GCI Equipper

Jesus’ Ascension – An End, A Beginning, and An End

The ascension represents the completion of God’s work in Christ incarnate and the completion of Christ’s work in us.

It’s easy to gloss over the Ascension as we move through the 50 days of Easter toward our celebration of Pentecost, but we should not do so. The Ascension represents a fulfillment of prophecy and explains visions seen by the prophets. It is the fulfillment of Christ’s incarnate work on earth. It is the end of Jesus’ limitations of time and space as he reentered the spiritual realm. It results in the sending of the Holy Spirit and the imparting of spiritual gifts, which we will celebrate at Pentecost. It has so much meaning, yet it is often overlooked as part of the celebration of the life of Jesus.

In GCI we acknowledge Jesus is the center of the center, and we strive to keep him the center of everything we teach, write, preach, and celebrate. Our Christian Worship Calendar focuses on the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus. Let’s learn a bit more about the Ascension.

For forty days after the resurrection, Luke shares in Acts 1, Jesus had presented himself alive “by many convincing proofs.” He told the disciples to not leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” The gospel writers don’t share a lot of specifics about what Jesus taught them through those 40 days that led up to this mysterious event, but we do read that Jesus taught them many things pertaining to himself and the kingdom of God. I use the term “mysterious event” intentionally. Note what Bobby Gross, author of Living the Christian Year, says about the ascension:

All our language for this event is analogical since the source of the ascension entails as much mystery as the incarnation, the atonement, and the resurrection. In truth, these mysteries belong together as one grand movement of God for the salvation of humanity and creation. (p 193)

Try to explain the incarnation to someone; it is impossible to explain exactly how the light of the world became a man – we have biblical evidence that he was indeed both human and divine. Likewise, without faith, it is impossible to explain how Jesus atoned for all of humanity and how our sins were forgiven before the foundation of the earth. It is just as impossible for us to “explain” the resurrection. (Even Lazarus, who experienced a resurrection, could not explain it except to say, I once was dead, but now I’m alive.) We put the ascension in the same category of mystery. These are mysteries we believe because of our faith in the One the mysteries are about.

Luke writes about the ascension in the book of Acts:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:6-11 NRSV)

Prophecies and visions

You notice they didn’t seem surprised by Jesus’ departure, or the method. I’m guessing after seeing him appear in a locked room a few times, they were no longer surprised by what he could do. And Jesus had taught them many things about himself. But there might just be a bit more to it. Jesus may have reminded them of the words of Isaiah, or David.

See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. (Isaiah 52:13)

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. (Isaiah 6:1)

When you ascended on high, you took many captives; you received gifts from people, even from the rebellious—that you, Lord God, might dwell there. (Psalm 68:18)

The fulfillment of Jesus’ incarnate work on earth

When I first read Bobby Gross’ statement that the ascension represents the completion of God’s work in Christ incarnate, I objected. After all, the incarnation has not ended. Christ is still with us through the Holy Spirit. But then I realized that was the author’s point. Jesus said, “It is finished.” The law and the prophets are completed – fulfilled. The fall is redeemed. The enemy is crushed. Death is destroyed. Salvation has occurred. The kingdom of God is here now in his body, the church. Jesus did what he came to do. His incarnate work – the work of God as a man in flesh and blood – was completed.

There was and is a progression of events:

  • Jesus descended to earth and became fully human. This is the incarnation. Light entered darkness. The creator became the created.
  • Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets – it was all about him.
  • Jesus was crucified. He died and was buried. The man died. His physical presence ceased to function.
  • Jesus was resurrected as the Savior of the world. He is glorified. We will be like him in a glorified state upon our resurrection.
  • Jesus ascended – completing one stage and beginning another.

Paul talked about this progression:

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue should confess  that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11 NRSV)

The end of physical limitations of time and space

This is a mystery many fantasize about participating in. Being present and not being seen. Popping into a room that is locked. Defeating the laws of gravity, space, and time. It’s easy to limit Jesus by assuming he is sitting on a throne somewhere, waiting for the Father to let him return. But that is to assume Jesus is still limited by a physical body. While we cannot adequately explain a glorified body, we know Jesus is no longer bound by geography, science, or natural laws. He is free from earthly limitations; he is always near.

Jesus is one with the Father and the Spirit. He now lives in us by and through the Holy Spirit.

The beginning of our work in participation with him

If Jesus did not ascend, we would not have the ministry of the Holy Spirit, whom he promised to the disciples and to us. In John 14 – 16, Jesus told the disciples that both he and the Father would send the “Comforter” (KJV) or “Advocate” (NIV and NRSV). He told them he had to go away for this to occur.

 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7 NRSV)

This happened 10 days after the Ascension, at Pentecost, and it continues today. We will celebrate this event next month. It is because Jesus ascended that we received the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts that enable us to participate in Jesus’ works of ministry.

One final point. I titled this article, “Jesus’ Ascension – An End, A Beginning and An End” intentionally. The Ascension was the end of Jesus’ incarnate work on earth; it was the beginning of the work of the church through and by the Holy Spirit; and it symbolizes the completion of Christ’s work in us.

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7 NRSV)

The Ascension reminds us that Christ, who began a good work in us, will see it through till the day of completion. This includes our sanctification, the process of becoming more like Christlike. Jesus said this is evident in how we treat others (Matthew 25). He even identified the foundational core of this process in John 13 when he told us to love others as he loves us.

In one sense we are already completed in him – the already but not yet – but in another sense we are growing in grace and knowledge. Paul is telling us to live in the truth of our identity in Christ, which includes our resurrection and our being raised with him. In him, we are already raised up and seated in heavenly places, and this motivates us today to move toward that final act of glorification. Because of him, we see and show others the immeasurable riches of his grace. His love for us compels us to share his grace with others. The Ascension reminds us of our future.

Rick Shallenberger

Listening to the Spirit

The Love Avenue includes listening to the voices of your church neighborhood.

By Sam Butler, Pastor, Ravenna, MI

Have you ever been in a conversation with another person, where they are talking but you are already working on your response? This is more common than we would like to think. We often listen from the perspective of our own agenda rather than listening to what the other person is actually saying. (Link to article on autobiographical listening) The art of listening can often be a lost skill.

This has particular application when it comes to the mission of the church. Compelled by the love of Jesus Christ we desire to participate with him in what he is already doing in our communities. We want to be “out there” doing effective ministry. This desire is healthy, but what is important here is to not get ahead of ourselves, or more importantly, not get ahead of the Spirit. What do I mean?

In our modern age where most things we need in life are at our fingertips, it is easy to get caught up in a “now” mentality. We rarely need to wait anymore. It is the age of instant gratification. This can affect our approach to ministry. We can tend to want quick results. We have something great to offer, we are doing some great work, so why is our church not growing? Ministry can be frustrating from this perspective.

What is the answer to having successful neighborhood-based ministry? The answer is multi-faceted, so let’s start with the first step. This involves listening to the voices in the neighborhood.

The most important voice is the Holy Spirit. In Galatians, Paul is talking about life by the Spirit, and he states, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). To keep in step with the Spirit we need to be listening to him. It is important to note that listening to the Spirit and listening to all the other voices of the neighborhood should not be separated. This is because the Spirit can speak to us through those voices. Listening to the Spirit then means listening to these voices, and this listening is not passive, it is vibrant and active. Let’s look at ways in which we can actively listen.

Prayer is the place to start. It might sound funny to start listening by talking, but it is here we seek the Spirit’s leading. We ask for discernment, for wisdom, for all the help that will enable us to hear the voices in our neighborhood in order to engage our neighbors where the Spirit is leading us. The process of prayer also takes us out of our homes and churches and into the neighborhood where Jesus is inviting us to join in his ministry. This means we actively pray in the neighborhood as we walk around to see and to listen. This is known as “prayer walking.” We listen by observing. We pray as we walk the streets asking the Spirit to help us be aware of our surroundings, to allow them to inform us.

God has blessed us with five major senses, and we use these senses when we prayer walk. We take in the sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes and the contacts, and we talk with God about them. Who are the people groups? What are the places of activity, the structures? What are the signs of change, of hope, of need?  As we listen, we begin to be informed and begin to understand our church neighborhood. And we pray for God to lead us to people of peace.

These “people of peace” are important voices that need to be listened to. These are people who are already active in the neighborhood and who have influence. They know the neighborhood and the surrounding community and are willing to share with others because they welcome additional involvement and networking. They are easy to find and would welcome the opportunity to sit down over coffee. They would also be willing to put you in touch with other neighborhood and community stakeholders.

Another voice that must be listened to are the residents, the people who live around your church location. These are the very people you want to get to know. They might be the ones God is sending you to build relationship with. They certainly know others who need your love and support. It is essential to engage them, to ask them specific questions about the needs in the neighborhood, the problems facing the residents, the schools, the activities, etc.

The key to listening is listening. We do not assume to have all the answers and solutions. Neighborhood-based ministry is a partnership, a collaboration with every aspect of community life.  Everyone is valued and needed. We must see the neighborhood as a whole, as Jesus sees it. It is a love relationship with Jesus leading the way. We listen to him through the Spirit and we listen to all the voices that are extensions of his voice.  Listening is love in action.

Christ Centered Engagement

There is a big difference between following the mission of the church and becoming a parachurch ministry or organization.

By Bill Hall, National Director, Canada

It was an interesting conversation that day in Toronto. I was there as the Saskatchewan representative of Food Banks Canada’s national advisory council. I had been involved for a few years in running a food bank in my community and was also Executive Director of Food Banks of Saskatchewan.

During a break between meetings, I asked a friend why he was so passionate about helping the hungry. He responded that he wasn’t a person of faith; rather, he considered himself a humanist and believed in supporting the dignity of all people. As such he had a heart for those living in poverty and wanted to see an end to it.

So, while we both cared about the poor, we had two different motivations. In my case I took this famous passage found in Matthew to heart:

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.”

Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?” Then the King will say, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me” (Matthew 25:34-40 The Message)

However, looking back at my days at the food bank, I realize there was a real tension between my work there and preaching the gospel. While I am a Christian, my work was in isolation with my local church’s mission. Although I had a lot of opportunities to share my faith, I was basically working in a humanist organization.

Although I have left food banking, the organization I ran and the national movement I was a part of continues to do well without my Christian influence. It continues to do good works and feed the hungry.

Lately, in GCI we have heard about engaging our neighborhoods by showing the love of Jesus as part of the Love Avenue. Many of our congregations are doing just that, but my story is a cautionary tale to be aware that there is a difference between following the mission of the church and becoming perhaps a parachurch organization or a helping organization.

To me there is a vast difference.

The mission of the local church is to reach out to invite people to be part of a local believing community. In other words, to show that God is reaching out to all humans and offering them an intimate relationship with the triune God and other fellow believers. It’s an invitation to a personal, nurturing relationship, based on unity and trust, within the believing community and with God. This must be the primary focus of all ministries for a congregation, both internal and external.

A parachurch organization may have a similar goal of reaching people with the gospel message of hope through Jesus. But how they accomplish this is more global in scope. How well they do in connecting people with a local group of believers differs from organization to organization. Many of them were founded because a group of Christians saw a need that required someone to step up and try to alleviate. This is particularly the case when the state wasn’t involved in caring for their citizens.

While a local church can partner with or provide some aid to a parachurch organization to expand their reach, it’s easy for this to become a distraction from our real mission. While providing parachurch aid makes a person or congregation feel they are reaching out, the neighbors and friends being served aren’t even aware a local church exists. In my case, people knew of my association with my church and Christianity, but this didn’t translate in introducing my neighbors to a triune God who cared for them.

I still have a heart for caring for the poor, but I now see this type of ministry in a different light. Our congregation in Winnipeg operates a bi-weekly food bank (or food pantry) out of their church every two weeks. It has been quite effective in introducing their church neighborhood to their local congregation. It is a place where food bank clients get to interact with the members of that community. Many have become friends, and as a result are starting to have more of those deeper conversations about the church that occupies the building they come to every other week.

One caution I would like to add. Too often avenues of engagement are viewed as a way to “save” a congregation. If that is the motivation, then we may be disappointed. Our motivation must be our love for the people of our neighborhoods – which results in engagement. When Christ’s love compels us, we will follow the example of Matthew 25 as part of our fulfillment of the great commission of leading people into a relationship with Jesus (Matthew 28). With this as our motivation, we are participating with Jesus in his mission. We share his love and his life with others because we love them. This is living and sharing the gospel.

Spiritual Practices for Easter Season

As we observe the fifty days of this Easter season, let’s recommit our allegiance and devotion to God.

By Jillian Morrison, Associate Pastor, Glendora, California

“Let go of everything that doesn’t serve you and embrace my joy.” This is what God inspired me to practice every day during the Easter Preparation season (Lent). Regardless of how you may have observed the season, consider what God might be leading you to let go of and embrace in this new season of the Christian Worship Calendar.

We are now in the Easter season, the fifty days between Easter Sunday and Pentecost, a time in the worship calendar that gives us an opportunity to reflect on what we just celebrated: The resurrection of Jesus Christ, the cornerstone of the Christian faith, and what it means for us today and through eternity. We also celebrate the Ascension during this season.

After reaching a colossal verdict, former atheist and investigative journalist, Lee Strobel, stated these obvious implications regarding the resurrection of Christ:

If Jesus overcame the grave, He’s still alive and available for me to personally encounter. If Jesus conquered death, He can open the door of eternal life for me too. If He has divine power, He has the supernatural ability to guide and transform me as I follow Him. As my Creator who has my best interests at heart, He rightfully deserves my allegiance and worship.[1]

Our loving Creator God is surely alive, and he speaks to us today. He has our best interests at heart and seeks to guide and transform us to be more like him as we daily choose to follow him. We worship and pledge our allegiance to the triune God because he deserves our total worship and allegiance.

As we observe the fifty days of this Easter season, let’s recommit our allegiance and devotion to God.

Though often associated with religion, worship isn’t just “something religious people do” – it’s something everyone does. Worship is woven into the very fabric of our spiritual DNA, for human beings were made for worship.

In her book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun explains:

Worship reveals the somethings or someones we value most. What we love and adore and focus on forms us into the people we become. Many of us are devoted to the same things our culture worships: houses, money, retirement plans, vacations, comforts, success. In and of themselves none of these things is bad. But when we value these things more than we value God, we end up worshiping secondary things. Secondary things can never satisfy core longings. Only a love relationship with our Creator can do that.[2]

As followers of Jesus Christ, we know that we love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). We know that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5). But what’s important to recognize is that loving God is not passive or automatic – loving God is a spiritual practice, which means it needs to be a conscious, active, daily choice. Just like in our marriages and various relationships, we will naturally drift towards isolation and independence if we’re not intentional about working towards oneness through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Loving and worshiping God means depending on him, trusting him, and surrendering our very lives in utter devotion, loyalty, adoration, and commitment.

The spiritual desire behind Christian worship is “to honor and adore the Trinity as the supreme treasure of life.”[3] It is telling God, “Have your way with me.”

The spiritual practice of Christian worship can include:

  • Focusing on and responding to God with your whole being
  • Offering our body as a “spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1)
  • Responding to God’s truth with loving obedience
  • Regularly engaging with a worshiping community
  • Seeking first the kingdom of God, keeping secondary things second[4]

The God-given fruit of Christian worship can include:

  • Keeping company with Jesus no matter what happens
  • Fulfilling your God-given longing to adore and praise your Creator
  • Meeting God and bringing him joy
  • Joining the company of saints in heaven and on earth who continually magnify the Lord
  • Doing your part in growing your relationship with God
  • Growing in faith, hope, and love by basking in the presence of God[5]

Here are other spiritual practices to consider during the Easter season:

  • Practice forgiveness – One of the ways we practice resurrection in daily life is through forgiveness. We forgive others because God in Jesus forgave all humanity. Live in the truth that you are forgiven eternally in Christ!
  • Practice reverence for life – Be fully present to the miracle of life all around you: People, animals, insects, plants. Notice the continual process of renewal on earth in the changing seasons.
  • Practice compassion – Open your heart, mind, and soul to the pain of the world and respond with the compassion of Christ.
  • Embrace the power of play – Be refreshed by the simplest of life’s pleasures: Laughter, games, naps, play. Remember to have fun and enjoy God’s abundance!

May you be blessed this Easter season as you surrender to the will of God and honor him as the great treasure of life!

[1] Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter: A Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 88.
[2] Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 25, 45.
[3] Ibid., 44.
[4] Ibid., 44.
[5] Ibid.

Intimidating Encounters

It can be intimidating working with young people. Here are some tips to keep you focused on them.

While I was in college, my work-study job was at the South Boston (the locals call it Southie) Boys and Girls Club, and it was my pleasure to work there for four years. My first day was a “baptism by fire.” I was placed in the gym with my co-worker Craig and about 50 eight and nine-year old kids. While I was trying to find my way among the chaos, a kid walked up and stood right in front of me. He was just shy of four feet tall, skinny as a rail, with a Boston Bruins baseball hat pulled down so far he had to crane his neck back to look at me. He said, “Who are you?”

I said, “I’m Dishon. Who are you?”

“I’m Michael. You new here?”

“Yup. It’s my first day.” I didn’t know what else to say. As I struggled to think of a way to connect to the first young person I spoke to at my new job, Michael just stared at me.

Finally, with a thick Southie accent, he said, “Fight me!”

“Fight you?” I responded.

“Yeah. Fight me!”

I said, “I’ll pass. I don’t want to get beaten up on my first day.”

Nodding his head slowly, Michael replied, “That’s right you don’t!” He ran off and played with his friends. During my time at the Southie Club, I had many similar conversations with Michael. He was like the crime boss of his age group — always into something but never the one getting his hands dirty. Michael seemed to delight in spawning mischief every day, and I was continually having to remind him of the code of conduct. However, I always listened to him, joked around with him whenever I could, and never judged him as a “bad kid.” In return, Michael never lied to me. He always admitted to what he did and took the consequences I gave out. On a few occasions, he even intervened if a young person was giving me a hard time. Given how things went in his neighborhood, I can now see that Michael showed me great respect. I cannot say that I had a deep relationship with him, but I was blessed to win over a young man so different from myself.

It can be intimidating working with young people, especially those who reside across a cultural barrier (for example, age, race, income level, churched/unchurched, etc.). As we are compelled by love to engage the young people in our neighborhoods, we may find ourselves coming face-to-face with youth with very different backgrounds. Here are some lessons I have learned from Jesus about relating to youth across cultural barriers.

Be a human

When Jesus put on human flesh, he crossed the greatest of cultural barriers — the gulf between God and corrupted humanity. He became one of us so, among other reasons, he could tie himself to our fate and we would be tied to his. All humanity is united in Christ. When we relate to young people across cultural barriers, we have to see ourselves as united to them in Christ. We have to avoid having an “us” and “them” mentality.

Be authentic

There are few things that people value more than authenticity. To connect with young people, we have to be comfortable with ourselves and relate to them as honestly as possible. We respect proper boundaries, of course, but we should avoid trying to be something that we are not. In order to reveal the Father, Jesus was his full authentic self in our midst. Therefore, in order to reveal Christ to young people, we have to be our full authentic selves by the Spirit.

Be a learner

Jesus asked questions and was genuinely interested in what others thought. He went out of his way to talk to people and listen to their stories. We too should have the orientation of a learner. Living united does not mean that we ignore our differences. Instead, we should learn from others, allowing the stories of those from other backgrounds to shape how we see things.

Be a believer

Believing in Jesus involves trusting in his power to reconcile all things to himself. We do not cross cultural barriers on our own. We do so in Christ. Therefore, we should trust that he is able to break down dividing walls. We should believe that no cultural barrier is too great for God to bridge. Christ proved it by rescuing and redeeming humanity.

In the past, I felt intimidated when working with young people from different backgrounds because I focused too much on the things I did not know. By the Spirit, I had to learn to focus on the things I did know.

  • I know that Jesus lives in me.
  • I know that he wants to lavish his love on the young people around me, and he can use me to do it. I know that our unity in Christ is greater than anything that divides us.
  • I know I can learn compassion for others from Jesus.
  • I know that whatever happens today, Christ has already won the ultimate victory.

I pray that you know these things as well and let nothing stop you from reaching out to the young people you are led to by the Spirit — even the little ones who challenge you to fights.

Dishon Mills, U.S. Generations Ministry Coordinator

Mapping Your Neighborhood w/ Linda Sitterley, Ceeja Malmkar, Bibi Sanchez, & Juanka Barrero

Video unavailable (video not checked).

In this episode about Mapping Your Neighborhood, we mix things up a little bit. We’re taking the Pod vignette style with Linda Sitterley, Ceeja Malmkar, Bibi Sanchez, and Juanka Barrero to hear what Mapping Your Neighborhood can look like in rural, suburban, and urban contexts.

“We [the church} have so much to offer. How can we make it more profitable for people? The challenge now is how do we find ways to make those connections? … How do we go in asking the right questions, and not thinking we have all the answers?  As a learner, we are looking for the questions. Where can we fit in? What can we do? As a learner, we are going in without any preconceived ideas of what we should be doing.”
Linda Sitterley
GCI Pastor Eugene, Oregon

 

Now, we are not just a church trying to get neighbors to come to their church. Now, we are a church, a group of people who are neighbors, loving and serving together with neighbors. And so it is not just this us vs them. It is a we. We all have this neighborhood and community in common, and we all have the love of God that holds us together in common, whether we know it yet or not. When it became about us, we, and joining the healthy rhythms of my community, it was a major change and shift that led to some really amazing things.
Ceeja Malmkar,
Love Avenue Champion Surrey Hills, Oklahoma

Keep getting to know your neighborhood even though it takes time it is worth it. It is worth it to feel like your church is part of the community and is present.
Bibana Sanchez
Worship Leader Bogotá, Colombia

Main Points:

Today we’ll be diving into the Love Avenue practice of making friends.

  • What is the process of Mapping Your Neighborhood in a rural to suburban context? The experience of Linda Sitterley in Eugene, Oregon, USA (1:01)
  • What is the process of Mapping Your Neighborhood in a suburban area? The experience of Ceeja Malmkar in Surrey Hills, Oklahoma, USA (25:17)
  • What is the process of Mapping Your Neighborhood in an urban region? The experience of Juan Carlos and Bibiana Barrero Bogotá, Columbia (53:15)

Resources:

 

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Program Transcript


Mapping Your Neighborhood w/ Linda Sitterley, Ceeja Malmkar, Bibi Sanchez, & Juanka Barrero

Welcome to the GC Podcast, a podcast to help you develop into the healthiest ministry leader you can be by sharing practical ministry experience. Here are your hosts, Cara Garrity and Christianna Doele.

Cara: Welcome everyone to today’s episode of GC Podcast. Christianna, it is so good to have you here with us today.

I’m wondering what are you celebrating these days?

Christianna: I don’t know if this is the biggest thing to celebrate, but I would have to say the end of exams. You know when you finish a project or a paper and you close all the million tabs you have open on the computer and you put away all the notes and books.

Finishing the exams is really akin to that feeling, except there’s a lot more excitement realizing that you have time off. So that’s definitely what I’m celebrating right now.

Cara: Yes. Amen. Congratulations. And I’m glad that you’ll be able to take a breath and a bit of rest through that.

Today we will be exploring the Love Avenue practice of mapping the neighborhood and what that can look like. What comes to mind when you think about the concept of a neighborhood?

Christianna: In many ways, I think of the concept of neighborhood as tied to community. Neighborhoods are where specific places become the center of engagement, fostering relationships, and developing friendships. So, there’s a sense of connection to the library, the church, even the grocery store, because those are the places that you share with your neighbors. Those are the people that you see and connect with every day.

Cara: Yeah. The sense of shared living. I really like that. And this idea of mapping the neighborhood we’re going to be talking about, but what does that even mean? That’s not really a phrase that I’ve used in my everyday life. Can you expand on that phrase a little bit for us, Christianna?

Christianna: Mapping your neighborhood is like the process of contextualizing and interpreting scripture. Through that process, when we consider the text in terms of original language, the culture, and historical context of the people addressed by the text and the immediate text of the verses that surround it.

That process is similar to when we map our neighborhoods, reading the audience of our neighbors in order to draw meaning from them. Mapping your neighborhood involves considering the numerous aspects that shape the community and your focus neighborhood from ethnic and religious affinities to cultural perspectives, to daily practices.

When we map our neighborhoods, we apply and live out what we learn in scripture in ways that will engage our focus neighborhood.

Cara: Thank you, Christianna. So, it’s like actually getting to know your neighbors and your neighborhood in a real and meaningful way. Let’s hear what our guests have to share about their experiences mapping their neighbors.


Hello, friends and welcome to today’s episode of GC Podcast. This podcast is devoted to exploring best ministry practices in the context of Grace Communion International churches. I’m your host, Cara Garrity. And today we’re doing things a little bit differently. We’re taking the pod vignette style to hear what mapping your neighborhood can look like in different neighborhoods settings.

Today we’re welcoming pastor Linda Sitterley, lead pastor for the Eugene, Junction City, and Salem congregations in Oregon U.S. A. She’ll be sharing from her experience of new mapping, the church neighborhood in these settings. Pastor Linda, thank you so much for joining the pod today.

Linda: Hello. Thank you for having me on.

Cara: And before we get started, I’d love to just hear a quick word: what’s something that’s bringing you joy these days?

Linda: Probably, I would say my reading. I like to read. I’m starting another book club within my fellowship. And music, of course has always been a big thing for me. Even though I pastor I’m still on the worship team, and I’m their keyboardist so they can’t really get rid of me.

Yeah, those things, that and gardening. When it starts to get warm outside, then gardening will step up, and there’s weeds that have to be pulled and stuff. But yes, those are the things that I really find my joy, my peace. My tranquility is in that.

