The Shack

Pastor Tony's Sermon July 30, 2017

Luke 15: 11-32     7-30-17     ACCUCC     Rev. Tony Clark

Reconciliation, based on The Shack & Luke 15:11-32 The Message (MSG)

Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’

“So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.

“That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.

“All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

“The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

“His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

This week we are thinking about reconciliation. In The Shack, the main character, Mack, is in several relationships that are strained or broken and need some form of mending. Mack is angry at God, harbors resentment against his abusive father, holds violent thoughts against the man who kidnapped and murdered his daughter, and has become a bit estranged from his family. The book and movie present a powerful story about reconciliation; Mack and God reconcile, Mack and his father who had died when Mack was very young, also reconcile in the spirit realm. And near the end of the story, he makes amends with his family. The story leaves open whether Mack might find restorative justice and peace with his daughter’s murderer. In the passage we just heard, the Spirit suggests that if there is true confession and repentance---the acknowledgment of the crime and the desire to make restitution, then Mack might find his heart softening and moving toward some kind of miracle relationship. This is reconciliation.

In the Bible there are two familiar stories about reconciliation —the story of Jacob and Esau meeting after many years separated and the Prodigal Son returning home. Jacob and Esau, though, is not really about reconciliation; it is about conciliation, or buying the peace. Jacob had stolen Esau’s blessing and birthright, and then Jacob, fearing for violent reaction from Esau, fled for about 20 years. When Jacob wanted to return with his family, Esau greeted Jacob with a huge army behind him ready to make war with his brother, so Jacob sent on ahead a peace offering of many of the best animals in his herd. Esau politely refused, claiming he had everything he needed, and only accepted the gift only after Jacob’s urging. If he had not accepted the gift, Esau would be saying to all who witnessed it that the debt was still open. By accepting the gift, Esau publicly declared that the debt had been paid, and there was no more between them. Out of politeness, Esau invited Jacob to join his group, and Jacob politely declined with a rather lame excuse that his herds were too weak to go very fast. (Genesis 33).

If you read the story with a sense of grandiosity and verbosity, Jacob does not come off as contrite, but as taunting and teasing, saying to his brother, “Truly to see you face to face is like seeing the face of God, since you have received me with such favor.” After the exchange, Jacob indicated he would meet his brother in Seir, yet he never intended to go there, and instead went to Succoth. Although, the two estranged brothers did not fight a battle, they also did not eat together, and they did not meet again until their father’s death when they met to bury Isaac. The two separated, unburdened by the strife between them, but also not richer for a renewed relationship.

This was no true reconciliation. This was a polite business deal where a debt was paid; Trust was not restored, only a peace that had been bought when Jacob returned the gift originally due to Esau. Both Esau and Jacob need to have some softening of their hearts, some contrition, some acknowledgement that they both have hurt the relationship, before that could occur.

The Prodigal Son is a story of reconciliation. A younger son takes his inheritance, runs away and lives a hedonistic lifestyle, and then when he is destitute, he comes crawling back seeking to live even as a servant in his father’s household. His father welcomes him in and immediately holds a welcome home party, a huge barbecue, with streamers and crepe paper and a mariachi band for all the workers and neighbors to attend. The relationship was restored, and the restoration was celebrated.

Except it is not a complete restoration of relationship. The older brother doesn’t attend, doesn’t reconcile with his wandering, partying brother. The older brother holds onto his anger, unable to forgive, unwilling to let the past stay in the past, and unwilling to make new memories with his newly returned brother. There is no actual closure to the story. We don’t know if the older brother held his grudge until the father’s death like Esau or if he was finally able to move to forgiveness and reconciliation. It is left open-ended. I can imagine that after some time of working together on the farm there was a peace that began to seep into his heart. I can imagine a conversation that included a naming of broken expectations, an acknowledgment of broken trust and broken relationship, a declaration of the awareness that he had maintained the fractured relationship through his own stubbornness. I can imagine reconciliation.

