel in our local neighborhoods and localities.

The Chronicle was recently sold by its founders to its employees – editor, publisher, reporters, printers, custodians, delivery route handlers – all of them now own the paper together. The Chronicle ran a trio of farewell-to-the-past, hello-to-the-future-articles, one from a former owner, another from the current editor, the last from the writer with the longest work history at the paper. Each gave essentially the same message, each in the distinctive voice of each writer. The mission of The Chronicle, all agreed, is about the sacred duty of all reporters to tell the truth about all the news that’s fit to print. And to be, at the same time, good neighbors to all. Remembering how very quickly people and situations can change, like the weather of New England… And the one whose court conviction you’re reporting today – may be the one who stops to see if you need a hand getting your truck out of the ditch next week, next year… ten years from now…

Sisters and brothers in Christ – this too is our holy work of faith, our sacred labor of love. To tell all the truth of Jesus, to one and all, in every season…

And to remember always – we are saints and sinners at the same time… in need of continuous grace and more grace… repentance and reminding… Even as we proclaim boldly the love of God in Jesus Christ –

Friend of saints and sinners… Hope of every heart…

Savior of the whole world.

To God be all thanks and praise.

Amen.

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Romans 8:12-17

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Acts 2:14a; 22-28

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them…. “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

Acts 2:29-41

“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added to their number.