"Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation" is the title of a book by my beloved theology professor and friend, the late William C. Placher. It is also now the title of this blog, a place where I hope to add a Christian voice -- God knows, not "the" Christian voice, but "a" Christian voice and not just any old voice, but a distinctly Christian voice -- to the pluralistic conversation going on about just about everything.
Trinity Sunday is a day set
aside in the church calendar to recall our belief that God is One, and that
this One God reveals God’s self as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
One God, revealed as
the Father Almighty, as
son Jesus Christ, and as
Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.
Now, already at this point this
point in my sermon, I am glad I have a rule for preaching, a rule I keep in
mind when I am writing sermons, which is this: I try to imagine a bored tenth
grader, sitting about ten pews back, rolling his or her head back thinking or saying “so WHAT?!? Who CARES?!
So: to you bored tenth graders
and to the bored tenth grader in all of us: Why
should you care that God is One God revealed in a trinity of persons?
Because you are desperate for love.
I am. You are. We all are.
And as desperate for love as
you are, you haven’t even begun to comprehend love.
You don’t – I don’t – none of
us understand love. We don’t “stand under” Love, we don’t stand on Love, we don’t feel surrounded by
Love, we don’t feel motivated or pushed forward by Love.
You may – I may, we may – occasionally
feel glazed by Love, but rarely do we feel marinated in Love, inseparable from
Love, tasting and tasting of Love.
And that – people so
thoroughly marinated in love that they give off the flavor and smell of Love
everywhere they go, everywhere we go, is what the world craves the most and
needs the most.
Love is what will first heal
and then heal those closest
and then heal this city, and
the the world.
But Love starts with God and
your image of God.
God is not only IN
relationship with the world,
But that God IS relationship…
is, God’s self, relationship.
C.S. Lewis points out that
all sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that 'God is
love.' But [the expression “God is love” makes no sense unless] God contains at
least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person.
That is important because it
helps us to see the true nature of God – as a relationship of love, love between
Father and Son, Son and Holy Spirit, and Holy Spirit and Father.
This love that flows within
God’s own self is a “missional love” and by that I mean that it is a love that
cannot be contained!
Missional love is love that
overflows its banks, spills out into the world!
Now let me stop here a minute
and back up to define Love.
Despite what we often think,
“love” is not primarily an emotion, or a feeling.
(“Oh, great, happy Father’s
Day!” you might be thinking: “on a day we’re supposed to express our love or
our appreciation for our Father’s love, here’s the preacher saying love is not
primarily an emotion or a feeling.”)
But it’s not. And that’s good
news. Because if Love is not primarily an emotion or a feeling, what is Love?
Love is a series of
Let me repeat that: Love is a series of courageous vulnerabilities.
I get that from the Bible (and
from reading the modern prophet Brene Brown). I get that from the story of
God’s goodness and love are
not a secret. God’s goodness and love are “made known to us.”
As one of our Eucharistic
prayers puts it, “God’s goodness and love are made known to us” in the
courageously vulnerable act of creation,
the calling of Israel to be God’s people,
God’s Word spoken through the prophets,
and above all, God’s courageous vulnerability in the Word made flesh, God’s becoming one of us.
Creation: We heard the story of God’s missional love this
morning in the creation story. God not being able to contain God’s love within
God’s self so God’s love exploding out in creative creation.
in the image of God, in the likeness of God, who is a relationship of
interdependent love, we are created not
to be alone, not to strive for independence, but to be in relationship. In
relationship with God with creation, and with other human beings. Interdependent.
see? An acknowledgment of our interdependence requires vulnerability.
Interdependence requires us to say, “I’m not complete by myself; I need others.
the thing: Only strong people can admit their vulnerability. It takes a lot of
strength, a lot of courage – sometimes more strength and courage than we have
-- to say, “I can’t make it myself. I need help.”
But Love is a series of
courageous vulnerabilities…starting in creation, moving on to God’s calling of Israel to be God’s people: a
love that is as often rejected as returned.
God’s missional love
continues as God speaks God’s Word
through the prophets, beckoning and calling us back. (God’s prophets
throughout history aren’t treated so well. Beginning with the biblical prophets
and continuing in our own day, God’s prophets are often ridiculed,
marginalized, and even murdered. But Love is a series of courageous
And above all God’s goodness
and love was made known to us in God’s
Word made flesh, God’s becoming one of us, Jesus.
a human being fully marinated in God’s love, God’s love walking among us,
teaching and preaching and healing and leaving us a meal.
about courageous vulnerability. Love as courageous vulnerability is not always
returned, and sometimes it is opposed.
This morning we heard the
Biblical creation story. Some of you will recall that back in early Advent, I read
to you another creation story, one of my favorites. It’s the story told in
Gordon MacKenzie’s book titled Orbiting the Giant Hairball, written as a kind of guide for
artistic people to keep their creativity in a major organization.
Gordon MacKenzie relates this
story near the end of his book:
you were born, God came to you and said:
there! I just dropped by to wish you luck, and to assure you that you and I
will be meeting again soon. Before you know it.
heading out on an adventure that will be filled with fascinating experiences.
You’ll start out as a tiny speck floating in an infinite dark ocean. Quite
saturated with nutrients. So you wont have to go looking for food or a job or
anything like that. All you’ll have to do is float in the darkness. And grow
incredibly. And change miraculously.
sprout arms and legs. And hands and feet. And fingers and toes.
if from nothing your head will take form. You nose, your mouth, your ears will
you continue to grow bigger and bigger, you will become aware that this dark,
oceanic environment of yours – which when you were tiny, seemed so vast is now
actually cramped and confining. That will lead you to the unavoidable
conclusion that you’re going to have to move to a bigger place.
of this will be what the big people on the other side call being born. For you,
it will be only the first of your new life’s many exploits.
was wondering, while you’re over there on the other side, would you do me a
you take this artist’s canvas with you and paint a masterpiece for me? I’d
really appreciate that.
