"Sharing One Triiune God"
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.
When we cross ourselves in the name of the Trinity, we are remembering in our bodies that we are God’s people, who have died and risen with Christ, and live now a new life in the power of the Holy Spirit.
When we cross ourselves, we are saying that our bodies, our whole lives, are made in the image of God, a cruciform image of our salvation, branded on our heart’s, forever.
And, this is the life that the Apostle Paul talked about in his letter to the Romans. It’s the last letter he wrote of all his New Testament epistles. And it’s by far the longest letter, and also the most theologically mature of his writings. Paul had not yet visited Rome when he wrote to the fledgling church, but he’d been hoping to go there for some time.
Rome was the seat of the Empire of which Paul was a citizen. Paul’s identity was clearly, first as a Jewish person, but more than once, he invoked his citizenship to good use, when he was in trouble with the authorities. Citizenship had its benefits, and when Paul was attacked in Philippi by the owners of the slave girl/slash/ fortune-teller, and the owners whipped up the crowds into a frenzy, and Paul and Silas were beaten by the authorities – they were thrown in jail so fast, that Paul had no chance to explain.
And only after prayer and a hymn-sing in jail, and then an earthquake that shook the foundations of the jail so severely that all the prisoner’s chains were loosened, did Paul have a chance to defend himself. First, as you may recall, he had dinner with the Jailer and his family, and Paul shared the good news of the Triune God with them, baptizing the whole newly believing household.
But the next day, Paul spoke to the local authorities, shaming them for the treatment he received, as a fellow Roman citizen! Beatings were illegal, and, it could have cost the local magistrates their jobs. Paul and Silas get a public apology, and the magistrates, shaking in their boots, beg them to leave town. Paul is in no hurry, however, and he visits Lydia at her home, and the little congregation that they formed at her, now, house-church. He spends some time encouraging the brothers and sisters in the faith, before he calmly walks out of town.
So, Paul was steeped in two worlds, the world of Judaism and the world of the Roman Empire. He was born in the Jewish Diapora, in Tarsus, a fairly cosmopolitan town of present day western Turkey. And there’s no doubt that this was an advantage for Paul’s mission. Paul continued to think of himself as a Jew, but a Jew who knew Jesus as the promised Messiah, the anointed one of God, and whatever town he visited in his travels across the Roman Empire, he always preached to Jews first, as well as to Gentiles.
As a Roman citizen then, Paul understood the polytheistic gods they worshiped. And he knew his mission, was to bring the good news of the One God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – to a people who were unaware that there was a living God.
And Paul knew how the life of Roman citizens was a mixed bag. Many people were made slaves when they were conquered by Rome. Many worked hard for a daily living. Only a few elites lived lavish lives, but they modeled a fairly immoral life-style that was the norm for everyone. Since the pantheon of gods represented a disembodied life – a life that as Socrates and Plato had taught, was invisible, though more real – they thought of the body as something to be discarded, unimportant, and thus could be used and abused.
The Jewish tradition, Paul knew and shared, was that God created the world and everything in it “Very Good!” God honored the creation. God loves us, and wants to be in loving relationship with us, and has ordered creation in an intricate and beautiful way, charging us to care for it and to be responsible for it. This ‘very good’ world, is the most ‘real life’ we have.
When the chosen people disobey God and God finally sends them into exile in Babylon, their salvation is not in dying and rising with the Platonic-like gods of the parallel disembodied netherworld. But God redeems them by bringing them home to the Promised Land, to the land of Palestine and kingdom of Israel.
The Judeo-Christian, One God, is known through a God of enfleshed presence, in Jesus the Christ, who enlivens us, our bodies, our whole selves, through the Holy Spirit, as we await the full redemption of earth coming down out of heaven.
So, Paul writes to the Romans: “…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.” In other words, we experience the benefits of God’s love and grace, already, here and now. God loves the world that we are co-creating together!
And Paul says, it’s okay to boast about this! Not boasting in a prideful or self-promoting way, but boast, or rejoice, in what God is doing by including us as new chosen peoples, in this extraordinary promise of ‘sharing the glory of God.’
And so it was in this way, that Paul sought to reach out and transform the whole pagan world, one church community at a time, with the good news of the gospel of Christ Jesus!
But Paul also knew that the world was not yet fully redeemed. The promise of salvation was a present, and a future, one. There was still pain and dying and death that ruled here, that power of evil capable of producing fear, anger, jealousy and violence. In fact, telling the truth about the gospel good news, as Paul knew first hand, could get you in the thick of trouble, faster than most anything else – and still can.
So the last thing Paul tells the Romans in our reading today, is that those powers have now been fundamentally conquered in Christ Jesus. So, not only do we ‘boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God, but we also boast in our sufferings,’ he says, ‘knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’
Paul had ‘character ‘when he ‘suffered’ a beating and was thrown in prison. And you have ‘character’ when you look for ways to emulate, for others, what is right, in your work place – based on your faith – and what is right in your family life, and right-and-just with your friends, in private or in the public square. It takes ‘endurance’ and ‘perseverance.’ But that ‘character’ produces ‘hope.’ Not a disembodied, ethereal-elitist or baseless hope. But a hope built on the promise of God, that will not fail.
Because: we are created, and redeemed, and sustained by the living power, of the Father, the Son + and the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are God’s, and God pours God’s love into our hearts. We are animated and alive today and every day, by the Trinity. Our lives are lived for God’s created ‘Very Good’ world, and we pour just a little of that divine love we have in our hearts, out to the world, sharing it with people, and pets, and the social structures of our making, who all need God’s life-giving Grace.
And we do this, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.