Cara: Amen, thank you for sharing.

And first, before we start digging in really deep, I’d love for you to just tell us a bit about your church neighborhood and the discernment process that went into being in that neighborhood.

Linda: Our neighborhood is the small town of Junction City. It’s about 7,000 people right now. It’s a very fast-growing bedroom community. And it’s situated just north of the Eugene Springfield metropolitan area, which just lies to the south. And because we have a concentration of members in Junction City and the bulk of our membership, just to the south of us, it has been on our radar for quite a long time for Junction City to be that potential target community.

And so, it wasn’t so much a discernment process, but a feel like a move by the Holy Spirit. And I was approached a while back by a member of the congregation to see if we’d be interested in leasing a church on a piece of property that was there in Junction City, because they were wanting to buy it to build a house on it because it would have enough room for that, but they still wanted to keep the church there because they wanted us to be able to have a church home. And so of course I said, yes.

And then just as things have progressed this last year, we’ve been able to actually purchase the property from them. For various reasons, things didn’t work out for them to have a house built there. But it was our blessing to be able to purchase it from them. So that’s where we’re at and that’s really how it all came to be. It was like we wanted to be a part of Junction City, and this allowed us to have it happen.

It was just really, definitely, I think the Holy Spirit inspired everything happening from them wanting to purchase the building, to us being able to really get into it. And now here we are in Junction City where we wanted to be for a long time.

Tim and I have lived in Junction City for over 37 years, really. And our children are raised in the schools there, and our son and his family has still lived there now, actually. It really feels like this is the time, so that’s why we’re there.

And Junction City is in a very interesting town. It’s a farming community, has always been a farming community. It has a lot of other aspects to it as well in that it is a bedroom community. It’s starting to take on a little bit more of that vibe. That city vibe is starting to come into it. That urban vibe is starting to grow because younger people are moving in. It’s a town full of families.

And the schools are overflowing to the point where they’re trying to figure out how they can build more. And so, it’s really a growing town. In fact, it is listed as the number one growing town in the state of Oregon. Yeah. And so, to be here on the cusp of some of that happening is pretty exciting.

Cara: Yeah. And to be able to find a physical location for the church community to meet in a neighborhood that you guys have wanted to be in for a while, and that your family has been rooted in some time. That’s incredible.

Linda: Yes. We have quite a few connections. We’ve got other families, like I said, other church members who live there, as well as a lot of other connections, other friends, and then friends who have friends. There’s really the connection growing—that it just seems that, yeah, this is the time.

Cara: That’s amazing. And so now that you’re in Junction City, and you have this meeting location and now’s the time, what kind of things have you all done to get to know your neighborhood a little bit more? And as you’ve done that, can you share some examples, both of what has worked well and what hasn’t worked well?

Linda: Yeah. What hasn’t worked so well is COVID, that has been—here in Oregon, a lot of the mandates are still in place, and we still have our mask mandates for indoor activities. And there’s still restrictions here, and we don’t want to step on that.

That’s the one thing that has really been on our hearts is to make sure that the community knows that we respect what’s been laid out by our governor and everything. And we don’t want to be disrespectful and have them think that we don’t respect the law or anything like that.

And so COVID has been one thing that’s kept us from really making the big push that we wanted to do. We’ve pushed back any open house or anything until we feel it’s safer to do that. And so that we let the community know that we err on the side of safety.

And that’s where we’re at, but we have done a few things since being there. We have in the past had tremendous success where we were located before doing Easter icons and Easter activities on the day of Easter, and those were always very well attended. And so, we thought let’s see what we can do here. We gathered people together, and we went out in the very early hours of the morning on Easter and hid eggs in the yards of member children’s yards, as well as friends that we knew. And then friends of friends—we’d say, who do you know has children that would appreciate having an Easter egg hunt for the children in the morning?

And so, we did that, and it was interesting to be out in the middle of the night and trying to hide eggs without being—we’re in a small town, and you don’t want to have people going and calling the police on us. But we were able to do that. And we were able to (within those eggs and things) we also had little cards that personally reached out to each of those children with their names, wishing them a Happy Easter.

And then I heard through grapevines, that people were shocked. And others said that their friend broke down in tears and cried because again Easter egg hunts were just put on the back burner for right now because of COVID and everything. And so, they have something in their yard for their children to wake up to was very moving. And so that was successful. And we do plan on moving forward with that as well and seeing what we can do to expand that.

The other was we did a Trunk-or-Treat and that was good. It wasn’t as heavily attended as we had hoped, but it was still successful in that we got people [in attendance] who got eggs in their yard.

And then they came through our Trunk-or-Treat, and then they realized it was us who did their eggs. And they were just like—I had a lady started to cry when I was talking to her. And she was so thankful that we did that for her little girl. And then here they were at our Trunk-or-Treat.

And so yeah, that was good, just making those connections, letting them know that we’re here, this is where we’re at. And so, the Trunk-or-Treat was very successful. We’ve always been very successful Halloween events. (If anything—don’t like to say this, but—all of our Halloween decorations far outnumber any Christmas or Easter decorations that we have.) Like I said, we’ve always been very successful on our Halloween events. And moving to this location, we just decided to keep it as a Trunk-or-Treat, and that was again, a nice moderate success for us. We were happy with it when it was all said and done.

And other than that (again with the COVID), we haven’t really done any more than that. Like I said, we’re hoping to have an open house this summer and really just opening our doors to everybody.

Cara: Yes. And continuing to create those spaces where you’re able to get to know people in your neighborhood. I love that example you shared that somebody who received Easter eggs showed up at the Trunk-or-Treat and was like, wow, it was you guys. And you’re building those connections and getting to know your neighbors in that way. That’s incredible.

And as you’re making these connections and building on connections in your neighborhood, what difference has it made to go into your neighborhood as a learner first?

Linda: Yeah, that was interesting. That’s an interesting question. I know when we’ve got out in the past at our previous location it always felt like a struggle to know, where do we begin? What do we do? How do we—because even back then, we always knew we needed to make a connection, but we never knew really how to start. We knew it always started with prayer and we have done the prayer walks and things like that, but it was always after we did that, it was like, okay, what’s the next move? What do we do next?

And we already found out that, we did well engaging in local community events. We had a small event every summer that we were part of with the city of Eugene that is, like I said, the town that’s close to us. And we were in that event. It was a city-wide event for that particular part of the neighborhood, and we were always engaged in that.

But we would engage it, we would do face painting and rubber band, gun games, and things. And people were always swarming our booth, but we never really made the connection. We just couldn’t find; how do we engage them? How do we bring them back? How do we get them to ask about us? So we were, I don’t know—I always felt like we were missing direction and it just seemed like—I didn’t want to say—we were wasting our time, but it just felt like, wow, we have so much to offer. How can we make it more profitable for people? So, I guess the challenge is now to find the ways to make those connections.

From our time living here—and Junction City is again of a festival community. They’re very Scandinavian. I forgot to mention that, but they are Scandinavian. And every year they have an annual Scandinavians’ festival that lasts for four days. And so here, we’re thinking, wow, can we become involved in that? Is there a way to find our way into the festival?

And then we’re thinking we have the schools. We’ve always done a school thing in the past. Again, getting in there and letting people know who we are, but again, the connection is not made.

And so here we have these schools, but now it’s easier because now we have kids who attend in every level from elementary up to high school. And parents are involved, and they’re involved in all the clubs and the activities. So now we’re thinking, ah, we have a better connection now because of this.

For us, our challenge is: how not to make the mistakes that we made in the past. And now we want to know what the questions are and not going in thinking we already have the answers because we do not have the answers. And we’re looking to know what the questions are. And so, as a learner, we’re looking for the questions. We’re looking, where can we fit in? What can we do? So that’s, I guess where we are in this step as a new church going into a community, and we are trying to be that learner first and not coming in with any preconceived ideas of what we think we should be doing.

Cara: I think that’s so key, Linda. I love that you say that to not come in thinking that well, we have all the answers, but first, what are even the right questions to ask.

Oh, that’s good. That’s good. And then I think that helps. What are the meaningful connections? How do we meet people where they’re already at with the things that are already important to them? And that’s one of the things that I heard that was really meaningful, even in the example of the Easter egg hunt and the Trunk-or-Treat, in your community of Junction City, you mentioned there are a lot of families.

And it sounded like, especially during COVID, families were missing out on something fun that their kids could engage in. And to meet them where they were in that, and to say let’s find a different way to have fun and to build connections and to do something for families. When we go in figuring out what are the right questions to ask, instead of we automatically know all the answers and the right way to do things, the possibilities are endless.

Linda: We took what we knew we could do and what we did well, but we knew we couldn’t do it the way we had done it in the past. And there was no way, without it failing, we just knew that. We just had to come at it at a shorter level, a smaller level and just see. And just say, hey, we’re just going to build on this and let’s just see how it goes. And if it’s a moderate success, it’s a moderate success. And if it fails, it’s gonna fail. And then we just can’t take that on ourselves; it just wasn’t what was needed. And that’s how we’re approaching things, if it fails, that means it wasn’t what was needed for right now.

So, we already knew what we could do, but that was at a different location. Now we’re where we’re at. We’re at home now, we’re home. And now the members who don’t even live in Junction City, but to them Junction City’s becoming their home. And so that is what’s important for us now is getting the rest of the membership to think of Junction City as our target, as our target community.

Cara: Yes. And I love what you said about a failure’s just a failure. And that just means it’s not what was needed. I think that’s so key in this learning posture because we’re just learning: what does our neighborhood need? What is meaningful to our neighborhood? And it’s a posture where we can learn and along the way, we may do something that for the folks in our neighborhood, it just doesn’t connect with them. And that’s okay.

Yeah. And especially like you said, what works in one community or neighborhood might not be meaningful in another, and that’s okay too. How do we keep learning and connecting along the way? That’s great.

As you’ve made these connections, as you’ve come with the posture of a learner in this neighborhood community, how have you continued to develop the relationships you’ve made along the way, or maybe even build some collaborations within the neighborhood?

Linda: Since we like I said, Tim and I had been here for a long time, we’ve already made some connections within the community, just on a personal level. I have a lot of inroads in with some of the local businesses, and with the chamber of commerce, we have connections both personally and business wise.

And I think that for us, it’s important for us to continue to improve those relationships and make them deeper because I believe that, going forward having business on your side is important to an event that you might want to put on to help the rest of the community, because businesses are all about the community as well. And especially in Junction City, like I said, it’s a small town and everybody looks out after everybody. And building those partnerships is very important

And I’m also part of the local pastors’ association. With our group of pastors, when we meet, they always bring in guests from the outside, from the community that attend these meetings as well. We’ve had the chief of police with us on many of our luncheons and people from the fire department, and we’ve had school principals and a lot of people who serve on a lot of the local nonprofit boards. So, we have this group of people all coming together.

And I think that’s one of the good things about being in a small town. It’s that the church isn’t looked down upon by that many people (there are those who do), but for the most part we all work together. It’s all a nice collaboration. And so that’s how you build those partnerships. And I think that we will only continue to build those. And especially as we get past COVID where we can really, like I said, move further out, I think. I’m looking forward to summer and actually some of the events that are going to start taking place because of the warmer weather.

Cara: Yes. And those strategic partnerships can help the church community learn more about the neighborhood. And like you said, position them to serve the neighborhood. Yeah, that’s great.

Linda, any final encouragements or words of advice that you have to share with our listeners today, as they begin to go out and map their neighborhood or get to know their neighborhood, in other words?

Linda: We’ve said numerous times over the years that we should plant a church in this community. We have said it. Tim and I used to joke, we have so many members, we’d always say, why don’t we just… why are we driving all the way into Eugene when we could just have a little church in Junction City?

We’ve made so many connections over the years and to finally see it come to fruition. That to me—I just still can’t get over it! The fact that we are now in our community.

And our challenges going forward would be like the rest of the world, COVID. And once we’re past that, we can make the push that we’re wanting to make. And you know what? COVID has, in some respect, been a blessing because it’s allowed us to get moved into a new building, making the renovations that we needed. And it’s forced us to have this digital presence that we’ve always wanted, and we tried for a long time, but just can never get it right. So, without the pressure of having to hurry all of these projects along and risk them turning out poorly, we were actually able to do it well.

And throughout this process, we’ve come to know so many families in the area, and so we’re really looking forward to opening our doors and welcoming them in. And then hopefully, the community welcoming us into it. So, it can happen; you can’t just say, it’s never going to happen because, oh, I’m the last person to actually believe that this actually happened! It took a long time, but it happened because it needed to be the right time, and it’s the right time.

Cara: Amen. Amen. That’s a good, final word. It can happen! In God’s timing, it can happen.

We’re coming up to the end of our segment where we get a little bit silly. I’ve got a couple of fun questions for you, Linda. No pressure. Just say whatever comes to mind first. You know, after dropping all those wonderful, wise insights, we’ve got to get a little silly.

My first question for you: if you had to play one song or one album on repeat for an entire year, what would it be?

Linda: I was just talking about this to someone else the other day! I know this is going to give my age away, but it would just have to be any Monkeys album.

Cara: Yeah. All right. What item on your bucket list are you most excited about checking off?

Linda: Wow, that’s a hard one. Because I honestly don’t really have a bucket list. Yeah, I’ll have to say that I don’t have a bucket list because for me, it’s every day’s an adventure. And so, I don’t need a bucket list to check anything off.

Cara: I love it. I love it. And then finally, what is your number one must do recommendation in Junction City?

Linda: My number one recommendation is for me to—actually, my number one thing is (I’ve been telling everybody this and it might be silly, but) I want to be in the Christmas parade next year. I want to be in the Christmas parade. That’s my number one, my personal number one goal. I don’t know about the rest of the congregation, but I’m going to be there!

Cara: Ah, I love it. Linda, thank you so much for joining us today. It has been an absolute pleasure.

And next we will hear from Ceeja Malmkar from GC Surrey Hills, Oklahoma.

Ceeja, thank you so much for joining us today.

Ceeja: Thank you for having me, Cara. I’m super excited.

Cara: Ceeja is the Love Avenue champion and the MTC coordinator at GC Surrey Hills in Oklahoma, USA. And today she’ll be sharing her experience mapping the neighborhood in GC Surrey Hills. But before we go ahead and jump right in, I’d love to know Ceeja, what is something that is giving you hope these days?

Ceeja: Man, there’s just hope all around me. For sure I know that all of it, every single bit of it, the source of it is Jesus and the move of the Spirit, but it has just been so evident. I feel like I’ve been given front row seats to a miraculous show of the Spirit, and I’m just so blessed that I’ve been able to have my eyes open in a way to see the miracles that are happening all around me. It is just so exciting to be a part of and to get to witness.

Cara: Amen. Amen. And speaking of witnessing what the Spirit is doing around you, tell us a little bit about your church’s neighborhood and the discernment process that went into being in that neighborhood.

Ceeja: Yeah, so it is a story of God. Absolutely. We have had a small church; it was actually at a double wide trailer house, about three miles west of where our target neighborhood now is. Originally, we were in a very small unincorporated neighborhood, but luck should have it, that we had a few members that actually lived in our neighborhood now, which is Surrey Hills. And over time as we weren’t getting traction from our ministry and our door-to-door and trying to meet the other neighborhood where we were, we discovered that something was happening in Surrey Hills.

There were relationships happening. Because some of us lived here, we were taking the opportunity to get out and get to know our neighbors and our neighborhood. And we just started seeing this beautiful thing of relationship. And I just know that Jesus works through relationship, and as this is happening suddenly multiple of our members just start moving to Surrey Hills.

A lot of the leadership didn’t even know that was the plan. They had already bought houses and were moving before we found out. And so, there was just this move of the Spirit to bring us to this neighborhood. And it was just a beautiful thing. It was undeniable.

We had to experience some doors shutting in our face where we had been for 15 years before that. We had a lot invested there. We were there for 15 years. We kept trying. I believe we were doing all the right things, but it wasn’t in the right place. It wasn’t where God had for us, that he had something bigger and better. And we just didn’t know it. So, we had to experience some of those doors shutting and facing that and facing the truth in that before we could even see the beautiful windows that were opening all around us, pointing us in a whole new direction.

Cara: Yeah. I love that idea of seeing around what is God doing, around what direction is he pointing you in? And so, as you guys started to see and move in the direction that you felt like the Spirit was leading you in, what difference has it made to go into your neighborhood of Surrey Hills as a learner first?

Ceeja: It is I think, it’s amazing. I’ve always said this, how in the Bible you hear Jesus talk a lot about loving your neighbor, right? And there’s this term neighbor, and it is so intimate and so important when you think of the term. And neighbor isn’t just someone who looks like you or who believes like you or who acts like you. Your neighbor is the person living in your community that you’re in relationship with.

And it definitely opened our eyes to this whole new ministry, which has always been Jesus’ ministry. But it took us a while to get that let’s get out and get to know our neighbors. And it was as simple.

I can tell you that my husband and I when we had our babies and they were little, there’s always that driving around in the car to get them to go to sleep. So, every night we would drive up and down every road in Surrey Hills, just to get to know our neighborhood. And then we took advantage of that. If we saw trash, we would stop, but we would pick it up. If we saw a neighbor, maybe unloading groceries, we would stop and ask if they needed help.

If we saw someone outside and working in their yard, we would stop and compliment them on their beautiful yard and their hard work. And before we knew it, all these relationships are starting to happen. And the thing that happens with relationship is trust. And once that trust is there, you get open hearts and open minds, and you just get this sense of community.

I’ll never forget our first official—I like to say it because we tried something once and it didn’t work and I’m going to get to that—but the first thing that did work that we did, is we joined the neighborhood. Instead of having a GC Surrey Hills outreach, we had a neighborhood outreach that was sponsored by GC Surrey Hills and our neighbors.

And we invited the neighbors to come out, and we did a service project on this little, they call it the Hidden Park; it’s hidden in a greenbelt. And it was a beautiful park that it hadn’t been touched in probably 30 years. So, we went in and gave every—cleaned it up, repainted, gave everything a fresh coat of industrial paint, made it much more family friendly.

And we had more neighbors show up to that than we had church members, and we had quite a few church members. That was the first impact that we were like, wow! For 15 years, we have been trying to get our last neighborhood to show up. And this time, they showed up and we joined them. We didn’t ask them to join us; we joined them as well.

And it was the beginning of a beautiful, beautiful story!

Cara: Amen. I’m going to pause for a second, rooted that audio cut out for you as well.

Okay. Ceeja, can you back up? It was just like a quick moment. Should we have her backup? Just a couple sentences so that we can catch all that. Okay.

Back up to that, when you were saying like, that was the first, in our old neighborhood to get them to.

Ceeja: So, for 15 years in our old neighborhood, we struggled by doing these outreaches, trying to get that neighborhood to join us and show up. And this, for the first time we experienced neighbors showing up in a huge way, but not because we were asking them to join us, but because we were also joining them. And it was just the beginning of a beautiful story.

Cara: Amen. The posture of how you showed up in the neighborhood made a difference, is what it sounds like.

Ceeja: It did! It did make a difference because now we’re not just a church trying to get neighbors to come to their church. Right? Now we are a church, a group of people who are neighbors, loving and serving together with neighbors.

And so, it’s not this us-them; it’s this we. We all have this neighborhood in this community in common, and we all have the love of God that holds us together in common, (whether we know it yet or not.) And so, when it became about us and we and joining the rhythms of my community, it was a major change. It was a major shift and it led to some really amazing things to follow.

Cara: Yeah. That’s incredible—to be a neighbor. That’s amazing.

And you alluded to this, what are some of the things that you’ve done to get to know your neighbor and to be a good neighbor? Please share both examples of what’s worked well in your neighborhood and what hasn’t worked so well in your neighborhood.

Ceeja: Yeah. I’ll start off with what hasn’t worked. When we first decided that, wow, let’s maybe let’s test the Surrey Hills market and maybe see if that could be a neighborhood that we also outreach to. We did a little Trunk-or-Treat at our church building in Richland, because that’s the only building we had. It was three miles from the neighborhood. It was out in the middle of nowhere, but it was our building. And it was a great little trunk or treat but I don’t think we had any neighbors from Surrey Hills because we were trying to get them to come to us.

And so, we’ve learned really fast that when it comes to building relationships and, finding your target community, we cannot rely on, “Well, we’ll know when they come to us.” We’ve got to get out there. We’ve got to join the healthy rhythms that are already existing within our target communities.

And the same year that we did that little Trunk-or-Treat, a couple of neighbors in Surrey Hills did their own Trunk-or-Treat. And a lot of people went to that. And I became friends with these neighbors and that’s also a huge thing. It was important to me to find the people in the neighborhood that were the doers and the talkers and the relational people because I knew I wanted to get involved.

I knew I wanted to be a part of what was already happening and hopefully, even with the move of the Spirit, make it even greater and bigger. I was strategic. I’m getting to know people. I used our neighborhood Facebook page to see, who are the people who are heading these up, who were the big volunteers?

I went to HOA meetings. I just went to introduce myself, to hear what was going on, and to volunteer, to help make a difference. That’s actually how we got the park project was I went to an HOA meeting. I listened to what they had going on and I said, “I have a little church and we are looking for ways to serve this neighborhood. We would love to do a work party for your park and open it up to the neighborhood so we can all work together.”

So, it was going out and doing those things. I got to know we have a lions club park here in our neighborhood. I went and intentionally got to know the neighbor that is over the Lions Club Park and the Surrey Hills Lions Club.

And to this day, it is such a beautiful relationship that now one of our long-time members has joined the Surrey Hills Lions Club, and he’s volunteering his time.

I’m a connector, right? My primary voices are pioneer and connector. For me, I am seeing this beautiful tapestry of all of these lines, these connections, like going everywhere throughout the community. And it is undeniable that this is a God thing.

Cara: Yeah, there’s a couple of things that I heard in what you said that I feel are particularly in insightful. One, I heard that the things that you did that were particularly impactful in getting to know your neighborhood, weren’t always events.

Ceeja: No.

Now events are great, right? Like we have some really great big events in the neighborhood. We have a Trunk-or-Treat that over 2000 people come to, and it’s incredible. These events are great, but the reason they’re great is because we already have the relationships. So it’s like a family gathering, right?

Family gatherings can be so much fun, but would it be as fun if you didn’t know those people? They’re fun because of the relationships, getting to come together, and spend time together. And so that takes an initiative outside of the church walls.

This is when it comes even to a personal level. Each of us is called to be the church to our neighborhood, to trust that God placed each of us exactly where we are. And that we are called as individuals to be the church. And before you know it, all these individual relationships, like I said, these connections start happening. It just flows into the life of the local church, and it’s beautiful.

Cara: Yes. Yes. And the second thing that you said that I don’t want to miss is you have to go to where the people are and not expect them to come to you. Join the life rhythms of the community.

Ceeja: Yeah. Yeah. It’s huge. It is so huge. It depends on your community. For example, this is a great example. I’ve always advised people, if they’re going to do a Trunk-or-Treat, and it’s in a neighborhood, maybe don’t do it Halloween night because now you’re trying to compete with the healthy rhythm that the neighborhood already has going, whenever my regular trick or treating is.

So instead of trying to compete, let’s offer something extra so that they can do both. Now, this isn’t always [true]—this is why it’s important to get to know the rhythms of your community, right? Because we have another church [in GCI] that in their community, they did their Trunk-or-Treat on the same night as the Trick-or-Treating, but because of the location of their church, it wasn’t a competitive thing. They added on to it. They were like their own station in the trick-or-treat path.

It’s just so important to get to know your community, get to know your neighborhood, to find out those healthy rhythms and then join them, bring something extra, join it, make it better, make it bigger, more love.

It’s just so important.

Cara: Yeah, I love that because it also recognizes that God is already there. And he’s already doing something. And so how are we participating in what he’s doing in this place that he has brought us as a church community to participate?

Ceeja: Yes. And it can be scary, right?

It’s absolutely scary. It’s so much easier for people to stay in their houses with the doors shut and locked and just go to church on Sundays. That’s way easier, but that’s not who we were created to be. We were created to be in relationship with one another. And it’s just so important to get out of our comfort zones. And really, what is there to be afraid of?

We can’t fail. It’s not possible because we’re not the ones that changed hearts. We’re not the ones that build the church. Jesus is. And he doesn’t fail. There’s nothing to be afraid of outside of our own—we are our own worst enemies when it comes to our fears.

Cara: That’s a good word. And I want to follow up on one of the other things that you mentioned: you were strategic in building some of your relationships in the neighborhood.

And so how have you continued to build strategic partnerships or collaborations in the neighborhood?

Ceeja: Man, it has been incredible! Getting out, like I was talking about earlier, and just being a good neighbor, and getting to know my neighbors. Doing things like starting a Surrey Hills “Meals of love” page on Facebook, so that anyone in the neighborhood, if they were experiencing sickness or tragedy or rough times, we could do a meal train for them, and as neighbors, bring food.

And volunteering at different neighborhood outreaches and events—and that includes things outside of my church. One of the things that we did is we went and assisted another neighborhood church in cleaning up the grounds behind their building, where a private school is.

And it’s being a part of that, you start to build these relationships and before you know it—for me, a great evangelist tool (my secret weapon) is my Facebook, right? I’m becoming friends with these individuals, and we become friends on Facebook. And before I know it, I’m like, oh, they own this business, and they do this for a living, and they do this. Once you get to know them, it was just incredible. There’s businesses! Surrey Hills has so many business owners.

As we started dreaming big and doing some of these big outreaches or events, because I got to know these people, I was able to put out just an open invitation and say, “Look, we want to throw this neighborhood event. We would love some sponsors. If your family or your business would be interested in sponsoring this event, we would really appreciate it.”

