Sermon preached by the Reverend Adam Yates
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday – June 3, 2012
I once encountered God during dinner in a college cafeteria. One moment I was sitting with a group of friends over a shared meal, the next I was overwhelmed by feeling of God’s presence in our midst. And then the moment passed, and I was left there with my group of friends, feeling as though a great wave had crashed over me.
How have you experienced God? It seems like a simple question, but it really isn’t. All of Christian history is filled with the stories of people’s encounters with God in dreams, music, visions, artwork, service, exploration, and other people. In the wake of that experience, I, you, we are left wondering what that encounter means and how it changes our lives.
Sometimes our experience of God is awe-inspiring. It can happen through the experience of transcendent music, or a soaring architectural space that lifts our imaginations to a beauty that exceeds our comprehension. We can have this awe-inspiring experience of God when we witness new creation, such as the birth of a child—I am not a father, but I have stood in the hospital and witnessed the immense creative presence on the other side of newly opened eyes.
At other times we encounter the awe-inducing God when pondering creation itself. Some of you know that I am involved with amateur astronomy. It is a humbling experience to put your eye up to a telescope and gaze across the vast expanses of time and space and realize how infinitesimal we are, just as awesome it is to peer through a microscope and realize the miraculous and dizzying complexity of the mechanisms that sustain our lives every second of every day. It is no accident that the first natural scientists were clergy.
This is the type of encounter with God that the Prophet Isaiah is trying to describe in the first reading. Isaiah sees God, and God is so beyond comprehension that even the angels cower behind their wings. Like Isaiah, sometimes we encounter God and are forced to confront something that is wholly different from ourselves, something that is far greater than anything we can begin to imagine, and we are reduced to awed silence.
Sometimes our experience of God is intimate. We can encounter God in this way in our prayer life, in our dreams, in mystical visions, and in the words and actions of those around us. In these encounters, God speaks to us in words, or sometimes in words beyond words. We are confronted by a God who sees us and knows us individually, a God who so wants intimacy with us that God would become as us and walk among us so as to bring us into a closer relationship with God’s self.
It is the intimate encounter with God that we hear about in today’s Gospel reading when, like a lover’s rendezvous, Nicodemus steals away under the darkness of night to find Jesus, and Jesus is waiting for him there. It is this same intimate encounter in which we participate every week as we gather around God’s table for a shared meal so that we, like the disciples, may know Christ in the breaking of the bread. And we marvel that elements so simple, so finite, as bread and wine could bear God’s presence to us, and yet they do.
Whether our experience of God is awe-inspiring or intimate, something happens in the encounter. As I sat there in the cafeteria, overwhelmed by the presence of God, something happened. Sitting there, I felt God’s love radiating to everyone in the room, an emotion that bears as much relation to what we experience as love as a shadow bears relation to the object that casts it. Awash in that love, I could not but help to feel the same towards my fellow classmates, some of whom were close friends, some of whom I had never met and would never know personally. Then the encounter passed, the moment faded, and I was left in stunned silence.
As though it were not enough to be confronted by the awesome grandeur of God or the intensely intimate, our encounters with God are animating. What we experience in God elicits the same as itself within us, like sympathetic resonance on a divine instrument. We encounter God who created all things, and so God creates again through us. We encounter a God who burns with a desire for justice, and so God thirsts for justice anew through us. We encounter the God who so loved the world that God would become a part of the world, and so God loves through us. We encounter a God who meets us in Christ that we might in turn meet God again in each other. In our encounters with God, not only do we experience the divine, we are transformed by it and empowered by it.
Here at St. Paul’s, we experience God, both individually and as a community. How have our encounters transformed us? What aspect of God is called forth from within us by that encounter? God welcomes us each into this place, regardless of our sex, race, sexuality, or belief, as God’s own children, holy and good. It is a welcome that draws us through those doors and to God’s table, from which the welcome flows, and in that encounter we are transformed so that we might welcome others. Once we are gathered together as God’s children around that table, we are confronted by the mystery of a God at once beyond comprehension and yet so close and intimate as to be present in a piece of bread cupped in our hands. So we are fed, both physically and spiritually, and so transformed to feed others both physically through the sharing of food and spiritually through the sharing of the Good News that they are also God’s beloved children.
Most importantly, however, we leave here having encountered God, awe-inspiring, intimate, and transformative, and are changed by the experience so that we might then go forth and change the world. We gather here together as God’s beloved children and glimpse a vision of God’s kingdom, and in so doing become a part of that kingdom, carrying it forth into the world.
This, my sisters and brothers, is what the Trinity is all about. Thanks be to God!