The Holy Trinity
June 11, 2017
Pastor Ed Foster
The cross is the most enduring symbol of the Church. It is the cross that adorns our churches. It is the cross that many of us wear on lapels and around our necks. It is the cross that we put on our business cards. And everyone knows what that cross means: it means ďChristian.Ē
And indeed, the cross does represent the event that we as a people believe defines us: Jesus death. His resurrection for us is the thing that lies at the heart of all that we are and all that we believe.
We are people of the cross, people who live in the shadow of that cross, we are people who indeed live cross-shaped lives.
A cross is a simple thing, isnít it? Two pieces of wood joined together Ė one vertical and the other horizontal Ė one going up, and the other going side-to-side. Most crosses of course have the cross-member closer to the top making it look more like the letter ďTĒ than a plus sign, because, of course, that was most likely how the cross was shaped.
It has often been pointed out that our Christian life is cross-shaped. That we are both focused upward on the relationship that we have with God and that we are focused outward to the world around us.
This enterprise of faith is cross-shaped, there is a vertical component as one of my friends likes to call it, and there is a horizontal component as well. We look up to God. And we look out on the world.
And our lives of faith are cross-shaped in more ways than that. For our lives to be truly said to be shaped by the cross, then they must by that very definition be lives that are lived in service to others, they must be lives lived in suffering for others.
Surely, a cross-shaped life is one that recognizes that Christís death was for us, and it did indeed pay whatever debt we owe, that it did indeed work for us our salvation. A cross-shaped life can be, I had to say ďshould be,Ē since this is a gift to us, not a punishment, but a cross-shaped life can surely be a life that is so shaped by that promise and our trust in it that we can face all of the struggles and turmoil that the world throws at us without fear.
And because of that certainty, that certainty that our eternity is already taken care of, that certainty that at the end of whatever lies before us is God, and heaven and joy and love, we can indeed risk everything for God, we can indeed risk everything for one another. Because we no longer have to spend all of our time and our energy looking up, chasing Godís favor, we can look out with the same love that put Jesus on a cross, and dare to live for one another, dare even to die for one another.
We do indeed live a cross-shaped life.
The cross is, of course, a symbol of suffering and violence. It is a symbol of sacrifice and most especially, it is a symbol of a love so deep and so powerful that it would endure anything for us.
This is also a way in which our lives are to be cross-shaped. We are called to love with that cross-shaped kind of love Ė to love deeply, sacrificially, unconditionally and completely. To indeed give our lives to and for those we love.
Great, pastor Ė but what does all of that have to do with todayís lesson? Todayís lesson is, I think, particularly cross-shaped. As Jesus prepared to ascend into heaven, as he makes his final good byes, he does indeed focus his disciples both on their relationship with him Ė I am with you always to the end of the age. And then he focuses their attention out there Ė out there into the world.
You are safe Ö I am with you Ö now go, go make disciples in the name of God, in my name, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
See how that works? It is most definitely cross-shaped, binding both the divine with the eternal, focusing our hearts and our minds on both the love and grace of God, and on our neighbors, we have been freed to love.
Thatís all great, pastor, but what does all of this have to do with the Trinity? Isnít this Trinity Sunday after all? Indeed. We could of course point out that it is here, in the Great Commission, that Jesus uses the full and proper name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that would surely be enough. But indeed, this cross-shaped life we live is indeed a life created by and shaped by that Triune God.
For it is indeed the Holy Spirit that opens our eyes to look out on the world around us. And it is that Heavenly Father who draws our eyes towards heaven and it is Jesus, divine and human, who is at the center of the cross.
Truly, this wonderful good news of our salvation, this wonderful promise of Christís presence with us always, and this wonderful calling to make disciples of all nations. It is cross-shaped, it is triune.
It is at the heart of all we are and all we proclaim. It is what shapes our lives. Amen.
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Pastor Ed Foster
Today is one of the major festivals of the church. There are three major festivals of the church: Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, or some denominations treat Reformation as if it were one of the festivals, but in the church, written in big letters, it is those three.
