Fearless: Thoughts on the challenge of discipleship.

Matthew 10: 24-39

24 ‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

26 ‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

32 ‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

34 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

In March of this year, a statue was placed on Wall Street of a young girl facing the Wall Street Bull statue.

The statue is called “Fearless Girl”.

Maybe you have seen it.

A young girl with a ponytail and windswept dress stands with hands on hip, chest puffed and chin out.

It is a proud and brave pose.

Just in front of her is the statue of the Wall Street Bull.

All fierce and angry.

But there she stands.

Seeming to stare it down.

Challenging it.

Taking it on.

She will not be defeated.

She will not back down.

She is not afraid.

It was described as a message of empowerment for women in a male dominated investment profession.

The statue and its placement became a sensation.

And yet many do not approve of it and want it removed.

The first time I saw it, I thought of my daughter.

I gave her pictures of it.

I hope they will inspire her as she embarks into the legal profession which is male dominated as well.

The message?

The world you enter is a hostile one.

I am sure you are anxious.

But this is what you look like to me.

And I am proud of you and love you.

But do not be afraid.

Go change the world, even if it is just a little bit.

Be fearless.

I thought of other times when children were asked to be fearless.

In 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

That decision held that state laws requiring separate schools for blacks and whites were unconstitutional.

In 1957 nine black children went to enroll in Central High School in Little Rock Arkansas.

What awaited them was pretty much what they expected.

Screaming opposition and signs that described them as less than human.

Gangs of white students blocking the doors.

Police ignoring it all.

And the 101ST Airborne lined up in uniform with guns loaded creating a passage for the students to get in the building and enroll.

Through the gauntlet the children walked.

And went to school.

So when I look at the pictures of that day, I always have the same thoughts.

What did the parents of those kids say to them before they sent them off to school?

When I sent my kids off on the first day of school each year, they would have their new back packs and new clothes and my wife would take a picture of them.

All smiles and excitement.

And we would say, “Have a great day!”

But these kids in Little Rock must have had a different conversation with their parents.

Maybe it was like this:

“I love you and am proud of you. What awaits you will be horrifying. I know you are anxious.  But do not be afraid. Go change the world. Be fearless.”

Can you imagine having that conversation with your kids?

Can you imagine what those kids must have felt like as they walked out the door?

Certainly they were afraid.

But in their hearts, they were fearless.

So what does all this have to do with our scripture reading?

Jesus is sending his disciples out into Galilee to spread the word of the coming Kingdom of God.

He has already given them the authority to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, bestow Jesus’ peace.

They are to go out and speak for Jesus.

But they are going into hostile territory.

So Jesus is telling them what to expect.

They will be facing some serious opposition.

And he knows that they are anxious.

They have every reason to be.

People have been calling Jesus the devil himself.

So they will be called children of the devil.

And they will be treated like they are devils.

Which is inevitable, Jesus says.

If folks hate Jesus, they will hate those who come in his name and speak for him, too.

And some of them will be friends … or family.

They might ask you to deny Jesus, to abandon him, to denounce him.

Jesus teaches that you can love them dearly, but you cannot deny Jesus.

He is a part of you.

The way you live will be testimony of that.

You cannot hide your discipleship.

But then Jesus tells them something they need to hear.

A bit of a pep talk.

Do not be afraid!

The slings and arrows that are directed at me, your teacher and master, have no effect on me and they won’t have any effect on you.

You are acknowledging me before others, so I will acknowledge you before God.

These people at worst can take you lives, but they cannot take your souls.

So there is no reason for fear.

Go and change the world.

Be fearless.

So there go the disciples, into the screaming crowds, some of whom they know and love, who despise them and call them blasphemers and who try to block their way.

And the 101st Airborn is nowhere in sight.

The truth is that following Jesus is going to cause conflict because of the claims he makes and because of the way of life he demands.

Jesus demands our loyalty to him over culture.

When we stand up for those in need, for those who are unfortunate, for those who are oppressed, for those who are rejected … well … some won’t like it.

When we speak truth to power, power won’t like it.

And so we are opposed.

So it was with Jesus.

And so it will be with his disciples.

It is still happening.

Egypt.

Sudan.

Iraq.

Indonesia.

Vietnam.

Malaysia.

Syria.

Iraq.

Bhutan.

To a lesser extent it happens here in our lives.

The world is often hostile to Jesus.

