Happy Father’s Day!
Once every couple of years, I find myself in
this place of sacred responsibility.
The infrequency of this “blessing” fosters the temptation to
over-speak. And on this day
there seemed to be a number of competing directions I could take.
I was tempted, with my son and son-in-law in
attendance, to direct my thoughts toward fathers.
No one would be surprised.
It is Father’s Day after all.
I also pondered the idea of expounding on the
process of Christian formation. No one would have faulted me for
speaking to my passion and primary calling.
And of course, there is the gospel text for
the day . . . Matthew 28:16-20. What we most often refer to as the
And if these aren’t enough choices, it’s
Trinity Sunday. The only
Sunday on the Christian calendar that focuses on a Christian
doctrine. The concept of
the Trinity – God as three in one – doesn’t lend itself to easy
explanation. And yet, it
is this non-biblical word . . this heady theological conundrum . . .
that captured my thoughts and won the day.
Growing up, I accepted my seminary-educated
parents’ pronouncements of truth as the Gospel.
The idea of the Trinity wasn’t something to be pondered and
questioned. It was fact
for me. But as I grew
older and availed myself of a theological education, I discovered
this “truth” wasn’t as seamlessly constructed as I thought.
Thirty-five years ago last month, I was in a
whirlwind wrapping up a 3-year seminary sojourn.
In addition to completing term papers, taking final exams,
packing up and moving to a new church, I found myself preparing for
an ordination council.
No prepared statements or answers were allowed by the candidate but
a council member could ask any personal or doctrinal questions he
As the appointed time for concluding the
examination neared, this question arose.
“What is your belief
concerning the Trinity and what scriptural text would you offer to
support your perspective?”
My first thought . . . “of course, I affirm
the Trinity as a foundational understanding of God as
Father/creator, Son/Redeemer and Spirit/Sustainer.
But my mind was blank on where to support it scripturally.
My problem in that moment of panic was I
could not recall any of those passages.
Then as I hummed and hawed aloud stalling for time, the
picture of John lifting Jesus up out of the waters of the Jordan
popped into my mind’s viewfinder.
There it was . . . “At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God,
descending like a dove and alighting on him.
And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love,
with him I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:13-17). Spirit, Father, Son
. . .there it was. And
then another Matthew passage came to mind (our text for today),
those words spoken by Jesus at the end of his earthly ministry as he
commissioned the remaining 11 apostles to “go, make disciples, teach
. . .
baptizing in the name of the
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
Yes, I passed the exam and was ordained a few
weeks later. Many years
later, this understanding of God as three-in-one continues to
challenge my thinking.
John’s first epistle is riddled with
references to the three persons of the Triune God.
Note Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of 1 John 3:23-24 found at
the top of your order of service.
“What marvelous love the Father has
extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s
who we really are. . . .Again, this is God’s command: to believe in
his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each
other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands,
we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is
how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit
he gave us.”
So here we are
on Trinity Sunday and these words from Jesus and John get to the
heart of the day . . . what the Trinity is really and truly all
about. And it is this . . .
God loves me, . . .God
loves you . . . .God loves us.
So here’s a question for you, a deeply
personal question. Can you
think of a time when you really experienced love, when you really
experienced being loved?
Two personal examples:
As a boy, it was our family’s practice
before bedtime to gather in our family room for devotions.
My dad would read a scripture and share his thoughts on
the message contained.
If I was lucky I’d be sitting in momma’s lap or as at
least have my head in her lap. I can remember her touch as she
stroked my head . . smoothing my hair.
It was a tender time . . . God’s word, my father’s voice,
my sister and brother’s presence, my mother’s touch.
As a young boy, I knew I was loved, and in some way I
knew even more that my experience of earthly love within my
immediate family was a mirror of God’s love for me.
forward 45 years, and four little guys are now calling me “Papa”
. . . well . . .two of them are voicing the name . . .and the
other two are communicating with non-verbals. Whether a crushing
hug from Jackson, a slightly timid “pop-pop” with a hand blown
kiss from Wesley , a clearly expressed grunting bounce to play
“horsey” from Ford, or Walker in a relaxed snooze snuggled in my
arms, this grandfather is overwhelmed with love – pure and
simple. And when I
am with them I know God loves me. There is no other explanation.
I don’t deserve their love. I’ve done nothing to earn it. They
just freely offered their love without condition.
Just like God.
Actually this is the basic truth of God.
GOD IS LOVE. God’s
loves you and me. The desire
of God’s heart is for us to let go of our anxious performing and
surrender ourselves into his arms.
I believe that at the very center of God’s heart is His
desire to lavish his love upon us.
And thus, He
relentlessly pursues us . . . loving us through any avenue or
relationship we will allow. This is the central and primary theme of
Holy Scripture. It is
the heart and soul of the Gospel itself.
“For God so loved . . . For
God so loves . . . “
In May 2013, one year before her death, Maya
Angelou, revered poet and activist, was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey
as part of Winfrey’s Soul Sunday series.
Winfrey asked, “You say words are “things” and so powerful.
So, what words do you turn to for comfort?
“Love.” Angelo responded, then continued, “I
believe love is that condition in the human spirit so profound that
it allows us to forgive.
Maybe it is the energy that
keeps the stars in the firmament . . I’m not sure.
It might be the energy that keeps our blood running smoothly
through our veins – I’m not sure.
But it’s something beyond explanation.
