Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Trinity Sunday 2018

Sermon Notes for Trinity Sunday    John 3:1-16    May 27 2018   
by the Rev. Dennis Washburn, Ph.D.

For over a thousand years, western Christians have emphasized the doctrine of the Holy Trinity on the Sunday after Pentecost. This is fitting because the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost completes the steps of revelation of God in Three Persons.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not developed in detail in one place in Scripture, but it is supported by many passages. The Gospel from John 3 is a traditional one for this Sunday, and it deals with the Trinity as our Lord discusses Baptism and the new birth. This goes along with the commission to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 28: 19.  The Trinitarian emphasis continued in the Christian Church as Scriptural teachings about God were summarized in baptismal creeds such as the Latin Apostles’ Creed and the Greek creed which developed into the Nicene Creed.
Although a great mystery and although the history of and doctrinal discussions about the Trinity can be complicated, the basic concern of the doctrine is really simple: The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us about God and His love and grace, about His redeeming purposes. So most of us can best appreciate the doctrine of the Trinity by looking at its application to Christian life and devotion. Today, let us briefly consider the Trinity in the context of three familiar areas of Christian experience.

First, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is related to Christian morality. God the Father has created human beings with a basic capacity to learn to distinguish right and wrong. God the Son came into this world and revealed to human beings in the clearest way the divine moral will for our lives. Jesus the Christ has given us both clear teachings and perfect examples to guide us in our moral choices. By His death and resurrection, God the Son, Jesus Christ, has freed us from eternal slavery to sin and death and offered us His grace for new life. And God the Holy Spirit comes to us and brings us the love, the grace and the truth of the Father and of the Son. The Spirit gives us grace, wisdom and guidance in making moral choices. And when we do stumble, the Spirit also helps us repent and seek renewal.

Secondly, we can appreciate the doctrine of the Trinity in the context of Christian prayer. Although Scripture and devotional history contain examples of prayers addressed to all three divine persons, most of our prayers, including the prayer Christ taught us, are addressed directly to God the Father as creator and ruler of the universe. We offer these prayers to the Father through the Son, in Jesus’ name or for Christ’s sake. In other words, we ask God the Son, who has lived as one of us, to pray with us and for us. We dare to approach the Father’s throne of grace because His Son is our Savior, and because the Son still intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father. We offer our prayers by the inspiration and power of the Holy Spirit. The divine Spirit at work in our hearts, minds, and souls motivates and inspires us to pray. If we are open to Him, and sometimes even when we are not very open, the Holy Spirit guides our thoughts and words. As St. Paul tells us in Romans 8:26, the Spirit even helps us utter wordless prayers when we are too tired, sick or overwhelmed to know how to pray.

Thirdly, we can relate the doctrine of the Trinity to the Bible. God the Father, creator and ruler of the universe, transcends human understanding, but He has chosen to reveal Himself to His creatures. Although our Creator has provided some hints about Himself in nature and in human consciousness and conscience, the essential points of God’s self-disclosure are in the Holy Scriptures. The Bible points out God’s power expressed in the creation of the universe and of human beings. The Bible points to the rebellion and fall of human beings and of some angels. The Bible also shows the Father’s loving desire and plan to redeem fallen humanity. Although Holy Scripture is the Word of God in written form, in a more basic and essential way, God the Son, Jesus Christ, is the incarnate and eternal Word (John 1). In Genesis 1, it is the Word of God that is the means of creation. Through His living and spoken Word, God called the people of the Old Testament and spoke to and through patriarchs and prophets. In the New Testament, the obvious center of Gospels and Epistles is the living Word, Jesus. In all the messages of the apostles, the spoken and written words are meant to reveal Christ. We are to respect the written letters and words, but our basic faith is Christ the Eternal Word who is the living center of Scripture..
And we can’t consider the Bible without the role of God the Holy Spirit. The moving of God’s Spirit led patriarchs, prophets, wise men, scribes and apostles of Israel and the Church to pass on the oral and written words that contain the divine Word. The Holy Spirit also worked among believers to distinguish the truly sacred writings from other religious documents. And the Spirit has worked over the centuries to preserve and spread the canon of Scripture. The Spirit still works to help us to understand and apply the divine meaning of Scripture to our faith and to our lives.