But yet we are still called to go.

We are still to speak for Jesus.

And live the way he calls us to live.

And we are not to be afraid.

We are called to change the world, even if just a little bit.

And we are to be fearless.

I saw something like that when I went to Malaysia a few years ago.

Malaysia a Muslim nation.

Islam is the constitutionally recognized national religion.

It is illegal to seek to convert someone from Islam to any other religion.

I met the president of Sabah Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Thu En Yu.

Dr. Thu was ordained by the BCCM church back in the 1960s.

At that time there were 30 missionary pastors and 30 nurses who traveled around the tribal lands visiting those communities and teaching them about Jesus.

Around 60 churches were being pastored and cared for by these missionaries.

The Malaysian government then expelled all the foreign missionaries.

Now the local pastors, of which there were few, had to take over.

Dr. Thu was one of them.

And you know what Dr. Thu said?

It was a blessing that the missionaries were expelled.

Because it made the local church take responsibility for itself and the evangelization of its own people.

And it did.

Dr. Thu walked to tribal churches every Sunday.

He described it this way.

Walk, preach, eat.

Walk, preach, eat.

All day.

Hot.

Humid.

Wading across streams.

Hiking in the jungle.

Spending the night at the last church he came to and then walking home the next day.

But there were too many new churches.

They needed more pastors.

So he started a Bible School in the early 1980s.

Lay people were taught the Bible and sent back to their communities to lead the churches.

Over time, the Bible School grads wanted more training, more education, and to become ordained pastors.

So Dr. Thu proposed expanding the Bible school into a seminary.

And the local Muslim community did not like it.

The newspapers opposed it.

The local state officials tried to stop it.

Dr. Thu was harassed by the police.

He was finally summoned to meet with the Prime Minister.

He assumed it was a publicity stunt during which he was going to be arrested.

And yet he went.

He was not afraid.

He was fearless.

When he got there, he was shown 3000 signatures of “Muslims” who said they had been attending Christian churches.

The Muslim community accused the Christian community of a large-scale attempt to convert Muslims.

They wanted the school closed and Dr. Thu jailed.

Then a miracle.

The Prime Minister told Dr. Thu that he had been educated in a Christian Mission School and had been treated well by the missionaries even though he was Muslim.

He was never asked to convert, though he was taught about Christianity.

He observed how much good the Christian Church was doing by providing services to those in need.

Education, food, health care, connection between the cities and the tribes in the remote areas.

The government was respected.

The laws were obeyed.

The Prime Minister not only approved the Seminary, but proclaimed it a constitutionally protected activity and then gave the seminary 6 acres of land across the street from the Governor’s palace.

When the building was finished, the Prime Minster attended the dedication and as a dedication gift, paid off the remaining debt incurred in building the seminary.

Recently the government gave the seminary 3 more acres of land to build new classrooms and facilities so the seminary can become a Christian University – in a Muslim country!

How did this happen?

Because Dr. Thu realized that it was necessary for the church to proclaim its message to the people by living the Gospel out in the community and demonstrating how Christian living benefits the community as a whole.

They went out into the community and proclaimed the Gospel by the way they lived.

They lived among the people, working, socializing, participating, caring and worshiping.

They spoke for Jesus.

Live the Jesus way.

And so despite their national unpopularity, they were fearless.

So what does that mean for us here at JMPC?

Where are we called to go?

Maybe not to Borneo.

But certainly to those who Jesus went to.

The poor.

The sick.

The disabled.

The hungry.

The thirsty.

The naked.

The strangers.

The imprisoned.

Our neighbors, near here and far away.

And when we do these things, Jesus tells us we are not to be afraid.

When we go, we acknowledge Jesus, and he acknowledges us to God.

Despite the many folks who oppose us and reject us, our souls are secure with God.

Jesus’ disciples were just a start.

We are the continuation.

So can each one of us do just one thing that moves this mission forward.

Proclaiming God’s kingdom and calling all to live as Jesus would have us live?

To change the world just a little bit?

Can we listen to Jesus’ divine pep talk?

His inspiration.

His encouragement.

His promise.

Can we go out and speak for him despite our anxiety?

Jesus says yes we can!

That is the challenge of discipleship.

To go forth and not be afraid.

But we can because we are speaking and living for Jesus.

And he will walk beside us.

So we can be fearless.



