Thursday, June 15, 2017

Trinity Sunday, Why?

Last Sunday was called Trinity Sunday in the church year. It fell to me to preach on this Sunday. Not the most exciting topic to preach on, I was thinking. What will make it preach? I looked around at some other ideas, texts but no luck. I was drawn back to the texts for the day: Psalm 8, Genesis 1-2:4 and the very trinitarian verse at the end of 2 Corinthians.  Psalm 8 it was. Psalm 8 is a great Psalm of creation and praise to God, the creator. It calls us to humility - puny human beings, v4. Yet, created in the image of God, we are given a care taking responsibility over creation. There is not much that suggests the trinity, however. For that, the Genesis account of creation and the 2 Corinthians text are supportive. It also demonstrates why the Trinity is such a tough topic. It is not really spelled out in Scripture. It is more inferred. It took the early church leaders hundreds of years to iron out what the Scripure taught about the Trinity. What is the essence of God? Is God one or three? Are there three distinct persons, modes of being, or essentially one, three in one. There were years of debates leading to finer tuning.

Today, among Christians, the Trinity is accepted even if not understood. It is not as important as Pentecost Sunday the week before and is no where near as popular as Easter or Christmas. We might wonder why (or not, but if not we might wonder why not). The big emphasis in more recent theology is to see in the Trinity an image of God relating. The Trinity is about relationship. God is a community of love. Love is not an attribute of a static God but Love is who God is. God lives in this circle of love which God desires to share with us. We are created in Love to be loved by God and to share God's love with others.

Creation is not a statement of what God needs but what God gives. God does not need us or anything God created. God has no religious expectations of us and surely is not waiting to see if we merit God's love. God's overflowing Trinitarian love is wholly gratuitous.

If we start from the Trinity we won't get the wrong idea that we are here to please God, or help God out, or save the world! God is not waiting for us to buck up and get it right or God will let everything go to hell. It's not up to us, nothing is. God chooses, God loves in Christ and God has already done the heavy lifting. We need to receive the gospel and live it.

Our world needs God and the gospel of God's love. And we share it by living it. It's tough going though. Unfortunately, the general perception is that Christians are rule oriented, and performance obsessed and we have a certain type in mind of what a Christian really is - and others must measure up or they are not accepted. Love is not what most people think of when they think of Christians. Most Christians need to go back to square one which is the Trinity.

Why are you mindful of us, Psalm 8, asks. We who are of the ground (humans -adamah in Hebrew). So insignificant in the universe. So uncomprehending of the person and ways of God. So flawed and failed. Not given a great mission or great task that God needs us to do or else the world goes up in flames. Simply love people and take care of what God has given to us. The Trinity: Local, Organic, Good for you and others.

The Poor.... well you know

So there have been some things said in support of Trumps' budget proposal to cut programs that help the poor. His budget chief has said they are after quality not quantity and will put the money where it will do the most good. The Bible has been put to use as it often is in ways that buttress one's point of view. The poor you will always have with you is one of those verses or partial verses that Jesus purportedly said. The part of a verse is not given any context as if Jesus one day was handing out aphorisms. The other verse that has been popular among the politicians is a wise saying from somewhere in the Bible (it has to say it, right) about how cutting taxes to the rich will help the poor. There are lots of verses about the rich in the Bible but I cannot find this one. Then, there is the cabinet member who is in charge of housing for the poor, among other things, who stated that poverty is a state of mind. Gosh, I thought it had to do with childcare, putting food on the table and paying the rent.

It seems I have heard these things all my life. I've lived my life around Christians, mostly, as a pastor. Christians are giving people: toys at Christmas, canned goods for the food pantry, sponsoring children, and giving to missions. But, they draw the line often at giving handouts to the poor. They will say it makes them dependent on the government instead of taking responsibility for their own lives. If you are poor and broke in America, the evangelical financial guru Dave Ramsey says, it is because you need to make better choices so you can get better results. The poor will always be with us because some people make poor choices. Just look at what is in their grocery carts.

Two days before Jesus died he was in Bethany (means House of the Poor) in the home of Simon the leper (read outcast). Simon was probably poor but he did have a home to share with Jesus and some of his friends. During dinner, a woman entered with an alabaster jar (equals expensive) full of very costly oil, a luxury item even if you were rich. Although Matthew (ch 26) does not tell us it was rumored she was a prostitute who had used her earnings to buy the oil, or perhaps she was simply poor and somehow got her hands on some good stuff. She was out of place, poor and her presence outraged the disciples (see Mark 14 where it says they were angry and scolded her). She broke open the expensive jar and poured the oil extravagantly on Jesus. It was a years worth of wages wasted when it could have been spent on the poor (at least, if not on a vacation in Joppa for the disciples). Think of how many could have been fed? If she donated it to the Memorial Fund she could have had a plaque in her honor. Except, we don't know her name. Her acts will be remembered, Jesus said, but not with a brass plate on the Fellowship hall door.

Jesus says, chill out. She has done a good thing.... for the poor you will always have with you.

Jesus was poor, really poor. Most of the people around him were poor, outcast, and socially disabled. When Jesus talked about bringing good news to the poor he was not referring to a state of mind. He was talking about people like him. Who he knew. Who he lived with. When he said, Blessed are the poor he was not talking down to them. No, they were standing all around him. When he prayed, give us today our daily bread, he did not mean meet me for coffee and a scone.

Jesus was poor. He knew what he was talking about. He knew what he was bringing to the poor and it was not charity, a goodwill box at Christmas or a toy for a tot.

It was good news, the same good news the woman in the story had heard and proclaimed.

She undercut luxury.
She undermined money.
She understood the limits of charity and the system that kept it in place.

She underwent the transformation of the kingdom of God. She got it. Jesus was King. He was not taking over but turning over the kingdoms of this world.

It was a New Kingdom. It was a New Ethic.

Oil - what is that? What does it do for you? Why does it matter? Gold? Diamonds? So what, just stuff. You have Jesus. You follow Jesus the King. See Matthew 5.

Money runs out. Buys a few meals but it is no lasting solution to the poor. Community is, the community of the King.

She came out as poor in a poor man's home, in the village of the poor. They celebrated: yes we are poor and Jesus, our King, is poor and there always will be poor among us but we trust God now and for everlasting.