And that’s all I had to do, Cara. Because they trusted and because there was relationship there, the first year, I think we had five or six people in the neighborhood who owned businesses or who were private families that each donated a hundred dollars to be sponsors.

Because they did that, and this was a community event, we made sure to honor them with sponsorship signs and Facebook postings and making connections. When someone’s looking for a house cleaner, “Wow! We have this great person in our neighborhood that does this, and she sponsors our community events. What a good neighbor!”

And before I knew it, I don’t even really have to put out posts anymore. Now, I will have a budget for an event, and I will fill up all those sponsorships for that event. Then I get multiple emails saying, how come I wasn’t a sponsor? Can I be a sponsor?

And it’s yes, I’m putting you on my list. So now we have this list of probably 20 or 25 local neighbors who own businesses that want to sponsor any and every event that we will open it up for. This has allowed my Love Avenue budget to be 90% covered by the community that we’re serving.

And now we’re able to take that money that we had budgeted in our budget and pour it back out into the community in other ways, through ministry and connect groups and camps and outreaches and all the other things and to support the other Avenues. It’s been beautiful.

Cara: Yeah. And when the neighborhood sees neighbors being neighbors, that’s compelling. Right? And so those partnerships, man, it just amplifies the ways that you’re able to participate in what God is doing in your midst.

Ceeja: When something big and wonderful is happening, people want to be a part of it. And there’s nothing more wonderful than community and relationship and love, right?

That’s what God has for us. That is the biggest blessing that he has given us is relationship. When we are participating in that and we’re doing these things, it’s just amazing. It’s like casting that compelling vision, and people want to be a part of it. They want to be a part of community.

They want to be a part of neighborhood. So, it’s really incredible to see the Spirit move throughout Surrey Hills.

Cara: Amen. Amen. You love to hear it!

My final question for you, Ceeja, what final words of encouragement do you have to share with our listeners who are maybe beginning to map their neighborhoods?

Ceeja: Yes. My advice would be to be authentic. Be yourself. When you go up and meet somebody, don’t say, “Hi, I’m Ceeja. I’m with Grace Communion Surrey Hills.” Say, “Hi, I’m Ceeja. I’m your neighbor. It’s so good to meet you.”

And then as the conversation develops, they’re going to say, what do you do? Everybody in this neighborhood that knows me, knows my church. It’s undeniable. I don’t hide it. I’m very proud of it, but I also don’t want them to feel like a project as soon as I meet them. And people can sense that. Nobody’s stupid anymore. They get it, they know what’s happening.

So be real, be authentic and watch what Jesus does. Watch what he does!

And pray for God to open your eyes to see the things that he’s doing around you, because it’s really easy to miss, Cara. It’s really easy to get stuck when we see doors closing to be so focused on that shut door, that we aren’t seeing these beautiful windows opening all around us.

It’s so important to open the eyes of our hearts and be willing to accept maybe what God’s telling us, because some of us may not be in our target neighborhoods. We may have an amazing building. We may have an amazing congregation, but if it’s not reaching outside of that, are we willing to listen to the Spirit?

Are we willing to test the waters and possibly see, is there somewhere? It may just be the next neighborhood over. It may be just a couple of streets over, but to open our hearts to what God’s doing and to see what he has for us and to trust that it’s a huge step out in faith. But again, we can’t fail because all we’re doing is joining Jesus, and he never fails.

Cara: Thank you so much for that encouraging and challenging last word. How are we joining in what the Spirit is doing in our midst and not maybe what we would like to do in our midst? Thank you so much, Ceeja, for those insights, but I’m not finished with you yet. I’ve got a couple of random fun questions to ask and yeah, no pressure, just say the first thing that comes to mind. We’re going to have a little fun with it.

First question for you. If you were a wrestler, what would your entrance theme song be?

Ceeja: Oh, I’ve so got this. So, it’s not really a song, but have you guys seen the new—I don’t know if it’s Tiktok or Instagram reels, but there was this lady on Family Feud. And she went into play “fast money,” and she’s like, “Hold up. Holy Spirit, activate! Holy Spirit, activate! Activate! Activate!”

That’s my Title walk.

Cara: That would be fantastic!

Ceeja: That’s my title walk in life. I asked Pastor Joe, if the next time he has me giving a sermon, if I can come out with that playing as my title walk.

Cara: I’d pay to see that. Next question. (I might also pay to see this.) If you could bring back any fashion trend, what would it be?

Ceeja: Oh man, I feel like they’ve all started to come back slowly but surely.

Yeah, probably the big hair. The 80s big hair where you spend like an hour with hairspray and teaser. The reason so is, nobody has a bad hair day because we all are having bad hair days.

Cara: Fair enough. And finally, what is your number one must-do recommendation in Surrey Hills?

Ceeja: Oh, Surrey Hills? Joined the neighborhood Facebook page. You will not get any more entertainment than that. No, the must-do would be—in fact, we’re so blessed because we just built a church on it. There is a beautiful pond nestled, right by the golf course in the heart of the neighborhood. And it is, I believe, the most beautiful and serene place.

There’s a lot of wildlife, ducks, and geese, birds. And it’s just beautiful. And it’s just a place it’s open to community to come and have picnics or fish. That would be the place that everybody needs to visit when they come to Surrey Hills.

Cara: I love it. love it. Thank you so much, Ceeja for sharing and for spending your time with us today. We thank you so much.

Ceeja: Yes. Thank you so much for having me. I always love getting to chat with Cara.

Cara: Join me in welcoming Bibi Sanchez and Juanka Barrero from GCI Bogota [Columbia]. In Bogota, the church is known as Comunión De Gracia Internacional Bogota or CGI Bogota. Juanka and Bibi are part of the worship team. They serve translating GCI material for Latin America, and they are the happy parents of baby Carla. Thank you both so much for joining the podcast today.

Bibi: Okay. Thank you so much.

Juanka: Hello!

Cara: Welcome, welcome. Before we get started, I would love to know what is something that is bringing both of you peace recently?

Juanka: I guess definitely our families, relationships, the relationship with God, and to feel that you belong to something special. There’s something special about that sense of belonging of a family, that you matter, that you’re a part of, right?

Juanka: Yeah. I know, say, definitely something really specific. It’s when I have my baby in my arms and she’s sleeping, that’s the most peaceful thing. Yeah. So also, that.

Cara: Amen. Amen. Thank you for sharing that today. We are going to be talking a little bit about mapping your neighborhood as a practice of the Love Avenue.

To begin, can you tell us a little bit about your church neighborhood and the process of discernment that went into being in that neighborhood?

Juanka: Yeah, sure. Maybe the first thing that I have to comment is that we own our church [building], and that’s a blessing. It’s a blessing that, I don’t know, the Holy Spirit just guided my dad. And before we got the opportunity to buy a home, he invested in a church, specifically, a church. It was a Catholic church.

And so, we have this amazing opportunity to have our own place. And because of that, well many, we can consider that place our first home. And regarding the Love Avenue, during the 2021 with the pandemic situation and all of that, the pastoral team gathered, and we had a foundation called “caras felices” (that’s happy faces in English) in which we visited far away neighborhoods and took food, clothes, gifts, music to serve and give to the children in need. And at the same time, talking to the parents about the gospel.

This worked for a while but reading about the Love Avenue concept regarding going to your neighbors and something that is close to church, we knew that it was the for best to reconsider our service to our community. And we discovered some interesting facts about our neighborhood.

Bibi: Yeah, so there is this couple that is in charge of “caras felices / happy faces,” Andrey and Gisella (and Salomé, their daughter). They started mapping important institutions and key points of galleria, which is our neighborhood. So yeah, they also discovered that nearby our church, the mayor changed some institutions that support children, also people with disabilities in some community centers and cultural house in front of our church.

Juanka: Yeah. It’s incredible. We visited that cultural house a couple of times, and it was good. They were a little bit crazy, but they were okay. There are a lot of teens in the neighborhood because of a soccer stadium, and it sometimes get really violent because of the fans.

Bibi: Maybe. There’s also a park when closed, so a lot of teenagers they go in and play soccer.

Juanka: So that was a good start to the process because the mapping was very important. And then another couple, which is Diego and Jenny, both of them are lawyers, and they serve in our pastoral team. And they took this information into account, and they discovered incredible realities in our neighborhood.

They discovered, for example, that some elderly people, that they were the owners of their own houses, they were in need. They were actually living in poverty because of the pandemic situation. Some of them, they’re just really old and they don’t have a lot of family around or they don’t have any relatives. And others, they’re just begging, begging for money, and they go to community diners because of that. So that’s crazy!

Many of these people have been victims of robberies and scams. I don’t know, our neighborhood during the day, it’s kind of okay.

Bibi: But at night! Yeah, it changes a little bit.

Juanka: Yeah, it’s hard. Some of our members, in fact they had stolen the wheels of their cars at night.

Bibi: Yeah. During our meetings at church.

Juanka: Yeah, it was at night, but during the day it’s okay. But all of this was positive because we decided to start this year with a chocolatada. Chocolatada is something—we like to drink chocolate.

Bibi: Yeah, like hot chocolate.

Juanka: Yeah, we invited a lot of people from the neighborhood, and they came, and we talked about plans, and we meet them (some of them.)

It’s really difficult to have a conversation that is enhancing that is positive with them. Many of our neighbors, they’re just not that interested in attending church. But they have received postcards and Christmas celebration invitations.

Bibi: And some information about our church. So yeah, we’re in the process to get them to come to church.

Juanka: Yeah. It has been a slow process.

Cara: No, thank you for sharing that. One of the things that I want to know that I heard that is really incredible is you all had a moment where you paused. And you thought about, we used to do it this way and now we’ve got to think about, what about our neighborhood where our church building is located. Maybe we need to think a little differently. And I think that’s really important to have that moment of maybe we can think differently and see what God is doing right close to where our church meets. That’s wonderful.

And so, it sounds like you have done a lot of learning about that neighborhood and trying to get to know people. And you said trying to get to know their needs. As you’ve done that, what difference has it made to go into the neighborhood as a learner first?

Juanka: I guess it has opened a lot of opportunities with a mayorship and some people from the government, because it turns out that one of our dear beloved servers on the worship team, she has a disability in her eyes. It was very difficult for her to see. And we got like the contact of the person of our neighborhood that was in charge from the government of helping these kinds of disabilities and things like that. I guess I don’t know, as a learner, first it’s overwhelming with all the things that you can do.

And maybe you realize that there’s so many things that you can do outside of church, not inside. And just getting the contacts and scheduling meetings, that has been lately something very positive. And now we are proud of this because we are working with a mayorship and having some training sessions with them. They are helping us with many topics for the young.

Bibi: I will love to say also that when you go as a learner, you stop thinking about what you want as a church for your community, and you start seeing what they really need from us, because that’s really important to stop there and watch them and listen to them.

Cara: Yes. Yes. And so be out in the community learning, instead of, like you said, we can get outside of the walls of the church, there’s much to do in the community as we learn what the needs are. Yeah.

And you’ve mentioned some examples. What kinds of things have you done to get to know your neighborhood? And maybe share some examples of what has worked well and what hasn’t worked as well, as you’ve tried to get to know the neighborhood.

Juanka: Something that has worked very well, is that for some reason, we’re trying to go outside of the church, but there’s this huge missionary group living next to our church. And they’re using our church as their headquarters, but that has brought a lot of teams and a lot of people inside our church. And so, we have meetups, a lot of new people and people that come from different countries, especially from the U.S. I don’t know, it was a coincidence, and the guy in charge is his name is Jesus. Not joking.

Yeah. He’s a cool guy. He’s a Venezuelan, and he’s in charge of a training, some people that come from the U.S. and telling them about the dangers of Bogota, but also about the beautiful things about our country and our city. And so that the church is also giving that service to the community right now.

And that’s one thing that it is positive. Maybe negative things that have happened with the community is that sometimes there are, we have some neighbors that they work in, I don’t know, maybe she’s a nurse. They have these schedules and so on Sundays, they hated (or they used to hate) when we were worshiping because our roof was too thin, but we got that fixed by now. It is fixed now. But they used to complain, why do you have to sing at 8:00 a.m. Sunday?

Bibi: Yeah, the music is so loud, and we hear the drums.

Juanka: But we told him, don’t worry. We’ll try to, we’ll fix that. And now we don’t give an incredible concert at 8 a.m. We tried to just give like sweet melodies.

Cara: Yes. Yes. Even that is an example of communicating with your neighbors and to hear that need of oh, I’m tired at 8:00 a.m. in the morning because I worked all night, and to hear that and to say, oh, we care about you. We’ll fix the roof, and we’ll play sweet melodies instead of a rock concert.

Anything else that you’d like to share that you’ve been doing to get to know your neighborhood?

Juanka: We used to have these incredible—because they were incredible—soccer matches after church. And because as Bibi was saying a moment ago, there’s a park one block away from church.

And although sometimes we saw people fighting, and terrible things in that park, we used to gather there just to play soccer with the church members and also people from the community they joined in. And we ended up drinking water together after the game.

And that was something very special that was going on. But because of the pandemic situation, that was nowhere to be found, we stopped doing that. But we can tell you that right now, our favorite place of the church is the ping pong table that we have. And we invite sometimes people there and some teenagers, they like to just play ping pong.

Bibi: They just go and play. And then we can maybe talk about something about the gospel or something like that.

Juanka: Well, we try. “Matthew 13” but they’re just playing ping pong.

Bibi: Yeah. But at least we have young people there.

Cara: And I think that’s a great example of connecting with people and things that are meaningful to them because you’ve gotten to know your neighborhood, right?

Even that example of having soccer matches, you’ve realized that in that neighborhood soccer is of interest. It’s important to the people in your neighborhood. And so, you meet people where they are at the things that they already care about. And so that’s incarnational.

And that even gets to this question of, when you get to know people in your neighborhood, then the activities that you do as part of the Love Avenue, they may be changed to meet the actual needs. Like Bibi was saying, if people like soccer, then go play soccer. And then the people in the community will come join. If they like the ping pong table, then play ping pong.

And so that, I think that’s a beautiful example of meeting people where their interests are being incarnational in that way. Any other examples that you want to share about how getting to know people in your neighborhood has changed some of the different activities that you do within the Love Avenue?

Juanka: Yes, definitely. Definitely. I used to go—this was a challenge because a lot of people around the corner, there was like an MMA training octagon thing. And so, we went there and studied the Jitsu a little bit. And so, we were talking about the gospel with punches. Giving is better than receiving 100%.  But again, the pandemic situation took so many things away. Because of the pandemic, they were broke, and so, they’re not there anymore.

But something that I have to mention that is positive is that many of the houses that are old and very close to our church, they’re being sold and they’re building a lot of apartment complex buildings. And so, I guess that we are seeing that we’re going to have a lot of community around us.

Bibi: Yeah, a lot of families. So, we have to take advantage of that.

Cara: Yeah. And it’s paying attention to how maybe the needs of your neighborhood are changing because of the pandemic even, and how are the opportunities changing. Yeah. But I love that if there’s an MMA training, then you go to MMA training.

Juanka: A couple of kids, they did a graffiti on our church. And five years ago, I would have cleaned that graffiti, but I left the graffiti there. And so now we have a cat.

Bibi: Yeah, kind of like a sticker.

Juanka: They put a cat on our logo, like a GCI, like a cat. I was trying during the week, like to remove it because we were fixing some things about the church with my dad. Two girls, like in a specific moment—that was incredible—in the very same moment that I was trying to remove the cat, they told us, “Why are you removing the cat? Leave the cat alone!”

So, I guess we left the cat there, and I have it now as my profile picture in WhatsApp, because I feel it’s this it’s funny. But they have a sense—that made me realize that they know the church, that they know that there’s a church there. And every time that they pass the cat or the church or whatever they see, but they know that we are there.

Cara: Yes. Building the presence in your neighborhood. That’s good. And as you’ve done, that speaks to the next question I have for you. How have you continued to develop relationships you’ve made as you’ve gotten to know your neighborhood, maybe even building partnerships or collaborations?

Juanka: Yes. There’s a very beautiful example about a family. A family that we were supporting since day one. They lived very near our church, and the lady she’s a hairdresser. And so, she had that business near the church, and we started helping that family in many ways. But I think that the best way that we helped is just opening our doors and being us and just to sharing our relationship with them.

And now I guess I’m proud to tell you that the oldest daughter, she’s part of our worship team and also part of our ministry of GCI kids, and she’s very involved in church right now.

Bibi: And even though they had to move away from church, she’s still coming. Then she is with our church 100% working. So, we’re happy to have her.

Juanka: Yes. Yeah. And so that is a very good example of a family that was from the neighborhood and stayed because maybe because God did what he had to do. And they felt welcomed in our community. And we are all like a family now, she’s part of our family. Whatever she needs, we do something about it. Or whatever we need, she’s like, what do you need?

Cara: Yes, God shows up when we make relationships in our neighborhoods because our God is relational. So, transformation happens when we build those relationships. That’s incredible.

Finally, I have one more question for you, both. What challenges and joys have you experienced while getting to know your neighborhood? Or maybe what final encouragements do you have to share with our listeners today who are getting started knowing their neighborhoods?

Juanka: It’s definitely a challenge to have the time because in our busy world, we have to work, and we have jobs and we have things to attend. And one of the things that I was telling Bibi is that maybe we should move a little bit closer because I feel that living a little bit closer, we will have more activities, more ideas about engaging the community.

So that’s a challenge because we live not that far—it’s 30 minutes away from the church—but it represents time and planning and things. And sometimes during the week, it’s difficult. And so that has to be a challenge and something to consider in the future.

And now regarding the joy of being in that community, while I was very, very happy with the cultural house, in front of the church because there was, they were always bringing musicians and presentations and about different instruments and things like that. They were a little bit crazy, like smoking certain things and just living an open-minded life, but what we were attending sometimes their community presentations, and they knew, oh, those are the weird guys from the church.

And we were starting to plan things. It was going to be awesome, but again the COVID came. And they were broke, and they had to go; now they’re in a different place. Now I think that we have to start from scratch.

Many of our leaders in our pastoral team, they have been incapacitated or they have been in a serious financial issue and they’re not coming back to church.

So, we were thinking about, okay, let’s start this from scratch. And even though we are doing that, planning that, God is wonderful because he has done whatever he’s doing, and people are coming without us doing anything. And so, we can plan a lot of things, and then we have these setbacks because of illnesses or because of financial trials as I was telling you about a moment ago.

And but some people in the community are just aware of us and they’re going to our church. And that’s very beautiful, very empowering for us. And just maybe we’re praying for more hands, more people that want to join the Love Avenue.

Cara: Amen.

Bibi, anything that you want to add to that?

Bibi: Maybe encourage our listeners to keep getting to know the neighborhood, even though it takes time, it is worth it. It is worth it to feel that your church is part of the community, and it’s present.

Cara: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a good word. That’s a good word.

And I want to say that too connects with what Juanka was saying, that I think it’s something to think about with mapping our neighborhoods and thinking about the neighborhood of our churches. That’s a serious challenge to consider: is our church’s neighborhood, our neighborhood too? Do we live close enough that that’s also where we live our lives?

And I think that’s a serious challenge that you’ve named because then that’s the same that helps us do we continue getting to know our neighborhood getting to know our neighbors because like you said, Bibi it’s worth it. So, thank you both so much for sharing those final words and encouragement, but I’m not finished with you.

I do have a few fun questions for you and that you can answer the first thing that comes to mind. I’ll take it easy on you. I’ll take it easy. So, the first question I have is if you could become instantly good at anything, any activity in the world, what would it be? Wow.

Juanka: I guess I would love to parachute.

Cara: Oh yeah.

Juanka: Yeah. I’ve never done that in my life. And I’ve seen some videos and I don’t know if I’m afraid of heights, maybe not, but it has to feel incredible. It has to be incredible. However, I don’t know. I’m a little bit hesitant about that.

Cara: I would be too.

Bibi: Let me think. I don’t know. I will say maybe drawing because I love to draw, but sometimes I feel I don’t have the time to really study that.  So, I would love to draw really good right now.

Cara: That’s awesome. I love that. The next question is if you were in the Olympics, what sport would you compete in?

Juanka: I am a very bad player in chess, but I would love to be like a Kasparov or something like that, learn all the moves.

Bibi: I know this one well, I would love to be a gymnast. Yeah. I love that. I love to see that on TV.

Cara: So fun. That’s so fun. All right. The final question.

What is your number one must-do recommendation in Bogota? If someone visits, what’s the first thing that you tell them that they have to do?

Juanka: You gotta be careful with some places, but Bogota’s a great city. And a lot of people are—this is like an international city, so it’s just a matter of knowing which places are you going to visit. But having fun in Bogota is good—it’s because of the people, maybe not the places.

Bibi: Yeah, I will say go to Monserrate. It’s kind of like a mountain, but it’s not that high so you can climb.

Juanka: Yes. But you cannot take the beaten path because there’s a lot of muggers.

Bibi: [inaudible] So I will say Monserrate.

Cara: Okay. I’ll make a note of that. Yes. I’ll make a note. I’ll make a note.

Well, Bibi and Juanka, thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast. It’s been a delight to learn from you. It is our practice to close the episode with a prayer. And so, Bibi, would you be willing to say a prayer for our churches, our ministry leaders, and our listeners.

Bibi: Okay. Yeah, of course.

Dear Lord, thank you for this place that you gave us today. Please bless all churches in the whole world. And we know that you are working with us, so please keep doing it. We love you God, and we give to you everything that we are and everything that we do. Please bless us all. Amen.

Cara: Amen.


One of the reasons we went vignette style with this particular episode is to highlight the reality that every neighborhood really is unique.

And so, mapping your neighborhood is it’s an exercise of contextualization. What commonalities did you notice amongst the guests Christianna?

Christianna: I think building relationships is something that was common to all of our guests and seems really integral to the process of mapping focus neighborhoods. All of our guests emphasized and demonstrated the importance of seeking to build relationships of trust and compassion rather than developing a relationship that seems focused on transactional engagement.

Cara: Yeah, that is huge. That is a huge thing. That no matter how you’re contextualizing, mapping your neighborhood, and getting to know your neighbors, it needs to be based on relationship because our God is a relational God. Another thing that I noted that the way that they did that was going by going and being in the community, instead of asking the neighborhoods that come to them, and becoming a part of and joining those rhythms which I thought was really a shift in perspective and then learning from their neighbors.

Another thing that I love that I saw as a common thread between those three experiences of our guests was, they were open to God showing them a new way, a new way of engaging their neighborhood or even a new neighborhood, that they ended up settling in as their church’s target neighborhood or the place that their church would call their neighborhood home.

So, I thought that was a really interesting thing, that they were open to discerning where God was leading them to really plant their church neighborhood home. What examples of neighborhood contextualization did you notice that was maybe different between our guests based on their particular neighborhoods?

Christianna: I think one of the things—and this ties into what you had just mentioned about really seeing where you joined into the rhythm of the community—that was something that I recognized as a part of the neighborhood contextualization, that they recognize where they would join the community and engage in a way that was cognizant of current needs and areas where they could collaborate with folks that were already working to help their neighbors and to really be a part of creating meaningful relationships.

One of the examples that I loved was when Ceeja mentioned they helped to clear a park in their neighborhood. And that effort was in collaboration with the community. They understood that working together would benefit their community in a tangible and long-lasting way.

And I think that is a really good example of looking to understand and see where you can join in and not just looking from the inside out, and so looking into the community. So that was a, I think a really great example.

Cara: Yes. That I love how you say, not just looking from the inside out, but really looking into the neighborhood and seeing where you can join in that.

That’s a good way to think about that. And one of the things that I saw with the neighborhood contextualization from these experiences of mapping the neighborhood is neighborhoods really are all different. They have different character, rhythms, interests, and demographics. And so how you get to know one neighborhood is going to be different than how you get to know a different neighborhood.

And then what you learn about one neighborhood is going to be really different than what you learn about a different, another neighborhood, maybe even another neighborhood across town, but certainly another neighborhood across the country or on the other side of the world. And so, the implications of what you learn is going to be different, right?

The activities that they ended up doing based on what they learned or the needs that they saw in their neighborhood, ended up being really different. I heard like soccer versus Trunk-or-Treat versus festival. Can you imagine if we weren’t mapping our neighborhoods, if we weren’t getting to know them and we were doing things that just had no place to land, that they had no interest in them, in our neighborhoods? That would feel disconnected, like, does this church even know us?

Christianna: Right. I think that too ties into your efforts being long lasting and meaningful—when it isn’t just feeling like it doesn’t have a place to land, when you’re thinking about the ways that fits into the existing pattern of the community, that makes it more meaningful. And that makes it something that demonstrates you’re really caring about connecting with the people and families that are in the neighborhood.

Cara: Yes. Yes. And incarnational! Joining in with the rhythms that already exist instead of expecting people to leave their rhythms and come join the rhythms of the church.

Yeah. Thanks for that insight, Christianna. For our listeners who are wanting to learn more about the Love Avenue and what it can look like to map their neighborhood and join in with their neighborhood’s rhythms, where can they go?

Christianna: If you’re a yearning to learn more, visit resources.gci.org/love to explore the GCI Love Avenue resources and the Love Avenue toolkit.

Cara: Thank you, friends. We so appreciate you listening to the GC Podcast. If you’re liking what you hear, give us a rating where you listened to the podcast. It helps us get the word out and invite others to join in on our conversation. So, until next time, keep on living and sharing the gospel.

We want to thank you for listening to this episode of the GC Podcast.  We hope you have found value in it to become a healthier leader. We would love to hear from you. If you have a suggestion on a topic, or if there is someone who you think we should interview, email us at info@gci.org. Remember, healthy churches start with healthy leaders; invest in yourself and your leaders.

 

Gospel Reverb – The Spirit of Truth w/ Jenny Richards

Video unavailable (video not checked).

Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins and Jenny Richards, Lecturer in Law and Academic Advisor in the College of Business, Government and Law in Flinders University, Australia, unpack these lectionary passages:

June 5 – Pentecost
John 14:8-17 “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”
44:34

June 12 – Trinity Sunday 
John 16:12-15 “The Spirit of Truth”
01:08:01

June 19 – Proper 7
Luke 8:26-39 “Hog Wild”
01:14:46

June 26 – Proper 8
Luke 9:51-62 “Moving On”
01:23:59

If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot. And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcast.

Program Transcript


Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of scripture, and that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.

The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.


Anthony: Hello, friends and welcome to the latest episode of Gospel Reverb. Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from Scripture found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view.

I am your host Anthony Mullins and I’m excited to welcome this month’s guest, Jenny Richards. Jenny is a Lecturer in Law at the College of Business Government and Law at Flinders University in South Australia, and Senior Associate (Barrister and Solicitor) at Old Port Chambers, Port Adelaide. She is co-author of Integrating Human Service Law, Ethics and Practice, (an Australian textbook on holistic practice in social work law), and a past member of the Management Committee of the Centre for Crime Policy and Research at Flinders University. Jenny’s recent work includes a research project on collaborative responses between law and religious leaders to address domestic violence against Muslim women. She is in her final year of a PhD dissertation on holistic criminal justice responses to violence against Christian women using the theology of TF Torrance and JB Torrance. She is also a member of the TF Torrance Theological Fellowship.

I got to know Jenny through one of my favorite theologians and authors, Julie Canlis. Julie told me you’ve got to interview Jenny because her understanding and articulation of the theology of T.F. and J.B. Torrance, especially as it relates to discussions about contract and covenant. Jenny and I had a chance to properly meet over a Zoom discussion and I think you’re really going to enjoy her commentary.

Jenny, thank you for joining us today and welcome to the podcast. And for those that are in our listening audience, who may not be familiar with you and your work, why don’t you take a moment and tell us about.

Jenny: Thanks, Anthony, for your welcome and for the invitation.

And I’ll say first up, I too am a great admirer of Julie and of her work. I’ve been a Christian my whole life pretty much, and I’ve always had a passion and interest in justice. And that’s a key reason why I got into law. I did a lot of work in youth and young adults ministry when I was younger and that fueled it too, I think.

I’m a career academic, really. And that suits me well because I’m a total nerd, but also have a couple of disabilities. So, sitting around and thinking about things is actually a lifestyle that suits me really well. And being a nerd, I’ll study anything I can get my hands on, except for maths. We need to be clear about that.

Anthony: You and me both!

Jenny: For that reason, I’ve always been really interested in theology and learning what I can that way. I was introduced to the work of the Torrance’s back, probably in the early 2000s through Baxter Kruger, who was doing some conferences out here. And you’ll hear a lot of his phrases throughout this conversation, I’m sure.

He and a few others asked me for some thoughts on JB Torrance’s work on covenant and contract. I think they figured I might be able to shed some light on the contract side of things because of my law background. As you’ve said, I also work one day a week as a criminal lawyer in practice with one of my brothers.

And both of those jobs are part-time because I’m chipping away at this PhD that brings together those interests in law and theology, considering ways in which we can improve the engagement of Christian women who’ve experienced family violence with the criminal justice system. And I’m using the work of TF and JB Torrance together to undergird that.

Covenant’s really relevant to it and so is theological method. And so, the work of both Torrance brothers speaks really directly to it, particularly in terms of understandings of things like justice, restoration, personhood, covenant, and needless to say how we can address the damaging theological beliefs that can get in the way of people’s help-seeking.

I’m absolutely loving working on my thesis because I’m a nerd. As much as I can anyway, I’ve got about a year to go. So, I mostly spend my time in my home office in the Adelaide Hills. I have the gum trees. I have the koalas and then my cats diligently sleep—well, no, they supervise, of course in the corner. But I get to spend my time thinking about how personhood, justice, dignity, freedom, and restoration can be more fully realized for Christian women and men for that matter, who faced this situation and feel outside of the reach of the criminal justice system.

It’s an opportunity that I’m really grateful for.

Anthony: Outstanding. And you’re our favorite nerd on this podcast, just so you know. And of course, when I thought about your vocation as an attorney, I’m thinking, how does this work being a Torrance scholar as well, do these things go together? But they do!

And of course, the Torrances often spoken, wrote about the harmful effects of confusing the God of covenant love revealed in Jesus with the God of contract that we make up in our own fallen experience. So, help us understand the ramifications of this confusion and how it brings conflict to our Christian journey.

Jenny: I’ve become really passionate about understanding the Torrances’ work on covenant and contract—in case you can’t tell already. And the reason for this is the difference that it makes for us when we understand the ramifications of what it means that God is a covenant God and not a contract God. It was a pivotal insight for me into what it means that God is Trinity.

Because that’s the first difference between a covenant God and a contract God. The contract God is not the Trinity at all. A contractual God cannot be the triune God of grace who made himself known in the incarnation of Jesus. And this is precisely why JB Torrance cautioned against it so strongly in almost all of his work.

It is impossible for the Trinity to relate out of a contract, either within the Godhead or with humanity. So, in the same way, TF Torrance also emphasize the meaning and depth and outworking of Jesus as the Mediator of the New Covenant. And the other thing that TF brings really strongly to the table for us is his theological method and his understanding of the way in which the relations that we find within the Trinity speak to what human existence is actually about.

So, there’s something going on in how God, the Trinity relates to humanity in covenant that is unprecedented in our human experience. So, if we mix up covenant and contract, the confusion and conflict that it brings to the Christian walk is essentially that it derails the gospel and throws us back on ourselves and gives us a completely foreign and incorrect concept of God, the Father, Son, and Spirit.

The New Covenant forged in Jesus is a relationship of unconditional love. And its motive is familial, right? God establishes himself as our Father and humanity as his children. Whereas a contractual model is based in law. And so, it centers God’s legalistic holiness as the most important thing. Its motive is to deal with sin and clean us up. And sure, God loves us after that because of Jesus. But the law bit comes first. That’s a contractual model in a nutshell.

So, if we heed the warning about keeping a covenantal mindset, it’s really easy to think, okay, covenant means we focus on unconditional love, not legalism. And that’s true, but it’s easy for us to take away just a caution to not try and earn God’s love through our discipleship.  And that is part of what JB was emphasizing, but that’s not all.

There’s a whole lot to covenant. And some of that is illuminated by contrasting it with contract. JB didn’t do that to a large extent, because he was quite clear about not knowing very much about contract law. So, the meanings of covenant and their contrasting with contract are rich and beautiful and freeing and glorious because they show us not only the heart of the Father, Son, and Spirit and the depths of the grace and love and joy that we’re created for and included in, but they also help us guard against being oriented towards religious performance or thrown back on ourselves for our identity as children of God.

And that’s why JB referred to the secret of God being covenantal rather than contractual, as the secret to peace and joy in believing. So, the point of connection between their work that I’ve gotten really excited about is a less explored aspect of contracts.

Contracts are dualist. They don’t just inhabit a legal framework; they operate out of a dualistic framework. And TF Torrance’s theological method involve not just a complete rejection of dualism and dualistic thinking, but stark warnings against it. In The Mediation of Christ, he goes so far as to say that if we apply what amounts to a dualistic framework to Jesus as the Mediator of the New Covenant, the whole gospel collapses.

So, we’ve got JB Torrance on one hand, effectively telling us that if we’re believing in the triune God of grace, the God of the Bible, we have to keep at the forefront that he’s a covenant God, not a contract God. And we’ve got TF Torrance on the other hand, warning us that if we try to interpret what Jesus has done out of a dualistic model, the entire gospel collapses.

And given that contracts are dualist, there are significant insights here on two levels. First, in terms of what covenant and a non-dualistic theological method show us about who this Trinity is, of what that means for us. And second, in what that means for how we live and what the Christian life looks like. So, this definitely needs unpacking.

So, for me, there’s really three things involved in breaking all of it down. One is looking at dualism and looking at theological method. The second is looking more closely at contracts. And the third, of course, is looking at theological covenant. So perhaps if we start with dualism if that would be useful. It’s got a variety of meanings, and the 2020 Oxford English dictionary—bringing out my inner nerd—defines it as a theory or system of thought that recognizes two independent principles.

So, with dualism, you’ve got several elements. One of them is very much an individual or independent existence and a capacity for separation and being removed from everything else. That’s what’s meant by that independence. And common examples of splitting things into categories that’s what ‘s sort of implied in dualism, are things like the mind and body Cartesian dualism, Plato’s dualism of the realm of physical matter versus the realm of the Spirit or intellect.

TF Torrance uses a generalized concept of dualism, and it’s something like, the division of reality into two incompatible or independent domains. And that definition is taken from Elmer M. Colyer’s fantastic book (get it if you don’t have it), How to Read TF Torrance, page 58. So, the division of reality into two incompatible or independent domains.

So, TF sees dualisms as inherent to contemporary Western thought. It’s literally the structure and the framework that we’re accustomed to thinking in. We don’t think holistically; we don’t see connection and inter-relationality. We see separation and things existing distinct from each other, not just distinct, but separated from each other.

And it comes through modernity from philosophers like Kant and Descartes, but before them Greek philosophy. So, dualism as a general term for Torrance refers to this characterizing belief around the structure of Western society and fundamental to post enlightenment Western thought. And it compartmentalizes existence and experience rather than regarding them as an integrated whole.

Now TF did a lot of work on science, and dualism is particularly evident in the Newtonian tendency towards having mechanistic understandings of reality, and externally created relationships between things rather than inherent connection and inter-relationship. And this is a key problem of dualist frameworks, which is particularly relevant to the difference between covenant and contract. And in Western societies, we are so accustomed to thinking and dualist ways, we hardly even notice it.

Cartesian dualism, Kantian dualism there’s almost a concept of personhood we’ve got and a being that we’ve got that emphasizes individualistic, rational existences as the primary thing about human beings and the way in which the world is organized. And JB emphasize these things too, although he didn’t label them as being about dualism.

But JB always insisted that the primary thing about human beings is not that we’re independent and rational intellectual creatures. We are made in community for community and particularly communion with the Father, Son, and Spirit. “We’re persons in communion,” that’s his classic phrase, that’s our identity. And those are internally forged connections that are inherent in our being; they’re not externally created.

Whereas contracts involve two people that are disconnected coming together and having an externally created legal relationship that is all about the particular thing they need or the aim that they have. And Western concepts of community and society are likewise about externally created relationships. They’re based on the social contract. We’re naturally disconnected and individual, but we forged some connections amongst ourselves and organize ourselves based on utility. We’ve got the need for protection, so we form a little society and a few other bits and pieces, but primarily we keep to ourselves and most of our lives are not the business of anybody else. They’re not the business of the government or the law. There’s all of these distinctions between the public and the private that come out of that.

And we see all kinds of things as separate and not interrelated, unless we deliberately connect them—so sacred and secular, mind and body, like I said before, public / private. All of these are really common dualistic frameworks.

And there are two reasons that I believe we really default to thinking contractually about God. One is that like JB Torrance, we all know a little bit about contracts, but the other is that because our Western culture is absolutely steeped in dualism. We are primed to bring that mindset and those preconceived ideas to the gospel. And one other thing I think that we bring to the gospel out of this, is that dualism sees God as detached and outside of creation.

And I don’t know about you, Anthony, but think of a number of ways that this influences us. We see God as living in heaven, which is geographically “up there” somewhere and certainly separate from earth. (Hello Plato.) We see ourselves as not being at all connected to God unless we become a Christian.

We say things like, make Jesus the Lord of your life, or invite him into your heart. Now, while conversion is obviously important, belief is important, and 100% things do change when someone becomes a Christian. They change from our perspective, not God’s! Jesus’ work on the Cross was finished and accomplished for all of humanity throughout history, 2000 odd years ago. He’s already Lord, he’s already Savior. Our prayer doesn’t change who Jesus is. It doesn’t make him Lord.

Now on one level, of course we know that, and yet we still use this kind of language. We fall into that. And I think the reason why our language so often makes it seem as though it’s our prayer that affects that change is because of dualism and the impact of contractual understandings in how we get our heads around the Christian message.

Anthony: Jenny, one of the things you mentioned, and I think this is really important when you were talking about JB, how we are persons in community for community. And we think through the lens of individualism which is an “ism.” It’s problematic. And often what we think is, it’s just me and the Lord, right? It’s just me and God and my Bible, and I’m good to go.

But as you said, it’s primarily in communion with the triune God, but also with one another, as we exist, move, have our being in him. Don’t you think?

Jenny: Absolutely. And I think one of the things that is really powerful in a lot of the work that’s being done in this space is looking at what does this mean for the church and the role of the church within the wider world and all of those things.

And TF was very strong on that. Kate Tyler has written a fantastic book in relation to that. Julie Canlis looks at a lot of that. A lot of people are starting to look at that at the moment for precisely that reason. There’s nothing at all that is individual in relation to a covenantal God and in relation to the gospel and living in a Father, Son, and Spirit.

And I think part of the reason that we default to an individualistic picture of Christianity—even though we are naming the Trinity—is because of those contractual understandings. And TF, in relation to what he says about dualism and the need to be holistic, is really clear that our entire theological method has to be holistic rather than dualistic.

And he didn’t start out with that; he didn’t start by rejecting dualism. He wasn’t presupposing it. He rejects dualism because his theological method is centered around what we know through God’s self-revelation in Jesus. He holds to a realist epistemology, which is thoroughly Christological and Trinitarian, right?

We don’t get to decide who God is. In fact, we can’t. Our minds would default to whatever picture of God best served our own purposes. But the Christian message is that God has made himself known to us through the incarnation. And the God who reveals himself in Jesus is entirely holistic in how he is in himself, within the Godhead, and as well as, who he is and how he is to humanity. That’s the central theme of Karl Barth. That’s the central theme of TF Torrance. Baxter emphasizes that as well. Whenever we’re speaking of Jesus or seeing Jesus, we’re never actually just seeing him or speaking of him, we are seeing Jesus, the incarnate beloved Son of the Father who has joined himself to humanity in the Spirit.

And I think in contract, we wind up with a little individualistic Jesus carved off from the Father as well, again because of dualism. But every act of God is a Trinitarian act. And every thought of God is a Trinitarian thought.

So, there’s no dualism here between the spiritual realm where God is and the earthly realm where creation is. There’s no—that doesn’t actually exist. There’s no detachment or bridge that needs to be crossed because humanity—and indeed all of creation—is bound up in union with the Father and Son, through the person and work of Christ.

Anthony: Yeah, I appreciated what you said about, we cannot create God; we cannot fathom what he is from our own fallen experience. He has to reveal himself in himself, in the person of Jesus.

And it reminded me of this movie we have here in the States. It’s (I’m aging myself a bit, but) it’s called Talladega Nights. And there’s this famous scene where the family’s around the table. And they’re about to say grace, in quotations, say a prayer before the meal.

And everybody’s trying to decide what type of Jesus they want to pray to. “I like baby Jesus. So that’s who I’m going to pray to.” And another one says, “I want Jesus in a tuxedo shirt because it says, he’s a partying Jesus.” And it just went on and on. It was comical, but it was sad commentary too, because it does reveal ultimately the way that we think. We are trying to create God in our image, instead of the way that it actually is. That only God can reveal God’s self and he’s done so thankfully! We can see him in Jesus.

Jenny: Absolutely. And I think understanding that TF didn’t start by rejecting dualism but starts because of the way that we need to know God. And it comes out of our theological method and comes out of his epistemology in that respect.

And Colyer is great on that too. But this holism that TF is committed to, it leads him to hold to this profound integration of ontology and epistemology. And that’s where he gets his concept of onto-relations from because it demonstrates a sense of this holism. Because knowledge of a person—for TF, knowledge of a person is constitutive of their personhood and is thus necessarily holistic and relational.

And Colyer—I love Colyer. Can you tell? Colyer’s definition of onto-relations is really helpful. He describes it as one in which the relations between persons are deeply formative of the persons in those relations. (That’s on page 55.) And this is an emphasis of Karl Barth’s too. Karl Barth would always say, God is who he is in his loving actions towards us.

So, we don’t separate out who Jesus is from what Jesus does. And of course, in dualism and in contract, those separations are inherent in the nature of the relationship. So, we would get a disconnection of Jesus from the rest of the Trinity. Jesus would be off doing something separate, and we would see an individualistic picture of who Jesus is rather than seeing him in relation to those relationships that are within the Trinity.

So, if that’s our framework, if we’re going to be holistic and if we’re going to hold to an integration of ontology and epistemology and keep all of those things together and intensely personal and relational, I just want to unpack some of the key differences between covenant and contract and their ramifications. And these are present on a few levels: the motivation, the parties, the place of Jesus and God, the Father, and also where we fit in it.

All of those elements are affected and are completely different between a covenant and a contract. So, think of a basic contract. I need a car. So, I’m going to buy it from you. I don’t know how we’ll pull that off because you’re in the USA, and I’m in Australia, but we’ll work it out. So, we have a contract.

The motivational basis, of course, is law. And this contract is not about either you or I; we’re the parties, sure. But the contract is about something completely separate from us. It’s about the car. I’m obliged to pay you. And you’re obliged to give me a car in a particular condition and all of that, those obligations create the relationship.

And once I bought the car from you, that’s it. I don’t then show up and demand to be invited to Christmas dinner or anything. I’m not your new bestie. We’re done would be weird. It would be weird. But we’re done. We got what we needed from each other. We go our separate ways, and there’s nothing wrong with that for a legal contract.

They’re meant to work that way. That is not a problem for a legal contract, but it’s incredibly problematic for the gospel. As I said before, because contracts are dualist, we’ve got independence, separation, and equality of the parties at the heart of contracts.

There’re some exceptions to this, but contracts involve two parties who are equal in power and agency, previously unconnected and independent from each other. And they come together to create a legal relationship, which is delineated entirely by the terms of the contract and only lasts for as long as those terms do. Now, hopefully you’re already getting a sense of how problematic that would be if we put that onto a kind of contract between humanity and God. It would have disastrous effects.

To start with, it would elevate humanity and diminish Christ, in terms of our relevant positions. The two parties would be God, presumably God the Father, if we’re trying to work with a theological contract. The two parties would be God and humanity. Jesus would be relegated to being the one who does the work to drag God, then negotiating table.

On this model, he’s just the agent of salvation, right? He sorts out the thing that was getting in the way, and now we can have a relationship with God, because that’s the other problem with a contract. Its motivation is law. So, the problem of sin and the need for forgiveness takes center stage, and the aspect of God that is most prominent is his legalistic moral holiness, rather than his holiness that reflects his uniqueness.

But because of his holiness, this “contract” God can’t bear sin and can’t stand humanity endless sin is dealt with, so in comes Jesus to sort that out. And then after that God loves us or something. It’s all a bit unclear or at least inconsistent. So now we’ve got really important differences in the motivation, the parties, and the respective places of God, the Father and Jesus.

We get elevated. We’ve got an existence apart from God, and we’ve got the option of choosing to have God in our lives or not. And Jesus is really just the agent of salvation who paves the way and makes the introductions. The ramifications of these differences are staggering. Especially if we see how thoroughly dualist, they are.

If our role in the relationship is bigger than that of Jesus, and we get to choose in and choose out, and we’ve got this existence that’s independent of God, then the other thing that happens—and hear me out on this—is we lose the Incarnation. We lose the Trinity. We still have a Jesus who becomes human, but the profundity of that, the meaning of that, is lost entirely. Jesus is no longer the one who unites humanity to the Trinity as the beloved Son of the Father, who reveals the truth of God to us. He’s not the one in whom the whole world exists, in whom we live and move and have our being. He’s not the Alpha and Omega because on a contractual individualistic model, we’ve got our own separate existence from God and we’re making a choice to enter into something. Maybe. And it’s all about the law, and it’s all external.

So, under the contract, the roles change. Jesus becomes the one who brings God to the table, but the players in the contractual model are God and us, and those are equal roles. Our say, our agency, our decisions are staples of this relationship. So, our decision for God on a contractual model becomes just as powerful as his heart towards us. Can you see the dualism in that?

Where independent from God unless we need him, and then we asked him to do something for us. And Jesus is the agent of salvation and the contract with God—and this is where mechanistic, external relations is important—the contract with God becomes about obtaining forgiveness as a disconnected thing that we need from God rather than forging an eternal relationship of love and being about sharing in that life of love. It becomes about creating an external connection rather than an onto-relational one that grounds our very existence as human beings. It is a stunning difference, especially because a “contract” God really only loves us because Jesus talks him into it.

And these are things that are partly lost because of that next aspect of a contract model. The obligations are different. A contractual model involves a continual focus on what we have to do and how we have to live once we convert, because it’s all about the law, right? Jesus forgives me because of Jesus and agrees—sorry, God forgives me because of Jesus and agrees to love me now and let me into heaven. That’s God’s side of the contract and my bit is repenting and living as a Christian.

So that means under a contractual model, religious performance becomes the emphasis for Christian discipleship rather than living life in the Spirit, experiencing the love and freedom of Jesus, and knowing him more and engaging in his heart for the world as we share in his relationship with the Father. On a contractual model, Jesus got me saved, but now I become preoccupied with whether or not I’m doing the right thing, even though I know that it’s all because of grace, because forgiveness is a gift and Jesus did it all. Except it’s not quite clear how Jesus did it all.

And this is important too. It’s not exactly clear why the Father loves me or how much, because the “contract” God loves me only if he doesn’t look at me but looks through me and to Jesus or something. I know Jesus loves me because he went out and died for me before I even knew him. But on a contractual model, God the Father doesn’t love us in his own right.

Or at the most, God kind of loves us because he has to, because he’s God and that’s his job. And it’s only because Jesus has sorted out the sin problem that he can properly accept us and fully, really love us. So, the depth and richness of the heart and passion of the Father, Son, and Spirit for humanity right through eternity are just lost on a contractual model.

TF Torrance told a story once about a soldier on the battlefield who was dying. I don’t know whether you’ve heard of this story, but when he was working as a chaplain, a dying soldier asked him, “Padre is God really liked Jesus.” And this right here, for me anyway, the contract issue is why there is that kind of confusion.

And I find myself wondering how on earth did way the Christian Church, with the Trinity as the fundamental statement of faith, ever get to a place where anyone could be wondering whether God is like Jesus. And TF unpacks all of that through this theological method and his onto-relational epistemology.

Again and again, he and various others, will insist—and this is TF’s great phrase—there is no other God behind the back of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself insisted, if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. The other thing TF would often say, God is not one thing towards us in Jesus and another thing in himself. We can’t separate who Jesus is from what he does. That’s dualism.

And we cannot accept a concept of God that is other than who God has revealed himself to be. And God reveals himself in Jesus as Father, Son, and Spirit, who has joined himself to humanity in the Incarnation and shares the Trinitarian life of God with us. And that Trinitarian life is a covenantal relationship of unconditional love.

So, to put it not only bluntly, if I may, but also mildly, but it’s blunt, the contractual model of God is a heresy. No such God exists. If I can take here a couple of minutes to contrast this a little more with some of covenant, (now some of it we’ve covered already) but there are a couple of really significant differences here.

Anthony: Let’s hear it.

Jenny: Great. Thank you. Theological covenant is a relationship of unconditional love where the motive is to create a family and not to forensically deal with sin in a way that is detached from anything else. Law does not feature in the motivation or the content of the covenant. JB is very clear on that.

The second aspect of covenant, (if we get back to those differences before, in terms of the motivation, the parties, the basis, our role, and the role of God and Jesus) in a covenant, God the Father has the same heart towards us as Jesus, right? The act of God in covenant is a Trinitarian act.

God the Father sent the Son. He is bringing us home through the Spirit. We see the homoousian from the Nicene Creed; the Father and Son are of the same substance and being. They are one in the Spirit. So, we don’t fracture the Trinity in a covenant. We don’t have Jesus individualistic, off doing something distinct from the heart of the Father.

And the last couple points about covenant indicate that other element that I highlighted earlier, what does it mean for humanity that God is covenantal and Trinitarian? Because there’s a key difference here in terms of covenant. And this has picked up in particular through TF. God is on both sides of the table in this relationship. It’s a one-sided covenant; (that’s JB’s explanation) it is a one-sided covenant. God creates and sustains it.

We are not a party at all. This is a huge difference with contract. We’re not a party to this covenant. God is on both sides because this covenant is created and sustained in Jesus. In the Bible, Jesus is himself referred to as the New Covenant. Through his incarnation, Jesus is the Mediator of this covenant, including us in his relationship with the Father; we share his Son ship.

We don’t forge our own relationship with God based on the strength of the sinner’s prayer. Jesus does it through the Incarnation. This is where TF’s work on The Mediation of Christ, and what that means for us in practice, is so critical.

So, it’s the vicarious humanity of Christ that is shared in this covenant. Jesus is the faithful covenant partner, not us. We have his righteousness, not our own. And wow, does our pride hate that! Contract centers us in our relationship with God, and it appeals to our pride. There is a draw in that. But in reality, our security, our place, our assuredness in this relationship comes from the certainty that it doesn’t depend on us to create or maintain the covenant.

We are freed to respond, but it doesn’t depend on us for its existence. A contract is a legal piece of paper, but covenant is not even a theological piece of paper. Can you see that? We can’t separate out who Jesus is and what he does, and this covenant is created and sustained in his very person.

It is onto-relational. That’s why it’s irrevocable and why it’s intensely relational. So, the other thing that comes out of that, because this is created and sustained in Jesus is that we are not equal and independent beings who were separated from God and who exist in our own self-sustaining way with an option to have God in our life or not. In a covenant, in a covenantal understanding, we see the reality that the world has held together in Christ.

