On Wednesday, Russ asked me if I was nervous about having to preach on Trinity Sunday. He asked if it was harder to preach on this particular Sunday as compared to other Sundays. So we had a little chat about it, and the answer is both “yes” and “no”. On the one hand, Trinity Sunday is an opportunity to do mental gymnastics around theology that doesn’t always make a lot of sense, and so it becomes an exercise for my inner nerd. On the other hand, not everyone needs or wants to do these kinds of brain teasers, and so I might lose you along the way, and the next thing I know your smartphones are more interesting for the next 7-10 minutes. So how can I make the concept of the Trinity interesting, relevant, and meaningful for our current place and time…that’s really the challenge. But honestly, this is the challenge that I am faced with every week…how to make Scripture interesting, relevant and meaningful for us. So Russ, I stand by my answer, yes and no.
Normally, I would spend my time with you looking at the gospel text, but this Sunday, I am deeply moved by what we have to learn about the Trinity from all the readings, and in particular, Proverbs.
This past spring I took a course on Women Prophets, Mystics and Wisdom Teachers. One of my favorite parts of the course was getting to read a book titled “In a Chariot Drawn by Lions”. In this book, the author examines the literary tradition of Lady Wisdom—Hochma—Sophia, throughout early Jewish culture, other Ancient Near Eastern religious traditions, and Christianity. The author, Asphodel Long, spends a lot of time in Proverbs and the Book of Wisdom, and by the end of the text points to how Christianity absorbed the concept of Wisdom into Jesus. Now believe me, I find all of this stuff very interesting, and it adds many dimensions to my Trinitarian mental gymnastics that my inner nerd so enjoys, but after trying to synthesize all that material into a Sunday sermon, it just didn’t make much sense. But what I do want to share with you from Long’s book is this idea that Wisdom, whether you want to understand it as a “she” as “spirit” or the “pre-existent Christ” was with God in the beginning and continues to be present and active in the world today.
So let’s take a moment to look at Proverbs 8 for evidence of some Trinitarian theology. If we understand Wisdom as “the pre-existent Spirit” or “Christ”, then we see that:
‘The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago’
And there’s evidence that Wisdom was a co-creator with God, which also points to Trinitarian theology:
‘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’
As one scholar noted, “Wisdom’s fingerprints are all over God’s creation”. Not only was Lady Wisdom-Hochma-Sophia, the Holy Spirit present at the beginning of time, but she continues to be present even now.
When we plant little seedlings and beautiful flowers and rows and rows of tomatoes, that Creator Spirit is there. When we cook the most delicious meal our family has ever tasted, the Creator Spirit is there. When we raise our children and watch them bloom and grow, the Creator Spirit who delighted in the human race is there. She does not do these things alone…she is a co-creator with God, and we are co-creators as well.
In Romans, we get more Trinitarian theology that is based on hope and love, and again, we take part in the work of the Trinity:
‘we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God’
What is the glory of God? It is how we teach, nurture, love and serve one another, both the stranger and the friend among us. And the glory of God is shared with us through the love that is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit—Wisdom, Hochma, Sophia—that same spirit that was there at the beginning of time.
And finally, the Gospel tells us something about the Trinity as well. The Holy Spirit, Wisdom, Hochma, Sophia is the “spirit of truth” who guides us, speaks and declares truth and wisdom, and glorifies God in Jesus. Are not her fingerprints found all over our lives when we speak truth and glorify God?
I often turn to artistic images to help me find inspiration when writing sermons. That’s part of why my desk faces a wall filled with icons…their wisdom and truth-telling often help illuminate what God’s message is trying for me to learn. But as I scoured the internet for images, I was struck by three dancing figures that were titled “the Trinity”. Like many other Trinitarian icons and paintings, the figures are all the same in appearance, but they were holding hands in a circle, smiles on their faces, and they were dancing. And then I came across this quote by Jeff Paschal that reads, “The triune God is a joyous, dancing God who pours out overflowing gifts to humanity with gladness”. A joyous dancing God. I love this idea! And this image was guiding me in my continuing journey with the mental gymnastics of understanding the Trinity. It certainly beats the traditional triangle with arrows pointing in each direction to explain the Trinity!
So where do we experience this joyous dancing God in our lives? When in our lives have we been bold truth-tellers, creative artisans, clear-sighted and discerning? When in our lives have we been life-givers and love-makers to others? When in our lives have we been mentors and guides for others? When have we been hope-filled? It is in these moments that the joyous dancing God of the Trinity, present with the Beloved Son, and Wisdom-Hochma-Sophia, the Spirit is there.
I want to leave you with one final thought as you ponder the idea of the Trinity, and that is this blessing from Jim Cotter’s book “Prayer at Night’s Approaching”:
To God the Creator who loved us first and gave this world to be our home:
To God the Redeemer who loves us and by dying and rising pioneered the way of freedom:
To God the Sanctifier who spreads the divine love in our hearts:
Be praise and glory for time and for eternity.
The events at the close of the Gospel of Luke and the first chapter of Acts make up the story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven and his final commandment to the apostles. It also sets the stage for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
In reading the texts for this morning, a couple of phrases and ideas stood out to me that I would like to explore with you. Let’s begin with the gospel.
Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures. This idea seemed important to me because I wondered which scriptures Jesus opened their minds to. For the Jewish disciples, they would have already been taught the Hebrew Bible. Did Jesus explain something new to them or provide a new understanding? Did the disciples finally understand that Jesus was the fulfillment of the hope for a Messiah? Did the disciples finally understand all the parables and teachings that Jesus had given them? Or was there something else going on here? When Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures, was he really helping them to understand all that they had been a part of…the healings, the teachings, his death and resurrection…and what was to come with the gifting of the Holy Spirit?
Jesus blessed them. Before Jesus ascends into heaven, he blesses the disciples. In my mind’s eye, I imagine the disciples standing near Jesus, perhaps in a circle, in this final moment, and that he goes around to each of them, lays hands on them in some way, and tells them he loves them. It’s this image of unconditional, trusting, confident love that Jesus has for his followers, who for better or worse, haven’t always understood their mission and ministry, but who have been called together for a common purpose, that I find so endearing in this moment of departure.
Moving to the book of Acts, we have a recounting of the events of the ascension, but with a few new details.
Jesus tells the disciples “You will be my witnesses”. It’s not the great commission, it’s not the sending out two by two, but it is the command that the disciples will carry on the story of Jesus, proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, and continue the mission and ministry that Jesus began.
Two men in white ask the disciples “why do you stand looking up toward heaven”. The disciples are awestruck…Jesus has literally been lifted up into heaven before their eyes. Of course they’re looking up! But they can’t stay that way; it’s time to get to work.
So what does this mean for all of us, 2000 years later?
I think we tell this story of the Ascension each year to remind us that even when we don’t always understand everything in scripture our minds have been opened to interpretation, learning and understanding. I believe this day reminds us that we too have been blessed by Jesus to serve as witnesses and continue his mission and ministry of bringing about the Kingdom. And that this blessing means we can’t stand around looking up, but rather it’s time to get busy.
At the beginning of the year, the vestry went on retreat to talk about our hopes and dreams for another year at St. Mark’s. We wrestled with questions about what it means to be and do “church” in this time and place that we find ourselves. And we prayerfully considered how St. Mark’s is living into the Five Marks of Mission set out by The Episcopal Church, as well as how we could explore new possibilities in these areas. In case you need a bit of a reminder about those five marks of mission, they are:
1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
2. To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
3. To respond to human need by loving service
4. To seek to transform unjust structures, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
These mission goals are not impossible to work on. We have already been so blessed, and we have been gifted with the power and authority to be Jesus’ witnesses in the world. So how can we do this work? How can we move beyond looking up to heaven?
It begins in relationship. If you consider all the marks of mission, they are all based in relationship…how we are in relationship with ourselves, one another, creation and God. When we serve at FISH or the Warming Shelter, we are bearing witness to the Good News through loving service. When we celebrate baptisms and confirmations, we are sharing the blessings of our Christian heritage and tradition, as well as nurturing one another. When we raise awareness about issues which cause violence or harm to others, we are pursuing peace and justice to love one another as God loves us. And when we take our walks around the neighborhood, hike local trails, or even weed our gardens, we have a moment to recognize our connection to our environment, and our responsibility to care for and protect it. We are in relationship to everyone and everything around us.
So this morning, when we pass the peace, what if instead of just saying “peace” we said “you are blessed”? Perhaps it will open our minds to the work of Jesus in our midst. Perhaps it will help us to remember that we are indeed witnesses in the world. And perhaps it will help us to stop looking upward, waiting, and get to work. Get busy…we’ve been blessed!
I want to begin with a story a friend recently told me. There once was a family who had two sons, one of whom believed he was a chicken. Yep, a chicken. The “normal” son went to see the school counselor to complain about his brother. During the meeting, the school counselor suggested ways that the “normal” brother could help his “chicken” brother get better and stop thinking he was a chicken. The boy replied “sure, that might work, but we’d sure miss the eggs”.
In case you need me to explain the punch line, sometimes it’s easier to complain about the problem than fix the problem.
And that brings me to Sunday’s gospel. Here we have a man who is infirm, in need of healing, waiting by the pool of healing waters for 38 years. And along comes Jesus and asks him “Do you want to be made well”.
This man by the pool is a man of no hope. Daily, he has been waiting by the pool. He has tried to get up and get into the pool, but someone always beats him there. He is at a point of despair. Wouldn’t you be if you’d been hoping to be healed for 38 years?
Jesus encounters the man and doesn’t heal him right away. Unlike other healing stories that we have from the gospels, the man doesn’t ask to be healed, rather, Jesus asks him “Do you want to be made well?” Jesus is respecting this man’s right to choose—he can stay in the present situation which is known and familiar, or risk the possibilities of what would be involved in getting well. And instead of a simple “yes” or “no” answer, the man gives Jesus excuses for all the reasons he can’t be made well. Remember my story’s punch line? “Sure, that might work, but we’d sure miss the eggs.”
When we have healing services at the midweek Eucharist, we often talk about what it means to be “healed”. Naturally, physical healing is talked about and we pray for the healing of those on our prayer list and others who are in our hearts. But there is also emotional healing, psychological healing and spiritual healing that is needed in our lives. We have broken relationships that need to be healed. We have self-images that need to be healed. We have unmet needs, desires and expectations that need to be healed. There is a lot of brokenness in our lives that needs healing.
To be made well means to be whole. It means being reconnected with others, all of creation, and God. It means no longer living in isolation, sitting on our mats by the pool waiting.
But to be healed is risky. Physical healing often requires us to go to rehabilitation. Emotional and psychological healing means confronting issues and relationships that have been damaging and need repair and reconciliation. Spiritual healing means acknowledging the distance that has been created between you and God, confession and repentance, and a change of heart. I say this is risky because it requires hard work…no more excuses…no more waiting…no more being a victim…no more being powerless.
And so Jesus reaches out to the man and heals him, simply saying “Get up, take your mat and walk”. It is both a command and an invitation. It is a command to stop making excuses, to stop waiting and to stop being powerless, but rather live into the wholeness that God intends.
Beth is away this weekend at Cursillo, and she is giving a talk there about service to others. In her talk, she quotes Joan Chittisher who said, “the greatest gift Jesus gives us is to be Jesus to others”. The invitation of “Get up, take your mat and walk” is exactly that…an invitation to respond to God’s love and be strong, courageous and hopeful. It is an invitation to be with Jesus in the service of healing and loving others. It is an invitation to be Jesus for someone else.
So what is it that’s weighing on our hearts that needs to be healed? Are we ready to get up and walk, or do we want to keep making excuses? Jesus is waiting for our answer.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.