Friday, April 03, 2015

Good Friday: How Can These Things Be...

Preached at the evening Good Friday liturgy, a combined service of St. Andrew's Cathedral and Galloway United Methodist Church.

John 19:35-41


How can these things be?  As the Sabbath descended with the setting sun, the body of Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus the Pharisee.  The lengthening shadows made it all the harder to tell where the garden ended and the tomb began, dark as though the day had never dawned.  Even when the sun was at its height, at noon when Jesus was lifted up on the cross, it had illuminated only the world's fear, hardness of heart, and unbelief.  But now the light was lost, and with it...with him...the hope of all who had followed him this far.

How can these things be?  It is the last question Nicodemus asks Jesus in the gospel account of their first meeting, shrouded under cover of night when he knew no one would see them together, a member of the religious establishment and this man from Galilee who was presenting God in an entirely new light.  Nicodemus, accustomed to his own authority, had the first word, at worst a compliment for Jesus...you are a teacher who has come from God...at best, a glimmer of recognition. But then Jesus spoke...No one can see God's reign without being born from above...and Nicodemus was left in the dark.  How, he asked.  Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?

The gospel does not tell us how they parted ways that night, only that Nicodemus never seemed to understand what Jesus went on to say about being newly born, about having new life.  We don't know when Nicodemus slipped back out beneath the stars, still wondering, how can these things be.  If he did linger just a verse or two longer in the gospel account, then he heard Jesus speak also of light and darkness and salvation, and how God so loved the world as to give God's Son, that all, that all, might live.

How can these things be?  Nicodemus would utter these words again, or words very much like them, some time later before members of the high council on which he served.  They had tried several times to arrest Jesus, but had failed for fear of the crowds of people drawn to his life-giving light.  They do not know the law, these leaders murmured to one another, how Jesus disregards it, and that is when Nicodemus spoke, fanning into a flame a spark perhaps even he did not know was there, hidden in his heart, in the dark.  Are we not also disregarding the law, he asked the council.  How can we judge him without giving him a proper hearing?

The council would go on to convict Jesus, before he even was arrested, and the trial before Pilate would condemn him to death.  Betrayed, denied, beaten, mocked, crucified...how can these things be?  It was finished, they all thought, his followers, his friends, his foes, at the foot of the cross in the gathering gloom.

I wonder if Nicodemus was there.  He may very well have been, by virtue of his position, or perhaps because of that flame in him, because of the light that ever since that secret night had been changing how he saw everything.  You must be born from above... He had watched Jesus from then on, from the shadows of course, from the distance of his remaining doubt, from his fear of a world that was different than he had ever imagined...Nicodemus would have watched and listened as Jesus went about healing broken hearts and lives, restoring the lost and marginalized, and revealing God's living and loving presence in the midst of our hunger and thirst and vulnerability and darkness.  I AM, Nicodemus would have heard Jesus say, and he would have recognized the name.  I AM the true bread...I am living water...I am the Good Shepherd...I am the light oft he world.

So it was, perhaps, when the cross was raised with Jesus upon it that Nicodemus finally saw the light, which in the poetry and wisdom of the gospel of John is to say that Nicodemus finally believed, remembering how Jesus had told him once in the dark, So myst the Son be lifted up, that all who believe may live, which is to say, that all may abide, even now, in the presence of God who so loved.  In that moment, Nicodemus saw.  Nicodemus believed.  Nicodemus came alive.

How can these things be?  In the face of such abuse of power, such denial of justice let alone mercy, such blindness to truth; in the midst of such fear, such loss, such grief; in the horror of such a brutal death?  How could there be any light at all?  How could there be any life?  Nicodemus finally knew that it was because there, lifted up for all to see, was such Love, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.  If, as Jesus had said, it was the work of God's incarnate Son, with hands and heart and and bones and breath and blood, to bring light to dark places, love to despairing places, even life to dead places, then here in this darkness, on this day of despair, in this death, Christ performed the most light-giving, love-giving, life-giving act of all, for all.

