Monday, June 26, 2017

"Living Beyond Fear." A Sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on Matthew 10:23-39

"Living Beyond Fear"

Matthew 10:26-39

         “Not peace, but a sword.”

            A lot of us resist this saying of Jesus.  We may find ourselves wondering, “How did this ever get into the Bible?” And yet here it is, in the Bible.   So, what do we do with it? 

            To a lot of us, it sounds so wrong.  But deep down, we know it’s true.  When you’re called to speak your truth, to stand up for what you believe, it may not be received well.
            Peace can be hard to come by when the truth gets told. The way Karoline Lewis puts it, “the Kingdom of Heaven is not a tranquil or quiet existence free from disturbance and discord.  Rather, the Kingdom of Heaven disrupts. The Kingdom of Heaven is unsettling. The Kingdom of Heaven up-ends especially the reigns that feign peace. The Kingdom of Heaven calls into question the rulers and systems that promise peace, but in doing so wield a sword of terror and weapons of forced allegiance, armed with what they think is power. The Kingdom of Heaven comes with the demands on which true peace insists-- and never lets go of the kind of peace God has in mind.”[1]

            Jesus has commissioned his twelve disciples and is about to send them out on a mission of their own. As part of what seems almost like a pre-game “pep talk,” we hear Jesus leveling with the disciples about some of the challenges they will face, challenges that could include rejection and slander and persecution and perhaps even death.
            Jesus names the suffering the disciples might face and its causes, and describes some worst-case scenarios, and weaves them together with statements of reassurance and repeated calls to resist fear.  The disciples are called to proclaim the gospel “in the light and from the housetops.”

            “Have no fear,” Jesus says.

            Did you notice how many times Jesus says that in today’s passage? Three times.  “Have no fear.” “Do not fear.”  “Don’t be afraid.”

            Jesus recognizes that fear can cause the failure of discipleship.  His first disciples leave the security of their homes and families to follow him, as they proclaim the coming of God’s reign.  When disciples faithfully proclaim and practice the gospel, the time will come when they will come into conflict with the powers of this world.  

            Jesus reassures the disciples that God is not like the powers of this world.  God knows and cares even for the sparrows that are sold “two for a penny.”  God knows even the hairs on our heads better than we do. The threat of violence and death are real concerns for the early disciples, but they’re no longer the determining force in their lives, for the one who has ultimate power over our whole being exercises that power with mercy and love.

            These sayings of Jesus encourage disciples to remain firm in their commitment to Jesus and his mission, even when that mission generates inevitable conflicts, even within their families.  Even though Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount that peacemakers are blessed, he says here in these discipleship teachings that his mission does not bring peace, but a sword.

            Jesus’ own ministry demonstrates that the very act of peacemaking can generate conflict and violence.  God’s peace requires justice and righteousness. God’s peace demands that every person is valued and cared for. 

            To “take up the cross” means disciples align their mission and fate with that of Jesus, which could bring humiliation, suffering, shame, opposition, and even death.  The call to discipleship also makes claims upon our identity and allegiance, even to parents or children. 

            When he hear Jesus calling us to take up the cross, we join Jesus in his identification with marginalized people or rebels who were subject to Roman crucifixion because they did not align themselves with or submit themselves to the authority of the Empire.  Discipleship is costly.

