Trinity Sunday, Year A
Please feel free to check out this sermon from a previous Trinity Sunday and this lectionary blog entry from Trinity Sunday last year if you're looking for additional inspiration. I found myself going in a rather different direction this year!
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
This Sunday is Trinity Sunday, a time when we celebrate especially the communion that is God's very Self, and remember the Great Commission that the risen Jesus gave us to baptize people from all nations.
But the commission Christ gave us doesn't stop there, and too often what follows is the Great Omission in the life of the church. We're called not just to baptize. We're not called to make churchgoers, people who include religion as one among many respectable civic activities. We're called to make disciples, people who really follow Jesus as Lord.
That language of lordship has fallen out of favor in a lot of circles, and I completely understand why: too many people have used it for too long to support their own agendas, ones that undermine the radical freedom which is Christ's gift to us. Case in point: the “Bush fish,” which literally enmeshes the bearer's identity as a follower of Bush in the symbol which is supposed to identify the bearer as a follower of Jesus. For that reason, I have to agree with Slactivist's observation that “this isn't quite 'the abomination that causes desolation, standing in the holy place' -- but it comes close.” I'd feel just the same about it if it was the “Kerry fish” or the “Dean fish.” I'd also feel the same way if it were an American flag, or a Canadian flag, or any other flag, embedded in the fish, and this Sunday's gospel is one reason why I've got such a problem with the idea.
In this Sunday's gospel, the risen Jesus says, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” That's what we mean when we confess that Jesus is Lord. And that's actually Good News, “liberty to the prisoners,” for the very reason that the confession has that troubling edge in our history. It's Good News because there are a great many people in the world who want to be lord.
You had to win, you couldn't just pass
The smartest ass at the top of the class
Your flying colours, your family tree
And all your lessons in history.
-- U2, “Please,” Pop
You know that among the nations, those whom they recognize as their the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.
-- Mark 10:42
The bad news is that there's a lot of competition for the title of “lord,” and most of the candidates will enrich themselves at your expense. But those candidates haven't heard or heeded the news that they've lost the race. The position has been filled, once and for all time. And the really Good News is that the winning candidate is Jesus, the one who gave this vision as an alternative to that of the rulers of the nations:
It is not so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant ... for the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
-- Mark 10:43-45
In other words, the Lord of all is someone whose only agenda is to serve the servants. The one to whom all power belongs is using all of that power to empower the powerless. And this one Lord is the one to whom all of our allegiance belongs. Furthermore, the Great Commission is to make disciples of all nations through baptism, in which all of us from all nations die to our former ties; from all nations, those of us who were once not a people are called as God's people, in which all barriers between Jew and Greek, American and Iraqi, fall away. We participate in national affairs as paroikoi, pilgrims who live in and among the nations, but whose baptism calls us to seek and serve Christ in others, and to serve Christ only. Putting one of the rulers of the nations in the same category as Jesus and allegiance to one nation's agenda in the same category as our citizenship in God's kingdom indicate a fundamental category confusion, a tragic mistake.
I use that phrase intentionally. New Testament texts have a name for the sort of confusion that puts “God and country” in the same category: they call it hamartia. It's a word that can mean “mistake.” Aristotle in his book on tragedy used it to refer to a particular kind of mistake, a fundamental category confusion that leads to the downfall of a great hero, like mistaking your daughter for a sacrificial lamb, or your betrayer for your most faithful friend. It's a “flaw,” as in “tragic flaw.” We don't usually translate the word as “flaw,” or even as “mistake” when it occurs in the New Testament, though; we translate it as “sin.”
But for a moment, let's look at it in an Aristotelian context as a tragic mistake, the instrument of a fall. I think that's what it is. It's a mistake, and usually an honest one from honest people who love their country and quite rightly want to work with those who work for what's right. That's what makes it so heartbreaking. Such pure and strong intention makes it easy to push that much harder, take it that much further. Just enough awareness of what Jesus asks of us may inspire someone to believe that following the way of the Cross means that violence is inevitable, or even that the kingdom can be brought about by violence.
Your holy war, your northern star
Your sermon on the mount from the boot of your car ...
So love is hard
And love is tough
But love is not
What you're thinking of.
-- U2, “Please,” Pop
That's not it at all. The Cross doesn't belong to you, or to any of us, any more than the crown does. In religious language, Jesus' sacrifice was full, perfect, sufficient. In plain terms, if Christianity is right, then no one ever need die again because of sin, just as no one ever need follow the rulers of the nations as lord. All of that's over, and here's what remains:
God's kingdom coming, making all as it was when the world was born: lands as borderless as the skies. Humanity in the image of God, invited into communion with the God whose very Being is Triune communion. The grace of the Lord, Jesus the Christ. The love of God. The communion of the Holy Spirit. With all of us, always.
So please, get up off your knees. The risen Christ invites us to into the world bearing this Good News!
Thanks be to God.
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I have read your blog off and on for a while and have been impressed with much of it. This, however, is one of the best I have read. I especially like your reclamation of the Aristotelian idea of the "tragic flaw". It is an accurate portrayal of what we seem to be doing as a people. I have often thought that Jesus and the Disciples spoke an octave or two above or usual thinking and it is beholden to us as Christians to seek that higher octave in all we say and do. I would say you come several notes closer to that octave with this piece.
