Pastors often speak of gifts, spiritual gifts mostly, although we’re not above reminding you now and then what kind of scotch or cigars or whatever guilty pleasure is our favorite. We usually speak of them in the context of encouraging you to find out what yours are so that we can use them for the benefit of the kingdom of God as we see it. That is the first calling of the pastor, you know, to teach. Only after that does the call document mention preaching.
And so we try and get people to realize that there is something special about them that calls them into some facet of the church’s ministry so we can teach them by getting them to make use of their gifts, by getting you to act and in so doing, to learn something about your relationship with God, your relationship with other people and how those two things are not two things, but the same thing.
You see it is a maxim among some folks, I suppose starting with Aristotle who once said
“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”
He knew that people learn so very much better by doing something, by feeling the process occur, by inhabiting the actions and activities of a particular kind of person. Aristotle was trying to be, and trying to inspire others to be people of virtue. His belief was that by repeating the activities of a person of virtue that those activities and the lessons that they taught, would eventually make you a person of virtue.
Community organizers use the same technique, virtually unchanged over the centuries, to teach people how to get people together, to speak about an issue, and to make change happen. First you get them doing something, and then they do it.
I understand that it works. That’s why we do it. That’s why we bring people to Elisha’s pantry and let them serve their neighbors and to see with their own eyes and feel with their own hands the common humanity in us all. That is why we have the kids, and recently the adults crush cans and sort bottles in service to others because at the end of the day, a little sweaty and a little dirty, we know that some child will not have to go to bed hungry for our efforts and the muscles store a memory, the memory of answering our call, and it is easier to do the next time.
I understand that it works and I do it because it works.
But one of the reasons I know it works for pastors and for churches and for confirmands and for catechumens and probably for community organizers and for Aristotle too is that God’s will is an actual thing, it is an actual force, an actual energy in the world. Like any river, like any kind of energy it has a flow, it has a direction and trying to swim upstream is always going to be harder than simply “going with the flow” and so fighting the will of God will always be harder than allowing the flow of grace to overtake you, to sweep you away, to let you feel God’s pleasure when God’s will is done.
Aristotle called it virtue, for the most part we call it grace, allowing the grace of God we have been given to shine through us and to spread to everyone and anyone we meet, letting the world know what it is to have been saved by Christ.
Otherwise it gets all stopped up, it gets stagnant, sitting there not doing anything. Don’t get me wrong, it is still active and it is still the will of God that you be saved and you still are; you still have the faith that saves because of the grace of God, but seriously, so what?
This is Trinity Sunday although due to the secular calendar it might be tempting to focus just on the Father, even though I am discouraged from using that term for gender equity reasons. It is tempting to make this a Father’s Day sermon but since Father’s Day is not on my church calendar we cannot simply focus on God the Father, Maybe the church folks could get around to a God the Father Sunday but not yet.
But that is what you do when you accept the love of God, when you take the grace you have been given and put a stopper in it and do not let it flow; you diminish the trinity in favor of the father because it is easier. It is the Father’s will that you be saved and Jesus becomes just another tool used by God to make that happen. The Holy Spirit? In this way of thinking, hardly worth mentioning.
It’s not a bad way to live, to tell you the truth. You live in the knowledge of the love of God, you have the salvation won in Christ and you get to live out an old joke in the process.
So there are these two young boys, one a Catholic and one a Lutheran and they are best friends. One weekend the Lutheran boy sleeps over at the Catholic boy’s house and comes with him to church the next morning, following along with the service, standing, kneeling, standing, kneeling, praying, the whole schmeer.
Soon thereafter the Lutheran boy hosts his own sleepover and the Catholic boy accompanies him to church on Sunday. At the end of the service the Catholic boy is heard to exclaim, “I’m becoming a Lutheran, you don’t have to do anything!”
That’s what it is to lose yourself in God the Father, to revel in God’s love and to rest there. It is comforting. It is satisfying, but you are swimming upstream. You are swimming away from the trinity.