            In our time and place, most of us don’t live under the threat of death or dangerous situations.  But following Jesus can mean involve conflict.   Fear of conflict may be one of the most debilitating of all fears. 
            This difficult passage gets to the heart of one of the most paralyzing characteristics of many faith communities—both congregations and denominations.  We can be so afraid of conflict -- within our immediate families… our congregations…  or the larger family of faith -- that our witness is muted.  Fear of conflict may keep us from acting on our values and convictions.  When we’re afraid of “upsetting the apple cart,” we get stuck and are unable to move forward.
            In the early church, some disciples were rejected by their family and friends because of their faith.  But today, we may be held hostage by those who threaten conflict when things don’t go their way.   Or we may be so conflict-avoidant that we just don’t want to make certain people unhappy with us.
             In some ways, it feels like more than three years since we hosted the General Assembly in Detroit, but that’s how long it’s been.  I remember that it was a fearful time for many people.  The Presbyterian Church and other denominations had been struggling with issues related to human sexuality for decades.  Over that time, people have been coming to understand sexual orientation and identity very differently, and changes had been occurring in society and in the church, albeit more slowly.  
            In the Presbyterian church, we do things “decently and in order.”  So, over the years, a series of committees studied the issues, including all the research and the advice from various church agencies. They listened to the testimonies of various people, including biblical and theological experts and a variety of other people who testify for and against the overture.  They debate it in the committee and pray for God’s guidance.  They make a recommendation to the whole Assembly, and the Assembly debates it in the plenary session.        
            During the plenary session in which the Assembly considered the committee’s recommendations on Civil Unions and Marriage, there were people who came to the microphone and talked about how God is calling us to do something new in response to new understandings of human sexuality and what our Christian faith is calling us to do.  Some people spoke for holding fast to traditional understandings and values.  And some people spoke of their fears, mostly of fears that some congregations will leave the denomination in protest.  Change in general can be scary. And we fear alienating people we care about or dividing the community.  No matter what the decision was, some people were going to rejoice, and some were going to grieve over the decision, and we all knew that.  
            The 2014, General Assembly took two significant actions on same-sex marriage and an even more controversial action to divest from corporations that support or profit from the Israel’s occupation of Palestine.  These were emotionally charged, fearful debates, as was the debate over ordination of LGBT persons a few years ago.
            [To put this into historical perspective: the Presbyterian Church split over slavery and it wasn't until the 1980's that we reunited. Older Presbyterians who were around for the debate over the ordination of women have told me that conflict was every bit as divisive, emotionally charged, and fearful as that over LGBT ordination.]
            Following General Assembly, a few congregations did leave the denomination, and some who decided to remain aren’t completely in agreement with the decisions. But we keep working and worshipping and praying and doing mission together. We are united at the Lord’s Table, in mission, and in our commitment to follow Jesus. There is diversity in our unity.
            In our gospel lesson, Jesus invites us to remember that there are worse things than conflict.  Indeed, the call to follow Christ and take up his cross will have costs, including conflict. 
            Some of you have heard Jim and Marilyn Marble talk about their work with the Koinonia Community, which was founded by Clarence Jordan. Jordan was an agriculture major at the University of Georgia and a Master of Divinity graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also earned a PhD in New Testament.   He founded the racially integrated Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia in 1942.  You may be familiar with Jordan through his Cotton Patch translations of the New Testament or because the Habitat for Humanity movement originated from the Koinonia Farm.

            When the Koinonia community tried selling peanuts from a roadside stand the Ku Klux Klan dynamited the stand.   Remember, this was in the 1940’s, in Georgia.  Stubborn like most saints for justice, Jordan put up another stand.  It got blown up too.  Finally, Koinonia Farm resorted to mail-order ads: "Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia."1 To this day, Koinonia Farm has a mail order business, selling peanuts, pecans, fair trade candy, and baked goods. I buy some of my Christmas gifts from them. 

            Whether it’s shipping the nuts out of Georgia or bringing Palestinian crafts to the United States to sell to help people living under occupation feed their families through Pal Craft Aid or speaking and acting for God’s kingdom of justice and righteousness, we are called to live beyond our fears to follow Jesus. 
            We can be inspired by heroes of the faith, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Archbishop Oscar Romero or the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, whose lives and Christian witness ended in violent deaths. We can give thanks for Congressman John Lewis and others who as young men and women put their lives on the line to protest racial injustice. 
            We can be inspired by the story of Fannie Lou Hamer, the Mississippi voting rights activist was beaten so badly in jail that she couldn’t lie down, yet she led a jailhouse choir in singing a freedom song we’ve heard Kevin Dewey’s Henry Ford College Chorus sing: “Paul and Silas, was bound in jail--let my people go.”
            The work isn’t done yet. Every week there is heartbreaking news in our nation and the world-- news that must break God’s heart.  This is not a time for a middle-of-the-road, lukewarm, comfortable Christianity.
            So, go out in the light with the good news of God’s love.  Shout it from the housetops.  Don’t cling to this life, but give your life for the sake of Christ.   

            “Have no fear, says Jesus.   Even the hairs of your head are counted.   So, have no fear.  You are of more value than many sparrows.  God loves us.  Don’t be afraid.

