The Trinity and Reformation


This sermon was from October 8th, 2017 and was preached at First Lutheran Church, Greensboro, NC. Recording can be found here.

John 14:15-31

The Promise of the Holy Spirit

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 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. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way. 

While on internship at Trinity Lutheran Church in Manhattan last year one of my responsibilities was to plan and fundraise for a month-long summer camp for about 35 of the neighborhood children. Summer Camps are the lifeblood of the summer in New York City. Parents need to work to make rent and meet other high NYC expenses and without camp many children are either home alone all day or else on the streets of the city. Trinity is situated on West 100th Street in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, which is the physical dividing line between luxury apartments and the Frederick Douglass Houses, a government run housing project. Month-long camps in the area can cost thousands of dollars and so Trinity decided to start a camp where no child would be turned away due to a family’s inability to pay a fee that was even a tenth of other camps in the area. Trinity’s summer day camp program normally has some seed money left over from the previous year, but the summer camp the year before had run a significant deficit. My supervisor and I had to figure out how to make this camp happen, starting with nothing. And so, we prayed about it, and then we got to work, reaching out to the Trinity community both near and far in an appeal to be the camp’s superheroes, and to help us continue to welcome in beloved children of God  as I continued to plan a camp to teach them that each and every one of them, like countless people in scripture, those children superheroes too.  Relationships within the Trinity community comprised of members, both past and present, as well as an extensive network of friends became essential for us to fund and staff our camp.

The essence of God — Holy One, Holy Three — grounds our faith as Lutherans.  Each substance of the Triune God is distinct, yet works together with the others in equality of power and importance. This heartfelt belief, professed aloud every time we say the Creeds, teaches us that even in the Triune essence of God work is done in community, rather than in isolation. As creations made in God’s image, the Trinity includes a place for all people regardless of their race,  who they love, gender identity and expression, or any other factor that makes up our diverse world.

In the 14th chapter of John’s Gospel we hear Jesus give his disciples and dear friends a final promise before he was to be crucified. In the previous chapter, Jesus had just washed the disciples feet, embodying the role of a servant through an act of loving service as he brought them together into intimate community where one is no better than the other and all work to care for God’s people.  Jesus then gave the disciples two commandments: first, that they are to wash one another’s feet, for in doing so they continue the community building work that was the hallmark of Jesus’ own ministry.  

Shortly after, Jesus gave a new commandment,  34 “… Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” That love is the goal of Jesus’ earthly ministry,  and simultaneously both the source and goal of our lives as God’s beloved community, starting with the disciples. Though Jesus knows he will only be humanly present for a little while longer, he promises his disciples and us, that God’s triune love and presence will never, ever end. Jesus promises that he will send the Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth grounded in that love to be with them. In Greek, the original language this text was written in, the word for spirit is πνεύμα (pneuma) which also means soul or breath. Jesus is promising to breath his loving presence into the lives and work of his beloved friends so that God’s love will continue to flow from them like the very air they breathe in a Spirit lead relationship that is deeply intimate and deeply personal. And in that relationship with the Triune God and with the community around us, Jesus promises that God’s children will never ever be alone in their mission to live the love of God in the world.

And so, God’s mission of love for the world done within the beloved community  mirrors the communal nature of the Holy Trinity. The Trinity provides a model and constant reminder that the work of that love does not fall solely on your shoulders, or on my own any more than it does on any other single person of the beloved community.  As someone who has a tendency to form exceedingly high expectations for myself, the reminder that God’s mission is a communal act is critical to healthy ministry for myself as a future Pastor as well as for congregations as we do the work of God together in this world where at times it seems nearly impossible to feel that love around us. The Spirit who continues Jesus’ ministry here on earth directs us to the truth of that love breathed into us. That spirit filled love is just as important now, as it was in Roman-occupied Israel and Palestine.

