the road

faith, jesus, and a conversation on the road

Tag: religious

go therefore and make

A sermon for Trinity Sunday, preached at the Saturday 5:30pm and Sunday 10:30am service

Matthew 28:16-20

“Go therefore and make disciples.”

These are the closing words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. The last thing that Jesus leaves for us is a call to action. It is a call into an active, engaged ministry, throwing off a static, passive ministry, throwing off the concept that sitting and waiting for the second coming will be good enough, it is now imperative that we go out and do the work, do the transformational work that has been laid out for us. It is this call, to make disciples, that we are all called into as followers of Christ. It is this call, to make disciples, that has harmed many. It is this call, to make disciples, which has seen the teachings of Christ twisted, distorted, used as a weapon for submission, rather than an invitation into hope and love. It is this call, to make disciples, that we need to reclaim for our Christian faith, reclaim from those who would teach messages of a prosperity gospel, messages of LGBTQ hate, messages of fear of other cultures, other faiths, other skin colors, messages that are designed to exclude rather than include, messages that drive us farther away from God, for these messages by definition cannot bring us closer to God. And by driving us further away from God, not bringing us closer, they do not enable us to live into the call that is left for us today. Because disciple making is about connecting others to God.

But why should we got out and make disciples? Why should we take on this hard mantle of countering the messages that have been allowed to permeate our collective conscious’, to divide rather than bring together?

We should make disciples because it is what Christ calls us to do. We should make disciples because spreading the Good News of Christ for all is good work, is God work.

It is the Good News, this God work, that makes it not matter that there are people out there who we see as distorting and leading astray, it is this Good News, this God work, that invites us to hold anyone and everyone (including those with whom we disagree) in our hearts, offering anyone and everyone love, the love of God, the love of God that is made known to us in Christ’s death and resurrection.

Because, you cannot have one without the other. For us, there is no God without Christ. There is certainly no Christ without God. And, the presence of the Holy Spirit means little to us without the context that we are given by the salvific act of Christ on the cross, and the immense grief God experiences in that moment, the grief of a parent seeing their child betrayed, tortured, murdered. It is in this moment, this act, that we are given a glimpse of God’s understanding of our world, God’s hope for us in this world.

I don’t know about you, but my facebook feed has been filled with a lot of priests complaining about the designation of this particular Sunday. Even though our lessons don’t exactly reflect it entirely, the Sunday after Pentecost is always observed as Trinity Sunday. Now back to my facebook feed, I see many clergy-types complaining about heretical interpretations of the Trinity, about how wrong everyone is going to be about the Trinity when they preach it from their pulpits this weekend, but for me, I don’t understand why there is such consternation, such fear about a highly complicated and yet very simple part of our faith that we call Trinity.

It is a part of our faith. It is the reality of our faith. The Trinity is how we know the relationship we have with God. The Trinity is our past, our present, and our future understanding of what God intends for creation.

Now, there are a number of different interpretations of how the Trinity exists in terms of our faith and our understanding of how God has interacted with creation. These various understandings tend to get thinkers far more intellectually inclined than myself into some trouble, as they try to balance their understanding of God within a framework that is unlike any other. For me however, I see the Trinity actively engaged in our world, because we are actively engaged in the world. The Trinity allows us to see the active presence of God in this world. Our way of knowing and being known by God. Our way of (at least trying to) understand the why of our faith, the why of sharing our faith, the why of making disciples. The Trinity, for me, is really about a relational understanding of God, Son, Spirit, a relational understanding that speaks not only to our understanding of God as one, but our understanding of why we are creation, and what we’re supposed to do with that.

I most readily accept the following when I think of the Trinity, and I quote from The Very Rev. Ian Markham: “When we think about God, we are thinking about a God who is dynamic and active. God creates and sustains (and in this mode it is primarily, but by no means exclusively, the work of the [traditionally labeled] Father); God reveals and redeems (again primarily the work of the Son); and God unites, heals and transforms (again primarily the work of the Spirit).”(84, Understanding Christian Doctrine) It is because of this relational understanding of God, a God which we experience as “endless movement between the three modes of being,”(84) that alternative names for the modes of Trinity have come into the common parlance. Names like Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, or Source, Wellspring, Living Water,(84) attempt to speak to the greater nature of the Trinity that moves beyond an anthropomorphic limitation that we often assign to the Trinity when we speak of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. It is in this active, relational understanding of the Trinity that Jesus calls us into ministry, assuring us that the work of going and making disciples can and will be done through the Good News, for I AM is with us to the end of the age.