Nicodemus was born anew.  And the first act of his new life was to use his own hands and heart and bones and breath and blood to take the human body of Christ and bear it, and wrap it tenderly in cloths and lay it...how like what Mary did when Christ's body was newborn...and lay it now in a tomb, dark as night...which was where Nicodemus had first seen the light, where he had first heard new life and such love were possible.  What happens when we, too, bear Christ into dark and despairing places and wrap them tenderly in light, in life, in love?

Perhaps it was Nicodemus, our newly-born brother in Christ, who years later conferred with the gospel writer and offered an opening verse: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Artwork: The Fourteenth Station, by Simon Carr.

Good Friday: It Is Finished...

Preached at the noon Good Friday liturgy at St. Andrew's Cathedral.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42


Jesus said, “It is finished.”

On Good Friday, it is always John’s account we read of the passion and death of our Savior Jesus Christ.  On Good Friday, then, because John does not include them in his telling, there is no Passover meal, no agony in the garden, no prayer for the passing of this cup, no cry of forsakenness from the cross, no earthquake, no darkness, no curtain of the temple torn in two.

On Good Friday, it is finished.  It is no longer how we got here that matters.  If we must confess our complicity this day, it is with the help of the prophet Isaiah…All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and God has laid on one the iniquity of us all.  We know.  We’ve been trailing ashes and dust behind us all the long season of Lent, remembering and repenting the countless ways we deny and betray God’s will for us, God’s image in us.  Forgive us, we have prayed.

On Good Friday, it is finished.  It is not even exactly what happened there that matters, the heartbreaking, heartstopping details of sweat and anguish and pain and grief.   If we must this day recall the suffering of Christ himself, it is with the psalmist…I am poured out like water; all my bones are out of joint; my heart within my breast is melting wax; my mouth is dried out, my tongue sticks; I can count all my bones.     

What matters today, on Good Friday, the way John tells it…all that matters is knowing who this Jesus is, and who we are because we followed him here.  I am…Jesus has said throughout the fourth gospel.  I am…he has said, echoing the ancient and unspeakable name of God.  I am the bread of life.  I am the good shepherd.  I am the way.  I am resurrection, and I am life.  When they come to arrest him and ask for Jesus of Nazareth, he answers, I am he, and John tell us they fall to the ground.   Did they hear in his voice God from God, Light from Light?  For just a moment, did they know that they were laying hands on the maker of heaven and earth?

From the first words of John’s gospel to the very last verse, we know that Jesus, for all the blood in his veins and breath in his lungs and bones in his body, that Jesus is the living God, who knows all that will happen to him and still chooses to heal the sick and love the sinner and confront injustice and show mercy and go to Golgotha – having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.  The story of his passion – and if the word means suffering, it also means a fierce and active and intentional and abiding love – the story of all Jesus ever did and all he ever suffered and all he ever loved begins, in that gospel, long before our denials and betrayals, long before Bethlehem, long before, well…In the beginning, John writes, In the very beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and through him all things were made.  In him was light, and the light was the life of all people.  And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, full of grace and truth.

“The first word,” another preacher has written of the passion of our Savior Jesus Christ, “The first word was Love.  Then the mistakes, the hurts done to us and to others, every good thing, every lost love, every good intention ended badly, every bad choice redeemed, every step in the dark toward an unknown destination: Love had already arrived.  And the last word is Love.  It’s all there is.”   It’s all that matters.

On Good Friday, it is God, the great I AM, the maker of heaven and earth, in whose image even we are made…it is God in Jesus Christ who has followed us here, through all the ashes and dust of our failure, through the pain that is sin’s consequence, to the cross, where love was meant to be defeated, but instead it is finished.  Not “it is ended,” not “it is over,” not “it is done.”  Love, the first and last word, has finished revealing its fullness and faithfulness and fearlessness.  It is fulfilled.  It is consummated.  It is known this day for all its breadth and depth and width.  Jesus Christ, we say in our morning prayers, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that the whole world might come within the reach of your saving embrace.  The work of the cross is finished.  But it is not, sisters and brothers, ended. 