In summary, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the great mystery which summarizes the teachings of the Christian Faith. This doctrine is rooted in the Bible, and summarized in the ancient creeds. The Trinity has been a topic for theological analysis and doctrinal discussion. Yet, as with other mysteries of Christian faith, the doctrine of the Trinity is asking for something more than merely an intellectual or mental response. This mystery is asking us for the response of living faith. To have a true appreciation of the Trinity, we need to experience it in Christian life and devotion- in contexts such as Christian morality, Christian prayer, and a faithful approach to Holy Scripture.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pentecost and Preaching the Gospel

The traditional BCP lesson appointed for the Epistle on Pentecost is from Acts 2:1- 11. It concludes, "we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God." What are these Galilean Apostles proclaiming? Although inspired by the Holy Spirit, and although Peter cites Isaiah about pouring out the Spirit, the core message is not about the Holy Spirit; the heart of the proclamation is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A few verses later, Peter makes this clear. In Acts 2: 22-24, he preaches, "Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it." This is the heart of the Gospel, the Christ-centered core of the Christian proclamation.

The proclamation in Acts is consistent with the Prayer Book Gospel for last Sunday. In St. John 15:26, Christ tells the Apostles, "When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me." The whole point about Pentecost is not about the mechanics of inspiration. And although we honor the coming of the Holy Spirit in a new way, Pentecost is not about the Spirit alone. The point is that the Holy Spirit testifies about and for the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. The Spirit of Truth enables Christ's followers to be faithful witnesses to and proclaimers of the Gospel of salvation. How the Spirit came and the variety of gifts bestowed are of interest, but the main issue is that the presence of the Holy Spirit brings faith in and witness to the saving work of Jesus Christ, the divine Word, God the Son.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Ascension Day 2018

As I have mentioned before, Ascension Day is a significant but often neglected observance rooted in Scripture. I was heartened to hear its biblical significance mentioned on an evangelical radio station this morning. And the Anglican parish where I assist will observe it with Morning Prayer and two Eucharists, but in general, Ascension is overlloked- even on the following Sunday.

Last year, I discussed several of its meanings ( Today I am struck by the fact that one purpose of Christ's Ascension was to intercede for us at the Father's right hand. Rogation days have reminded us to pray; Ascension comforts us with a reminder that Christ is always praying for us as He watches over us from heaven.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Christian Prayer- Rogation Sunday

Fifth Sunday after Easter   St. John 16: 24-33
Sermon Notes by the Reverend Dennis Washburn, Ph.D.

In English church tradition, this Sunday has been known as Rogation Sunday. “Rogation” comes from one of the Latin verbs meaning “pray” in St. John 16.
In today’s Gospel from John 16, Christ talks to His disciples about prayer. In John 16:23, Christ promises His followers, “…Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.  In the next verse, He stresses the newness of the situation. “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (ESV) So let us spend a few minutes thinking of Christian prayer.

First, at a basic level, praying to the Father in Christ’s name refers to certain expressions used in our prayers- “in Jesus’ name,” “for Christ’s sake,” “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  And the greatest prayer we offer in Jesus’ name is the words which He taught in the Lord’s Prayer. All these words are important in themselves. They are signs of the ways that Christians approach the Almighty.

Secondly, in Biblical tradition, the name is an expression of a person’s essence, identity or spirit. The name is closely related to a person’s character, thoughts, and deeds. So praying in Christ’s name means appealing to the nature and character of the Christ, the redeemer of God’s people. It implies that the merits of Christ will be applied to those who sincerely and faithfully call out in His name.

Thirdly, praying in Christ’s name signifies that we hope to model our thoughts and deeds, indeed all aspects of our lives, upon Christ’s example. Aware of our own sinfulness, in faith we hope to approach the Father with the mind and spirit of Jesus. We seek to pray as our Lord Himself would pray to the Father in our situations. We don’t just ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?” but also “How would Jesus pray?”

As Christians, we always pray as members of the Body of Christ. Like our Savior, we must always be ready and willing to pray for the Father’s will to be done. We must subordinate our personal opinions and preferences to the greater divine plan for salvation. When we pray with Christ-like faith in the heavenly Father, then our prayers are most truly offered in Jesus’ name.

Our Lord tells us that God answers prayers that are truly in His name. Yet, even such prayers may not be answered exactly like we imagine or hope. Our personal wishes may not be the best when viewed from the divine light of history and eternity.
In Gethsemane, even Christ offered two kinds of prayers. He preferred to avoid the sufferings of the cross, but He also humbly submitted to the greater divine plan for salvation- “Thy will be done.” And through such a faithful and humble attitude, He overcame the tribulations of this world (Jn. 16:33).

As followers of Christ, our prayers should reflect His perspective. In this life, our preferences are conditioned by our physical circumstances and by our human minds. But despite our situations and trials in this world, we seek to follow Jesus. Despite all our feelings of the moment, we must remain committed to the wise and loving plans of God our heavenly Father; the fulfillment of His will must remain our priority in prayer as in other aspects of life.