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
June 25, 2017

[1] Karoline Lewis, “Not Peace, But a Sword,” at Working Preacher.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

"Is Anything Too Wonderful for God?" A sermon on Genesis 18 and 21 from Littlefield Presbyterian Church.

Andrei Rublev, ""The Hospitality of Abraham" / "The Trinity"

"Is Anything Too Wonderful for God?"

Genesis 18:1-15 and 21:1-7; Matthew 9:35-10:23

Easter was late this year.  So--because of how the lectionary works-- we entered the story of Abraham and Sarah in the middle today, and we missed hearing the beginning. We don’t have enough time to catch you up on all the details now. If you haven’t read the story of Abraham in the book of Genesis for a while, I invite you to spend a few minutes and read through it, beginning in chapter 12.   I don’t think you’d be bored.  I really think the story of the Patriarchs in Genesis would make quite a TV mini-series.

         Had Easter been earlier this year, we would have heard the story of the call of Abraham in Genesis 12, how God calls Abram and Sarai to leave homeland and kin and go to a land they have never seen.  God makes a three-fold promise to them.  Abram will have many descendants and will be a “great nation.”   Several times in the chapters leading up to today’s lesson, God promises that Abram and his descendants will inherit the land of Canaan, and that they will be a blessing to the whole world.

         Now, there’s a major problem with this scenario: Abram and Sarai have no children. We don’t know a lot about the couple before this, but we do know that his wife Sarai has been barren, and that she’s getting up in years. It’s hard to have many descendants and be a “great nation” if you don’t have even one child.

         So, by the time we get to Genesis 18, Abraham and Sarah have decided to solve the problem on their own. They have “given” Hagar,” Sarah’s handmaid, to Abraham as a concubine. She has borne a son to Abraham, and they have named him Ishmael. So, problem solved.

         Or maybe not. God was more specific in making promises in Genesis 17. “As for Sarai, your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations, kings of peoples shall come from her.

         Well, that’s an amazing promise. Especially when you consider that by this time, Sarah is 90 years old. Talk about having a new chapter in your golden years!

         Apparently, Abraham thought this promise was too wonderful, too amazing, even for God. When we heard it, Abraham fell on his face laughing and reminded God that they’ve already worked out things on their own: “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!”

         God has a different vision of how things are supposed to be and tells Abraham, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac,” which means, “he laughs.” God promises that Ishmael will become the father of a great nation, too. But God’s covenant will be with Isaac.

         Which brings us to Genesis 18.  Abraham is sitting at the entrance of his tent near the oaks-- more accurately “terebinths” of Mamre, resting in the heat of the day. He sees three men standing near him and runs out as fast as his 99-year-old legs allow to meet them, and bowed down. He says, “My lord, allow me to have a little water brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on.”


         Abraham hurries into the tent to Sarah, and asks her to whip up a good meal, and he runs out to the herd to pick out a good calf for a servant to prepare. He serves the guests curds and milk and meat, and then he stands under the tree while they eat.


         The guests ask Abraham, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he says, “There, in the tent.” Then one of the guests said, “I will surely return to you I due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.”

         Sarah is listening, and now, it’s her turn to laugh.  Abraham and Sarah are both old. We hear that “it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.” So, Sarah laughed to herself.

         The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?  Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?”

         Sarah’s afraid, and she says, “I didn’t laugh.”

         The LORD says, “O yes, you did laugh.” I imagine a twinkle in the LORD’S eye.

         There’s a lot to chew on in this passage. If we were in a Bible study, we could look more closely at how Abraham is visited by the one LORD, as three separate people, and how the text alternates between referring to them in the singular and plural.

         As I meditated on this text during the week, I also spent some time learning about the Christian icons that have been inspired by it, commonly known as “The Hospitality of Abraham.”

         Those of us who don’t come from an Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Anglican tradition probably haven’t been very familiar with icons as a form of devotional religious art that is meant to invite us deeper into the truth and to help us pray.  

         Probably the best known religious icon in the world is an icon painted by Russian monk and iconographer Andrei Rublev in the fifteenth century known as “The Hospitality of Abraham” and also known as “The Trinity.”