For God so loved the world as to give God’s Son, that all who believe in him should not perish, but have eternal life.  On Good Friday of all days, new life begins, a life of outstretched arms.  An empty tomb will be the sign soon enough, but our salvation begins right here.  Love as I have loved, Jesus asked of his friends, love, he asks of us, and if we thought washing feet would be hard…on Good Friday we know, deeply and painfully and powerfully, that love does not stop with a basin and towel but goes to where life and light and love and grace and truth seem for all the world to have come to an end.  On Good Friday, this is where God is, this is where love is, and that’s what matters.  It is how, trembling, we begin to pray for this ashes and dust and beloved world as Christ prayed for us in the hours before his death.  It is how on this day of all days our prayers end with this one…O God of unchangeable power and eternal light…carry out the plan of your salvation, let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new.  It is finished.  But it is not ended.

Love as I have loved, Jesus has asked of us, his living body.  Love, fiercely and actively and intentionally, and just see what happens when love meets failure, meets sorrow, meets pain, meets even death.   Sisters and brothers, it is begun.  Amen.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Take Notice

Third of seven homilies preached at the 2014 Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Conference in Hendersonville, NC.

Saturday Morning
Psalm 139:1-5; Mark 2:13-17

It was late in the afternoon, and cold, and I was tired, when I left St. Dominic's hospital last Monday. I was in a hurry to get back to my car.  At the first blast of icy air, I pulled my scarf closer around my neck, buried my hands in my pockets, and turned my head down against the wind.  I knew I was passing other people, but I just didn't have the energy to look up and smile, instead channeling my New York City survival skills from when I went to seminary.  And I had almost made it to the sidewalk that led to clergy parking, just past an evergreen tree still filled with white Christmas lights glowing in memory of loved ones lost.


As I passed by the tree, a bird was chirping, and I thought nothing of it at first, fumbling for my keys in my coat pockets.  But then a fluttering movement startled me, and I looked up.  There I was, eye to eye with a bird in the evergreen, so near I could see the reprimand in his eyes and hear it in his chirps: Notice me!

Notice me!  How often do we rush through our days, or move through them with our heads down against the rush of life, intent on just getting to where we want to be next, and we fail to notice the holiness right in front of us, all around us?  Sometimes it's so big or loud or visible that we cannot help but notice we are in the presence of something sacred - a sunset smeared across the sky, the trumpets of a pipe organ, the presence or prayers of a friend at exactly the moment we needed them.  Most of the time, though, holiness is bird-sized, or smaller even, and it is hard to see when our thoughts are filled with louder, bigger, more pressing things.

We're offered an epiphany when we hear the story of Jesus walking along the lake and noticing the people there - what they are doing, who they are.  Jesus notices Levi, and right then and there, in the midst of Levi's bigger and louder and more pressing - things, Jesus calls him.  Jesus noticed Levi, crowded as Levi was with doubt and loneliness and deceit, a Jewish tax collector for the Roman government.  Jesus noticed him, and so it was a holy place.  Holiness does not mean perfect - it means being loved and chosen by God.

Jesus noticed everyone gathered around Levi's table later that day.  Everyday, ordinary people, sinners, imperfect people, hurting people...we could have been at that table, too.  Jesus noticed them and loved them and claimed them for God.  He had come precisely for them, to make them holy.

God in Christ noticed us, and taught us to notice holiness in ourselves and in others, to see holiness where we might not have ever seen it before, so blinded are we by our busyness and burdens.  Contemplative writer Esther de Waal suggests we take a magnifying glass with us everywhere we go, for holiness can be even smaller than bird-sized.  She remembers being astonished by the beauty of a daisy, and then even more astonished when she knelt to the ground and looked at it up close.

