Profile of a Prophet: Moses

Exodus 3: 1-15

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
           Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”
           But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:
           This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

Sermon Text

Today we start a new series looking at some of the prophets that brought us God’s word throughout scripture. We are blessed as Gentile recipients of God’s grace to have the legacy of God’s work through both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures. One does not take precedence over the other, but both show us God’s glory in their own way. Throughout the history of God’s people there have been those who God has raised to a particular purpose – the articulation of God’s desires for God’s people. The prophet’s voice was a tool of God to bring about change, to give warnings, and to ultimately to reveal the nature of God to the people of God.

When we open our Bibles, we are well aware that there are prophets talked about in their pages. If we were to grab a Jewish Tanakh, that would be even more obvious to us. The name of the Hebrew Scripture is an anagram, Tov for Torah, Nun for Nevi’im, and Kaf for Ketuvim. In other words, the teachings of Moses, the prophets, and the writings. Tanakh. The prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible include the three major prophets of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel as well as the twelve minor prophets – just like we would see in our Protestant Bibles. Yet, they also include the books of Samuel, Kings, Judges, and Joshua – things we usually call historical books.

As we hop across the pages of our Bibles over the next few weeks, we will visit much of the Hebrew scripture and even jump into the Greek scripture of the New Testament at the close of our series. For now, we look into the distant past of God’s revelation to see the first prophet called to proclaim God’s salvation to God’s people. Today we look at the life of Moses, and how he shows us the pattern of a prophet and the wonders of God’s all-encompassing love.

Before we jump into Moses particularly, I want to talk a little bit about what a prophet is meant to be. When you all hear prophet, I’m sure you have your initial ideas. What comes to mind? Fortunetellers giving a forecast of future events? Doomsday preachers speaking about God’s final victory over the evils of the earth? A sword cutting between the lies we tell ourselves and the truth? Of those options the last one is closest to what the role of a prophet was defined by in scripture. While there was a paid position within ancient royal courts called “prophet,” this role is different from what the biblical prophets achieved. The paid position might ask God specific questions, getting back specific answers. They would say when a good time was to go to war or to begin projects. These were closer to our usual view of prophets than any of the Major or Minor ones of scripture.

Rather than being employees of kings, the Biblical prophets were usually lay people called out from their normal lives into their role as a prophet. This was not always the case, sometimes a paid prophet would be called to the higher role of a capital P Prophetic Voice, but on the whole it was more common for people to be called to this ministry rather than following the usual chain of command. There was still the ability to learn from another prophet or succeed someone’s work – like what we see with Elijah passing his work to Elisha, but the model for the named prophets in scripture is that they are plucked up and set aside for a specific work. I speculate about this to a certain degree, but it explains best why the eponymous prophets were so different from their contemporaries.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish philosopher of religion, explains prophets as critics of the sins of their era. Specifically, the prophet calls the people to see the ways they hurt one another and how we all have a part to play. He puts it this way, “the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible… In a community not indifferent to suffering, uncompromisingly impatient with cruelty and falsehood, continually concerned for God and every [person,] crime would be infrequent rather than common.”[1]

The prophets act as a wakeup call for us to get our act together. The Biblical Prophets especially are crying out to people on the verge of collapse from one source of evil or another. We talked last week about avoiding God’s promise of redemption by never falling in the first place. That is the sort of thing that the prophet was constantly doing. They stated the problem as it was now, the consequence of that problem if it was not fixed, and then finally the opportunity that would exist if the people changed their ways. The goal was always to see people change, like what Jonah did at Nineveh, but often the prophecy of disaster is the one the won out.

Back to the focus of today’s message, we look to the ministry of Moses. The people of God had been enslaved in Egypt for a long time. Despite the fortune of Joseph in the Egyptian Court, shifting political power resulted in the Hebrews being a convenient scapegoat for the problems of the kingdom. A pharaoh came into power, “who knew not Joseph,” and the people soon found themselves the victims of genocidal programs meant to limit their numbers and reduce them to slave laborers. The land of Goshen essentially became a prison, with the people being kept there as wheels in the machine of industry.