Choir is Back

The choirs of John McMillan Presbyterian Church are back in session.  The adult Chancel Choir will start practicing on Thursday , September 6, at 7:30 PM.  We will follow practice with a social.  This is a group that makes great music, and laughs a lot.  All are welcome.  No experience necessary! There is a robe waiting for you, join us.



Family Issues: Thoughts on reconciliation in two voices.

Luke 15: 11-32

The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother

11 Then Jesus* said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with* the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”* 22But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.

25 ‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” 31Then the father* said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’

Jeff: (sitting at desk talking on the phone)

You know I like going out to dinner. So let’s do that. Let’s go someplace where I can get a steak. How about that new microbrewery? Excellent. We’ll meet you there. Bye! (hangs up phone and picks up pictures of his kids).  It’s going to be a great Father’s Day.  That was my son Eric, he and his wife Ashley are going to have dinner with Sandy and I Sunday.  It’s what we do every year. We go out to dinner for Father’s Day and I pay for it. Which is fine by me. I can afford it and Eric is still starting out. Besides, I like to eat and if I pay I don’t have to worry about what I am ordering. I really look forward to seeing Eric because we have such a good time when we get together. We have a lot in common. I am truly blessed to have such a great son. I am really proud of him. Always have been. He’s always been there for me. And I have supported him from the time he struggled until he became a doctor and settled in to a really great career. Eric has always been such a great kid, since he was just a little guy.  He always listened well, always ate what we cooked without complaint, always did his homework.  He was pretty smart. He always got good grades and he excelled in music, and swimming, too. He had a bunch of good friends and would even go to church and mission trips without me pestering him.  Yes sir Eric has been pratty easy in every way.  His younger brother David on the other hand, well….

Matt: (walking in carrying a push broom)

(Screaming to his boss) Okay, I already told you I will get to it when I’m done cleaning up the rest of the garage.  Well do you want me to clean the parking lot first or the garage first?  Okay, then give me a little bit of time and I will finish it up.  Man oh man that guy needs to get off my back.  I get that he is my boss but he could try to respect me a little bit, I’m a grown man.  I mean my boss is so controlling, he’s always telling me what to do and looking right over my shoulder to make sure I do it his way.  Ha, it kind of reminds me of somebody I know.  I wonder if Mr. Thomas knows my dad, he acts just like him.  Don’t get me wrong my dad’s not a bad guy, but it is impossible to live with him.  And of course, nobody could ever live up to his precious Eric.   I’m sorry I’m not a superhero doctor.  Apparently, you need to make tons of money if you want my dad’s respect.

Jeff:

Eric and David could not have been more different. Eric was focused and took the long view. And was willing to put in the time and effort to succeed. I’m not really sure what happened with David. He was more interested in living for the day. No focus and no effort. And he did not want to hear anything I had to say. David always seemed to fight me… on everything, I meant the kid would argue with me about how to wash a window or mow the lawn. He always knew better.  He always had this fire and passion in him.  I just thought if he focused that passion in the right direction he could have succeeded in anything he wanted.  Instead he used up all that fire and passion to argue with me. I still remember the night he left. We were really going at it. Sandy was horrified. For the life of me I cannot remember what we were fighting about.  I wish I had controled myself. I said some things I wish I hadn’t. But I was just trying to get through to him. That’s what fathers do, right?   But you should’ve heard the things he said to me.  I couldn’t repeat 90% of the things he said.  Despite all I had done for him over the years. I looked at him right in his eyes and told him that at the end of the day the Bible says to honor your father and mother and that’s what he needed to do.  He told me he hated me, that he wished I was dead, and said he was leaving and never coming back.

Matt:

When I left that night, I walked away and told myself to not look back.  He was yelling and screaming about all kinds of different things, what wasn’t he yelling about.  My mom was crying as I walked away but he was still yelling at me, telling me I would be back.  I would rather die than prove him right, I would never hear the end of it.  Truth is he wasn’t always around when I was growing up.  He missed a lot of my stuff growing up, but hey he had to work.  Sure, a swimming pool and big house is nice, but what I really wanted was my dad around.  When he was around he was giving me a hard time.  I remember that when he was around we always had to go to church.  It wasn’t that bad, but it just wasn’t my thing.  I can still remember my dad always saying to me, honor thy father and mother.  It always made me a little mad, shouldn’t he honor his son.  Besides I thought that God’s love and his love where supposed to be unconditional.  Obviously, that’s not true because if he loved me he wouldn’t have drove me out.

