God’s Divine Dance: The Holy Trinity

A humble and feeble attempt concerning the Holy Trinity                                                              The Rev. Mark McDonald, Vicar – Episcopal Church of the Advent, Lillian AL           www.AdventLillian.org

We Christians worship the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Again, I say that we Christians worship the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Upon reflection, I have to say that if you are deeply listening, you might be a little bit confused.

We worship One God, but yet I justed stated that the God we worship is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  That sounds an awful lot like three Gods.  How can that be?

Most Christians are perhaps made a little uncomfortable by reflecting on this, because our one God, who consists of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not a very easy thing to understand.   Most of us believe in the Trinity because of tradition, and if it is good enough for the generations who came before, then it is good enough for me.  But as much as we want to skirt by and not dig into a deeper discussion of the Trinity, we shortchange ourselves if we do not engage the Trinitarian God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Though the Trinity is one of the most fundamental doctrines of Christianity, the Bible says nothing about it directly.   But yet today, we truly believe in the trinitarian nature of the one true God.   What do you mean the Bible does not directly mention God as Trinity! If the Trinity is not specifically mentioned in the New Testament then why do we believe it so?

Well, we know that the new Testament is the story of the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is referred to as Son of Man and Son of God for the most part in the New Testament, and the New Testament generally reserves the title of “God” to the Father.    But in the New Testament, the title of God is bestowed on Jesus from time to time, such as in the opening verse of John’s Gospel  where it states, “and the Word was God.”   Also, after Thomas sees the risen Jesus and goes on to confess his faith when he says to Jesus, “My Lord and My God.”

This new faith, called Christianity, hinged on Jesus Christ being fully God or the savings acts of Jesus through his death and resurrection would mean nothing.    Also, the faith of the apostles and Jesus were rooted in the monotheistic tradition of Judaism which states there is only one God who always existed.    As you can see, the early church had a major theological dilemma, and it took hundreds of years for the Church to work this problem out.

The early church dealt with significant theological issues such as:   Who is God?  Who is Jesus?  How can Jesus be God, if God existed from the beginning?  But if Jesus is not God, then his life, death, and resurrection have no saving acts that can only come from God.  But if Jesus is God, do we have more than one God?  But we all know two or more God’s cannot exist since we are all aware, just as the ten commandments states, there is only one God and there can be no other Gods before me.

To the early Christian Church, the coequal divinity of Christ was of the highest urgency,  because our salvation was at stake.  If Christ is not truly divine, then he is a creature like us and has no special standing before God.  We are all still in our sins, and therefore Christ does not offer salvation.

Do you see the dilemma of the early church?   Are you starting to see how the Trinitarian nature of God came about even though it was not explicitly spelled out to us in Scripture?  Thus the long process of the Trinitarian nature of the one true God began to be worked out and revealed among God’s people.

The trinitarian issue, through many heresies, debates, exiles, and deaths, mostly came to a conclusion at the Council of Nicea in the year 325 C.E. summoned by Emperor Constantine.  The Council of Nicea was called to deal with the Arian question which in simplistic terms states that the Son was not fully God, but at the same time, way more than Human.  In response to Arianism, the Council of Nicea gave us an answer to the Arian question.     I think you may be a little familiar with the Response from the Council of Nicea.   Here are a few phrases from that council held so long ago that shape our belief in the One true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.    “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.   We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.”

The Nicene Creed affirms that Christ and the Father are the same substance.  Christ is one in being from the father.  And this Sunday and most every Sunday, as a result of the Council of Nicea we will read in our Eucharistic liturgy the Nicene Creed as a Statement of our Faith.  God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct persons all made from the same substance.

Now that we have this trinitarian business all cleared up. What now!  Yeah! Like we could ever clear this up and fully understand the nature and being of God! 

But it does give us an idea of the infinite and tremendous nature of God.  God’s three persons are in relationship with each other and invite us to participate in God’s Divine relationship, God’s Divine dance.   We, through God’s saving acts in history and through the actions of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are shown that God has many avenues to reach us, to guide us, to love us, to save us and to open us up to live a life that is dancing with God and is much larger than ourselves.

