Sunday, May 26, 2024
Psalm 29:1-11 & Romans 8:12-17
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce

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Today is Trinity Sunday. It’s the only day besides Pentecost when we heady Presbyterians talk about the Holy Spirit. Ha ha. That was a joke.

While the Trinity is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible it is definitely present. The Trinity is a gift in understanding God as best as we can with our finite human minds. The first person is God the Father, who we understand as a loving parent who is the source of everything. Then there is God as Jesus, the Son, in whom we see God’s loving actions displayed through a person who was both human and divine. And of course, there is the Holy Spirit, who helps us understand who God is and guides us in how to live as followers of God.

Yet while there are three persons of the Trinity we still see God as one God. It is why we say in much of our liturgy that God is three in one. 

Another analogy I find helpful in understanding the Trinity is that I, Kristine Aragon Bruce, am Matt Bruce’s wife, Jenson and Phoebe’s mom and Sofia Aragon’s younger sister. I never stop being those things as I am always a wife, mother, and sister wherever I am and whatever I am doing. 

In the same way, wherever God the father is, so is the Son and Holy Spirit, and wherever Jesus is so is God the Father and the Holy Spirit, as they are three in one and therefore can never be separated from one another. 

Of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the hardest to grasp our minds around. Jesus is the easiest to comprehend because he was God as a human. The Holy Spirit is not understood as having a physical body and the term “spirit” just makes the Holy Spirit seem way out there, which is why we don’t talk about the Holy Spirit much, which is a shame. 

This is because, as stated in our passage from Romans this morning, it is the Holy Spirit who reminds us that we belong to God and therefore to the family of God. The Spirit, in reminding us that we belong to the family of God, removes the fear that we do not.

Paul associates the flesh with “fear.” But it’s the Holy Spirit that drives out the “fear” that we don’t belong. Such fear convinces us that we must do all we can to prove to others, ourselves, and perhaps even to God that we belong.

Before my daughter Phoebe started 7th grade this year,  I asked her if she was excited to start her first year of Middle School. She replied: “Well, so far everyone has told me it was the worst year of their lives so I’m not really looking forward to it.” When I asked Phoebe for her permission to quote her she said: “Feel free, but also let people know 7th grade turned out to be the best year of school so far.”

For most of us, however, “Middle School” was the worst years of our lives. This is because for most of us the middle school years were when we first thought about who we really are, who we wanted to be, and wondered where we belonged, if anywhere. 

As adults, we still have that desire to belong. Author Matt Haig once shared that a therapist told him: “the most common complaint he heard from his patients was the feeling that they didn’t belong. The feeling of being an imposter, or of being outside things, of not fitting in. Of failing to connect easily with people.” Haig went on to say: “I  found this as reassuring as it was paradoxical. That one of the most common feelings among people was the feeling of not fitting in among people. The comfort, then, is the weird truth that in one sense we have most in common with others when we feel awkward and alone. Isolation is as universal as it gets.”

We were made for relationships, which give us a sense of belonging. If we were made in the image of God, then we, like God’s own self, within whom we see the relationships between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are also made to be in relationship with God and with other people. 

We all desire to have relationships and to belong to a community where we can be our true selves. We don’t have to pretend to be something we’re not to make ourselves more attractive to others. In other words, to truly belong means we don’t have to prove that we’re worthy of belonging because we are accepted for who we are. 

This is what Paul means when he says we are not obligated to the flesh. We no longer have to live in accordance to the flesh. Paul associates the flesh with sin and life apart from God. Paul isn’t saying that our bodies themselves are bad and sinful, but he’s using the term “flesh” as a metaphor for anything that is the opposite of the truth of God. One example of this is the lie that “we don’t belong.” The truth is that through Christ we have been grafted into God’s family.

The Spirit helps us believe and know that we belong to God. In Christ, we don’t have to be anyone but ourselves. We don’t have to prove to Jesus Christ that we are worthy of being a part of God’s family. Paul further writes that we don’t have to do anything to be a part of the family of God, because through Jesus’ resurrection, we have already been adopted into God’s family. 