Jeff:

God, I miss David. Not one day goes by that I don’t think about him and worry.  I’ve always loved David, since the day he was born.  He was such a little guy. I could hold him in my hand.  I remember looking at him that day, I knew in my heart he was special.  And he is. He’s just not much like me. He certainly was different from Eric, but he had such passion. I thought he was going to really make a difference in the world. Doing what I had no clue. But he was going to make a difference. One thing I regret is that I did not hug him and tell him I loved him. That is not the kind of person I am.  What I did was try to show him I love him.  I went to as many of his activities as I could, I took him on great vacations, and he had everything he wanted.  I mean he had the newest video consoles, expensive clothes, and even a car when he turned 16, which was something I never had.  So maybe I never told him I loved him, but how could he think I didn’t? If only he would come back and admit he was wrong. I would forget everything he said and did, I would forget it all.  After all God does tell us to forgive and certainly forgives us.  I wish he would just come back.

Matt:

I’ve been on my own for 3 years now and it has been a rough three years.  Apparently, nobody wants to hire a high school dropout.  It’s a change from the life I was living before.  I share a small 1 bedroom apartment with another guy, I sleep on the couch.  I haven’t eaten anything that wasn’t Raymen noodles in 2 months.  My dad must know that I’m struggling, then again maybe he doesn’t.  I haven’t heard from him since that one night.  He hasn’t called me, sent me a card, or even tried to come visit me.  I mean if he just came to see me and apologized for what he said I would forgive him and we would be good.    I really wish he would just come and get me.

Jeff:

On Sunday, the pastor was preaching on a parable from Luke 15.  Jesus was eating with sinners and the Pharisee’s wanted to know why.  Jesus told them a story about a woman who had 10 coins, but she lost one.  The woman rips apart her entire house.  She is relentless in trying to find the coin and she doesn’t stop until she finds it.  When she finds it, she cerebrates and calls all her friends to celebrate with her.  The coin was lost and she found it. It’s like God has been searching for something, or someone, lost. When God finds that something or someone, there is great joy. The Bible says that this celebration is what it is like in heaven when one sinner repents.  It made me think. I had lost David. For whatever reason, he was gone. And I wanted him back. Just like God wants his lost children back. God’s love is relentless. God does not stop looking, that is what Jesus said.  God was relentless in finding me.  I thought about David the entire sermon.  Should I be like the woman in the parable?  Should I be like God? God sent Jesus to tell us to live like him. Find the lost soul. Forgive. Reconcile. Love. I just want to see David. I need to find him.

Matt:

My dad made me go to church every Sunday and I got to tell you I don’t remember much, other than being bored.  I do remember my Sunday school teacher telling us this one story from the book of Luke.  He said that Jesus was eating with a whole bunch of low lives and some church people asked why he was hanging out with such scum bags.  Jesus answered them with a few stories.  I don’t remember all of them but one always stuck in my mind.  He said a shepherd had 100 sheep, but 1 of the 100 went missing.  He said the shepherd leaves all 99 sheep to find the one lost sheep.  Why would someone leave all they owned in danger to save just 1?

Jeff:

I remember having arguments with my dad when I was younger.  I never took it as far as David has, but the Lord knows it was close.  My dad made a lot of mistakes, and I definitely have too.  Maybe it’s time for me to stop thinking about me and start thinking about “us”. I need to just recognize that he is lost.  The woman in the parable didn’t sit down for a long time and try to figure out why or how the coin got lost, she just went looking for it until it was found.  And then the party started. Have you ever lost anyone?  Have you ever just let them slip away despite how much you love them and miss them? Just because you can’t forgive? I guess that is what I have been doing for the last three years. I lost my son. And have done nothing to find him. That is not the Jesus way. Time to find him and bring him home.

Matt:

I miss a soft bed, I miss good food, but what I really miss is my dad.  I have thought it through in my head a thousand times, going back home.  I’m sure I’m going to have to apologize a lot, I’m sure I will have to put my pride a side, but it just feels like time to go home.  One of the worst things about being lost is it feels like you’re never going to be found.  I have felt so hopeless over the past few years living a hard life and not having anyone to lean on.  I have made so many mistakes in my life and have felt so alone, I wonder if anyone could love me again.  Have you ever felt lost before?  Have you ever felt like second chances just don’t happen for you?  I have felt like that for three years, and it has been a long three years.  I’m going home and telling my dad that I love him.  If you have somebody in your life that you need to say I love you to, I hope that you do…today.



Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief

Disaster Relief-US Hurricane Response

John McMillan will be collecting a special hurricane offering for the people of Houston this Sunday September 3, 2017.  All funds collected will go directly to disaster relief.

If you would prefer to donate on-line the Presbyterian Mission (PCUSA) has site set up for the victims of Hurricane Harvey click here.

Thank you



Interaction! Thoughts on the Trinity (and quantum physics).

Matthew 28: 16-20

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

Today is Trinity Sunday.

The day we celebrate the trinitarian nature of God.

So, happy Trinity Sunday!

Who wants to come up and testify to their understanding of the Trinity?

It’s kind of like the Zen philosophical riddle that asks this question:

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

When I read some of the answers the Zen masters give to this riddle, it gave me a headache.

Pretty strange stuff!

Then I read about someone who asked that question of children.

Their answer?

It sounds like nothing.

Clapping only makes a sound if there are two hands.

There needs to be some kind of interaction between two different hands for the sound of a clap to happen.

Which also brought to mind the old metaphysical question of whether a tree that falls in the woods makes a sound if there is no ne to hear it.

If there is nothing to hear a sound, there is no sound heard.

Sound needs a hearer.

What is interesting about these answers is that they are consistent with quantum physics.

Carlo Rovelli is a professor of physics and director of the quantum gravity group at the Center for Theoretical Physics.

He wrote a book called: Seven Brief Lessons on Physics.

In a recent interview with Krista Tippett, this exchange took place.

Ms. Tippett: A driving point that you make as you describe quantum physics, and really all of physics, is we must accept the idea that reality is interaction.

Dr. Rovelli: Yeah. This is a very general point in science. And I’m not sure I’m able to articulate entirely, but I think it comes out for many sciences, and certainly from quantum mechanics, but also from others, we do understand the world better not in terms of things, but in terms of interaction between things, and how things interact with one another, even in biology. …

And at the core of quantum physics, this comes out very, very strongly. Somehow, quantum physics does not describe how things are, but how things interact with one another. So, I think this is general — even we human beings — I’m not a thing; I’m a net of interactions with the world around me, with the people who know me, who love me. …

He says that nothing exists apart from its interaction other things.

Again:

Without interaction, nothing exists.

Only one hand?

No sound.

No one to hear a sound?

No sound heard.

In my little exercise, there must be three.

Two hands to interact in order for there to be a sound.

And someone to hear the sound.

When I put these things together I thought of the Trinity.

Which of course is another esoteric question assigned to the more esoteric regions of theology.

One of the first great theologians to try and describe the Trinity was Athanasius, in 325.

[W]e worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the persons … The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. … And yet there are not three incomprehensibilites, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.

Got it?

The Trinity is a powerful mystery.

The kind of thing that can give you a headache.

Over the centuries people have tried to depict the Trinity in words of pictures in order to let us common folk understand it.

But none get it quite right.

And then there is the most recent depiction the Trinity.

The Shack.

God the Father takes the form of an African American woman who calls herself Papa.

Jesus is a Middle-Eastern carpenter.

And the Holy Spirit is as an Asian woman named Sarayu.

Athanasius is likely in high rotation in the grave.

What it comes down to is this:

Gregory of Nyssa, at around the same time as Athanasius had a different take and said this:

[I]f our feeble powers of reason prove unequal to the problem [of understanding the Trinity], we must guard the tradition we have received from the Fathers, as ever sure and immovable, and seek from the Lord a means of defending our faith. If this should be discovered by anyone endowed with grace, we shall give thanks to Him who granted the grace. If not we shall none the less hold on to our unchangeable faith in those points which have been established.

In other words, if you don’t understand it, you are in good company, and that’s OK.

No one does.

The Trinity is one of the great mysteries of our faith.

Sometimes they are just accepted.

And that’s ok.

As Augustine pointed out back in the 4th century:

If you can comprehend it, it is not God.

But we celebrate it anyway today.

This Sunday we celebrate that our God is “three in one”.

Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.

And rather than go further into a theological discussion of how that might be, I want to look at our Trinitarian God the way physicist Rovelli would want us to.