Yet, in the midst of tragedy, finding those sources of love in the midst of pain are where we find the hope to carry on. On October 1, 2017 gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in the Las Vegas Strip from his suite at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino killing 58 people and injuring another 489. Horrific video footage flooded our television screens as the list of victims was compiled and grew. With only one Trauma center in the area, there were not enough ambulances available to transport victims to the hospital. And that’s where members of the community came in. With shots still ringing out several people loaded victims into cars to transport them to the hospital where they could get the medical attention they so desperately needed. One such person was Marine and Iraq Veteran Taylor Winston whose combat training allowed him to see the need to get victims to the hospital quickly and with a group of friends sprang into action. Winston found an unlocked truck in a parking lot near the concert venue with the keys still inside. Without thinking twice, he and his friends set up a makeshift hospital using the truck as a shield, then loaded the truck with some of the most critically injured victims and brought them to where they could receive treatment that could mean the difference between life and death. He was moved to return for more, transporting some 30 victims to the hospital putting his own life at risk to help. Another guardian angel and paramedic Jimmy Grovom stayed with 21-year-old victim Sheldon “Patty” Mack, despite having been shot himself during the rescue. Mack had himself been shot while trying to save others at the concert venue. They were both driven to the hospital by Erik Frazier another Marine and Veteran who used his vehicle, like so many others, to help get victims critical care, saving lives along the way.

The love Jesus wants his hearers to embrace is not an abstract philosophical concept, but a lived reality revealed in the life, relationships, and actions of a simple Nazarene who looked, talked and considered himself no better than anyone else around him.

Love is seen in these selfless acts of service provided by these heroes and many, many more, just as love was seen in every facet of Jesus’ life and ministry. But there doesn’t need to be a tragedy for us to work in community with God Triune and with one another to breathe God’s love into the world. We can use our relationship with God in prayer to accompany our siblings in Christ and we can combine that with advocacy, speaking truth to power when one of God’s beloved children is individually or systemically oppressed, learning when we need to speak and when we should use what privilege we have instead to lift up and amplify the voices of those who are often silenced in their cries for basic civil rights, clean, drinkable water, housing and food, or any other justice issue until all people are welcome to be fully part of our churches and our communities.

Will every single thing that we do in our lives further God’s mission of love in the world? Of course not, since none of us is perfect. Martin Luther declares that we are simul justus et peccator, simultaneously sinner and saint, and therefore we sin, time and time again. If sin is at its core the fracturing of relationship with God and with neighbor, then we will do things that conflict with God’s Spirit-led call to love God and one another. Yet a grace-filled compassionate God forgives us when we sin and gives us the opportunity to try again, learning from our mistakes. Just as the Triune God works within community within God’s own self, so too we work together in a community that can support us and that we can, in turn, lift up along the way.

And that’s exactly what the extended Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan community did when we cried out for help in order make a critically needed summer day camp become a reality. Financial, supply, and snack donations poured into our superhero-themed camp from near and far, ranging from t-shirts donated by a member of the FIrst Lutheran community as well as extra Tie-Dye gifted by FLC’s Vacation Bible School to a 9 year old camper who felt moved to donate part of his allowance because they wanted to see the camp continue. The love that poured in left us at a loss or words, Many of Trinity’s members and friends do not have much but that didn’t stop them. Each offered what they could and reached out to others to do the same. Every prayer, every encouraging word, every craft supply, every snack, even our camper’s allowance donation, pooled together, no matter the size to make such an immense difference.  In the end, not only was our camp fully funded, including stipends for 7 counselors and 2 directors who worked tirelessly with neighborhood children, but we raised enough money to start next summer’s camp off with $3,000 in seed money and supplies, which just goes to show what a community is capable of when they work together.

The three distinct persons of the Holy Trinity work together, in communion with one another. God is Love and as a result, so are all three persons of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit breathes that same love into our own lives.  So, as beings created in the Imago Dei, that is the Image of God, then we too are called to work communally while living as community called to God’s ministry of love in the world, caring for and with one another.

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