And you know Pentecost does not get the same kind of prep that Christmas and Easter get. Christmas and Easter Ė weíve got people in the balcony and Christmas and Easter Ė there are sales Ö I didnít see one ad for a Pentecost sale this year.
Now I think I mentioned it last year or some year before that I think that maybe the problem is that the other two holidays have mascots. Weíve got Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, but there is no mascot for Pentecost. So, Iíve been thinking, trying to come up, what would be an appropriate mascot for Pentecost.
Well thereís the wind thing, so maybe we could have the Pentecost leaf blower, or the fire thing, the Pentecost flame thrower. Those are inanimate objects so that probably wouldnít work. How about the Pentecost Big Bad Wolf? Or if weíre talking about hot air, the Pentecost Politician?
Pentecost does not get the same amount of excitement and the same amount of attention as Christmas and Easter get, and yet, certainly Pentecost is as and maybe more important than those two holidays. For while Christmas and Easter remember things that happened in the past that still have an effect on us today. Pentecost celebrates something Ė celebrates that Spirit of God that is still active and alive and glowing through our lives.
Certainly, it is true though that in especially main-line churches and since weíre in a Lutheran church letís face it in Lutheran churches the whole Pentecost thing makes us a little bit uncomfortable. Lutherans, by and large, come from rather stoic backgrounds. For much of the history of the Lutheran Church in America most Lutherans were either German or Scandinavian. Both for whom a smile meant just barely turning up the sides of their mouth, and indeed, we have planned our life and our worship so that you know what is coming next. Indeed, when the pastor messes up and forgets a part, it takes us a while to get back onto the same page.
Yes, that image from the first Pentecost day is quite different from what we experience in worship, indeed what we worship in our lives. The Holy Spirit comes rushing into the house, making such a racket that people come from all over town to see whatís going on, and then tongues of fire start leaping out of the discipleís heads and they begin to speak in languages they have never heard or spoken and do not know.
People who come here hear about the great works of God in their own native languages. Some of them are amazed and some of them think that the disciples are drunk. The Holy Spirit has come to do all kinds of amazing and I think from the distance of 2,000 years kind of strange and scary kinds of stuff. Because indeed, the disciples that day were out of control. The Holy Spirit was in control and by and large human beings and especially it seems Lutheran human beings, we like being in control.
There is something a bit unsettling in that image. That image of God taking over and of all kinds of amazing, but out of the ordinary kinds of things happening. And indeed, there is a sense that is what the Holy Spirit is supposed to do and if thatís not our experience of the Spirit that there is something, something wrong. That if we donít speak in tongues or if fire doesnít leap out of our heads, that somehow, we havenít opened ourselves up to the Spirit or that there is something missing from us.
I would counter that argument by having us look at the gospel lesson. In the gospel lesson, it is indeed Easter evening and Jesus appears there amongst the 11 disciples and says, ďPeace be with you.Ē Then he breathes on them and gives them the Holy Spirit.
In an image that is very similar to that story from the second chapter of Genesis, for God reaches down in the mud and takes some of that mud and forms himself an Adam and breathes his life into him. Jesus breaths out his Holy Spirit into the disciples and that Spirit comes into them and walks with them, gives them faith that this truly is Jesus risen from the dead, not a ghost, not a monster, but the friend who lives with them and walks with them and loves them.
That Spirit gives them courage to continue to live the faith that Spirit had given them and it is that Spirit that takes them on Pentecost Day and gives them the courage to speak those words that they did not know, to not be so freaked out by the fire leaping from their heads that they ran away in fear. It was that Spirit who comforted them, encouraged them, and gave them faith.
It is that Spirit that we know so well. That Spirit that was breathed into us at our birth and gave us life and that Spirit that was breathed into us at our baptism, confirming who it is and whose we are. It was and is that Spirit that comes to us in our worship, that comes to us when we share Godís peace with one another, and it is that Spirit that gives us faith, that gives us courage, that gives us life.