There is no God without interaction.

Interaction that produces a reality that we are part of and can perceive.

A singular god interacts with nothing.

What this would mean is that God is an isolated entity, and according to Stephen Boyd of Wake Forest University, “utterly unique, self-contained and a self-sufficient reality.”

In other words, God would need nothing else to interact with.

A tree falling with no one to hear.

A hand waving in the air with nothing to clap against.

That is why we believe there is a community in the Godhead.

And it was that community relationship that created all things.

And scripture numbers the community as three.

We see it in the Old Testament reading for Trinity Sunday.

The Genesis creation story.

This is the interaction between the three persons of the Trinity.

God desires to create.

The Spirit hovers over the chaos.

Jesus speaks it into order.

God is not a thing; God is a net of interactions with the persons who know God, who love God.

The Holy Three!

Gregory of Nyssa agreed.

He put it this way:

We do not learn that the Father does something on his own, in which the Son does not cooperate. Or, again, that the Son acts on his own without the Spirit. Rather every operation that extends from God to creation, [has] its origin in the Father, proceed[s] through the Son and reach[es] its completion in the Holy Spirit. …[T]he action of each in any matter is not separate and individualized. But whatever occurs, occurs through three persons, and is not three separate things.

God in three persons is creation.

All interacting to create … what?

Rovelli again:

A net of interactions with the world around God, with the people who know God, who love God

Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr puts it this way:

One reason so many theologians are interested in the Trinity now is that we’re finding both physics (especially quantum physics) and cosmology are at a level of development where human science, our understanding of the atom and our understanding of galaxies, is affirming and confirming our use of the old Trinitarian language—but with a whole new level of appreciation. Reality is radically relational, and the power is in the relationships themselves!

More interactions.

More to interact with.

Can I be so bold as to say that the eruptive force of the creative interaction between the three persons of the Trinity was like a big bang?

A big bang that created uncountable interactions between as Paul might say:

All things in heaven and on earth, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things that have been created.

The Bible is an encyclopedia of these interactions with us here.

The Old Testament describes interactions between Creator and creation.

The Gospels describe the interaction between Redeemer and redeemed.

Which finally brings us to our scripture reading.

We call it the Great Commission.

What happens here is more creative interaction.

Jesus, the Redeemer, gathers the remaining 11 disciples (some of whom still don’t recognize him) and sends them on a seemingly impossible mission.

Go and make disciples of everyone.

To encourage them, Jesus tells them that God has given him all authority.

So God is part of it.

Jesus then tells the disciples to interact with the nations and create more disciples by teaching these folks what Jesus gave the disciples – his word.

So Jesus is part of it.

Finally Jesus says that he will be with them, through the Holy Spirit.

So the Holy Spirit is part of it.

Father gives authority to Son who gives his teaching and the Holy Spirit who gives us the encouragement we need.

It is all about God giving us what we need and asking us to pass it on.

Interaction that creates and sustains and redeems.

We ourselves are not singular.

We are not isolated individuals, utterly unique, self-contained with a self-sufficient reality.

We are part of God’s reality.

A reality that says we are nothing without interaction.

Nothing without relationship.

God is more than one.

And so are we.

So what does all this mean for us?

It means that our reality will defined by our interactions.

By our interactions with God.

And with each other.

If our interactions and relationships define our reality, what is created through them, how do we want that reality to be?

If we want to glorify God, our interactions should seek to create what God created.

Community.

Forgiveness.

Redemption.

Reconciliation.

Salvation.

Feeding the hungry.

Giving water to the thirsty.

Welcoming the strangers.

Clothing the naked.

Caring for the sick.

Visiting the prisoners.

You get the picture.

Living the Jesus way.

Jesus says that if we do these things for each other, we do them for him.

Which includes the Father and the Holy Spirit.

It puts us in relationship with God.

It makes us interact with God.

And it creates.

It creates God’s Kingdom right here and right now.

And it is all good.

That is the good news.

Malcolm Guite is Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge.

He wrote this poem for Trinity Sunday and I want to share it.

In the Beginning, not in time or space,

But in the quick before both space and time,

In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,

In three in one and one in three, in rhyme,

In music, in the whole creation story,

In His own image, His imagination,

The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,

And makes us each the other’s inspiration.

He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,

To improvise a music of our own,

To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,

Three notes resounding from a single tone,

To sing the End in whom we all begin;

Our God beyond, beside us and within.

