Sunday, June 19, 2011

Trinity Sunday, Holy Trinity Church, Benalla

Better preachers than I have gone down in flames on Trinity Sunday: not from Pentecostal fire but trying to describe and draw out the models and theories that are around this Christian dogma and doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Ever since the leaders of the Christian churches gathered in Constantinople early in the fourth century to hammer out the definition of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there have been so many inadequate teaching sermons. I hope this is not one more.

But in the end we are not here to understand the Trinity but to experience it: to evidence in our lives what we say we believe with our tongues, to let the daily motions and ministries of our days be manifestations and messages of the God in whom we live and move and have our being. So that the Holy Trinity might finally be less of a doctrine and more of a dance.

But how do you move to the motion of the Trinity, how do you get there here?

I want to share something called Spiritual Directions; which started out as three questions, moved into a design and  curriculum for quiet days and retreats as well as parish-based program, and now one diocesan model for Group Spiritual Formation, something you might want to consider using in this parish. Here are the three questions:

Who sits at the table in the middle of your life?
Where are you taking a faithful journey?
How do you find fresh air on the way?

First, who sits at your table? Picture a round table in the middle of your head; 12 people, more or less, sit there and try to run your life. They are probably not always the same people, and maybe you don’t even know who they all are. Speaking of my own table, my mother and father are often there, good friends, heroes and teachers and characters from books and stories I’ve heard: the Bible is there as well as the BCP, T.S Eliot and Thomas Merton have seats, as well as occasionally advertising slogans and songs I know. Sometimes people show up who don’t like me very much. Some I know well, others surprise me.  Everyone thinks it is a board of directors meetings and they are the ones in charge, so it gets noisy at times

I started inviting people to this table when I was a little boy: other people’s ideas of good or bad or right or wrong, popularity or principles, what was worth working for, who I could trust. And this population can be a very mixed bag. But where do they come from?  I think they are our God given participation in creating, building and naming a world. It starts in the first chapter of Genesis and it continues to the present day: the creativity of God moves, from a disordered world to have balanced creation, from Chaos to Cosmos, from an anomalous mess to a world that matters.  And this ordering impulse continues within the way we order our worlds. I think we all do it!

For our table-building is part of our creative life with God, our attempt to make the world makes sense, to hold together; but generally it isn’t a lively enough, it falls flat because, as Moses says, we are a headstrong people, and because it is only a child’s exercise. So we come to know that we need the help we can only get by going beyond the table.

So, where are you taking a faithful journey?

I think the most essential motion of being human can be seen when we’re walking along and the path comes to a corner, the road takes a curve, when we can’t see the way ahead, and we have to go on by faith. This happens all the time: a child starting the first day of school, beginning a new job, falling in love, getting married, getting divorced, dealing with illness, the death of a loved one, facing our own death -- any failure or success or surprise; life turns corners and in that time we must travel blindly with whatever faith we can find.

This morning’s Gospel comes from John, where Jesus always speaks with ultimate authority. But in Matthew, Mark and Luke, we can see another, sometimes subtler picture of this human being, full of the glory of God, being as surprised as we are by chaos and community and gift and grace and life and death and all the rest: There God in Christ is wholly on the human way, where open-ended quandaries and questions take us in new directions, make us new people in a new world.

And here is God’s good news, as Lord and Savior and friend meeting us on the journey, walking towards that unfinished frontier, to bring us home at the last.

In our human lives, there’s always tension between the Table and the Journey. The table argues from history and for tradition, what other people said, what has worked before: but the experience of the journey calls us to give up our lives as a committee meeting and take it up as pilgrimage, as kenosis, as a self-giving offering to God. Just like Jesus; dying to the demands of old laws so that we may rise up in new love. Do you hear the tension between the two? The table is worried it might be incomplete, the journey learns to rejoice that by God’s grace it is unfinished. These two motions seem worlds apart and there seems to be no way they can dance together, perhaps no way they can help but suffocate each other.

How do you find fresh air on the way?

The only chance to bring these two together is the place where we meet the spirit, in the middle of our daily lives, where, Augustine says, God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, in a breath of fresh air. For God’s fresh air is the same spirit-breathing the words, “Let there be light!” at the start; the same breath calling “Repent” by the Prophets all those times when Israel starts worshiping money or power, or religion for that matter; The same breath-spirit in the angel speaking to Mary and the same breath in Mary’s, “Let it be to me according to your word.” The same breath in Jesus saying “Blessed are the poor”, the same breath saying, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”

Throughout the Hebrew scripture. Israel usually doesn’t know what to do with God’s breath and God’s word in the middle of daily life, and neither do we. Like them lie Jesus, we have to let God’s breath breathe us day by day, here and now, with all our living and our dying, with all glory and gall that Jesus found on the way, so that we all share in his resurrection. The fact is that we can’t get there from here on our own: the good news is that we don’t have to.

This does not save us from uncertainty - there are no shortcuts here - but it assures us that God breathes us, inspires us, now and always, and that there is no place where we can be separate from the love of God, from the creativity of the father, the compassion of Christ, the indwelling of the spirit, whether we know it or not.

So these three things: just as God creates a world, we build a kind of table and usually get it wrong. Then Jesus joins us in our journey, calling us to take the pilgrim path where nothing is certain except that everything can be a gift from God; joining us right though the middle of life to learn the crucial difference between being incomplete and unfinished.

And  finally, the spirit, inspiring and indwelling in our bodies, sends us to speak and serve good news, to feed every table with the bread of life and the cup of salvation; to make the whole world a community called to take the pilgrim way where the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the holy Spirit, the most Holy Trinity is with us all, now and always. Amen.

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