Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, June 25, 2023

YEAR A 2023 pentecost 4

Pentecost 4, 2023
Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Remember last week how I was saying Sarah and Abraham are heroes of the faith for us?  And remember that cute story about how Sarah got caught laughing at the absurdity of God’s generosity?  And how we can all sort of identify with her?  That was really great, wasn’t it?

An amazing story of how God brings hope to those who have no reason to hope.  How God fulfills promises that are seemingly impossible.  Life comes only through promise, and promise comes only through the actual bodies of the hopeless ones.  A baby is born to a couple who are “as good as dead.”  They have no reason to hope, they have no reason to dream, which is exactly the time God steps in.  It’s an inspiring story, and a reminder that babies can often bring hope to the world.  But then today, that happy, hopeful story goes south.  It all comes undone.

Some background though:  before all this happened, Abraham and Sarah could not have children, for whatever reason.  So Sarah arranges for Abraham to have a son with her handmaiden, Hagar, and the boy is named Ishmael (which means, “God hearkens”).  Then, as we heard last week, because of God’s generosity, Sarah has a son of her own, Isaac.  An unexpected blessing in her old age.  But, as we heard today, Sarah is worried that the “illegitimate” son will usurp Isaac’s birthright, since Ishmael is older.  And so, Sarah tells Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away, which he does.  Last week’s cute story of hope and laughter has given way to today’s unthinkable rejection of Abraham’s first son.

After they are sent off into the desert, Hagar runs out of water, and knows her son will die.  She can’t bear to watch this, and so she puts him under a bush and goes off a good distance to watch him die of dehydration.

We’re a long way from Sarah’s claim that “all who hear will laugh with me.”  When Ishmael was Abraham’s only son, Sarah was fine with that.  But after the birth of Isaac, after the unmerited abundance of God’s unwarranted blessing and grace, after she gets everything she ever wanted . . . she turns.

Sarah’s fears about the future lead her to treat Hagar and Ishmael as “other.”  Just look at how she says it:  “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.”  You notice who doesn’t get names there?  We heard, “this slave woman,” and “her son,” versus “my son, Isaac.”  Sarah is saying, I got what I wanted, and now I have no need of these others.  Get them out of my sight.  

As we sit midway between Juneteenth and July 4th, I can’t pretend not to see the obvious connections to what goes on in our own country.  What has been going on in our country for 400 years, actually.  The parallels are glaring, and they are real.  We have used enslaved people for our own needs, to build things and harvest crops.  We have stolen people’s land and sent them away to live on reservations.  We have quietly welcomed migrants to work the land and in the meatpacking plants, while telling them they are not welcome.  And once we got what we wanted, we turned our backs on these “others.”  As a country, we have said, “Now please keep those other children out of sight and off our streets.”  And then we invented redlining, and housing agreements, and reservations in order to see that it gets done.

There was an article in the Repository this past week about neighborhoods of persistent poverty in Stark County.  Places where people are stuck in lives below the poverty line for generations.  I printed the article and a map and posted them under Outreach in the parish hall for you to take a look at.  The one neighborhood in all of Massillon that classifies as trapped in persistent poverty is five blocks south of our church.  It’s right there in front of you if you drive straight on Third Street, if you don’t veer left onto Walnut.  But who ever does that?  Not me.  Persistent poverty straight ahead, and I veer off to the side.  Just like Sarah, not my problem, once I got what I want.

And when we focus solely on our own children, when our invented fear of scarcity makes us turn inward, we say that the other children don’t matter, take them away.  Lock them up.  Let them go die in the food desert, now that I can see that I will be okay.  And if hearing me say that upsets you . . well, I don’t know what to tell you, because it upsets me too.

Sarah’s fear makes her reject the other child, the child who is suddenly not her own.  And we dare not judge her, because we are the same way.  Our own fears lead us to reject these other children, the ones who are suddenly not our own, now that we have what we want.  Don’t those kids have bootstraps?

But then . . . here comes God.  The angel calls to Hagar from heaven and asks, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.”  Heard the boy whose name literally means, “God Hearkens.”  And as we saw, now she sees there is water in the desert; Hagar gives it to Ishmael; and the boy lives.  And what’s more, God says, ”Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.”

Sarah looks out at the world as a zero-sum game.  If I am going to win, somebody else has to lose.  If God blesses me, someone else must be cursed.  In order for me to succeed, I must dominate, belittle, trample, and destroy.  This is a very human way of looking at the world.  If God is going to make a great nation out of Isaac, then Ishmael must die.  So limited; so small; so pathetic.