Three in one.

Interacting with us, even now.

Our God beyond, beside us and within.



The OPEN TABLE Mission

What happens when a society, failing to transform poverty millions at a time, begins to transform poverty one at a time?

Would you like to take an active part in transforming the lives of people in poverty? “Igniting the human potential is simple: Relationship.”

The mission of the OPEN TABLE is to provide a model that empowers faith communities to move from transactional to transformational relationships with the poor – one life and one family at a time.  The OPEN TABLE model provides support groups for people living in poverty, who want to move forward in their lives. “Rather than investing their old clothes, Table members invest what they have learned on their life journeys and connect to their personal networks in their congregations and community to bring skill building, services and door opening to the plan.”

The First Presbyterian Church of Duquesne sponsors Tables in order to help young adults living in poverty to move forward in life. John McMillan members provide  life specialists, support, and advocates. Over the course of a year, the Table works together to set goals, foster accountability, and implement a plan to create change.

If you are interested in learning more about serving on this Table please contact Dan Zearley here at John McMillan or Rev. Judi Slater from Duquesne at judislater@gmail.com or 412-370-4601.



Gifted: Thoughts on doing one thing and fulfilling God’s call.

1 Corinthians 12: 4-13

12 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

When I was in High School, I was a band guy.

I played the trumpet in the marching band and the concert band.

Trumpet.

That was my part.

Not the clarinet part.

Not the trombone part.

Not the saxophone part.

Not the keyboard part.

They played different parts.

I played the trumpet part.

Actually, only one of the several trumpet parts.

That was my function.

My “gift”, so to speak.

And sometimes it was frustrating.

I wanted to play the melody.

But to play the melody meant that I would have to play all the parts.

And that was impossible.

So I played my part which rarely was the melody.

Sometimes when we rehearsed, Mr. Tucci, our director, would have a particular section play alone.

Sometimes it was the trumpets, or just one of the trumpet sections.

It sounded really weird.

Barely recognizable as part of the piece we were playng.

But it was our part.

And we played it for the common good of the band.

The common good of producing the music.

If any part was missing, even that triangle player who played just one note, the music was diminished.

Incomplete.

Every part was of equal importance.

My sophomore year, we recorded the spring concert.

It was the first time I heard what we sounded like from the audience perspective.

From out front, the band, as a whole, sounded really good.

We made music!

We each played our part for the benefit of the community we served (mainly the band itself and our parents who came to hear us) as we were directed by Mr. Tucci.

And we fulfilled our mission.

We made music and entertained our audience.

Families can be like that, too.

Many families divide up the chores in the house so that everyone has a job.

From the youngest to the oldest, everyone is assigned a part to play in running the household usually by one or both parents.

Dishes, mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, cooking dinner.

When everyone does their job, all is well in the household.

When someone does not do their job, or when someone leaves, and the job they did is now left undone, we notice it immediately.

Things become unsettled.

The household directors must reassign that part.

So that the mission of household peace and stability is fulfilled.

Believe it or not, this is Paul’s message to the Corinthian church, and to us.

The body of Christ is like a musical group.

Everyone has a part to play.

Their gift.

We use our gifts for the common good of the community itself and the community it serves at the direction of the Spirit.

And when we do these things, our mission is fulfilled – we glorify God.

Some gifts seem perhaps insignificant.

Ostensibly irrelevant to the mission.

Some appear important.

Ostensibly central to the mission.

But without all of them done in concert, the mission is much harder, if not impossible to complete.

The mission is only possible when the entire group uses their individual gifts.

And the mission is diminished, or at least incomplete, if even one gift is not performed.

That is Paul’s point.

As Paul says, one gift is no more important than any other.

All the gifts are different but all are equally useful to God.

One person with one gift is not more or less important than another person with a different gift.

Because it is God who is the source of all the gifts.

The Corinthians needed this reminder, and sometimes so do we, because we all have the tendency from time to time to promote our individual abilities rather than the community as a whole.

No one person, regardless of the gift, can be all the music.

No one person, regardless of the gift, can do all the household chores.

Every one of us must participate in the way God wants us to.

Each one of us has a gift from God.

Gifts given to each of us by the Spirit.

Anyone who says “Jesus is Lord!” has one.

A gift that is to be used for the common good.