Bless you and your ministry,
Posted by: Seth | May 17, 2005 6:18:34 PM
Thank you for giving me language to talk about the idea of "Lord." I have struggled with that for a long time. I hear what you are saying about a lot of competition for the post of Lord. I also sense that many people transfer the idea of a heavy handed, heirarchical lord (i.e. medieval lord / serf) to Jesus. I don't think we can help it, we just make the transfer. In an effort to avoid that happening, I just don't use the term. Now, borrowing your language, I think I can.
Posted by: Andy B. | May 17, 2005 10:02:53 PM
Hi! That was wonderful; it is exactly what I was praying for.
Posted by: Mitch | May 18, 2005 2:04:58 PM
Lately I've been reading Eugene Peterson's "Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places." He makes mention of our participation in the Triune God.
I have this image... one that I might try to preach this week. I picture Double-Dutch jump rope. But I guess the analogy would need three ropes. (Who am I kidding? All analogies for the Trinity go bankrupt on closer examination.) Anyway, baptism is our entrance into the jumping.
We jump into the acitivity... ie. life... that God is living, has always lived, and will eternally live.
That's my trinitarian tidbit to add.
Thanks for the blog. It's always great.
Posted by: Stumbling Runner | May 18, 2005 4:53:44 PM
Peripherally - I'm less sanguine about the Bush/Fish thing. Tempted to call it sacriledge.
Posted by: Jonah | May 18, 2005 5:48:01 PM
Just as our translation of hamartia and our misuse of the idea of sin has warped our understanding of Christian concepts for our culture, so has our obsession with the idea of "believing in God" gotten us off track.
In the Western World we are obsessed with the idea of believing in God or not believing in God. And by belief we mean some kind of mental condition whereby a person is convinced of something. We're always talking about it. "Do you belive in God?"
James scorns this idea that this is the main question for us, noting that even the demons believe in God.
So here is the radical idea that I believe in strongly, that our culture cannot hear, and that I see you getting at:
The important question is not whether or not you believe in God. The important question, THE question of the ages is, "Who are you serving?" or "Who is your Lord?"
Posted by: Real Live Preacher | May 18, 2005 10:09:48 PM
ll be saved, before all things it is is necessary that he hold the catholic Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.And the Catholic Faith is this:Athanasian Creed is that latest of the ecumenical creeds, dating back to the early dark ages. Though seldom used in worship, it is one of the clearest definitions of the Trinity and the incarnation ever written...Yeah...it is a great definition of the Trinity, but it demonstrates how we Christians have always relied upon our thinking...perhaps overly. The wisdom of the early counsils is that we have relied on the other Creeds in worship...so that they may be prayed and acted upon. So that our Lord may not be our Thinking but our living and praying into faith.
Posted by: Tripp | May 19, 2005 11:31:49 AM
The Bush fish??????????????!!!!
Excuse me while I go toss.
JESUS IS LORD.
Thanks, Dylan, for another great post.
Posted by: LutheranChik | May 19, 2005 7:50:08 PM
More seriously...once upon a time I had a real issue with the word "Lord" because to me it had patriarchal and authoritarian overtones that I found very off-putting. But, as you say, our Lord is a Lord whose lordship is about service, self-giving, modeling a way for us. And that way includes healing divisions between gender, class, etc. Which, I've discovered has over time healed my relationship with the word "Lord.";-)
Posted by: LutheranChik | May 19, 2005 10:45:01 PM
The Bush fish? Can I be sick now?
(And I should note that prior to his idiocy in the White House I actually liked Bush)
The (anything) fish would make me just as sick. There's something deeply disturbing about the whole idea of how that symbol has been used and abused. I thought the "darwin" fish was bad (you know... the one with feet...) but I think meshing other names with the symbol is worse.
I'm glad to know I'm not totally alone among Christians in thinking it is a really bad idea to try to force our views upon the government. Once we turn down the road of legislating religion, we're in deep trouble - because then the question becomes, who's religion do we legislate?
Catholicism? Presbyterian? Baptist? Methodist? Etc. ad. nauseum.
And at some point, the question may become more serious - Christianity, or Islam, or Budhism... and then what have we, but what was revealed to John on the Isle of Patmos over two thousand years ago.
A very large problem that nothing but ultimate faith in God can ever fix.
Then again, maybe we're already there.
Posted by: Mystery | May 20, 2005 1:40:10 AM
I do consider this BUSHfish a sacriledge. If I was President Bush I would have a screaming FIT to get this stopped.
The way I KNEW it was over the top, is that I showed it to a Fundamentalist supporter of the President, and even she said it was wrong/over the top.
Posted by: Monk-in-Training | May 23, 2005 9:57:48 PM
I was helped by the use of 'kurios' in classic greek, where in Athenian society women [well, rich/proper women at any rate] were not allowed to go out into the streets unless they were accompanied by a 'kurios' - which has both the idea of 'guardian' and 'companion' inherent. I can live with the idea of a guardian [all my protestations of independence aside, I need one] and can't live without the idea of companion. it's a long way from the lord-vassal or lord-serf motif.
Posted by: bill | May 24, 2005 5:56:21 PM