In him, we live and move and have our being. We don’t have life outside of Christ. It’s an impossibility. We’re not gods. We don’t sustain our own existence. Now we can choose not to believe that, and we can choose not to see that. And all of those things are still possible within it, but we are not actually sitting outside and excluded from the love and beauty and glory of the life that exists within the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Everything that we have in our relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit involves the outworking in our own life of what has been brought to us and shared with us in the person and work of Jesus Christ as the Incarnate Mediator. He shares his relationship with the Father with us, and we participate in all of this by the Spirit, and that is sanctification. That is the obligations of covenant. That’s where they fit. That’s the bit that we do. We participate and we live that out through the Spirit.

And on that issue, let me add Alexandra Radcliff’s work expanding sanctification and participation in a Trinitarian, covenantal way rather than a contractual performative way, is just brilliant. Get ahold of her book too. She’s got a whole chapter on covenant and contract, and then she looks at how that’s outworked in relation to sanctification and discipleship later. Julie Canlis’ work, A Theology of the Ordinary, is brilliant here too. Geordie Ziegler’s work on participation and grace are unpacking how all those things work out for us.

Our role is not as a party. But neither are we puppets. We get to quite literally wake up to the truth of who Jesus has made us to be, and to live in the freedom of this. That’s our role. We’re obliged, absolutely, but not performatively in order to earn our place, but relationally because of the truth and dignity of who we are in Jesus. This is why JB refers to the obligations of grace rather than the obligations of law.

So, what we do is profoundly important because we’re living as befits the beloved children of God, but it doesn’t create our security. And it certainly doesn’t create the relationship. Karl Barth always said, “We may, therefore we must.” This is where we’re thrown back on that glorious truth that Jesus is in himself is humanity’s response to God. He loves the Father faithfully and properly. He’s the true covenant.

Anthony: Jenny, it strikes me that if you ever got passionate about this stuff, you’d do fine. It just exudes from you.

And it’s so vitally important because we do demand our own agency, right? In subtle ways and in big ways, we think contractually because we always start with ourselves in the center and our own experience, as opposed to starting with where reality truly exists. And that’s in the person of Jesus Christ who reveals the love of the Father—that we can truly wake up and smell the grace and walk assuredly in it.

It is such a beautiful thing and a beautiful picture that you’ve painted for us. Thank you.

Jenny: Wake up and smell the grace, I think that’s so true. And even understanding that waking up and smelling the grace, is repentance in so many ways. You might remember when you and I were chatting earlier, I talked about one of my favorite passages in The Mediation of Christ. Page 94 where TF answers a question about, look, if Jesus did everything and if everything is wrapped up in him, how do we preach the gospel in a truly evangelical way? And he answers that question. (I’m not going to quote it; it’s too long.)

But he answers that question by saying something like, God loved you so utterly and completely that he pledged his very being as God for you (which is the onto-relational bit). He has bound himself to you in such a once-and-forever way that he cannot go back on that without undoing the Incarnation. And even if you reject that (cause some people do), even if you reject that and damn yourself, his love for you will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe.

It’s our minds that need changing not the reality of what’s been accomplished. This is Calvin’s concept of evangelical repentance rather than legal. Grace comes before law. And both the Torrances emphasized that. It’s because of the profundity of God’s love that we can trust and believe.

Anthony: Jenny, I think I’d like to have you come back if you’re willing at some point, because it’s not only this ongoing discussion, but I’m just fascinated about your research projects—the collaborative efforts between law and religious leaders on domestic violence. These are issues that sometimes in the church, we don’t discuss. And I think it’s a powerful discussion to have. So again, thank you for such a beautiful description of the contrast between covenant and contract.

Jenny: You’re welcome, Anthony. And I’d be really keen to unpack all of that and come back and chat with you some more because a covenantal understanding affects all aspects of the gospel and particularly justice and how we relate to each other and treat each other. So that would be a really excellent opportunity if I may be so bold as to come back and chat again.

Anthony: Let’s do it. Well, it’s time. We’re going to look at the four passages that we’re going to unpack together.

The first one is John 14:8- 17, which is “If You Don’t Know Me by Now.” (That’s a wink to the 90s music people that love their 90s music. I can hear my head right now.) That’s for Pentecost, June the fifth.

Then we moved to John 16:12-15, “The Spirit of Truth,” on Trinity Sunday, June the 12th. Then Luke 8:26-39, “Hog Wild,” on Proper 7, June 19th. And then finally, Luke 9:51-62, “Moving On,” Proper 8 on June 26.

And I’m moving on to our first pericope, which is John 14:8-17. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Pentecost on June the fifth. And it reads,

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

Verse 11, Jenny, I’m in the Father and the Father is in me.

I know this is a set up question, but what are the implications of this Father-Son relationship?

Jenny: I think set up question is putting it quite mildly and gently because we could spend the whole podcast on it, and in a lot of ways, I think we are spending a whole podcast on it. To me, the Father-Son relationship is the substance of the gospel, especially when we see that this relationship exists in the Spirit and has been extended to us.

So, this is a Trinitarian statement. And it also emphasizes that the Father’s not different from the Son. Distinct? Yes, of course, but not different. They’re one; there’s no separation here. There’s no dualism, if you like; there is union. And so, it’s another indication that if we want to carve off Jesus from the Father in how we conceptualize the gospel, it just won’t work.

It is very much an indication that you cannot view Jesus as the Lone Ranger. (That may well have been a phrase of Baxter’s [Kruger] somewhere too. Someone has said it, I know, not me.) But Jesus is not a sole agent, that he and the Father are together in that respect. But my instant thought really when you first flagged that question with me is not surprisingly of Professor JB Torrance, who would always say to his students, “The heart of the New Testament is the relationship between the Father and the Son in the Spirit.”

And it went alongside his exhortation towards covenantal orientations in our beliefs about the Trinity. And I wonder whether the fact of the Father-Son relationship is likewise, the secret of peace and joy in believing, especially when we realize who Jesus actually is, who Jesus is and what he does and what he’s made of humanity in the Incarnation and his atonement.

And the fact that the name of Jesus is such a loaded statement in that sense because Jesus is sharing his sonship with us and mediates his relationship with the Father to us and responds to the Father as a faithful human Son. So, there’s a massive amount in relation to the implications of the Father-Son relationship, because it’s not just the Father-Son relationship.

It’s the Father-Son relationship being lived out in the Spirit and being extended to humanity through the Spirit, who was poured out upon Jesus. And through the Spirit, Jesus lived out his sonship has the true human being, the new Adam.

And even in the later part of that passage in verse 17, where Jesus says he’ll send the Spirit as the Advocate, he also notes that his disciples already know the Spirit because he already lives with them. And later he will also be in them. And so, the Father-Son relationship—from my point of view anyway—the Father Son relationship speaks more to me about who I am than any contract I could try to set up with Jesus does.

And it speaks more to who I am than any spiritual brownie points I could run around trying to earn just like the older brother did in the parable of the prodigal Son. Look how that worked out for him. How we live as Christians, our discipleship is important. Sure. But it’s because of what that means for our wellbeing.

Ken Blue once said (I think it was Ken Blue), sin makes about as much sense as putting your lips in a blender. (I love that.)

Anthony: That makes no sense.

Jenny: But this relationship of the Father and the Son in the Spirit is the death knell of religiosity, of religious performance as the site of acceptability or worth or identity with God. It means that God is far bigger and more loving and more gracious and more accepting of me than I might previously have imagined and particularly much more loving and gracious and accepting of me and far more intensely relational and personal and glorious than my pride will be able to get its head around.

Because I would like to be in my own pride. (We were talking about this before.) I would like to be a bigger player in the relationship. Thanks very much. What about me and all these wonderful things that I do for God? But the other impact about this for me—which is the flip side of that—is that our brokenness is nowhere near as impactful as we might’ve thought, because I’m in the Father-Son relationship by the Spirit.

And because all of that is a gift of grace, because the message of the New Testament is one of that Father-Son relationship being extended to humanity, that changes everything about how I view God, view myself, view my life, view all aspects of my day to day living and view other people.

I’m freed to live out of that truth. God is a human being now. God is one of us. Jesus is still a human being. God is one of us. And so, what does that relationship imply? Everything!

I don’t know whether you have this in the U.S. or wherever else our listeners are. In Australia, at least, in the Sunday school, the running joke is that the answer to every question that the Sunday school teacher poses is meant to be, “Jesus!” No matter what. We’ve got one where they’re describing a koala. It’s gray, it’s fluffy, it’s got a white tail. And everyone’s sitting there not putting their hand up. And then eventually, one little kid puts their hand up and say, I know the answers meant to be Jesus, but it sounds like a koala. In Sunday school, the answer’s meant to be Jesus. Excellent, I know he is. But by implication, what we mean when we say Jesus is to see him in the fullness of who he is, especially in the tradition of the early church that the Torrances we’re drawing from.

So, we don’t just mean Jesus, the individual over here who is gracious enough to love us while we’re still sinners. We mean, Jesus, the incarnate, beloved Son of the Father who has included us within that relationship through the Incarnation and his life, death, Resurrection, and Ascension.

The gospel isn’t about me. That’s what the Father, Son and Spirit relationship means. The gospel is not about me and what Jesus has done for me. It’s about Jesus and his Father. And what the Father and Son by the Spirit have done with and for and in the whole human race to bring that relationship of love to humanity and to give us our own place in that, by sharing in Jesus’ Sonship. It’s incredible, really, and it’s unbelievably good news.

And the Spirit enables us, enables us to believe in the love that God has for us, enables us to trust, and enables the obedience of faith. (Saint Paul said that; I can’t remember where. Sorry. This is where the fact that I’m not a formally trained theologian has its advantages. I don’t have to memorize all of this.)

But this is why faith itself is a gift of the Spirit. My sin and my brokenness, they’re there and they’re dealt with, but that’s done in the context of restoring me to my full humanity so that I am able to live in the love and freedom that’s been brought to me, rather than my biggest problem being that I’m sinful and God doesn’t love me yet.

The Father Son relationship is the most beautiful truth in the universe.

Anthony: And that oneness, communion of Father and Son gets revealed once again, in Jesus saying that he doesn’t speak out of his own accord, but according to the abiding Father. Why is this an important statement? And what, if anything, can Christ followers learn about their own speech from this?

Jenny: Firstly, so many things. And being an academic, I’d just say “ibid,” right? Refer back to everything we’ve previously said, because as you said, it is yet again a Trinitarian statement and a statement about oneness and the implications of that.

In terms of what we can learn about our own speech, it actually speaks to us a bit about our own place, what it means to live as Christians, what it means to participate. Kevin Navarro has written a beautiful book looking at TF and JB’s theology. It’s called Trinitarian Doxology. And it looks at unpacking what it means that worship is part of our participation in the life of Father, Son, and Spirit.

And there’s a lot in our own speech and our own approach and our own engaging with others, (which of course is what we do in relation to our own speech) that needs to be impacted by our living out in this life of the Spirit. And it affects our worship. It affects how we deal with each other. It affects how we treat each other.

But importantly, because Jesus is not speaking of his own accord, but according to the Father, but he still himself in that relationship. So, it doesn’t mean that we stop being ourselves, and we just start running around trying to mimic Jesus. Jesus was participating with and living out of his relationship with his Father, and we are to do that as well. We don’t lose ourselves in this. We find ourselves in this.

But there’s no call—and this is an issue that I’m really hot on because there is an overlap here with my other work—there is no call for hatred of one another, or for undignifying speech and attitudes towards one another because the first thing we know about anyone is who they are to Jesus Christ.

And of course, because of the Trinity and the oneness of the Father, Son, and Spirit, that is also who they are to the Father. It is not just Jesus who loves people; it is Father, Son, and Spirit. So, the first thing we know about anyone is who they are to Jesus Christ. They are someone for whom he died and with whom he has shared his relationship with the Father.

Now, some people believe that; some people don’t, but that is the only difference. The difference if you will, is on our side of the table, not God’s side. God does not love non-Christians less than me. He is no less their Father. They just don’t know who he is yet. But that doesn’t stop him being who he is, because this is covenantal, right? Not contractual, we’re not dualistic. And it doesn’t stop him loving.

So, our speech, our actions, and our attitudes to God (which is where worship as participation comes in), but also our attitudes to ourselves and to other people and the way in which our speech, our self-talk, and our communication with other people are affected—all of those things need to be oriented around our identity and participation in Jesus’ relationship with the Father. That’s what we’re living in and living out of and speaking out of as well.

One of the things that I’ve found myself writing—I’m going to digress a bit into my thesis. One of the things I found myself writing in relation to family violence and how we approach what a covenantal understanding of marriage would mean in relation to what a marriage relationship should look like and the profound absence of anything that remotely looks like violence that covenant implies, there’s no space for it. I found myself writing that a Christian man’s wife should be the last person that he thinks of trading badly because it is a relationship of unconditional love.

And in the same way, Christians should be the last people to treat anyone poorly or speak of anyone poorly because every single person we encounter is as loved by Jesus as we are. Later in John, Jesus talks about the Father loving us with the same love that he has loved the Son. And we gloss over that. We miss it so much, but there’s something that is profound in relation to this and our speech. And the way we treat ourselves and the way we treat others has to reflect that.

There’s this Christian ethics wrapped up in this, living life in accordance with the gospel. If we are Christians, we are lovers of people. I’m auditing a Christian Spirituality course at a Bible college here at the moment. And our lecturer, David McGregor, had said literally two days ago, if we’re Christians, we are lovers of people because God loves them.

We recognize no one from a worldly point of view, but we see them, and we see everything through Christ now. And I think one profoundly important aspect of how we are to speak then, not only involves how we speak about others and how we speak to them, but also how we speak about ourselves and how we treat ourselves.

Anthony: Yeah, that’s so powerful what you just said on two fronts: the way that we relate with others, but also the way that we relate with ourselves, the self-talk. Very insightful. Thank you.

Jenny: But I suppose the only thing I would add to that is that a contractual model of the gospel encourages us to focus on our brokenness and our sin and how unacceptable we are and thank God for Jesus that Jesus has made us acceptable now.

And while dealing with sin is of course profoundly important in the gospel, this emphasis and this overemphasis on how horrible we are rather than our core identity being as loved children—which is why God doesn’t want to leave us in our brokenness—is a really important point.

We find it really hard to believe in how much we’re actually loved by Father, Son, and Spirit so often. And we treat ourselves so badly because we start from a place of, I’m a dreadful sinner—rather than the primary thing about me is I’m a loved child of God and God will deal with all of the brokenness and mess that stops me from living in his love and seeing him for who he is and will make me, what I need to be. And those things are sorted out along the way, rather than being the primary thing that we need to focus on.

Anthony: We talked to ourselves contractually and we think of others that way. As we’re recording this, we have Russia invading the Ukraine. I noticed on social media, there was a lot of posts about Ukraine and what they provide to the world, their natural resources, yada, yada, yada.

And I couldn’t help but think, no, they’re people. Yes, there are things that they provide, but it’s a way of thinking of things contractually, as opposed to those are beloved children. They are loved by the Son and the Father in the Spirit. Let’s stop thinking contractually about what they can provide the world and just recognize these beautiful image-bearers of the living God.

Jenny: It’s the social contract. (I might’ve seen the same post. I’m not sure.) But it’s why is this important? And then it lists off all these ways in which we understand Ukraine’s position in the wider world and the various things that they export and whatever else. And that is the social contract right there.

What is our utility? Why are we gathering ourselves together? How are we going to fit into this great piece of the puzzle? On one level, I don’t care about any [of that], that’s not why this war is so appalling. It’s appalling because everyone involved in it is profoundly loved by Jesus. And the preservation of life and the dignity of human beings is far more fundamental than what we can do for each other or what we bring to the table. It’s a completely different way of looking at humanity.

Anthony: Yeah. And what we often forget is that war does harm on both sides to victim and victimizer because of whose image we’re made into. Absolutely.

Well, Pentecost will be celebrated this Sunday and many sermons will focus, Jenny, on the promise and deliverance of the holy Spirit. What does this passage indicate about who the Spirit is and what God, the Spirit, is doing?

Jenny: In a move that will surprise no one, I’m going to start by saying that this is a Trinitarian statement, which pretty much all of these passages are. I think I’ve started all of my answers that way. But there are particular things that are highlighted in this quite beautifully.

Firstly, the Spirit in this passage is given to us by the Father. Secondly, the Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and also, we know the Spirit due to the fact that we have the Spirit in us.

So, this is deeply relational and deeply Trinitarian. And the connection here is between our need for truth and the advocacy of the Spirit who is with us forever, which makes me think to myself, okay what is the Spirit advocating and what is this truth?

And to me the Spirit shares the Father-Son relationship with us, we’ve talked about that.

And it gets back to the point that Jesus makes at the start of the passage—he’s in the Father and the Father’s in him—and he finishes that later in this address to his disciples, I am in my Father and you in me and I in you. And all of that of course occurs in the Spirit.

What we see here is a forever relationship—I love how it says, and he’ll be with you forever. It’s a forever relationship, which is brought to us in the Spirit and we’re to live in and out of that truth, right throughout our lives. The world can’t see this truth yet, but it’s true, nonetheless. And we’re bound up irrevocably in it because of the Spirit.

So, we can’t actually lose the love of God because of the Spirit. And the Spirit will keep bringing that home to us and calling us back to that truth. When we struggle to see it in the midst of our own brokenness and trauma and everything else that makes it hard for us to believe.

Because we have the mind of Christ, we have his righteousness, and he’s brought us into that life and love of God that exists between the persons of the Trinity. And it’s by the Spirit that we see that; by the Spirit, we cry Abba Father. So, when we know who God is, we know who we are, and it’s through the Spirit that we’re enabled to receive and see and participate in what God’s doing.

As I said earlier, my Bible college professor, David McGregor, was saying this the other day in class, Christian Spirituality is not about our journey of discovery. If it’s Christian Spirituality, it’s about the Spirit because our response to God is enabled by the Spirit. So, through the Spirit we participate in sharing all that Jesus is and has.

So, the Spirit is critical. And in terms of, is the Spirit doing anything today? The Spirit is doing everything today because this is an ongoing forever relationship, and out of that, we participate in our church communities, in our work, in our families, in whatever shape life takes for us.

A text in the topic that I’m doing is Marjorie Thompson’s book, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life. And she says on page 14, the spiritual life is not one slice of existence, but leaven for the whole loaf. The Spirit is continually active in the world today. That’s what I see coming through really clearly in this passage.

Anthony: Yes, Jenny.

Our next passage is John 16:12-15. It’s the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Trinity Sunday on June the 12th.

Would you be willing to read that for us please?

Jenny: Sure.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Anthony: Amen. Trinity Sunday is approaching this weekend. How do you see Trinitarian relational dynamics (here we go again) at work in this passage, and what are the implications?

Jenny: Oh goodness “Ibid.” To me, it highlights the way in which we dare not lose the Trinity in how we understand God. And particularly in terms of how we live out our faith and how we live as Christians within our church community, and also within our wider community, because we don’t want to separate the sacred and the secular, we don’t want to be dualist. So, we dare not lose the Trinity in how we understand God. We can’t be—you can tell me if I’ve got the word wrong—we can’t be christomonous (I think that’s the right word), reducing our understanding of God to be just about Christ or just about Christology. [Christomonism only accepts one divine person, Jesus Christ, rather than the Trinity.]

This is because our Christology is itself a thoroughly Trinitarian Christology. Jesus made himself known as the Son of the Father in the Spirit. Those things happen and are revealed to us and are lived out for us in the Spirit. And this is why in this passage, I think, the Spirit doesn’t speak alone. And everything that the Spirit receives for us and makes known to us comes from Jesus and from the Father, because everything that belongs to the Father is Jesus’, and the Spirit shares that with us.

So, there’s no hierarchy here. And the Spirit makes everything known to us. It is astonishing that we can know God. We can’t know God in ourselves, but God reveals himself to us as Father, Son, and Spirit. And it’s through the Spirit that we are transformed, and our broken humanity is restored to be ever more truly human, ever more like the one true human being, Jesus Christ.

Anthony: Often the world, Jenny, embraces the Spirit of untruth. And if I’m going to make it personal, there are times I do. Lord, help me with my unbelief How does this contrast with the Spirit of truth highlighted in the passage?

Jenny: I think that we can all make that personal, to be honest, I think all of us believe and yet need help with our unbelief.

The cry of Thomas is the cry of humanity because it is our minds that need to be renewed and woken up to the glory of the truth of who we are in Jesus. And I think that’s why the Spirit is referred to as the Spirit of truth. And I think too, that’s why the Spirit is also the advocate to wrestle with that in us and to continue to reveal those things to us, gently and beautifully and powerfully.

TF Torrance had a phrase (I don’t know where it came from), but he used it sometimes when he talked about theological method and our need to be careful and realist, particularly in relation to how we know God and what we know about God. We can’t begin with our own ideas or our own concepts of what we subjectively experienced as the basis for knowledge.

He didn’t discount those things, but they’re not our starting point. We know God because he’s made himself known. So, truth has revealed itself to us, so to speak, in the person of Jesus Christ. And that is by the Spirit. TF cautioned that if we wind up trying to work God out or work reality out with reference to ourselves or allowing ourselves to be limited by what our minds can understand and influenced by our brokenness and all of those things, we eventually wind up in what he refers to as “self-referential incoherence.”

And the first sentence of his volume edited by Robert Walker, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, is our task in Christology is to yield the obedience of our mind to what is given, that is God’s self-revelation in its objective reality, Jesus Christ.

And that sounds like it’s just Christology, right? But who is Jesus Christ? Jesus is the eternal word of the Father, incarnate by the Spirit who has joined himself forever to us in the Spirit. And this truth has broken into everything we thought we knew about ourselves, our worth, our experiences, our destinies, and especially our humanity.

So, Jesus reveals himself in the Spirit to be the Son of the Father, rather than being an individual. And that’s really difficult for us in the West, maybe because of dualism, but also because we emphasize rationality and individuality and autonomy so much. So, we see truth as an abstract thing that can be grasped.

And so of course, many would say objective truth doesn’t exist because everyone’s got their own perspective and experience of it, and so much is subjective. And I understand where that’s heading up to a point. Jesus can be Lord as much as he wants, but if I refuse to believe that I am who he says I am, I’m going to have very little peace and joy in believing. So, the flip side of having truth as a thing that can be grasped and understood with our minds, is that it gets very complicated, and relationship and personhood once again, get disconnected from it.

But from a Trinitarian perspective and onto-relational understanding, truth is not abstract and disconnected and a thing. Truth is, first and foremost, a person—Jesus. And as such, truth can not only be understood, but can be experienced.

And more to the point, it can only be experienced and understood relationally. This is where the Spirit comes to the fore in us, because it is the Spirit who reveals those things to us and shares those things with us.

Anthony: Hallelujah. Praise God. Amen.

Let’s move on to our next passage, which is Luke 8:26-39. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 7 in Ordinary Time, which is June the 19th.

And the passage reads:

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Jenny, there are faith traditions which emphasize the activity of evil spirits, demons, and a Christian’s ability to cast out those spirits. Help us to understand a way of thinking about demons from a Christ-centered perspective.

Jenny: I feel like in answering this question, I’m going to sound like a little bit of a broken record. But I’ll probably just start by saying that there is a lot that I don’t understand about these kinds of ministries.

But what I do know in relation to trying to bring a Christ-centered perspective to those and being faithful to that kind of perspective, ss that we need to not be dualist in how we view the activity of evil spirits and demons, and what’s going on in relation to those issues. And we need to not disconnect who Jesus is from what he does in approaching it.

So, that is seen in this passage for me quite powerfully. Jesus didn’t have some special power to zap demons. It’s just that the demons can’t stand in the presence of Jesus. The thing that struck me in this passage is that it’s all about who Jesus is. Not some abstracted power that Christians are supposed to wield as a form of spiritual discipline.

As I said, I don’t pretend to know much about these kinds of ministries, but they can’t be approached from a dualistic mindset that treats Satan or demonic power as the equal opposite of Jesus. And in the same way, the name of Jesus is not a weapon that we wield that is disconnected from who Jesus is as the Son of the Father. We’re not about seeking after spiritual power is an end in its own right or as a sign of some kind of spiritual hierarchy among Christians.

The other huge thing for me in this passage is that as much as these kinds of issues are often framed with language of warfare or battles, I don’t see a fight here. The demons knew who Jesus was and they knew that the whole thing was over. They started in verse 31, I think it was, from the point of begging him not to cast. There was no fight. It was just, okay, Jesus, what’s going to happen next because it was quite clearly that Jesus, because of who he was, would be the one who determined what happened to them.

Anthony: That’s good. I liked the way you framed it. It’s not a battle. It’s clear who the victor is.

Jenny: It’s really not. And what we do is in Jesus’ name. Absolutely. But we don’t use his name as the kind of weapon that’s thrown out there. That would be to disconnect his name from who he is. The reason that his name is so significant is because of who he is. We can’t separate those things.

Anthony: Because of the mysteriousness of the unclean spirits in this story, it becomes easy to overlook the fact that Jesus healed a man who had been possessed and deeply burdened by those Spirits. What does this tell us about the God revealed in Jesus?

Jenny: I think for me, this shows the tender heart of the Father that’s full of compassion for us. And he cares far more about us than about our theology because this man didn’t have his theology right! He couldn’t recognize even recognized Jesus. He didn’t ask Jesus for help. They certainly couldn’t show that he had enough faith to deserve healing. All of that kind of thinking smacks of contract, doesn’t it?

