Tag Archive: Father


Sunday’s sermon on the Holy Trinity from Community Lutheran Church!

It’s Holy Trinity Sunday.  The day when it is incredibly easy to try to explain the mystery of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to end up either committing heresy or making everything even harder to understand.  As a result, there is a picture the Episcopal Church has made that has been circulating around the Internet this past week.  It features an adorable kitten and has these words: “How not to commit heresy on preaching the Trinity: Say nothing and show pictures of kittens instead.”

Adorable Kitten Trinity Meme

While this sounds like a wise plan, I think I’d be shirking my pastoral duty if we just watched cat videos this morning.  They might make us say, “awww,” but I want to focus on a different type of awe.

The call story of Isaiah, our first reading, is one of my favorite passages.  Isaiah, the prophet of God has this vision, in which he finds himself in the throne room of the Lord.  There, the Lord is sitting upon a throne and the Lord is so huge, so powerful, the hem – just the edges of God’s robe – fill the Temple! That’s a big robe.  Flying around the Lord are Seraphs or Seraphim.  Usually we think of these as mighty angels, some sort of winged, human-like figures, but in the Ancient Near East, these were understood to be fiery serpents with wings.  Yes, flaming, flying snakes! In Egyptian culture, these terrifying beasts were thought to protect the gods, but here, in Isaiah’s vision, they are serving God and covering their faces to shield themselves from God’s glory.  Now if I were Isaiah, and I saw terrifying fiery serpents with wings flying around and sheltering themselves from the power and might of God, I would know that I was in deep trouble.  And if I were there when the Temple started shaking because of the sound of their voices, I know I would have been looking high and low for a place to get out of dodge.  And then all the smoke! Oy veh!

With all this going on, Isaiah cries out, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”  He knows he’s unworthy to be standing there, filled with awe in the presence of the LORD, and he’s worried about what is going to happen.  No one can see God and live.  The holy and the unholy shouldn’t mix.  But amazingly, God overcomes his fears, forgives his sins, and asks who will go out into the world on God’s behalf.  Forgiven and empowered, Isaiah says, “Here I am; send me!” and sets off to declare a difficult message to God’s people.

Isaiah is filled with complete awe as he stands before the Lord, bathed in the glory of the Lord of hosts, the Lord whose voice alone shapes, shakes, and remakes creation.  I know I’d be petrified if I were in his shoes, but even if we aren’t standing before God, aren’t there plenty of moments in our lives when we are filled with awe, wonder or a sense of the holy? Think about it.  How did you feel seeing a magic trick when you were a child? Or what about accomplishing something you didn’t think possible in school or sports? How about visiting a new place? Or surveying the wonders of nature? What about on your wedding day? Or when you saw your children born? What about at a joy-filled baptism? Or coming forward to receive communion? How about the sense of the holy at the bedside of a dying loved one?

Each of us has had moments that have taken our breath away, and filled us with a sense of wonder, awe, and a glimpse of God’s glory.  As the Seraphim say, and we sing every week during Communion, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  The whole earth is chock full of the glory of God.  God’s presence and work in the world inspire fear, respect, awe and a sense of wonder.  But do we cultivate that in our lives? Do we pay attention to all of the wondrous things that point to the awesome majesty of God? The chirping of birds or the miracle of beautiful flowers springing forth from bare earth.  The smell of sweet honeysuckle in the cool night air.  The laughter of children playing outside.  Music or dance that send your heart soaring.  The unexpected kindness of a stranger.  Being invited to the table to receive the body and blood of the most holy, magnificent God, humbled and broken for our sake.

There is plenty of bad news in the world along with plenty of distractions, but the mysterious, triune God we have invites us into lives of wonder and awe.  And we practice living those lives by being in worship together.  We listen to Scripture that tells us of God’s glory and love.  We are wondrously forgiven and fed.  We sing words of praise.  We look with awe and joy on the things God is doing in and through each of us.

We are a people who seek answers.  We are, after all, a Google people who have access to the world’s information at our fingertips.  We want proof.  We want certainty.  We want the concrete.  We want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt.  But maybe, just maybe, in the divine mystery of the Trinity, we’re invited into the shadow of a doubt.  We are invited to be like Nicodemus, searching for answers in the darkness and asking, “how can these things be?” We are invited to slow down and revel in the mystery of God and embrace that which is so much bigger than ourselves.  To delight in, find joy in, and swim in the amazement of this God who cannot possibly be put into a box.