It is that Spirit that encourages us to indeed be brave enough to do all kinds of things that are in truth probably more miraculous than speaking other languages. It is that Spirit that gives us the courage to love our enemies, and it is that Spirit that gives us the willingness to share ourselves, our time, our possessions, especially our hearts with the people around us. It is that Spirit that leads us and guides us, to indeed share Godís words of power with the world.
It is that Spirit that gives us faith, gives us courage, gives us life. Maybe we donít need a Pentecost mascot, but indeed that Spirit lives in us and lives with us, gives us life. Amen.
The Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 28, 2017
Pastor Ed Foster
Todayís first lesson amuses me almost as much as this. In the first lesson today, Jesus has died and he is risen and he has appeared to his disciples a number of times and now he appears to them for the final time. One of the things that amuses me is that the first question they ask Jesus is Ö ďJesus, when are you finally going to bring your kingdom to Israel?Ē
Now it might be that is a funny way of asking Ö ďJesus, after you ascend to heaven, when are you going to come back?Ē But it seems more likely to me that what the disciples are asking is Ö ďJesus, now that youíve come back to life, when are you going to bring in this kingdom weíve been looking for?Ē I mean for goodness sakes heís already been killed and come back to life, now heís going to be some kind of ghost-warrior. He is going to come and what can the enemy do to him now?
But Jesus doesnít answer their question. Instead he says itís not for us to know the time or the seasons that God has set for things and then he tells them that he is going to send to them the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is going to give them power and that they are to be his witnesses there in Jerusalem and in Judea and in Samaria, and indeed they have this great job Ė they are to spread the Good News, they are to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
Then Jesus rises into heaven and the disciples watch. And then they just stand there, staring up into the sky. I think thatís kind of a neat image. The disciples stand there gazing into the heavens. In fact, I wonder how long they would have stood there staring up into the sky had the angels not showed up and said, guys, you look kind of silly. And the angels promised the disciples that Jesus was going to come back and then the disciples went back to Jerusalem, to the upper room, and they waited, they waited and they prayed.
I kind of like that image because there have indeed been times in my life where I didnít know what else to do but gaze into the heavens. Times when I didnít know what it was that God wanted me to do, where I was to go, what my mission was, and other times when I had some sense of what it was that God had called me to do and yet I didnít feel prepared or ready, when I felt like I could do nothing but just to stare into the heavens.
I think many of us feel that way sometimes. We pray and we pray and yet weíre still not quite sure what it is that God wants from us or what it is that God is calling us to do or whether or not we can even do it. And indeed, I think that gazing into heaven and waiting for Godís answer is a part of our life as Christians.
It is easy to understand what was going on with the disciples. They had been through so much, in short order they had seen Jesus crucified and then had seen him raised from the dead. They had been betrayed by one another, threatened by all of the world around them and now Jesus had ascended into heaven and given them this huge task. That time they spent in the upper room waiting on the Holy Spirit wasnít wasted. Rather that time they spent in prayer, that time they spent together, prepared them for what was going to come.
A part of the life of faith is indeed that gazing into heaven and spending our time waiting on the Lord in prayer. Now of course you canít spend all your time gazing into heaven. The time comes when the Holy Spirit comes and does indeed direct us and guide us and lead us out into the world. The disciples did, they shared that Good News with Jerusalem and Judea and Samara, and through Paul and all of those who came after them, they had spread that Good News, they have been witnesses to the ends of the earth. But that time they spent in the upper room in prayer rebuilding their relationship with one another, growing closer to God, it was preparation for all that was to come.
One day I was sitting in my office and a young lady appeared at the door clearly in distress. It was not an unusual occurrence. She had appeared at my door in distress before. The first time when she came and told me that her husband didnít want to be married anymore and had asked for a divorce. Six months, nearly a year before she even felt like she was back on her feet again, but eventually she did.
But then she appeared at my door again, clearly again in distress her father had passed away and because she had spent so much time away she had also lost her job. So, consider how it was that she was going to deal with those griefs. And so, at this day she appeared at my door again clearly distressed and I wondered, oh my goodness what new calamity has befallen her?