But God says, I will make a great nation of Ishmael too.  With God, it is never either/or, it is always both/and.  God bless my children, and my neighbor’s children.  God bless America, and the other nations too.  We cannot control God’s unwarranted, unmerited grace.  God will bless whomever God chooses.  And it’s best not to get in the way of that.  God does not abandon the people we ignore, because God can make a great nation of them as well.  If that strikes us as unsettling, well . . . good.  Because God is about life, and hope, and mercy, no matter how much our fears get in the way of seeing that.  Fear changes us.  And not for the better.

And speaking of fear, Jesus said, “Whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”  That’s pretty unsettling, isn’t it?  I’ve heard plenty of speakers at youth gatherings use this text to scare kids into being complete jerks about sharing the gospel.  Militarized good news.

It’s kind of tempting to use this Gospel text in a frightening way, which might explain why so many people do.  And, the text sets a nice trap for the blissfulness of youth:  “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”  You see how they are all the younger being set against the older?  It’s almost a set-up for someone to tell kids that they need to hate their elders.  What is up with that, huh?

Well, there’s a recklessness when we’re young.  Not caring what others think of us.  A kind of rebelliousness that makes you get on a motorcycle with a drunk friend at your graduation party and end up in the hospital.  (Hypothetically.)  Over time, as we grow up, we start to see that in order to be accepted by those around us, we have to play some cards closer to the chest and play by the rules.

You know, not let you know what I’m afraid of.  Not let you know my concerns about my job, or my health, or my future.  What keeps our society civil is a certain amount of secrecy . . . or, you know, propriety.

So, now you’re asking, “Where is this going, anyway?”  Thanks for asking.  We all have our various individual fears.  Some irrational fears, some totally rational.  But, if we’re honest, we especially fear being known.  Or, being fully known.  We hide our fears, and hope no one notices.  And yet, in today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.”

But there’s something else in there that seems out of place at first.  Jesus asks, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Now, as I’ve said before, God’s hair counting gets easier each year for some of us.  But here’s an interesting thing about the hair on your head and the sparrows outside your window:  They keep on changing and replacing and regenerating and on and on.  It’s not as if you are born with 1 million hairs and that’s all you get.  Your hair is constantly falling out and getting replaced.

And the same is true for the sparrows: it’s not like the same sparrows come back to our feeder year after year.  There’s a constant turnover.  At our one little bird feeder.  In our one little town.  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from God.  Not one sparrow will fall to the ground apart from God.

The sparrows are known.  All of them.  Each and every one of them.  The hairs on your head are counted, each and every one of them.  There is an intimacy in these images that can be comforting.  And yet they both call to mind that phrase from Jesus, there is nothing secret that will not become known.  Fully known, fully loved, never apart from God.

And this leads us back to Sarah and Isaac and Hagar and Ishmael.  And to the people living in persistent poverty five blocks south of us.  Although Sarah can send Hagar and Ishmael off into the desert, claiming never to have known them, they are still known to God, still loved by God.  Though Sarah can turn her back on the ones she no longer sees as valuable, God turns to face them instead, still loved by God.

Hagar and Ishmael are fully known, fully loved, never apart from God.  You are fully known, fully loved, never apart from God.  And the children who still cry out for justice in our country are fully known, fully loved, and never apart from God.  May God give us the will and the strength to lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring with the harmony of liberty.


Sunday, June 18, 2023

YEAR A 2023 pentecost 3

Pentecost 3, 2023
Genesis 18:1-15
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.  But the first time I went there, I was struck by one thing in particular.  Out of all the displays and memorabilia I strolled past, the main thing I remember was how small Prince’s jumpsuit turned out to be.  He was a surprisingly short guy.

And I’ve had the same thing at other museums—and maybe you have too—where you stand in front of some suit of armor from some legendary hero of history and it just looks . . . child size.  These people who loom so large in our minds are usually no bigger than anyone else.  And, given that people have become taller over the centuries, the heroes of history often turn out to be smaller than the people you know.

By contrast, if you go into a church called, St. Paul’s, for instance, you will usually see a giant stained-glass window of St. Paul, towering over the Altar.  We commemorate the heroes of the faith in this way, as larger than life  . . . and, with glass of many colors.  The people in our sacred scriptures are memorialized in statues, and windows, and—well—church names themselves.  Think how many places are named St. Paul’s, or St. Peter’s, or St. John’s, or St. Mary’s.  Though there are fewer St. Timothy’s churches around, they do exist . . . as you well know.  Here in our sanctuary, we have that little stained glass above the doorway over there for St. Timothy.  (Which is more like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame size: you’re surprised he was such a small guy, right?)  

