One of our poets at Word*UP tonight said that writing poetry is more about listening than writing.
And I thought, exactly.
I heard the same thing said, years ago, about preparing sermons. And, although ‘sermons’ aren’t a big part of what we do, I’ve found it true just the same. Each week I find myself approaching our Sunday morning together and I’m listening for what you can’t hear with your ears. Elijah called it the ‘still small voice‘ of God -. It’s an apt description. The Spirit of God isn’t a big-shot, all flashy and loud. You recognize the Spirit in a gentle movement, a nudge, an awareness, somewhere in your own spirit, that something important just happened. A word, a phrase, a billboard floating past the rain-streaked car windows that somehow, mysteriously, pauses in your mind… You listen. You wait, you follow, never quite knowing where you’re going, seeing the path one step at a time, illuminated in the soft orange glow of light and love. You wait. You hold stillness. You love. And God appears.
There are times when God speaks to us in ways that are definite, unmistakeable, certain. But most often he whispers softly, gently, lovingly into our spirits. You begin by lamenting that there’s not enough time, not enough places in your life in which you can find stillness, quietness, peace. You lament the loss of solitude, the absence of time to sit and think and simply be. Then, perhaps without even realizing it, you begin to search for those times and places where you can enter into silence, mystery, wonder, peace and love. And then, finally, you learn that those times and places are all within.
This Sunday in the ‘Scribbles on a Flip Chart Series’ we’re looking at Christianity vs. Other Religions. Are there many roads to the same destination? Do all religions say the same thing?
This isn’t as simple as if first appears. There are some really big questions associated with this and they take us into discussions about the human experience and the divine nature, about how we read the bible and what we believe about life after death. On Sunday I’m going to try and narrow that down to a few essentials:
- What are the claims of Jesus regarding this, and what do those claims actually say?
- How does the Holy Spirit operate in the world – and does that indicate God is at work in other religions?
- How has this culture been shaped by our culture, in both opposition to and agreement with the bible?
Christianity is often said to be intolerant, narrow-minded, exclusionary and aggressively militant towards other religions – particularly Islam. Much of that criticism is well deserved. But how should we respond to all those criticisms out there? How can we best respond to misrepresentations of Christ’s teachings?
I have the feeling this might be a Sunday in which our discussion is all over the map! But shall we not therefore, dearest brothers and sisters, let thine good times rolleth?
Can a brother get an Amen up in this joint?
So… been a while. Like John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
There are, as I mentioned in the last post, some pretty clear statements in the bible that God is three beings. But are these three beings in one? For that, there is no single, definitive statement. So how did we get this idea that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that these three distinctly different beings are one Person?
The doctrine of the Trinity was developed in order to make sense of a number of different bible passages that offer complex information about God. John 1, for instance, says that Jesus is God and yet was with God. Jesus tells his disciples that he and his Father are one, and yet he prays to the Father, as if he were a separate Person entirely. The Holy Spirit is clearly identified as being God, and yet is “sent” by Jesus, or “received from the Father.” It was the work of the church, as they sought to make sense of what the bible was telling us, to develop the doctrine of the Trinity. None of the statements the bible offers about God make sense without the doctrine of the Trinity, but with the doctrine of the Trinity they all make sense.
This Sunday is the second in our “Scribbles on a Flip Chart Series” and we’re taking a kick at the Trinity. Well, not literally. We’re trying to get a handle on exactly what this thing is and asking how we live in the fullness of God. Some quick notes:
- The word ‘trinity’ doesn’t appear in the bible. There is, however, ample evidence to support the doctrine.
- Where the evidence trail begins? Genesis 1: “God said, “Let us make human beings in our image…”
- The first line of the Shema – the central prayer of the Jewish prayer book, taken from Deut. 6:4-9: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.(NIV)
- Does Jesus appear anywhere in the Old Testament? Well… There is the manifestation of a particular angel referred to as “The Angel of the Lord” who appears 7 times in the Old Testament. (Genesis 16:7–14 Genesis 22:11–15. Exodus 3:2–4 Numbers 22:22–38. Judges 2:1–3 Judges 6:11–23 Judges 13:3–22.) (NIV) Elsewhere we see the phrase “an angel of the Lord” or “angel of God” or simply “angel”, but the definite article “the” seems to precede some interesting aspects of this particular ‘being’. For one thing, it is “the Angel of the Lord” who speaks to Moses from the burning bush, declaring his name to be “I Am That I Am.” It’s also The Angel of the Lord that appears to Hagar, who declares him to be “The God Who Sees Me.” In at least some instances, the Angel of the Lord is a theophany, an appearance of God in physical form. But is it Christ? Here’s an interesting observation: Angels are mentioned numerous times in the New Testament, but “the angel of the Lord” is never mentioned in the New Testament. Once Christ appears in the flesh the term simply disappears from the bible.
- Aside: This may be the source of the confusion that the first chapter of Hebrews seeks to dispel.
- Does the Holy Spirit appear in the Old Testament? Yup. Not going to spend a lot of time on that here – but the Spirit was active, albeit in a different way than in the New Testament. He came over some people temporarily, for a specific purpose, and then seemed to withdraw.
So ample evidence in Scripture – from the opening chapter onwards – that seems obvious with the benefit of hindsight. Not so for the early church. It’s not until the Council of Nicaea in 325 that the church would hammer out a statement that (also) codified the doctrine of the Triune God. That doctrine was necessary in order to come to an understanding of who Jesus was but was less than fully finished: the first creed ended with the words “And the Holy Spirit” – the only mention of the Third Person of the Trinity.
But do these three pictures of God indicate three separate beings, or one being in three persons or what? More to come on this, but the first chapter of John’s Gospel is a good place to start on that question.
Your thoughts? Comments? Brickbats and Bug-a-boos?