We practice noticing holiness in the common things of life - most of them bird-sized or smaller - right here at our retreat.  Sure, we marvel over expansive quilt tops and exquisite beaded scarves and sweeping shawls.  But remember my friend Rita, the giggling knitter?  It was the stitches that made her laugh, that filled her with wonder and delight.  Simple, little knit stitches.


Look at your work.  Look at the seams, the edges, the undersides (these were Jesus' favorite places to look, after all).  Look at the twist of the yarn, the weave of the fabric, the way colors play off of one another.  Look at someone you don't know well, and the care that they take with their work, or the kindness they show, or the pain that they carry.  Notice...


If we have lost sight of holiness, lost sight of wonder, we can look all around us here and begin to see again - not just to see but to notice, and to discover holiness in every small thing.  Brother David Steindahl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, wrote, "The more alert we become to the blessing that flows into us from everything we touch, the more our own touch will bring blessing."  So it is with holiness, with wonder, with giggle-inducing mystery - the more we notice it, the more it is noticeable in us.

Notice me, God whispers in the holy things and holy people all around us.  What will we see today?  Amen.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Starting on Empty

The second of seven homilies preached at the 2014 Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Conference in Hendersonville, NC.

Friday Evening
Psalm 3:3-5; John 2:1-12

Wouldn't that be a great trick to know, quite a charism we could receive at our baptism into the Body of Christ?  And why stop at turning water into wine?  We could turn cotton into cashmere.  Or burlap into silk!  That would be amazing...

My knitting friend Rita believes we do work miracles - knits and purls and magic loops - and it makes her giggle with amazement how just a little yarn and effort can become mitts or socks or contiguous sleeves.  A quilter told me this morning there are miracles where they are meeting in St. John's, too, when a jumble of triangles or squares or strips suddenly becomes a pattern.  Our empty hands take up needles and pins and fabric and yarn and beads and slowly sometimes, but surely, in the empty space in front of us, a garment or blanket or quilt appears where there wasn't one before.

This evening's gospel tells of Jesus' first miracle, when he turns water into wine.  But there is so much more to the story, more miracles than just the one.  Not only was there no wine left with the wedding party in full swing, but there wasn't even water in them, for Jesus asks for them to be filled. The jars were entirely empty.


We think of emptiness as nothing, but there is, I think, something there - there is space.  A place waiting to be filled, a place waiting to be transformed, a place waiting to become wine or a knitted felt bowl or a quilted wall hanging or holy.  Turning water into wine is impressive, but the real first miracle begins with the empty jars themselves, waiting to be filled by Christ, willing to let Christ use the space, to use the jars, to use us.  Jesus makes things holy by using them, filling them, and then they become not just full, not just transformed, but more than enough.

This morning we reflected on how we're not so empty, but rather filled with worries and fears and grief and frustration and busyness.  A preacher friend of mine has likened this kind of fullness to a sprawling subdivision devouring fields and forests.  Nothing can grow in an area completely covered with manmade things, she writes, just as a relationship with God cannot grow - we cannot see how we are made holy - if every moment is paved with our manmade concerns, manmade in the sense that is seems to be part of our human nature, and not God's to worry and fear and grasp.

But there is always, isn't there, a crack in the pavement, an unexpected flower, a place in the ceiling where something has dug through to the center where Christ is, a place of emptiness waiting to be transformed into new life.  In the season of Epiphany, in a weekend of retreat, we are invited to see how God in Christ has filled all the cracks, all the empty places, whether as small as a sliver in a sidewalk or as big as an ancient wine jar, with himself, blessing that space, transforming it, hallowing it, making it holy.  "Christ with us, within us, behind us, before us," sings St. Patrick's Breastplate.

The miracle, I think, is less about the water becoming wine than it is about the nothing becoming more than enough.  Less about it being wine that fills the jars than it is about Christ's invitation to fill them and his willingness to transform them.  Writer (and knitter!) Molly Wolf imagines what is in that wine in those wedding jars, in our communion cups.  "Who knows," she writes, "what happens in that space, when it mixes together, grace and complex carbohydrates, esters and alcohol and acids and love, inseparable."