But my surprise in museums around the world, and the smallness of human beings, is actually tied to this glorification of human beings in our churches.  In fact, it’s the very same thing—except that television and movies have come to replace the stories of the Bible.  But whether someone is a rock star, an insurance broker, a construction worker, or a companion of Jesus Christ, they are  Still.  Just.  People.  

And it’s important to remember that, because over time we weed out the bad parts of our heroes, until we start to remember them as having done nothing wrong ever.  Which is fine and all, except that they then become these impossible Greek-like demigods who exist larger than life, and whose lofty perfection we can never hope to replicate. 

Anyway, on to the readings from today . . . In the reading from Genesis, we heard about the birth of Issac.  Or, more accurately, the pregnancy of Sara.  It’s one of those strange little tales we encounter that seems designed to tell us something else.  But there’s something else in the “something else” here too.  We think of Abraham and Sarah as being these giants of the faith.  And yet, here is Sarah, having an ordinary reaction to a ridiculous promise.  She is not really laughing so much as gasping for breath and saying, “AS IF!”  I mean come on, right?  She is an ordinary person having an ordinary response to an extraordinary promise.  Abraham is like a hundred years old!  Forgive my skepticism, says Sarah.

And yet . . . Here comes God, using ordinary people of doubtful ability to carry out an extraordinary event.  Sarah laughs, then lies about laughing, then gets caught lying, and then says, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”

And when we hear this story, we probably laugh too.  I know I do.  Maybe because we doubt the truth of it; or maybe because we doubt the possibility of it; or maybe just because of the absurdity of it.  Which makes us prime candidates to also end up saying, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”  My point is, Sarah is an ordinary person, having an ordinary reaction to an extraordinary event.  And that makes her just like us: incredulous at the absurdity of God’s generosity and abundance.

And in Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes, “Christ died for the ungodly. . . . God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”  And we only get why that’s absurd when we look at how we think of our relationship with God.  Deep down, we are all convinced that Jesus only died for the righteous ones, for the good people, for the people who go to church and stay out of trouble.  And it is just as crazy to believe God loves sinners as it is to believe that a hundred year old woman is going to give birth to a son.  It’s laughable, right?  As Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”

And then we come to today’s Gospel reading, from Matthew.  It’s a long set of instructions—most of which come after the part we heard—about how and where and why the disciples are supposed to go out and turn the world upside down.  And the stuff we tend to remember are the parts that have filtered into our culture by way of Ben Franklin sounding phrases:  Be as sheep among wolves, and shake the dust from your feet.  Those parts are familiar to us, and we usually quote them completely out of context.  Like we do.

But here’s what I want us to notice about this gospel reading today:  The people who are listed as present with Jesus.  Of course we have the usual ragtag group of fishermen, as always.  Guys who have no idea what it is like to read and write or speak in public.  But there are these three others I want us to notice.  Matthew, Simon, and Judas.

Matthew is a tax collector, which means he is in collusion with the occupying Romans, as we heard last week.  It’s hard for us appreciate what this means in that culture, because we’ve been independent for so long.  But this would kind of be like a tax collector for the British, before the American Revolution.  Someone aligned with the oppressors, but then also making his living by overcharging his fellow citizens.  The Jewish people hated tax collectors.  

And on the other extreme, we have Simon the Zealot (called Simon the Cananaean in this reading, to tell us that he is a different Simon from Simon Peter.)  This Simon was a Zealot, which is where we get the word . . . zealot.  And the Zealots in that time would be the ones working to overthrow the occupying Romans.  Think of them as the Minutemen in the War for Independence.  This Simon was all about rebellion and asymmetrical warfare and doing everything he could to frustrate the plans of the Roman occupation.  Most ordinary citizens would have thought of the Zealots as being over the top, and making their lives more difficult, by bringing down the Roman hammer in retaliation for their sabotage.

And then there’s Judas.  At this point in Matthew’s gospel, Judas hasn’t yet done what we know him for, but Matthew wants to make sure we know what to expect of him in advance, so he calls him, “Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.”  To continue with our July 4th theme, we can think of Judas as Benedict Arnold.  

