Posts Tagged 'Trinity'

Trinity Sunday: An Ocean of Mystery

Trinity Sunday: An Ocean of Mystery Sermon Audio Here

Genesis 1:1-5

Today in the Christian Year, we are celebrating Trinity Sunday. I read this quote, editied for brevity: “My favorite definition of the Trinity—is that God is, in God’s fundamental essence, a community of persons. God’s very identity is communal.” It’s been said that you can’t talk about the Trinity for more than a few moments without falling into heresy, so I’ll try to be brief. Just as I couldn’t comprehend the full content and nature of the ocean, I can’t fully grasp God’s nature either. Both are too deep for me. But I can appreciate what glimpses I can get…

When I walk on the beach and look out at the ocean, I’m always struck at the immensity of the thing: it’s just SO HUGE. I’m very aware of how small I am in comparison. It’s like that with God; the first thing that comes to mind with this Ocean of Mystery is that it’s bigger than I am! To Fathom This Ocean of Mystery, Ask

WHO IS WORKING? ~ Genesis 1:1-5
Instead of walking through the process of creation (as is often done when reading Genesis 1), notice WHO is at work: God mentioned generically, Spirit of God mentioned specifically; ELOHIM, word for God in Genesis 1 is a PLURAL WORD (‘im) that describes a SINGULAR ENTITY. So, Spirit of God is RUACH ELOHIM, the wind/breath of God – another way to describe God’s creative aspect

Just as we’re aware of the immensity of the ocean, we’re aware of its complexity: all the life it contains, all the respect we must have for it (or else we’re in danger). How much more the Mystery of God? We can gain more insight when we consider…

WHAT IS DONE? ~ Genesis 1:31-2:4a
Next, we notice WHAT was done; God has created all, has determined it to be good, and then rested and blessed

Growing up on the coast of Puget Sound, I learned lots of ways in which we benefit from the ocean. Over time, we’ve learned that the ocean can sustain, provide, nurture, and shape a culture. And yet, God created all these oceans on this one planet, and uncounted millions of planets in the vast ocean of space. That vast complexity points to the idea that we’re not alone…

HOW DO WE ACT? ~ Matthew 28:16-20
Finally, we notice HOW we are to interact with God: as plural AND singular at the same time; God is community within Godself; God is in community with us; WE are in community with each other

The church that is living out God’s mission in the world does so in God’s image: as a community of persons.” We know Who is at work; we know What He has done; and we can know How we fit into it all.

Walking in Two Worlds: God in Three Persons

Walking in Two Worlds: God in Three Persons Sermon Audio Here

Job 38:1-7; Luke 9:18-26

In the early days of the church, there wasn’t a Sunday set aside for understanding the Trinity. Then along comes a heresy that tried to sell the idea that Jesus was NOT the Son of God, but a created being. This caused the early church leaders to write worship services that specifically taught about the nature of Jesus and how He related to God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.

Traditionally, Congregationalism has not been very creedal in expression. Since we recognize Jesus as the Lord of each individual congregation, we tend not to adhere to a specific set of doctrines as a larger group. However, we *do* tend to fit within the larger frame of Ancient Christianity, and there is a simple expression of broad faith that was used very early on: the Nicene Creed. It’s an explanation of Christian faith that explicitly describes each person of the Trinity. The first portion deals with God the Father:

We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

There are three central concepts that are taught in the Nicene Creed:

Authority Comes From the Father

I don’t know about you, but I find it very comforting that God the Father is credited first with redeeming our lives. It is the Father who decided to send the Son as the fulfillment of the plan of redemption for all humanity. This leads us to the portion of the Nicene Creed that deals with the Second Person of the Trinity:

We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

Redemption Comes Through Jesus the Son
Charles Wesley reaffirmed this in his hymn, “You Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim”.

And just so you don’t think that I only listen to hymns, I also see that the Christian Punk band Undercover wrote on a similar theme on their second album called “God Rules”, named after their song “God Rules”. The lyrics leave little to the imagination:

There is a famous sermon called “That’s My King”, preached by Dr. Shadrach Meshach Lockridge. The most well-known portion of this sermon is only 6 mintues long, and it’s one of the most powerful descriptions of Jesus that I’ve ever heard. It directly deals with how Jesus is viewed:

That’s a great question that Pastor Lockridge asks: do you know Him? Jesus asked it of His disciples in Luke, and He’s asking it of us today. Do you know Him? And how is it that we are even ABLE to come to know Him? Well, that leads us to the resurrecting work of the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

Wisdom Comes From The Spirit

Closing Prayer: “What Shall I Say to You, My God?” —A prayer by the theologian Karl Rahner (1904-84)

What can I say to you, my God? Shall I collect together all the words that praise your holy Name?
Shall I give you all the names of this world—you, the Unnameable? Shall I call you “God of my life,
meaning of my existence, hallowing of my acts,
my journey’s end, bitterness of my bitter hours,
home of my loneliness, you my most treasured happiness”?
Shall I say: Creator, Sustainer, Pardoner,
Near One, Distant One, Incomprehensible One,
God both of flowers and stars,
God of the gentle wind and of terrible battles,
Wisdom, Power, Loyalty, and Truthfulness,
Eternity and Infinity, you the All-merciful,
you are the Just One, you Love itself?