One of the survivors of an early attempt to cull the Hebrew people was the son of two members of the house of Levi. After his birth, his parents feared he would be killed, and so he was floated down a river. A member of the royal household pulled him out of the water and, realizing he was a Hebrew, took pity and decided to raise him. The boy’s sister was nearby and convinced the noblewoman to hire the boy’s mother as his nurse, and the boy, Moses, was raised in Pharaoh’s court and with the full knowledge of the ways of his people.

Moses’s time in the court saw him divided in whether he could live as a member of the nobility when his family and his people were suffering under the rule of that same royalty. When a group of Hebrew men were being abused, Moses killed the assailant. Rather than earning him a place of pride among his people, it made him look reckless. Moses had made it worse for his people, the idea that they were a dangerous minority would be solidified by his half-baked plan to make himself into a hero. Moses fled Egypt and settled on the other side of the Gulf of Aqaba from Egypt. There, among the people of Midian, he made a life. He married into the people there and had children. He started a life as a shepherd and began to drift away from his time in Egypt, his identity as a Hebrew.

That was, until a bush caught fire one day. Burning as it was, it did not seem to be harmed in any way. The sight was enough for him to stop and look over at it. As soon as he did, he heard a voice calling his name. “Moses! Moses!” The source of the voice was unknown, but Moses was ready for whatever it had to say to him. “Here I am!” the call of so many prophets, set him walking toward that bush. The conversation that followed would change his life forever. Moses meets God, the God, and is told to go back to his people and proclaim the truth that they are soon to be free of their slave masters in Egypt.

The how of this is worked out as Moses goes through his ministry. He is not given a list of plagues that are going to appear in Egypt, nor does he even fully understand how long the trip from Egypt to Canaan is going to be. All he knows by the end of this conversation is that he is a prophet called to bring God’s word, and God’s law, to God’s people.

We can take a lot from Moses’s story, but I think that we can see in his call story a more direct vision of what prophets are hoping to achieve through their work. When God calls the prophets, it is not just God wants a better world – though God does. It is not just that God wants to see God’s people be holier than they were before – God certainly wants that. No, the work of the prophet is ultimately to bring God to God’s people and God’s people to God. The prophet acts as a bridge, showing the people the face of God through the face of the prophet. The prophet lays out God’s presence among the people. The prophet weeps, rages, laughs, and smiles as they show the world just what God is thinking. The prophet shows a light and a hope that God is never far away from us. Most of all, the prophet shows us that God is here to save us.

In this first meeting, God tells Moses that God has heard the cry of the Hebrews. Their many prayers have not been forgotten, the tears they cried are not ignored. God is hurt by the hurt they have suffered. In my darkest days, I want to know that God hears me. Praise God, I can hear it from God’s own lips as God speaks to Moses. Moses is chosen as the one to go forward, and though he gives many reasons as he makes his way to Egypt why he should not, God does not let up for a second. Moses is going to be the face of this liberation movement, and Moses is going to proclaim that the same God who loved Joseph, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham.

God could have just left it at that. But God keeps talking. You can call me, Ayah ahser ayah, “I am that I am.” Moses points out that this is not a name, it is a title. So, God finally goes one step further, God gives Moses a name so precious that it is not spoken even today in Jewish communities. You may know ministers who use it, its four letters long, but I do not. It is God’s actual name, and it is the thing we are asked not to take in vain. For this reason, I will use the name “Adonai,” or Lord, like our Bibles today do. Jews sometimes take it a step further, only saying HaShem, or “the Name.”

This revelation of God’s name seems small to us, but it meant a lot in the ancient worlds. Names hold power, and the ability to call on a deity was seen by the ability to say their name. A God without a name would become lost to time, and much like people there was an expectation that to be forgotten in this way would be tantamount to death. For the deity, revealing their name was an act of self-preservation, but also an act of vulnerability. When people knew your name, and called on you, you were expected to answer.

