Monday, May 23, 2016

Trinity Sunday, 2016

Readings appointed can be found here 


What's in a Name?

I was speaking with my friend and mentor the Reverend Kate Elledge earlier this week and as we discussed this Sunday she quipped, “Trinity Sunday, a feast day dedicated to a concept!”

Other feast days are dedicated to people or events. But, this one, this one to a theological concept and a doctrine of the church. Yippee. Skippee.

And, so I considered not talking about the Trinity at all today. Instead, perhaps an exploration of life in the Johannine community—of the struggle they faced to maintain their community in the face of persecution. Or even some dedicated sermon time to the epistle writer, Paul, whose personal experience with suffering mark his attempts to convince us of God’s love.

Then, Lady Wisdom—the mysterious and enigmatic!  The Lady whose nature, when coupled with the theology of the Gospel of John, encompasses the Word in Creation and the Holy Spirit.

Look, look at me, not talking about the Trinity! 

But, rather like demanding that you not think about elephants, and then insisting on repeating the word elephant. I cannot help but be drawn to what will surely be a futile attempt to explain the inexplicable.

Because, trying to describe the Trinity is akin to trying to describe everything about a person by looking up the meaning of their name.

Edith, derived from the Old English Ēadgyđ, Eadgyth, a compound name composed of the elements ēad (prosperity, fortune) and gyđ, gyth (war, strife): hence, "prosperous in war."

Now, I’m pretty sure that my understanding of the origin and meaning of the name Edith—an understanding gleaned through a quick google search--has nothing to do with the baby in our congregation who happens to be named Edith. It says nothing about who she is, nor does it say anything about who she is to become. It does not tell us that she has two big sisters that love her and how her parents care and hope for her.

It does not tell us that she is to be baptized in a Christian community. Nor does it tell us that the people of St. Clement’s are covenanting to be part of her life and help her as she grows in faith.

In short. Edith is her name but it is not her.

Just like the word Trinity, is a name, but it cannot encapsulate all that the name represents.  

Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Holy Trinity, One God. Holy Trinity of Love.

Lo a rose by any other name, and they all fall short of the glory that is.

The glory that is expressed when we look beyond the name and into the fullness of what is offered.

And, for this I go back to Edith. Not the name, but the full person in relationship with her community and the God who loves her—because the relationship we have with this child will teach us far more about Edith and about God than any google search on the meaning of her name! Likewise, our relationship with the Trinity and each other will teach us far more about God’s love for us than any treatise on the subject!

So what does being in relationship with the Trinity look like? Some theologians describe each person of the Trinity as being akin to a dancer in a shared dance--the term used to describe this is perichoresis, or mutual indwelling…perichoresis, it wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve started to wonder how long this sermon will be.

Because, big theological words fail us, just as the names and the symbols cannot sum up the truth that we seek to convey. The truth of our relationship with the Trinity. The truth that we who abide in Christ are also abiding within the Trinity through our participation in the body of Christ. The truth that in the moving, abiding, and creating persons of the Trinity, we find ourselves—moving, abiding and creating. Three in one, and all in one, and we are one.

Each being enclosed within the vastness of creation. And, in using the word enclosed I find myself turning to Saint Julian of Norwich and her description of the Trinity, “And the deep wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother, in whom we are enclosed. And the high goodness of the Trinity is our Lord, and in him we are enclosed and he in us. We are enclosed in the Father, and we are enclosed in the Son, and we are enclosed in the Holy Spirit. And the Father is enclosed in us, the Son is enclosed in us, and the Holy Spirit is enclosed in us, almighty, all wisdom and all goodness, one God, one Lord.”

Wisdom our Mother, Trinity our Lord, almighty, all wisdom and all goodness. And thus, like a Russian nesting doll we are one and many, each enclosed within each, abiding within and ever present. I am absolutely positive that I’ve expressed some heresy here—as I illustrate this point with Star Wars nesting dolls.

But, in reaching for an image, I’m reaching for a means to connect. And, in reaching for a means to connect, I am reminded that the connection of our lives to each other and to God is what we are reaching for.  

And so, while we fall short and commit heresy, we are reminded that while, as theologian Richard Rohr puts it, “Every name falls short of Your goodness and greatness. We can only see who You are in what is.” We can only see God in what is. So what is?

Look around, see what is. See the people here, and the beauty of this space. Consider what brought you here and where you are going next.

Really, I mean it, let’s take a moment and be as silent as any gathering of God’s children can be, and consider what is.


A baby to be baptized. A child whispering and wondering. The prayers of the community. Concern and care and worry. Love and joy and praise. Rustling and restlessness, bodies moving and breathing and living. This is what is…the “what is” of the the body of Christ and our participation within it.

8:15 ending--And, ultimately, the name and the symbols matter very little—because what matters is the interplay of relationships that open up to us an understanding of the what is where we see God.

10:30 ending--And so, at this time, I invite your participation. Full participation, as I and the children of this community, along with baby Edith and her family gather around the baptismal font.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Feast of the Pentecost

Readings can be found here (note, I used the Genesis/Acts/John option)


The Peacemakers

She had not yet decided, whether to use her powers for good or for evil.

I’m sure many of you have seen the card. A darling child, curls across the forehead, a single finger pressed to the cheek, and a caption.

“She had not yet decided whether to use her powers for good or for evil.”

Meant as wry quip, this card names some truths that we must address.

Each of us has power.

And, it is up to us, to discern how we will use that power.

When our youth participate in the Rite 13 liturgy, we name this.  It is part of the covenant they are making with this community and the communities with which they will intersect as they move out into the world. 

“it is given to you to share God's power of creation. Human beings, because they are made in God's image, are the only creatures on earth who can choose how to use their creative power—not only to create new life, but also to shape the world according to God's purpose. God calls us to use this gift to build and not to destroy. Are you aware of God's gift to you and the challenge to use it wisely?”