Instead of being mere subjects to an authoritarian God, we are invited to be in a relationship with the Trinitarian God.  Guided by the Father, the Creator, we are created and loved as God’s children.  Through the Christ, the Son, encompassing the divinity and the humanity of Jesus, we are invited to participate fully in the life of God.  God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, connects us all to God’s divine life.  God, the Holy Trinity,  creates, nurtures, saves, redeems, revitalizes, makes old things new, gives us inspiration and second chances, shows us how to love, and connects all things to each other and God.  In other words, through the Holy Trinity, we as humans are invited to dance with the mysterious, wonderful and tremendous God we know as the Holy Trinity.  So it is time that we as Christians, put on our dancing Shoes and enjoy the ride known as the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Amazing Grace

Knowledge of God’s grace can and will move you to a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.   If you worship with a willing heart and open eyes, you will grow in God’s grace because it is always present and active in our lives whether we realize it or not.  The celebration of the Holy Eucharist is not about entertainment.  It is about God free and unmerited gift to you!  It is about God’s unlimited and unfailing grace!

Our life, prayer, and worship as the Body of Christ is the fundamental sacrament of Jesus Christ.  When we gather together in prayer, we are the Church, the foundation of all things seen and unseen that encompasses our lives.  Worshiping together as the Body of Christ is fundamental to who we are.  Our worship on Sunday is not one of many things competing for our time; it is the foundation of our lives and through worship, Christ makes our lives grace-filled and meaningful.

By experiencing Jesus through Holy Communion, God’s grace flows through our lives.  Through Christ, we are forgiven and accepted, and we receive the power to become the person God created us to be.  Christ uses the grace of the Holy Communion to connect us in ways we dare not imagine.  We are linked, not only to each other but to all the souls who make up the Kingdom of God.

Through God’s grace, we fully know and understand we are a valued member of the Body of Christ and are a part of something much larger than ourselves.  It is more substantial than any entertainment we could enjoy on Sunday morning.

All seeking Jesus Christ are always welcome at the Lord’s table.
Here is your formal invitation from our Lord, Jesus.
“This is the table, not of the Church, but of the Lord.  It is made ready for those who love God and for those who hope to love God more.  So, come, you who have faith and you who have doubts.  Come if you have been here often, and come if you have not been here long.  Come if you have followed, and come if you have stumbled.  Come, because it the Lord who invites you.  It is Christ’s will that those who seek him will meet him here at God’s table. Come.”

God’s Grace to you!
Mark+

On Being Christian

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The Rev. Mark McDonald’s musings concerning the Rt. Rev. Dr. Rowan William’s book On Being Christian.

There are so many good books that explain Christianity, and it was tough to choose just one. The book I would recommend depends on to whom I would be giving it and what I thought would best speak to them.  For example, I would give the book, Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber to a millennial who might be questioning everything, or the book Crazy Christians by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to a baby boomer who has been faithful but currently struggling and in need of hope and transformation.  I also would consider giving the book, Dream of God by Verna Dozier to one who is seeking Jesus and wanting a deeper how the story of Jesus and the story of their life fits with scripture.

But the one book I would give, with all of these books or by itself, that explains Christianity and is relatable, understandable and meaningful to the most people is Being Christian by Rowan Williams.  This book gets to the heart of Christianity.  Williams breaks it down into four sections of Baptism, Bible, Eucharist and Prayer with the emphasis on how we come to live a life centered on Jesus Christ.  Being Christian is readable, not very long, and most everyone can read this book and get a solid foundation of Christianity, with the hope of getting them on the road to following Jesus with greater understanding and a thirst to learn more.

It opens with Baptism just as our Christian life starts with Baptism.  Williams explains with clarity and authenticity what we are getting ourselves into as a baptized Christians.   When John baptized Jesus, he was immersing himself in the depth of humanity.  And through our baptism, we are immersed into life in Christ.  We are starting anew and making space for God’s creative work in our lives.  Williams states in his book, “Baptism means being with Jesus in the depth of human need, and also the depth of God’s love where the spirit is recreating and refreshing human life as God intended it to be.”

