First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday, Year A

A Trinitarian Understanding of God

God is a trinitarian God. We need to see him in his full dimension.

Let us observe God as creator. In the beginning, God the Father consulted God the Son and God the Holy Spirit about humankind. He said: “Let us make humankind in our likeness.”

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”   (Genesis 1:26-27)

Each aspect of God had a role to play in creation. The Son of God was the agent of creation. In the Gospel of John we read:

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.   (John 1:1-4)

God the Father spoke life through his Son. The Holy Spirit also played a very important role. He carried out his assignment to bring everything into being by his power. In Genesis we read:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.   (Genesis 1:1-2)

God has revealed himself to us through his creation. He did so by exercising his total being in the process. Thus, we cannot just relate to one part of God while ignoring his other attributes.

The Apostle Paul helps us to understand how God moves through the Trinity of his being:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.   (2 Corinthians 13:13)

In this one blessing by Paul to the church in Corinth, we are able to see deep insights into God’s nature and character. God the Father is pure love. He best expresses that love through the grace he gives us through his Son. Jesus reveals the character of the Father. He is the voice of the Father, the Word made flesh. Jesus is the self-giving God. He sacrifices himself that we mighty have salvation in his name. We have fellowship and communion with the Father and Son through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit hovers over us just as he hovered the formless world. He has been given to us to bring us in alignment with God’s will and restore us to fellowship with the Father.

In his last words to his disciples Jesus spoke of baptizing believers by the fullness God as expressed in the Holy Trinity. In the Gospel of Matthew we read:

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “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 that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”   (Matthew 28:16-20)

Notice in this great commission the working of the Holy Trinity. The Church must teach all believers to obey all that Jesus has taught. Jesus, the voice of God, had taught us the true nature of God the Father and the essence of his commandments. But the power of the Holy Spirit is needed to help us to understand and obey all that Jesus has taught us.

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew echoes Paul’s blessing to the Church in Corinth. Both declare the working of God through his trinitarian nature. Without and understanding of the Holy Trinity we are left without a very shallow faith indeed. While it is true that we cannot fully understand all the aspects of the Trinity, we can neither afford to ignore the Trinity. It is the Holy Trinity that helps us to focus our faith in God.

The good news is that the three persons of the Godhead are still working for us. They are still creating. Soon we shall see the culmination of their work when we are fully restored to the likeness of God. Let us be encouraged and not lose heart. Rather, let us hold onto a holy hope that God is at work in us and that he will fulfill all of his purposes for us. Amen.

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Day of Pentecost, Year A

Empowered by the Spirit

The Mosaic Temple and the Church share much in common. Both were established and empowered by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit. In Moses’s day the temple was a tent in the wilderness, yet God was strongly present. We read in Numbers:

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.   (Numbers 11:24-25)

The Temple began with the anointing of the Holy Spirit from the Father. Notice that the elders received the Holy Spirit and they prophesied, but it was a one time occurrence. There was no continual outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The blood sacrifices of the Mosaic Temple were required to be repeated because they did not fully eradicate the sins of the people. The Holy Spirit of God cannot reside in sinful hearts.

A perfect sacrifice was required for the sins of the whole world once and for all. That sacrifice was offered up by our high priest Jesus when he offered up himself to a cruel cross.

Jesus promise to us was that we would have the Holy Spirit continually poured into us and out of us, but first he had to sacrifice himself. In John we read:

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.   (John 7:37-39)

When Jesus was glorified on the cross, he purchased for us the right to receive the Holy Spirt with measure or limit. Today we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the people of God. On the Day of Pentecost the disciples of Jesus received the Holy Spirit, but in this case they continually prophesied, unlike the Mosaic Temple.

Peter stood up on the Day of Pentecost and preached, quoting 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.   (Acts 2:17-18)

Peter’s sermon greatly moved his listeners. The Spirit of God moves but we need to respond in faith. Such was the case at Pentecost:

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”   (Acts 2:37-39)

Notice that Peter makes it clear that everyone may received the Holy Spirit who repents. Even their children who follow them would also receive the Holy Spirit. And all who are far off, which includes us, will receive the Holy Spirit when we call upon the Lord.

The Apostolic Age is not over. Scripture trumps any church doctrine. The message of Pentecost is that we may receive the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will fill us and remain in us. The Spirit will also flow out from us into ministry to those around us. That is the great message and promise of Pentecost. Are we to ignore or neglect such a great sacrifice which Jesus made on our behalf so that we might all be elders in the Body of Christ today?

The difficulty today is that many churches do not preach the power of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul said that the Kingdom of God is not just in a word, but also by power. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to kindle in us a great end-times revival. As we celebrate the birthday of the Church our worship must flow into a rebirth of the Church. It is time for all of us to call upon the Lord.

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The Season of Pentecost

The Jewish festival of Shavuot (Hebrew: שבועות‎, lit. “Weeks”) is one of three main annual pilgrimage festivals in the Judaism. It commemorates God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai and it also celebrates the conclusion of the grain harvest in Israel. The date of Shavuot is directly linked to the celebration of the Jewish Passover. The grain harvest began with the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Shavuot. The time in between was seven weeks or fifty days. This time frame also represents the time between Israel’s Exodus from Egypt until the giving of the Law at Sinai.

Pentecost is a major feast day of the Christian liturgical year. It is the Christian counterpart of Shavuot. The word Pentecost (Ancient Greek: Πεντηκοστή) means “the Fiftieth [day].” It occurs fifty days after Easter or Resurrection Sunday which roughly coincides with the Jewish festival of Shavuot. This is not coincidental. Just as Easter is the prophetic fulfillment of Passover, Pentecost is the prophetic fulfillment of Shavuot. The two feasts, Shavuot and Pentecost, have much in common, both historically and spiritually.