Now in the church, at least in the church where I am preaching we do spend a lot of time on Christ. His title is the beginning of the word Christian and we are all Christians and so we talk about Him a lot.
We are followers of His, we even capitalize He and Him a lot when we write. Sometimes I am writing something purely secular and find myself still doing that, still capitalizing He and Him as if Jesus were the only male I ever referred to.
But you can get lost following Christ. Many folks have. They have looked over His life among us and tried to follow in His footsteps without ever realizing that his footsteps led to the cross and they cannot follow there.
If you want to do what Jesus did and call that your faith, then you are setting yourself up for failure, and not just failure in your efforts but also failure in your faith; after all, if your salvation doesn’t depend on all the things you do then it probably doesn’t depend on all the things Jesus did either, just the last one. Feeding the poor and clothing the naked and visiting the imprisoned and caring for widows and orphans are all good things, Aristotle would approve, but reducing Jesus to nothing more than a role model and thinking of winning God’s love in that way? Good luck with that.
But you do see it in action, especially in action. There are many churches in America’s inner cities which are as much social service agency as they are church, providing for as many of their community’s needs as they can and doing it all in Jesus name but seldom if ever mentioning that name so they don’t seem “too pushy.” It’s as if it is a bad thing to mention why it is you feel called in a particular direction, as if it were not pertinent to the conversation.
Only focusing in on Jesus, the author of our salvation to be sure, is to miss out on the will of God for our salvation and the grace that bespeaks, but also gives short shrift to the Holy Spirit, the third character in our little play this morning.
The small catechism says this about the Holy Spirit.
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.
If you would do more than revel in the salvation given with grace from God the Father, or congratulate yourself on your holy and blessed service to your fellow man and your fellow woman as you follow in the earthly footsteps of Christ, then you will need some reminding, some reinforcing, some whispering in your ear.
Now from my perspective, I work for the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is my boss. My job is to stay out of the Spirit’s way as much as possible as I try and do the work I am called to do, to try and call and to try and gather and to try and let the spirit sanctify with the word of God.
But you can get lost down that rabbit hole as well. All spirit is a church that clings to nothing and awaits a new sign at every turn. How do you teach if there is nothing you agree is fixed? Nothing that is not subject to some new revelation of the Spirit?
You might spread the Word, but if that Word changes, then what is the use of that? You might reach out to others in God’s name but if you don’t have any body of faith, any creed or confession that links you to something that you can say out loud is true.
That is the reason for Trinity Sunday, the reason for the Athanasian Creed which we will not be reading this morning, though a copy has been provided for your edification. We gather this morning to be reminded, by the Spirit, of the grace of God made manifest in the life and death of Jesus. All three of them, necessary to a vital life of faith.
So sure, revel in your salvation, it was hard won and not by you so appreciate it as a gift, a gift you really treasure, like Caitlyn’s new goalie gloves but do not just stop there, go out, baptize in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit the way Jesus taught you to, feed the poor and clothe the naked and all the rest just like Jesus did but always, always have an ear cocked, the Spirit is calling you, is gathering us, is trying to enlighten us all and to keep the church united in the true faith, that ours is a God you cannot pigeon-hole as being this or that, majestic or forgiving; just or merciful, father or Son or Holy Spirit.
We are blessed by a God that makes promises and keeps them and reminds you of them so that you can go out and tell others. Swim with the current and you will feel God’s pleasure in you, unique in all creation in your particular gifts, using those gifts as you have been shown, sometimes by the scriptures, sometimes by a ten year old at the pantry, sometimes by one another.
But you will not feel the pleasure of God, the joys of being one with God’s will unless you are in motion, not just sitting there on the banks of the swiftly-flowing river of grace but diving in, learning how to live as a Christian by actually, living as one.
Then you can feel them all, one in three and three in one, smiling with pleasure as the will of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is fulfilled in your life.