We have surely been filled today, even as we empties our worries and distractions and busyness when we arrived.  We have been filled with new techniques, skills, stories, laughter, hot cider, inspiration, the help of friends, grace and complex carbohydrates (or didn't you have your Kanuga toast this morning?).  There is something in front of us - even if it is just a few knitted rows, or a few stitched together hexagons or triangles, or a new friendship, or a new perspective - that wasn't there this morning.  Maybe it is, as Rita believes, something like magic, something like a miracle, like turning water into wine, like making common things holy...yarn and fabric and friends and prayer, inseparable.

Remember that the miracle begins with our willingness to be empty, our willingness to be filled.  Christ behind us, Christ before us, Christ waiting to fill us, Christ within us... Amen.

Getting Here

The first of seven homilies preached at the 2014 Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Conference in Hendersonville, NC.

Friday Morning
Psalm 19:1-4; Mark 2:1-12

How did we get here?!

The last few days, for me anyway, are a blur.  I preached on Sunday, but it seems so long ago I can't remember a word of what I said.  I made hospital visits, went to nursing homes, met with parishioners, attended staff meetings.  There was laundry, and grocery shopping, and bill paying, and science fair project supervising.

How did we get from all our demands and deadlines, our to-do lists, the drudgery that fills our day-to-day lives...to here, to Kanuga, where the only thing that's demanded of us is that we be on retreat?  Where our only deadlines are the bugle calls that summon us to meals?  Where the only things on our to-do lists are knitting, quilting, massages, hikes, prayer, wine, or, if we choose, nothing?  Where our only drudgery...well, our meals are cooked for us, our dishes are washed, our beds are made...I've been weaving in countless ends in my knitting, but here even that seems like fun.


How did we get here, from our daily, ordinary lives to this once-a-year place of uncommon beauty, of uncommon peace, this place so far removed from our everyday experience, this place where we know God dwells?   The closer we get to a time of retreat, whether it's our lunch break or a day off or the weekend, or getting away together in the mountains...the closer we get, the further away it can feel, crowded out by ordinary life so that we have to dig down through all our stuff just to get out the front door.

Here we are, though.  How did we get here?  I got here with the help of friends.  We helped each other get here, in fact, strategically loading up four knitters' worth of luggage and yarn into our car, driving all those hours from Mississippi to North Carolina.  And before that, my colleagues helped me clear space in my work calendar at the Cathedral, taking on some tasks that are ordinarily mine.  And my family told me to go, my husband and my son, certainly because they know how much this weekend means to me but also, I think, because with me out of the picture they get to eat pizza and watch Tron all weekend.


Here we are, then.  We have all arrived, and indeed, we are on retreat.  This is a holy, hallowed, set apart place and time.  In the Church, of course, this time is set apart as the season of Epiphany, of the world coming to see God not in extraordinary experiences of burning bushes and angel choirs but in the person of Jesus Christ, walking around in people's ordinary, everyday lives and revealing in them remarkable things.

The gospel readings in this season tell stories like the one we hear this morning.  Someone who is paralyzed, perhaps by illness, or maybe for us it's work or worry or fears or grief or anxiety or whatever keeps us so busy or so weary or so worn down that we can barely move...someone who is paralyzed meets Jesus, not in heaven or at church but in the manger, on the road, by the sea, in a house, in the midst of common life, and there, in the middle of it all, of the drudgery and the day-to-day, he invites them to move again with purpose and peace and joy.

Here's what I think.  The paralytic's friends were so determined that he be free from what kept him from living fully, to uncrowd him from what paralyzed and pained him and pushed him to the edges of life, that they lowered him into the center of where Jesus was, where Jesus was already at home.  Epiphany is precisely about that center, that place where God dwells, about Christ's home being here. Not just here at Kanuga, not just anywhere we go on retreat, but here in this world, in the midst of our days crowded with people or obligations or sorrow or illness or work or whatever binds us, paralyzes us, pains us.