Now if we were making this movie, we would make all the disciples Zealots.  We would not include the backstabbing Matthew among the ones being sent out to preach the gospel and heal the sick.  We certainly would have Judas get hit by a bus right after Jesus stops talking.

But this is not a movie.  These are real people.  Ordinary people.  People being told by Jesus that he is giving ordinary people extraordinary power to turn the world upside down.  Not because of who they are, but in spite of who they are.  Not because they are pure and righteous, but rather because they are messy and complicated.  They are ordinary, and that is precisely the thing that allows God to use them to do extraordinary things.

Which inevitably leads us to this:  Every Saturday, the Altar Guild comes in and sets some bread and wine on that little table back there.  Ordinary things just sitting in ordinary containers.  And every Sunday, we gather together here in the hope that something miraculous will take place.  And as Paul says, “hope does not disappoint us.”

Because in what takes place here each week, God takes what is ordinary and turns it into something extraordinary.  And I don’t just mean the bread and the wine.  Because week after week, God is taking the plain old ordinary you and me, with all our doubts and laughter, our pain and our joy, and transforming us into something revolutionary and extraordinary:  As each week we once again become the people of God, receiving the gifts of God.


Saturday, June 17, 2023

On The Retirement of the Rev. Canon Percy Grant

Percy moved into the position of Transition Officer in the Diocese while I was still in seminary, headed toward ordination.  She took over for the Rev. Mary C. Carson, and I got ordained. In fact, I was part of the first ordination Percy oversaw. <curtsy>

Over the years, she got steadily better at her job, and I . . . am still ordained.

It’s not an easy job this transition officer, or canon for ministry or whatever a particular diocese calls it. I imagine it’s a lot of lonely.  A lot of keeping confidences.  And it’s a lot of work. I know first hand that it’s a lot of work because . . . Well, I personally have given Percy a lot of work.  I texted her . . . a lot! Sorry Nan. Usually, while standing at my grill waiting for the coals to get going and thinking, “Who on God’s flat earth would know the answer to this question?”  Percy!

A few examples 

October 18th last year:  Sorry to text so late, but I’ve been thinking a Mutual Ministry Review might be helpful.
May 4th last year: Sorry to text so late; hopefully your phone is on silent . . .
February 28th last year:  I did not realize you were on vacation until I got your email auto-reply, and now I’m texting you because I can’t take a hint.
From September 2020: Sorry to be writing so late, but I just have a quick question . . .
May 2020: Sorry to bother you off hours, but is it normal for someone to . . .

I got a million of them.  But here’s one more, from seven years ago . . .
April 24th 2016:  Sorry for texting so late, but the search committee was unanimous in Massillon, and I’m wondering, what have I done?!? 

That last one is important, because I wasn’t supposed to end up in Massllon.  It was a practice interview, for them and for me.  Percy was no Svengali silently pulling strings; she always left room for the Spirit.  Nobody expected me to end up in Massillon, least of all me and Percy.

And here’s the thing about all those times I texted Percy at random hours after work. Percy listened. I am not saying that I suggested something and it suddenly happened. Because that is not how the Episcopal Church works. In case you haven’t noticed. There are always other people--LAYERS of other people--who have some say in how things go. But, I always knew that if I said something to Percy, someone heard me. Like, REALLY heard me. And I have to say--on some level--that is all any of us really wants.  To know someone hears us.

On the last day of our recent clergy conference, Bishop Jolly asked for a show of hands of how many clergy were in their current settings because of Percy Grant.  About 2/3 of the hands went up, including mine. That’s a lot of priests and deacons.  Like, a lot!  In fact, you could legit say that Percy has had a hand in the hiring of most of our clergy, which means most of your individual priests and deacons. Which means we would not be who we are and where we are today without Percy’s influence. And where we are today is a good place. A very good place.

So Percy Grant, thank you for walking with me and all these other clergy serving in this diocese. Thank you for all the thankless tasks you took on because somebody had to do them. And above all else, thank you for listening. I always knew that you heard me. And I am STILL . . . ordained.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Year A 2023 pentecost 2

Pentecost 2, 2023
Genesis 12:1-9
Psalm 33:1-12
Romans 4:13-25
Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Jesus says, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’.”  It’s from Hosea, part of a long rant against the sins of God’s people.  Hosea is a scary book, written at a specific time to a specific people.  So tread lightly.

But, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” is a very strange sentence in the first place.  Because mercy and sacrifice are not opposites.  You would expect, “I desire mercy, not vengeance.”  Or, “I desire sacrifice, not selfishness.”  But Jesus says, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’.”

