Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Sunday, June 28, 2020
St Michael’s, O’Fallon--Matthew 10:40–42
Jesus is very popular these days in church circles. That may seem like a ridiculous thing to say, but it hasn’t always been the case in recent decades. Oh, it’s generally been OK to talk about God. But, among Episcopalians at any rate, to mention the name of Jesus, except when reading from or preaching on a passage from the gospels, was, for a good long while, a little ... awkward. The dominant emphasis has been on social concerns: issues of peace and justice—you know, almost as if it were one word, peaceandjustice. Most Episcopal Church sermons were shot through, at least implicitly, with the word “should.” We should be getting out there and making the world a better place, a more peaceful place, a more just place. Jesus just didn’t get mentioned very much.
Then, maybe twenty years ago or so, there were those WWJD bracelets: “What would Jesus do?” When Michael Curry became the Presiding Bishop five years ago, even Episcopalians joined the bandwagon. We have been invited to think of ourselves as the “Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.” Everybody—from pro-life to pro-choice, from protesters to police, from megachurches to storefront churches, from free-market capitalists to Marxist socialists, from traditional marriage conservatives to LGBT and all the other initials that come after them progressives—everybody is trying to hitch their wagon to Jesus.
Jesus is having a moment.
But we may well wonder, is Jesus being exploited? Is Jesus being hijacked?
Jesus tells his disciples in the tenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel: “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” We certainly want to be among those who “receive” Jesus, right? So we certainly want to have confidence that we are receiving those whom Jesus sends, those who speak for Jesus.
But how can we achieve such confidence? How can we know that we are in such a position? How can we be sure that we are receiving those whom Jesus sends, those who speak for him? I suspect that one of the first things we need to do to attain such confidence is to somehow insulate ourselves from what the gospels call “false prophets”—those who purport to speak for Jesus, those who pretend that they are messengers of Jesus, but who are, in fact, deceptive imposters. From what we do know of Jesus in the gospels, I would like to name three of the hallmarks of false “prophets,” false representatives of Jesus.
First, anyone who incites or encourages or otherwise supports hostility based on race or ethnicity or some other ancient enmity between human beings is a false prophet. Why? Because Jesus came among us, even to the point of surrendering his life, in order to forge a new “nation,” a new “ethnicity,” out of the remnants of all the others. In St Paul’s day, “Jew” and “Gentile” were the ethnic identities most likely to be exploited. Today, as we continue to attack the cancer not of simple racial prejudice or animus, but of deeply-embedded systemic racism that structurally perpetuates the power of those who hold it and the powerlessness of those who lack it, there are those among us who trade on fear and attempt to enflame hatred. They are false prophets who do not speak for Jesus. Reject them.
Second, those who foment division based on status—economic, social, educational, political—are false prophets. Why? Because, in Christ, these divisions are robbed of their meaning. In several different places, St Paul tells us that, in Christ, all the divisive categories into which we sort one another are meaningless. In his day, those categories were, in addition to Jew or Gentile, things like slave or free, male or female. We still have those categories today, but we are more apt to focus on black or white (or brown, or any other skin tone), educated and uneducated, rich or middle class or poor, developed world or developing world, influential or powerless. The identity “Christian” is the God-given alternative to any of the other identities the world invites us to embrace. Anyone selling another identity as your hope is a false prophet. Reject them.
Thirdly, those who advocate violence or manipulation—either physical, emotional, or economic—for the purpose of achieving their objectives, even good objectives, is a false prophet. Why? Because God is a God of life and health, and every human being bears God’s image. God desires human thriving. Those who intentionally get in the way of the thriving are false prophets. Reject them.
By contrast, then, authentic prophets, authentic “apostles”—those who are sent (which is the root meaning of the word “apostle”), those who are sent to speak the word of God, also have distinguishing characteristics, of which I will name three:
First, authentic apostles proclaim good news that promotes human flourishing. Those who come saying that they represent Jesus, and have a message of hope and deliverance (rather than scolding and shaming), have earned a hearing. That doesn’t mean that everyone who has an optimistic frame of mind is an apostle, but an apostle has at least that much.
Second, authentic apostles preach and model reconciliation. Possibly my favorite collect in the whole Prayer Book is the one we use on the Sunday before Advent—Christ the King. It talks about a world that is “divided and enslaved by sin” being “freed and brought together” under the “most gracious rule” of Christ our King. A true messenger of Jesus will be passionate about reconciliation.