Christ dug through all of that to meet us where we are, at our center, to make his home in the same places where we are busy, where we are weary, where we are distracted, where we are hurting.  I don't mean that a time of retreat, and certainly a place like Kanuga, isn't holy - of course it is.  It's just that, everything and everywhere else is, too.  "There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred," wrote Madeleine L'Engle, who deeply loved Kanuga.  "There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the greatest messages of the Incarnation."

Christ came to hallow not the places that were already holy - temples and churches and retreat centers - but the places that didn't seem to be, to make the common holy, to make our everyday lives holy.  "Christ be with me, Christ within me," sings St. Patrick's Breastplate, that great Celtic hymn, and indeed the house where Jesus dwells is right here, in our hearts.  He is that close.  That near.  That common.

However we got here, may we, in the presence of so many faithful friends, see Christ in the beauty of this place of retreat, in the luxury of time, and in the absence of drudgery.  May we also begin to see, because as knitters and quilters and their companions we know something about how fabric is made, how the smallest stitches become something large enough to enfold...may we also begin to see that the thread that binds this time and place to the places we left, and the places we are going to when we leave here, is Christ's loving and redeeming and patient and healing presence in it all, Christ's presence in the home of our hearts.  Together, helping one another, let us dig down through all that crowds out our peace and our hope and our joy, and here let us begin to move again.  Amen.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Postcards from Florida

It has been ten years - ten years! - since we went to the beach, a wonderful whirlwind trip with family when C3 was just 3 years old.  So when a parishioner offered a beachfront condominium for just the three of us to spend a whole week in Destin this summer, we started packing.  Swimsuits, goggles, sunscreen, boardgames, bucket...done.

And yarn, of course.  Plymouth Jeanee cotton in brown and blue and a soft light gray to make hand towels as a thank you to our hosts (I just chose a few stitch patterns I liked, and added a seed stitch border).  I mostly knitted on the balcony, but a little on the beach, stitching a little sand and sunscreen in for good measure.

It was the most marvelous trip, filled with waves and walks and seafood and sand dollars and laughter and late nights.  We returned only a little sunburned and a lot rested and entirely ready to do it again someday.








Sunday, May 26, 2013

Preach One: Trinity C

Preached at St. Andrew's Cathedral, Jackson, MS.

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

"We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance... The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.  And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal... And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another; But the whole three persons are co-eternal together..."

...Athanasius, fourth century defender of the faith at the Council of Nicaea, has many things to say to us.  His words, themselves a creed, a statement of belief about the Trinity and the Unity and the Substance and the Persons are in the historical documents section of our prayerbook.  "The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible... As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible."  Indeed.  Perhaps we cannot bear it just now.

Augustine, in the fifth century, spent a lifetime writing his reflections on the Trinity, having so many things to say to us that he never finished his work.  "In this Trinity the Son and none other is called the Word of God, and the holy Spirit and none other the Gift of God, and God the Father alone is He from whom the Word is born, and from whom the Holy Spirit principally proceeds... The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son also.  But the Father gave Him this too, not as to one already existing, and not yet having it; but whatever He gave to the only-begotten Word, He gave by begetting Him."  Perhaps we cannot bear this, either.

Perhaps an image would be easier, more comprehensible.  The Trinity is like a shamrock, one leaf with three lobes.  The Trinity is like water, one substance with three forms.  The Trinity is like a triangle, one shape with three points.  Or perhaps a formula would be more bearable, some variation on one plus one plus one.  Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.  Almighty God, Incarnate Word, Holy Comforter.  Primordial Nature, Consequent Nature, Superjective Nature.  And yet there are not three natures but one nature...

There are many, many, many things theologians and scholars and preachers and saints have said about the Trinity, much of which is not easy to bear, either for its obscurity or for its oversimplification.  Some of it is orthodox, definitive of our faith, and some of it is not, but then, when we are attempting to capture the immensity and particularity of God in an image or formula or even a creed, as my liturgy professor from seminary said, "Relax.  In the most strict and proper sense, it's all heresy."