So, what does it mean, to set mercy opposed to sacrifice?  Well, I think it helps to look at how they both are about power.  Mercy is handed downward by the one in charge.  Your boss could fire you for something, or could have mercy on you and let you keep working for less than you deserve.  And, in a religious sense, sacrifice is handed upward by the less powerful.  The Levite priests offer sacrifices to God, in order to win God’s mercy.

So, imagine yourself as the one with all the power.  You could offer mercy, or you could demand sacrifice.  Let’s say you own a chain of restaurants.  As a good capitalist, you’d want the sacrifices, right?  You’d want people to work more hours for less money.  You’d want them to work weekends and pick up extra shifts.  Having employees who are willing to sacrifice is like the ideal situation!

What kind of a manager would desire mercy?  A manager who wouldn’t last very long, I can tell you that!  You don’t feel like coming in today, Joe?  Yeah that’s cool, we all get tired sometimes.  You forgot to call in the order for all the produce for this week Sally?  That’s fine, could happen to anybody.

Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’.”  This is a hard teaching, and it certainly runs counter to how the world works, right?  Because we most certainly desire sacrifice over mercy.  Imagine a football coach who desires mercy over sacrifice?  Don’t push yourselves too hard getting ready for that Massillon McKinley game kids.  I mean, it’s just one game.  “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” said no successful coach ever.

Even though it runs counter to everything we believe about the world, God wants mercy rather than sacrifice.  So, what does that mean for us?  Well, in the simplest terms, when we are in a position to offer mercy we should do so.  And, it is more important to God that we offer mercy than it is that we make sacrifices to God.  Or, put another way, God gets more joy out of us being merciful to one another than anything else.  So let’s do that!

But enough of that.  Let’s back up to how this reading starts.  As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.”  Follow me.  The gospel of Matthew is said to be written, or compiled by Matthew.  I mean, hence the name.  And here we are, in the ninth chapter of the book, and Matthew appears for the first time.  And turns out, he’s a tax collector!

I’ve told you about tax collectors before, but the Jewish people hated them.  Even more than some people hate 87,000 new IRS agents.  And the reason people hated tax collectors is because—not only were they working for the oppressive Roman occupiers, but—the way they made their money was essentially by overcharging their neighbors.  Like, you owe the foreign occupiers $1,000, but your bill is actually $2,000 so that I can line my own pockets.  They made a living by collecting for the invaders and overcharging on those collections.  So, you can see why Matthew waits nine chapters to mention what he did for a living.

Anyway, Jesus says “Follow me,” and Matthew does.  Now here’s the thing about this moment: What do you picture when you hear that?  Like Matthew just closes up his books and leaves his booth and starts following Jesus?  Like a baby duckling following her mom, right?  Okay Jesus, I’ll just be following you now, wherever it is you want me to go.

But here’s what’s weird about this story.  They end up going to Matthew’s house.  So Jesus says, “Follow me,” but he ends up following Matthew back to his house.  To follow Jesus seems to mean leading Jesus back to your own house.  To the place where you probably feel the most comfortable.  That’s certainly true for Matthew, who would likely be run out of any restaurant he walked into.  When everybody hates you, the safest place is probably inside your own home.

Now, some Christians will tell you that following Jesus means you have to prepare for a rugged survivalist journey.  Like, if you’re going to follow Jesus, you better expect to endure a daily spiritual triathlon against the evil powers of this world.  Standing up against Pride displays in retail stores, getting classic books banned from school libraries, refusing to drink watered-down beer because there’s rainbow on the can.  To these people, following Jesus demands sacrifice!  They are at war against the spiritual forces of darkness.  When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he is calling them into battle.  Into sacrifice.

But Jesus says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  Look at Matthew.  Jesus says to him, “Follow me,” and that means Jesus goes with Matthew to his own home.  To the place where Matthew feels most comfortable.  Based on the call of Matthew, following Jesus doesn’t mean you need to go somewhere new and uncomfortable.  Jesus says “Follow me,” and then joins us right where we are, just as we are.

Jesus tells Matthew to follow him, and then he meets Matthew at a meal.  This is perfect!  Because Jesus has called you to follow him and, guess what?  He meets you in a meal this morning.  Right here at this Altar.  Jesus says, this is my body, this is my blood.  Following Jesus means he joins us at this meal, just like he joined Matthew at a meal.

