Trinity 2: The Fruitful Battle

Trinity 2/Proper 8

Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

I have repeated myself over the last few weeks that we are now in a season of teaching. We celebrated Pentecost (the sending of the Holy Spirit) along with the Queen’s Jubilee at the beginning of June. This morning, in St Paul’s letter to the Galatians we see what it is to be led and to live in the Spirit.

The first thing to say is that it is really difficult! We are constantly in a battle between good and evil, right and wrong, moving forward and looking back.
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians (in modern day Turkey) he is addressing many of the questions of the early church and like many of his other letters, he includes lists of things to be avoided. He is telling the Galatians basically to work against their natural desires, to not gratify themselves with the fleshy things of this world. The list in Galatians 5 is rather extensive: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness and carousing.

Without making too much eye contact, it can be assumed that many of us here today have done some/many of the things on this list. Some of these things are against our own physical body and some are against the bodies and wills of other other people. None of these are ideals that we should be striving for. Paul is calling the Galatians and us to a different standard of living.

Paul is also clear that it is an ongoing battle for which we need help. There is a better way and that is the way of the Spirit. This is not about following more rules or just behaving ourselves. Jesus came to bring freedom and not slavery.

To have freedom in Christ, means that we are not bound to old ways, however comfortable they might be. Paul’s list is negative and depressing; none of those things bring life and love. The fix is always temporary. A life lived in the Spirit is enriching, nourishing. It does not have time for the petty and temporary gratification that the world offers. Part of our problem is that we try to balance the Spirit and the flesh; we try to make them work together. It is impossible because they are opposites.

To live by the flesh it to satisfy the self first, be inward looking. Living by Spirit means that we look outward first, to the needs of those around us. It is a continual battle to put the needs of another first, especially if they are not in our family or tribe.

It is slow work. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is the supernatural outcome of being filled with the Holy Spirit and the living proof that the Spirit of God dwells in us. It is one fruit with nine different qualities. Think for a moment about your favourite kinds of fruit.

Imagine one, incredibly perfect fruit that combines all the best characteristics of your favourite kinds of fruit. Maybe a seedless fruit like a banana, nice and crisp like an apple, bursting with the flavours of strawberry and nectarine, the tang of pineapple and raspberry. You get the idea. God is developing a fruit in all his children. The fruit that has characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.

Who does not need any more of these in their lives right now?! Could you be more loving, joyful, patient, kind, faithful. These are lifelong work friends. The more we grow and develop, the freer we become. Freedom always comes with a cost though. It means we cannot go backwards.

The reading from Luke’s Gospel is harsh and uncomfortable; it sets out the call to look ahead. This is not a friendly version of Jesus. He is hard, unyielding, his face is set to go to Jerusalem, to his death. He is impatient, inconvenient, intense, confusing.

First, Jesus is offering rejection and forbearance. The Samaritan villagers did not receive Jesus, he was ready to heal, teach, spend time with them but they refused. This rejection angered John and James and their reaction was to burn the place to the ground! Jesus took his would-be fire-starters to task over their offer. The lesson here is: how in danger are we of leading with anger rather than love the people we disagree with?

A friend of mine posted a meme on Facebook that said: Survival Tip: If you get lost in the woods, start talking about politics and someone will show up to argue with you. Arguing our opinions is a way of life. Everyone is sharing opinions. Why do we get worked up over perfect strangers and their opinions?! Does it matter? Really??

People get so worked up over the opinions of others over things that don’t really matter! Let’s get worked up over things that matter. Humans that are dying in the world! Injustice and hate and racism! Famine in Africa. War in Ukraine. Cost of living. Strikes. It happened then and it happens now.
Are we letting resentment over-take kindness when our feelings get hurt or egos bruised? The call here is to bring life and not death even to those who reject and insult us.

Second, Jesus is selling inconvenience and hardship. I don’t think that person who offered to follow Jesus wherever he was going really had any idea what was meant! Jesus’ reply about foxes having holes and birds having nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. What is he saying?

One reading is that Jesus was homeless. Inconvenient. He travelled around, no mention of a home address. This is more an advertisement for inconvenience, there is no promise of the fat bank account, easy life, nice things. Jesus instead offered a reprioritization of possessions, finance and geography, a dependence on the kindness and generosity of others.

In the final encounter, Jesus again seems rather harsh towards a chap who wants to say goodbye to his family. As someone who has to say goodbye to her family frequently – I don’t like this! This, I think, is about hesitation. We can always find an excuse not to do something.

There is an urgency to the Gospel message that we sometimes forget. I think that we like to think we have more time and control than we actually do! The time is now, not later.

Where does this leave us this morning?! This is a hard Gospel reading that doesn’t leave us much room for compromise. Jesus is asking us to give up everything for him, even those things that we hold most dear. To follow him despite the inconvenience that it brings and those things we will have to miss out on.

Jesus is hard on us because he knows that our hearts cry out for transformation. For renewal. For resurrection. Nothing else we buy will suffice. Nothing else the world sells can compare. So Jesus bids us to come and die so that his fruit of love, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control can take root and then and only then will we truly live in freedom.

Trinity Sunday: My (valiant) attempt…

Trinity Sunday

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

Today we are remembering Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost and we are meant to celebrate the Christian doctrine of the Trinity – God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. The three-person Godhead. Celebrating foundational Christian doctrine might not sound all that exciting, but it is!
It is good, I think, to remind ourselves about the essence of our Christian faith after the events and activities of Lent, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. The church year now opens up and rolls along until Advent as the big festivals are now complete.

Most Priests shiver at the thought of a Trinity Sunday sermon. We try to take holidays, pass the preaching on to a visitor or a Curate. Clergy Facebook groups are filled with angsty posts about the Trinity sermons. I was at the Oxford Diocese Clergy Conference this past week and even Bishop Steven hinted at outsourcing his Trinity Sunday sermon to his chaplain.
So where does that leave me?!

The Church has marked Trinity Sunday since the mid 800’s. So it is not new. It was instituted to speak against the heresies of the early church as they worked out how to understand the concept of one God in three elements. Three does in fact equal one!

Reference to the Trinity is woven through our services, every time I or we say ‘in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; the entire Christian story is retold in the Eucharist prayer before Communion, we repeat it each week in the Creeds. Central to the Christian faith that God is Father, Son and Spirit. It is difficult to understand and at some point needs to be believed as part of the mystery of God. But don’t simply jump to that conclusion as tempting as it is!

I picked up a new book at the clergy conference, ‘Why Being Yourself is a Bad Idea and other counter cultural notions’ by Graham Tomlin (the current Bishop of Kensington). He starts with a rather punchy history of the Christian faith…
Many people are still struggling today; even the most honest of Christians will admit to doubts and questions.

In our Gospel reading this week, Jesus tells his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. Read and understand this sentence with the utmost kindness and patience from Jesus. He knows what we do and do not understand. The Spirit was sent to guide us slowly, in forbearance to come to understand the deeper truth of all that Jesus said. This is a safe place to start. God never burdens us with more than we can understand nor does He push us into belief or faith. The Spirit was sent to guide us as long as we are wanting to be led in seeking the truth.

Pope Francis, “The Holy Spirit will never tell you that on your journey everything is going just fine. He will never tell you this, because it isn’t true. No, he corrects you; he makes you weep for your sins; he pushes you to change, to fight against your lies and deceptions, even when that calls for hard work, interior struggle and sacrifice… The Holy Spirit, correcting you along the way, never leaves you lying on the ground: He takes you by the hand, comforts you and constantly encourages you.”

In the work of the Trinity, we see that God is fluid, dynamic, never sitting still. Many people, young and old, believe and live like God is some distant and dusty old Man sitting on a cloud or living in a box or in a church building. There is something comforting in the idea that God is sitting still, containable but yet desperating boring. God is on the move, always surprising and wanting us to join in with what he is doing. Unity is at the heart of the Trinity, but unity does not mean rigidity. Many Christians get it so wrong with holding on to ideas that God is mean or distant or it is just about the rules or even worse – irrelevant to life in this time and season.

God is diverse and thankfully not limited to our imaginations. We are all created in the image of God yet express ourselves differently. It follows then that God’s nature is diverse too. Jesus is the beloved Son, born of Mary and sent to us in human form. He consistently points to the Father who sent him to be with us. We see that the Holy Spirit was sent to journey with us, move with us every day and in every way.

Finally, we see that God is communal. We were made for relationships, for community. We were not hatched from eggs, like separate entities. We were born into families (for better or for worse), hopefully we have made friends along the way, got married or not, had children or not and have found community along the way and built relationships.

I read many sets of banns this morning for the upcoming weddings. Now imagine for a moment that after your marriage service, you went off on your separate ways. (find some examples). You would still be married but you would never know the fullness of your marriage relationship while apart. If you want a full relationship with your spouse, then you need to be together, live in community with each other. The same goes for God, if you want a full relationship then you need to live together with him, He needs to be invited in. God also comes with roommates, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is a full and glorious house.

How lovely was it last weekend to attend Jubilee parties or lunches? For those that did, did you feel any different by being surrounded by community again? My prayer is that the coming together of last weekend will have a lasting and positive effect on communities large and small and that connections made new or reestablished will be maintained.

St Paul wrote his letter to the Romans before he ever visited so he laid out the basic elements of Christian teaching. Paul had a dramatic encounter with Jesus after the resurrection and was blinded for a time. Through his blindness he came to see the Risen Jesus and was forever changed. He is writing to the Christians in Rome to tell them they have everything they need in the grace and love of God through the Holy Spirit. Endure, Paul says, go the distance, it is worth it. Often endurance means we need to forgo the right of convenience, the right to give up when it gets too much.

At the centre of this endurance is love. God is love. At the heart of the Trinity is love; deep, unflinching, unfaltering, life-long and life-giving love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that is extended to us. Do not worry about what you cannot bear right now. Work at understanding that you are simply loved by God as you are. The Trinity tells us that there is more love and life to come, we are part of a bigger story. We are children of the Trinity, always invited and deeply loved. The power of the Trinity will change our lives, lead and guide us to become the people we were created to be, guide us to unity and community. May our lives reflect the beauty and truth of the Trinity.