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Three in One, and One in Three

By the Rev. Darren Miner

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bible Readings

Today is Trinity Sunday, and this principal feast is a bit of an anomaly. For it doesn’t commemorate an event or a person, but a doctrine, namely, the doctrine of the Trinity. Stating the doctrine of the Trinity is simple enough: “We believe on one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Understanding the doctrine of the Trinity, however, is not so simple. You don’t need a degree in mathematics to see the fundamental paradox: we Christians say that we believe in one God; but when asked the Name of our God, we enumerate three separate persons, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

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A fuller statement of the doctrine may be found in the Athanasian Creed. It states: “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, and the Holy Spirit is uncreated. The Father is incomprehensible, the Son is incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit is incomprehensible.” (To which one might add, this whole Creed is incomprehensible!)

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One Church, One Nation, One World under God

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Today, we find ourselves in that liminal period between the Ascension and Pentecost, and in the Gospel reading, we look back at Jesus’ prayer for the Church, given at the Last Supper.

That Jesus is praying for the unity of the Church is clear enough. But the language that Jesus uses isless clear. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us…. [May they] be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.” At first hearing, it sounds an awful lot like a line from a song by the Beatles: “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” But that’s where the similarity ends. Jesus’ words are of the utmost importance for the Church and for the world—the Beatles’ words, not so much!

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Now, Jesus’ call for unity has been taken seriously by the Church right from the very start. Unity is, after all, one of the four “marks of the Church” mentioned in the Nicene Creed, along with holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. Of course, just because the Church takes unity seriously does not mean that the Church has done a very good job of maintaining it. It hasn’t. Christian history is filled with schisms and disagreements. In fact, Christians can’t even agree on the definition of unity!

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Of Codfish and Commandments

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Every culture in every age categorizes some foodstuffs as too disgusting to eat. Often, it is the case that the foodstuffs that are rejected are the delicacies of another people. When I was in Portugal recently, I was told that salted codfish, octopus, and barnacles are particularly beloved of the Portuguese. Call me squeamish, but even if I weren’t a vegetarian, I don’t think I would want to eat any of those items! Well, the Jews of the first century also categorized certain foods as disgusting filth. And for them the food laws were not unwritten, social norms, but actual written laws. Certain foods were considered filth, and the people who ate them, namely the Gentiles, were also considered filth. And you know what happens when you touch filth, you get dirty!

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So imagine the shock and horror of the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem when they heard that Peter had polluted himself by eating filthy food with filthy people. As we heard today, Peter had a vision in which God declared filthy foods to be clean and fit to eat. Peter took this as a sign that the filthy people who ate such foods had now been declared clean by God himself. In other words, part of the Torah had been abrogated! When Peter was summoned to the house of the Gentile centurion Cornelius, he witnessed the members of the household responding to the Holy Spirit by speaking in tongues and praising God. Peter then instructed them in the faith and baptized them on the spot.

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When Peter told his story to the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem, who had called him to account, their criticism was silenced. And they acknowledged that God had done a new and astounding thing: he had extended salvation to the non-Jewish peoples of the world, something previously unimaginable. So, while it is St. Paul who deserves credit for extending the Christian mission to Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire, it is St. Peter who deserves credit for first discerning that God had torn down the wall separating the People of God from the Gentile peoples of the world.

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Of Shepherds and Sheep and Multitudes in White

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Bom dia! And in case you didn’t understand that, it means “good morning” in Portuguese. As you may know, I just spent two weeks in Portugal on vacation. I had a great time, but I’m glad to be back home!

Today is unofficially referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday. The reason is pretty obvious. We get references to lambs, sheep, and shepherds in the Collect of the Day and in three out of four of today’s appointed readings. (The first lesson from the Acts of the Apostles is the sole exception.)

The purpose of this set of readings is to drive home the point that Jesus is the good shepherd of God’s people. For country folk, this statement might not need much explanation. But for us city folk, this seemingly simple idea needs more clarification, I think.

With apologies to St. Peter, I am going to skip right over his miracle in the Acts of the Apostles and begin with the appointed psalm, Psalm 23. This is the one psalm that most people can quote, even if only partially. And because of its promise of consolation, it is the favorite psalm at Christian funerals. The problem with this psalm is that we have heard it so many times that we don’t pay attention to it anymore. And we really ought to pay close attention to the very first line: “The Lord is my shepherd.” This verse is, in effect, a pledge of allegiance—not to the flag of our country, but to our God. When we recite that line, we declare where our ultimate loyalty lies. Above our dedication to any sports teams, above our commitment to any political party, above our patriotism to our homeland, we Christians vow to follow the Lord, just as sheep follow a shepherd.

