Giver, Given, All Quickening Fire: September 6, 2020

Good Morning Wellsboro Community,

I am Pastor John Bondhus and as of July 1st I have been serving as the minister of the United Methodist Church of Wellsboro. I am greatly honored to be with you all today and to speak with you on a very controversial subject, even within all Christian denominations. In order to truly understand something, or to even make an informed conclusion of your own, you must have all the available information to make a sound judgement. The subject you might be wondering is, and this might sound strange, the Trinity. First, I ask, how would you explain it to someone in such a way that it would make sense beyond a faith perspective? In other words, how would you define it in a way that can be proven in the natural world?

This week my wife and I were watching a documentary called connected. In one of the episodes they talked about these small birds, called veeries, that travel between Delaware and Brazil. There is a scientist that wanted to understand these amazing little birds and there a few things that he found interesting. First off, he discovered that every year the birds come back to the same region in Delaware, but to make things even more amazing the same birds will come and nest in the same exact trees, year after year. This is astounding! How can a bird know the exact tree that they were in the year prior? The fact that they can do something truly incredible is awesome, but it is not even the most incredible thing about these little birds. The scientist also found that the birds would leave early when a bad hurricane season was coming. The scientist found that these birds were tuned into something in nature and were better predictors of when a bad hurricane season would come than even the trained meteorologists. This small bird showed how incredible our creation is and how amazing the world can be in its more natural state. It is truly a mystery how they can do all that they do. Now back to this controversy of the Trinity.

Now I know you might be thinking, why make a controversy about the Trinity? To be frank, I didn’t. The controversy has been there for many generations going all the way back to Nicene Creed in AD 325. Let’s begin with our first passage today which may sound a little different in newer translations. If you were to read the passage in the King James Version of verse 7 the translation reads “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” This text verse is not included in the oldest manuscripts. It is thought by some critics to be a marginal note of explanation that some early scribe may have included for clarity’s sake. Immediately, I suspect, your response would be, why? Why include something that was not there in the first place? We are not really sure why the scribe who wrote this into the text long ago would have done it. In fact if you were to look at the scripture neither the word Trinity nor any explicit doctrine of the Trinity would be found. Jesus and his followers did not intend to contradict the Shema which was the Jewish confession of faith, but the early church also had to wrestle with the fact Jesus Christ came and indwelled here on Earth and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

For the church today we continually wrestle with the concept of the Trinity because it is not logical or easily understood. As a Methodist, my understanding of the Trinity and trying to wrestle with this doctrine is that we take it on faith to be true, but we do not try to rationalize it. We understand the truth of the Trinity through our experience, but we also recognize that we would not know how to prove its existence. Yet, this does not take away from its power.

Let me try to explain it this way, if you ever want to know what a Methodist believes, look in our hymnal. Our theology is presented in song and praise. When Methodists gather for worship we use traditional terms like Father, Son and Holy Ghosts, but we also have a large assortment of other ways to address the Trinity that I believe speak to the character of God. We will use terms for the Trinity like (fountain of deity, the true living light, all alluring spirit) or (fountain of love, partner of the sinful nature, rivers of rapture unknown) or (the giver, the given, all quickening fire) or (pure universal love, eternal sharer, indwelling comforter). I am personally biased to God as giver, Christ as given, and Holy Spirit as all quickening fire.

The beauty for me of the Trinity is that it is way more expansive than simply the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Even our scriptures use feminine language to express characteristics of God. Throughout Christian and Jewish tradition we have wisdom literatures like Proverbs 1-9 that clearly use feminine language to describe God. The greek word for wisdom translates literally to Sophia and Jesus even uses this when describing God like a mother hen sheltering her chicks from the storm. There is beauty in the vast and mysterious expanse of God the creator.

The beauty of all of this is that we don’t have to fully comprehend a doctrine like the Trinity to experience God in all their capacity. God is both creator and creation, living and breathing all around us every day. You want to experience God? Go outside and see God all around you in the beauty of the trees, in the love of a neighbor, in the helping hands in our local community. God is working in this world, through every aspect of this world.

Through a revelation of grace God gave us what we could understand through Jesus. God is pure and infinite; we are finite. The undiluted truth is that apart from God leaving heaven for a bed of straw in an obscure Judean town, born to a scared teenage unwed mother; living a perfectly sinless life; and being unfairly, unjustly, unceremoniously executed....apart from the intervention in time and space of a God who knew our need, and cared enough to do something about it, we could only guess at it all.

William Barclay said, "What Jesus did was to open a window in time that we might see the eternal and unchanging love of God." The relevance is that I KNOW God cares!

By coming and living this life, God did more than simply create and leave us on our own. God came and gave us a purpose. We are to be beacons of light and love for a world that struggles with this truly mysterious and abstract God. Love is the calling of all Christians because it is the one thing that is fully tangible about our faith. God used their immense capacity to gift this unconditional love to the world in so many different ways, it is our job to continue this love throughout all creation.

Friends, there is no greater gift to give than the love of Jesus Christ. Jesus continued to love even those who put him on the cross. He did so because we knew that they would need him to love them. The Trinity is an important basis of Christian faith and life, but only so much in that it shows all the different ways that God has loved all of humanity from before creation and till after. Remember that God so loved that world that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life and that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him. There is no greater love than the unconditional love of God that we experience through the giver, given and all quickening fire of God. Never forget that you are loved and don’t forget that this love is not to be kept to ourselves, but shared with every person in all creation. Remember the mystery of the veeries bird and how we don’t fully understand all that happens in the creation around us, we also cannot possibly understand all the mystery of God and therefore take it on faith that God is at work in the world. Amen.