“What Then Are We To Say?” – Rev. Tony Romaine – June 21st , 2020
As the father to a pastor, every year my dad gets to hear what stories have stuck with me; what I usually share as the beginning to my message on Father’s Day. And while I could list a multitude of stories, today I think it is important we talk about what we should say in the first place.
What then are we to say?
What is there truly left for us to say on Father’s Day in 2020 that has not already been said? What is there that we could possibly explain more about God, how He acts as Our Father, or what that love that comes from Him means? Truthfully, our explanations will most always fall short, and what we have to say is difficult and complicated. But I believe that we, as a society, are missing out on one very important basic step in our process of understanding God; our stories.
It is the memories we have and the stories we share that create the bonds of family, the bonds of continuity, and the bonds of love that we must continue to share regardless of how many times we share a similar story. I am reminded of an epiphany I had one time when listening to my Poppy tell the same story again that I had already heard many times. The epiphany I had was that I was not bored having to listen to it again, but that I cherished hearing it again, because I had heard it so many times that it was becoming my story now too! In fact, I find myself sharing those stories over and over again as if Poppy is telling them through me.
See, we all too often forget that for most of our human history we did not have this great compilation of God’s Holy Inspired Word, that we now call the Bible. For most of our human history we shared stories, we told the stories passed down from generation to generation, we told of our God who created us out of nothing, who loved us into being, who was a jealous God, but ultimately the jealousy is out of love for us. We shared how God flooded the whole earth but saved one family to begin anew. We shared stories of giant fish, of warrior men and women, of imperfect human beings; and we shared those because they not only allowed us to connect with an otherwise other God, but we shared them because in those stories we found ourselves.
In those moments of imperfection where men and women, dad’s and mom’s, children, friends, strangers, and all people lived. We shared because their imperfections were familiar to us; because those very same flaws and failures occur in and through us too. And we shared those imperfections because the humanity of it all was loved across time by an Immortal, Indivisible, All-Powerful, God; who despite our failures, still uses us for good, still believes in us, and ultimately loved us so much as to forgive everything we ever did!
Undoubtedly there are stories we do not want to continue. There are narratives that involve slavery, systemic injustice, war, death, sinfulness of humanity and the list goes on. But in an ironic way, we actually need to share these stories too. Not to hold over our heads as a weight that drags us to the depths of the seas; but rather, as a constant reminder that when we fail to know our history, when we fail to remember our past, when we fail to see the sin within ourselves before we condemn the sin in others; we only set ourselves up to repeat the sins of our fathers and their fathers. This does not mean we need to memorialize or celebrate our sinful past; but that we must learn and never forget. This is why the Cross is such a poignant part of our Christian story. A symbol of the place where Christ died, a reminder of what it took for us to gain eternal life, and a constant lesson in what a people will do to their own people out of religious misunderstanding and zealotry.
What then are we to say?
What we are to say is our story. We are to share what we hear in Scripture today. We are to talk about and remember on Father’s Day, Abraham, the “father” of the three mainline monotheistic religions of the world. As we say in church circles, the three Abrahamic faiths; Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. We are to talk about how Jesus Christ came from Our Father, to return us to Him and that in order to do this God recognized that there was nothing we could do in our power to be completely free from the sins of our humanity. That Our Father in Heaven gave the ultimate gift of becoming Incarnate so that we could recognize and learn and re-shape our pathways of hatred, exclusion, and misguided worship to a pathway of acceptance, love of all God’s Creation, and forgiveness. We must share that there is nothing we can do to gain God’s grace, but that it is a freely given gift from our Father to us. And we must share that while there is nothing we can do to gain eternal life, there is everything we can do to love our neighbor as ourselves in celebration of that gift; so that others may know of our story, of our God’s story, of the unconditional love of a Father.
We are to share that Our God is a giver of great gifts. That those gifts do not depend on how much we give back, that those gifts do not depend on who we are or where we live, that those gifts are not all the same, and that the gifts of our Father come with only one string attached…Our God only wants us to love Him. Let me say that again if I can; our Father only wants us to love Him! And in my human understanding of this great story that God has shared with me a thousand times over, this great story of God my Father, I would add that Our Father only wants us to know we are loved.
What then are we to say?
See this is one thing I feel our churches need to start doing more of; one thing Christians need to start doing more of…sharing the stories of their faith. Maybe that story is one of trial and tribulation where you feel God is a distant father who is never around, sounds like Job to me. Maybe yours is a story of wonder and awe at the very fact that we would be created at all, sounds like Genesis to me. Maybe yours is a story of a humble servant being called to great things despite their short-comings, despite their failings, despite their sordid past or sinful history, sounds like let’s see: Exodus, Jonah, Jeremiah, 1 Samuel, Acts, all of Paul’s letters, Esther, Ruth, and many more! Or maybe the story you wish to share is one where the world was given a chance to change and it did not realize it until it was too late; but now, no matter how late we are, we still have that chance. Sounds like the Gospels to me, or the Prophets, or even Revelations.
But please hear me say this, you do not have to be a biblical scholar to share the stories of the Bible. Your life, the stories you share, are the Bible. Your faith through thick and thin is the story that people want to hear. Your trust in God regardless of outcome is what our world needs. Your faith in the eternal life guaranteed by Jesus Christ without being able to see or know is the faith people will gravitate towards. And while you may not realize it, the impact those stories have, the continuity you provide, is what future generations will one day celebrate. Yes, the Bible is God’s Holy Inspired Word, but you are God’s Holy Creation living and breathing, making and sharing, writing the pages of future Bibles that have yet to be printed; the story of God, Our Father, in the world each and every day through your hands and feet!
I could tell you stories of a dad who carried me on his shoulders, who taught me to catch fish (or not how to catch fish, right dad!), who threw a baseball with me, who was imperfect and yet also perfect, who was patient and impatient, who was there and not there, who to this day I know loves me and I hope knows how much I love him. And while this is my story, this is also your story.
So what we are we then to say on this Father’s Day of 2020? We must share the stories the world has heard a thousand times already, because it needs to hear them again. We are to share the stories that make up our lives. We are to share the stories which make up our faith. And when we have nothing to say, we can fall back on the old standards, the stories we have heard a thousand times over. And in that comfort that comes through knowing the end; through knowing how the whole story ends, it is there we will find ourselves, our fathers, our lives, and our God.
Happy Father’s Day, Amen
“The Substance of Trinity” – Rev. Tony Romaine – June 7th, 2020
Richard Rohr in an article in the magazine Sojourners said in 2016, “The widespread Christian failure to understand and experience God as Trinity has provided a breeding ground for both implicit and explicit racism.” And so to help us understand the “Substance of Trinity,” I thought it best we talk about diversity and unity within the Trinity.
As a UCC and UMC church, we believe that we should be united and uniting. As such, theologian Randi Jones Walker says, "The essential questions facing United and Uniting Churches center on the question, for what purpose are we united?” And answering her own question, she states, “In a world filled with people who, in the eyes of the world are poor, unworthy, guilty, unlovable, shameful, or oppressed, the Church is called to offer family."
The family we are called to offer is Trinitarian in structure. We are called to God's vision for humanity, the united difference that exists within the Trinity, and we are called to re-visit our sources of faith to rely on the Holy Spirit, not our own human ability. As such, we are called to venture into our doubts and fears and rely on our ability to be a covenantal people in union with those we encounter. As we strive toward being more welcoming for those of different races, genders, sexes, etc. we will not always have all the answers. In fact, most of the time we will not have any answers, and this is okay.
But to help us understand better and perhaps grasp at some answers, Richard Rohr when talking about how God as Trinity dissolves racism once said, “To understand a sin (racism) that is as old as history, it is helpful to go back to one of the oldest questions of human inquiry. How can there be any primal unity to reality when what we see is so much obvious and seemingly conflicting diversity? Is there any unifying pattern to “the ten thousand things” that overwhelm our horizon?”