But the distress that day was different. She said, Pastor, Iím not married anymore, my Dad is gone, Iíve got no job, Iíve got nothing that is holding me down, and I donít know what to do. Where is it that God wants me to go, what is God calling me to be or to do with my life, and she was distressed. She was gazing into the heavens, she was waiting for the Lord. Waiting for the Holy Spirit to guide her.
I had no idea what to tell her that she should do so we prayed for a while and we discussed whether there were any passages or verses in scripture that might be helpful and we agreed that we would visit again and she went on her way.
A few days later she appeared at my door. No longer in distress, but filled with joy. Pastor, Iím going to Arizona and Iím going to train horses. She had never mentioned anything about training horses or going to Arizona, and Iím not going to tell you that I know for sure that it was the Holy Spirit that had directed her there. Indeed, the path was a crooked one for her. She didnít train horses very long, but instead she went to the University of Arizona and became a large animal veterinarian.
A part of the life of faith is that time spent gazing into heaven. A part of the life of faith is indeed prayerfully and faithfully waiting for God to answer our prayers. And like that young lady I think we often donít even realize when the answer has come that indeed we find ourselves motivated to go out into the world and follow where it is that the Holy Spirit has led us.
But that time spent gazing into heaven, that time spent waiting on God in prayer, it is not wasted, it is the time for God rebuilding our relationship with him and we are growing, it is a time when we are growing in our relationship with one another. We canít do it all the time, when the Holy Spirit calls, we follow. That time gazing into heaven, it is a part of our life of faith. It is holy and it is precious. Amen.
The Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 21, 2017
Pastor Ed Foster
I sat down and did the math the other day. 41 years ago, my family moved from one end of town to the other in the summer between 6th and 7th grade. So, I began Junior High School in a brand-new school. Didnít know anyone. Now, my new classmates most of them knew one another and they made it very clear that they knew each other and had been friends since they were little. But they didnít know me, but they would let me know what they thought of me when they figured it out.
Those first few weeks of Junior High School were rather lonely I have to say and I have that sense of being in the world by myself, that really no one there had my back, no one was much interested in who I was or what I had to say. And to be quite honest, in those first few weeks before I got to know very many people, I probably wasnít the nicest person to be around. That sense of being backed into a corner and being all on your own, of having no one that had your back, it was very real.
Itís hard being your best self, to be kind and compassionate and brave, to be giving, caring, to love your neighbors when you feel like you are backed into a corner, when you feel like you are out there all on your own and you feel like no one has your back.
We see it all the time, I think, the news is filled with folks who feel like no one is listening to them, like they have been ignored or disenfranchised and they respond to that. You see it at the grocery store or you see it at our work places and goodness knows we see it as people are driving in their cars, nobody else is going to watch out for me so I am going to watch out for myself first.
Of course, the disciples were about to experience that in a big way. Jesus was about to arrive at the end of his ministry. He was going to be arrested, he was going to be mistreated, killed, but then after he rose from the grave he was going to ascend into heaven and his disciples were going to be left, and they were going to feel as Jesus put it orphans. They were going to feel like they were all alone in the world, that no one cared what they had to say and no one really wanted them around. The danger and the fear must have been very real. Indeed, they probably were even going to wonder whether one another had each otherís back because it was one of their own who had betrayed Jesus.
And then Jesus told them, I am not going to abandon you. I am not going to leave you orphan. But indeed, not only am I going to come and be with you, but I am going to send an advocate, The Advocate, I am going to leave you the Holy Spirit. You are not alone, the Holy Spirit is going to be with you, to lead you and guide you, to protect you, to pick you up when you fall. You are not alone. I will not leave you orphan.
Indeed, sometimes we do, we feel like we are left all alone in this world. And it is, itís hard to be the people that we want to be, the people we know we are called to be, to be kind and compassion-ate, brave and loving, when we feel like weíre in this world all alone and we have to look out for ourselves first. Christ promises us that we are not alone, that he has our back, the Holy Spirit with us.
How can we love our neighbors as ourselves? How can we speak out for those who are the least of us? How can we defend those who need to be defended in a world that it seems to be out to get us? We can do it because we are not alone, God is with us, Christ is with us, the Holy Spirit has our back. Amen.