Thursday, June 4, 2020

Holy Trinity, 2020

“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Greetings in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Since it’s Holy Trinity Sunday I thought I’d begin with a Trinitarian salutation. To be honest, however, I don’t really feel much like discussing the doctrine of the Trinity today, however vital it is to our understanding of the Christian faith. A great Lutheran theologian, John Tietjen, once said that theology is at the service of ministry. One way of understanding this is to say what we understand about God serves to teach us how to live righteously with one another.

I don’t have to tell you we’ve seen some very unpleasant things this past week in America. For me, it’s a case of deja vu. I lived and worked in Los Angeles during the riots of ’92—yet another case of racial injustice which convulsed a city and a nation with the force of a Howitzer shell. I can still smell the stench from the burning buildings. I vividly recall the sight of smoke, smashed store windows, and—something I’d never thought I’d see in the US—National Guard troops with M16s patrolling the streets near the school wear I taught. The tragedy is that after almost three decades nothing seems to have changed.

I think, too, about Martin Luther and the Peasants’ War of 1524. Luther sympathized with the circumstances of the peasantry and argued for their rights against their oppressors. Nevertheless, he decried their use of violence in their attempts to gain their freedoms. He encouraged the brutality with which the German princes suppressed the revolt—a military action which resulted in the massacre of nearly 100,000 human beings. This episode is an ugly stain on the history of our denomination and its founder. Mass violence is not an option for a Christian.

But neither is despair.

It is certainly natural that we should all feel somewhat violated by the recent events in Philadelphia and across the nation. Seeing massive destruction on the streets of a city we love is like seeing our child, parent, or sibling viciously attacked and maimed by a mugger. It wounds us. It’s possible we may question God at times like these when the suffocation of a pandemic is compounded with injustice, thuggery, and mayhem. In the assigned Gospel lesson for Holy Trinity (Matt. 28: 16-20) we see that even Jesus’ disciples had their doubts in the very midst of worshiping him (v.17). Why should any of us be any different?

All the same, the promise of Jesus, “I am with you always,” stands sure. Evil can make us fear, but it cannot make us hate. It can begin a cycle of violence, but it cannot sustain that cycle. It can steal or destroy our precious possessions and damage our memories, but it cannot rob us of hope. It can shut us up in our homes for a time, but it cannot invalidate our baptism or snatch away our identity as the redeemed children of the Creator God. There are things evil just doesn’t have the power to do unless we are willing to give it that power.

Sometimes it’s hard to see God at work. Sometimes we see no progress, but then we forget that it took almost 300 years for an oppressed, vilified Christianity to become a recognized and accepted religion. God’s time is not our time, and God’s vantage point is not ours either. We may be stuck on the ground unable to see past the present chaos, but from God’s viewpoint, the boundaries of our tribulations have already been set. We are here to strengthen our souls by choosing faith over fear, hope over despair, and love over anger. 

May God’s peace be with you all.

PS-For a video version of this post, click here.

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