And today,  Jesus has called to Tyler and Mallory and said, “Follow me,” and he will meet them at this font, in the water and in the word.  They will begin their journey with Jesus just as you did, as part of God’s family in the Sacrament of Baptism, because Jesus meets them at this font.

Jesus says to each one of us, “Follow me,” and then meets us where we are, just as we are.  And Jesus walks beside us as we follow him on the pathway that leads to life, forgiveness, and the mercy that God so desires from us and for us.


Sunday, June 4, 2023

YEAR A 2023 trinity sunday

Trinity, 2023
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20
Psalm 8

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, for a few years I went to a Lutheran High School.  Then I graduated from a Lutheran college.  I spent four years in an Episcopal seminary.  I played in a Christian band for 30 years.  I’ve studied Christian doctrine, Lutheran doctrine, Anglican doctrine (such as it is), and systematics.  I have friends who are legitimate theologians.  My brother and sister in law are both Lutheran pastors.  I have read a lot of books on theology.

And so, now I stand before you on this Trinity Sunday to tell you in the clearest possible terms that I do not understand the Trinity.

How can three persons be one person?  How can God be united and yet distinct?  How can three persons all be present at one time and yet not together?  I stand before you this Trinity Sunday to tell you that I do not understand the Trinity.

And anyone who tells you they do understand the Trinity is either lying or trying to sell you something—in the words of the Dread Pirate Roberts.  Nobody has a clear and concise explanation of the Trinity, because if somebody did, we’d all know it by now, and preachers wouldn’t live in fear of this day.  And yet, every year, the Sunday after Pentecost shows up, and here we are, another Trinity Sunday.

So, let’s look at the readings assigned to us for this day.  The first one, from Genesis, starts us at the beginning.  Of everything.  If you open a bible to the first page, this is what you get.  In the beginning, God.  And you know what?  The Trinity is there, though we don’t necessarily recognize the formula.  Remember last week when we heard that the Hebrew word for spirit, wind, and breath are the same?  Well right he in the opening verses we heard, “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”

In the beginning, the Holy Spirit is moving over the face of the waters, before anything else happens or is created.  And, remember how John’s gospel starts?  In the beginning was the Word, that is, Jesus.  When we put these two things together, we get the Trinity, right there at the beginning of everything.  In fact, before the beginning of everything.  Before there was anything, there was God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And in today’s second reading, from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, we get a closing that sounds vaguely trinitarian, where he says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”  But there’s actually no mention of God the Father, and it leads to the ongoing confusion of thinking of God being one person, and the Son and Holy Spirit being something else.  Maybe Paul didn’t quite understand the Trinity either?

But then we come to the gospel reading, from Matthew.  This is the closing of Matthew’s gospel story.  Right before this, the women went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus with spices.  He was not there—as you hopefully recall—and the angel says, tell the others to go to Galilee and Jesus will meet them there.

And then we get today’s reading.  The 11 disciples are on the mountain in Galilee,  just as they were told to do, and Jesus appears to them.  And as we heard, “They worshipped him, but some doubted.”  This translation has been corrected recently to “They worshipped him, but they doubted.”  Because it doesn’t mean that all worshipped but some doubted; it actually means all worshiped and had some doubt.  Which is a very different thing, when you think about it.

But then we come to the trinitarian part, which is why we get this reading on Trinity Sunday.  Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  And he adds, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  To the end of the age, Jesus is with us.  And where Jesus is, the Father and the Spirit are also.

We saw it in the beginning, when God was creating the heavens and the earth.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were there at creation.  Before there was anything.  And now we hear that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will be with us always, to the end of the age, whenever that might be.  And this means, from before we were born, to long after we are gone, God is with us.  We all live our entire lives between those two points: before there was anything, and when there will be nothing.  And in between God is with us, every step of the way, every moment of our lives, with every single breath we take, from our first to our last.

And in the meantime, like those 11 disciples, we worship, but we doubt.  That’s true for me, and I’m willing to wager it’s true for you.  We don’t know everything; we have doubts; and we worship.  We gather together on Sunday mornings, with our doubts, and our insecurities, and our admission that after fours years of seminary we don’t understand the Trinity . . . but we keep coming back.  We keep worshipping.  We keep doubting.  And we keep hearing that God is with us until the end of the age.

We don’t need to fully understand—which is good, because we can’t.  We don’t need to fully trust—which is good, because we have doubts.   We only need to let God be God, and live our lives between the beginning and the end, which is exactly the place where God has promised to be.  

Jesus said: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”