We saw Reconciliation in the late 20th century in two ways: in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, and in the Restorative Justice movement in our prison system. The Truth and Reconciliation movement, started by Bishop Desmond Tutu, was a chance for aggrieved parties under Apartheid to tell their stories. Through deep listening it allowed the people to hear each other, and acknowledge the pain in a court-like setting. The Commission granted amnesty for both victims and offenders. This Commission was different than the Nuremburg Trials; the Nuremburg Trials sought retribution for the crimes against humanity during the Holocaust, because the relationship was so broken there was no possibility of reconciliation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa assumed that there was still relationship to restore, that community was stronger when you could really hear the other’s pain, and that God delighted in this restoration of relationship.

The Restorative Justice movement, encourages perpetrators of violent crimes and their victims to listen to each other’s stories. Victims name how they were affected, offenders acknowledge their wrong-doing, and together they decide what steps the offender must take to restore a balance of justice. This is a radical departure from our standard punitive legal system where punishment is determined by a government-sanctioned court, rather than the community harboring the hurt.

In story-telling cultures such as many indigenous peoples there are various forms of restorative justice. For instance, the Hawaiian practice of Ho'o Pono Pono is an effort to set things right through a meeting of the aggrieved and aggrieving parties and community elders. The success of these efforts depends on restoration of relationship. 

Restorative Justice assumes anytime there is a crime, the victim and offender have a relationship, even if the only thing they have in common is the moment of the crime. They are in a strained relationship because of the crime, and to make a relationship whole again, there must be restitution paid directly to the victim, in the form of money and service. Both the offender and the victim determine together the extent of the crime and the amount of restitution. Crimes are understood as committed not merely against victims, but that the whole community is affected and must be part of the solution. In restoring trust, we can rebuild communities that are more whole, and therefore more Holy. Restorative Justice comes with the implied belief that God delights in restored relationships that lead to whole communities.  

You may remember the case of Cary Stayner, who was convicted of killing a tourist and her daughter and niece at a hotel just outside Yosemite National Park, and of the murder of Joie Armstrong within the boundaries of the Park. The family of the first victims sought the death penalty and, after a long and arduous penalty hearing in state court, death was imposed. 

Joie Armstrong's mother pursued a different path, possible because her daughter's murderer was tried in federal court since the crime was committed on federal property. Through the work of the Defense Initiated Victim Outreach, she came to believe that a death sentence was inappropriate, and she persuaded other family members to consider a plea bargain. In exchange for Stayner's apology and agreement to forego any profits from telling his story, the family would accept a life-without-possibility-of-parole sentence.

The family of the first victims later conceded that they would have preferred the process Joie's mother pursued. 

In The Shack, Mack reconciles with God, his biological father, and himself, restoring relationships that were strained. He begins to forgive his daughter’s murderer, but does not move into relationship or trust of him, and they are not at the point of reconciliation. For that to happen, there does need to be some contrition on the part of the offender, some recognition that they have hurt the victim and that the victim is due something for the harm caused. There needs to be an agreement about what that looks like—money, labor, something.

These kinds of restored relationships are difficult. They are counter-cultural because our legal system resists admitting fault, and quite frankly, it is hard to forgive someone else who wrongs you. It takes practice, and it takes courage, and it takes releasing the anger that has held you in a prison, so that you might move into the new freedom of reconciliation and relationship.  

This is the wholeness and holiness that God delights in.

Holy one: Teach us to forgive, and give us the courage to meet those who harm us, to really listen, and to form whole communities built on peace and justice. Amen.


Pastor Tony's Sermon July 23, 2017

Matthew 18: 21-35     7-23-17      Rev. Tony Clark     ACCUCC

Listen to this week's sermon by clicking here.

At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”

Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven. 

“The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.

“The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

“The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’

“The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

“The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.’


Every week we pray the Lord’s Prayer, saying, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Other churches say every week, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” or “forgive us our trespasses, we forgive those who trespass against us.” Over the last few weeks, you may have noticed that I have been saying trespasses rather than debts, and I have done this purposely because it reminds me that it’s not so much the financial debts that I need to have forgiven, but the actions that I have done or have left undone that harmed someone else.

I must confess, though, that every time I say “Forgive us our trespasses,” I think immediately of Winnie-the-Pooh’s best friend Piglet, whose house had a sign in front that said, “Trespassers W--” with the rest of the sign broken off. Of course, the sign was short for “Trespassers will be shot,” or “Trespassers will be prosecuted,” or maybe “Trespassers will be asked in for tea and crumpets.” But Piglet declared that it was for his grandfather, who was called, “Trespassers William.”

Forgive me God, for trespassing on such a serious topic as forgiveness with my impertinent humor. Teach us, O Great Forgiver, how to forgive—one another, ourselves, and even you. May the words…

Here we are at the Sunday of Forgiveness.

Last week we heard from Dorothy what forgiveness is not—it is not forgetting, it is not reconciliation or renewal of relationship, it is not a free pass out of punishment nor a release from the effects of acting badly. Forgiveness is not immediate, nor is it a miracle. Forgiveness is not for the offender.

“Forgiveness is,” as Papa says to Mack, “first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive; that will destroy your joy and your ability to love fully and openly…. When you choose to forgive another, you love him well.”[1]

So, if forgiveness is for the forgiver, why do we ask God to forgive us every week? If we believe God is first and foremost all-loving, then God has already forgiven us before we even ask. And yet, the asking is important. The asking itself acknowledges our wrong doing, our sin and separation from God, our trespassing on another’s property or crossing another’s emotional boundaries. Saying “I’m sorry” is an important thing in relationships.

We say, “forgive my sins, God; forgive me for those times when I became angry at you for not giving me what I wanted, and then turned my back on you. I know you did not leave me. I wanted, wished, hoped for something so badly, that it became a need, an expectation that I demanded that you fulfill, and when you didn’t, I pouted, I stomped my feet, I slammed my bedroom door and said, ‘I hate you!’ Forgive me, God.”

At that moment of yelling and door slamming, don’t we humans expect God to react the way an angry parent might, marching up to the door, pounding on it and saying, “Listen here, you ungrateful brat…,” and grounding us for the rest of our natural born lives? At that moment, it takes everything for even a good human parent to remain calm and loving.

Yet God is not human, and God doesn’t react that way. God responds with love, with immediate forgiveness. So perhaps asking for forgiveness from God is really a way to say, “I’m sorry,” acknowledging or admitting something we did wrong to ourselves and God, and expecting wrath, we ask God to forgive, which we intuit will release the anger, the wrath, the rage we know comes from humans who are broken and hurting.

And so we ask for forgiveness. Still, asking someone else for forgiveness does not guarantee they will forgive us; that action is theirs to take, not ours to demand. We cannot demand that God forgive us; we can only say, “I’m sorry, and I hope you find it in yourself to forgive me. Not because I need your forgiveness, but because you need to forgive, to let it go, to release the anger, the pain, the suffering I caused, so that you can become more whole.”

However, God is already whole, God is loving, God has already forgiven even before we ask. So why do we ask God week in and week out to forgive our debts, or our sins, or our trespasses?

I think it is really a plea to our inner self to forgive our own actions. Can I forgive my own debts, my own sins, my own trespasses?

Forgive me God, I am sorry for slamming the door between us. And then, O God, empower me to forgive my own debts, my own sins, my own trespasses--those times when I crossed a boundary I didn’t know was there, or a line I knew was there but crossed it anyway in defiance. Give me the fortitude to face and acknowledge the times when have I stepped on someone else’s toes either literally or metaphorically.

I said a few weeks ago that I get anxious when I am late, in part because my mother was always late, and I hated the feeling of coming in late, being looked at by everyone, and having to catch up to whatever was being said. My answer is to try to be early.

The reason my mother was often late was that she was a single mother, and sometimes worked two or three jobs to make ends meet. She was a busy professional, with two active teenagers, and sometimes she had to be Superwoman just to bend time and space for us. That I could forgive pretty easily, even though I was still left waiting or was late to an event.

My mother also drank lots of whiskey, and sometimes she would stop by a bar on her way to pick us up, and then she might lose track of time. Some weekends were focused on her need to drink, which meant my sister and I spent time as the only underage people at adult parties or clubs. She often forgot our needs in her need to self-medicate her pain.