The third mark of apostles is that they teach the faith of the church that Jesus founded and left the Apostles [upper-case A] in charge of. We have scriptures and creeds and ancient liturgical forms—and, for that matter, bishops—for a reason. These things keep us grounded in the bedrock of God’s revelation to humankind in Jesus Christ.
Finally, if we are to “receive” Jesus by receiving those whom he sends, what does such “receiving” look like? Well, for a third time, I’ve got three things to say. (I swear, this is the first time I’ve ever done this in a sermon!)
First, receiving those who speak for Jesus takes the form of listening and heeding. If we have learned how to spot and avoid false prophets, and then how discern authentic ones, it becomes a matter of simply paying attention, and then acting somehow on what we hear. More easily said than done, no doubt, but ... there it is.
Second, receiving those who speak for Jesus takes the form of supporting them. Jesus uses an image of minimalism—a cup of cold water—to represent what he’s talking about. Stewardship comes into play here, certainly, but also prayer and encouragement. Not everyone is necessarily called to be on the front lines of taking the gospel into the world, but if we’re not among those landing parties, we should strongly consider the probability that we are called to support them from the rear—financially, materially, with prayer and encouragement.
Third, receiving those who speak for Jesus takes the form of emulating and joining them. You had to know I would get to that eventually, right? We are called “Christians,” after all, and the Christ—the messiah, the anointed one of God—is none other than Jesus. If we are called by his name, we ourselves are his messengers, carrying the gospel of reconciliation through the blood of his cross into the world, and looking for that cup of cold water as a token of support.
Those who receive the representatives of Jesus receive Jesus himself. Amen.
Saturday, June 27, 2020
Friday, June 26, 2020
The bigs stuff:
- Attended the regular summer meeting of the Department of Finance, the task of which is to draft a proposed operating budget for the coming calendar year. We didn't quite meet that goal, for various reasons, so we're going to get together again in early August.
- Developed a rough draft of a homily for Proper 9 (July 5 at St John's, Decatur).
- Witnessed the signing of the Declaration of Conformity to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church on the part of a priest who was last canonically resident in Springfield before serving one of the African provinces. He is now called to serve in the Diocese of Central Florida.
- Made some decisions about committee assignments at the next diocesan synod.
- Responded to sundry emails and text messages.
Thursday, June 25, 2020
- Devotions, intercessions, and Morning Prayer in the cathedral around 0715.
- Finished breaking camp in my office and headed to the Hardee's drive-through for a pork-and-gravy biscuit. (Yes, that's a thing.)
- Stopped for gas right before getting on I-55 and took the opportunity to dial in to the 0845 board meeting of the Society of King Charles the Martyr. That kept me occupied for about an hour and got me most of the way to Bloomington. Then it was back to an action-adventure audio book, which always does a brilliant job making the miles fly by.
- Home right at noon, when it was then time to join (via Zoom) a meeting of the House of Bishops. This lasted right around an hour.
- Needed some time to decompress. Hung out a bit with family in the back yard. Then took a long walk through the neighborhood with Brenda on a gorgeous afternoon.
- I had a task list looking at me, but I never actually got to it. There was just a thick pile of little things--too little to late-arriving to have even yet made it onto the task list--that occupied me until it was time to make dinner--emails, phone calls, texts.
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Nativity of St John the Baptist, 2020
Psalm 85:7-13, Isaiah 40:1-11
This is, by any standard, a memorable occasion. It would be even under “normal” circumstances. I still retain and cherish some very powerful memories of my own ordination to the transitional diaconate, now slightly more than 31 years ago. But to have an ordination in this time of the virus—with a very elite guest list, masks, and no singing—escalates the memorability of the event to an entirely new level.
The liturgy of the word a few minutes ago put us in touch with this snippet from the 85th Psalm: “I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people, and to those who turn their hearts to him.” We’re doing what we’re doing here tonight as a result of a listening process: Carter has for years been listening to the soft voice of the Holy Spirit, the voice of Jesus himself saying, “Carter, follow me. Follow me over here specifically.” Carter’s family and friends and colleagues at Blackburn College have been listening—listening to Carter, and listening to the Holy Spirit in their hearts and minds. The community of St Paul’s Church has been listening, listening and discerning. The Diocese of Springfield has been listening. “I will listen to what the LORD God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people, and to those who turn their hearts to him.”