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Painfully Preparing for Joy

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Palm Procession Gospel

Passion Gospel

Today, Holy Week begins, and by a quirk of liturgical history, we get the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem juxtaposed with St. Luke’s account of the Suffering of the Christ. For this reason, today is given two names in the prayer book: Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Passion (or as we would say in modern English, “the Sunday of the Suffering”).

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This dual nature of Palm Sunday bothers some people. They rightly point out that it is redundant to read one Passion narrative on Palm Sunday and another on Good Friday. A few churches have gone so far as to omit the reading of the Passion Gospel on this day. But this first, shorter reading of the Passion does serve a couple of useful purposes. First, it reminds us that we humans are fickle. For the very same crowds that acclaimed Jesus as their Messiah, later shouted for his crucifixion. Second, this first reading sets the tone for the week ahead; it serves as a sort of “preview of coming attractions,” if you will. And the coming attractions are many!

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Feeling the Love of Jesus

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

The Gospel reading today is problematic. It is problematic from the perspective of history and from the perspective of social norms.

Let’s deal with the historical problem first. This same story is told in all four Gospels, but the Gospels don’t all agree on the facts of the matter. In Matthew and Mark, the anointing took place at dinner in the house of a Pharisee named Simon the Leper. And there, Mary anointed Jesus’ head, not his feet. In Luke, it is a notoriously sinful woman of Galilee, not Mary of Bethany, who anoints Jesus’ head and wipes her tears from his feet with her hair. Now, these discrepancies don’t mean that the Gospel story is fake news. It just means that, as this story was handed down from one generation to the next, some details got lost in transmission.

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Now for the issue of social norms! We live in a new age, in the age of the “Me Too” Movement. One major concern of this movement is the protection of “personal space.” The need for such protection is clear. A couple of years ago, Donald Trump was caught on tape bragging about how he liked to kiss and grope women without their permission. More recently, Joe Biden has been criticized for making unwanted physical contact with women he didn’t know very well. In our society, the perpetrators of such boundary violations are, more often than not, men, and the victims are women. But in today’s Gospel story, the “perpetrator” of the boundary violation is a woman, and the “victim” is a man. There is no doubt about it: Mary of Bethany violates Jesus’ personal space without permission. One wonders what the leaders of the “Me Too” Movement think about this Bible story!

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Lifting the Veil and Glimpsing Christ

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

In the Episcopal calendar, today is known as the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, and the color of the day is rightly green. In other denominations, it’s called Transfiguration Sunday, and the liturgical color is white or gold. For some reason, our Episcopal lectionary insert displays a gold heading, instead of a green one. I have a theory about this: I think there’s a Methodist mole at Church Publishing Incorporated!

But no matter what we call this particular Sunday, it marks the end of the season of Epiphany, and it does so with three Bible readings about epiphanies. The first is an epiphany to Moses on Mount Sinai—the prototypical mountaintop experience, if you will. Then, we hear St. Paul’s take on what that event meant to him in his context as an evangelist to his fellow Jews. Lastly, we hear the story of an epiphany to three of Jesus’ disciples on Mount Tabor.

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Let’s begin with Moses. After spending forty days on Mount Sinai with the Lord, he comes down the mountain to bring his people the Ten Commandments, the covenant between the Lord and the Israelites. Moses was transformed by the time that he had spent in God’s presence. How exactly he was transformed is not clear. The Hebrew text says that “the skin of his face was horned.” When St. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, he translated the Hebrew literally. That’s why Michelangelo’s Moses has two horns! Most modern-day Bible translators understand the phrase to mean that Moses’ face emitted rays of light, which the Hebrews might very well have called “horns of light.”

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Measure for Measure

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Today’s Gospel reading from Luke is a continuation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. We heard the first part last Sunday. Remember the Beatitudes and the Woes? For some reason, Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain has never achieved the popularity of his more famous Sermon on the Mount. Maybe it has something to do with the aforementioned Woes. Or maybe it’s because of three demands that Jesus puts on would-be disciples: love your enemies, do not judge anyone, forgive everyone.

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Now, that word “love” has a multitude of meanings, but Jesus makes clear what he means in this context. To love your enemies means to “do good to those who hate you, to bless those who curse you, to pray for those who abuse you.” Jesus is not asking us to “like” our enemies. “Love” in this context has less to do with feelings, than with actions. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans said, “‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:20–21).” The idea is that doing good to your enemy might bring about a conversion. Having said that, this approach isn’t always successful. St. Ignatius of Antioch, in a letter written while he was being escorted to Rome to be executed, famously commented how, the nicer he was, the worse his guards were in return. At least he tried!

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Jesus then touches upon the question of retaliation when he speaks of “turning the other cheek” and surrendering your clothing. At first glance, it might seem that Jesus is advocating absolute passivity in the face of active evil. But something more nuanced is going on here. In Matthew’s Gospel, it is mentioned that the cheek being struck is the right cheek. Believe it or not, this little detail makes all the difference. For, if the attacker is striking the right cheek of his opponent, he is either using his left hand to do it (which was forbidden by Jewish custom), or more likely, he is giving a backhanded blow with his right hand. And in first-century Judea, a backhanded blow was reserved for social inferiors. Turning the other check to your attacker is meant to lure the assailant into striking again, but this time as he would strike an equal.

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Responding to God’s Call

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Reading

When I was going through the ordination process, I was asked again and again to explain my experience of God’s call to serve. The question was a bit embarrassing for me, because I didn’t have a dramatic story to tell. For me, God’s call came as a rather vague sense of spiritual hunger. Have you ever been hungry but didn’t know what you wanted to eat? You look through the cupboard, and you root around in the refrigerator trying to figure out what it is that you are craving. Well, that’s what it was like for me when I first experienced God’s call. But God’s call comes in many shapes and forms, and in today’s scripture readings, we have references to three rather dramatic calls to ministry.

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First, we heard the story of Isaiah’s call to serve God as his prophet. It begins with a vision of God’s throne room in Heaven. Isaiah sees God himself sitting on a throne, being served by fearsome seraphs singing God’s praise. (And the song they sing should sound familiar, for it is the Sanctus, which we sing at every Eucharist.) Isaiah cowers in fear and shame, bemoaning his sinfulness and the sinfulness of his people. A seraph responds by touching Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal, thereby purifying him from his sin. Ouch! Then God speaks out, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” With unbelievable bravery, Isaiah pipes up, “Here am I; send me!”

Now, the lectionary allows us to stop there, on a high note. But if we do that, we miss Isaiah’s actual commission. As it turns out, Isaiah is given the difficult job of going to his people and pronouncing God’s judgment on them. God warns Isaiah that his message will fall on deaf ears. The Children of Israel are expected to do what American children do when they see or hear what they don’t like. They close their eyes. They put their hands over their ears. And they try to drown out the unwanted message by intoning, “La, la, la, la, la….”

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Faith, Hope, and Love

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Today we get part 2 of the story of Jesus’ visit to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. You may recall from last week’s Gospel reading that Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. What he read was a mission statement for the Messiah of God: to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim the release of captives, to give sight to the blind, to free the oppressed, and finally, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (also known as the Year of Jubilee). After finishing the reading, Jesus began his sermon with the words, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Now, I warned you last week that the story doesn’t end well. I wasn’t exaggerating, was I? At first, the reaction of the congregation is one of amazement. They are astonished that the son of the town carpenter could preach so eloquently. Seemingly, Jesus had his audience right in the palm of his hands. But then, almost inexplicably, Jesus verbally attacks his audience, accusing them of lack of faith, of needing to see miracles before they will believe. Why would he do that? Since we aren’t told why, we just have to guess. My best guess is that, being a prophet, Jesus knew what was in their hearts, maybe even before they knew it themselves. And he does what every prophet of God does when confronting faithlessness, he denounces it.

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The congregation couldn’t have enjoyed having their hardness of heart brought to light. But Jesus might have got away with it if only he had stopped there. But he didn’t. He went on to quote two Bible stories about how God had singled out unbelieving Gentiles for his favor. The implication of these two references to Scripture was that he would have more success with unbelieving pagans than with the folks in his home synagogue. Evidently, being unfavorably compared with Gentiles was just too much to take, and the congregation drove Jesus out of the synagogue and tried to push him off a nearby cliff. But Jesus escaped, passing right through the angry mob unscathed.

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