Monday, June 20, 2011

Three Kinds Of Saving

The Trinity is like a poem that says a little about God,
gives us a few hints about God,
but leaves us still looking for more.
The Trinity tells us just three of the 798,000 things
we might say about God,
but they are three very important things.
They are three of the main ways God saves us
when life is hard and we need saving.

When we call God “Father”, we are saying God is parental toward us.
So what kind of a Father is God?
The Father’s main quality is wisdom
-- vast impenetrable wisdom.
It comes of his unique perspective as the one who was in the beginning,
is now, and ever will be
– the Father who knows everything – past, present, and future.

From that perspective, the Father sees how things that rock our world
in the worst way will someday be redeemed in ways we cannot imagine.
The Father is the Old Wise One, the Ancient of Days,
to whom we run when we are in panic to hear him say,
“Hush, child. It will be alright.”

The Father cares, but he cares calmly, confidently.
He has feelings without being overcome by feelings.
The Father’s feelings are in perfect balance,
supremely centered because the Father takes the long view of eternity.
In that long view, God’s has unshakable confidence that “all will be well,”

Such a Father cares for us but is not anxious about us.
While caring, God remains “infinitely at peace.”
There is in God a Serene Center,
unmoved, unshaken, eternal, sitting Buddha-like in perfect balance.
The Father God is, in T. S. Eliot’s words, “The still point of the turning world.”

The Father’s eternity and serenity are necessary to our hope.
But, the Father’s response, standing alone, is infuriatingly aloof.
If God remains immune to life’s ups and downs,
he cannot understand in a personal way what we go though.

That’s why we need another part of God – the Son.
The Son is the part of God that chooses to join us in our pain.
In his Treatise On The Love Of God, the Spanish philosopher
Miguel de Unamuno describes spiritual love this way:
“The lovers do not come to love one another this way . . .
unless they have suffered together,
When the powerful hammer of sorrow
has pummeled their hearts,
. . . . when they have suffered together,
. . . plowed the rocky ground
bound to the same yoke of a common sorrow.”

We see this part of God in Jesus on the Cross.
Jesus shows us a God who values us enough to join us in our suffering
instead of sitting blissfully serene in Paradise.

But it didn’t just happen once.
This is how God the Son is every moment of every day.
The Son is God’s infinite compassion and the word “compassion”
means literally “to suffer with.”
When we sing “there is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven,”
we are singing about the Son.

The Son is so present with the hungry that his stomach cramps;
so present with the lonely that his throat constricts
and cannot call out for comfort;
so present with the grief-stricken that he cannot move.
This is not God almighty, but God all vulnerable with us.

It is a good thing to have a God
who is serene when we are in a panic.
The Father’s wise serenity can be our eye in the hurricane.
It is good to have a God who loves us enough to suffer with us.
The Son’s compassion gives profound meaning to suffering
that might otherwise be for nothing
Those two parts of God are both essential to our salvation.
But they are not enough.
We need something more.

The Spirit is the divine force that both gives and restores life.
Our Creed calls the Spirit, “the Giver of Life.”
God gave Adam life by breathing into Adam’s nostrils
God’s own breath, God’s own spirit.
When Jesus lay dead in the tomb,
the Spirit breathed life back into him.
the Spirit breathes life back into us.

Just so, the Spirit is the force that raises us from death.
In an old spiritual, we sing,
“Sometimes I feel discouraged and like my life’s in vain.
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again”,

Life is often more than we can bear.
And yet, to our utter amazement,
people do rise from their ashes and walk on,
sometimes heroically, wisely, compassionately
– occasionally, even joyfully.
When this happens, we know we are witnessing a miracle and a mystery.
Human beings are not this resilient. No one could be.
And yet, it happens.

When the Spirit raises us from despair,
it does not just restore us to our old life.
We do not just carry on as before.
Life in the Spirit is new life with a new agenda.
When the Spirit of God fell upon prophets or kings,
it was not just to cheer them up, but to empower them
for a mission of service to others.
Jesus said:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor . . .
to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind
to set at liberty those who are oppressed
and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

Several years ago, a 20 year old college student in my parish
died in the crash of TWA 800.
Her devastated mother asked me “why?”
And I had no answer to give her.
I had no comfort to offer. But God did.

A few months later another woman in our parish
fell into renal failure.
She was blind, disabled, and at times psychotic.
She had no family to care for her.

So the bereaved mother got up from the bed of her grief
to do what had to be done.
Later she said, God had sent her that mission of mercy
to save her own life.

The Spirit calls and empowers us to help the afflicted.
God serves the suffering through the hands
of flesh-and-blood human servants.
The Spirit transforms us into those servants.

When we are hurting, it is natural to become focused on our own pain.
It is natural for our attention to turn toward ourselves.
Natural as these responses are, they are the very responses
that cripple us, that hold us back from moving on, experiencing new life.
The Spirit sets us free from obsessive thinking,
from old patterns of feeling and acting that keep we trapped
in lives less than God wants for us.
The Spirit liberates us by converting our self-focus to service.
The Spirit transforms our own pain can into compassion for others.
The Prayer Of St. Francis says, “
It is in giving that we receive; it is in forgiving that we are forgiven . . . “
Just so, it is in healing others that we ourselves are healed.

Life in this world is hard and it’s complicated.
You’ve know that.
So we need a big God and a complicated God.
We need a God who is perfectly serene,
we need a God who vulnerable and compassionate;
we need a God who powerful enough to create the universe
and when our world falls apart to put it together again
and raise us up from the graves of our despair.

We need all that and more.
But we got lucky.
God is all of that and more – “infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”