Sermon Given June 12, 2022
I was cleaning up after our Thursday noon Eucharist this week, taking time to snuff candles, finish the last bit of wine, and reflecting on why Thursdays in particular are so important to me. Every clergy person finds the ways they worship best. Mine is having a Bible study on Zoom with my clergy friends, priests I have been studying the lectionary with for years now as we listen for what God wants us to say come Sunday morning, and then celebrating a saint, someone who has gone before us, with communion. There is something powerful about the simplicity of it all. I don’t stress over what I’m going to say. I soak things in differently. There is fellowship, the feast is kept, and then I am given the energy and power to write for Sunday. I don’t think you’d get sermons worth anything from me without my Bible study and that Eucharistic feast. Even if there is just one other to help make the feast at noon, I am thirsty for Christ’s Body and Blood. They refresh and enliven me. They connect me to the great cloud of witnesses. They strengthen me for the journey ahead. I am filled with the power of community.
Christ enters in, into every crack and crevice of my body. My cells are nourished by his Blood. I am reminded that even though I am considered an individual, I am anything but alone. I am filled with life, with cells and organs and systems, even bacteria that have grown in symbiosis with our bodies, that help our guts digest and our bodies soak up nutrients. We are alive because a community of systems are at work inside our bodies. Even when we’re not around others, even when we don’t feel God’s Spirit, our bodies speak the language of community. It is the essence of our very lives.
Today we celebrate the Trinity. It’s the only feast day dedicated to a theological concept. While I could try to take you through charts of the concept, maybe try to lead you through the real head scratcher writings of Thomas Aquinas, those things that honestly make me feel more lost than edified, I find it more enlightening to ask “Why?” Why a trinity, three divine parts of one whole God? I find that our bodies are an expression of God’s body, that God’s essence is community too.
One of my favorite icons is that of the Trinity. Displayed as the three angels that visited Abraham at the oaks of Mamre, the three are seated in a semi-circle around a bowl. Just like when we gather in community, God’s big about connecting over a meal too. That’s why we celebrate feasts with God. On the front of their table is a square. Legend has it that at one point that square was not simply table decoration. It was where the original iconographer affixed a small mirror. We are invited into the community of God too. We take the final seat at God’s holy table. God’s community, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit enliven us, share a feast with us, and come with us on our way.
I’ve noticed that sometimes people attach themselves firmly to different aspects of God, making distinctions between persons of the Trinity in fascinating ways. I myself tend to blend them all together in my prayers, but others don’t. I remember talking with a seminary friend about how he was feeling very distant from the Father, yet very close to the Son. Another spoke of how the Creator felt too big, too vast, but the Spirit felt intimate and close. It tends to be the image of the Father or the Creator that feels too much. The word Father can be loaded with baggage, with patriarchy, domestic abuse, or a domineering quality. He is the man over everything, the big boss who isn’t always kind. I don’t think that’s an accurate description of God, though in the Old Testament there is certainly a domineering quality to God. But God is not patriarchy or abuse. God comes in surprising ways to surprising people, always shaking things up. While the Bible, which was predominantly written by men, shares more stories of men than women, we find God coming to the most vulnerable, caring for the oppressed, crying over the abuse of others, and calling women to minister to God’s people. God spoke through the songs of Miriam and Hannah, the books of Ruth and Esther, and expressed feminie qualities as well as the masculine. Even in a Bible written in a patriarchal culture, God’s feminine nature was found as well.
The Holy Spirit is really the star of our texts today, and I love the gender defying characteristics of the Spirit. In Proverbs, she is expressed as lady Wisdom, who was there at creation, calling us to seek her with all our hearts. She glides over creation and calls us to take the time to become wise. In our Gospel, masculine language is used, but the nature of the Spirit is the same. The Spirit calls us to truth. Our non-binary Spirit knows no bounds. They are the guiding part of God, the one that leads us forward, opening our hearts and enlightening our minds to see God’s community in and around our communities on earth, to hear God’s critique of our lives, to continually examine our culture and ask: Is this really what God desires for us?
This Spirit of Truth guides us into all truth. The Spirit draws us towards community gatherings, towards communion and conversation and all the beautiful things we do together. The Spirit also guides us into the wounded places, the broken places, the places that need healing.
We had our mission trip this week with a group from Florida. I was able to join them for two days and see the kids put their whole hearts into the work, both at the Ken-Tenn Food Bank in Fulton and in Mayfield. Part of why we do these trips with youth is because mission trips teach the process of stepping into the places of brokenness and doing the things we can. Christ did not make us all therapists or house builders. The things we can do sometimes feel so small. The power of things like the tornado in Mayfield can seem overwhelming. Driving through downtown Mayfield gives me the chills. But we each have the power within us, as a community, to do something. Whether that’s setting up a boot bonanza and making the process of giving away rubber boots a little more fun, or practicing Spanish with those who need toiletries, we help build the way forward right alongside FEMA dollars and other federal programs. Things are very possible with God if we all listen to the Spirit and discern our part.
Part of being community together also involves suffering. There are two forms of suffering: voluntary and involuntary. Involuntary suffering is suffering that you have no control over. It is abuse, illness, a tornado destroying your home, those sorts of things. Voluntary suffering is that which comes from standing up for what you believe in or walking alongside someone who is suffering involuntarily. It is something the person can choose whether to go through it or not.
That kind of suffering is what Paul upholds first and foremost in our Epistle today. Yes, involuntary suffering can produce endurance and hope, but that’s not the kind of suffering anyone should desire. That’s the kind of suffering that doesn’t exist in heaven and we are asked to help God build heaven on earth. Paul is emphasizing voluntary suffering which people experience because they refuse to let go of their beliefs or abandon people in need. This is the suffering which Christ experienced on the cross. This is the path we are invited into, a path that sees others in need and decides to come alongside rather than turn away. This is the kind of suffering that ties us together as community and brings us closer to the divine Trinity. One day it will hopefully no longer be needed as well, but it comes out of the Spirit of truth and calls us to a path of true justice.
What is possible if we take that seat at the table with our communal God? What does that look like? What suffering might be alleviated? What hope might be produced? The Spirit calls us forth, lively and nimble, seeking out creation in love, showing us God’s ways against the backdrop of our current reality, and calling us to reflect on how God might be calling each of our individual communal selves to pitch in. We can’t do it alone. Any activist will tell you that you can really only have a couple of missions at most you devote your whole self to, otherwise you will burn out, but each of us is part of God’s kingdom building on earth. Each of us has something that drives us forward. God empowers us to go forth, doing our bit when we see the brokenness.
May we find those connection points with our communal God, the one who invites us into divine life. May we have those places of strengthening, may we be empowered to seek out those places of brokenness and ask what is possible. May we live in devotion to our Triune God. Amen.