Sunday, May 31, 2015
Our Physical Connection to Jesus
The Strong Name of the Trinity
That’s a good question Nicodemus; “What must we do to inherit eternal life?”
And the answer class? Yes, “You must be born from above”. That is to say, you must be Baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps we can unpack that statement a bit. Let me begin with Patrick’s Breastplate. Being Anglo Irish by birth and blood, I have a predisposition to all things Celtic. In fact, I am looking forward to the annual Gathering of the Anamchara Fellowship which begins tomorrow outside Detroit. It is a community of religious, clergy and laity within the Episcopal Church, dedicated to the worship of God and service to the world. Last year, I was a speaker at their annual gathering and liked it enough to become a Companion with them. I am now their “Anamchara”, a Celtic word that means something akin to “soul friend”. I will have a special relationship to the leadership in particular as well as to the membership in general. The Anamchara Fellowship is the fastest growing monastic community in the Episcopal Church. I believe this is so because it satisfies some deep spiritual longing among God’s people and yet we remain dispersed as we are in our homes and communities as married, single, working, retired, professed nuns and monks, clergy, laity and so forth.
But back now to this idea about being born from above. St Patrick explores the idea in his invocation of God. He does so in far more ways than in the unidimensional "above". When Patrick binds himself to the strong name of the Trinity, he uses the ancient Celtic poetic form of a "lorica" much as it were body armor against the wiles of the Evil One. Here are the words which you can find in our Hymnal #370;
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
For Christians being born from "above", as it were, means that we see the sacred within time and place, in buildings like this one, or in our homes, and yes in our very lives. We see the sacred in God's created order. We see it in Christ, we see it in fellowship with one another. God becomes situated within the deepest places, in the center of our souls. That's where we meet God. In prayer we may use the pronoun "Thou" when we speak to God, or we may use the more contemporary; "You". Either way to inherit eternal life Nicodemus it takes a time and a place to practice the presence of the holy. You must be born from above.
In yesterday's wonderful confirmation service in New Bedford, Bishop Alan Gates reminded us that when he places his hands on the heads of the confirmands, he passes on an unbroken physical and spiritual connection between Jesus and his Apostles directly to each of those receiving confirmation and reception.
Robert, Chase, Katy, and James; just imagine, YOU have each received the spiritual and physical touch of Jesus and the Apostles in your very bodies and souls!
As with all Christian folk we seek to be born from above, and to bind ourselves unto the Strong Name of the Trinity. We are all required to do this by Jesus as we make our way toward heaven and eternal life. We see Baptism as the primary means by which we come to God through Christ and within the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Mind you any human being can love and forgive with or without Baptism. Any human being can muster courage to reconcile feuding family and friends. Eventually that courage must also be extended to our enemies and those who wish us harm. Hopefully everybody is so dedicated, but we know for a fact that not all understand Baptism as we do; as a total makeover of the soul. Some will use the Sacred Name as a reason to engage in warfare and in acts of terror. Violence is the total antithesis to the teachings of Moses, Mohammed, and Jesus.
As we understand it specifically as Christians, Jesus spoke most urgently of heaven and eternal life but not so much in terms of a place we go when we die. He saw heaven as more urgently to be practiced here and now for the sake of the human race and for the future of the planet we live on. As today's Gospel puts it; "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." This is why we must be born from above; Baptized. This is the eternal life Jesus seeks.
This brings us to Trinity Sunday.
Ah yes, and right away there is the debate about the Oneness and the Threeness of God. How can God be One when God is also Three? The Three in One and the One in Three? I don’t get into these great theological questions to tell you the truth. They are too difficult for me.
Like some of the other quasi scientific/theological debates;
Did God create the world in exactly six days?
And was the day of Creation October 23rd, 4004BC as computed
by the 17th century Irish scholar and Bishop James Usher?
Did God create Adam and Eve in that first week?
Did Jonah live in the belly of a whale for three days?
Did Moses part the Red Sea?
Did Jesus walk on the water?
Did he feed 5000?
Folks, I know the difference between what is essential to my faith as well as what is perhaps something more metaphorical. At least I’m bright enough to know that much. As for the rest, I just don't trouble myself with such difficult questions. I am too much a lover of Science and Knowledge to blind myself to truth. I am too much a man of faith to dismiss what is essential to life.
Science gives some marvelous imagery to help us see the dynamic qualities of God. After all creation and life are created with the imprint of God. Think, for instance, of the sub atomic structure of the universe with its protons, electrons and a host of other particles whirring about in relationship to one another. Or the magnificence of the Milky Way spinning in space like a gigantic pinwheel, and the DNA molecule with its amazing complex of genetic markers winding around itself together in a double helix; the building bloc for all life on the planet. How glorious!
What makes God so strong to me though is not so much the physics of reality’s component parts. No. Stronger to me by far is the Love of God, that binds us to Jesus and the Holy Spirit and then to one another and ultimately to all flesh and blood.
That’s what makes the Name of God so strong to me.
It is in the experience of God’s love.
The Savior’s decisive power over sin and death.
And the Holy Spirit from on High, God’s Holy Wisdom the “Hagia Sophia”, she who is our Advocate and Guide, the Gift Giver, and the One who equips us for ministry.
This is what brought the Church to Proclaim the Strong Name of the Trinity. It was not a Doctrine; it was an Experience and, by God it continues to be an Experience.
There is so much work to do and so much joy to share so that we might fill the earth with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.
There are friends and enemies to love and reconcile.
There is sin to forgive, my own as well as others’.
There are diseases to be cured, the sick and the dying to visit.
There are the poor and those in prison to tend to.
There is a dangerous world out there at war and in terror and seeking the Peace that passes all understanding. Anybody want to take that one on?
There are lives shipwrecked; tossed up on the shores of addiction, depression, and all sorts of human weakness seeking to be freed from sin and yearning for redemption.
So much to do as we seek to be born from above in a baptized life, living on purpose for God! As Michael Marshall, one time Bishop of Woolwich, was fond of saying; “Our mission is not so much to make good folks better, it is to make bad folks holy”.
Folks there is much to do. Places to go, people to see, life to be lived. That's why I bind unto myself this day the strong name of the Trinity. And that my friend Nicodemus is what it is to be born from above.
And now may the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen