Sunday, June 19, 2011

Our Strength, Our Courage and Our Freedom:

Recalculating the Trinity
A Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2011

It is always an honor to preach from the All Saints pulpit and today -- Trinity Sunday -- was no exception. You can watch a video here ... or here's the text:

Our Strength, Our Courage and Our Freedom

Today is Trinity Sunday: the First Sunday after Pentecost when our church calendar gives us our annual opportunity to contemplate the "Three-In-Oneness" of God. (I know … did we win the lectionary lottery this morning or what?)

Before we even begin, let's be real clear that any time anyone tries to define the infinite nature of God in finite human terms, we run smack dab into the limits of our experience and our . But limited or not, the Trinity is an historic formula our Big Fat Christian Family arrived at to describe its experience of God and this is All Saints Church … so this morning if some of you resist being asked to formulate the mystery of God's being in this or any other way, if others mildly wonder what it's all about or if (be honest!) you’ve never given it any thought at all … wherever you find yourself there IS a place for you here.

I’m remembering when I had no choice but to give it some thought back in the days when I was a parish day school chaplain and I had to figure out what to say about the Trinity to a chapel full of students … ranging from kindergarteners to 6th graders. I found the best tool was not a creed or a text … and certainly not a theology book! It was nice big block of (wait for it ….) Neapolitan ice cream.

Is chocolate the same as strawberry? Is vanilla the same as chocolate? Are they all Ice Cream? It's the same for the Father, Son and Spirit: THEY'RE ALL GOD!

Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Actually, when I was the age of the kids in chapel it was Father, Son and Holy Ghost; probably was for many of you, as well. As a child, my images of the Trinity were pretty well and specifically defined and -- being a child of the 60's, as well as a child of the church -- they were as follows:

• GOD THE FATHER looked a lot like Charlton Heston in the "Ten Commandments" distantly poised on a mountain-top, ready to etch some profound words of wisdom in stone tablets – or maybe throw a lightning bolt or two. (I think I added in a little Zeus for good measure and dramatic flair.)
• GOD THE SON was -- of course -- Jesus: gentle and kind, usually pictured in stained glass, surrounded by small children or fluffy white lambs. With hair that looked like the Breck girl on the back of Seventeen magazine. (It was the 60’s, remember?)
• And GOD THE HOLY GHOST, well, he looked a lot like Casper "the friendly ghost" – a popular cartoon of the era. Casper with a halo, flitting about, working over-time trying to keep us all in line with what was etched on those stone tablets – and out of range of any lightning bolts.

Comfortable, familiar, even understandable images, but in retrospect not all that helpful in equipping one for a journey of faith. As I came to understand that the concept of the Trinity is our way of expressing our experience of God, I came to also understand that my childhood images needed some serious revamping. One might even say “recalculating.” But I didn’t even know where to start.

I was well into my seminary studies when a visiting priest in the parish I was serving helped jump-start the process of recalculating my Trinitarian GPS by offering the following blessing:

In the name of God, Creator of all worlds, Redeemer of all souls and Inspiration of all our lives

To “All Saints ears” those are familiar words but to me they were transformative ... words that broke open my understanding of the Trinity: not diminishing it, by any means: but giving depth and breadth and fullness to words I'd said my whole life.

• CREATOR OF ALL WORLDS: the infinite, uncreated God who brought all worlds into being.
• REDEEMER OF ALL SOULS: Jesus of Nazareth - the incarnation of God's love for us – for all of us.

Created and redeemed are basic tenets of the faith -- but if they stay just subject matter – if they remain just once-upon-a-time stories -- then they are really no more descriptive of our EXPERIENCE OF GOD than my Charlton Heston/Stained-Glass-Jesus images. Just what, then, is the point of all this creating and redeeming?

I found an answer in the Gospel reading we hear this and every Trinity Sunday - - in Jesus' final words to the disciples. "Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."

All nations. Every ONE? All that I have commanded you. How on earth could we be expected to fulfill such tall order? Where would we even start? That’s where that third person of the Trinity comes in -- that part of our experience of God, which inspires us to recognize and then accomplish the work we've been called to do -- the power of God working in us that can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
And that became for me the image of the Holy Ghost that replaced Casper: God's power working in us to enable us to do all that God would have us do and be all that God would have us be.

And just as my childhood imagery proved inadequate to describe my adult experiences of God, so all the fine phrases and lofty theories are useless unless they translate into our willingness to BE God's people in the world: something we are incapable of doing without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout our scriptures, we have stories of those who God called to step out in faith -- to do things they didn't ask for and couldn't have imagined: Isaiah and Esther, Samuel and Sarah, Moses and Mary. God continues to call us today; and it is that same Holy Spirit, that "Spirit of Truth" Jesus promised the disciples, that enables and empowers us to respond, "Here I am. Send me!" to God's call.

Part of that process of "Here I Am" involves who I am: who I am as a result of my experience of God and the impact that experience has on my life. God's love has the power to transform lives, making us capable of "infinitely more than we can ask for or imagine.” Ed Bacon calls that transformation “becoming our authentic self” – and a song I learned at church camp describes that transformation like this:

I will change your name You shall no longer be called Wounded Outcast Lonely or Afraid
• I will change your name Your new name will be Confidence Joyfulness Overcoming One Faithfulness Friend of God One who seeks my face.

ONE WHO SEEKS MY FACE. The God who created us, the God who redeemed us, the God who inspires us to seek -- to journey in faith. If I had to try to sum up all that I believe God calls us to be as God's people it is to seek God's face in all that we say and do. In that seeking, we become people of joy and confidence, people who overcome obstacles . People who welcome into this community of faith those who come to us wounded and outcast, lonely and afraid: welcome them in to discover their own relationship with God and be changed by it.

For in the end, the idea -- the concept -- the doctrine of the Trinity is not about anything so much as it is about relationship. In the Genesis creation story, God says “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness." OUR image, OUR likeness. The very nature of God is to create out of relationship -- to create beings meant to be in relationship.

And what Jesus sends the disciples -- sends US -- out to do is to bring all humanity -- indeed, all creation -- back into relationship with the One who created it.

"Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations ... teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."

And what has he commanded us? Remember the young lawyer who asked Jesus what he needed to do? Jesus said: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul -- this is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: love your neighbor as yourself. Upon these two hang all the law and the prophets." There it is in a nutshell: ALL THAT I HAVE COMMANDED YOU.

Imagine a world where everyone put God first and loved their neighbors as themselves. Sounds like the "as it is in heaven" part we pray for every time we pray the Lord's Prayer. Sounds like the Kingdom. And it sounds pretty darn far away from the world in which we live. A world where what a friend of mine calls "the business of outrage" dominates our national discourse

In a culture dominated by outrage, how do we as Christians offer a different way -- find a higher ground -- model the kind of relationship the Trinity calls us to? More specifically, how do we do it here -- at All Saints Church in Pasadena?

Next week our preacher will be noted Muslim leader Dr. Maher and on July 3 Rabbi Leonard Beerman – our rabbi-in-residence will preach for us as we celebrate Independence Day. So that’s a Christian, a Muslim and a Jew in the All Saints pulpit … a Trinity I could never have imagined when I thought Casper was the Holy Ghost. And what a privilege it is to part of this church!

Life and Livelihood is a new, burgeoning ministry that began as an outreach to the unemployed and underemployed seeking meaning and purpose in the “new normal” … and is transforming lives as we focus on what it is to be human beings … not human doings … defined not by what we do … by our paychecks or job descriptions or IMDB profile but by who we are.

Safe Schools and Marriage Equality … Moral Budgets and Just Immigration Reform … Ending Torture … well, the list goes on and on.

These are just some of the ways we seek and serve Christ in one another. We do it by struggling together to find healthy ways to live with disagreements; to let diverse opinions and experiences inform us rather than divide us. We do it when we're open to God's call to walk in love as Christ loved us -- rather than walking out in anger when we encounter differences. This, my brothers and sisters, is a profoundly counter-culture idea. And just as the Trinity transcends my outdated childhood images it transcends outdated labels of liberal and conservative ... progressive and reactionary ... orthodox and -- well, whatever it is they're calling us these days. It is God's call to us to wholeness -- and it is the destination we share as we move forward into God’s future.

Parishioner John Martin is leading one of our new member classes and last week he shared with me a website he found with old maps you can download. He printed out one that showed Southern California in 1915 … and although many destinations were the same … Santa Monica. Downtown L.A. The Pasadena Civic Center … the roads were all different. You literally couldn’t have gotten from-here-to-there using that 1915 map.

And I thought WHAT a great illustration of what the church is up against. The destinations are the same throughout the centuries – the wholeness God calls us to hasn’t changed but the landscape has. And just as we don’t plan a 21st century road trip using a 1915 map we don’t travel a 21st century spiritual journey using images that made sense in 1928. Or 1789. Or 325. We are called to recalculate – sometimes in ways we didn’t ask for and couldn’t have imagined.

And so as we celebrate this Trinity Sunday together, I pray that we may all be aware of the power of God working in the world; particularly in and through the people of All Saints Church. This IS a place where lives are changed -- where, fed by word and sacrament we go out to be the church in the world.

A place where the concept of the Trinity is no mere intellectual exercise but truly a way of expressing our experience of God … no matter how we name it.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer
Lover, Beloved, Love itself
Earth Maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver
Our strength, our courage and our freedom

In a moment we will gather around this table to celebrate the reality of God's presence in our lives, and to be fed by the holy food and drink to sustain us for the journey. And at the conclusion, in the prayer of Thanksgiving, we will have the opportunity to join with the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us as we pray,

"Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart."

Send us out -- confident and joyful.
Send us out -- O God, our strength, our courage and our freedom.
Send us out. Alleluia. Amen.

1 comment:

JCF said...

It must be something to do w/ Church Ice Cream Socials, but my ex (a Baptist chaplain) once preached on Trinity Sunday, and I remember him using the Ice Cream Analogy too! [He put it, via a triple-dip analogy, "Three Scoops, Three Flavors: One Ice Cream Cone"]

Well, God IS delicious! :-D