That’s the kind of God I want to worship.  A God that’s bigger than anything I can come up with on my own.  A God that continues to challenge and push us beyond our comfort zones, to cross boundaries, to take risks and to love with abandon.  We cannot do that on our own, but we can do it with God’s help.

You see, that’s the truly wondrous and amazing thing about God.  God is not only the God of Isaiah’s vision – awesome and powerful, seated on a lofty throne.  No, God is also a God of relationship.  Not only relationship in the sense of God as three-in-one and one-in-three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but as a God who desires relationship with us.  As Paul explains, this is a God who has made us God’s own beloved children. We are children of that Almighty God on the throne, able to come to God through Christ and the Holy Spirit.  God is our loving parent and Christ our brother and, even more, we’re co-heirs of everything God has to give to Christ.  Wow.  That’s incredibly good news!

It’s news that means that God wants to be present and active in our lives and in our world – not distant, but near, and at work bringing about transformation in and through us.  When I really slow down and think about the fact that the God who commands the Seraphs, whose voice is thunder and lightning, who reigns over the heavens and all creation, wants to be at work in each of us, in you and me – that’s an extremely humbling thought that fills me with awe.  It’s the same thought that I have when receiving Communion – “thank you for using something so ordinary so that we can know your presence and your love.”

It must have been the feeling Isaiah had standing before God.  An everyday man, forgiven and cleansed by the purifying power of a hot coal, empowered to proclaim God’s word.  He wasn’t able to do this on his own, but through God at work, he was able to bear God’s message.  The holy touched the ordinary and transformed it.  So I ask you, in awe of God’s action in your life and the world, and forgiven through Christ, is the Spirit stirring up something in you? How might you spend time cultivating a sense of awe, wonder and even mystery toward God in your life? How might that affect your worship? And how might that affect how you live each day?

19-Isaiahs_Call

Holy Trinity Sunday invites us to think about the awesome God that we worship.  To step back and behold with humility, wonder and awe the glory of a God we cannot possibly pin down or understand completely.  May we see with eyes of faith the glory of God that fills not only the heavens, but earth as well.  Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

With Open Arms

This was yesterday’s sermon on the parable of the prodigal son, delivered at Christ Lutheran Church, Washington, DC.

Luke 15:1–3, 11b–32
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3So he told them this parable: 11b“There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ‘ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe — the best one — and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32
But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'”

The story we just heard this morning is one of the most beloved stories in the Bible.  And for good reason!  I mean who hasn’t identified at some point in their life as the younger son who goes out, makes a big mistake and needs forgiveness or redemption?  Or who hasn’t felt like the older son who is rightfully irritated that his father is throwing a party for his irresponsible brother while he’s been working hard?  Who hasn’t felt like the father who waits expectantly for his beloved son to return, and is so overjoyed that he can’t help but throw a party?  Yes, this is a classic story.  And I think the more we read it, ask questions of it and experience similar moments in our lives, the more we appreciate it.

But today, I want to focus specifically on the father.  I would say that of the three main characters we hear about in Jesus’ story, this is the hardest one to relate to.  When the younger son comes to his dad asking for his share of the property, it’s equivalent to wishing his father dead.  And yet the father gives him the inheritance money and allows him to go off to a distant country.  Then, to make matters worse, this kid goes off and wastes all his money, lands on hard times, and is forced to take a job working for a Gentile pig farmer.  All of this has got to reflect poorly on dear old dad.  After all, what will the neighbors say?

After a while of this rough life, the younger son realizes that he’s hungry and his dad’s hired hands have always had enough to eat.  “I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’”  What’s interesting is that we don’t know if he is actually remorseful, or if he’s just figuring out that being at home is better off than being among the pigs! So he heads home, hoping beyond hope that things will work out.