Next, Williams turns to the Bible and what Holy Scripture means to us as Christians with Christ as the center.  He explains that the Bible was created to be heard and that we need to understand the whole story, and it is better for us to read the Bible together and not in isolation.

In summary, Williams shows us that the Bible consists of stories, poems, prose, history and great literature which are all narratives of God’s initiative and our human response, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad, even horrific, showing us what not to do as God’s people.  God initiates the story of Jesus, and through Jesus, we get the perfect response of love and obedience showing us the way.

This book gives anyone who seeks greater understanding of the Christian faith by reading and hearing scripture and looking for God’s initiative and human response in the various narratives of the Bible.   As a Christian, Williams encourages us to read scripture with Christ in the center, without disrespecting the Hebrew canon.  We are instructed how to study faithfully, to read and hear scripture with a group in order to gain a better perspective of God’s word and God’s initiative in our lives and the world today.  This book shows that the Bible is not only the story of the people of God, but the Bible is also our story as well.

Next Williams turns to the Eucharist and shows with great clarity and understanding the centrality of the Eucharist to the Christian life.  We read in this book that the Eucharist is God’s words of welcome and it is God who is the giver of all good things through the body and blood of Jesus.  And through Eucharist, we are invited to live in Christ’s transforming spirit as we go out into the world to love and serve the Lord. It is the resurrected Christ who welcomes us and invites us to the Lord’s Table.  Christ, in scriptures, welcomes us with gracious hospitality, but he wants us to welcome him in our homes and in our lives.  Through the resurrected Christ, we are sharing a glorious feast where we are wanted and loved by our Lord. It is Jesus who shows us how to open our hearts and share God’s welcome and love with our neighbor.  Jesus invites all of us to his table, and that is good news for a sinner like me.

God is the giver of all that we are. The last supper is Jesus breaking bread and giving thanks to God right before his darkest moment, the crucifixion.  God is sharing and giving through the breaking of bread not only in joyous moments but dark hard moments as well.  And God, through Holy Eucharist, is the giver in every corner of our experience and every situation we encounter.  Rowan William’s sums it up best, “If Jesus gives thanks over bread and wine on the eve of death, if Jesus makes that connection  between the furthest place away from God, which is suffering and death, and the giving and outpouring of his Father, and if in his person he fuses those things together, then wherever we are some connection between us and God is possible.  All places, all people, all things have about them unexpected sacramental depth.  They are open to God the Giver.”

Finally, Williams discusses prayer and the Christian life.   He cites various church fathers such as Origen, Greggory of Nyssa, and John Cassius sharing their thoughts and practice of prayer and the Christian Life.  Through these Church fathers, Williams addresses the question of why to pray in the first place if God already knows better than we know ourselves and knows our deepest desires before we do.  But according to Origen, God had decided that he will work out God’s purposes through what we say and

God wants us to be in a relationship with him, and prayer is the means for that relationship. This book shows us that Jesus wants us to pray to him as a friend or someone who is a part of our family. With that said, we are praying in Jesus instead of to Jesus.

Through prayer we give thanks, we listen, plea, and give our life to God.  We bring our whole selves to God, warts and all, and that is the intimacy God wants from us.  Sometimes our very breathing and existence is the best prayer of thanksgiving we can give to God.  Being Christian discusses prayer and gives us ways to pray, as well as the importance of prayer as we live our Christian journey as people who love Jesus.

I love this book, and it explains Christianity as well as any book I have read. It gives and inspires those who read it a foundation to grow in faith and a way of seeing themselves, and the world, in a deeper more sacramental way.  For those who read the book Being Christian, they will find it plants many seeds for Christian growth as they journey in their life in Christ.

God’s Peace,

Mark+

God Bless Terry McGill!

Mark McDonald image

The Rev. Mark W. McDonald

Terry McGill is the person who had the most significant spiritual influence in my life.   Terry was not a priest, author, philosopher, artist, musician, teacher, therapist, or spiritual director.  He was the last person anyone would think of as the type who could make a spiritual impact on another living soul.  Terry was a hardworking, Vietnam veteran and was also a recovering drug addict and alcoholic.  What made Terry unique was his authenticity, and he used his spiritual gift to help others.