For years, I was held in the grip of anger; it was many years after her death that I began the process of letting it go, of releasing my grip on those events, and I began the process of forgiving my mother. I had to acknowledge that my emotions were valid, that I could both love my mother very much and also have unkindled anger because although she was often a very good mother, there were times when she was not. My expectations and hopes that she would think about my needs went unfulfilled. I had hoped my mother might say she was sorry before she died, I had hoped that God might cure her and take away her alcoholism, I had hoped that I would be a better person. For forgiveness to even begin, I had to acknowledge all that had gone between us, and I had to accept that sometimes, in spite of the best intentions, we humans hurt each other. I recognized that my mother was human, and I know she had the best intentions for me and my sister; nothing she did was meant to be personal.

 Not forgiving held me in a loop of anger for several years. When I began to see and accept the humanness of it all, I began to forgive my mother, myself, and even God, and I could release the anger, release the grip it had held on me. To forgive my mother, I don’t need to forget what happened, and I can address my own needs by trying to be early to appointments and being aware of how alcohol affects me and then how I that affects those around me. 

Forgiveness does not happen once, though. As new things come up, as new slights, or sins, or debts, or trespasses occur, I must move through all the steps again and again, remembering that the emotions are valid, that I hoped for my needs to be met and they weren’t, accepting the humanness of the situation, and allowing the initial good intention to still give me hope for the next time. Uggh. Hard work.  However, I know that forgiving is for the forgiver, not the forgiven, which means that where my soul is broken, I must step into that perpetual cycle of forgiveness to move my soul toward wholeness.

Forgiveness frees me from difficult encapsulating feelings. Forgiving my mother, even after her death, allowed me to be more loving in my memories of her. And forgiving can also work when I feel I have trespassed on my own boundary or when I feel like God has not lived up the holy bargain I thought we had made. Forgiving myself moves me into better relationship with me, allowing me to become more fully human in that moment, as I acknowledged my failings and recognized my desire to do better. Forgiving God moves me into closer relationship with God, repenting and turning back--or “re-turning”--to a relationship that I acknowledge I was the one to sever.  And then I begin the process of returning to wholeness. 

In the tale about Piglet and the sign in front of his house that read “Tresspassers W—,” maybe Piglet’s grandfather had learned the art of forgiveness. Maybe Piglet’s grandfather had more than a warning to give us, but a spiritual practice to teach. Maybe that sign was really short for, “Trespassers will be forgiven.”

Holy, gracious, All Forgiving One, forgive us, and teach us the spiritual practice of forgiveness so that we may be made whole again. May we forgive those who trespass against us.  Amen.

[1] The Shack, William P. Young, (Newbury Park, CA: Windblown Media, 2007), p. 225.

Pastor Tony's Sermon July 9, 2017

Romans 7: 14-25; also  The Shack    7-9-17   ACCUCC         Rev. Tony Clark

Listen to this week's sermon by clicking here.

Romans 7:14-25 Good News Translation (GNT)

We know that the Law is spiritual; but I am a mortal, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do; for I don't do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate. Since what I do is what I don't want to do, this shows that I agree that the Law is right. So I am not really the one who does this thing; rather it is the sin that lives in me. I know that good does not live in me—that is, in my human nature. For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it. I don't do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do. If I do what I don't want to do, this means that I am no longer the one who does it; instead, it is the sin that lives in me.

So I find that this law is at work: when I want to do what is good, what is evil is the only choice I have. My inner being delights in the law of God. But I see a different law at work in my body—a law that fights against the law which my mind approves of. It makes me a prisoner to the law of sin which is at work in my body. What an unhappy man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death? Thanks be to God, who does this through our Lord Jesus Christ!

This, then, is my condition: on my own I can serve God's law only with my mind, while my human nature serves the law of sin.

[Read The Shack  pages 134-5.]

Theologically, we call this theodicy—if God is all good, and God is all powerful, why is there sin, why is there suffering, why is there evil in the world? That’s what Paul was wrestling with in the passage we heard today, and that’s what The Shack is trying to wrestle with too.