No matter how we best understand you, God of All, move in us so that Your Kingdom is seen and known and lived among us. We pray this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“The Shack” thoughts

Okay, let me start off by saying that there will probably be spoilers in this blog. If you have not read The Shack, and don’t want to know anything about what’s in the book, you should know that I think it’s a wonderful read, and well worth it. Now, to keep from spoiling the book, stop reading this blog, and go read The Shack.

I’ve been asked to comment on some theological implications of the book, and I’ll try to do that here before any spoilers are revealed. The thing to remember about The Shack is that IT IS FICTION. It’s similar to reading Pilgrim’s Progress, or The Chronicles of Narnia. NO DOCTRINE should ever be based on what is found in this book; Scripture alone is all we’ll ever need for our rule of faith and practice (2 Tim. 3:16).

THAT being said, I think that The Shack is a wonderful way to get a different point of view on God’s love for us. It’s my opinion that very often, we become quite comfortable with how WE think God already loves us and deals with us according to what we already know. This book turns THAT concept on its ear, and tweaks it often!

For those people who accuse The Shack of heresy, I think they’ve completely missed the point. The Shack isn’t purporting to be God’s Word, but rather a story about a man who encounters God. It’s as heretical as the Neil Simon play “God’s Favorite”, or as Michelangelo’s painting of God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. They are *representations* designed to get the viewer to THINK about God. And that’s just what The Shack does – it gets you to think about God. Okay, ready for my thoughts? Here they come…










Still here?


Okay, you were warned.


My thoughts on The Shack won’t make much sense if you don’t know where I stand theologically (because The Shack is most definitely a book with theological implications). Firstly, I’m a follower of Jesus (Acts 24.14). More specifically, I’d be placed in the Reformed branch of Christianity (Somewhere between Calvin and Zwingli, but with more of a social/intellectual permissive bent, a.k.a. Clement of Alexandria. If that doesn’t make any sense to you, then you could sum it up by thinking that I’m theologically centrist.I won’t waste your time (and mine) by listing all the things I am not: logically, that would be a near-infinite list.

The Shack: I think it’s a wonderful book, and there are a number of reasons why, which I’ll deal with in no particular order:

* The narrative itself is gripping. The protagonist, Mack, has suffered the loss of one of his children, and reading about how he deals with his grief was captivating. The author has done a very good job of describing what it must be like to lose someone close, and the resulting struggles with God’s sovereignty (“why would God do this to me”). Following Mack as he struggles to get through his issues made the book a page-turner for me.

* Theological paradigms are challenged. SPOILER ALERT: There’s no doubt that this book is basically Trinitarian in nature. God is portrayed as Three Persons, just like Christian Orthodoxy would demand. However, the truth that God is NOT HUMAN is very strongly emphasized in this book. Therefore, the pictures that many of us in the West would prefer to use in interpreting what the Trinitarian God would be like are NOT USED. God the Father (Papa) is portrayed as a black woman: “For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling back into your religious conditioning.” (p. 93)

And THAT is the heart of the book – it’s a narrative of one man’s encounter with God, but specifically NOT the “religious conditioning” God that so many of us are used to. Jesus certainly comes across as recognizable (he’s a Jewish carpenter with a well-stocked workshop), but the Holy Spirit is described as a woman named Sarayu. “Since there were three of them, maybe this was a Trinity sort of thing. But two women and a man and none of them white? Then again, why had he naturally assumed that God would be white?” (pg. 87)

* The book’s literary background is theologically broad. Personally, I think this is a great thing, and I’m very comfortable with it. But those people who are allergic to the idea that women can be in positions of leadership are positively going to have fits over this book. Specifically, there are THREE very powerful female figures in The Shack: SPOILER ALERT: Papa (God the Father in a female aspect), Sarayu (God the Spirit in a female aspect), and Sophia (the Personification of Wisdom – this concept is very present in the Apocrypha, and in older Christian literature, but not hardly mentioned in the last 200 years in my opinion).

* There are some wonderful “geek” moments in the book. Learning that God really likes fractals made me smile so much my face hurt.

* Finally, the book was very cathartic for me. Mack has a very difficult emotional relationship with his alcoholic father, and that so closely echoed my own experience that I had some difficulty seeing certain pages through tears. If you’ve had a good relationship with your own father, Thank God for that in your own life.

Pastor Ed Backell

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