Especially when we remember that faith itself is a gift of the Spirit and not something that we muster up in ourselves disconnected from the work of the Spirit in our hearts. So here we see that just in the fact of this healing, we see that God cares deeply about our brokenness and doesn’t shy away from trauma.

Healing is a thing, and it’s deeply important to Jesus. This man was dressed, and he was in his right mind. In going through the passage, those were the two things that really stood out to me. So being dressed and in his right mind, his dignity was restored. Also, he wasn’t chained or under guard anymore. So, his freedom was restored.

We so often forget that Jesus didn’t come for those who don’t need a doctor, even though he says that I’ve come for those who were sick. And it also tells us in this passage, this kind of deliverance is a Trinitarian act because at the end, Jesus says, go and tell what God has done. Not go and tell what I have done.

Anthony: I can’t help but think how beautiful is it that we have the ongoing Incarnation of Jesus. We might look at this passage and go, wow, I want Jesus to understand my situation just like he did this man’s situation. But we have a high priest who understands, who didn’t unzip himself, take off his skin suit, but remains in it.

It’s not like it was some sort of wet clothing that he couldn’t wait to remove from who he is, but he’s maintained it as the true man who is for us!

Jenny: I agree. And I think there’s something so profound about (and this is a whole conversation), but what I will say is there is something that is so profound about what we can understand about our suffering and our trauma and the brokenness that we experience as human beings, for whatever reason, and the tenderness that Jesus deals with us in those things is because when we take the Incarnation seriously, we understand that Jesus is in us through the Spirit. He is in us. And if we are understanding being not just in that dualistic way, but in an onto-relational way, then Jesus is experiencing my life with me.

So, everything that happens to me is also happening to Jesus. And pastorally—and this harks back to so much of my thesis, so I won’t get started on it now—but pastorally, the difference when we meet people in our brokenness and we say he can empathize with us in our weakness, he understands our full humanity, and because he is now with you and in you, he is experiencing that with you when you are not alone in it, and he understands completely what’s going on for you—more so than you do yourself. Pastorally, there is something beautiful in that reality.

Anthony: Let’s move on to our final passage of the month.

It’s in Luke 9:51-62. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 8 in Ordinary Time, which is June 26th.

Jenny, do the honors please.

Jenny: Sure.

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Anthony: The Sons of thunder, James and John, wanted to unleash some thunder, didn’t they? A fiery death on the Samaritan villagers because they didn’t receive Jesus. So let them burn Jesus.

It’s unfortunately a common refrain in some Christian circles. So, it might surprise some that Jesus rebuked James and John, instead of the Samaritans. What does this teach us about the triune God?

Jenny: It’s it hearkens back a little bit, doesn’t it, to what we were saying before about our speech? What we see really clearly here is that Jesus doesn’t have time for our petty rivalries when it comes to whom he loves. These people that James and John were so furious with for the insult that they offered to Jesus—and it was an insult—they weren’t even Christians, they were Samaritans, right? And yet Jesus wouldn’t allow those people to be mocked or punished for not being believers.

And as you say, that is a common refrain in some Christian circles. And it’s profoundly unchristian. Jesus did not only refuse to be harsh towards non-Christian who didn’t want to hear him, he respected their wishes, stopped everyone else from having a go at them, and moved on to a different village. He refused to let his followers give those non-Christians a hard time for their beliefs and their rejection of him.

He wouldn’t allow them to be mocked or attacked. So how dare we, who claim his named do anything less? How dare we?

When we consider that all of humanity is profoundly loved and included by the triune God, and if we are to love them covenantally, then we need to take that approach as well.

Anthony: Jesus said, let the dead bury their own dead. Jenny, on the surface, the statement from our Lord can appear to lack some compassion. What’s going on here? Help us understand.

Jenny: Oh, I agree that on the surface seems to. But again, if we never separate who Jesus is from what he does, anytime there’s a passage—this is what I do—anytime there’s a passage that seems a little odd, I go back to who I know Jesus to be. And given who I know Jesus to be, he can’t have actually been saying things that lack compassion towards them, even if they are hard words for them to hear.

So, I’ve always taken this as, in many ways, a call to prioritize our time, especially in the context of Jesus needing to finish his earthly ministry and not be slowed down in his trek back to Jerusalem.

And it also seems to me to be doubling as a warning about this discipleship scene—this call to follow Jesus is not some glamorous picnic where you get to do cool spiritual tricks, like casting out demons and raising the dead and being popular at Christian parties, right? That whole section is headed, “The Cost of Following Jesus.”

If we’re really going to follow him, there is significant cost. Our priorities change, our earthly comforts change. We become focused on the kingdom and those things take priority over everything. We can’t be slowed down by other things. I think this is the heart of the point Jesus is making: we shouldn’t use other things to procrastinate what we know we’re called to do.

And it’s hard to follow Jesus, especially considering that exhortation of the Torrances to yield the obedience of our mind to what’s given rather than inventing the gospel, re-inventing the gospel into something we might be more comfortable with, or that gives us a bigger part in the picture. JB Torrance always talked about the obligations of grace. The obligations in covenant are unconditional obligations. It is hard to love someone to the extent that God does, that is harder than a contract. It’s more beautiful and freeing and rich, but it’s harder.

I wonder whether sometimes, the things that hold us back and have us distracted and looking towards other things include, past concepts of ourselves and other things that are going on in our lives that we still cling to. Oh, I can’t serve God yet because I need to sort out this other issue or whatever. Those things can be hard to let go of. And so, we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds about a whole lot of things, not just our concept of God, and none of that is easy. But it’s beautiful and it’s life-giving, and it is worth regarding all of those other things that we do in life as barely worth a glance by comparison.

And of course, as we follow Christ and we live in the kingdom of God, those other things find their proper place in any case. The dead will still be buried, and we will still be able to care for our family and all of that. But to me, this passage really emphasizes keeping first things first and letting God be the one who tells us which those things are.

Anthony: Amen and amen. Jenny, it has been an absolute delight to have you on the podcast. You are a beloved child of God and your words have been very instructive. Thank you for being with us.

Jenny: I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to join with you, Anthony. And I’m really thrilled to just be able to spend time thinking about and rehearsing and going over the beauty and the depth of the love of God. It’s morning here for me. What better way to start the day? To be able to share in that is part of what makes being part of the community of God and what makes church and the family of God such a rich and important community to be a part of.

Anthony: Plus, you’re easy to listen to. We like Aussie accents around here. So, take that Aussie accent, and if you would, say a word of prayer over our listening audience. I know they’d greatly appreciate it.

Jenny: I would love to!

Father, we thank you for the enormity of your unconditional covenantal love for us and for the beauty and the glory that is so evident in who you are towards us in Jesus. Especially as we head into Trinity Sunday, we ask that by your Spirit, you continue to reveal to us more and more this love, that surpasses knowledge, the love you have for us, and the love that you have for all people.

In so doing, we pray that you will work in us in all of the areas that we find it so hard to believe and see you for who you are. And the ways that we find it so hard to see ourselves the way that you do, just meet us in those Jesus by your Spirit. Help us to know this truth and to be freed, to live out of this truth, out of this grace, and out of this love. May that transform everything about the way in which we see others and transform the way in which we live out these lives that you’ve given us day by day in our families, in our work, and in our ministries.

In your name, we pray. Amen.


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Sermon for June 5, 2022 — Pentecost

Speaking of Life 4028 | Fulfilled Promises

Has someone made a promise to you, only to take a very long time to fulfill it? How easily do we forget the commitments that we’ve made and break them? When everything else is meant to break and decay, let us learn to trust God’s promises that never fail.

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 4028 | Fulfilled Promises
Greg Williams

My good friend and colleague, Heber Ticas promised to procure a rare bottle of tasty tequila for my wife Susan’s 60th birthday. He ran into a bit of a snag and gave me the bottle at a conference and said to tell Susan a “Happy 62 and a half birthday!”

We laughed, but there is a bit of truth that sometimes it takes a while to fulfill a promise. Have you ever reaped the benefit of a promise long after it had been made? You may have even forgotten the promise – or given up on it.

Whether you’re making the promise of receiving it, the windfall of a past promise fulfilled is always a source of joy.

Shortly after Jesus promised he would send the Holy Spirit, the Disciples gathered for Pentecost. We can only imagine how much they understood the wonder of the promises that Jesus made to them, but after seeing him ascend, you can guess they were ready for anything. Did they expect the Holy Spirit to come at Pentecost? It’s hard to tell.

History had taught them that the promises of God are always fulfilled but in his time. Five hundred and fifty years passed between God’s promise to Abraham and when Joshua led the Israelites to the Promised Land. There were seven hundred years from Isaiah’s hopeful prophecies to Jesus’ coming. But now maybe it was going to be different. After all, Jesus had told them to not leave the city. On that Pentecost, their world changed. Like a roaring wind, the Holy Spirit came and filled the house. Luke tells us in the book of Acts that all of the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began preaching in different languages. Then Peter was prompted to preach.

14 ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say… 16 This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh…’”
Acts 2:14, 16-17a (NRSV)

The promise had been fulfilled.

Peter then gave a convicting and powerful message about who Jesus is and why he came. A message that resonated with many who were present, drawing them in to be baptized in great numbers as they were led by the Holy Spirit.

What did Peter feel as he saw over three thousand people come forward for baptism following his address? I suspect he was filled with joy. The familiar joy of a promise being realized. Did he recall the words of Jesus three years prior, as he knelt upon a boat that was sinking due to the weight of a great catch of fish? Jesus had told him, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 

Standing in front of the crowd at Pentecost, Peter experienced the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise.

The Holy Spirit helped him to not be afraid as he stood before the people – he was no longer the man who denied Christ or who sank as he tried to walk on the water. The Spirit had made him into a fisher of men.

The promise that the Spirit transforms and sustains those who follow Christ is also for you and me. This Pentecost let the Spirit of God change you and discover the wonder of God’s promises fulfilled.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life

Psalm 104:24-35b • Acts 2:1-21 • Romans 8:14-17 • John 14:8-17, 25-27

This week is Pentecost; as we celebrate the Father sending the Spirit after Jesus’ Ascension, our theme is the Spirit who sustains. The call to worship Psalm declares that when God sends his Spirit, life is created and renewed – sustaining the creative work of Jesus at the foundation of creation. Romans 8 tells us that the Spirit prevents us from falling back into slavery to fear – instead, he sustains our sonship bought for us by Jesus. Acts 2 recounts the coming of the Spirit, who immediately continues the ministry of Jesus in turning the disciples into “fishers of men.” In John, we see Jesus telling the disciples that the Spirit is going to come and continue his work of advocacy on our behalf, living in and with us once Jesus ascends – sustaining our relationship with the Father.

Sustaining the Legacy

John 14:8-17

If you’ve ever worked for a large organization, been part of church leadership, sat on the board of a charity, or felt the impending march of your own mortality, then you may have heard of the concept of “legacy building.” The concept is simple enough—it is the process of thinking through how what you are doing will impact future generations after you stop doing it. In legacy building, you ask yourself or your organization what the long-term impact of your work or life going to be, and how are you going to sustain what is needed to make it happen beyond current teams and projects.

Without vision for the future, we can find ourselves at the end of long-term projects and goals still feeling unsatisfied and incomplete. This theme is encapsulated in Orson Welles’ first movie Citizen Kane. Spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t had the chance to watch it in the past 80 years! The move is about a wealthy and bitter media magnate who dies at the beginning of the movie, and just before he dies, he says, “Rosebud.”

The rest of the movie is told in flashbacks as a journalist interviews his friend and business associates to try to find out what rosebud referred to. The journalist fails, but in the process of the film it becomes clear that Kane was not a happy man – all his success and fortunes amounted to nothing. It is revealed in the final shot of the movie that “rosebud” was a toy he had last played with when he was eight years old, before coming into his money.

The message of the movie is clear – Kane’s wealth did not bring him happiness, the opposite in fact. His legacy was worthless – he had built an empire that would last beyond him, but it was the legacy he thought he wanted, not the one that really mattered. Truth is, any legacy we pursue outside participating with Jesus, isn’t worth nearly what we might assume, and is certainly not the legacy that really matters.

In our passage today we see Jesus speaking to his disciples about his legacy, and what they should expect once he has ascended to the Father. The legacy that Jesus speaks of is not one built of gold and silver, but of relationships that will span into eternity. Here Jesus points forward to the incredible transformation the disciples would partake in when the Holy Spirit came in tongues of fire at Pentecost.

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:8-17)

The context for our passage is Jesus’ conversation and prayers with his disciples at the Last Supper. In this wonderful section of the Gospel of John, we have the largest recording of Jesus speaking in Scripture. Here Jesus is having a dialogue with Thomas, who is trying to get his head around the idea that Jesus is telling them that he is going to leave. Thomas has questions: where are you going, and how do we get there? In response, Jesus directs him to the Father, who they now know and have seen because they have seen Jesus. At this time, it’s a difficult concept for them to grasp.

Philip chimes in and asks that they be shown the Father. His request to have the Father revealed to them is understandable – the whole concept of the Trinity is something they’re only just beginning to grasp. In fact, much of our understanding of God’s triune being is found in the chapters that follow this question.

This discourse is key to Jesus’ ministry; the coming of the kingdom of God is synonymous with God’s self-revelation through Jesus. God wants to be known by us, and Jesus makes him known. But let’s face it, if Jesus had told the disciples everything in these passages about his unity with the Father, and then ascended into heaven after his resurrection, how long would it have been before the disciples forgot elements of what they’d learned? How long would it be before the discourse in the upper room on the night Jesus was betrayed became foggy and unclear? How could this revelation – the key to our relationship with God – be sustained?

God made provision for this eventuality.

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:25-27)

It probably would not have taken long for the details to fade – at least not without some help. The coming of the Holy Spirit is what is going to sustain Jesus’ words in spite of our faulty memories and wandering hearts.

It is in this context that Jesus introduces them to the third person of the Trinity. The description of the Holy Spirit here is telling. The Holy Spirit is “another advocate” – it begs the question who was the first? The discourse that Jesus shares with the disciples is a theological account of how Jesus has been advocating for them with the Father, culminating in his prayer in John 17 where he prays for those the Father has given him.

Jesus reassures them that the Holy Spirit is coming to sustain and continue the work he started; it will not cease. He is sustaining the legacy Jesus created in the new covenant by his blood. At Pentecost, the Spirit came upon the disciples, and in accordance with the Father’s will, he continued the work of advocating on behalf of humanity following Jesus’ ascension. He also continues the work of revelation.

The questions that plagued Thomas and Philip became comprehensible with the presence of the Holy Spirit in them.

It is also with the presence of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promises that we would do “even greater things.” This passage is frequently taken to mean miracles. It is often assumed that Jesus is referring to them when he speaks of his works. However, to simplify it to that one aspect of his ministry is to imply that his miraculous works are his greater achievements. Yet we know that his far greater work is the revelation of the Father, the redemption of mankind, the healing of his broken people. His greater work is the proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favor. All of these are greater than even raising Lazarus.

It is these works that the coming of the Holy Spirit continued through the disciples in Acts 2.

Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:36-41)

The first work that the disciples performed upon receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was the continuation of Jesus’ declaration of the kingdom of God. The fishermen and tax collectors had become orators and preachers, and through the power of the Holy Spirit their words ignited the spark of faith in three thousand believers after a single declaration of the gospel. The convicting power of the Holy Spirit had fulfilled Jesus’ promises to his disciples, and Acts goes on to tell us that they continued in these great works, including miracles and even more powerfully, a new way of selfless living. The selfish bindings of sin were shattered, and the Holy Spirit ensured that we could not be bound by sin again.

Knowing Pentecost was coming, Jesus told the disciples (and us) that the Holy Spirit will continue his work of unifying us with the Father. Jesus had brought mankind into himself upon the cross and ascended fully divine and fully man – allowing us to enter into the very being of God. He reassures us that the Holy Spirit lives in us and will be with us – the presence of the Comforter ensures that our hearts need not be troubled.

In theological language we are, in a limited way, participating in the perichoresis of God, coming to know and love the Father, through Jesus and by the Holy Spirit. Perichoresis is the word that we use to describe how the Father, Son and Spirit inter-dwell with one another in perfect harmony. And now that the Spirit is in us, we too are about to dwell in the inner being of God. As Jesus told Thomas, he has gone to prepare a place in the Father’s house, it is ready and waiting, and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit we are on our way there.

This is our legacy – to participate with Jesus in the work he is doing. The Holy Spirit teaches us, comforts us, and continually points to the relationship we have been invited to with Father, Son, and Spirit. As Christians, we know our legacy is not about the accumulation of wealth or things—our most important legacy is our relationship with Jesus – a relationship he promised to his disciples that would come through the Holy Spirit. This promise was fulfilled at Pentecost and continues today.

The Spirit of Truth w/ Jenny Richards W1

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June 5 – Pentecost
John 14:8-17 “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”

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Program Transcript


The Spirit of Truth w/ Jenny Richards W1

Anthony: And I’m moving on to our first pericope, which is John 14:8-17. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Pentecost on June the fifth. And it reads,

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

Verse 11, Jenny, I’m in the Father and the Father is in me.

I know this is a set up question, but what are the implications of this Father-Son relationship?

Jenny: I think set up question is putting it quite mildly and gently because we could spend the whole podcast on it, and in a lot of ways, I think we are spending a whole podcast on it. To me, the Father-Son relationship is the substance of the gospel, especially when we see that this relationship exists in the Spirit and has been extended to us.

So, this is a Trinitarian statement. And it also emphasizes that the Father’s not different from the Son. Distinct? Yes, of course, but not different. They’re one; there’s no separation here. There’s no dualism, if you like; there is union. And so, it’s another indication that if we want to carve off Jesus from the Father in how we conceptualize the gospel, it just won’t work.

It is very much an indication that you cannot view Jesus as the Lone Ranger. (That may well have been a phrase of Baxter’s [Kruger] somewhere too. Someone has said it, I know, not me.) But Jesus is not a sole agent, that he and the Father are together in that respect. But my instant thought really when you first flagged that question with me is not surprisingly of Professor JB Torrance, who would always say to his students, “The heart of the New Testament is the relationship between the Father and the Son in the Spirit.”

And it went alongside his exhortation towards covenantal orientations in our beliefs about the Trinity. And I wonder whether the fact of the Father-Son relationship is likewise, the secret of peace and joy in believing, especially when we realize who Jesus actually is, who Jesus is and what he does and what he’s made of humanity in the Incarnation and his atonement.

And the fact that the name of Jesus is such a loaded statement in that sense because Jesus is sharing his sonship with us and mediates his relationship with the Father to us and responds to the Father as a faithful human Son. So, there’s a massive amount in relation to the implications of the Father-Son relationship, because it’s not just the Father-Son relationship.

It’s the Father-Son relationship being lived out in the Spirit and being extended to humanity through the Spirit, who was poured out upon Jesus. And through the Spirit, Jesus lived out his sonship has the true human being, the new Adam.

And even in the later part of that passage in verse 17, where Jesus says he’ll send the Spirit as the Advocate, he also notes that his disciples already know the Spirit because he already lives with them. And later he will also be in them. And so, the Father-Son relationship—from my point of view anyway—the Father Son relationship speaks more to me about who I am than any contract I could try to set up with Jesus does.

And it speaks more to who I am than any spiritual brownie points I could run around trying to earn just like the older brother did in the parable of the prodigal Son. Look how that worked out for him. How we live as Christians, our discipleship is important. Sure. But it’s because of what that means for our wellbeing.

Ken Blue once said (I think it was Ken Blue), sin makes about as much sense as putting your lips in a blender. (I love that.)

Anthony: That makes no sense.

Jenny: But this relationship of the Father and the Son in the Spirit is the death knell of religiosity, of religious performance as the site of acceptability or worth or identity with God. It means that God is far bigger and more loving and more gracious and more accepting of me than I might previously have imagined and particularly much more loving and gracious and accepting of me and far more intensely relational and personal and glorious than my pride will be able to get its head around.

Because I would like to be in my own pride. (We were talking about this before.) I would like to be a bigger player in the relationship. Thanks very much. What about me and all these wonderful things that I do for God? But the other impact about this for me—which is the flip side of that—is that our brokenness is nowhere near as impactful as we might’ve thought, because I’m in the Father-Son relationship by the Spirit.

And because all of that is a gift of grace, because the message of the New Testament is one of that Father-Son relationship being extended to humanity, that changes everything about how I view God, view myself, view my life, view all aspects of my day to day living and view other people.

I’m freed to live out of that truth. God is a human being now. God is one of us. Jesus is still a human being. God is one of us. And so, what does that relationship imply? Everything!

I don’t know whether you have this in the U.S. or wherever else our listeners are. In Australia, at least, in the Sunday school, the running joke is that the answer to every question that the Sunday school teacher poses is meant to be, “Jesus!” No matter what. We’ve got one where they’re describing a koala. It’s gray, it’s fluffy, it’s got a white tail. And everyone’s sitting there not putting their hand up. And then eventually, one little kid puts their hand up and say, I know the answers meant to be Jesus, but it sounds like a koala. In Sunday school, the answer’s meant to be Jesus. Excellent, I know he is. But by implication, what we mean when we say Jesus is to see him in the fullness of who he is, especially in the tradition of the early church that the Torrances we’re drawing from.

So, we don’t just mean Jesus, the individual over here who is gracious enough to love us while we’re still sinners. We mean, Jesus, the incarnate, beloved Son of the Father who has included us within that relationship through the Incarnation and his life, death, Resurrection, and Ascension.

The gospel isn’t about me. That’s what the Father, Son and Spirit relationship means. The gospel is not about me and what Jesus has done for me. It’s about Jesus and his Father. And what the Father and Son by the Spirit have done with and for and in the whole human race to bring that relationship of love to humanity and to give us our own place in that, by sharing in Jesus’ Sonship. It’s incredible, really, and it’s unbelievably good news.

And the Spirit enables us, enables us to believe in the love that God has for us, enables us to trust, and enables the obedience of faith. (Saint Paul said that; I can’t remember where. Sorry. This is where the fact that I’m not a formally trained theologian has its advantages. I don’t have to memorize all of this.)

But this is why faith itself is a gift of the Spirit. My sin and my brokenness, they’re there and they’re dealt with, but that’s done in the context of restoring me to my full humanity so that I am able to live in the love and freedom that’s been brought to me, rather than my biggest problem being that I’m sinful and God doesn’t love me yet.

The Father Son relationship is the most beautiful truth in the universe.

Anthony: And that oneness, communion of Father and Son gets revealed once again, in Jesus saying that he doesn’t speak out of his own accord, but according to the abiding Father. Why is this an important statement? And what, if anything, can Christ followers learn about their own speech from this?

Jenny: Firstly, so many things. And being an academic, I’d just say “ibid,” right? Refer back to everything we’ve previously said, because as you said, it is yet again a Trinitarian statement and a statement about oneness and the implications of that.

In terms of what we can learn about our own speech, it actually speaks to us a bit about our own place, what it means to live as Christians, what it means to participate. Kevin Navarro has written a beautiful book looking at TF and JB’s theology. It’s called Trinitarian Doxology. And it looks at unpacking what it means that worship is part of our participation in the life of Father, Son, and Spirit.

And there’s a lot in our own speech and our own approach and our own engaging with others, (which of course is what we do in relation to our own speech) that needs to be impacted by our living out in this life of the Spirit. And it affects our worship. It affects how we deal with each other. It affects how we treat each other.

But importantly, because Jesus is not speaking of his own accord, but according to the Father, but he still himself in that relationship. So, it doesn’t mean that we stop being ourselves, and we just start running around trying to mimic Jesus. Jesus was participating with and living out of his relationship with his Father, and we are to do that as well. We don’t lose ourselves in this. We find ourselves in this.

But there’s no call—and this is an issue that I’m really hot on because there is an overlap here with my other work—there is no call for hatred of one another, or for undignifying speech and attitudes towards one another because the first thing we know about anyone is who they are to Jesus Christ.

And of course, because of the Trinity and the oneness of the Father, Son, and Spirit, that is also who they are to the Father. It is not just Jesus who loves people; it is Father, Son, and Spirit. So, the first thing we know about anyone is who they are to Jesus Christ. They are someone for whom he died and with whom he has shared his relationship with the Father.

Now, some people believe that; some people don’t, but that is the only difference. The difference if you will, is on our side of the table, not God’s side. God does not love non-Christians less than me. He is no less their Father. They just don’t know who he is yet. But that doesn’t stop him being who he is, because this is covenantal, right? Not contractual, we’re not dualistic. And it doesn’t stop him loving.

So, our speech, our actions, and our attitudes to God (which is where worship as participation comes in), but also our attitudes to ourselves and to other people and the way in which our speech, our self-talk, and our communication with other people are affected—all of those things need to be oriented around our identity and participation in Jesus’ relationship with the Father. That’s what we’re living in and living out of and speaking out of as well.

One of the things that I’ve found myself writing—I’m going to digress a bit into my thesis. One of the things I found myself writing in relation to family violence and how we approach what a covenantal understanding of marriage would mean in relation to what a marriage relationship should look like and the profound absence of anything that remotely looks like violence that covenant implies, there’s no space for it. I found myself writing that a Christian man’s wife should be the last person that he thinks of trading badly because it is a relationship of unconditional love.

And in the same way, Christians should be the last people to treat anyone poorly or speak of anyone poorly because every single person we encounter is as loved by Jesus as we are. Later in John, Jesus talks about the Father loving us with the same love that he has loved the Son. And we gloss over that. We miss it so much, but there’s something that is profound in relation to this and our speech. And the way we treat ourselves and the way we treat others has to reflect that.

There’s this Christian ethics wrapped up in this, living life in accordance with the gospel. If we are Christians, we are lovers of people. I’m auditing a Christian Spirituality course at a Bible college here at the moment. And our lecturer, David McGregor, had said literally two days ago, if we’re Christians, we are lovers of people because God loves them.

