Sunday, May 22, 2016

Trinity Sermon (May 22)

Thanks be to the Father
I arise today
He gives me light
He guides my way
Thanks be to the Savior
I arise today
He gives me love
He hears me pray
Thanks be to the Spirit
I arise today
He gives me life
With me to stay. Amen.

This ‘Rising Prayer’ by David Adam, a priest and author, uses the Celtic tradition & its emphasis on each person of the Holy Trinity: Father/light, Savior/love, Spirit/life.

Christians since our founding have tried to symbolize our Trinitarian faith in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We think about St. Patrick and his use of a shamrock to describe this faith to the people of Ireland. A Triquetra or Trinity knot is used as a religious symbol adapted from ancient Celtic images by Christians for the Trinity. Last year, I talked about the shield of the trinity, which is a traditional Christian symbol which articulates the doctrine of the Trinity from the first part of the Athanasian Creed.

In the year 1410, a Russian monk and iconographer named Andrei Rublev painted his most famous icon: the Holy Trinity.

“The icon (“image” in Greek) is central to Orthodox spirituality. It finds its place in liturgy and in personal devotion. An icon is two dimensional and despite being an image of someone it is not a physical portrait. Western art, especially since the Renaissance, has sought to represent figures or events so that the viewer might better imagine them. A western crucifix seeks to enable us to imagine what Golgotha was like. Icons seek to provide immediate access to the spiritual and the divine unmediated by the human, historical imagination. For iconographers, writing an icon is a spiritual exercise.” (Holy Women & Men)

Rublev would write his icon to honor the Russian saint Sergius, and to follow his example and thought that the Russian people “would conquer 'the devouring hatred of the world by the contemplation of the Holy Trinity.’" (Henri Nouwen) The Trinity was seen and felt to be a unifying force in a world so filled with hate and fear.

But the story, as told by the late priest and author Henri Nouwen, isn’t just about the writing of a famous icon, but about an understanding and an invitation to join the Trinity, the House of Love.

Nouwen writes, “Long ago in Russia, there were many attacks made on a small town, and in a monastery the monks got very nervous and could no longer concentrate on their prayers because of all the violent conflicts throughout the town. The abbot called his icon painter, Rublev, to paint an icon to help the monks remain prayerful in the midst of restlessness, trouble, and anxiety. Rublev painted an icon based on the visit of the three angels to Abraham in Genesis 18, seated around a table of hospitality.

In the icon, the figure in the center points with two fingers to the chalice and inclines toward the figure on the left, who offers a blessing. A third figure on the right points to a rectangular opening on the front of the table through which the viewer is invited to enter and participate in the spiritual actions. Together, the three figures form a mysterious circle of movement in perfect proportion. So when the monks prayed with the icon and focused on that circle of hospitality, love, and intimacy, they realized that they did not have to be afraid. When they allowed themselves to be part of the community formed by the three figures and let themselves be drawn into that circle of safety and love, they were able to pray and not lose heart.”

Nouwen goes on to say, “Andrei Rublev painted this icon not only to share the fruits of his own meditation on the mystery of the Holy Trinity but also to offer his fellow monks a way to keep their hearts centered in God while living in the midst of political unrest. The more we look at this holy image with the eyes of faith, the more we come to realize that it is painted not as a lovely decoration for a convent church, nor as a helpful explanation of a difficult doctrine, but as a holy place to enter and stay within. As we place ourselves in front of the icon in prayer, we come to experience a gentle invitation to participate in the intimate conversation that is taking place among the three divine angels and to join them around the table.”
God is always inviting us to join in the holy conversation. To see this invitation to God’s House of Love. It is only when we accept such an invitation, when we dare to put ourselves there in the midst of prayer, worship, meditation that we can feel our very souls being transformed.

But to do this, we must turn away from the house of fear.

Again in Nouwen’s words: “Hardly a day passes in our lives without our experience of inner or outer fears, anxieties, apprehensions and preoccupations. These dark powers have pervaded every part of our world to such a degree that we can never fully escape them. A network of anxious questions, which begins to guide many, if not most, of our daily decisions.

Still it is possible not to belong to these powers, not to build our dwelling place among them, but to choose the house of love as our home. This choice is made not just once and for all but by living a spiritual life, praying at all times and thus breathing God’s breath. Through the spiritual life we gradually move from the house of fear to the house of love.”
As disciples of Jesus, the practices of prayer, worship, study & service help ground us in the spiritual life that leads us to that house of love.

To live into the house of love which Nouwen describes as “the place where we can think, speak, and act in the way of God – not in the way of a fear-filled world. From this house the voice of love keeps calling out: ‘Do not be afraid...come and follow me...see where I live...go out and preach the good news....the kingdom of God is close at hand...’

Violence, Fear, and hatred are as much a part of our lives today as it was in the days of Andrei Rublev. His icon stands as a testament to our faith in God, in the Holy Trinity, in calling us to the place of love, where fear and hatred no longer can rule over us. Again in Nouwen’s words:

“The house of the Lord is the house of love for all people. There is a circle of safety, intimacy, and hospitality in the house of love. In that house we can slowly let go of our fear and learn to trust. In that house we can find freedom, community, and joy. Peacemaking is possible when we live in the house of love. Justice can be practiced where we live in the house of love. Ministry is effective when we live in the house of love. There we can be, and move, and trust, and love in freedom and without fear.”
May this holy place and our homes and our very own hearts rest in the Holy Trinity, the house of love.

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons by Henri J. M. Nouwen (Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press, 1987)

From Fear To Love by Henri Nouwen
(online: )

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