One way to define Sin is to be out of sync with God, who desires good things for all people. The will of God is justice, kindness, humility. The will of God is radical welcome and inclusion. The will of God is wholeness and healing. The will of God is peace. When we are out of sync with God’s will for being loving, open, and kind to others, we are prone to committing sin. When our first or primal instinct is not toward the good of all people, we are out of sync with our communal nature, and sin accumulates not just in the individual but also throughout all of society. Since we are formed within this out-of-sync society, sin is prevalent, and suffering becomes part of the world.

We’re going to show The Shack today after church, so I hope you can join us as we wrestle with this big issue, which calls into question God’s will for creation, our human nature, and our capacity to harm each other. As we step into the maelstrom of this topic, let us pray.

So here’s the problem: We are human. We are biological beings bound by the instinct for self-preservation. And because of that instinct, we have urges to eat, have sex, and keep ourselves safe. We are a communal species and cannot survive without each other, yet we also are very aware of ourselves as individuals. We are not the biggest animal, nor the fastest, nor do we have claws or massive teeth. We cannot hear as well as our canine friends, and we cannot see as well at night as our feline friends. We cannot smell very well, either.

Our advantage is our brains. We can remember facts and data, we can solve complex problems, we communicate difficult ideas across time and space, and we work together to keep our species going. And furthermore, we can reflect on all of it. We name some things good and others bad, and when you think about it, Good and Bad are simply those things that work toward our self-preservation (good) and those things that work against it (bad).

And here’s where it becomes a problem. The instinct for self-preservation creates fear of anyone or anything that might be a threat to us and our loved ones. Our fear, which helped us survive in the wild, makes us leery of strangers. There are things that we can do or buy or make that keep us and our loved ones safe, and we protect these things --our food, our homes, our cars, maybe our guns, and definitely our lives. When instinct take over, we forget that our ultimate safeguard is God, who is admittedly rather elusive. Our fear or pain leads us to feel malice, jealousy, greed, toward another, which might lead us to reactions of violence, murder, or destruction of someone else’s tower of power.

Imagine this scenario: You wake up, and you take a few minutes to set your intention for the day: Today I’m going to be kind to all those I meet. As you get dressed, you can’t find one of your shoes you were going to wear, because the dog took it and hid it under the couch. You find the shoe, and rush out of the house. When you turn on the car, you realize that you forgot to get gas on your way home last night, so the first thing you have to do is get gas. When you get to the gas station, the pump you usually go to is out of order, so you have to jockey the car around to get the gas tank and the other pump on the same side of the car, and there is a line for that gas pump. Once you fill up your car, you are on your way to work, and right as you go to take a sip of coffee from your travel mug, the car in front of you slams on the brakes, and you dump coffee down the front of you. Once at work, you go make yourself a cup of coffee only to realize that no one ordered coffee last week. You drag your un-caffeinated-self back to your desk and start working on that important document that is due this afternoon.  A few minutes before an important meeting, you go to save the document, and your computer crashes. By the time you get into the meeting, you are flustered, rushed, uncomfortable, and have not had any coffee to drink. You’re more than a bit grumpy, you snap at people, and the meeting turns into an unproductive gripe session.  

You have forgotten your intention for the day. Does anyone remember the intention? To be kind to all those I meet.

Kindness is the farthest thing from anyone’s mind at that point.

This is what I hear Paul telling us in this passage. I want to be kind to people. I even set my intentions to be kind to people, and I asked God to help me do it. But then life got in the way. The fear, anxiety, adrenaline, pain, lack of caffeine all take over, and then I do the things I do not want to do; I break the intention I set with God, I lash out at others, I sin. I am a slave to sin says Paul, who believed that sin came into human existence when Adam and Eve ate that apple, because that was the accepted history of the day.

Today, the sciences of evolution and archaeology tell us that humanity doesn’t have fixed ancestors called Adam and Eve, which means there is no fixed starting point for sin; we evolved into what are we are over millions of years, a human brain connected to an animal body with instincts for survival. Where Paul says that I am a slave to sin, biological sciences say that I am actually a slave to the instinct of survival.  In my example of an extreme bad-hair day, my life may not have been literally in danger—except the almost car accident—but my emotions and body chemistry make me believe that something drastic would happen if I’m late, or don’t get the document in on time, which were added onto the pain from the burn of the coffee.

