Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Sermon: Trinity Sunday

Today is Trinity Sunday, it is also Say Something Nice Sunday or at least that’s what a historic Baptist church from Charleston, SC is trying to get started.

According to the news release, “On this Sunday Christians of all denominations are urged to step back from strident discourse and to utter no word of criticism about another person or another religious group. In fact they are urged to go further and to say nice things about others and other religious groups.” Its an interesting idea, so why have a Say Something Nice Sunday? From their website: “The simple answer is that words are powerful. Words have the power to build or destroy. Words have the power to heal or wound. With our words we have the power to build up a Christian community or to destroy it.” I agree…words can be a powerful weapon or can promote love, peace and concord…

The website goes on to say: “Nowhere are words more powerful than within the church. This is a day to say thank you to those who make our lives better just by being a part of them. This is a day to recognize those who contribute to our lives in specific ways. This is a day to apologize for words spoken in frustration, anger or disappointment. One day is one day, but perhaps we can stretch it to two days and then just maybe if we encourage one another and ask God’s help we might change the world.”

I have to say I reacted negatively when I first read the news release, it reminds me of what I say to my kids as they head out the door, play nice, but as I read their materials, I understood that the Sunday invitation went beyond just being or playing nice. We were being invited to take a new step, away from a culture that loves the fights, the words of destruction and polarization, and to return to civility, which for me means to return to that love which God commands us to give.

And on this Sunday, we are reminded that our faith tells us that we know our God in three ways as Father Son & Holy Spirit, and one way to understand the Trinity is to think of the three persons as distinct but so intimately connected that their relationship is one Love. Jesus commands us to love one another, just as the Father had loved him; the Trinity is unified in love…

It is the House of Love, as Henri Nouwen put it, that he experienced in his meditation on an icon of the Holy Trinity. This icon, created by Andrew Rublev in 1425. The three persons seated are the three strangers that come to visit Abraham and Sarah in the book of Genesis, chapter 18. Abraham and Sarah offer their hospitality to the three (offering food, drink, rest) and they in turn announce the unexpected birth of Isaac. Rublev uses this encounter to paint the scene of three angelic figures, representing the three persons of the Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are seated together and look at one another. The Son points to the sacrificed lamb on the table. The Father has a blessing gesture in the scene and the Holy Spirit points to the opening in front of the table or altar. One can see the connection between the Father’s Blessing, the Son’s sacrifice, and the opening of salvation of the world by the Son through the work of the Spirit. They are indeed connected by one love.

For Nouwen, “the spiritual life keeps us aware that our true house is not the house of fear, in which the powers of hatred and violence rule, but the house of love, where God resides.” Just as that Baptists Church in Charleston is asking for us to say and do something nice, civil today, we do it, because in Nouwen’s words, we find ourselves in the house of love and we feel compelled to offer that love. As Jesus told the disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”

And one aspect of the Truth is that God will lead us to that place of love… For Sara Miles, a secular intellectual, journalist, skeptic, going to church was never part of her life and then one day she writes, “I walked into St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. I had no earthly reason to be there. I'd never heard a Gospel reading, never said the Lord's Prayer. I was certainly not interested in becoming a Christian -- I went in, on an impulse, with no more than a reporter's habitual curiosity... I walked in, took a chair and tried not to catch anyone's eye. There was no organ, no choir, no pulpit: just the unadorned voices of the people…We sat down and stood up, sang and sat down, waited and listened and stood up and sang, and it was all pretty peaceful and sort of interesting. And then we gathered around that table. And there was more singing and standing, and someone was putting a piece of fresh, crumbly bread in my hands, saying, "the body of Christ," and handing me the goblet of sweet wine saying "the blood of Christ," and then something outrageous and terrifying happened. Jesus happened to me.” (Take This Bread, pp. 57-59)

Her conversion experience did not end there but she reflected on it when after some time past being in the parish, she began helping with communion… She continues, “What happened once I started distributing communion was the truly disturbing, dreadful realization about Christianity: You can't be a Christian by yourself... Just like the strangers who'd fed me in El Salvador or South Africa, I was going to have to see and understand the hunger of other, different men and women, and make a gesture of welcome, and eat with them. And just as I hadn't "deserved" any of what was given to me - the fish, the biscuits, the tea so abundantly poured out back in those years - I didn't deserve communion myself now. I wasn't getting it because I was good. I wasn't getting it because I was special. I certainly didn't get to pick who else was good enough, holy enough, deserving enough to receive it. It wasn't a private meal. The bread on that Table had to be shared with everyone in order for me to really taste it.” (Take This Bread, pp. 96-97)

Our God, who created us, redeemed us and sustains us, not only guides us to say something nice, but we are invited to share the love that we have felt in this place, tasted in this bread, greeted with one another, to share it and live it in our world. Just as the Trinity has shared the love that unities God, we are invited into relationship with others to share our love. We can’t be Christians by ourselves, it involves our lives, our words and actions, to live into that House of Love, the House of God.

As Henri Nouwen pointed out that there is room around the divine table “for those who are willing to become participants in the divine sacrifice by offering their lives as a witness to the love of God.” For when our hearts are drawn deeper into that mysterious God, known in three ways, we can be “committed to the struggle for justice and peace in the world while remaining at home in God’s love.” Amen.

To read the chapter on Nouwen's House of Love, visit here.
To read more about Sara Miles and her conversion, visit here.
To find out more about "Say Something Nice Sunday", visit here.

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