         The more you gaze at this icon and meditate on it, the more you see.  In the icon, we see three angels, but also the Trinity. In her little book, The Circle of Love: Praying with Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity, Ann Persson points us to some of details.[1]

         Rublev has intentionally given the three “angels” similar faces, figures, and hairstyles, and differentiates them only by their clothing, to show that each of the three has equal importance. The faces are youthful, yet there is a quiet maturity. They are neither male nor female. Their haloes show their holiness. Other details in the colors in their clothing and in the background point to who they are. Each one holds a staff, which shows that each has authority. They are similar, yet different. They are in eternal communion.

         As Ann Persson points out, very often in other, earlier icons the three figures sit in a line, facing the viewer. Rublev was the first iconographer to use a circle in his design--the symbol of perfection, unity and eternity.

         Some of those who study and meditate on this icon point to what appears to be a little rectangular hole painted on the front of the table. According to Fr. Richard Rohr, some art historians say that the remaining glue on the original icon indicates that there may have once been a mirror glued to the front of the table, though that would have been highly unusual.[2]

         In any case, Rublev designed this icon with a space in the circle, as if you or I could step into the space that is offered and enter the circle of love.  He showed that there’s a place at the table for us.

         I love the way Fr. Rohr puts it: “At the heart of Christian revelation, God is not seen as a distant, static monarch but…a divine circle dance, as the early Fathers of the church dared to call it (in Greek perichoresis…. God is the Holy One presenced in the dynamic and loving action of Three.  But even this Three-Fullness does not like to eat alone. This invitation to share at the divine table is probably the first biblical hint of what we would eventually call ‘salvation.’”[3]

         “Jesus comes forth from this Eternal Fullness, allowing us to see ourselves mirrored, as a part of this table fellowship--as a participant at this banquet and as a partner in God’s eternal dance of love and communion.”


         So, how are we called to live, as partners in God’s dance of love? How do we proclaim the good news of God’s love in our time?

         In today’s gospel lesson, we heard how Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

         Then Jesus summoned his twelves disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness….to go out, proclaiming the good news. The kingdom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.  And travel light.


         To a lot of us, this may sound overwhelming…impossible. But we worship a God who became incarnate to reveal the image of the invisible God, which is the logical conclusion of God’s love affair with creation.

         What might our dance with God look like, as we live more fully into God’s kingdom? 

         I love the way Shirley Erena Murray words it in a song we’ll sing later:[4]

         For everyone born, a place at the table,

         For everyone born, clean water and bread,

         A shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,

         For everyone born, a star overhead.


         Can we trust God to keep God’s promises? Can we trust God, through the Spirit, to guide and empower us? Can we trust God, in Christ, to be with us always?

         Is anything too wonderful for God? 

         Can we imagine dancing with God, working in partnership with God, and being a blessing to others?

         And God will delight when we are creators of justice,

         And joy… compassion and peace.

         Yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice…

         Justice and joy!

         May it be so!

 Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
June 18, 2017


[1] Ann Persson, The Circle of Love: Praying with Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity (The Bible Reading Fellowship, 2010), Kindle version, location 530-545.
[2] Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance (Whittaker House, 2016), page 31.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Shirley Erena Murray, “For Everyone Born”, in Glory to God hymnal (2013).

Sunday, June 11, 2017

"The Divine Dance," A Sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on Trinity Sunday.

"The Divine Dance"

2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

Trinity Sunday 2017


Sometimes after choir rehearsal on Sundays I pick up lunch at the Subway on Wyoming on my way home. I’ve been there often enough that they know I’m a local pastor. They’re usually pretty busy, but one time I was the only customer.  The server asked, “So, about the Trinity: one God or three?”  As he made my turkey sub, this young Muslim man and I had a theological conversation about the nature of God.
            Over the years, I’ve had a number of front porch theological conversations with Muslim neighbors, in which they’ve asked about the Trinity. I remember one woman was really concerned for my soul, because she was afraid I worshiped more than one God. I did my best to reassure her and to clear up the confusion.
            In the Christian calendar, this is Trinity Sunday—the only Sunday in the church year dedicated to a doctrine of the church.  
            For centuries, Christians have sung, confessed our faith, prayed, baptized, and received new members into our community in the name of a Trinitarian God who is traditionally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But for many Christians in our time (and for some in earlier times) the doctrine of the Trinity has been a problem.
            How many of us have heard a conversation in a church school class or study group that goes something like this: “Do we really have to believe in the Trinity-- that God is three-in-one and one-in three--to be a Christian?” “What does it mean? How can you put three persons together and get one, or divide one into three and still have one?”
            If you think about it, you can understand why our Muslim and Jewish friends have a problem with the Trinity and wonder if we really do worship one God.