We recognize no one from a worldly point of view, but we see them, and we see everything through Christ now. And I think one profoundly important aspect of how we are to speak then, not only involves how we speak about others and how we speak to them, but also how we speak about ourselves and how we treat ourselves.

Anthony: Yeah, that’s so powerful what you just said on two fronts: the way that we relate with others, but also the way that we relate with ourselves, the self-talk. Very insightful. Thank you.

Jenny: But I suppose the only thing I would add to that is that a contractual model of the gospel encourages us to focus on our brokenness and our sin and how unacceptable we are and thank God for Jesus that Jesus has made us acceptable now.

And while dealing with sin is of course profoundly important in the gospel, this emphasis and this overemphasis on how horrible we are rather than our core identity being as loved children—which is why God doesn’t want to leave us in our brokenness—is a really important point.

We find it really hard to believe in how much we’re actually loved by Father, Son, and Spirit so often. And we treat ourselves so badly because we start from a place of, I’m a dreadful sinner—rather than the primary thing about me is I’m a loved child of God and God will deal with all of the brokenness and mess that stops me from living in his love and seeing him for who he is and will make me, what I need to be. And those things are sorted out along the way, rather than being the primary thing that we need to focus on.

Anthony: We talked to ourselves contractually and we think of others that way. As we’re recording this, we have Russia invading the Ukraine. I noticed on social media, there was a lot of posts about Ukraine and what they provide to the world, their natural resources, yada, yada, yada.

And I couldn’t help but think, no, they’re people. Yes, there are things that they provide, but it’s a way of thinking of things contractually, as opposed to those are beloved children. They are loved by the Son and the Father in the Spirit. Let’s stop thinking contractually about what they can provide the world and just recognize these beautiful image-bearers of the living God.

Jenny: It’s the social contract. (I might’ve seen the same post. I’m not sure.) But it’s why is this important? And then it lists off all these ways in which we understand Ukraine’s position in the wider world and the various things that they export and whatever else. And that is the social contract right there.

What is our utility? Why are we gathering ourselves together? How are we going to fit into this great piece of the puzzle? On one level, I don’t care about any [of that], that’s not why this war is so appalling. It’s appalling because everyone involved in it is profoundly loved by Jesus. And the preservation of life and the dignity of human beings is far more fundamental than what we can do for each other or what we bring to the table. It’s a completely different way of looking at humanity.

Anthony: Yeah. And what we often forget is that war does harm on both sides to victim and victimizer because of whose image we’re made into. Absolutely.

Well, Pentecost will be celebrated this Sunday and many sermons will focus, Jenny, on the promise and deliverance of the holy Spirit. What does this passage indicate about who the Spirit is and what God, the Spirit, is doing?

Jenny: In a move that will surprise no one, I’m going to start by saying that this is a Trinitarian statement, which pretty much all of these passages are. I think I’ve started all of my answers that way. But there are particular things that are highlighted in this quite beautifully.

Firstly, the Spirit in this passage is given to us by the Father. Secondly, the Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and also, we know the Spirit due to the fact that we have the Spirit in us.

So, this is deeply relational and deeply Trinitarian. And the connection here is between our need for truth and the advocacy of the Spirit who is with us forever, which makes me think to myself, okay what is the Spirit advocating and what is this truth?

And to me the Spirit shares the Father-Son relationship with us, we’ve talked about that.

And it gets back to the point that Jesus makes at the start of the passage—he’s in the Father and the Father’s in him—and he finishes that later in this address to his disciples, I am in my Father and you in me and I in you. And all of that of course occurs in the Spirit.

What we see here is a forever relationship—I love how it says, and he’ll be with you forever. It’s a forever relationship, which is brought to us in the Spirit and we’re to live in and out of that truth, right throughout our lives. The world can’t see this truth yet, but it’s true, nonetheless. And we’re bound up irrevocably in it because of the Spirit.

So, we can’t actually lose the love of God because of the Spirit. And the Spirit will keep bringing that home to us and calling us back to that truth. When we struggle to see it in the midst of our own brokenness and trauma and everything else that makes it hard for us to believe.

Because we have the mind of Christ, we have his righteousness, and he’s brought us into that life and love of God that exists between the persons of the Trinity. And it’s by the Spirit that we see that; by the Spirit, we cry Abba Father. So, when we know who God is, we know who we are, and it’s through the Spirit that we’re enabled to receive and see and participate in what God’s doing.

As I said earlier, my Bible college professor, David McGregor, was saying this the other day in class, Christian Spirituality is not about our journey of discovery. If it’s Christian Spirituality, it’s about the Spirit because our response to God is enabled by the Spirit. So, through the Spirit we participate in sharing all that Jesus is and has.

So, the Spirit is critical. And in terms of, is the Spirit doing anything today? The Spirit is doing everything today because this is an ongoing forever relationship, and out of that, we participate in our church communities, in our work, in our families, in whatever shape life takes for us.

A text in the topic that I’m doing is Marjorie Thompson’s book, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life. And she says on page 14, the spiritual life is not one slice of existence, but leaven for the whole loaf. The Spirit is continually active in the world today. That’s what I see coming through really clearly in this passage.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life:
  • Have you ever looked at your phone, or another distraction, while driving? Why do you think we are compelled to do things that are inherently self-destructive?
  • The Holy Spirit sustains creation – constantly and endlessly. We do not continue to exist just because we were initially created, but are constantly held together, sustained in existence by God. Does this change the way you think about creation and the universe?
From the sermon:
  • Jesus told his disciples that all of us who follow him will do greater works than he has. Assuming you haven’t raised someone from the dead recently, what are some of these greater works that you have participated in?
  • The Holy Spirit is described by Jesus as “another advocate.” Discuss some of the ways you have witnessed him advocating for you in your life.
  • Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will “bring to remembrance” his words. The language is similar to the act of remembering that Communion also calls us to. Our participation in Communion is part of how the Holy Spirit fulfils this promise. What other ways do you think the Holy Spirit helps us remember Jesus and his words?

Sermon for June 12, 2022 — Trinity Sunday

Speaking Of Life 4029 │ The Wisdom of Delight

This Trinity Sunday, we celebrate our union and relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit, growing our wisdom and finding delight in the joy of God’s creation.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4029 The Wisdom of Delight
Michelle Fleming

On this Trinity Sunday, we’re thinking about God’s triune nature and how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in loving communion with one another. One aspect of this relationship is wisdom, and while we often think of wisdom as good judgment, wisdom is actually playful, delighting in joy and generosity. In Proverbs, we read that wisdom is personified as a woman. For example, in Proverbs 8, Wisdom maintains that she was created by God before the earth was created:

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,

Proverbs 8:22-30 (NRSVA)

Wisdom was an active companion and witness to God bringing creation out of chaos. We might think that bringing order to chaos would be more stressful than playful, but Wisdom offers an interesting perspective. Let us continue reading in the New Revised Standard Version,

I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race
Proverbs 8:30b-31 (NRSV)

And now let’s hear it again in the Common English Bible Translation:

I was having fun, smiling before him all the time, frolicking with his inhabited earth and delighting in the human race
Proverbs 8:30b-31 (CEB)

Here we find Wisdom offering playfulness and joy to God during the creation of the world. Some Old Testament scholars suggest that it’s a theological principle that “pleasure and playfulness are built into the very structure” of the world.

Expanding our understanding of wisdom to include playful delight and an attitude that is looking for reasons to rejoice helps us grow in how we think about the triune God on this Trinity Sunday. The Father, Son, and Spirit operate within a context of great love and wisdom that’s expressed in playful delight and pleasure in creation. And that includes us. If God takes delight in us and is always on the lookout for joy, we also should be quick to rejoice in any moments of joy life brings.

It’s wisdom to delight in what God has made, whether that is the beauty of nature, the pleasure of a warm drink on a cold day, or the delight of another person’s smile. On this Trinity Sunday, let’s acknowledge that the wisdom of delight is part of being included in relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May you embrace God’s wisdom and delight in who Jesus is, who he is in you, and who he is in others.

I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 8:1-9 · Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 · Romans 5:1-5 · John 16:12-15

The theme for this week is the delight, comfort, and counsel of God. On this Trinity Sunday, our call to worship in Psalm 8 speaks about God’s delight in creation, especially the creation of human beings who are “made a little lower than God.” In Proverbs 8, Wisdom is personified as a woman, and she speaks of her delight in the created world and the human race. Our justification by faith, the way suffering will ultimately produce hope, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit is addressed in Romans 5. Our sermon text for Trinity Sunday is John 16:12-15, where Jesus is comforting the disciples (and us) by explaining that even though he will be leaving them, they will never be alone, thanks to the Holy Spirit who would continue to speak God’s comfort and provide them wise counsel.

The Spirit of Truth: God’s Comfort and Counsel

John 16:12-15 (NRSV)

If you are a human being, you’ve experienced grief. This grief can be the result of losses both big and small, but the experience of grieving cannot be “ranked” based on the perceived severity of the loss. Any loss is a loss. Having endured a global pandemic for two years with all the losses that might mean has made many of us more aware of the effects grief has on our bodies and minds. For example, a person who is grieving may feel panic, sadness, and anxiety. But at the same time, grief affects that person’s ability to think and process information. They might find it hard to concentrate, take in new information, and figure out the next steps. The American Brain Foundation reports that prolonged stress and grief “can disrupt the diverse cognitive domains of memory, decision-making, …attention, work fluency, and the speed of information processing.”

The issue of grief and its effects are not a modern dilemma. The disciples were grief-stricken when faced with the hard truth of Jesus’ imminent death. In Jesus’ farewell words to them found in John chapters 13-17, Jesus explains what is going to happen, why it will happen, and why they do not need to be concerned. Just prior to today’s passage, Jesus acknowledges their grief (verse 6) and reminds them he is not leaving them alone. Our sermon text for today talks about the role of the Holy Spirit in comforting and counseling them after Jesus’s death. Let’s read the text:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12-15 NRSV)

What can we notice about this passage?

On this Trinity Sunday, this passage helps enlarge our understanding of the mystery of the triune God, particularly the Holy Spirit:

  • The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus, who came to reveal the Father’s love and character.
    • “He will guide you into all the truth.” Jesus calls himself “the Truth” (John 14:6), and then he identifies the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth” (John 16:13).
    • “He will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears.” The Holy Spirit is in complete agreement with the Father and Son, guiding us into all truth. If Jesus is the truth, and the truth is the revelation of who God is and the mystery of God’s love and grace, the Spirit will continue speaking the same truth.
    • “He will declare to you the things that are to come.” We can trust that the source of this revelation is God. We can also trust ourselves to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit who will only “speak whatever he hears” from the triune God (v. 13). The voice of the Holy Spirit will always be loving and kind, even when convicting.
  • The Holy Spirit guides us in living out Jesus’ revelation of God.
    • “He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The doctrine of the Trinity is practical as it addresses how we participate in God’s revelation in the world through Jesus by the Spirit. Even though Jesus is no longer in person on the earth, God’s revelation to human beings is accessible through the Spirit of truth.

Believers can rely on the Holy Spirit to understand how to live out the faith of Jesus in an ever-changing world. In John 16:12-15, words (verbs) that are all about communication (i.e., say, speak, declare) occur six times in just four verses. Keeping the lines of communication open between God and us is one of the roles of the Holy Spirit. Because the Spirit is a witness to Jesus, who simply is passing along what the Father tells him, we can consider the Holy Spirit a reliable leader as we make our way in the world.

We also can see Jesus acting as the Good Shepherd toward the disciples, comforting them in their grief over his departure, and in these four short verses, we can understand two important principles about human beings and our relationship with the triune God:

  • Grief and uncertainty affect our ability to take in new information.
    • “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” In v. 12, Jesus knew the disciples could not bear any more new information. He didn’t tell them the hard truths about his death previously because he was with them (John 16:4). Now that they know he is leaving, “sorrow has filled your hearts” (v.6). Jesus is letting them know they will be okay, telling them “It is to your advantage that I go away” so that the “Helper” or “Advocate” will come (v. 7). Jesus takes on a pastoral role to his disciples and us when we’re grieving, offering reassuring words of comfort. We must recognize grief’s impact on us and others, especially during the past two years of the pandemic. From a place of deep compassion, we need to extend kindness and patience to ourselves and to others.
  • We are never alone, despite how we may feel. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to continue to reveal God the Father and glorify Jesus to his followers. In this passage he introduces the Holy Spirit as our constant companion, one that speaks in harmony with the Father and the Son.
    • We can trust the Advocate or the Spirit of Truth because the Spirit comes from the Father (John 14:16) and testifies to Jesus (John 15:26). Jesus assures his disciples, both then and now, that the Holy Spirit only “will speak whatever he hears” (John 16:13).
    • The Holy Spirit unifies us with the triune God. Jesus prayed, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us” (John 17:21). Even when we feel alone and grieving, unable to understand or trust, the Holy Spirit is never taken away but continues to offer loving grace and comfort.

Application:

  • Recognize that grief affects our ability to listen to others and God, but we are never alone. By understanding this, we can be gentle with ourselves, allowing others to comfort us and reminding ourselves of God’s ever-present love and mercy. In the same way, recognize that grief affects others’ ability to hear our comfort and encouragement. We must be patient with others as we remind them of the promise that we are never alone.
  • Realize that the Holy Spirit enlarges our understanding of the Triune God and helps us live out and participate in God’s love for the world. We can trust the kind and loving communication of the Holy Spirit to guide our efforts to share God’s grace with those we interact with, and we can follow the Spirit’s lead to help us discern how to express God’s love in the most appropriate ways.

Grief can affect our ability to take in new information, even as it affected the disciples’ ability to make sense of what Jesus was telling them on his last night with them. We can take comfort in the mystery of the triune God, knowing that we are not left to figure things out on our own. The Spirit of truth will continue to reveal Jesus and the Father to us and show how we can best love others and ourselves.

For Reference:

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/12/20/1056741090/grief-loss-holiday-brain-healing

https://www.americanbrainfoundation.org/how-tragedy-affects-the-brain/

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/the-holy-trinity-3/commentary-on-john-1612-15-3

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/the-holy-trinity-3/commentary-on-john-1612-15

The Spirit of Truth w/ Jenny Richards W2

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June 12 – Trinity Sunday
John 16:12-15 “The Spirit of Truth”

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Program Transcript


The Spirit of Truth w/ Jenny Richards W2

Anthony: Jenny, our next passage is John 16:12-15. It’s the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Trinity Sunday on June the 12th.

Would you be willing to read that for us please?

Jenny: Sure.

12I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Anthony: Amen. Trinity Sunday is approaching this weekend. How do you see Trinitarian relational dynamics (here we go again) at work in this passage, and what are the implications?

Jenny: Oh goodness “Ibid.” To me, it highlights the way in which we dare not lose the Trinity in how we understand God. And particularly in terms of how we live out our faith and how we live as Christians within our church community, and also within our wider community, because we don’t want to separate the sacred and the secular, we don’t want to be dualist. So, we dare not lose the Trinity in how we understand God. We can’t be—you can tell me if I’ve got the word wrong—we can’t be christomonous (I think that’s the right word), reducing our understanding of God to be just about Christ or just about Christology. [Christomonism only accepts one divine person, Jesus Christ, rather than the Trinity.]

This is because our Christology is itself a thoroughly Trinitarian Christology. Jesus made himself known as the Son of the Father in the Spirit. Those things happen and are revealed to us and are lived out for us in the Spirit. And this is why in this passage, I think, the Spirit doesn’t speak alone. And everything that the Spirit receives for us and makes known to us comes from Jesus and from the Father, because everything that belongs to the Father is Jesus’, and the Spirit shares that with us.

So, there’s no hierarchy here. And the Spirit makes everything known to us. It is astonishing that we can know God. We can’t know God in ourselves, but God reveals himself to us as Father, Son, and Spirit. And it’s through the Spirit that we are transformed, and our broken humanity is restored to be ever more truly human, ever more like the one true human being, Jesus Christ.

Anthony: Often the world, Jenny, embraces the Spirit of untruth. And if I’m going to make it personal, there are times I do. Lord, help me with my unbelief How does this contrast with the Spirit of truth highlighted in the passage?

Jenny: I think that we can all make that personal, to be honest, I think all of us believe and yet need help with our unbelief.

The cry of Thomas is the cry of humanity because it is our minds that need to be renewed and woken up to the glory of the truth of who we are in Jesus. And I think that’s why the Spirit is referred to as the Spirit of truth. And I think too, that’s why the Spirit is also the advocate to wrestle with that in us and to continue to reveal those things to us, gently and beautifully and powerfully.

TF Torrance had a phrase (I don’t know where it came from), but he used it sometimes when he talked about theological method and our need to be careful and realist, particularly in relation to how we know God and what we know about God. We can’t begin with our own ideas or our own concepts of what we subjectively experienced as the basis for knowledge.

He didn’t discount those things, but they’re not our starting point. We know God because he’s made himself known. So, truth has revealed itself to us, so to speak, in the person of Jesus Christ. And that is by the Spirit. TF cautioned that if we wind up trying to work God out or work reality out with reference to ourselves or allowing ourselves to be limited by what our minds can understand and influenced by our brokenness and all of those things, we eventually wind up in what he refers to as “self-referential incoherence.”

And the first sentence of his volume edited by Robert Walker, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, is our task in Christology is to yield the obedience of our mind to what is given, that is God’s self-revelation in its objective reality, Jesus Christ.

And that sounds like it’s just Christology, right? But who is Jesus Christ? Jesus is the eternal word of the Father, incarnate by the Spirit who has joined himself forever to us in the Spirit. And this truth has broken into everything we thought we knew about ourselves, our worth, our experiences, our destinies, and especially our humanity.

So, Jesus reveals himself in the Spirit to be the Son of the Father, rather than being an individual. And that’s really difficult for us in the West, maybe because of dualism, but also because we emphasize rationality and individuality and autonomy so much. So, we see truth as an abstract thing that can be grasped.

And so of course, many would say objective truth doesn’t exist because everyone’s got their own perspective and experience of it, and so much is subjective. And I understand where that’s heading up to a point. Jesus can be Lord as much as he wants, but if I refuse to believe that I am who he says I am, I’m going to have very little peace and joy in believing. So, the flip side of having truth as a thing that can be grasped and understood with our minds, is that it gets very complicated, and relationship and personhood once again, get disconnected from it.

But from a Trinitarian perspective and onto-relational understanding, truth is not abstract and disconnected and a thing. Truth is, first and foremost, a person—Jesus. And as such, truth can not only be understood, but can be experienced.

And more to the point, it can only be experienced and understood relationally. This is where the Spirit comes to the fore in us, because it is the Spirit who reveals those things to us and shares those things with us.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Proverbs 8 personifies wisdom as a woman and talks about how wisdom was “rejoicing in [God’s] inhabited world and delighting in the human race” (Proverbs 8:30a-31). Why do you think that finding delight in the world and other people is a wise practice?
  • How do you incorporate the wisdom of delight into your ordinary day? In other words, what do you do to acknowledge the pleasures of simply being alive?
From the sermon
  • Have you ever experienced an inability to take in new information because of grief or loss? If so, how did you seek comfort and help moving forward?
Jesus said the Spirit of truth would glorify him and would only speak what Jesus and the Father spoke. This means that the Spirit will only speak words that align with the love and grace Jesus showed while he was on earth. How can we discern the Spirit’s voice in determining how to love others most appropriately?

Sermon for June 19, 2022 – Proper 7

Speaking of Life 4030 | The Myth of Isolation

We’ve all experienced moments of loneliness, anxiety, or darkness and doubt, believing we are alone in our journey. The prophet Elijah felt the same way and thought he was the only prophet left. Even when we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, God reminds us that he will never leave us.

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 4030 | The Myth of Isolation
Greg Williams

Have you ever participated in a large, multi-day event that was spiritually exhilarating and yet physically exhausting? In July 2021 we held the GCI Denominational Celebration as an online event. This was the first time we ever did a virtual gathering of this magnitude, and the post-celebration comments were extremely positive and grateful, yet the on-site staff were still physically and mentally recovering weeks later.

The Old Testament story of Elijah has similar elements. Having demonstrated the power of God, having laid low the prophets of Baal, having revealed God’s supremacy beyond all doubt, and having those who witnessed the sacrifice at Mount Carmel turn and repent, Elijah is exhausted. Then when the death threats of Jezebel come, he feels alone, flees, turns inward, and becomes deeply depressed.

Elijah cannot see a way out. The salvation of Israel seems beyond hope and despite an amazing day of victory evil appears to have once again gained the upper hand.

God’s response to Elijah’s fatigue, despair, and loneliness is one of compassion and encouragement.

 God provides Elijah with food and drink to gird him for the journey of revelation ahead of him – which lasted for 40 days. At the end of this journey, Elijah finds himself in a cave, where God meets him and asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Let’s listen to his response:

“I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
1 Kings 19:14 (ESV)

“I only am left.” This is the falsehood Elijah tells himself. Have you ever told yourself this — have you ever convinced yourself that no one understands you, no one can help you? In our darker moments, many of us have been there.

Yet in his compassion, God reveals to Elijah the truth; he is not alone. God tells Elijah to go to Mount Horeb, where he witnesses the power of God over nature and then hears God speak to him in a low whisper. He helps Elijah wrestle with his thoughts and fears and then he reveals to Elijah that there are 7,000 who have remained pure throughout this time of apostasy in Israel.

God then goes further and sends Elijah on his way, knowing that he will encounter a companion – Elisha – whose faith and faithfulness match his own. God delivered Elijah out of loneliness and despair through the powerful reminder that he was with Elijah.

The next time you have a crisis of faith, a moment of weakness, a feeling of despair and loneliness, remember you are in the company of the great cloud of witnesses, where the greatest prophets (after Jesus) once trod. Just as God never forsook them, he will never forsake you.

God always comes to us in strength and in our dark nights of the soul – always without condemnation, always filled with love and grace. He is always there to deliver you out of the darkness, and into his eternal light.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 42, 43 • 1 Kings 19:1-4, 8-15a • Galatians 3:23-29 • Luke 8:26-39

The theme of this week is God the deliverer. In Psalm 22, the psalmist tells us of the Lord who sees and cares for the afflicted and saves them from their afflictions. In 1 Kings 19, we encounter Elijah, wracked by guilt and despair after fearing for his life, yet God speaks to him in the still voice, girding him for the work ahead. Paul reassures us in Galatians that we have been freed from the law and delivered to become heirs in Christ of God’s promises. Finally in Luke 8, our sermon passage for today, Jesus delivers a man from subjection by evil spirits, freeing him to declare the Good News and showing us that no situation is beyond Jesus’ saving power.

Delivered with a Purpose

Luke 8:26-39 (NIV)

“We are Legion.”

There are few lines from the Bible that have inspired more stories and creations. The concept of a horde of demons trapped inside a single person has led to stories in all manner of fiction, whether that be in the horror genre, science fiction, or fantasy. You can encounter it in movies, books, comics, and computer games. In almost every case, the implications of this passage are misunderstood and underappreciated.

In Mass Effect, a hit computer game trilogy, an artificial intelligence construct made up of a myriad of sentient programs decides to call itself Legion, picking it out of all human literature to best describe itself. In comics, Charles Xavier’s son, who suffers from multiple personality disorder, chooses Legion as his superhero moniker. We could go on listing all the characters in popular culture that identify with the Legion identity, but it would take a while because, they are many. While the stories and characters inspired by Jesus’ encounter with the demons of Gerasa can be compelling, the unfortunate truth is that most fail to appreciate the scope of the story of deliverance being told in the passage.

The focus is usually entirely upon the demons and Jesus’ interactions with them, but to appreciate what Jesus does here, we need to start before we even learn the name the demons go by.

The Shackled Ghoul

They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. (Luke 8:26-29)

Jesus is greeted by this individual upon his stepping ashore from a boat. This is a telling piece of information, especially as we are informed about some of the other details of this man’s life. We are told that he was naked, not living in a home, nor in the wild, but in the tombs. The character that is described has ghoulish features, bringing to mind characters like Gollum from the Lord of the Rings. To add to his macabre appearance, he had chains hanging from him. His appearance and lifestyle alone taunt our imaginations to create visuals that accompany the narrative.

Perhaps you’ve travelled by plane, train, or bus and arrived in another country anticipating being met by someone. The arrivals terminal is usually a bustling place, filled with colorful characters and happy reunions. Imagine stepping off the bus or plane finding yourself being accosted by a sinewy naked man covered in chains? It certainly has the making of a memorable story, assuming you survive the encounter.

Few other people in Luke’s Gospel are given as much description. Rarely do we find out details about their living situations, their legal troubles, or their state of undress. While you could argue that it was the unique image of this man that led to his state being recounted here, it is important to consider that Luke is always intentional about what he includes in his Gospel account – few words are written without purpose and intent. To understand why Luke included this, we need to remember one key detail about this individual.

He was a real person.

For many years this poor broken individual had lived deprived of the basic needs of life. He suffered from exposure and lived in gravesites. He had been assaulted and restrained, yet even when he broke free the chains, they remained attached to him. No doubt he suffered from sores where the bindings had worn against his skin. The man that accosted Jesus on the Gerasene shore was one of God’s children, living in pain, suffering alone, and enduring an existence like no other. If ever there was a soul in need of salvation and deliverance – this was the one.

When we read the stories shared in the Gospels, it is all to easy to distance ourselves from those involved, to think of them as characters in one of Jesus’ many parables as opposed to living and breathing human beings. We do not know what led to this encounter. Did Jesus direct the boat to land near the man? Did the man know Jesus was coming? Had he witnessed the calming storm? Had some small part of him that still had control led him to seek out deliverance?