Then we have this really beautiful line that has jumped out at me in rereading this story: “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.”  The image of this father, running as fast as he can toward his son is so moving to me.  He’s been waiting, heart aching as he hears rumors about what his son has been up to.  He’s been sad knowing that his son has had to hire himself out to a Gentile in order to survive.  He’s been watching the horizon, day after day, praying that his beloved son would come walking back down that dirt road.  And then he sees him!  And all his aches and pains can’t stop him from setting off at a dead run to embrace the son who he thought he might never see again.

He doesn’t even listen to the son’s apology because he’s too busy shouting to the slaves: “’Quickly, bring out a robe — the best one — and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’”

This father is quite the character.  What are the neighbors going to say?  Is he going to be laughed at for his extravagant welcome of his wayward son?  They might say, “He’s a fool!  He’s a sucker!  He’s a sap!”  But what if God is, too?

And I think that’s Jesus point in telling this story.  Jesus is sitting there speaking and he’s got quite a crowd.  This isn’t a polite group listening to a theology lecture.  No, this crowd includes all the tax collectors who have been working for the Roman oppressors and squeezing the Jewish people for every dime they have.  There are also sinners in this group – people whose actions disrupt the fabric of society.  It’s a seedy and unpopular bunch, basically the prodigal sons and daughters of the day, and so, it’s no wonder that people are grumbling about how “this fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Jesus is hanging out with the wrong crowd.

Listening to the song “Painted Red” by one of my favorite artists, JJ Heller, helped to put this into perspective for me.  She sings: “Hope means holding on to you…Grace means you’re holding me too.”  The younger son was ready to go back and beg his father for forgiveness, hoping that all would work out.  He hoped that he would indeed be forgiven or that, at the very least, he’d have food and shelter.

But what he actually receives is far greater.  Instead, there’s this incredible grace.  The father bolts from his waiting place and takes on shame and foolishness to embrace his sinful son, not even knowing the son’s true intentions.

When I think about God, I imagine open arms, like that of the father in the parable.  Arms that welcome and embrace us as we are.  Arms that welcome us to the waters of baptism and invite us to the table.  Arms outstretched in the epitome of love on the cross.  This God of grace and open arms is the opposite of the judgmental and condemnatory God we so often hear spoken about.  Instead of a finger pointing at us in condemnation, we receive the loving embrace of our Heavenly parent.

But in case we forget, there’s still the older son.  I imagine the older brother standing with his arms crossed, closed off to the possibilities, refusing to go to the welcome home party.  What do our arms look like? Are they extravagantly open to others? Or are they firmly crossed, refusing to show grace, compassion and love?

On Friday, I watched a Ted Talk video about a man named Jeremy Courtney.  Sitting in a café in Iraq in 2007, talking to his waiter, Jeremy became aware of a terrible problem: tons of kids were being born with fatal heart defects and there were no hospitals in the country to give the children the crucial heart surgeries they needed.  Hearing, this, Jeremy decided that he needed to do something and so he jumped in, trying to find out why so many kids had heart defects.

He found out that there were three reasons for the soaring rates of birth defects.  First, Saddam Hussein’s use of mustard gas against his own people.  Second, the US led sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s that led to the healthcare services falling apart and, as a result, the malnourishment of many pregnant women.  Third, American soldiers also noted that they had children with birth defects and the cause was found to be due to the US and British forces’ use of depleted uranium munitions which vaporized upon contact with the ground.

Jeremy was beginning to come to a new understanding of violence – the understanding that “violence unmakes the world.”  But he also believed that there was something able to stand against this destructive violence.  He called this “preemptive love.”  As Jeremy explains,  “Now, unlike a preemptive strike where I seek to get you before you get me, preemptive love is where I jump forward to love you, before you love me.  I jump forward to trust you before perhaps you’ve trusted me, because we all know that violence unmakes the world.  But preemptive love unmakes violence.  Preemptive love remakes the world through healing.”

With this hope in his heart, he created the Preemptive Love Coalition with his wife and others in order to get kids the lifesaving heart surgeries they needed.  And one of the stories that Jeremy tells in his Ted Talk is about a young boy named Shad and his father.  Shad’s father was a Kurdish taxi driver from one of the northern cities of Iraq who was willing to do anything to help his son get the help he needed.  But when Jeremy suggested that they go to neighboring Turkey to get help from the doctors there, he was a little leery.  You see, there’s a long-standing conflict between the Kurds and the Turks and so the very idea was terrifying to Shad’s father – that he should take his dear son to the enemy to seek healing.  What would his family think? And what would the neighbors say? But this was the last resort and a Turkish doctor was the only one willing to put his reputation on the line to try to save this boy’s life.