And where Paul said I’m a slave to sin, the social sciences of psychology and sociology might look at my fear of being late as something I learned from the family I grew up in. My mother was chronically late, and I learned that I didn’t like the feeling of being late, feeling like I missed something, feeling like I had to catch up, feeling like all eyes were on me when we routinely came in late. Psychology might treat the symptom of anxiety with Valium or Xanax and lots of talk therapy so I could come to terms with my mother and my fear of being late. And then my therapist might challenge me to deal with my slavishness to a societal system that makes being on time a high value.

 The questions still remains, “Did I have control over my actions that morning?”

Paul would say, “No, I was enveloped by sin.” Evolution would say, “No, I was bound by instinct.” Psychology would say, “No, I was bound by emotional responses I learned as a child.”

Yet, I still believe in free will, in the choice to live within the heart of God, and to align my will with God’s will. I have that choice. To set an intention and actually live into it. I believe, or at least I hope, that we can rise above sin, instinct, and whatever my family-of-origin instilled in me.

But how do we reckon with those times when we—or someone else—can’t rise above sin, instinct, or society’s imprint, and they act violently toward us?

The novel and movie The Shack ask us to wrestle with this, as the main character, Mack, confronts the abuse that he suffered as a child at the hands of his father and the murder of his young daughter by another tormented man. These are two of the worst sins we might imagine. Why must these things happen? Why are there evil people in the world? Why does God allow this to happen?

Mack’s abusive father was abused by his father. The murderer was tortured as a child, and suffered from severe mental illness. Does the idea they might not have had control over their actions excuse the sin?  

Paul says sin and suffering happen because we do not do what we want to do, and while our primary nature is to be good, we are bound by sin to do evil, both at a personal level and at the societal level, enslaved by sin. This sounds like Paul is almost naming an entity in our world that we could call Evil, or the Devil, or Satan, who might enslave us. I do not believe there is such an entity; that might provide an easy answer, yet it makes a second god out of an evil entity. I believe there is only one God, whose intent in goodness, love, and kindness, and there is not a second god whose intent is evil, bad, or hatred.  

Yet, sin and suffering still occur. We seek our own self-preservation and we forget to be kind, or we act out of our animal instinct of fear, or we do something heinous that seems outside of our human and Divine nature. Or someone else does this to us.

And yet there is hope. Salvation comes in the form of recognizing all of our brokenness and seeking wholeness. Redemption comes as freedom from enslavement to whatever keep us from being in sync with God. Moving into forgiveness for ourselves and others, we are freed from the desire to do violence inwardly to ourselves or outwardly to others.

All of that is where we head in the next few weeks, so stay tuned.

For now, let’s pray.

Loving God, you seek our well-being, yet our human nature of fear and anxiety can so often get in the way of seeing you. Break through this separation and allow us to become in sync with you, as individuals and as a society. May we do your justice, may we seek your kindness, may we walk humbly with you, and keep us safe, even as we face the scary world around us. Amen.

Pastor Tony's Sermon July 2, 2017

Trinity            7-2-17            ACCUCC         Rev. Tony Clark

We are starting a month-long series based on The Shack. Some of you may remember that we discussed this book several years ago, and now a movie has come out; we’re going to be showing the movie after church twice this month, next week and then on July 30.

The Shack is about Mack, a man whose daughter is murdered. When he begins to lose faith after that incident, God calls him to spend a weekend in the Divine presence. In a vision, he spends time basking in the love of Christianity’s three-in-one God, and along the way he learns to forgive himself, those who have wronged him, and God.

The Shack leads us to think about several themes from our faith: first, Mack has to face the idea of God as a Trinity, which is often called a dance of three-in-one, Mack also deals the question of why, if God is good, do bad things happen, which on the flip side of the coin brings us to Free Will and our human choice to live morally.  And by the end of the book, Mack must also learn how to Forgive and reconcile with those from whom he is estranged. We will spend the next 5 weeks thinking and praying about these themes in our worship.