As many of you know I’m working toward a Doctor of Ministry or DMin for short, not Demon, but D-M-I-N.  The Doctor of Ministry cohort that I’m a part of meets twice a year at Western Seminary, but two weeks ago we met at St John’s Monastery in Collegeville, MN. There are 14 of us and we all come from different faith traditions. I’m the lone Presbyterian pastor, there are a bunch of RCA/CRC folks, as well as two Episcopalian priests, a Methodist Pastor, and a Pentecostal. We’re also from all over the country so we’re a pretty diverse group in terms of our church affiliation and culture. Some of my Cohort members belong to faith traditions that don’t ordain women or people of the LGBTQ community. We’re also all over the political spectrum. 

To be honest I felt some suspicion towards those who I wrote off as conservative evangelicals who tend to talk down to women or anyone who isn’t of the majority. But after our week together I got to know my fellow cohort members better – including those I was originally suspicious of. I learned their stories and they listened to mine. We shared all of our meals together, prayed 4 times a day together with the Monks who lived at this monastery, and shared late night talks about everything under the sun including bad Dad jokes. I now get sad when I think about when we graduate in two years and we won’t have our two weeks out of the year together. The time with my friends in the DMin cohort is a testament to how the Holy Spirit brings people together. We may not agree on everything and we challenge one another especially theologically, but we do so with love because we truly love and appreciate one another. I can firmly say it’s because we all know that it’s Jesus Christ who we have in common. It’s Jesus who brought us together, and it is Jesus Christ who strengthened our friendships with one another.

Being with my DMin cohort reminded me of how diverse the family of God is meant to be. The Holy Spirit transcends all of the divisions we’ve put between ourselves and others. Whether it’s faith traditions, the schools we’ve attended, our income, where we live, our race, or our gender. 

This was further enforced by one of the rules of St. Benedict that’s straight out of scripture and displayed in the lobby of the abbey guesthouse where we stayed. Here’s a picture of it. It reads: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ. For he himself will say ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’” This is from Matthew 25. 

As followers of Jesus Christ we are to welcome those who are strangers. Those who are looking to belong. For Christ himself was once a stranger and knew what it’s like to not belong. When his teachings became too radical, criticizing the power structures of his day, and when he began to talk about suffering as a part of the deal when it came to following him, many chose to abandon Jesus. One of his disciples went as far as to turn him into the authorities who wanted him dead.

But because the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead, the power of the resurrection of Jesus ushered in a new world. A new world where we are ourselves are no longer strangers to God and are welcomed into  God’s family. We now have a taste of God’s kingdom here on earth; a kingdom where through Jesus Christ all are invited to be a part of God’s family. God’s kingdom won’t be fully realized until Jesus returns, but until then, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can be a part of helping our world look closer to the kingdom of God. 

The Holy Spirit also helps us to see what God sees. When Paul says we are to suffer with Christ it means our hearts break over the same things that break God’s heart. This includes seeing those who feel they don’t belong anywhere and inviting them to see that everyone has a place in the family of God. Regardless of education, income, gender, race, sexuality etc., the Holy Spirit unites us all in Jesus Christ despite all of the divisions we’ve put between us. 

This is where we need the help of the Holy Spirit who empowers us to believe that we belong to the family of God no matter who we are or where we’ve come from. Regardless of what we’ve done or what we wished we would have done. This is true for us as it is for the person with whom we disagree or with whom we seemingly have nothing in common. Including those who are so different that we fear how they will change our neatly ordered worlds. That is the power of the Holy Spirit. That is the power of God’s family. Jesus brings together the most unlikely of people to reflect the reality that God’s love is much bigger, more encompassing and more powerful than our differences and our fear of those who are different than us. Whether it’s our fear that we don’t belong or fear of those who we don’t understand.  Through Jesus Christ we all have the opportunity to accept our invitation into God’s family. Perfect love drives out fear. That’s what the Holy Spirit wants to show us.