Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Bridges: Connecting God to the World

Seven Mile Bridge, Florida Keys

As our very own Bishop Carter of the Florida Conference of the UMC has said, "A bridge can be a beautiful thing. Jesus is the bridge between God and humanity.” And Florida is full of them. Our gospel text this week, Matthew 9:35-10:23, speaks to this, and encourages followers of Christ to build bridges to the community, where the people God loves are. Jesus encourages us to go into the world, spreading the love of God through acts of compassion, mercy, and justice. He calls us to be a bridge.

Bishop Carter explains that in some places there are bridges, we just need to use them. In other locations, there is an old bridge that needs repair. In others, there is no bridge at all. We may be called to build a new bridge, to repair an old bridge, or to simply use an existing bridge.

This imagery is great! Bridges are available to us, and in Florida there are PLENTY, to help us get to where we need to go, to help us cross terrain that would be impossible (or at least very inconvenient) to cross otherwise, and oftentimes provide beautiful views.

We are called to be these bridges. We are called to connect God to the world. Of course God could arbitrarily do this alone, but God is in the business of building relationships and connection with God and each other. Bridges are needed to do this.

Bridges connect gaps; where there is a gap in your community, you are called by God to bridge it! Where you see a need, God is with you to help you attend to it. Building bridges seems like a difficult thing to do, and it is (think of all the planning, designing, and labor it takes), but it starts with identifying the gap or the need. Here at Gray Memorial UMC, we identified a need to connect some of the elderly population in our community. It has taken a network of people calling, visiting, and providing for some of their needs. It began by seeing a disconnect, and knowing that God has called us to repair an old bridge.

In the gospel text, Jesus promises us that this will not be easy. It would be easier not to build the bridge. To stay where you are. Discomfort and fear are prerequisites for fulfilling the mission of God, who does not call us to do the comfortable, but to the "new thing" that God is doing (Isaiah 43).


Hope of the world, afoot on dusty highways,
showing to wandering souls the path of light,
walk thou beside us lest the tempting byways
lure us away from thee to endless night.

*Hope of the World, United Methodist Hymnal, 178.

In Christ,


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Trinity: A Full Picture of God

The doctrine of the Trinity is most likely the most difficult teachings of the Christian church. When one talks about it, one falls dangerously close to the heresy (mis-teaching, false teaching) of "tri-theism," that is a teaching or belief in 3 gods, not one. No matter how carefully you speak of the doctrine of the Trinity, you will inevitably elevate one aspect of it over the others. This is all to say: how God can be 3 in 1 is a big ole mystery (sort of like how Jesus can be both fully human AND fully divine, but I digress).

Contrary to the way we may think doctrines are created, the core beliefs of Christianity were not thought up of in a some kind of think-tank by old white men with robes on. Many of them were a response to controversy, criticism, and exploitation of those who followed Jesus Christ. Some 200 years after Jesus' "great commission," Matthew 28: 16-20, those who were following Jesus Christ, worshiping and serving God, under stress and the face of questions and challenges, "were sweating it out to say with clarity just why they were living a life that looked foolish to others, caring for widows and orphans, suffering persecution...all of it for the wild notion that the Spirit had gathered them into the life of God.." (Thomas G. Long, Feasting on the Word).

Saint Augustine helps out: he thinks of the nature of God like a tree. The root is wood, the trunk is wood, and the branches are wood. The tree is one substance but three different entities. To extend the metaphor, think about what a tree provides: leaves, fruit, shade, a forest...

The Trinity provides us a complete picture of God (and it is appropriate that we cannot fully understand how it works out). Going back to the "great commission," Jesus asks his followers to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What if we did not have a teaching that points us to these three aspects of God? What if we only baptized in the name of the Father? We'd be missing out on the work and person of Jesus Christ! We'd be missing out on the ongoing activity of the Holy Spirit! What if we only baptized in the name of Jesus Christ? We'd be missing out on the creative maker of heaven and earth, the part of God that is larger than life and logic. We'd miss out on the Holy Spirit (again), the ongoing presence of God with us, today. And what if we only baptized in the name of the Holy Spirit? Again, we'd be missing out on the awesomeness and creative work of God, and the redemptive life of Jesus Christ (Stephen P. Eason, Feasting on the Word).

Shirley Guthrie puts it this way in her book Christian Doctrine: "The same God who is God over us as God the Father and Creator, and God with and for us as the incarnate Word and Son, is also God in and among us as God the Holy Spirit."

The great commission tells us that we cannot go forth into the world, without all of that, without all of God. Whether we understand it or not (remember the apostle Paul encourages us by saying in Philippians 4:7 that the peace of God is "the peace that passes understanding), God has fully immersed us God's presence. That full presence is expressed through the teaching of the Trinity.


Everlasting God,
You have revealed yourself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
and ever live and reign in the perfect unity of love.
Grant that we may always hold firmly and joyfully to this faith,
and, living in praise of your divine majesty,
may finally be one in you;
who are three persons in one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

*The United Methodist Book of Worship, 412.

In Christ,