And so they took Shad and his father to Istanbul, and after a lot of diagnostic tests to see if they could or should operate, late at night they received the news that they would get the surgery.  Shad’s father and Jeremy were ecstatic! Shad went through surgery and then, after a few days he was released back to his room.  But then, a blood clot went through his artery and after a third and fourth surgery, Shad died.  Jeremy got dressed and went into the hospital to be with Shad’s father who was mourning and wondering what to do – what to say to the family back home.

And then Jeremy started to think, “oh no, the inevitable blame game will set in because a Kurdish boy has died in the hands of the Turkish enemy.  Shad’s father is going to blame the Turks and this circle of violence will again unmake everything we’ve tried to do here.”  But instead, something amazing happened.  Instead of pointing a finger in blame, Shad’s father walked around to every doctor and nurse and looked them in the eye and said “thank you.  Thank you.  I know you’re sad.  I know you didn’t want my son to die.  You gave us a chance.  Thank you.”  Jeremy spoke about how incredibly healing it was for everyone.  He realized that little by little, they were all remaking the world through preemptive love and through healing.  And after that, 35 children were able to go to Istanbul to get the life-saving surgeries they needed.

In the stories of the prodigal son and Shad’s father, we hear about two fathers who would do anything for their sons – who would bear shame, become fools, and cross boundaries to help their children.  Two fathers, choose love and grace, forgiveness and compassion, and transform the world and set forth a different way of living.

That’s the kind of God we have.  A God who foolishly chooses to welcome people who continue to fall short.  A God, who would do anything, even become human and die on a cross, for the sake of God’s beloved children.  A God with arms flung wide open, who runs to meet us, embraces us and celebrates our return lavishly.  A God who is transforming and remaking the world, showing us that there is a different way of living in the world – a way that involves embracing others, lavishing love on those we encounter, and forgiving, even if it seems foolish.  A God who calls us open our arms and our hearts in order to transform the world by sharing the outrageous love and forgiveness we’ve received.  Thanks be to God! Amen.
© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.
For those interested, here is the original TEDx Talk by Jeremy Courtney.

An Aqueous Anniversary

Twelve years ago today,
I stepped into the waters of a new life.
I’d been swimming before,
but this was different – more freeing.

Once I went under,
in the name of the Father, the creator,
of all the miraculous goodness,
in this swirling universe teeming with life.

A second time I went under,
in the name of the Son, God come to save,
in fragile, perishable human flesh,
just like us, but divine and able rise again.

A third time I went under,
in the name of the Holy Spirit, the inspiring,
calling us closer and stirring up love,
gently breathing on us to share God’s grace.

I was soaked in those waters,
not really knowing what they meant,
and each and every day thereafter,
I am still trying to comprehend the promises.

But blessedly I’ve realized,
that I will never completely understand that day,
but that the promises made will continue,
unfolding in the mysterious embrace of a loving God.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

“Wayfaring Stranger”

I thought to kick this off, I’d post the lyrics to “Wayfaring Stranger,” one of my favorite songs and the inspiration for the subtitle of my musings:

I am a poor wayfaring stranger
While journeying through this world of woe
Yet there’s no sickness toil nor danger
In that bright land to which I go
 
I’m going there to see my father
I’m going there no more to roam
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home
 
I know dark clouds will gather over me
I know my way my way is rough and steep
Yet beautiful fields lie just before me
And God’s redeemed their vigils keep
 
I’m going there to see my father
I’m going there no more to roam
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home
 
I’m going there oh to see my mother
I’m going there no more to roam
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

I want to wear that crown of glory
When I get home to that good land
Well I want to shout salvation’s story
In concert with the blood-washed band

I’m going there to see my Savior
Oh I’m going there no more to roam
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

Not only is the song hauntingly beautiful, but it serves as a reminder to focus on the joy and grace of God’s blessings and promises rather than on earthly pain and sorrow.

Lyrics may be slightly different, but this will give you the idea!:

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