For God to give Moses the divine name was not an act of self-preservation. It was, however, a sign that God loved God’s people enough to open up another level of intimacy with them. It is one thing to sign a letter with someone’s title, another thing entirely to sign it with their name. God here makes it clear, in this moment and in all of Moses’s time on earth that to be a Hebrew, to be a person of God, is to be close to the one who called upon you. We speak with God name to name and face to face. God is not trying to keep a distance from us but is constantly knocking down obstacles and building highways for us to get from where we are to where God is. And for every step we take, God is running even faster toward us.

Moses would go on and lead his people from Egypt, he would lead them into battle and through hunger and thirst. He saw multiple rebellions, a very misshapen golden cow, and even two separate and very different incursions of quail into his camp. God was with Moses the whole time and even left Moses with a set of teachings to pass on to his people, to be recounted and memorized and lived. God gave Moses the Torah as the ultimate sign that God was always with God’s people, and that God was always pulling them closer. Moses died one day, and when he did, it was God who took him up and buried him, unwilling to let anyone else have the honor. Is there any clearer sign than this? The prophet brings God to us, and with their leadership we find God with us. – Amen.


[1] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets. (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Academic. 2007)

An End to Trouble – 06/19/2022

Isaiah 30:19-26

Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you. Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Then you will defile your silver-covered idols and your gold-plated images. You will scatter them like filthy rags; you will say to them, “Away with you!”

He will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and grain, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous. On that day your cattle will graze in broad pastures; and the oxen and donkeys that till the ground will eat silage, which has been winnowed with shovel and fork. On every lofty mountain and every high hill there will be brooks running with water—on a day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall. Moreover the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, like the light of seven days, on the day when the Lord binds up the injuries of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow.

Sermon Text

Theoretically, there is some control over the topics I preach when I get up in front of you all. Yet, as has often proven the case, circumstance and coincidences of calendars can shape a message planned a year a go into something radiant and unique compared to what I had initially planned. To have a Sunday fall on the nineteenth of June before this year might not have meant much. Now though, it means that we celebrate our Holy Gathering on a national holiday – on Juneteenth. Now, what does that mean for us? It means that we have a direct lesson from history and from life to help us understand what scripture has revealed to us.

On this day, in 1865, enslaved people in Texas were given a message. Their time as slaves had come to an end following President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the “Emancipation Proclamation,” freeing all slaves in Secessionist territories. There was, of course, celebration on that June 19th long ago, but also a bittersweet realization. While the enslaved of Texas were freed on that first Juneteenth in 1865, the document that freed them was signed on January 1st… 1963. Two and a half years from the time that they had been given their leave of their slavery, to the time they were first given freedom.

The people forcing them to work knew about this proclamation that had been given, but of course they were not going to let their victims hear about it. Afterall, they no longer acknowledged Washington as the seat of government, nor did they see any advantage in freeing people they benefited from oppressing. Romantic images of plantation life, so common in Southern Narratives of the war, melt away in the cold reality of Justice delayed, which we know is tantamount to Justice denied.

This history has a still darker layer. The reality of the proclamation that allowed the enslaved within Texas to be freed was conditional. Slaves were freed only in secessionist territory. In other words, a slave holder in Jefferson County, a part of our state that was heavily Confederate, would be compelled to free their slaves, while a slaver in Wheeling, a Union area, would be free to keep them. It would be three years from the Emancipation Proclamation that chattel slavery was finally abolished in the United States. As joyous as one act was, it was motivated by war, and it would take a horrible stretch of three more years for our morals to catch up to our guile. Three years from convenience moving to justice.