At a key moment in the liturgy this evening, right after the laying-on of hands, I will give Carter a Bible. This is obviously not because he lacks one, or has never read the Bible. Rather, it’s a robustly symbolic act. The giving of the Bible is a sign of Carter’s authority to proclaim God’s word. Again, this isn’t anything new. Carter Aikin has been proclaiming the word of God in a variety of contexts for a rather long time. But he is being ordained tonight to speak with authority, with the authority of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church that we profess in the Nicene Creed. I don’t want to make it sound magical, but there’s a profound change that takes place in a person—in a person’s being—when the sacrament of holy order is conferred. Yet, that isn’t really the significant part. The significant part concerns the discipline by which Carter will now be formally governed in his proclamation of the Word of God. He is tonight surrendering the freedom to speak as Carter Aikin, and embracing the yoke of accountability to the Holy Scriptures and to the Church’s tradition. He becomes the consummate “company man,” understanding “company” to be “the blessed company of all faithful people” that we mention in the Rite One postcommunion prayer. Carter is being ordained to say stuff—not his own stuff, but the stuff he is given.
John the Baptist, whose natal feast we keep this evening, was born to say stuff. The stuff he was supposed to say is presaged in the passage we heard earlier from the 40th chapter of Isaiah: “Lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’” Here is your God. That was essentially what John the Baptist was tasked with saying as he pointed unfailingly to Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sin of the world.”
Here is your God. I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people.
So, Carter, what a great patron saint to have at the beginning of your ordained ministry!
But what, more precisely, is Carter to be saying as he speaks on behalf of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church? To use a cliché that you’ve probably all heard, a preacher’s job is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. The first part is to be found easily enough in that passage from Isaiah: “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.” Those who are as formed by the tradition of sacred music as I am cannot help but hear that text, in a slightly different translation, as set to music in Handel’s Messiah. The one who is authorized and empowered to say, “Here is your God, behold your God” speaks of and for the God who, to borrow the words of Our Lady in Luke’s gospel, “has mercy on those who fear him in every generation,” the one who has “lifted up the lowly” and “filled the hungry with good things.”
But what about the second part of the preacher’s job, the part about afflicting the comfortable? Well, John the Baptist’s own ministry is a more than ample resource for this. Pastors and preachers do well to learn a dynamically equivalent version of “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” and incorporate that into their vocabulary. Once again, Our Lady’s Magnificat points us in a helpful direction: “He has scatted the proud in their conceit ... he has cast down the mighty from their thrones ... and the rich he has sent away empty.” Now, if I have any counsel after 31 years, it’s that the “carrot” is best used in the pulpit and the “stick” in other circumstances. But both the carrot and the stick, both comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, are elements of the ministry of God’s word.
But, whether Carter is comforting the afflicted or afflicting the comfortable, he must, like John, always be pointing away from himself and toward Jesus. Jesus must increase, and Carter must decrease. Tonight is an important flex point in that journey of decreasing that began when he was baptized and will conclude only when he is able to look God in the eye and not be pulverized, knowing even as he is fully known.
If all of this happens, regardless of what words get spoken, the message that gets heard will be that, through Carter’s ministry, Christ will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
Carter, my brother, please stand. You are receiving Holy Orders on the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist. You know the story, I’m sure, of how when it came time for the infant John’s circumcision, everyone was astonished when his parents—Zechariah his father having had to write it on a slate because he had been temporarily struck dumb—how John’s parents had to insist that his name would indeed be John. What you may not know is that the name John means “God is generous.” I invite you to adopt generosity as the governing theme of your ordained ministry. God has been extraordinarily generous with you, as I suspect you would be the first to agree. Now you are called to pay that generosity forward, on God’s behalf, by being generous toward those into whose way you are placed. I have every confidence that he who has begun a good work in you will bring that word to completion, to the glory of his name.
Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
- Prepped for and met with the Standing Committee in another mediation session.
- Met with my legal advisor to take stock and plan future strategy. (May I just say that I hate it that I have to be dealing with such things?)
- Refined, edited, and printed my homily for tomorrow's ordination of Carter Aikin to the transitional diaconate.
- Took a first pass at the readings for Proper 13, when I hope to be preaching somewhere, but the precise details remain unclear.
- Made a condolence phone call to a diocesan lay leader who's had a a death in the family.
- Spoke by phone with Canon Evans on a range of issues.