Today, we take on the idea of the Trinity, this three-in-one God, with which our ancestors in the faith gifted us.

When I am asked to explain the Trinity, I say that we humans need ways to talk about the experiences of something more than ourselves, so we use the word God. We Christians have divided God into three personas or persons. Humans experience something more than ourselves in Creation, so we have a Creator, or a parent whose function it is to create and nurture life. We also experience the Divine through other living beings, especially other humans, so we need a God who lived and breathed and bridges the divide between us and the Creator. And we also experience God as the energy in our emotions, thoughts, intuition, pain and healing, spine tingling sensations, and odd coincidences, so we need a part of God who drives those intangible experiences. Traditionally we name these three the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit).

The author of The Shack, presents a Trinity that is slightly off the traditional. Because Mack had an abusive biological father, a heavenly Father would put Mack off, so instead of a Father God, he meets Big Mama, an African-American woman, who loves to make splendid downhome meals. Jesus, who also goes by Yeshua or Joshua, is a brown-skinned Arabic man who likes to build things, and the Spirit is called Sarayu, or Sophia, and is the gardener, the tender of the garden we call the soul. In this story, the Trinity is a Cook, a Carpenter, and a Gardener.

In my own version of the Trinity, I think of the three-in-one as artist, created object of art, and the process of making the art, or more simply: Creator, Created One, and Creativity. In a few minutes I’m going to ask you to think about what you might name as a Trinity, so get your Creative thoughts moving!

You may hear that the Trinity is not to be found in the Bible; and I’ve wrestled with that a bit. In the scripture we heard this morning, (Ephesians 4: 2-6, & 11-13), there are certainly the three persons: one Spirit who brings unity and peace, One Lord Jesus Christ, who unites through faith and baptism, and one Father who is over all and through all and in all. They are linked grammatically as well as functionally by the author of Ephesians, who may or may not have been Paul. In several of the early Christian writings we find the foundations of the Trinity; however, the Doctrine of the Trinity is a later formula, created by the various councils that met in the first few centuries of the faith to solidify doctrines and dogma of Christian belief. The specific formula of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an inheritance from those early Bishops, men of enormous thought, who codified our faith into a uniform set of beliefs. Now, 17-1800 years later, those Doctrines may not exactly serve us.

So what does serve us? You heard that in The Shack, it’s Big Mama the cook, Yeshua the carpenter, and Sarayu the gardener. One theologian has described the Trinity as a candle: heat, light and flame. You’ve heard of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, which assumes sin comes into the world, must be redeemed, and then we must be sustained in our sin-free-ness. You heard that in my version I think about Creator, Created One, and Creativity.  

In all of these, the Trinity has an internal integrity, the three are related in some way that we can understand, a metaphor that we can all relate to.  They dance together, play together, work together, or act in complimentary ways. If you start with a homestead you might get a Cook, a Carpenter, and a Gardener. If you start with a family, then you have a parent, a child, andthe spiritual ancestors that shaped this family unit--Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  If you start with art, like I did, you might end up with Creator, Created One, and Creativity. If you start with a candle, you might end up with Flame, Heat, and Light.

So, If we start with something like the Symphony, what would be the Trinity?

A fire station?

A court room?

A car?

A river?

A tree?

A human being?

What Metaphor works for you?

The Shack points out a few things for us: that the Trinity is not literally a Father, Son and Spirit, but is a metaphor to think about how we connect with God. The novel also shows us that we can create a Trinity that works for each of us, in order to better access God. And for me, one of the biggest things to take away is that God is bigger than any metaphor that we can imagine; we have limited words to describe the experience of something bigger than ourselves, and we want to tell people about our experience, so we label them with words. When words fail to capture the enormity of God, I pray we let the experience speak for itself.

Loving One, Living One, and Laughing One, we come with discomfort in the confining words that describe you. Enlargen our view of you, embolden our words about you, and enliven our experiences of you. In all your many names, we say, Amen.