The Trinity Strikes a Chord

Sermon for Sunday, June  15, 2014 ||  First Sunday After Pentecost, Trinity Sunday; Year A ||  Matthew 28: 16-20|| by Amy Whitcomb Slemmer Note:  Amy Whitcomb Slemmer is a postulant for ordination to the priesthood being sponsored by St. Stephen’s Church. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. It is a great pleasure to be with you this morning and to celebrate both Father’s Day and Trinity Sunday. For those of you who may not know me, my name is Amy Whitcomb Slemmer and I am the grateful recipient of your weekly prayers as I continue my journey of formation toward taking Holy Orders for the Episcopal priesthood. I divide my time between St. Stephens in Boston and here, and it is a joy to be here on this gorgeous sparking Sunday morning. Here is a little known Episcopal Fact. It is a holy and semi-sacred tradition to make the most junior person at a parish preach about the Trinity — because it is perhaps confounding, definitely complicated and truly a holy mystery. This celebration is the only one in our churches’ calendar that is focused on a doctrine, rather than raising up an individual, or marking a specific event – and it is not a doctrine that lends itself to banner advertising. We believe in One God manifested as three distinct entities. This is such a challenging concept that our church calendar is constructed to help us better understand each of the entities separately– Father, Son and Holy Spirit or Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. At the end of April, as we celebrated the 40 days of Easter, our readings and worship focused on God as love incarnate that conquered death. Last week’s celebration of Pentecost marked our recognition of the power of the Holy Spirit that came among us, and gave birth to our church. Today’s Gospel, the last verses in the book of Matthew, is the great commissioning where the risen Christ gives the Disciples a brand new job. He sends them into the world to baptize people to do God’s work, and he sends them forth in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Spoiler alert, next week we will hear Jesus warn the disciples about the serious consequences this ministry will bring. Trinity Sunday marks the shift to Ordinary Time – the longest season in our liturgical calendar, with Gospel stories focusing on Jesus’s teaching and preaching and the expectations that we absorb those lessons here, and carry them out into the world. So we have the next twelve weeks to work out and learn more about how to better understand and serve God and to do God’s work. The invitation today – the one day, or singular day that we celebrate and focus on the Trinity – is to better understand our Triune God. The notion of one thing being both singular and plural at the very same time. Understanding pieces that are significant and sufficient in and of themselves, but are also integral parts of the whole. There are many clichés employed to explain the Trinity and I have tried to avoid the well worn. My prayers and study have focused on the encompassing love and presence of God as an individual note of music, like a G played on a piano. Resonant, beautiful and sufficient in its own right. Add additional notes like D and B and you have a chord. Each note distinct, but in combination, a completely different sound. You can continue with this concept to join chords with choirs or the piano with an orchestra and the orchestra with the symphony of music being played around the globe at any particular moment in time, and perhaps we have given ourselves a new handle on being Trinitarians. I was pretty satisfied with my symphony simile as I prayed and lived with it for the last few weeks, until I challenged myself to consider how it applies or informs my daily life and experience of God. Because the most important part of this doctrine, is to better understand God and our relationship with the Divine. I have extremely limited musical instrument talent, and would never be invited to join an orchestra, but I spend a whole lot of time in groups and in meetings, and decided to think of these gatherings as my own personal symphony. In fact a well run meeting, or an efficiently orchestrated brainstorming session offers some of the same sense of shared purpose and harmony that a symphony delivers. One of my meetings this week was with a large and not-always-efficient agenda-setting group that includes a woman who is perpetually late, always arrives talking and scattered, and while frustrating and, I would argue, not as efficient as beginning on time, it is important for this particular group that we not make decisions without her input, because frankly, often she has really good contributions to make. We were discussing some of the front-page headlines about the lack of behavioral health and substance abuse treatment beds available in the Commonwealth, when this woman finally arrived, and her entrance did not disappoint. Talking, distracted and seemingly oblivious to the conversation she was entering, she arrived, plunked down in her chair and began to rifle through her briefcase to get on the same page as those of us already convened. I was sitting there, trying to envision the meeting in musical terms, with each participant being a different instrument, when out of the blue – literally as our new arrival was pulling her meeting notes out of her giant bag, she disclosed, as a matter of fact, that her daughter committed suicide 25 years ago as the result of a prolonged battle with addiction. We were gob smacked. Struck silent. I felt God in the room, and said so. (It is one of the privileges of priestly formation that people will indulge your occasional religious interjections). Her disclosure certainly brought the conversation and agenda building exercise to a different place. It also gave members of the group an opportunity to deepen their understanding of this woman – her frenetic arrivals and relationship with the group. Her disclosure invited empathy, deepened our understanding, and somehow completely softened the frustration at her lateness and disruptiveness. I talked with her afterwards and learned that the anniversary of her daughter’s death is this weekend. She and her daughter are beloved children of God. And I knew that she was a child of God before that gathering, but her disclosure seemed spirit-infused and it changed the group. It also nudged me beyond trying to define a strict construction of the Trinity and moved me to embrace the notion of living into a more full understanding of God’s presence in our lives. Because God was certainly present and spoken for in that meeting. Not every disruption or group outburst is Holy. I spent the last two days in Worcester surrounded by 4,000 people who had their own agendas. And while God was definitely present, I am unaware of a God-centered moment that shifted or transformed the entire gathering. There were plenty of interactions, personal stories told, work accomplished and understanding enhanced, but these transformations took place one on one. Perhaps as an example offered by God incarnate. Jesus touched hearts and minds one at a time, and the individuals who left Worcester may be transformed in some way that will be manifest in smaller gatherings in which they participate this week. What about your plans for gatherings this week? What if at some point today you looked at your schedule for the upcoming week and considered whether you will find yourself in meetings or in a gathered group, and you prayed for some space and presence for the manifestation of God as Father, Son or Holy Spirit? For some insight or deeper understanding of God manifest in that group? I think that it is important to do this in advance, to offer the Holy Spirit an opening to be present before you gather. How would your awareness of God’s presence change your experience of the time you spend in the meeting and how might that inform your experience of God? If your group includes someone with whom you have a standing disagreement, or frequent frustration, pray for that person and your experience in advance. My board at Health Care For All meets this week, and we will be navigating profound disagreements and challenges when we gather. Doing the prayerful and God-centered work ahead of time feels nearly as important as getting our agenda out ahead of time so that participants know what to expect. Our gathering this morning will happen again next week, and our agenda is already set – and mailed out to us each week. What if we read and prayed about next Sunday throughout the week. How might that have an impact on our understanding of God manifest among us? Might you find or experience God manifest as grace, love and communion; or creator, redeemer and sustainer; or Father, Son and Holy Spirit among us? Our experience, and our gathering again next week, will definitely be enhanced. And if you find a change or new insight, please share it,  so that we too might be transformed by your witness and experience of our Triune God. Amen.

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