This active and dynamic Trinity, flowing between modes, is our catalyst, our backbone, our strength and resolve in doing the work of disciple making. We are filled with God with every breath we take in, for it is the breath of God which creates life, which redeems life, which unites and transforms life. The breath of God flowed out over the formless void like a mighty wind, and the world was created. The breath of God flowed into us in our very beginning, the breath of God made the dry bones come to life, the breath of God anointed the disciples of Christ as Jesus breathed on them, and that breath continues to flow into us through the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who is with us, in the trenches, doing that God work, sharing that Good News, making disciples.

Our God, through our understanding of Trinity, is active and dynamic in this world and because of this, we have to be active and dynamic in this world too. Jesus calls us today to make disciples, not because we need to convert or fill a quota or convince everyone that our way is the best way, but because it is in the action of making disciples, heck even in the action of trying to make disciples, that we are active and dynamic participants in this creation, that we are active and dynamic participants in our relationship with God.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, but how do I make disciples? How do I be an active and dynamic participant? How do I share the breath of God, share the relationship of the Trinity, share the Good News left for us? And to that I say: you should’ve come to the evangelism training yesterday…

No, really though, we make disciples by trying. We make disciples by being in creation and interacting with creation. We make disciples through our sighs as we stand to fight injustice once more. We make disciples through our voices as we use the breath within us to shout down hate and bigotry and fear. We make disciples because that is the only thing we can do. We make disciples because we are followers of Christ, and through Christ, through God, through the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, three-in-one, we are inspired, fortified, sustained, to go therefore and make.

Amen.

one of our own

A sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, preached at the 8am service

John 17:1-11

Fair warning: I’m going to be discussing an important interfaith understanding today and I want you to know that a) I have a point beyond the mini-points I make throughout, and b) this will tie into today’s gospel reading if you promise to follow along.

Now, with that warning out of the way, I’m going to make a statement that I think many, if not all, of us here today would at the very least agree with: I respect Islam and its followers, a group of people known as muslims.

Islam and Muslims are a constant topic on our news cycle, this past week in fact marked the beginning of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and prayer. But more often the news reflects stories of attacks on refugees from predominantly Muslim countries (including here in Spokane earlier this month on a family that are members of St. Stephen’s just up the hill), attacks on Sikh men (or our very own Sikh Temple here in Spokane) because they “look” Muslim, the proposed travel ban to restrict entry in this country for people from predominantly Muslim countries (including blocking families who put their life on the line to serve as interpreters and guides for our military in their home countries), or the use of the phrase “Islamic Extremism” or the fact that “Terrorist” is nearly instantly defined in many people’s minds as a brown foreigner from the Middle East (even if most acts of terrorism that have occurred on our soil were perpetrated by white men), or perhaps most shockingly this past week in Portland where two men, Ricky Best and Taliesin Meche, were murdered when they stepped between a man verbally attacking two women for their muslim appearance, it’s easy to understand why my opening statement of “I respect Islam” has become a radical thing to express, especially from a pulpit. But why should it be so radical? What has happened to our understanding of the world that fear and hate have flourished towards a different culture and a different religion?

During the refugee crisis with the travel bans this spring, one of the statements from the administration was that Christian refugees would be allowed in, I assume meaning if they could pass a test or something proving their worth as “one of our own”. Apart from the dangers of a religion test to enter a country with no official religion and in fact the right to express any religion firmly ensconced in the most revered of the constitutional amendments, what I want to know is why people don’t think muslims who practice Islam are not “one of our own”?

First, for clarification, in case this is new information, I want to clarify that those who have been labeled “Terrorists” by media and government are not “Islamic Extremists”, they are radical religious fanatics who represent a departure from the organized faith tradition known as Islam. This is the same as saying members of Westboro Baptist Church (those who protest military funerals, holding up homophobic signs decrying homosexuality) are not practicing Christians, the Ku Klux Klan does not represent the teachings of Christ, or Madonna practicing Kabbalah does not make her an Orthodox (or even Reformed) Jew. So, with that understanding, when we speak of practicing muslims, those who actually follow the teachings of Islam laid out in the Quran, I again have to ask, how are they not “one of our own”?