Would that Jesus himself had offered us an answer to how God is Three in One and One in Three, but that must have fallen into the category of things he didn't tell us because we could not bear them.  His Trinity Sunday sermon was never preached.  Well, not from a pulpit anyway...

In John's Gospel especially, Jesus does speak of Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, but he doesn't bother with theological words like substance or co-eternal or even Trinity.  Instead, Jesus speaks of dwelling, and sending, and empowering.  The Father and I are one, he says.  If you know me, you will know my Father also...and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate...the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name.  And if, like the disciples before us, we were to try to figure out what Jesus means by this, to argue and answer and try to understand (for we cannot bear the unknown), to treat the Trinity as a riddle to be solved and not a mystery to be embraced, Jesus has one more word to speak to us, a single word at once obscure and simple, mysterious and mundane, divine and deeply human...Love.  As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.  Abide in my love.


So it is that a manner of living, rather than a manner of speaking, is perhaps the best and most bearable way of saying something about the Trinity.  For beneath all the theological words and creeds and formulas is God, who, somehow, is not just in relationship but is Relationship, who is not just in community but is Community, who doesn't just move toward the Other but is the Motion itself, who doesn't just love but is Love.  Jesus' whole life, a life lived in and for relationship, in and for community, always moving toward the Other in and for love...his whole life was a sermon on the Trinity, if a sermon is, at its best, a meeting place of God's story and ours.

But it can be so much more difficult for us to believe in a Love like that, and certainly more difficult for us to speak of it, than it is for us to proclaim our belief in a doctrine like the Trinity.  Our story, after all, is one full of division and fear and suffering and scarcity.  Just this week a tornado tore through a town that could have been ours.  It was an election that nearly pulled us apart.  We buried a long-time member of our community of faith.  We are remembering and grieving, this weekend, the impact of war on the lives of courageous women and men.  Hurricane season is here.  Our lives are full of arguments, sorrow, uncertainty, brokenness, prejudice, pain, power lost, and power found.  There is never enough time or money, but there are always at least two sides, and we take them against one another.

There is more to our story, though.  In the beginning, we were made in the image of God, which is to say, in the image of Relationship, in the image of Community, in the image of Movement toward the Other, we were made in the image of Love.  When tornadoes and hurricanes strike, when the goodwill of people and nations is threatened, we have a heart to go help, so we go.  When neighborhoods are in need of renewal, we have a mind to work together, so we do.  When lives around us are in need or trouble, we have hands to hold theirs, and ears to listen, and mouths to pray, so we do.

Catherine LaCugna, a theologian of our own time, understands the Trinity then as "ultimately a practical doctrine with radical consequences for Christian life," for in baptism our "solitariness and separateness" are transformed into communion, into relationship, into love, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Even those ancient creeds - the Apostle's Creed we say at baptism, the Nicene Creed we say every Sunday, the Athanasian Creed...well, bless his heart, it's incomprehensible... Even those ancient creeds, for all their careful and good theology about a God who is mystery beyond our imagining, cannot help but speak of God always in motion toward the Other, toward one another as Three in One and One in Three, toward us and all creation.  We believe in one God, the Father, the almighty, maker of heaven and earth...God is Relationship.  We believe in Jesus Christ...for us and for our salvation he came down...God is Love.  We believe in the Holy Spirit...who has spoken through the Prophets...(and if we ever speak of God, aren't we all prophets)...God is Motion.  We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church, the creed goes on to say, and so the Church becomes the sign and sacrament, LaCugna writes, of life lived in relationship, of life lived in community, of life lived in love, lived in the image of God.

There are many more things I could say to you about the Trinity this morning, but none of us could bear it, I'm sure.  The Trinity isn't best preached from a pulpit, anyway.  You see the Trinity if you see love, Augustine concluded.  May our lives, then, our community, our relationships, our hearts and minds and hands, be a sermon today and every day; by our love, let us say something about God.  Amen.

Artwork: "Thoughts on Communion," by Barbara Desrosiers.