During the celebration of Shavuot the Jewish people were reminded of God’s Law:

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.   (Deuteronomy. 8:3-4)

Often Jewish participants would spend all night during Shavuot studying the Torah. They would read significant portions of the Torah aloud.

Pentecost has to do with God’s Law as well. The Prophet Jeremiah wrote of a time that the Law would come in a new way:

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.  (Jeremiah 31:33)

This is what happens to us when the Holy Spirit comes upon us as it did on the Day of Pentecost for the early disciples. Jesus said that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). It is the action of the Holy Spirit to bring us more into alignment with God’s Law. We cannot keep the Law by our own efforts, but we can yield to the Holy Spirit whom Jesus said would lead us into all truth and make alive His teachings.

Pentecost is not simply a static day of celebration of the historical birth of the Christian Church. Surely it marked the beginning of the Church. As with Shavuot for the Jewish people, Pentecost is a time for us to reflect upon God’s Word, allowing the Spirit to renew our zeal for both the Law and the Gospel.

The Season of Pentecost is the longest season of the liturgical year. The Sundays following Pentecost and extending up to the beginning of the new liturgical year in Advent are filled with readings concerning Christian growth. To live in Christ one must grow in the Faith. Spiritual stagnation could ultimately lead to spiritual death and a forsaking of God’s Holy Law.

During the season after Pentecost, there are two tracks each week for Old Testament readings. Within each track, there is a Psalm chosen to accompany the particular lesson.

Track 1 of Old Testament readings  follows major stories and themes, read mostly continuously from week to week. In Year A we begin with Genesis, in Year B we hear some of the great monarchy narratives, and in Year C we read from the later prophets.

Track 2 follows the Roman Catholic tradition of thematically pairing the Old Testament reading with the Gospel reading.

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The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin

Children of the Promise

Mary, the mother of Jesus, visits her cousin Elizabeth who was also with child. When the child in Elizabeth’s womb hears Mary’s voice he leaps for joy. This child is John the Baptist. The moment of celebration brings joy to Mary and she prophesies:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.   (Luke 1:47-55)

Mary’s prophecy echoes the great joy of another Mother who had a miraculous child. Hannah prayed:

“My heart exults in the Lord;
    my strength is exalted in my God.
My mouth derides my enemies,
    because I rejoice in my victory.

“There is no Holy One like the Lord,
    no one besides you;
    there is no Rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
    let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
    and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
    but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
    but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven,
    but she who has many children is forlorn.   (1 Samuel 2:1-5)

Hannah dedicated her child who became Samuel, the great prophet and man of God. Hannah was barren but she believe in the promise of God.

What is remarkable about Mary and Elizabeth also is that they believed the promises of God, even though great miracles of God were required to fulfill them. Mary, a virgin, had conceived a child and Elizabeth, who was well beyond any child bearing age, had also conceived. Nevertheless, these chosen instruments of God were able to believe God as was Abraham before them.

Are we able to believe in the miraculous today?

Mary and Elizabeth understood that the promises God made to them were not just about them. Jesus and John the Baptist are children of the promise which God made to Abraham. Their births extended and expanded that promise down through the ages. Today, we are recipients of that promise.

God has made promises to us as well. His plans for us may not be as dramatic as Mary and Elizabeth, but they are important to God just the same. Are we willing to believe in those promises and hold on to them. There will always be obstacles in the way of our receiving God’s promise. The Apostle Paul tells us how to overcome these obstacles with this prescription:

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.   (Romans 12:12)

In time, the promises of God will come to pass. The blessing is in the believing and perseverance. Too often me take matters in our own hands and thwart God’s plans and purposes for us. Others are depending upon to make the right choices. In fact, their future blessings depend upon our faithfulness. Let us be willing to see beyond ourselves as the wonders of God’s work unfolds. We are also children of the promise

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Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A

Why Do You Stand Here Looking Up?

The last words of Jesus spoken to his disciples before being taken up to heaven are extremely significant. In John we read:

When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”   (Acts 1:6-11)

What is significant? Is it that Jesus said that we would be his witnesses. Yes! And the assurance from the angels that Jesus would return the same way he left. Yes! But the angels also said this: “Why do you stand here looking up?”

So many events and signs today point to the fact that we are living in the last days. It is right that we should be anticipating Jesus’s return. Even the Early Church did that. But they did much more than that. Because of their courageous witness the Gospel was spread throughout the world.

How are we doing today in terms of our witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Are we telling others about the good news of salvation by faith in his saving act upon the cross? Or are re we just looking up and waiting? Do we have a bunker mentality or are we ready to take new ground for the Kingdom of God?

Our example is the Lord Jesus Christ. He lived through very difficult times. Yet his primary concern was to reveal the love of God the Father, whatever the cost. In John we read:

”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.   (John 17:6-8)

The Early Church followed the example of our Lord. They were willing to go the distance, even to the point of death. The Greek word for witness in today’s reading from Acts is “Martus.” From this Greek word we get the word “martyr.” The dictionary defines the word martyr as a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle.

Jesus gave his life for us. Many of the early believers gave their life for us as well. What are we willing to give today?

Are we waiting on God? Are we waiting on His return? He is waiting on us. He is counting on our witness to the Gospel. Has the Gospel impacted our lives? If so, others should that it has.

What keeps many of us from witnessing today is the threat of persecution. This is increasing more and more throughout the world. Now we are experiencing it in America. Such persecution is promise. The Apostle Peter wrote:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.   (1 Peter 4:12-14)

The key is that God is with us. We are not alone. God is pouring out this glory through us when we boldly step out for him

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