            The defenders of the faith--the traditional faith--might blunder through a fuzzy explanation and then conclude: “There’s a reason we call it a mystery that no one can fully understand.” Maybe they say, “We just have to accept it by faith.”
            I agree that the Trinity is a mystery no one can fully understand.  The doctrine of the Trinity reminds us that there is always more to God than we can conceive… always more of God than we can explain… always more than we can sing or preach or prove.   
            So—what do we do with the Trinity? 
            I think theology is important.  I think bad theology can hurt people…and hurts the church.  The language we use when we speak and sing of God is important.
            Apparently, some ordinary Christians in ancient times knew this.  Theologian Elizabeth Johnson observes how fascinated people of the late fourth century were with speaking rightly about God.
            She quotes a famous remark by Gregory of Nyssa that describes the situation: “Even the baker,” he said, “does not cease from discussing this.  If you ask the price of bread, he will tell you that the Father is greater and the Son is subject to him.”[1]
            It’s difficult for many people today to grasp how bitterly this conflict divided the Christian world for several centuries.  The Nicene Creed was hammered out to defend the faith tradition against the Arian claim that Christ was not eternal, but created. 
            The burning, big question in the ancient church was “Who is Jesus Christ, in relation to God the Father and Creator?” The Nicene Creed was the ancient church’s answer to the questions of its time, using the best philosophical constructs and language available to it at that time. 
            As Dr. Shirley Guthrie wrote, the doctrine of the Trinity is “the church’s admittedly inadequate way of trying to understand the biblical and Christian understanding of who God is, what God is like, how and where God is at work in the world, what God thinks about us human beings, does for us, requires of us, promises us.”[2]
            We need to be clear with ourselves and in talking with others that we don’t “believe in” the Trinity. We believe in and trust in God, and the Trinity is a way Christians think about and speak of God.

            During times of crisis or controversy, the church has found it necessary to re-interpret the gospel for new times, in response to new situations and questions.  If you look through our Book of Confessions,[3] you’ll see that the Scots Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the 2nd Helvetic Confession, and the Westminster Confession were worked out during the Reformation period, in response to concerns particular to that time.
            In 1934, the Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church met in Barmen, Germany.  They “sought a common message for the need and temptation of the Church” in their day. The threat was the way the Christian church was cooperating with the Nazi regime.  The resulting confession of faith was what we know as the Declaration of Barmen.
            The 1960’s were turbulent times, and the Confession of 1967 was adopted by the Presbyterian Church “to call the church to that unity in confession and mission which is required of disciples…”[4]     The theme of the Confession of 1967 was the church’s ministry of reconciliation, which has been a strong theme in the mission of this congregation for decades.
            The Presbyterian Church split at the time of the Civil War, over the issue of slavery, and it took over a hundred years for the northern and southern Presbyterian churches to be reunited.  At the time of the reunion, the General Assembly voted to re-state the faith as a way of affirming what we believe together.  The result was “A Brief Statement of Faith of 1991,”[5]  which we often say together in worship.  The “Brief Statement of Faith” is a Trinitarian statement, which begins by stating that we trust in the one triune God, whom alone we worship and serve.
            The 2016 General Assembly made history by voting to add the “Belhar Confession” to our Book of Confessions.[6]  Belhar is a moving call for reconciliation and a condemnation of racial injustice written in South Africa during the struggle against Apartheid. We adopted Belhar to be a resource to the church during a time when racial tension, injustice and violence in the United States make headlines nearly every day.