So, what does this have to do with us, with God lifting up the poor and the broken of Judah like our scripture puts forward. More than that, why, Mr. Langenstein, staunch advocate for keeping civil and religious observances separate, are you preaching from the starting point of Juneteenth, when Father’s day is a much more popular choice anyway? Let the Spirit testify that my love of controversy is separate from my prophetic call, though the two do sometimes align. I bring the civil into the sacred today so that we may hear Isaiah’s call to repent and avert the necessity of the promises we see in our text today.

Avoiding a promise from God! What in the world?! God gives promises to be kept. God keeps God’s word, so why would it be possible, even good, to avoid a promise from God? Well, walk with me and we’ll see. Isaiah spoke this promise to the people anticipating them to fall, it is a promise to be restored after complete destruction. God promised an end to exile and to trouble, but the fall God was bringing to the people was a fall they had engineered for themselves.

When we read the prophets, we hear about the rise of Assyria and Babylon, two empires that scripture describes as implements of God’s wrath. We usually suffice to say that God’s people fell into idolatry and were punished because of it. The worship of other God’s definitely is part of the prophetic critique, but the prophets are also clear that the rise of idolatry in the people is a symptom rather than the cause of their fall.

The book of Isaiah is split into three parts, the first is the stretch of chapters from the first to the thirty-ninth. This section focuses on the life of Judah before and during the Babylonian invasion. In the chapters leading up to the one our scripture comes from, Isaiah has given a long list of prophecies against the nations around Judah. He describes how Israel had fallen nearly two hundred years earlier. He looks at the many evils committed by all these groups, and then he looks to his own people, to Judah, and declares that they have managed to do worse than any of the others. Worse than the sins of all these people, are the sins of those who knew better and did it anyway.

And what was the chief offense of the people? They saw the poor as disposable, thy looked at orphans as a way to make a dime, and widows as obstacles to their money making schemes. Isaiah switches between poetry, sarcasm, and direct attack throughout his prophecies. Specifically the first six chapters of the book digs into the offenses of Judah. To name a few of them, Isaiah accuses the people of: sacrificing without faith, bribery, accepting bribes, abandoning those in need, murder, inhospitality, choosing evil over good, miscarrying justice, owning excess land, and choosing political power – and alliances – over God. Now, that list is probably incomplete and some of those are categories, not exact offenses, but the point stands – idolatry is a minor part of what God’s people got, or should I say, get, up to.

Isaiah mixes his doomsaying with prophecies of restoration and joy. Yet there is another message underneath it all. “Can you, people of God, stop this evil now, and avert the calamity? The answer, again and again, seems to be no. The force of evil is too great, the appeal of power is too strong, we bend the knee again and again to earthly things. When genuine idols appear, we collect them as yet another potential ally. We fail to do good, we fail to repent, we set ourselves up for a fall, again and again and again.

A lot of times we catch ourselves saying, “What is wrong with the world?” or “It never used to be this way?” But when we start down this path we hear God speaking to us and sating, “Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” (Eccl. 7:10) The reality is that all of human history is messy, full of heights of goodness and mercy, but also full of wicked evil. The same evil rampant in Judah is alive today and God cries out with the same voice, promising to lift us up if we fall, but asking us to turn away before we do.

That call has been ringing out for 246 in this country. From the moment we declared independence in the name of Liberty but denied that same liberty to those we found convenient to enslave. While ministers like John Wesley rained prophecy upon us about this hypocrisy, we carried on. We denied the prophetic call of God to repent as we massacred indigenous people, pushing them further away from their ancestral homes and to this day denying their full humanity. We freed slaves when it was convenient for us, then segregated the races until the oppressed rose up with voices, and marches, and sometimes arms to say, “No more!” We continue to ignore the call in our willingness to allow any and all evil, as long as it keeps gas prices low, our cell phones cheap, and our pay checks steady.

