Summary: A sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday, Year B
May 30, 2021
Hope Lutheran Church
Rev. Mary Erickson
Is. 6:1-8; Rom. 8:12-17; Jn. 3:1-17
The Courage to Be
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul Tillich was a gifted theologian in the last century. During Hitler’s rise to power, Tillich left his native land of Germany and moved to the United States. He learned English at age 47 and later went on to publish many great theological works.
Among these was a book entitled “The Courage to Be.” Tillich declares that courage is derived when we affirm who we are. Courage is tied to understanding who we are as good and worthy. Knowing that we’re worthwhile and valued gives us confidence. It empowers us to enter the world and act with assurance and courage. We have the courage to be, to be ourselves. We act genuinely, we’re confident to utilize the God-given talents and strengths we possess. We simply have the courage to be.
But then, enter the forces that counteract the courage to be! Fear enters, and courage melts and runs out of us like hot wax. Tillich identified three unique sources of fear, a trinity of anxieties.
The first anxiety is connected to the limitations of our biology: Biological Finitude. There are an unlimited number of factors about who I am over which I have absolutely no power! What if one, or more, or even several of these aspects render me less than acceptable? Am I a reject? Do I become invalid, illegitimate, unworthy?
There’s no end to the list of these factors!
• Our physical body – Society sends strong messages about our shapes and appearance. We’re too big, our nose isn’t right. We have crooked teeth, our ears stick out. We have deformities, we’re missing limbs, we bear terrible scars from injuries. Our hair is balding or thinning or greying; it’s too curly or too frizzy or too straight. We’re not strong enough, we’re slow and uncoordinated. We’re too young; we’re too old. We’re limited by chronic disease.
• Race and the color of our skin – How does society rank us according to race? Do all lives really matter, or are some people ranked higher and better than others?
• Gender and Sexual Orientation – What messages do we learn as young children about masculinity and femininity? What shaming messages do we receive if we don’t follow the norm? How have we incorporated disabling opinions about how to be a man or a woman? And for our youth who are awakening to their sexual orientation, do they have a safe environment to foster the courage to be?
• Education and intellect – Are we smart enough? Do we have a learning disability? Is our IQ too high? Too low?
• Emotional and mental disabilities – What stigmas are associated with depression, with autism and spectrum disorders? What judgements are made against those battling addiction?
In so many ways we can perceive that there’s something inherently wrong with us. These negative messages continually chip away and erode our sense of self-worth. Our courage and confidence wanes. Who can save us from this endless cycle of internal and external criticism? How can we find the courage to be?
Brothers and sisters, let me tell you about the Holy Trinity! Let me tell you about God the Father! We have been wondrously made! The Bible tells us that when God had finished all of creation, God stepped back and looked at all God had made. And God deemed it good. And not just simply good, but VERY good!
Our faith in the triune God informs us more accurately about our worth and our inherent nature than anything else! We are good, we are beautiful, just as we are! Even in our weakness, we are prized and honored.
St. Paul suffered from some kind of affliction. He called it his “thorn in the flesh.” Three times Paul prayed that God might deliver him from his ailment. But the answer he received was this: “My power is made perfect in weakness.”
Each of us has been uniquely made. Even in our weakness and our most vulnerable aspects, we have been claimed and named by our loving creator.
In our Triune God we are given the courage to be. Today we heard Paul’s encouraging words to the Romans: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness that we are children of God.” Brothers and sisters, faith offers you the courage to be in all of the unique biological mosaic you are!
Tillich identified a second anxiety. It also erodes courage. This one is related to feelings of guilt: Moral Finitude. We sense that we have really blown it. No matter how hard we try, we keep making the same dumb mistakes. We’re rotten and worthless. Just toss us in the garbage can and wheel us to the curb.