Rohr then further explains, “Let’s look at one of the very destructive effects of a diminished image of God on the ever-present issue of racism. Today, most Christian notions of the Divine are much more formed by pagan and Greek conceptions than by the central Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Even the Latin word for God, Deus, is a direct reformulation of the Greek word for the head of the gods, Zeus. I believe racism is often rooted in this distorted view of divinity; rather than reflecting the One who created all things in God’s own image and likeness, we instead make God into a mascot who, as Anne Lamott brilliantly quips, hates all the same people we do.” In essence, we make God out to be a white, male, authority figure and from this viewpoint, stems the systemic racism which pervades our humanity, theology, and history. We make God to fit inside our box and look like us, instead of being the Omnipotent, Triune God.
Instead, what our Trinitarian beliefs are calling us to be; what the church needs to be to the world, is a witness to the fact that difference does not have to delineate. That in this ever-diversifying world, Christianity can come together and celebrate the diversity within its broad arms without hate speech, judgment, or degrading those who are different. In this manner, the church will return to its roots of being on a mission Jesus led us toward during his lifetime. We will be on mission to love our neighbor as ourselves and in so doing demonstrate love to a world that needs it desperately.
The Korean theologian Chun-Hoi Heo writes, “The price of peace is not the elimination of differences.” In other words, as we come together in a new and multicultural context, our differences should be lifted up as a strength of a broader community, not lifted up so as to create walls of segregation. Or as Rohr says, “God is precisely one by holding together very real difference. The Triune Godhead itself maintains separate identity between Three, with an absolutely unique kind of unity, which is the very shape of Divine Oneness. God’s pattern and goal has never been naïve uniformity, but radical diversity, maintained in absolute unity by “a perfect love” that infinitely self-empties and infinitely outpours—at the same time.”
But herein lies the problem. See, we humans, we like infilling, we like ourselves to be connected and in tune with God. But we do not like outpouring and we do not even know how to make room for that infilling we say we want! Thus, the historical and theological problem that prevents us from truly understanding the Trinity. And the eternal spiritual problem that prevents us from moving beyond denomination and race and gender and class. Our inability to understand and love one another as the outpouring of God’s love; is in and of itself, racism, sexism, classism, ageism, lookism, homophobia, transphobia, imperialism, patriarchy, and all that our tradition refers to as “sin.”
So, brothers and sisters, what if instead we focused on what brings us together in diversity instead of what separates us? I am not arguing for a blanket unity where one cannot be different from one another, rather the utopia I am dreaming is Trinitarian; one where, we hold each other’s differences in unison with what holds us all together, not a blind uniformity, but radical diversity bonded in the perfect love of God. A love which is eternally filled via God, a love which we are called by God to pour out unto the world.
A love which Rohr describes as why Jesus had to dramatically come. Jesus had to, “personally exemplify the entire path of self-emptying to us, making room for the diversity within God’s creation, and had to teach us how to love one another. Because, the Jesus path is a constant visible lesson in both allowing in and handing on, receiving and giving away what is received. Jesus makes the Trinity visible and attractive, so we can trust this always-daring process ourselves, so we can trust that indeed God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit; even though diverse and unique, are also God.” So we can trust that differences unite us and unity is diverse!
For only when we fail to see difference as something that fractures our society, only when we stop seeing uniqueness as something which prevents unity, only when we end the historical cycle of delineating and power pyramids and social classification based on race, sex, gender, or creed; only then will we finally celebrate the diversity within God’s creation, within our world, and within ourselves. And only then, will we finally comprehend and live “The Substance of Trinity!”
 Richard Rohr, https://sojo.net/articles/how-god-trinity-dissolves-racism, August 25, 2016.
 Walker, 44.
 Rohr, https://sojo.net/articles/how-god-trinity-dissolves-racism, August 25, 2016.
 Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2013), 105.
 Rohr, https://sojo.net/articles/how-god-trinity-dissolves-racism, August 25, 2016.