- This is not really a small thing, but it didn't overcrowd my plate: St Paul's in Alton had a serious fire, so I spoke with the rector a couple of times and otherwise kept tabs.
Sunday, June 21, 2020
Saturday, June 20, 2020
Friday, June 19, 2020
Thursday, June 18, 2020
Since it is now a matter of media attention, I can be less cryptic than I have tried to be before now about the fact that the diocesan Standing Committee and I are in a bit of a contretemps. It concerns the timing of my departure from office. They would like it to be sooner than I have planned. At present, we are in a process of facilitated mediation. For that reason, I think it best that I not go into any more detail than this. There will undoubtedly be an occasion for doing so--relatively soon, I should think. At any rate, much of my day was consumed by emails and phone calls pertaining to this unfortunate turn of events. Please hold the members of the Standing Committee and me in your prayers as we seek a way past this "stuck" moment.
In other news, I paid some substantial attention to details surrounding next week's ordination of Carter Aikin to the transitional diaconate. I also built out my homiletical message statement for Proper 9 (July 5 at St John's, Decatur) into a developed outline.
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
- Attended and participated in the regular weekly meeting of the bishops of Province V.
- Met via Zoom with the Standing Committee for an hour plus ... preceded by very long walk for the purpose of getting my head straight about the very difficult and sensitive material we would be covering in the meeting.
- Did some cosmetic surgery on a "vintage" sermon text for Proper 7, which, after further refinement, I will record on video such that it's available on Saturday afternoon. My scheduled visitation is to St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel, but they're not ready to resume in-person worship just yet.
- The usual flurry of emails, texts, and phone calls over the whole gamut of concerns. I lead a varied life.
Tuesday, June 16, 2020
The Big rocks:
- Hosted a one-hour Zoom meeting of the diocesan clericus. It was a free-ranging discussion.
- Developed the broad strokes of an ordination homily into a rough-draft text for next week when we make Carter Aikin a deacon.
- Substantive phone conversations with Canon Evans, two clergy, and a lay leader.
- Attended to some clergy deployment work.
- Took care of some Communion Partners business.
- Processed several emails and texts as they came in.
Sunday, June 14, 2020
My visitation today is to St Barnabas' Church in Havana, IL, on the occasion of that congregation observing its patronal feast day. Instead of using a fully-prepared text, I gave an "expository" homily on the appointed second reading, from the Acts of the Apostles. Posted here is the working outline that I used.
 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen
[recap what that was about]
traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch,
[place on mental map]
speaking the word to no one except Jews.
i.e. their own people—the whole business of Jewish-Gentile relations was fraught, and evolving
 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists
[i.e. Greeks = non-Jews]
also, preaching the Lord Jesus.
 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
What a matter-of-fact account of a phenomenal experience—a “great number” of people turning to Christ, an ever-flowing stream of new disciples. How can we not be envious? How can we not want some of that in our own experience?
 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.  When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose,  for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.
The Christians in Jerusalem, the “seat” of the movement at that time, heard reports of the Holy Spirit’s activity in a place they weren’t familiar with, reports of people coming to Christ for which none of their efforts could take responsibility. They sent Barnabas to check it all out. When he discovered the reports were true, he said, in essence, “Keep on doing what you’re doing.” He was encouraging, which partially explains now he got his nickname [Bar-Nabas = son of encouragement].
And a great many people were added to the Lord.
Yet again, we are driven to envy!
 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,
[remind where Tarsus is on the map, and the narrative re conversion & post-conversion of Saul]
 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.
Also in Syria, like Damascus, but no evidence that Saul/Paul had ever been there.
For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people.
A “whole year.” That’s a long time! And what was the primary ministry? Teaching. Most any parish priest will tell you that one of the biggest pastoral challenges is to develop an interest among the baptized faithful in being taught. Many become so discouraged that they stop trying. This always breaks my heart. Part of my prayerful hope is always that lay people will “be Barnabas” to their own pastors—encouraging them by clamoring for frequent and in-depth teaching—teaching of the sort that probably came from Barnabas and Paul as spent a year in Antioch. The Episcopal Church still has too much of a residual culture that learning the faith stops at confirmation. It doesn’t. It’s a lifelong enterprise.
And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
Nothing profound to say about this, but just let it sink in.
 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.
