Set Our Souls on Fire – June 16, 2019
Sermon preached by the Reverend Ann Broomell
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
In the name of God, who created us, who redeems us, who sets our souls on fire. Amen.
I love that evocation of the Trinity. Of the holy active force of creation, of the love and challenge, and transformation that is God’s action in our lives. The energy, forward movement and hope that we celebrate today.
When the earliest theologians tried to describe God, they spoke of three ways of knowing God, they said they were three persons, three beings, interacting with each other, different in their action, yet the same in substance.
The Trinity. Three in one, one in three. First the Creator God who Jesus called Abba, Father. Then Jesus, the Messiah, a tangible, visible, model for our lives who says: The Father is in me and I am in the Father. And the Spirit, through which we connect with and can take on the roles of Jesus and our creator God.
Today, continuing to try to describe God, we have many descriptions of the Trinity: An apple, with a core (w/ seed), fruit, and the skin. A musical composition: imagination, a written score, then music ringing in our ears. Yet none reveal the reality. Our minds are unable to grasp the infinite being which is God.
The British theologian John McQuarrie has actually used a beach ball to help describe the Trinity. If it had three colors, and I threw it to you, you might only see the red color. If you threw it over here, and one of you caught it, they might only see blue, and so on. It would have different colors on the outside, but it would have the same substance inside. Father, Son, Holy Spirit/ Creator, Christ, Holy Spirit—different on the outside, yet all the same inside.
We connect with God in different ways at different times in our lives. Perhaps we are moved to pray to the Father, or to Jesus, or to the Spirit—wherever it is most comfortable for us to connect, it is the same God.
We find in the Hebrew Scriptures that the Spirit is feminine and is called Wisdom or Ruah. We hear that Wisdom existed before creation began, was there when the seas and the skies were brought forth, and rejoiced in creation. Wisdom spoke through the Prophets calling people to return to God, became human in Jesus and connects us with God as Holy Spirit.
We find this same perspective in the much loved opening sentences of Gospel of John. In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. The Word was spoken through the prophets, and made flesh in Jesus. In Jesus we have seen God’s glory full of grace and truth. From God’s fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
We can see the continuity of the Trinity in Scripture. We can try to envision the three persons with one essence. No one is going to ask you, though, at the end of this sermon, what is God, what is the Trinity that we believe in. For that matter, no Christian is ever asked to believe in a doctrine, only in the living God. God is not something we will ever be able to fully comprehend. God is infinite. And as our minds can’t comprehend infinity, God will always be mystery. Something we catch glimpses of, but something we will understand only in part.
But the living God is something we can know, is something we can experience. The living God is something we can believe in. A few moments ago I listed some descriptions of the trinity. They all did describe the interaction of the creative part of God, that part of God that we know because he lived on earth, and the spirit of God which we know today.
There was one flaw with all of those descriptions. None of them spoke of the parts of the Trinity as being in relationship. Relationship is to me the most important key to describing the Trinity. When we call God, Father, it’s because Jesus called God Father. The words show the depth and power of the relationship between God and Jesus. Jesus also described God as a hen gathering us, her chickens under her wing.
We know, as Jesus did, that the God we love can be described with attributes we’d consider both traditionally masculine and feminine but we know God is beyond those attributes. And Jesus assured those who loved and followed him that he would send a comforter, the spirit of God that was in him, to be with us until the end of time. He sent the Holy Spirit, Wisdom, the living God we know today.
And just as our descriptions of God fall flat if they don’t reflect that deep sustaining inter-relationship, our personal experience of God is found most fully in relationship as well. For us as followers of Jesus Christ, the living God is most fully known in community, in a church, in a parish. We remember the famous words of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew which we pray during Morning Prayer: Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. MT 18:20
As you move into this time of transition, the Spirit and the Community that is St. Paul’s on the Green, take on an enhanced meaning.
Miroslav Volf of Yale Divinity School has written that Churches represent communion with God that we know as Trinity. He writes, each person is indispensable to the church. All people are bearers of Christ’s Spirit, … taught and untaught. And all people make up the church and all are basic to the church and to the church’s witness in the world.
To Volf, a true church emerges when Christ’s Spirit gives us the power to become part of the life of the triune God. And all life as Christ’s disciples is lived as outgoing, as we give our selves, in love, to others.
Volf writes, A congregation, at its best, is a community of grace, a welcoming and embracing community, a community that is reconciled and nourished at the Eucharist, a community that remembers its past and hopes for its future. A parish…is at its best when it sees its mission as God’s mission in the world. (1)
In these weeks of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, you begin a time of transition as a parish. It seems especially valuable to be doing so during this time of focus on the Sprit, on the relationship between the creative, loving, challenging aspects of God, and on your relationships with God and with each other. The Spirit will bind you to each other in the Eucharist. The Spirit will offer you support as you consider who you were in the past and who you are today. What are your values? How are you bound together in Christ? How do you take the love you receive here each Sunday from the altar to the street?
And then, when you rest in the uncertainty of the present, it becomes time to begin listening a bit differently to Wisdom, to the Spirit. What is God dreaming of for you? What is God calling you to become five years from now? How will you walk with your rector into that calling?
On this Trinity Sunday, as Wisdom, the Spirit leads you into a time of initial uncertainty that will grow into realityand hope, the words of Roman Catholic sister Joan Chittester may hold meaning. She writes, Clearly, wisdom is not a gift; wisdom is a task; wisdom costs. Wisdom calls us, the Scripture says, to know ourselves, to squeeze out of every moment in life whatever lessons it holds for us, whatever responses it demands at that time. (1) Wisdom is not life lived wrapped in marshmallow and indifferent to the reality within us, the Scriptures imply. Wisdom is not the fine art of serene oblivion. Wisdom is life peeled and cored, it is attention and consciousness lived to the hilt. (2)
Wisdom speaks to all of you and to all who will join with you in the weeks to come. Wisdom, that was one with God in creation, spoke to God’s people through the prophets, became human in Jesus, is gift and hope for us today. Wisdom is a refining fire, an energy that empowers, a call that brings new life. May you discover her at your core today and let her lead you into the months and years to come.
(1) Volv, Miroslav. After our Likeness: The Church in the Image of the Trinity. Eerdmans, 1998.
(2) Chittester, Sr. Joan ”Wisdom: A Gift or a Task?” 30 Good Minutes, Chicago Sunday Evening Club, 1996.