To build and not to destroy.

We have power. And, it is vital that we recognize and out of that recognition recognize our own capacity to transform the world.

This is not merely a pie in the sky, romanticized, liberal notion—the kind of notion that jaded folk might scoff at. Rather, it is a claiming of what we can do with the gifts of God.

And, if we don’t claim this creative gift, what and who fills the space left behind?

If we don’t decide how we each will use our power, it is quite likely that others will decide for us. And, their choosing may in fact be counter to God’s call to creation. That is the point of this reading from Genesis. Scripture is pointing to a time when humanities actions were counter to the purposes of God. Calvin, not often quoted in this context at St. Clement’s, notes that “ as soon as mortals, forgetful of themselves, are inflated above measure, it is certain that, like the giants, they wage war with God.”

This passage, is not just some mythic story rooted in the desire to explain the diversity of languages and cultures, it is a warning. A warning that our actions in this world have consequences—consequences that can so swiftly spin beyond our control.

When I worked at Rainbow Babies and Children’s hospital, there were times when a teenager would be admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit because of the consequences of what seemed an innocuous action, an exercise of power and a claiming of independence that had not yet been granted, had spun dangerously out of control.  The beyond curfew that had turned into an inebriated walk along the train track. A dare gone terribly wrong. A simple prank.

And, a family gathers at bedside.

I bring this down to the individual and personal level in hopes of enhancing our own understanding. The use and abuse of power can have deep and lasting consequences.

What we say and do matters—it matters because we are powerful. And, in our power is the hope that we will use it to change the course of creation. To take a scattered people and unite it in common cause. Our longing to participate in the healing of creation is motivation for unity. Our longing to repair the brokenness becomes, with God’s grace, the first step towards actions which will redeem us all.

“God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

And, so this day of Pentecost is a day in which we are asked to own the power that has been given to us. To see the gift of the Spirit and name it and claim it. And to use this gift for goodness. And by goodness, I don’t mean some trite thing of rainbows, puppies and unicorns. But rather the goodness that challenges us beyond ourselves and advocates for those whose power has been systematically taken from them. Those who have been silenced by the very structures we participate in.  The goodness that sees a wounded creation and seeks to discern how we might be part of the healing.

So, we mark this day as the birthday of the church. But, more broadly, it is the birthday of our calling as the people of God to carry the light of Christ into the world.

This birthday calls us to a different way of being.

In a letter to the congregation, written as we approached Pentecost in 2014, I wrote

“As we approach the celebration of Pentecost and Godʼs gift of the Spirit into the world, I find myself reflecting on the truth that Christʼs death is not the end of the story. Nor, is the resurrection the end of the story.

What we do in light of the resurrection is the continuation of the story.”

Pentecost is a day in which a gift of power is given. But, it is also the day in which we are asked to remember that it is up to us as to how we will use that gift.  And while I have focused on the scattering of Babel and the gift of the Spirit’s inbreaking into all humanity…the Gospel points us towards how our use of this gift might further the purpose of God in creation.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”

The Spirit is one of power, but it is also one of peace. It is no surprise that one of the symbols of the Spirit with which we are most familiar is also a symbol of peace. The dove is aloft and as we gaze upwards, we must also gaze outwards and discern where this Spirit of peace will lead us.

Will it be a peace grounded in oppressing and silencing the opposition? Will it be akin to the Pax Romana—in which peace is enforced through bondage? Will it be a peace reliant upon weapons of mass destruction for its enforcement? Will our peace rely on the exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few? Will our peace compel by force?

Or will the peace we proclaim be grounded in liberation? In the creative and generative? Will the peace we proclaim be one in which love for our enemies transforms them and ourselves? Will it be a peace rooted in compulsion, or a peace rooted in grace? Or a peace that liberates and accepts the marginalized and the broken.

A battlefield after the battle could be described as peaceful, but the battle does not lead to new life. The temptation we humans face is to make peace through violence—this peace is no peace. Christ offers a new way of peace, one in which power is not used to destroy but to find a path to unity that eliminates the need for violence.

George Herbert, in his volume of poetry, “The Temple” wrote a poem simply entitled “Peace”

SWeet Peace, where dost thou dwell?  I humbly crave,
                                           Let me once know.
             I sought thee in a secret cave,
             And ask’d, if Peace were there.
A hollow winde did seem to answer, No:
                                           Go seek elsewhere.

I did; and going did a rainbow note:
                                           Surely, thought I,
             This is the lace of Peaces coat:
             I will search out the matter.
But while I lookt, the clouds immediately
                                           Did break and scatter.

Then went I to a garden, and did spy
                                           A gallant flower,
             The Crown Imperiall:1 sure, said I,
             Peace at the root must dwell.
But when I digg’d, I saw a worm devoure
                                           What show’d so well.

At length I met a rev’rend good old man,
                                           Whom when of Peace
             I did demand, he thus began:
             There was a Prince of old
At Salem dwelt, who liv’d with good increase
                                           Of flock and fold.

He sweetly liv’d; yet sweetnesse did not save
                                           His life from foes.
       But after death out of his grave
              There sprang twelve stalks of wheat:
Which many wondring at, got some of those
                                           To plant and set.

It prosper’d strangely, and did soon disperse
                                           Through all the earth:
        For they that taste it do rehearse,
             That vertue lies therein,
A secret vertue bringing peace and mirth
                                           By flight of sinne.

Take of this grain, which in my garden grows,
                                           And grows for you;
        Make bread of it: and that repose
             And peace, which ev’ry where
With so much earnestnesse you do pursue,
                                           Is onely there.

And, with this, the questions lie.

Will we plant and set this way of peace? Will we use our power for good or for evil?