            We are part of a living, growing tradition, and we continue to address new situations and questions by re-stating our faith.  One of the great themes of our Reformed Tradition affirms “the church reformed, always being reformed, according the Word of God, as led by the Holy Spirit.” 
            I believe that the controversies of our time over sexuality are being worked out, and I hope this frees us to work through other important questions for living faithfully in our time. For instance, how do we confess and live our faith in Jesus Christ in a pluralistic world?  How do we speak of God in conversations with our neighbors who are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, or “spiritual but not religious”? What does our faith require of us in the face of injustice?
            When we struggle over theology, important things often get worked out.  We often learn something—sometimes in spite of ourselves. It’s hard for a lot of people to re-think things they’ve always believed or change their mind. Even though we might want to dig in and defend what we have always believed to be true, we have the Holy Spirit nudging us, reminding us of what Jesus did and what he taught.  We learn and grow, as the Holy Spirit leads us further into the truth—just as Jesus promised
            Jesus told his disciples that he still had many things to say to them, but that they weren’t ready to hear them yet.  He promised that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, would guide his followers into all the truth.[7]
            From the earliest centuries of the church, discerning theologians have stressed that all our language about God, including the Trinitarian symbols, are inadequate and relative. The Bible uses many other images or metaphors for God, and other theologians have offered a number of possibilities for speaking of God.[8]
            I believe God continues to speak a new word to us in new times--things we weren’t ready to hear before.  We still have many things to learn, so we need to be learners--theologians. We need to listen for what God’s teaching Spirit has to say to us.

            In my study this week, I was reminded that the Western Church’s model of the Trinity has typically looked like a triangle, while the typical model in Eastern Orthodoxy is a circle.
            John of Damascus, a Greek theologian who lived in the seventh century, developed the understanding of the Trinity with a concept called perichoresis.  I don’t bring a lot of Greek words into sermons, but this one gives us such a beautiful picture of God. “Peri”-- as in permimeter--means “around.”  “Choresis literally means “dancing”-- as in choreography.
            This isn’t an approach to the Trinity that most of us in the Western part of the church are as familiar with, but some contemporary theologians, like Jurgen Moltmann[9] and Mirosalav Volf[10], have written about it.
            Recently, Father Richard Rohr has written a very accessible book: “The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation,” that invites us to take a closer look at the mystery of the Trinity.  
            Father Rohr says we need a larger God, because God is not what most people think.  God is not an angry, distant moral scorekeeper or a supernatural Santa Claus, keeping track of who’s been naughty or nice or handing out cosmic lottery tickets to those who attend the right church or say the right prayer dominate our culture. God isn’t a stern old man with a long white-beard, ready and eager to assign condemnation and punishment.[11]
            Increasingly, I find the metaphor of a dancing God more compelling and beautiful and life-giving than some of the traditional constructs, and I think it is more faithful to the story of God’s self-giving love we hear in the scriptures.
            Imagine it: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-- or Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer-- the three persons of the Trinity are like three dancers holding hands, dancing around together in harmonious, joyful freedom.

            The two New Testament texts the lectionary gives us for today are last words of love.  
            In the gospel lesson we heard the command we know as the GREAT COMMISSION.  Jesus tells his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” It ends with a PROMISE:  “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

            How do we proclaim the good news of God’s love in our time? To those who have been baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, we need to proclaim the new, open, love-filled space of our Triune God, the space where we are to love God with all we’ve got and our neighbors--all our neighbors-- like ourselves.  
            I’ve been thinking that maybe this isn’t a time for us to hold an adult education class to focus on the classical doctrine of the Trinity or to insist that we have to “believe in” traditional understandings of the Trinity.
            Maybe in this time we need to push back the furniture a bit and make space to dance with the divine. Maybe that’s a better way to teach us all about God’s self-giving love and how we can be part of the dance.
            As we join in the dance, we can practice trusting in Christ’s promise that he is with us, always, to the end of the age.  We can practice trusting that the God of love and peace will be with us.

            And so, my friends, I leave you with these ending words of love: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all!”

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
June 11, 2017

[1] Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (Crossroad, 1992), p. 3. 
[2] Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, Revised Edition (Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), p. 71.
[4] The Confession of 1967, article 9.05 in Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

[7]John 16:12

[8]If you’re interested in exploring this, you might want to see William C. Placher, Narratives of a Vulnerable God: Christ, Theology, and Scripture (Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), pages 53-83 or Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology (Eerdman’s, 1991), pages 56-79..

[9] Jurgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom (Harper & Row, 1981).
[10] Miroslav Volf, Allah: A Christian Response (HarperOne, 2012).    
[11] Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (SPCK Publishing, 2016).