God hands you a pristine canvas. You roll it up, and tuck it under your arm and
head off on your journey.
birth is just as God has predicted, and when you come out of the tunnel into
the bright room, some doctor or nurse looks down at you in amazement and gasps:
The little kid’s carrying a rolled-up artist’s canvas!”
that you do not yet have the skills to do anything meaningful with your canvas,
the big people take it away from you and give it to society for safekeeping
until you have acquired the prescribed skills requisite to the canvas’s return.
While society is holding this property of yours, it cannot resist the
temptation to unroll the canvas and draw think blue pale lines and little blue
numbers all over its virgin surface.
the canvas is returned to you, its rightful owner. However, it now carries the
implied message that if you will paint inside the blue lines and follow the
instructions of the little blue numbers your life will be a masterpiece.
that is a lie.
more than 50 years I worked on my paint-by-numbers creation. With uneven but
persistent diligence, I dipped an emaciated paint-by-numbers brush into color
No. 1 and painstakingly painted inside each little blue-bordered area marked 1.
Then onto 2 and 3 and 4 and so on. Sometimes, during restive periods of my
life, I would paint, say, the 12 spaces before the 10 spaces (a token rebellion
against overdoses of linearity). More than once, I painted beyond a line and,
feeling embarrassed, would either try to wipe off the errant colour or cover it
over with another before anyone might notice my lack of perfection. From time
to time, although not often, someone would complement me, unconvincingly, on
the progress of my “masterpiece.” I would gaze at the richness of others’
canvases. Doubt about my own talent for painting gnawed at me. Still, I
continued to fill in the little numbered spaces, unaware of, or afraid to look
at, any real alternative.
there came a time, after half a century of daubing more or less inside the
lines, that my days were visited by traumatic events. The dividends of my
noxious past came home to roost, and the myth of my life began horrifically to
come unglued. I pulled back from my masterpiece-in-the-works and saw it with
stifled strokes of paint had nothing to do with me. They did not illustrate who
I am or speak of whom I could become. I felt duped, cheated, ashamed – anguished
that I had wasted so much canvas, so much paint. I was angry that I had been
conned into doing so.
that is the past. Passed.
I wield a wider brush – pure ox-bristle. And I’m swooping it through the
sensuous goo of Cadmium Yellow, Alizarin Crimson or Ultramarine Blue (not Nos.
8, 13 or 4) to create the biggest, brightest, funniest, fiercest damn dragon
that I can. Because that has more to do with what’s inside of me than some
prescribed plagiarism of somebody else’s tour de force.
have a masterpiece inside you, too, you know. One unlike any that has ever been
created or ever will be.
you go to your grave
it will not
No one else
can paint it.
Do you see why I am saying Love
is not primarily an emotion or a feeling but a series of courageous
God, who is Love, loves
wildly, recklessly, and endlessly.
In the resurrection, God started
a movement, a fellowship, a cause, a church, Christ’s body.
The Body of Christ (you…me…us…)
on earth, to continue God’s creative vulnerability.
You see the impact that can have on
It changes the way we see
God...and because God is the ultimate reality and is the one in whose image we
are made, if this belief really gets inside of us, it changes our view of the
world and our selves.
·If we believe
that God is a relationship of love, and
·If we are created
in the image of God,
·Then we are
created ourselves to be in relationship, interdependent, and in love,
And if love is a series of
Then our “duty” as Christians – individually as a
church -- is not to be perfect, or perfectly follow rules
but to be swept up into that love,
marinated in that love,
so swept up that we ourselves have a missional love…
…to be so deeply convinced
that we are so deeply loved that we are filled with love to the brim, over the
brim, overflowing, out into the world,
and -- in a series of courageous
For Lent, I was thinking of doing the typical fasts: fast from Facebook and take up reading, fast from petty vices like overindulging in sweets and alcohol and take on moderation, yada yada yada.
But I'm re-thinking that this year. What I'm fasting from this Lent is discouragement. That means cutting back on what is so often the source of discouragement, which is a tendency to gorge on, or dwell on, bad news.
(Let me be clear: that does not mean giving up news or otherwise burying my head in the sand: it means staying informed while finding ways not to get pulled into a downward spiral of feelings of numbness and helplessness; it means giving up unproductive feelings like hopelessness and resignation and taking on visible behaviors like giving encouragement and taking action.)
It means making visible -- here, on my blog, and even on Facebook -- the good.
Because the problem is -- to paraphrase the community organizer Rich Harwood -- a lot of times we see "good news stories…
So for Lent, I was thinking of doing the typical fasts: fast from Facebook and take up reading, fast from petty vices like overindulging in sweets and alcohol and take on moderation, yada yada yada.
But I'm re-thinking that.
Now one of the things I'm thinking about fasting from during Lent is discouragement. That means cutting back on what is so often the source of discouragement, which is a tendency to gorge on, or dwell on, bad news.
That would mean taking on encouragement: to make visible -- even on Facebook -- the good.
Because the problem is -- to paraphrase the community organizer Rich Harwood -- a lot of times we see "good news stories" as being quaint -- they are tossed in at the end of the news as an inspiring story, or put in the style section. But stories of good things happening -- people coming together to do things, is not a touchy-feely, feel-good story, but something affecting real change.
So for starters: I'm inspired by the leadership example of…