Some may see that review of history as overly negative, and certainly I highlighted some great atrocities in that quick retelling. Yet, I could also say I left out a lot. No mention of Tuskegee or of Monsanto. Not of Agent Orange dropped on soldiers and civilians, nor of housing crises and inflation booms when companies report record profits and houses remain empty. I tire of narratives that act like my generation is especially sinful or that Gen Z is somehow more depraved. Billy Joel said, “we didn’t start the fire,” when looking to his own generation.  Well, growing up in the Ash Heap, I insist I’m less responsible than he ever was.

As a country, we’ve been debating how to tell our history. Do we highlight our failures or our triumphs? Do we see our founders as flawed heroes or historical monsters? If we give into the controversies of the day, we might believe there is a binary here to take a side on. That is flatly untrue. Much of the controversy drummed up now is reactionary. People are asking us to question our national narratives, to see things from another point of view, and so conspiracies were made. Going back to McCarthy and the anti-communist movement, these criticisms were tied to communism, and a choice had to be made – accept an idealized vision of America or give in to the commies. The same people it should be said accused the Civil Rights movement of being communist.

Today, now there’s CRT which people accuse of being a communist conspiracy, and which isn’t taught outside of specific college programs. But the manufactured fight keeps us from having difficult conversations. We cannot, as Isaiah did, take a moment and think, “Maybe our national history isn’t all rainbows and butterflies.” More than that, maybe there are legitimate problems we need to fix in the here and now based on those historic problems. History is messy, whether its your family, your church, or your country, it can’t be all good or bad, but it does need to be honest.

Let me give you an example, my favorite founding father is John Adams. He had a presence of mind to him I just love to read about. On top of that, the love that he and his wife had for one another is something we should all aspire to. Adams, nonetheless, signed the Aliens and Sedition Acts. Taking rights away from immigrants and making criticism of the president all but illegal. That is the act of a Tyrant. Yet, my mixed admiration and terror remains.

My grandfathers both services in Viet Nam, my Great-grandfather in WWII, I’m proud of their service. Yet, especially for those that served in Viet Nam, I do no deny that they may have been forced to be part of the atrocities we committed there. Nor can I forget that the government rained Agent Orange on them, giving him a poison that sat in his bones and killed him with cancer. He should be here to celebrate Father’s day! But war and evil and greed took him from me.

Isaiah brings us two lessons, two visions. One is of us repenting now to avert disaster. We can see this begin to take root. When we put aside prejudice and our preconceived ideas of each other and choose to fight for each other, that is when the kingdom of Heaven breaks out on Earth. When the Spirit came down on the Pentecost and the walls between Greek and Judean lives melted in the light of God’s grace. When people sold their land to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and to house the homeless. Heaven came to Earth, and it has before and it will again, if we accept and learn from the past even as we charge into the future.

The second image Isaiah gives us is less immediate – not a restoration of Judah or any nation, but of the world as it was meant to be. In this we see what Christ will bring about in the world to come. There will be no pain or suffering, no death or worry. There will be God and people of all races, nations, and people. The sun and moon we be perfected alongside the souls within our dusty shells which are themselves made glorious. We all dream of a day when Christ returns to set things right. Yet, Christ did not leave us on Earth to stare up at Heaven and wait. Christ said to go forward to bring truth into the world, light out of darkness, life from out of death. Proclamations of liberation, that is what we are to the world. That means we must free ourselves from sins of greed, of power, of political games. We must advocate the case of the poor, the oppressed, those the world has said are not enough. Feed them, love them, free them! Do not let just be delayed one moment longer, but fight for those we have written off. Fight to

Harder than it Needs to Be – 06/12/2022

John 16:12-15

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Sermon Text

 This sermon is coming to my blog and to our weekly mailers on a week that I am out of the pulpit. That means that, outside of those who read it, it will likely not be preached aloud, at least not for a while. I love sermons like this, because in some ways it allows me to stretch my arms a little bit and ask, “What can I try and write about, and why not do something a little out of the usual scope of my messages.” Luckily, this year this day away from the pulpit falls on Trinity Sunday, and that means we can go for broke in terms of having conversations that we do not always get to have.  The Trinity is an essential part of our faith. It is the belief that God is three-persons in one single being, a diversity of unity. Yet, can we ever describe it?