It can be used for anything you can’t explain . . . for any
good thing you can’t explain.
Oprah . . . “So when Maya Angelou needs
comfort, where does Maya go for solace?
Angelou recounts many years ago reading aloud
to her mentor and voice coach, Fred Wilkerson. Reading from a
religious text, she read the words, “God loves me.”
Wilkerson said, “Read it again.” “God loves me.”
“Read it again.”
“God loves me.” Finally,
“read it again.” GOD
LOVES ME.” At this point
in the interview, Angelou bows her head and pauses for several
seconds. Slowly raising her head, tears streaming, voice quivering
she continued. . . “It still humbles me that this force which made
leaves and fleas, stars and rivers, and you ---- loves me, me, Maya
Angelou. It’s amazing.
I can do anything . . .any good thing I can do it.
That is why I am who I am.
Yes! Because God
loves me and I’m amazed at it and grateful for it.”
I would suggest that the ancient belief of
God as Trinity is most importantly a belief about the love of God.
. . . .Indeed, that God loves us enough to be
the Creator who created
the whole universe and every creature.
The God who has created you and me and given us the very
breath of life.
. . . . It is the belief and experience that
God loves us enough to be the
Redeemer who has saved and redeemed the world from sin, sorrow,
and separation so that we might be joined to that love forever.
. . . . AND . . it is the belief and
experience that God loves us enough to be the
Sustainer – Guiding
Spirit – who is at work in us inspiring, strengthening,
advocating and illuminating us in our living.
So often we give the belief in God as the
Trinity, over to academic theologians.
But this belief and experience belongs equally to all of us,
because it describes the majestic love (O Lord, our Lord, how
majestic is your name in all the earth). . .the magnificent,
humbling love that God has for us.
We are welcomed into that love.
We abide in that love in the name of the Father, the Son, and
the Holy Spirit. We are
held in the arms and embrace of that love with all the warmth, care,
and intensity of a little boy sitting in his mother’s lap and
listening to his father’s voice surrounded by those who love him
Believing in God as loving Creator, Redeemer,
and Sustainer also reminds us that our relationships are infused
with that love, and indeed that God participates in and cares very
deeply about all of our relationships.
In other words, God is relating to us and to
the relationships of love that we experience in our own lives.
Just picture/imagine in your mind a moment you felt truly
loved. Who was she?
Who was he? Can
you remember the loving embrace, the soothing tone of his/her voice?
Let me suggest that such relationships are experiences of
God’s relationship with us and of God in the midst of family and
friends loving us through each other.
Richard Garland, a United Methodist minister,
shares this tender story of God’s presence in the final days of his
It would not be a long visit. Dad was in the
hospital. The cancer had come back, and the outlook was bleak.
You're never quite prepared to see your
father in the hospital. He smiled when I came into the room. "I'm
glad you came, Son." I leaned over his bed and gave him a hug,
careful not to hurt him. We had never been hugging men; but that,
too, was in the past now. "I'm glad I'm here."
The two days went quickly, too quickly. I
stopped in at the hospital on the morning of the last day before
heading to the airport. We were quieter. The words weren't necessary
for what we had begun to feel. "I'll have to be going in a little
"I know. It's OK, Son. It was good to see
"Can I do anything for you before I go, Dad?"
He hesitated, then said: "Yes, would you be
willing to give me a shave? I haven't had a good shave since I got
to the hospital."
I was stunned. As a child I loved to watch my
daddy shave. We'd stand in the bathroom in our underwear. He'd
lather up and then soap my face just like his. And while he shaved,
I pretended. It was a silly, sacred ritual -- a bonding that I had
all but forgotten. Now he was asking me for a shave.
I found his old razor and the tube of shaving
creme in the kit he had brought with him. When I opened the tube, it
was the same aroma I remembered as a child. Dad's eyes were closed
but he was clearly enjoying this. I spread the creme and prepared
the razor. I was so afraid that I would cut him. He was so trusting.
It didn't take that long. When we finished shaving, he put his hand
up and felt his face and smiled. I handed him the mirror and he took
a long, satisfied look. "Son, that's the best shave ever. Thanks!
Soon it was time to go. We hugged, gently. "I
love you, Dad." "I love you too, Son." We had only lately learned to
say that. It felt good. What felt better was the trust that had
finally established itself between us -- a trust that had made it
possible for a son to give his father the best shave ever.
It is a holy remembrance,
sacramental even. Love is
like that -- born in due season of common things made holy by the
amazing grace and surprising Presence of God.
Transformation (into Christ-likeness) happens
as God convinces us we that we are loved – that, like Jesus, we are
God’s beloved children.
John, the beloved disciples, could not contain his wonder at that
truth: “See what love the Father has
given us that we should be called the children of God, and that is
what we are.”
The words God spoke to Jesus at his baptism are words God speaks to
us: “You are my beloved son, my
beloved daughter. With you I am well pleased.”
We are invited to experience a relationship with God – the
Father, Son, and Spirit - that embraces and transcends our fondest
experiences of any earthly relationship. God’s threefold love for us
is tender and strong, reassuring and challenging, and nurturing and
energizing. The Triune God’s arms of welcome and affirmation are
always open to us. We
are God’s children. We are loved.
And for our part we are called to believe it.
We are called to proclaim it. We are called to invite people into
it. We are called to embrace and be embraced by it.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Spirt. AMEN.