We don’t talk much in today’s church about the ministry of prophecy, unless it’s in the generally misused (IMO) sense of “speaking truth to power,” which those who do it like to think is in the mold of the Old Testament prophets who have books of the Bible named after them. But there is evidence that, in the early church, prophecy was a charismatic ministry (i.e. a gift of the Holy Spirit) that we recognized by those who held institutional authority.
 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).
Claudius—after Caligula and before Nero, 41-53
 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea.  And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
Again, engaging in a ministry of encouragement, this time by bringing material relief.
 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
Unclear here whether Barnabas is named as a prophet or a teacher—perhaps both?
 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said,
It certainly seems startling and bold—does it not?—to read something like “the Holy Spirit said.” That’s not a way we tend to speak now. Yet, it’s instructive to observe the necessary pre-conditions for being able to say that: a context of worship, prayer, and fasting.
“Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
And so begins what we now know as the “first missionary journey” of St Paul, in which Barnabas was his companion (later swapped out for Silas after a dispute during which Barnabas was a little too “encouraging” for Paul’s taste about a third companion: John Mark.
What can we take away?
- Barnabas earned his name, both in word and deed. In this era of Facebook and Twitter flame-throwing, we could do worse than to cultivate the habit of encouragement.
- Barnabas literally put his money where his mouth was—he sold a piece of real estate and donated the proceeds to the Apostles’ Discretionary Fund.
- In this moment of confusion and unclarity, we can welcome Barnabas to encourage He bears witness to the constant goodness and boundless generosity of God.
Saturday, June 13, 2020
Friday, June 12, 2020
The big stuff:
- Attended (via Facebook Live) the Title IV hearing in which the respondent was my friend and colleague, the Bishop of Albany. He is on trial for his refusal to either implement same-sex marriage in his diocese or make provision by assigning a DEPO bishop to parishes that want to implement same-sex marriage. He is making a courageous witness, potentially at great personal cost.
- After hearing just last evening that St Barnabas', Havana does want to see me this Sunday, I "whipped up" a homily for their patronal feast from start to finish. As you might imagine, this consumed a big chunk of time.
- Routine but substantive phone conversation with Canon Evans.
- Signed off on more "percentage of capacity" plans, dealt with vacancy issues and search processes.
Thursday, June 11, 2020
- Attended (online) the annual meeting of the Nashotah House corporation.
- Developed my homiletical message statement for Proper 8 (June 28 either at or for St Michael's, O'Fallon) into an outline from which a draft text can be written.
- Made significant progress prepping appointments to diocesan offices that I will need to make at synod, as well as making. sure we have at least one person. to. run for each of the elected offices.
- Puzzled through logistics or receiving a priest into TEC from the ACNA.
- More regathering implementation conversations
- Three substantive phone conversations with clergy.
Throughout the day--attended to the smoking of a brisket on the Big Green Egg that turned our extremely well. All three households in the building were well-fed at dinnertime.
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
- Regular weekly (Xoom) meeting of Province V bishops.
- 70-minute Zoom meeting with a colleague bishop over an emerging matter of mutual concern.
- Conceived and hatched the broad strokes of a homily for the ordination of Carter Aikin to the transitional diaconate later this month.
- Planned, set up for, recorded, edited, and uploaded a midweek greeting to the diocese.
- Dealt with ongoing. details of the regathering protocols (reviewing data about building capacity and green-lighting a 25% figure).
- Read and replied to an Ember Day letter.
- Reviewed and commented on some financial data supplied by the Treasurer.
- Substantive phone conversation. with Canon Evans.
Tuesday, June 9, 2020
Sunday, June 7, 2020
Those who preach sometimes have to strike a delicate balance between paying attention to the eternal gospel message that needs to be proclaimed in season and out of season, and at least not ignoring significant public events that are likely to be on the minds of their listeners. We are still, of course, in the midst of a global pandemic that has upended and devastated communities of faith and people of faith. And now, as if that weren’t enough, circumstances have shined a light on the societal cancer of systemic racism, demanding focused attention and fundamental change that will be very uncomfortable for a great many people. Today is Trinity Sunday, and I’m going to talk about Trinity Sunday, and I’m not going to make a pretense of cleverly linking Trinity Sunday with either the coronavirus or the aftermath of the homicide of George Floyd. I’m not under-estimating the massive importance of those things. I’m giving due regard to the mystery of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, the significance of which will endure long after we’ve moved on to the next set of crises in our world.
