Appreciating the Trinity

Click here to listen to the audio recording of this 19-minute message. Or watch the Facebook video (the message starts 27 minutes into the service). Or read the short text summary below – but this is really a message you need to watch or listen to as requires your active participation.

The church’s teaching on the Trinity (God as three persons in one being) is one of the most complex and difficult concepts for us to grasp. While 1+1+1=3, 1x1x1=1, and that’s kind of what we’re trying to get our minds around when we think about the Triune (three-in-one) God. God’s self-revelation to humankind was progressive: first, the world met only God the Father (in the First Testament); then later God the Son appeared (in the Gospels) and there was a gradual realisation that Jesus was not just a prophet or teacher, not even just the Son of God, but in fact God the Son; and still later (at Pentecost most clearly) God the Holy Spirit appeared (in Acts 2) and there was a gradual realisation that the Spirit was not a force or power, but also God.

The early church was now faced with the challenge of three divine persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) yet still holding to the believe that there is but one God, one divine being or essence. Gradually, over the first centuries after Christ’s earthly ministry, the church come to settle on the Nicene Creed that sets out the orthodox theology of a triune God: three divine persons somehow blended together in one divine being.

Many metaphors are used to make sense of God as 3-in-1: the three states of H2O, the egg, a clover leaf, a man, etc. All of these diminish God and tend towards the heresy of modalism – the idea that there is one God who manifests in three modes, ways of presenting to us or masks/faces. In other words, they tend to over-emphasise the oneness of God at the expense of three distinct persons. Modalism contradicts what we see in Scripture, particularly in Jesus’ words, where he clearly and repeatedly refers to the Father and the Spirit as being separate persons from himself and persons with whom he as a relationship.

It is, therefore, more aligned with the facts as we have them to start with the three persons of the Trinity and try to figure out how the three might be one being. In the recording of the sermon (particularly the video recording) you will see an exercise I do with the congregation to consider this three in one, the challenges of it, and the potential ‘solution’ to it (as much as one can hope for a solution).

We have to imagine what might be powerful enough to bind three distinct persons together into one being, and the only force powerful that I can imagine is love. A love that is so extreme, so fiery, so consuming, so utterly self-giving, so passionate, so deep in its joining, yet also so delighted in diversity and distinctness, that it welds the three persons together into one being. Love is thus the centre of the experience of the Godhead. And it is not that God was three and then become one; no! Rather, God has eternally been three persons in one being, joined together by ultimate love.

This itself is almost unimaginable, so the best we can do is to simply gaze upon a love so amazing, so divine, that three are one. And appreciate the depth and expansiveness of this love. And delight in the fact that this is what drove God to create everything that is – to share that love with us, so that we might share it among each other, and with God. We are therefore, most human and most divine and most in the image of God, when we live in relationships characterised by ultimate love. That is the centre of God. And that explains why Jesus is always going on and on about Love. It is the quintessential character trait of the triune God.

For those interested in reading up more about this, search for the terms perichorsesis and social model of the Trinity (or social trinitarianism). I’ve here provided Wikipedia links, which provide a good brief introduction to the formal theology that underlies this sermon. Beyond these, there are numerous volumes written on this.

Featured image by Joan Stratton, from https://pixels.com/featured/celtic-triquetra-or-trinity-knot-symbol-3-joan-stratton.html

Servanthood

Click here to listen to the audio recording of this 6-minute message. Or watch the YouTube video below. Or read the short text summary after that.

Two of Jesus’ disciples come to him asking for positions of authority in heaven (Mark 10:35-45). It is really an immature and arrogant request. Understandably, Jesus responds quite firmly. In part he points out that in the world people are grasping for positions of power that they can lord over others, but then he says, “Not so with you!” He calls us to a different value system.

And then he continues to says that “even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” If even Jesus – the Son of God – has come as a servant, how much more should we be servants. We are called to take on a servant mentality – as awful as that might sound – and to live out his role in the world – serving humanity.

We have a critical failure in South Africa of public service, from those employed by the State (who are called “public servants”, as described in the Batho Pele White Paper for Public Service). Far too many people who are employed as public servants (whether as general assistants, chief directors or ministers) have lost this focus – that they are employed to serve the public. But not just them – all of us! We Christians are all put here on earth to serve humanity, to serve the world. Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.

Featured image from https://i2.wp.com/truthimmutable.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/jug-water-poured-out-servanthood.jpg

Friends of Christ

Click here to listen to the audio recording of this 24-minute sermon. Or watch the video on Facebook (message starts at about 27 minutes). Or read the brief text summary below.

In John 15:12-17, Jesus declares that we are his friends. Imagine that! Friends of Christ!

Indeed, there are only a few times Jesus uses the word ‘friend’ – a total of 22 in the Gospels, of which two thirds are in parables or Jesus referring to others’ critique of him (e.g., he is a friend of sinners). In two places he refers to his disciples as ‘my friends’ and in three he speaks to individuals – the man lowered by his friends through the roof, Lazarus and Judas (just as Jesus was being arrested). And then 3 times in John 15.

Friendship means many things to us – loyalty, openness, trust, dependability, truth, safety, comfort, and so on. And Jesus is all these things as our friend.

In John 15, he asks two things of us as his friends.

First, he says we are his friends if we do what he commands. And what does his command? That we love each other – this command comes up repeatedly in this passage. When we read that we must love others ‘as’ Christ loves us, that might seem a bit daunting. It implies a standard that is above us – to love like Christ loves. But the Greek word can also be translated ‘from’, implying a source beneath or from within us. In this sense, we are called to love others out of the abundant love that we already experience from Christ. His command is simple – not easy, but simple: love each other or have a heart for each other. As 1 John 4:5 says, God’s “commands are not burdensome.” Indeed, there is just one command – to love others

Second, Jesus says in v15, that he no longer calls us servants (who don’t know their master’s business) but friends (because he has shared with us everything God has told him). In effect, Jesus says that we are friends in that we are privy to the mind and heart of God. God reveals to us what is important to God, so we can follow God out of knowing and understanding, rather than out of blind or fearful obedience. That’s what is means to be a friend. And this passage tells us that there is one primary motivation behind everything that God does – one primary point on God’s agenda – love!

So, this week, I encourage you to reflect on what it means and feels like to be loved be God and to be Christ’s friend, to experience the fullness of Christ’s love for us, and to share it with those around us.

You are Christ’s friend!

Pick your bakery

Click here to listen to the audio recording of this 8-minute message. Or watch the YouTube video below, or read the text summary after that.

In John 4:35, Jesus says “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” And later in the same chapter (v48-51), he says,

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.

Earlier in John’s Gospel (4:13-14), Jesus says something similar to the Samaritan woman at the well:

Everyone who drinks this water [from the well] will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

When we are going through stressful, difficult times, or are feeling out of sorts, we have to choose what kind of bakery we go to, to get some bread to satisfy and calm ourselves.

Sometimes, we engage in things that are psychologically and socially healthy, like meditation, going for a walk or some other kind of exercise, meeting up with a friend or resting.

But oftentimes, we engage in things that are not psychosocially healthy and that can even have harmful consequences, like going on a shopping spree, drinking too much alcohol, watching pornography, lashing out physically or verbally at our loved ones, driving too fast, using drugs, skipping work and so on. These mechanisms provide temporary relief, but leave us hungry for more, and often create more problems than we had in the first place. They do not truly satisfy our hunger. Indeed, we might end up more hungry than before, and need more of this kind of bread next time.

Jesus invites us to come to his bakery when we are hungry for something to satisfy our souls. The bread he offers is healthy, wholesome, long lasting and satisfying.

When we reach these points of difficulty in life, we have the opportunity to make a choice – to pick our bakery. Do we go to the one on the corner where we can buy the soft white bread that lasts only a moment? Or do we choose to drive a distance to get the healthy bread that lasts a long time?

Or can we choose to turn to Jesus, the master baker, to get the bread that will last for eternity, bread from heaven?

Featured image from https://www.countrykitchenlisburn.com/bakery/

Up to life

You can watch the video of today’s Easter message here. The Gospel reading and sermon start at about 23 minutes into the recording and continue for about 19 minutes.

Today we celebrate Easter Sunday – the culmination of weeks of Lenten fasting and penitence, and a week of daily soul-searching services. On Good Friday, we watched our Lord’s life slip away on the cross and experienced darkness fall over the earth as the Light and Life of God was snuffed out. And then we waited, through Friday and Saturday – wondering, what might happen, how might this all turn out.

It is relatively easy for us, because we are so familiar with the outcome of the story. But for those first believers – such as Mary and the other women in Mark 16:1-8 – it must have been surreal and terrifying. The unthinkable had happened. No wonder Mark relates the confusion of the first women to arrive at Jesus’ grave, and their fear and silence after encountering what they thought was a young man (but probably an angel).

For us, though, we now understand and appreciate the resurrection of Christ as the fruit of Christ’s triumph over death, of God’s generous and complete forgiveness of sins of all humanity, of a profound and utter reconciliation with God, and the restoration of Christ as the light of the world. God gifts back to humanity the very one that humanity sought to extinguish, as a sign of their joint unconditional and extravagant love for humankind, and indeed the whole cosmos.

Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed!!

In Romans 6:3-11 we gain further insights from Paul into the ways in which our salvation follows the same path as Christ’s death and resurrection. In our baptism, we die to self in a watery grave; only to be raised again to new life in Christ, a life filled with Holy Spirit. In our service today we baptise little Onyedikachuckwu Christian Okafor – a visible sign of God’s salvation – and renew our own baptismal vows, said originally on our behalf as infants, and today renewed freely by ourselves.

Lord, you have nourished us with your Easter sacrament. Fill us with your Spirit and make us one in peace and love. We ask this through Jesus Chris our Lord. Amen.

Mosaic from St. Basil’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Edmonton at https://royaldoors.net/?p=3751

Suffering God

Watch the video of today’s Good Friday service here. The Gospel reading and sermon start at about 25 minutes and continue for a total of about 25 minutes. If you want to hear me sing, you can also skip to about 1 hour and 18 minutes, as I lead the singing of “Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle”.

Today is Good Friday on which we commemorate the suffering and death of Christ, the Son of God. Part of what is so remarkable, even shocking, is that it is not just Jesus the man who suffers and dies, but God the Son who suffers and dies.

From the moment of his incarnation, separating out the second person of the Trinity into human form, God began to experience life as a human. This reaches a climax on the cross, when the evil and darkness of this world crashes into the Son of God. It is the whole person of Jesus – with both his human and his divine natures – who suffers and dies on the cross – not just the human Jesus.

  1. Christ experiences the sins of all the world – past, present and future – falling upon him, leaving him feeling dirty, tainted, defiled. No wonder he says, “I thirst”.
  2. Christ experiences sin’s separation from God – an ocean of sin distancing him from the Father with whom he had already existed for eternity. No wonder he says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”.
  3. Christ experiences the surprise of human love, and the ways in which compassion between people brings God into our midst. Thus he says to his mother, “Woman, here is your son” and to his beloved disciple, “Here is your mother”.
  4. Christ experiences the grace of God, able to transform the darkest and most painful into a moment of salvation and glory. Thus he is able to say, “It is finished!”
  5. Christ experiences death – the loss of life, the loss of this world, the loss of self. John writes poetically, “He bowed his head and gave up his spirit”.

As much as we might want to end today’s story with a ‘Happy Easter’, scripture does not permit this. We have to end with the darkness that covers that earth as the Son of God’s light and life is snuffed out. And we wait in silence and hope for his resurrection.

Featured image from: https://media.swncdn.com/cms/CW/30914-cross-5-facebook.jpg

Into the light

Click here to watch the video of this sermon. It is a visually driven message so good to watch if you can. The Gospel reading starts at about 17 minutes, and the sermon starts at about 35 minutes and lasts 22 minutes.

https://fb.watch/4zbbA1Fosv/

Today is the Tuesday of Holy Week. We continue with John 12, focusing today on vv 20-36. I preached on this just a few days ago – a message titled Following Jesus, which you can access here. Tonight I want to focus on just the last two verses of this passage:

Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.

In these two verses, Jesus uses the word ‘light’ five times in reference to himself. This reinforces yesterday’s sermon, Light in the centre, where I emphasized in a drawing that Jesus is the light at the centre of all of life’s complications, and that the centre light is where we most want and need to be.

Jesus stresses in tonight’s passage that the light is surrounded by darkness and at risk of being overtaken by darkness and that the light will not be with us for long – just a little while. We get the sense that the Light of Christ is precious and to be embraced. Light is something beautiful, wonderful, fragile, exceptional and desirable. We want the light!

And then Jesus gives us three instructions:

  • Believe in the light. Jesus is himself the light (John 1:4-9 and John 14:6), so to believe in the light is to believe in Christ.
  • Walk in the light. Jesus says he is the way and the light (John 14:6). We want to walk in the light, not in the dark. In the dark we get hurt and lost, but in the light, we cannot put a foot wrong.
  • Become children of light. Paul writes, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). This adoption as children of God, children of light, is an incarnation of the Spirit of God into us, as God makes our bodies a temple for Holy Spirit.

As we journey out of church into the darkness, and we journey through the various darknesses in the world around us (rape, abuse, racism, social exclusion, poverty, Covid, xenophobia, and so the list goes), let us believe in the light, walk in the light and become children of light. When we do that, we become God’s light-filled presence in a world that is much in need of light.

Light in the centre

Today is the Monday of Holy Week. We read the story (John 12:1-11) of a dinner party hosted by Lazarus (whom Jesus had raised from the dead) and his sisters, Mary and Martha. During the dinner, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with extremely expensive perfume and is reprimanded by Judas, who wants the money for himself. Meanwhile, crowds gather around the house, not only to see Jesus, but also to see Lazarus – the man back from the dead. And the chief priests plot to kill Lazarus, because his resurrection was adding to Jesus’ popularity.

In the midst of all this turmoil, Jesus is a quiet, strong, protective, light-filled centre. It is towards and into this centre that we should move when life’s challenges build up around us.

I invite you to watch the reading of the Gospel from John 12:1-11, which starts at about 14 minutes into the service. And the sermon starts at about 22 minutes and runs for about 23 minutes. This is a visual sermon, mapped out on a flipchart, so you really do need to watch it and not just listen to it. May you place yourself in the centre of Christ, in his light and peace – the best place to be!

Watch the video by clicking here: https://fb.watch/4xReFll03A/

Passion of Christ (according to Mark)

Today, instead of a sermon, we listened to a reading of the Passion of Christ, from Mark chapters 14 and 15, using the JB Phillips translation. You can listen to the audio recording of the reading here. Or you can watch the video of the reading on Facebook here (the reading starts at 30 minutes). The reading takes 27 minutes.

Below are a few photos of me reading and a composite photo of our in-house congregation.

Mother of God

Click here to listen to the audio recording of this 11-minute message. Or watch the YouTube video below, or read the text summary that follows.

Today (25 March) we celebrate the Festival of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today is exactly nine months before Christmas Day, and on this day we celebrate the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb. As it is written in Luke 1:30-33:

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

While the Western (Catholic and Protestant) churches celebrate Christmas as the high point of the church calendar, the real miracle of Christmas takes place at the conception, nine months before. It is at this moment that God incarnates into human form. Mary is thus referred to as the ‘Mother of God’ or the Theotokos (or God bearer) because she carries and gives birth to God. It is not that she creates God! But rather that she bears God in her womb.

What is conceived in Mary is, from conception, a hybrid of human and divine natures in the one person of Jesus. This is a mystery, hard to fathom – the nature of Jesus Christ. But whatever it is, and however we understand Christ’s divine and human natures, it starts at his conception, not at his birth.

Let me suggest three reasons why this rather mysterious and mystical notion is important:

  1. The conception demonstrates the enormity of God’s emptying out of God’s self on behalf of humankind (which we read about in Philippians 2) – we refer to this emptying out as ‘kenosis’. Typically, we think of God’s kenosis in the birth of Christ, but really it is in his conception. God – the omnipotent, eternal, omnipresent and all powerful God – folds down into a single human cell, then an embryo and then a foetus. The willingness of God to become so small is quite overwhelming – God pouring out God’s self for humanity.
  2. The conception is a profound example of God’s choice to work in partnership with humans. We see this choice from the beginning of creation, when God entrusts creation to Adam and Eve. But here it is particularly profound. While others could assist in taking care of a newborn, only the mother can take care of an unborn. God the son was, during gestation, utterly and solely dependent on the young woman Mary. God was truly at the hands of this one person. God trusted her and entrusted God’s self to her.
  3. And, drawing on Eastern Orthodox theology, in the conception, God inserts God’s DNA (so to speak, metaphorically) into human DNA. In so doing, God begins to change and save human nature itself. For Orthodox Christians, the conception is the foundation of salvation, because the very fabric of human nature is infused with the presence of the divine, and God begins (or continues and deepens) the work saving not just individual humans, but the nature of humanity.

Let us not let this momentous day slip by unnoticed. Let us give thanks to God for his incarnation at the moment of conception. And let us give thanks to Mary for being willing to bear God in her womb.

Featured image of Theotokos from https://myocn.net/celebrating-theotokos-throughout-year/