What we do know is what happened next. Jesus immediately began to cast the demons out of the man and in response they begged for mercy. The man who could not be subdued, collapses in the presence of Jesus. The man who could not be bound is paralyzed by the grace of God as he finds himself freed of his spiritual bindings.

A rose by any other name

Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. (Luke 8:30-31)

What value is there in knowing the name of a demon? This is the question that should pop into our mind when we read this section. As we already discussed, the reply given by the man on behalf of the demon has inspired countless forms of literature and art, but mostly for the wrong reasons. Often characters declare the refrain “We are legion, we are many” to harken toward a group’s communal strength and ability to overcome adversity. In this account the strength of the demonic forces in the man is the primary focus. Their presence has given him superhuman strength and sustained him in circumstances where others would have withered.

In fact, their communal strength is also emphasized by the military implications of their name. A legion was not just a high number, it was a military unit composed of 5,200 elite infantry, plus supporting troops! The Roman legions were famous. They were not the sum of Rome’s military, but the elite heavy infantry. In BC 107 Gaius Marius had instituted reforms that meant that legions became permanent until formally disbanded due to losses in combat or political restructuring – much like modern-day regiments of armies. This meant that legions in the time of Jesus could date back a hundred years with storied histories of conquest and military campaigns.

By declaring themselves legion, the demons of Gerasene were making a statement about their nature beyond just numbers: they were indeed powerful and dangerous. An elite cadre of fallen angels filled with malice, hatred, and spite. This is important for us to note, not because we need to know to be able to fight such forces ourselves, but because of what Jesus’ utter disregard for that power and danger tells us.

The Indisputable Authority and Power of Jesus

A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. (Luke 8:32-33)

Note the tone that the demons strike when they speak to Jesus. From the moment they encountered Jesus they are desperate; their tone is one of capitulation, not conflict. The mighty legion of the abyss, the elite of Satan’s fallen angels numbering in their thousands, are utterly and completely powerless before the Son of God. Jesus does not need to wrestle with them, there is no back and forth, he need not summon his strength nor call for aid. Though the devil had tried to tempt him with power and authority following Jesus’ time in the desert, we see here the true scope of his power and authority. It is absolute.

We must remember that there is no dualistic battle between good and evil in Christian doctrine. No Yin and Yang, no ebb and flow, no push and pull. God is not bound by Newton’s third law – there is no equal and opposite reaction to his goodness. As we are told in John 1 – the darkness has not overcome the light, nor is that even a possibility.

This is the reason Luke included all the details about the man’s condition. It was to demonstrate the full power of Jesus’ deliverance – there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus. It was also to demonstrate the destructive impact of the demons upon the man’s life. The demon’s swift end in the herd of pigs serves to demonstrate to us the end consequences of rebellion against God. Just as following Jesus brings life and deliverance, so living in opposition to him brings death and destruction. His goodness permeates through us, sustaining us, and its absence leads to suffocation and despair.

The destruction wrought by the demons to both the man and the pigs also demonstrates to us the full extent of the machinations of “powers and authorities” of this world. They have lost the war and they know it. Legion snaps and surrenders the moment they lay eyes upon Jesus; we must assume that Satan and his forces are under no illusions of victory. They are bitter and resentful, lashing out and causing harm, not to win battles, but just to hurt those whom God loves.

Delivered with Purpose

When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left. The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:34-39)

We are told in Mark 5:16 the full reason for the people’s rejection of Jesus. He’s bad for business. Though they are fearful of his power – though they have witnessed a miracle of unprecedented scale – their own comfort and security remain as barriers to the message of deliverance that Jesus brings. The message here is powerful, a man bound by an army of demons finds salvation seemingly without effort, yet sometimes we refuse to acknowledge Jesus’ goodness because we are caught up in our own greed and fears.

Keep in mind the full impact of what has happened here. We have the ghoulish figure we described before – a man naked, bruised, chained and wild for several years. Yet now he sits calmly, fully clothed, and presumably unchained. The fear the people feel at this sight is probably two-fold – like the fear you have when presented with a tame animal that by all rights should be wild. To the people of this area, this man was probably thought of as being akin to a bear, wolf or lion. Yet now he sits at Jesus’ feet, and here you get the second source of fear – who is this man who tamed the wild man of Gerasa and controlled the spirits within him.

While many people reject Jesus, this man has embraced deliverance and salvation. He seeks to follow Jesus. When out of his mind he begged Jesus to leave him alone. Now in his right mind he begs Jesus to be with him. Yet Jesus has other plans for him. He was not saved to keep the message of his deliverance to himself, but to share it. Not only does the man do so, but he does so with passion. Note the parallel drawn in the last verse of our passage. Jesus tells the man:

“Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:39)

We too have been delivered with purpose. The deliverance of the man from Gerasa shows us how complete the power of Jesus is. It reminds us that there is no part of our lives that cannot be overcome by his love and grace. Even if you were to be overtaken by a legion of demons, he will seek you out, he will lift you up, and he will deliver you from every one of your demons – no matter what they may be.

The Spirit of Truth w/ Jenny Richards W3

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June 19 – Proper 7
Luke 8:26-39 “Hog Wild”

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Program Transcript


The Spirit of Truth w/ Jenny Richards W3

Anthony: Let’s move on to our next passage, which is Luke 8:26-39. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 7 in Ordinary Time, which is June the 19th.

And the passage reads:

26Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Jenny, there are faith traditions which emphasize the activity of evil spirits, demons, and a Christian’s ability to cast out those spirits. Help us to understand a way of thinking about demons from a Christ-centered perspective.

Jenny: I feel like in answering this question, I’m going to sound like a little bit of a broken record. But I’ll probably just start by saying that there is a lot that I don’t understand about these kinds of ministries.

But what I do know in relation to trying to bring a Christ-centered perspective to those and being faithful to that kind of perspective, ss that we need to not be dualist in how we view the activity of evil spirits and demons, and what’s going on in relation to those issues. And we need to not disconnect who Jesus is from what he does in approaching it.

So, that is seen in this passage for me quite powerfully. Jesus didn’t have some special power to zap demons. It’s just that the demons can’t stand in the presence of Jesus. The thing that struck me in this passage is that it’s all about who Jesus is. Not some abstracted power that Christians are supposed to wield as a form of spiritual discipline.

As I said, I don’t pretend to know much about these kinds of ministries, but they can’t be approached from a dualistic mindset that treats Satan or demonic power as the equal opposite of Jesus. And in the same way, the name of Jesus is not a weapon that we wield that is disconnected from who Jesus is as the Son of the Father. We’re not about seeking after spiritual power is an end in its own right or as a sign of some kind of spiritual hierarchy among Christians.

The other huge thing for me in this passage is that as much as these kinds of issues are often framed with language of warfare or battles, I don’t see a fight here. The demons knew who Jesus was and they knew that the whole thing was over. They started in verse 31, I think it was, from the point of begging him not to cast. There was no fight. It was just, okay, Jesus, what’s going to happen next because it was quite clearly that Jesus, because of who he was, would be the one who determined what happened to them.

Anthony: That’s good. I liked the way you framed it. It’s not a battle. It’s clear who the victor is.

Jenny: It’s really not. And what we do is in Jesus’ name. Absolutely. But we don’t use his name as the kind of weapon that’s thrown out there. That would be to disconnect his name from who he is. The reason that his name is so significant is because of who he is. We can’t separate those things.

Anthony: Because of the mysteriousness of the unclean spirits in this story, it becomes easy to overlook the fact that Jesus healed a man who had been possessed and deeply burdened by those Spirits. What does this tell us about the God revealed in Jesus?

Jenny: I think for me, this shows the tender heart of the Father that’s full of compassion for us. And he cares far more about us than about our theology because this man didn’t have his theology right! He couldn’t recognize even recognized Jesus. He didn’t ask Jesus for help. They certainly couldn’t show that he had enough faith to deserve healing. All of that kind of thinking smacks of contract, doesn’t it?

Especially when we remember that faith itself is a gift of the Spirit and not something that we muster up in ourselves disconnected from the work of the Spirit in our hearts. So here we see that just in the fact of this healing, we see that God cares deeply about our brokenness and doesn’t shy away from trauma.

Healing is a thing, and it’s deeply important to Jesus. This man was dressed, and he was in his right mind. In going through the passage, those were the two things that really stood out to me. So being dressed and in his right mind, his dignity was restored. Also, he wasn’t chained or under guard anymore. So, his freedom was restored.

We so often forget that Jesus didn’t come for those who don’t need a doctor, even though he says that I’ve come for those who were sick. And it also tells us in this passage, this kind of deliverance is a Trinitarian act because at the end, Jesus says, go and tell what God has done. Not go and tell what I have done.

Anthony: I can’t help but think how beautiful is it that we have the ongoing Incarnation of Jesus. We might look at this passage and go, wow, I want Jesus to understand my situation just like he did this man’s situation. But we have a high priest who understands, who didn’t unzip himself, take off his skin suit, but remains in it.

It’s not like it was some sort of wet clothing that he couldn’t wait to remove from who he is, but he’s maintained it as the true man who is for us!

Jenny: I agree. And I think there’s something so profound about (and this is a whole conversation), but what I will say is there is something that is so profound about what we can understand about our suffering and our trauma and the brokenness that we experience as human beings, for whatever reason, and the tenderness that Jesus deals with us in those things is because when we take the Incarnation seriously, we understand that Jesus is in us through the Spirit. He is in us. And if we are understanding being not just in that dualistic way, but in an onto-relational way, then Jesus is experiencing my life with me.

So, everything that happens to me is also happening to Jesus. And pastorally—and this harks back to so much of my thesis, so I won’t get started on it now—but pastorally, the difference when we meet people in our brokenness and we say he can empathize with us in our weakness, he understands our full humanity, and because he is now with you and in you, he is experiencing that with you when you are not alone in it, and he understands completely what’s going on for you—more so than you do yourself. Pastorally, there is something beautiful in that reality.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life:
  • Most of us have experienced the rollercoaster of going from a spiritual high to having our exuberance dashed by life’s hardships, much like Elijah. Share one such experience. How did you end up getting back on track?
  • God’s response to Elijah’s despondency is one of compassion and patience. How can we reflect this attitude in the various spheres of our own life: family, work, friends etc?
From the Sermon
  • The man filled with demons in this passage is described in vivid detail as a ghoulish person, with unholy strength and a wild disposition, yet once Jesus delivers him, he is calm, clothed, and attentive. In what ways has Jesus transformed you that reflect this dramatic transformation?
  • Jesus demonstrates that there is nothing he cannot deliver us from. Do you believe this? Are there struggles or sins in your life that you need to apply this truth to?

Sermon for June 26, 2022 – Proper 8

Speaking Of Life 4031 │Unseen Footprints

Have you ever been so focused on a problem that you lose sight of everything but your desired solution? Heber reminds us that God’s faithfulness to us in the past can fuel our hope for his goodness to us in the present, even if shows up for us in unexpected ways.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4031 Unseen Footprints
Heber Ticas

You’ve probably heard the old hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
The lyrics go like this: “Have you trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged. Take it to the Lord in prayer.” The idea of taking our problems to the Lord in prayer is a well-known prescription in Christian circles, but sometimes it doesn’t seem like it’s enough to steady us. Sometimes we need a new angle on taking our problems to the Lord in prayer.

Let’s consider Psalm 77 where the psalmist Asaph is in trouble. He’s taking his problems to the Lord, but it’s not comforting him this time:

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints.
Psalm 77:1-3 (NRSV)

Asaph goes on to ask questions, the same questions you and I ask when we’re at the end of our ropes. He asks: “Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (Psalm 77: 9, NRSV).

Asaph initially concludes that he must have done something to turn God’s heart away, or that God has changed. But then he makes an important decision, one that is just as important as praying in the first place. He looks to the past for evidence of God’s faithfulness and remembers God’s deliverance of the people of Israel through the Red Sea:

Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Psalm 77:19-20 (NRSV)

Asaph remembered a situation when the Israelites were fleeing Egypt with the Egyptian army in pursuit. They could see the Egyptian army on one side and the Red Sea on the other with no apparent way out. God opened the sea.

He answered their cries for deliverance though his “footprints were unseen.” As is often the case, God chose to resolve the situation with a completely different solution than what was expected. Has that happened to you? Like Asaph, we can trust that God’s solution to our problem will be the best outcome for everyone.

While taking our cares to the Lord in prayer is still a good idea, it also helps to remind ourselves of stories of God’s faithfulness. When we are faced with trials and temptations, we can choose to think about God’s past provision in our lives and in the lives of others. God’s faithfulness in the past gives us hope that God will be faithful to us now.

Today, let us rest securely in God’s faithfulness. Even if you can’t see his footprints in your current circumstances, just like he has in the past, he is carrying you through.

Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de Vida.

Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 · 1 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 · Galatians 5:1, 13-25 · Luke 9:51-62

The theme for this week is taking the next right step. Our call to worship, Psalm 77, presents the psalmist in trouble, and he responds by remembering another time when Israel was pinned between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea, and God’s solution to their troubles was different than expected. 2 Kings 2 recounts the story of Elijah being taken up to heaven, including the uncertainties that Elisha faced in continuing ministry without his mentor. In Galatians 5, we are reminded that the freedom to love is always the best choice, resulting in the fruits of the Holy Spirit. And in our sermon text, Luke 9 shows Jesus’s singular focus in heading toward Jerusalem and contrasts that way of loving intentionality with our own tendency to forget to make first things first.

The Problem of Priorities

Luke 9:51-62 (NRSV)

You may remember a popular self-help book by Stephen R. Covey called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. First published in 1989, the book sets forth Covey’s “true north” principles that, if ingrained as habits, can help people progress from dependence to independence, and ultimately, to interdependence.

One of Covey’s seven habits was habit #3: “Put first things first.” This particular principle distinguishes between what is important and what is urgent. It requires us to understand what we value and what is often a knee-jerk reaction to demands placed on us. The idea of prioritizing and “keeping the main thing the main thing” (another saying attributed to Covey) is hard for most people, and Jesus’ disciples and early followers were no different than us. We’ll see Jesus’ followers wrestling with their desires to be right, to do good, and to be thought of as good by their culture. Let’s read our sermon text for today found in Luke 9:51-62.

[Read sermon text.]

What can we notice about this passage?

The passage has two separate stories: The first story, which we’ll title How to Handle Conflict, is about the disciples’ reaction to the Samaritan village’s unwillingness to welcome Jesus. The second story, which we’ll call Getting Priorities Straight, is about people struggling to understand how to love God and love others as part of following Jesus.

Story #1 – How to Handle Conflict

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.  And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village. (Luke 9:51-56 NRSV)

Messengers are sent ahead to make preparations for the group’s stay in a Samaritan village, but they are not welcomed. Why? If we look at v. 53, it says “they did not receive him because his face was set toward to Jerusalem.”

Samaria was what was left of Israel’s northern kingdom after Israel split into northern and southern kingdoms (both of which were later decimated by invaders). The Samaritans had their own sacred scriptures (a version of the Pentateuch) and held worship in a temple on Mount Gerizim. If we remember Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-26), she asked why the Jews insisted that Jerusalem was the only place for true worship. We can surmise that the Samaritans saw Jesus’ intention to travel to Jerusalem as another slight in their long history of being treated as second-class worshippers by the Jews.

In v. 54, the disciples known as “Sons of Thunder,” James and John, ask Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven on the Samaritan village. Jesus rebukes them and tells them to move on. We might first think that the disciples were overreacting and that we would never do anything like that. But how many times have we argued on Facebook or another social media in an attempt to justify our opinion on any number of topics? If we consider how we are often more interested in being right than being loving, we probably will realize our methods of handling conflict are not that much different than the disciples. In fact, we’ve seen it throughout the history of Christianity.

“Triumphalism” – the self-righteous idea that your doctrines, beliefs, or culture is right and everyone else is wrong – is too often seen in Christianity. Well-meaning Christians often portray that everyone who disagrees or believes differently is wrong. Christian history, from the Crusades through the Spanish Inquisition and beyond, shows some Christians resorting to violence – just like those we often condemn – when people refuse to believe our “good news.” When we find ourselves focusing on how wrong everybody else is and how right we are, we must ask ourselves, “What am I making a higher priority than following Jesus by loving my neighbor as myself?”

Not only was Jesus teaching the disciples how to properly handle conflict (with grace and patience, not fire from heaven), but he also maintained his focused intention – to head toward Jerusalem to accomplish his mission. Jesus knew his priority, and he refused to be sidetracked by the disciples’ desire for retribution.

Story #2 – Getting Priorities Straight

The second story involves Jesus’ interaction with those who wanted to follow him but who struggled to understand what that meant. Each of the three interactions seemed to lack the singleness of focus that Jesus had with “his face set toward Jerusalem” (v.53).

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62 NRSV)

Jesus’ followers experienced struggle with competing priorities, just like we do. They tried to juggle their desire to follow Jesus with cultural responsibilities and expectations. The first follower wanted to do good, promising Jesus “to follow you wherever you go.” Jesus’ response indicates his need for a place to stay, but the follower’s promise to follow isn’t backed up with action to help locate a place to stay. Two other potential followers seem willing enough, however, they appear to struggle with understanding how following Jesus fits in with their other cultural responsibilities.

While Jesus’ responses can seem a little harsh, we might look at these interactions as Greek literary devices called chreiae [pronounced Kray-ah] chosen by Luke to convey a specific point through a saying or action by a character in a story. In these verses, the theme of discipleship is emphasized by phrases like “I will follow you,” or “Follow me.” Rather than taking Jesus’ words literally, we can understand that he is showing how important intentionality is to stay true to one’s purpose. In fact, Jesus is demonstrating that intentionality and focus as he travels toward Jerusalem.

Rather than saying that followers literally should not bury their dead, Jesus is showing his followers that the path to discipleship is not easy. Cultural responsibilities in Jesus’ time were important and hard to break away from. We, too, face cultural systems that expect us to do what everybody else does, following culturally constructed roles and scripts. Jesus is illustrating that discipleship will not only require us to handle conflict differently, but it will also require us to change our priorities, particularly in how we move and operate within the world.

We might ask ourselves this question: How are we loving our neighbors as ourselves when it comes to our day-to-day interactions with family, co-workers, and friends, both in person and online? How does our discipleship to Jesus affect our political views, especially when it comes to how the poor and other marginalized groups are cared for in our society? If we answer these questions in the context of being a Jesus follower, we will see Jesus’ approach to these groups reflected in our actions.

Application:

  • Recognize our tendency to want to be right more than we want to be loving. Though we can villainize the disciples James and John for wanting to call down fire on the unwelcoming Samaritan village, we must be on guard for those same tendencies in ourselves.
  • Realize that following Jesus requires a singular focus and intention. This means that as a result, our priorities will be different, and our loyalties to our culture and its systems may not fit within the focus and intentionality of a Jesus follower. If we value what Jesus values – people – our actions will reflect that same commitment to love, even when it is difficult.
  • Know that authenticity in our discipleship is an ongoing process of growth. Because we are steeped in stories from our families of origin and our culture, it takes time to recognize the inconsistencies between what we say and do and what we want to say and do as followers of Jesus. God accepts us as we are while encouraging us to love with Jesus’ singular focus. We are called to accept others as they are while encouraging them to accept Jesus’ love and love others in return.

Recognizing priorities and having a singular focus and intentionality were part of Jesus’s character. Jesus worked with his disciples to “put first things first,” understanding that growing in love for others includes asking us to be less steeped in our personal stories so we can follow Jesus’ lead in how we express his love to one another.

For Reference:

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-13-3/commentary-on-luke-951-62-3

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-13-3/commentary-on-luke-951-62-6

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/jesus-turns-to-jerusalem/commentary-on-luke-951-62-7

The Spirit of Truth w/ Jenny Richards W4

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June 26 – Proper 8
Luke 9:51-62 “Moving On”

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Program Transcript


The Spirit of Truth w/ Jenny Richards W4

Anthony: Let’s move on to our final passage of the month. It’s in Luke 9:51-62. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 8 in Ordinary Time, which is June 26th.

Jenny, do the honors please.

Jenny: Sure.

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Anthony: The Sons of thunder, James and John, wanted to unleash some thunder, didn’t they? A fiery death on the Samaritan villagers because they didn’t receive Jesus. So let them burn Jesus.

It’s unfortunately a common refrain in some Christian circles. So, it might surprise some that Jesus rebuked James and John, instead of the Samaritans. What does this teach us about the triune God?

Jenny: It’s it hearkens back a little bit, doesn’t it, to what we were saying before about our speech? What we see really clearly here is that Jesus doesn’t have time for our petty rivalries when it comes to whom he loves. These people that James and John were so furious with for the insult that they offered to Jesus—and it was an insult—they weren’t even Christians, they were Samaritans, right? And yet Jesus wouldn’t allow those people to be mocked or punished for not being believers.

And as you say, that is a common refrain in some Christian circles. And it’s profoundly unchristian. Jesus did not only refuse to be harsh towards non-Christian who didn’t want to hear him, he respected their wishes, stopped everyone else from having a go at them, and moved on to a different village. He refused to let his followers give those non-Christians a hard time for their beliefs and their rejection of him.

He wouldn’t allow them to be mocked or attacked. So how dare we, who claim his named do anything less? How dare we?

When we consider that all of humanity is profoundly loved and included by the triune God, and if we are to love them covenantally, then we need to take that approach as well.

Anthony: Jesus said, let the dead bury their own dead. Jenny, on the surface, the statement from our Lord can appear to lack some compassion. What’s going on here? Help us understand.

Jenny: Oh, I agree that on the surface seems to. But again, if we never separate who Jesus is from what he does, anytime there’s a passage—this is what I do—anytime there’s a passage that seems a little odd, I go back to who I know Jesus to be. And given who I know Jesus to be, he can’t have actually been saying things that lack compassion towards them, even if they are hard words for them to hear.

So, I’ve always taken this as, in many ways, a call to prioritize our time, especially in the context of Jesus needing to finish his earthly ministry and not be slowed down in his trek back to Jerusalem.

And it also seems to me to be doubling as a warning about this discipleship scene—this call to follow Jesus is not some glamorous picnic where you get to do cool spiritual tricks, like casting out demons and raising the dead and being popular at Christian parties, right? That whole section is headed, “The Cost of Following Jesus.”

If we’re really going to follow him, there is significant cost. Our priorities change, our earthly comforts change. We become focused on the kingdom and those things take priority over everything. We can’t be slowed down by other things. I think this is the heart of the point Jesus is making: we shouldn’t use other things to procrastinate what we know we’re called to do.

And it’s hard to follow Jesus, especially considering that exhortation of the Torrances to yield the obedience of our mind to what’s given rather than inventing the gospel, re-inventing the gospel into something we might be more comfortable with, or that gives us a bigger part in the picture. JB Torrance always talked about the obligations of grace. The obligations in covenant are unconditional obligations. It is hard to love someone to the extent that God does, that is harder than a contract. It’s more beautiful and freeing and rich, but it’s harder.

I wonder whether sometimes, the things that hold us back and have us distracted and looking towards other things include, past concepts of ourselves and other things that are going on in our lives that we still cling to. Oh, I can’t serve God yet because I need to sort out this other issue or whatever. Those things can be hard to let go of. And so, we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds about a whole lot of things, not just our concept of God, and none of that is easy. But it’s beautiful and it’s life-giving, and it is worth regarding all of those other things that we do in life as barely worth a glance by comparison.

And of course, as we follow Christ and we live in the kingdom of God, those other things find their proper place in any case. The dead will still be buried, and we will still be able to care for our family and all of that. But to me, this passage really emphasizes keeping first things first and letting God be the one who tells us which those things are.

Anthony: Amen and amen. Jenny, it has been an absolute delight to have you on the podcast. You are a beloved child of God and your words have been very instructive. Thank you for being with us.

Jenny: I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to join with you, Anthony. And I’m really thrilled to just be able to spend time thinking about and rehearsing and going over the beauty and the depth of the love of God. It’s morning here for me. What better way to start the day? To be able to share in that is part of what makes being part of the community of God and what makes church and the family of God such a rich and important community to be a part of.

Anthony: Plus, you’re easy to listen to. We like Aussie accents around here. So, take that Aussie accent, and if you would, say a word of prayer over our listening audience. I know they’d greatly appreciate it.

Jenny: I would love to!

Father, we thank you for the enormity of your unconditional covenantal love for us and for the beauty and the glory that is so evident in who you are towards us in Jesus. Especially as we head into Trinity Sunday, we ask that by your Spirit, you continue to reveal to us more and more this love, that surpasses knowledge, the love you have for us, and the love that you have for all people.

In so doing, we pray that you will work in us in all of the areas that we find it so hard to believe and see you for who you are. And the ways that we find it so hard to see ourselves the way that you do, just meet us in those Jesus by your Spirit. Help us to know this truth and to be freed, to live out of this truth, out of this grace, and out of this love. May that transform everything about the way in which we see others and transform the way in which we live out these lives that you’ve given us day by day in our families, in our work, and in our ministries.

In your name, we pray. Amen.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Have you found remembering how God answered prayer in your own life helpful to anchor yourself during a difficult time? If so, please share your experience.
  • As in the case of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea to escape the Egyptian army, has God ever answered your prayers by providing a solution that completely surprised you? Tell us about it.
From the sermon
  • How can you tell when you’re starting to engage in a conflict where you want to be right more than you want to be loving? In other words, how do you feel in your body, and what kinds of thoughts start to race through your mind?
  • As a follower of Jesus, our priorities and values should match his. What priorities and values did Jesus hold? For example, Luke 9:54-55 shows that Jesus prioritized grace and mercy over righteous retribution. Think about other interactions Jesus had with people and what priorities those interactions reveal.