And the Spirit will direct us to use us and our gift in a particular way.

When we follow that direction, the mission we are given, like the musical score given the band, or the division of labor in a household, happens!

So how do we know what our particular gift is?

There are many spiritual gifts listed in the New Testament.

When you combine the lists, you end up with nineteen different gifts.

Wisdom.

Knowledge.

Faith.

Healing.

Miracles.

Prophecy.

Discernment of spirits.

Speaking in tongues.

Interpretation of tongues.

That’s 1 Corinthians.

But elsewhere we see:

Teaching.

Leading.

Helping others.

Generosity.

Compassion.

Evangelism.

Adminstration.

Encouragement.

Service.

Mercy.

Hospitality.

Worship.

Prayer.

In making his lists, Paul was not attempting to identify every possible Spiritual gift.

There are too many.

And the Spirit is not limited.

But again, we all have one and are to use it for the common good.

Some gifts might be our vocational calling.

But not necessarily.

Just because you are a teacher does not mean you are to teach in the church.

Just because you are an accountant does not mean you are to manage the finances.

Just because you are handy, does not mean you are in charge of maintenance.

But it might.

The Holy Spirit gives these gifts as the Spirit wants, not as we want.

As much as I might want to be a clarinet player, I am a trumpet player.

That is my part.

My gift.

And I should not be disappointed with the gift I am given.

It is as essential as any other in the church.

I should be thankful for it.

How do we know our gift is being used for the common good?

It helps the church thrive.

It encourages others.

It empowers.

It facilitates.

It invites.

It unites.

It furthers the mission of the church.

How do we know we are under the direction of the Spirit?

We see results.

When we all use our gifts, together, for the common good, our community sounds like a beautiful symphony, or an inspiring choir.

Glorifying God and pursuing our mission.

The Apostles on Pentecost serve as an example.

What happened that day?

There was a large gathering of people from around the world coming to Jerusalem.

These people needed to hear about Jesus, resurrection and salvation.

I have always wondered if the Apostles were worried about what to say!

They might have been worried that they might not be up to the task.

They had a history of not understanding what Jesus was telling people.

I think we have all felt like that at times.

Particularly in the church.

Many worry that in discerning what their gift is, or in determining how Spirit wants us to use it, we might not get it right.

And so are are tempted to do nothing.

But that is like a musician who will not play or a singer who will not sing because they are afraid they will make a mistake.

When my son was in high school, I directed his youth band at Southminster called Something Else.

The kids would worry about making mistakes and hold back.

The music was diminished.

It was incomplete.

I told them that, as a group, each using their own gifts, they made wonderful music and individual mistakes did not change that.

Just let the music flow.

And let the Spirit do whatever.

What they did was marvelous.

That is what the Apostles did at Pentecost.

They talked for the good of the community at the direction of the Spirit who used their words to bring 3000 people to Christ.

And there has been no other event like it since.

Those gifts were given for that particular time when it was needed.

Then it was gone.

Until it was called for again.

Like that single note from the triangle.

So what is your gift?

What has the Spirit given you to use for the common good here?

How is the Spirit directing you?

A couple weeks ago I encouraged every member of this congregation to do just one thing.

That is what Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to do.

Do just the one thing God has called you to do.

Exercise your gift!

Exercise your gift for the common good!

Let the Spirit direct you.

Without you we are diminished.

With you we are an orchestra.

What one thing will you do?

If we each do that one thing, the thing that is our gift, used for the common good and at the direction of the Spirit, we will perform the music God wrote.

We will complete our mission.

We will know, glorify and serve God!

So, while we come to the Lord’s table today, pray for God’s guidance in helping each of us discern what our gift might be.

And how best to use it for the common good at the direction of the Spirit.

Pray that we all unite our own particular gift with all the others here and throughout the congregation as a whole to empower and encourage JMPC to carry out the mission we have been given.

Please?

AMEN



Sojourner House

John McMillan Church has a mission that donates to Sojourner House in Pittsburgh which as provided safe, independent housing and supportive services for homeless, single, dual-diagnosed women in recovery and their dependent children.

The MOMS (Motivation Opportunities Mentoring Spirituality) program focuses on strengthening family relationships, promoting self-sufficiency, long term sobriety, and mental health.

We are doing an on going collection for diapers, twin sheets, and kitchen supplies.  Please bring these items to church and place them in the box in the Narthex.