For all of the differences we share between us, theology and interpretations where we agree and disagree, we also share common ground. We have fundamental differences for sure, our understanding of faith and our experience of God in relation to us as creation are both similar and vastly divergent, but we share so much if we simply stop and look at each other face-to-face. We both draw our roots (together with Judaism, of course) from the first prophet, Abraham. And we both recognize the prophet Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the final prophet in Islam before the prophet Muhammad receives the word of God in the form of the Quran. Jesus is referred to as Messiah, sent to guide the Children of Israel with a new revelation (starting to sound familiar?). As the most mentioned person in the Quran, Jesus takes a very prominent role in the understanding of faith, named “Spirit of God,” “Word of God,” “Messenger of God.” Many miracles are attributed to Jesus, and he ministers to the Children of Israel. Jesus is known as a Muslim, meaning he was one who submitted to the will of God. Now there are differences, for example, there is not the same understanding of crucifixion and death, but they do keep the tradition of the Ascension, believing Jesus was raised alive to Heaven, to await the final battle of good vs. evil. And this is important information to know, because the words and actions of Christ are echoed by the prophet Muhammad throughout the Quran. We cannot divorce the historical and cultural contexts during the writing of the Quran, but we also cannot ignore how similar teachings about faith and how to follow God exist throughout both of our traditions.

And so today, when we hear Jesus speaking to us from the Gospel of John, we have to understand what is being said and who it is being said for. John serves in many ways as the divine gospel, in that the divinity of Christ is John’s greatest thrust, influencing our understanding of Jesus as deity, but not informing our understanding of Jesus historically. This is not a bad thing, John provides for us a firm foundation for our faith and is one of the earliest to describe the life of Christ in the manner of a faithful follower that has been greatly impacted by Christ’s life and example.

It is with this historical context of John and of Islam that we must read verse 3 of today’s lesson: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

There are many pastors and priests out there who will read this verse and declare it as proof that the only true religion is Christianity and everyone who has not personally accepted Christ into their hearts will be spending an eternity in the hell fire. Furthermore, they will use this verse as proof that those muslims over there are sinful heathens that simply need to know Jesus in order to turn their lives around and start living the right way (which for some unknown reason closely resembles a version of America that has never really existed but most closely resembles a, very, segregated and idealized version of a Christian-only town in the rural south circa 1950). But, they miss the point because that’s not what Jesus is saying in John, and historically this interpretation makes no sense.

Muslims know the only true God through Islam, because it is the same God that John writes of today. It can’t not be the same God when we share our foundation on the first prophet Abraham.

Muslims know Jesus, they know him differently than us, but John knows Jesus differently than even Mark knows Jesus (to use the earliest gospel as a counterbalance).

So, how are they not “one of our own”?

Why do we insist on hate and fear?

If we simply stop to look at each other, if we start to bridge the chasm that has erupted between us because of cultural and historical misunderstandings that have been allowed to perpetuate and permeate our respective cultures, we will see we are way more alike than we are different. If we simply stop to look at each other, we will see Christ reflected in the faith and actions of a muslim man, woman, or child, not because they are trying to become Christian, but because Jesus is the most highly revered prophet of the Quran, apart from the prophet Muhammad himself.

When we look at our interpretations of the words and actions of Jesus that we find in our gospels, it’s important to remember that there exists a greater context into which we enter. Christianity is not an insular faith with no connection to anything else in the world. We grew out of Judaism, our messiah was himself a devout Jew. And, we share the prophet of Jesus with Islam. We share an understanding of the great role that Jesus played as a messenger, as the Word of God (an understanding which we get from John’s Gospel). This is why it is so short-sighted to read the words on the page and declare that there is only one faith in one God that can only come through Christ, and that’s Christianity, because it simply doesn’t actually pass muster upon closer examination. This is not to say I don’t think Christianity is a very good way through which to connect both with Jesus and God, but I find it hard to say it is the only way, when I know that it really isn’t in practice.

I want to leave you with this: these past few weeks we have honored the post-resurrection time of Christ among us and now is the time where Jesus has ascended into Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father following his ministry among us after the resurrection. As we set out to follow in the footsteps of Christ and do his work, with our Advocate the Holy Spirit alongside us, I want you to ask yourself: does Jesus care more about me converting people to being Christians, or about reaching out and helping my neighbor, all my neighbors? And, what does your answer mean for you today? Amen.