When I was a young man, I found myself in the grips of alcoholism and drug addiction.  Thankfully, I have been sober since 1987 and my brief time with Terry was the key that opened the door to the rest of my life.

Terry led a recovery group helping young adults learn to live a sober life.  Through God’s grace, I was in this group, and my life has never been the same since.

He led our small group like no other I have ever experienced.  We shared our struggles and victories, and we all felt our weekly meetings helped us immensely.  Eventually, we trusted each other enough to dig deep and share, in an honest way, our perception of God’s activity in our lives.  Terry’s leadership worked because he was an authentic person.  He got every single one of us to open up and become vulnerable.  This group had an extraordinary effect on me, and I am still close friends with several of them.

Terry’s life as a young adult was tragic.  He was lost as a young man, rebelled against authority, drank a lot and dropped out of school when he was a junior in high school.  As soon as he turned eighteen, he was drafted into the Vietnam war and saw heavy combat.  While in Vietnam, Terry started using drugs and later became addicted to heroin.  After his service in Vietnam, he continued to struggle with his addiction, and floated around the country doing odd jobs and barely getting by.  Eventually, Terry ended up on the streets with no money, no family, and no place to call home.  Somehow he survived on the streets for three years before he landed in an emergency room almost dead, but Terry was able to detox.  Through God’s grace, he ended up in a state-run treatment center/halfway house which successfully started Terry on his road to recovery.

Terry relinquished his hard turtle shell and allowed others to help him.  After many years of living close to death and doing things his way, Terry decided he had nothing to lose and might as well listen to others who were not dying, drug-addicted, trying to steal from him, or wanted to kill him.  Terry’s realized his willingness to follow God was all he had.  In fact, Terry was not sure of where sobriety would lead. But nowhere else to go, he gave up his resistance to getting help and miraculously realized living in a relationship with God was a pretty good deal.   It was much better than his hell on earth, or his certain death.

When I met Terry, he was in his sixties, and he had been clean and sober for over fifteen years.  Terry’s remarkable story and his extraordinary group leadership made what I am about to share possible.  It was his simple action which opened my eyes and heart ever so slightly making space for God in my life.

In my twenties, I was searching for meaning and trying to find my way.  I spent a year in weekly meetings with Terry’s group. But as with all things; our time together came to an end.  Unfortunately, after I moved back to my hometown, I began reverting to my old mindset and losing my perspective.  I was still sober, but I was having a difficult time finding my way, and I became angry at God.  My life seemed very different from how I thought it should be.  I could not deal with my vulnerability as a person.  I was afraid I was not good enough to be valuable to any future employer, girlfriend or wife.  I was hiding from others, and from myself.  Most importantly, I was hiding from God.  I did not believe I had any value to God.  It was as if I was curled up in that hard turtle shell and was not letting anyone peek inside.

Two years later, I was attending an AA convention in Shreveport.  I was sitting in the lobby of the hotel, and I distinctly remember I was feeling anxious and afraid.  I was in no mood to talk with another living creature.  My self-esteem was low, and I did not feel worthy to do much of anything.   It was a dark time for me.

I remember getting up from my chair in the hotel lobby, turning around the corner, and unexpectedly, Terry was standing right in front of me.  Terry noticed me first, looked me in the eye and while saying my name enthusiastically, gave me a great big hug without giving me a chance to back away or turn to my side.

I will never forget that hug from Terry.  It was as if I was a dragon, a greedy, tight, puny and confused dragon.  And when Terry hugged me, my scales were washed away.  Through a simple hug, Terry reminded me I was a beloved child of God.  That remarkable, genuine hug from my friend has stayed with me to this day.

Terry and his hug were the mustard seeds which started me on my spiritual journey.   I firmly believe God, through Terry McGill, laid the foundation eventually leading me to the priesthood thirteen years later.  Sadly, he passed on to his greater reward some time ago.  May his soul and the souls of all the departed rest in peace.  God bless Terry McGill!

God’s Peace, Mark+