Usually, the Trinity does not come up in our daily life. In the midst of going through Kroger, people don’t usually see my clergy collar and as, “Do you see Christ as one with God in substance or simply in will?” Typically, they are just hoping I do not hand them a tract to read or a “gospel,” dollar in the midst of my payment for my groceries. I could list more examples, but you see my point. The Trinity is not a hot topic for the average person and certainly a thorough understanding of it is not going to win hearts and minds to the Gospel (usually…)

The idea of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit begins in scripture, but developed into a full-blown belief of the Church in the first few centuries of Christianity. You will never find the word “Trinity,” or anything like it in Scripture. The closest that we get to it is the word, “Θεοτης” (Theotes,) which means something like “God-ness.” Throughout the New Testament we see all three members of the Trinity given this description, they all take part in “God-ness,” so then we have to accept one of two things. Either they are all each a God in their own right – something that goes against our monotheism – or they are all, somehow, equally the same God – the thing that we as the Church have decided upon.

We have tried to explain the Trinity in many ways since then. Sometimes we talk about it as the three parts of a tree – the roots, the trunk, and the branches – all different but all still part of that one thing, “Tree.”[1] A more poetic image comes from St. Augustine, who describes the Trinity as being like love, the object of that love, and the person who loves.[2] Still, I like to be a bit more sciencey and imagine the Trinity as being like water at its triple point. When this point is achieved, of a certain temperature and pressure for any given substance, then the solid, liquid, and gas stages of the substance become indistinguishable from one another even as they remain distinct.[3]

Clear as mud, I’m sure. The problem, I think, is that we want to understand everything about how God is simultaneously a single being, and three individual persons. Part of us shouts out to the heavens, “If I cannot know it all, why know even one part of it?!” Much like the hobby that we pick up, find we are not immediately good at, and then put in a drawer never to look at again (in my case, cross stitching,) the Trinity is something we easily get frustrated with. Talking about it with a minister friend of mine I described it as a wall that we run against, wide as we can see in either direction, and try to wrap our arms around. We want to hold it in our hands, but it is just too big of a topic to every fully grasp.

Yet, I think, it is important because the bit that we do understand shows us something about God. That God, from before anything else existed, was already expressing love. God the Father loved the Son and the Spirit, and God the Spirit loved the Son and the Father, and God the Son loved the Father and the Spirit. All working in tandem, they shaped the universe. All in concert dreamed of a future where you and I would exist, and come together as a Church, and continue the legacy of Love that had existed from before the foundations of the earth were laid.

The Trinity is a complicated theological concept. Reading our scripture where Jesus lays out even a shred of the relationship he has with his fellow members of that union, we only begin to glimpse what it is like to know the fullness of God. We see Jesus, our beloved savior who loved all people with a passion like no other. We think of the Spirit, the small voice within us as well as the burning fire within our heart. We learn about the Father, who sends both and who constantly bends heaven down to earth to know us even just a little more, and love us just a bit more tenderly.

The Trinity is tough, but we often make understanding it harder than it needs to be. God is a multitude and God is a singularity. God is confounding and God is someone we know like a best friend. Like any big concept, we cannot always see how the two extremes are part of the same thing. When we see the beauty of sunrise and sunset, we know they are connected and can appreciate their beauty. When we really think of how the rotation of a oblate spheroid held in place by folds in space time in a small backwater of the Milky Way Galaxy causes this lightshow to occur, then we can begin to be overwhelmed, even if we discover new dimensions to that beauty through such exploration.

The Trinity tells us a lot about God, but it also tells us that we have an infinite amount to learn about God going forward. There’s a podcast that, while I have only listened to its first season, I quite enjoy. It’s called Welcome to Nightvale, and is an approach to horror and comedy that scratches a very particular itch of mine. At the close of that first season, the narrator sits either on top of or beside an Arby’s (it’s been a bit,) looks to the sky, and describes what he sees.

“We understand the lights. We understand the lights above the Arby’s. We understand so much. But the sky behind those lights, mostly void, partially stars, that sky reminds us: We don’t understand even more.

[4]

When we encounter any aspect of God, there are questions that will be left unanswered. We can see that as a frustration, like me reaching my arms as wide as I can against a wall trying to encompass it, or we can see it in more fantastic terms. Rather than frustrating us, maybe the great wall we run into can inspire us. We are not truly hitting something big, imposing, preventing like a wall. We are encountering something more wonderful than we can think about all at once. It is seeing the sun at the horizon, then looking out to see the colors it casts on the clouds around it, then the shadows falling through the trees, then the glint in the eyes of someone beloved by us. It is the slow uncovering of love, understanding it more and more as we behold it.

I could spill even more ink on this topic, but I think any longer and I’ll begin working across purposes from myself. Today the Church celebrates the Trinity. This Trinity is the unity of three distinct persons. Each is fully their own self, and each is inescapably that singular being we call God. What a grand mystery we are made aware of. The deeper we dive into it, the more we understand that we do not understand, but instead of fear or dread, this should inspire us to even more praise. The slow, gradual revelation of who God is always leads us to discover that God is more wonderful than we ever knew. Sometimes the immensity of that reality scares us, sometimes it makes us feel that there is no point to learning more, but such moments are temporary.

God is constantly revealing more of who God is to us: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Let us praise God for the mystery and the community God opens to us.


[1] Tertullian. Against Heresies. VIII

[2] Augustine. On the Trinity. VIII: 14 & IX: 8

[3] This phenomena can be seen here: https://youtu.be/Juz9pVVsmQQ

[4] Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. “One Year Later”, Welcome to Nightvale, podcast audio. June 15, 2013, https://radiopublic.com/welcome-to-night-vale-3GZp96/s1!0aaca

Our Continuing Legacy – Pentecost 2022

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Sermon Text

The past month we have been on an exploration of our history as a denomination. As a formerly United Brethren Congregation, this building has seen two mergers over its history. Now as we sit in a United Methodist Church, we see a fractured space outside of our walls. This country is split across all kinds of parameters. Our Church is fractured across ideologies and theological stances. The world is split in availability of life saving medicine, as we experience a relative drop in the danger surrounding this pandemic and many others face the dangers of a virus that still runs rampant among those with no defenses. We all tremble in the face of the wars and rumors of wars that grip our hearts.

Yet, as we saw in this past month, none of this is too terribly new. The Church across all space and time has known fractures and conflicts. People called by Christ have landed on both sides of battlefields and borders. There have seldom been moments where the world has known peace or a great abundance of resources. The legacy of the Church is of conflict and of in-fighting. The legacy of the Church is war and oppression and chaos. Yet, this is the image of the Church, not as it was called to be, not as an ideal that we all need to emulate, it is simply the Church as it has often given itself over to be.

The image of the Church that we all chase after is seen in two places – the life and ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the surge of enthusiasm and love that came with the Pentecost. Today our scripture describes the latter, the moment that the Church received the Holy Spirit, and we all knew, once and for all, that something new had broken out into the world. The Spirit of God was poured out on all flesh, and we all were given the chance to respond to it. The Gospel was sitting in the hearts of all the apostles, and now with the fire of the Spirit boiling that story within them, the chance was there for it to break out.

For us today, we stand in a conference that is richly blessed with an understanding of how the people of God are meant to come together. In just a week, we will gather together and celebrate our annual conference. This is a time when the worshipping body gathers to celebrate God’s goodness together. We tell stories, we send in reports (that part is less interesting,) and we pass legislation so that we can be better as the Church together. When we talk about this gathering, we sometimes do so with a level of trepidation, like we are being asked to do something tedious and unnecessary. The vision of these conferences is that we come together for a family reunion whenever we hold conference, not a business meeting. All the representatives from all our different churches come together to share what God has done that year.

To make this even clearer, this year we have will be having a Day of Service across the conference. Churches and ministries are going to hold events to reach out to the people around them. In honor of the many years we have served our communities, we are taking definite steps to show those around us that we are here for them. The Church is gathering, not just for paperwork and singing, but for showing all the world the glory of God and the love of this divine community we call the Church. We are not doing this to look good, not doing it to make some grand statement, except that we truly care for those around us and we will do all we can to help them.

If I were to summarize what the four weeks of history we embarked upon last month teaches us. It would be this, the Church does best when the Church is concerned with the good of all people. More than that, a Church that does not ask people to be part of the community, not by asking them to change overnight, but by being safe for people in all seasons and places of life will not grow, flourish, or even survive. Wesley was a great innovator because he stood up for the downtrodden, the Methodist movement floundered when it chose power over goodness, and the EUB stood strong because it was willing to go to bat for those that others had cast aside.

Again, even in these broad generalizations there is nuance. Wesley was far from perfect, he favored narratives not unlike the idea of “noble savages,” when he talked about foreigners. The Methodist Church did a lot of good work, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked across the world. Even our beloved EUB ancestors have sins to answer for, if in nothing else than they created notoriously hard necked congregations (I say as a child of an old EUB Church myself.)

The reality of the Church is that it has never just been one thing. It has been, “all things for all people, that by all means some may be saved.” It has been a prop for horrific abuses of power and the means by which dictators have fallen. The Methodist Church has fought long and hard against racism and discrimination and turned a blind eye to the same issues time and time again. Dig deep enough and you will find the treasures the Spirit has brought to pass and the evils that we humans have covered them up with. There is no perfect Church, just as there is no perfect person, but we have a vision for what a perfect Church might look like, and again I say – it is in Jesus Christ and in Acts 2.

If we can believe it, Christ asked us to be like him. To love all people, to resist temptation, to chase off the forces of hell and death through the power of God. This manifested in the Acts community through their love of one another, selling their property to feed the hungry around them. They went out and proclaimed the salvation which Jesus had brought into the world proudly, with the full power of the Spirit behind them. There were wonders in Jerusalem in those days, and no greater wonder was present than the unity of a Church that was working to serve and include its neighbors.

The future of the United Methodist Church is uncertain, but I’m confident that here in West Virginia we will stick together to love those around us. Here in our parish, we will continue to minister to those in need, especially the unhoused people who need resources to be safely housed and to grow. The Churches here in North View will gather whenever we can to serve the immediate neighborhood we have here across the bridge. Finally, for North View itself, well I would say the sky is the limit. We have so many people around us, people hungry for the Gospel and hungry for a community that loves them. We can be that community.

This means we have to be a place of welcome, a place full of love and warmth, a place where we go beyond being casual to being aggressively hospitable. If someone came in here next to naked, I hope that they would feel comfortable to take a seat in a pew, sitting in the warmth of our company while someone runs to get them something from our clothing closet. I would love to see people who come in for our food pantry feel like they can come around anytime we are open and find people willing to talk to them and be a part of their life. I hope that kids in the neighborhood see our open lots between here and the parsonage and find a place they can play and enjoy the good days God sends us.

That begins in this room, right now. When we accept the Spirit is truly moving, that it is here in our hearts now, that the Pentecost is really alive when we gather and celebrate God’s power. When we travel beyond these doors, the Spirit is still there. God is on the move, life is on the move, and with every step we take in the life that God has made for us, we will see fruit springing up around us. The continuing legacy of our Church is not in recapturing the magic of the past, nor in abandoning it for a completely unrelated future. We hold the same Spirit in us that inspired our ancestors, let us go forward and release the Gospel for yet another generation to take part in. – Amen.