We hear this morning in the lessons from Genesis and Matthew that children hold a remarkable place in God’s vision for the world. Through one child, God will fulfill the promise of the covenant to Abraham, and yet that promise seems jeopardized. In the gospel we hear Jesus, once a child himself, telling his disciples that ministering to any little one is as important as both receiving a prophet and welcoming a righteous person. We may be asking ourselves, what is it about children that make them so important?
The one thing that distinguishes Christianity from all other ideologies and religions is our profession of the Trinity. We believe in one God, but we also believe that that one God is three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Trinity is also the starting place of Christian action. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, we read that Christ gives his disciples the Great Commission: go baptize and make disciples in the name of the Trinity. Much in the same way that an emissary of a king or queen comes in the name of their monarch, Christians are instructed to act in the name of the Triune God. We act in the name of the Trinity when we baptize, bless, consecrate, and pray in general.
It’s strange however that so many preachers dread giving sermons on Trinity Sunday. As I prepared this sermon, I noticed that the prevailing sentiment amongst priests and religious educators is to avoid making any kind of definitive statement about the Trinity. “It’s a mystery,” as it seems nearly everyone agrees.
Readings: Phil 2:5-11; Matthew 21:1-11, and 26:14-27:66; Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29, and Psalm 31:9-16
Well, Christ has finally returned to Jerusalem, and what began with a disorganized reaction to Jesus in Matthew 12 has now become a serious plot. Temple authorities as high up as the High priest are leveling ridiculous charges, have a mole in Jesus’s inner circle, and apparently plan to push charges through the temple to the Roman governor even if they have to do it in the middle of the night.
There’s a reason we perform this story as a play. It’s high theatre. The characters are florid; there’s drama, tragedy, and even a touch of irony. And there’s the execution: Jesus’ body is put on public display in a grim display of Roman might over Israel. All of this needs time to unfold, so we begin with it today.
My family moved to Arlington, VA from Montgomery, AL when I was 15. We’d been in Montgomery for a year and a half because my Dad’s job in Southern California had gone the way that so many of those engineering jobs had in the early 90’s. We scraped by for a couple years, but then he was offered a chance to go active duty again (in the Air Force), and so we moved. Montgomery was hard for me. I felt ostracized and weird, but it was there that I discovered the theological, spiritual, and intellectual sides of myself.
When we found out we were relocating again, this time to Arlington, I started to look for churches that were attending a youth event taking place in DC that I had heard about the previous year. I contacted the organizer to see if they knew of any churches in the Arlington area that were attending the conference. They gave me a list of two: a Baptist church in Arlington and an EV Free church in Annandale, VA. We tried both and eventually settled on the Baptist church. A big reason for this decision was my experience of the youth group.
This youth group met every wednesday night for small group meetings. The leader of the senior high boys’ small group was a guy named Dave Deforest. Dave had an uncanny ability to create a space of intense and focused discussion with boys that in any other situation would have been bouncing off the walls. Our group talked about theological doctrines, evaluated the roll of music in faith, and studied the Bible. Dave was confident enough in his role as teacher and mentor to open any issue up to conversation. I still remember listening to and then discussing musicians like Larry Norman with Dave.
It didn’t really strike me at the time how important this was for me… not because I didn’t enjoy it—I went every week. Rather, my intellect was being fed at the time. I think it felt so natural to me and I was soaking so much of it up that I didn’t have the time or interest to reflect on the second order aspect of it all. Looking back now, I see that the intentional community of intellect and faith that Dave fostered shaped so much of how I think about, feel about, and approach formation in faith.
Of course, there were dudes who were less fed by Dave’s approach, but looking back on it now, I’m grateful that he worked with me in the ways that he did. I remember Dave taking me to lunch while I was in college. We talked about what I was reading, we talked about Baptist ordinances vs. sacraments (a contentious topic!), we talked about ministry and the direction that the church was going. Dave respected my ideas and intellect, just as he had when I was in that high school small group. His respect and intentionality, both in high school and then later in college, made me want to rise to the occasion. Even though I didn’t do a great job staying in touch with Dave in later years, the relationship we had developed and his own model of integrating faith and understanding continues to make an impression on me, continues to influence the way that I thought about interacting with students of all ages.
Dave died last week. It was sudden to many of us. His memorial service was yesterday. I wasn’t able to attend, but I wanted to write this reflection on him as a way of honoring his memory and intellect, and as a way of saying good bye. Dave was a faith minister of Christ. He loved Jesus, and he loved the people of God. His witness to students throughout the years is evident from a quick glance at his facebook page—so many of the students that he worked with over the last couple decades wrote touching tributes to him. I would have expected nothing less. Dave helped so many of us find the substance and meat of the faith during vulnerable times in our lives. There’s a special calling for this, although we don’t always do the best job of recognizing these people in action. Sometimes they’re ordained. Sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re paid, and other times they’re volunteers. But the work they’re doing is of the utmost importance: they’re making disciples, and forming them in lasting ways.
So here’s to Dave.
Remember, O Lord, your good and faithful servant, Dave, who has gone before us with the sight of faith, and now rests in the sleep of peace. According to your promises, grant to him and to all who rest in Christ, refreshment, light, and peace; through the same Christ our Lord.
John tells us, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.’”
I’d like to begin, if you’ll allow it, with a little history. The town of Sychar is in the region of Samaria that we just heard about. Sychar is the site of a well that John tells us is associated with Jacob. Accordingly, this site even in John’s and Jesus’ day was regarded as holy and significant. Sychar is near Shechem, which along with the city of Samaria, was one of the capitals of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. That kingdom, some of you might recall, was destroyed, and many of its inhabitants, dispersed, taken hostage, or killed. After the destruction of the northern kingdom, people in the southern kingdom, the capital of which was in Jerusalem, believed that they were the truly faith remnant of Abraham. Today, this well in Sychar lies within the town of Nablus in the West Bank, on the grounds of an Eastern Orthodox monastery.
Two mothers mourn their dead children, two dead children are made alive again, and St. Paul contemplates the fact that God offers grace and redemption even to a sinner like him, a man actively persecuting and killing Christians.
On the surface, the Old Testament and Gospel readings put us face to face with grief and loss, as well as the miraculous reversal of fates. A deeper look, especially with the help of St. Paul, reveals God in the midst of calamity and death. God enters into the hurt of the world and redeems his people from death.
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. – Rev. 22.17
Today’s lectionary presents us with some fascinating insights into the enigmatic and shadowy person of the Spirit. In John, chapter 14, Jesus promises a helper to his disciples, explaining that it will be a gracious gift to those who would be Jesus’ followers. In acts 2, the disciples finally are visited by this Helper, who does far more than Advocate for the first Christians; rather, like a violent wind, it descends on them in flame and causes them to speak in languages other than their own for the purposes of proclaiming the Lord’s salvation to the World. In another optional reading for the day, Paul tells the Romans that through this same Spirit we are more than adopted children of God, our Father; instead, we become, like Christ, heirs to the Father, destined to be glorified with Christ.
All of these readings communicate an important truth: that this Spirit, which is the Spirit of Jesus, draws us deep into the relationship of the Father and the Son. Being drawn into this relationship, we are remade, recreated, repurposed to do those things that the Son has done, and even greater.