Saturday, May 29, 2010

Justified by Faith - Trinity Sunday 2010

Justified by Faith John 16:12-15
May 30, 2010

Nine weeks ago on Easter Day, Christians across the world were proclaiming, Alleluia, the Lord is Risen. He is Risen indeed. Alleluia.

The disciples were amazed and relieved. We were amazed and relieved. The one we thought had died was risen; he was with us once again. We were not alone.

And now, today, just a few short weeks later, the Risen Christ tells his disciples that he will leave them once again. This time, he will go to heaven to be with his Father, leaving the disciples with his final gift – the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Can you imagine how confused and desolate the disciples must have been? How would you have felt? Angry, resentful, abandoned? I know that I would probably have felt overwhelmed.

One minute our teacher and leader was dead and buried in a tomb; within a few short hours, vanished from that very same tomb; soon after only to be alive again and present with us; and, then, once again, gone.

To quote a friend of mine, “who would have believed???”

And, yet Jesus is asking his disciples, and us, to do exactly that – to believe.

Jesus knew his final departure would be hard for the disciples. He knew that they were very dependent on him; that they had not yet fully understood who he was, or what his message was. After all his teaching, all his good works, and despite his resurrection – the disciples still did not get it – they did not understand that he was the Son of God; their savior; their salvation. Jesus knew this.

Jesus said to his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear to hear them now,” fully understanding that this final departure would leave the disciples frightened and confused, wondering, “What will we do now?”

But, Jesus also knew that when he departed, the Holy Spirit would come into the lives of those who had followed him, breathing life into the message of grace and salvation that had been his mission to bring to us as the Son of God; God incarnate.

Jesus tells the disciples that the Holy Spirit, “… will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Jesus came to us as the incarnation, the embodiment in flesh, of God. He will now rise to “sit at the right hand of God” – to be one with God. He will be replaced by the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of God.

Jesus was “begotten” by the Father, and the Holy Spirit will “proceed” from the Father and from the Son. The three, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are One – the Holy Trinity – Holy, Holy, Holy.

That is what we are celebrating today, Trinity Sunday – the solemn day of commemoration of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Jesus was God’s gift to us. Through his crucifixion, death and resurrection, Jesus gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit. Christ knew God’s mission for him, and through the Holy Spirit, we are told by Christ, that we will know God’s mission for us.

Christ had faith in God, his Father. This faith called him to his ministry and gave him the courage and strength to face his death on the cross.

Christ is asking us to have faith, and to allow this faith to open our hearts to the gift of the Holy Spirit; to allow our lives to be nurtured and guided by the breath of the Holy Spirit.

Just as God breathed on Adam and gave him the breath of life, Jesus breathed on his disciples and said to them, “Peace to you! As the Father sent me, I also send you…and when he said this he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ ”

The gift of the Holy Spirit– will we have the courage to recognize it and to allow it to nurture our faith and guide us through these challenging times?

This weekend we are also celebrating Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, the day of Remembrance, for those who have died in our nation’s service. Remembrance Day officially goes back to World War I. Since that time, many wars have been fought and many lives lost. One hundred sixteen, six hundred and six lives were lost in World War I; 405,399 in World War II; 33,686 in the Korean War; 58,209 in the Vietnam War; 1,083 in Afghanistan; and, 4,403 in Iraq. A total of 36,230 men and women have been either killed or wounded in the Iraq War.

These men and women went into battle with courage, perseverance, and faith. Many have written extensively about the presence of God in their lives in the most terrifying of moments in the battle field.

"In Flanders Fields" is one of the most memorable of these written accounts. It is a poem written by Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae written just after he witnessed the death of his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer who was only 22 years old. The poppies referred to in the poem grew in profusion in Flanders in the disturbed earth of the battlefields and cemeteries where war casualties were buried. That is how they became a symbol of Remembrance Day.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

In a verbal tribute to our military, General Douglas MacArthur in his farewell address at the West Point commencement ceremonies on May 12, 1962 said,

“In twenty campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved the soldier’s statue in the hearts of his people

From one end of the world to the other, he has drained deep the chalice of courage. As I listened to those songs of the glee club, in memory's eye I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs on many a weary march, from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle deep through mire of shell-pocked roads; to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God.

I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: Duty, Honor, Country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as they saw the way and the light.

And twenty years after, on the other side of the globe, against the filth of dirty foxholes, the stench of ghostly trenches, the slime of dripping dugouts, those boiling suns of the relentless heat, those torrential rains of devastating storms, the loneliness and utter desolation of jungle trails, the bitterness of long separation of those they loved and cherished, the deadly pestilence of tropic disease, the horror of stricken areas of war.

Their resolute and determined defense, their swift and sure attack, their indomitable purpose, their complete and decisive victory--always victory, always through the bloody haze of their last reverberating shot, the vision of the gaunt, ghastly men, reverently following the password of Duty, Honor, Country................

Today marks my final roll call with you. But I want you to know that when I cross the river, my last conscious thoughts will be of the Corps, and the Corps, and the Corps”
“If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”

“They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory.”

“Peace to you! As the Father sent me, I also send you…and when he said this he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ ”