Sermon, June 11, 2017


St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Genesis 1.1 – 2.4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13.11-13; Matthew 28.16-20


Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday, the day on which we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. Although an occasional reference to God’s Spirit is found in the Old Testament, New Testament references are numerous, especially after the powerful manifestation of God’s Spirit at Pentecost.

As you may recall, Jesus promised the disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Comforter. Let’s briefly look at this promise. In John’s portrayal of Jesus’ farewell message, Jesus said, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14.25-26; NRSV). A bit later, Jesus added, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16.7; NRSV).

Jesus prefaces his final remarks about the coming of the Holy Spirit with these words, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Then Jesus says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16. 12-15; NRSV). So, the Holy Spirit teaches, reminds, and guides us as it glorifies Jesus Christ and gives us what belongs to Christ.

I have always liked the phrase, “he will guide you into all truth.” If the disciples had already been living in all truth, there would be no reason for the Spirit to guide them, and us, into further truth. In Hebrews 1.1-3 (NRSV) we read, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his wonderful word.”

Many interpret these verses to mean that Jesus Christ, as the fullness of God’s revelation, closes all further revelation. Perhaps so, if we think of Jesus Christ as revealing the fullness, the completeness, of God’s love, but are we not like the disciples? Can we not also hear Jesus saying to us, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Who among us can say that we model fully the love of God as revealed through Jesus Christ? The Spirit teaches us, reminds us of Jesus words and actions. If we permit, the Spirit guides and prompts us that Jesus Christ may be glorified.

In Genesis 1.1 – 2.4a, the hymn of creation, we sing of the mighty power and acts of God in creation. We see how the Word of God spoke things into being and adjudged them to be good. On the sixth day, God brought forth the living creatures of the earth – the fish, the birds, and living creatures of every kind. Having done that, God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth” (Genesis 1.26; NRSV). Regretfully, we have misused this dominion to rapaciously despoil God’s creation, and in doing so, we have ignored the charge, the responsibility, of tilling and caring for the garden as we were tasked in the second creation account.

In John 1 we read these beautiful words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . All things came into being through him . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth . . . From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Vs. 1-3, 14, 16-17; NRSV).

In Psalm 8 we again encounter the greatness of God whose name is exalted and whose majesty is praised. Then the psalmist acknowledges a moment most of us have experienced as we contemplate the heavens, the vastness of God’s creation displayed in the moon and the stars – who are we that you should be mindful of us, that you should seek us out? Yet you have made us but a little lower than the angels and have given us mastery over the works of your hands.

In the brief closing of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church, the troubled community of which we have previously spoken, St. Paul pleads with them: “Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and mercy will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13.11; NRSV). Then St. Paul closes with the words many of us now recognize as the Apostolic Benediction: “[May] the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (Vs. 13; NRSV).

This benediction does not convey a doctrine of the Trinity; rather, it is a reflection of Paul’s experience. The grace of Christ sought, found, and forgave him on the road to Damascus. Through the grace of Christ, Paul experienced the love of God, a love so immense that God chose to become incarnate, to live, and walk among us. The communion of the Holy Spirit was experienced in the indwelling Spirit of God which transforms us and empowers us to love in community and fellowship with our brothers and sisters.

And let us not forget Jesus’ words of the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28.18-20; NRSV). Again, this should not be taken as the statement of the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Trinity is a mystery which we cannot fully comprehend.  In attempting to help us better understand the nature of the Trinity, Richard Rohr uses the image of a divine dance. Think in terms of a group of people dancing in a circle. Rohr says, “In our attempts to explain the Trinitarian Mystery we overemphasized the individual qualities of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but not so much the relationships between them. That is where all the power is! That is where all the meaning is!” (Rohr, Richard. The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation)

The doctrine of the Trinity arose from St. Paul’s and the early church’s experience and encounter with God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The doctrine was not fully formulated until the Council of Constantinople in 381 C.E. We should also remember that the formulation was fraught with controversy. While doctrine is important, we need to remember this doctrine reflects our experience. I believe it is more important for us to celebrate our shared experiences than it is for us to set about correcting each other’s doctrinal position. A few weeks ago, a Muslim shared how he senses God’s call to do certain things. We enjoyed sharing our experiences. While knowing that he rejects the doctrine of the Trinity, I found myself thinking that I perceive this as the voice and interaction of the Holy Spirit.

The important thing is that we experience God’s call, act on that call; we can share that experience, and can encourage each other to move more deeply into the experience of God. It is tragic that we so often permit the correctness of the doctrinal interpretation of our experience to come between us rather than display the radical love and hospitality to which Jesus calls us. That statement applies to people of our own faith as well as those outside our faith. I suspect if people could really experience Jesus’ love and acceptance through us, they might begin to wonder about experiencing the fullness of God’s love revealed through Jesus Christ. Yes, they might catch a glimpse of Jesus in us.





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