So, as I mentioned, today is Trinity Sunday. It's something of an anniversary for me, because it was on Trinity Sunday 1979, 41 years ago, that I delivered my first official, public, Sunday sermon. Those of you who are familiar with my biography will realize that 1979 was about a decade before I put on a backward collar and was legitimately authorized to preach. Indeed, my first Sunday sermon was as a layperson.
It all started one weekday afternoon in early May or late April of that year. At the time, I wore the hat of music director at St Timothy's Church in Salem, Oregon. I was sitting down with the rector in his office, as was our custom every few weeks, to pick hymns and otherwise plan the upcoming Sunday liturgies. My rector—my boss, in that context—just casually mentioned—half in jest, perhaps; I really don't know to this day whether he was serious—he mentioned that he didn't think he would give a sermon on Trinity Sunday. After all, what can one say in the face of so great and wondrous a mystery as the Holy Trinity?
Well, as an amateur theologian and a strict constructionist of Prayer Book rubrics—which I kind of still am, for whatever it’s worth—I objected. After all, how can one simply say nothing at all in the face of so great and wondrous a mystery as the Holy Trinity? "If you're not going to preach, I will!,” I said—half in jest, perhaps; I really don't know to this day whether I was serious.
I'm kind of fuzzy on just what happened next. But I do know that, come Trinity Sunday, I found myself in the pulpit of St Timothy's Church! And, I have to say, I did a masterful job. I examined the theological implications of the doctrine of the Trinity with subtlety and refinement. I read from my own journal, and shared my own inner struggle in my relationship with the God who is one-in-three and three-in-one. I quoted from well-known hymns and from the writings of the saints and doctors of the church.
When I stepped down from the pulpit, and made my way back to the choir to lead the singing of the Nicene Creed, there was a holy hush over the congregation. "That went pretty well", I thought to myself. "Maybe I should consider doing it professionally."
My sense of accomplishment was short-lived, however, for as I was directing the choir during Creed, I glanced at my watch, and did a double-take. To my horror, I saw that it was 10:55, about the time that communion should be winding down, and we were only at the Creed! Most Episcopalians are only too happy to have theological mysteries explained to them, but not if it means listening to a 45 minute sermon at a Sunday Eucharist!
I assure you that, today, I do not intend to be either as lengthy, or, probably, as profound, as I was on this day 41 years ago. So let me just cut right to the heart of the matter. It has often been said that Trinity Sunday is the only festival of the church year that celebrates a doctrine, rather than an event or a person. Don't you believe it! Trinity Sunday is not about celebrating a doctrine. In a way, I wish it were.
I'm personally quite fond of doctrine in general and the doctrine of the Trinity in particular. I enjoy trying to wrap my mind around it, and I believe it is absolutely essential to the well-being of the Church and to a right relationship with God. To my dying breath, I will struggle to confess and uphold the doctrine of the Holy and Undivided Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as it is proclaimed in the scriptures, creeds, and liturgies of the historic church. So passionately do I feel, and so resolutely am I convinced of the correctness of the traditional doctrine. But I do not for one instant fool myself that either my passion or the correctness of my belief will deliver me from the power of sin and death and make me worthy to stand in the presence of the Triune God! Only the Triune God himself can do that. And it is this God, not the doctrine of him, whom we celebrate on Trinity Sunday.
The Old and New Testaments contain any number of commands pertaining to our relationship with God. We are told, among other things, to love him, obey him, serve and follow him, trust and put our faith in him, worship and adore him. But nowhere, as far as I can tell, are we commanded to understand God.
Does that come as a relief to any of you? It certainly does to me! Most of the time, I enjoy trying to understand God, but I'm awfully glad my salvation doesn't depend on how well I do so, because I'm often not very successful! Among the varied gifts of the Holy Spirit is the inclination and ability to penetrate, to a point, the mystery of God's identity, and to articulate that mystery in fresh and compelling ways. Those who have this gift should indeed exercise it for the benefit of the rest of us. We can all enjoy God more as a result.
But we will never solve the mystery, and, in the end, our job is to simply rest in the joy of his love for us and in what he has done to reconcile us to him. Trinity Sunday is not about a doctrine. Trinity Sunday is about the Triune God. Doctrines are for understanding. The Holy and Undivided Trinity is for worshiping and adoring and loving.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise him, all creatures here below,
Praise him above, ye heavenly hosts,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost