In the picture

Homily for the First Sunday after Pentecost (Trinity Sunday) Year C
St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Richmond VA
June 16, 2019

Lectionary Readings:

 

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[Of note: In the Children’s Sermon immediately preceding this homily, we talked about the icon of The Holy Trinity by Andrei Rublev referred to in this homily (and pictured at left). So the story goes, there is a place in this icon where a mirror was thought to have been affixed, considering the welcoming of the stranger in the story of Abraham and Sarah and reflecting the image of the Holy Trinity, One God to include us as well.  For general reference, please visit Fr. Richard Rohr’s commentary, “Take Your Place at the Table.”]

 

For the past four years, my mid-June has been lived out in summer intensives at my seminary on the West Coast. Thus, Trinity Sunday has been an opportunity to visit, worship and serve in parishes throughout the San Francisco Bay area. I have heard some sermons about the Holy Trinity from learned theologians and cathedral deans; I’ve danced at the intersection between brilliance and heresy. I’ve explored feminist theology and eco-centered liturgy with trinitarian themes; I’ve even carried a banner in procession at Grace Cathedral, which almost caused me to set sail from the top of Nob Hill when a gusty wind found my banner just as we were exiting from the service. But for my final West Coast Trinity Sunday last year, the wisdom which found me was at my home-away-from-home parish at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. St. Gregory’s is known for it rotunda of brightly painted, “dancing saint” icons. The parish is also home to several incredible iconographers, including their rector Paul Fromberg. On this particular Trinity Sunday, Paul offered up a thought-provoking homily using the iconic image of the Holy Trinity by Andrei Rublev. He had also placed an icon in the entry that Sunday, and around the image was written:

This one body that we are includes the whole world, the earth and all its beings, and these are in conversation with heaven, all participate in the responsibility of each for all.

Now, not only is Paul the rector of St. Gregory’s but I have also taken several courses with him in practical theology and parish ministry during my four years at seminary. He’s shaped my priesthood in many ways, so you can either thank him or blame him for that! I know Paul to be brilliant, spiritually grounded, quick on his feet and have an answer to almost any question posted to him, usually astute and if not, at least lovingly sarcastic. On this particular day, Paul’s sermon invited us to consider the relational nature of Holy Trinity using the illustration of a dinner party he had recently held where each person reminded him of an attribute of the Holy Trinity. The conversation which emerged from that gathering required the unique and full participation of each of these particular persons; yet, the conversational whole which emerged was even greater than the sum of its parts. As is the custom at St. Gregory’s, there is a time after the sermon where the hearers are invited to reflect back their questions or response to the group. As Paul opened that time of sharing, one parishioner astutely said, “Fr. Paul, with all respect, it occurs to me that while you described your three friends so beautifully as contributing to that conversation, you were also at that table.” Paul smiled, in his characteristic way, and after a few false starts at trying to respond philosophically or with loving sarcasm, he finally replied pastorally and, I believe, theologically: “Yes” he said. “Yes. Thank you for reminding me.”

This one body that we are includes the whole world, the earth and all its beings, and these are in conversation with heaven, all participate in the responsibility of each for all.

Theologian Catherine LaCugna says of the Holy Trinity: “The doctrine of the Trinity is not ultimately a teaching about “God” but a teaching about God’s life with us and our life with each other. It is the life of communion and indwelling, God in us, we in God, all of us in each other.” [1]

God in us. We in God. All of us in each other.

God in us builds on the reassurance we hold that something happens to each and every one of us in our Christian faith and life as God’s spirit comes to dwell in us. Perhaps, as we reflected on during Pentecost last week, that is through listening to the still small voice encouraging us and empowering us to use the gifts we have been given to serve the world. Or perhaps it is a sense of being changed, forgiven, loved, and known: all of these are hallmarks of what we know and understand it means to be beloved of God who has created us. God in us helps us sense that we, individually and collectively, are the beloved of God. This is divine, blessed assurance which is born of relationship, embodied in our theology of incarnation: Immanuel, God-with-us.

We in God. The personal God who loves us is also the transcendent God who holds all of us: past, present and future…people known and unknown…wonders we’ve come to know and wonders we are only beginning to uncover…all within the vastness of Who God is. We rest in God, trust in God, affix our faith to the knowledge that God is greater than any of the things that life can throw at us. We are in God, together, as the people of God. When we offer our Eucharistic prayer, just before we say or sing the Sanctus, it is with the words: “Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven who forever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name.” That prayer places us all together in the chorus of the divine, resting in the praise and worship of the triune Holy, Holy, Holy God.

All of us in each other. If God is in us and we are in God then that brings us to the third trinitarian realization of our Christian life: all of us are in each other. My Christian faith echoes my social work training on this point: the core of all that we do rests on the centrality of relationship. I have learned this professionally, and I hold to it theologically as well. We exist as human beings to be in relationship and God’s desire is to be in relationship with us. Our understanding of creation teaches us that we are created to be in relationship with each other, and with God. Life itself requires relationship for continuity; and if we hold that we are in God and God is in us, then God is also best understood through our relationships with each other.

When we bring all this together, we come to understand LaCugna’s assertion that the Holy Trinity is about relationship and not about hierarchy. Again, LaCugna reflects that the doctrine of the Trinity supports, “a vision of authentic human community structured according to the divine community, characterized by equality, mutuality, and reciprocity among persons.” [3]  If we understand the relationships among the three persons of the Holy Trinity to be dynamic, creative, and contributory then we understand that flow of energy to be sourced in love and relationship. It is love which binds together the three persons of the Holy Trinity into One God, continually acting and revealing Godself through Love. Focusing our thoughts on the Holy Trinity in this way is not a once-a-year deep dive into abstract theology: it becomes a model for how we live our everyday lives as well.

If God is in us, and we are in God, and all of us are in each other then there is no need for hatred, or power, or trying to vindicate ourselves or support our cause to the expense of others. Our primary goal moves away from ego and becomes about relationship; experiencing the depth of love by the working of God in us, and through us, and among us. When relationship becomes our focus, the ways in which we humanly separate from each other, or latch on to privilege, or demean a person or group are antithetical to our understanding of God. These power-grabbing actions aren’t part of relationship and so they fall away, in the service of Love.

I go back to the story where I began this: Holy Trinity also encompasses and uniquely involves us: each one of us, and all of us. Before I visited St. Gregory’s there was a sort of fan-girl awe for me after reading many of Sara Miles’ books. But, it felt like home from the first time I visited both their Friday food pantry, and their Sunday liturgy. I have been drawn back to serve and worship to St. Gregory’s time after time because the charism of that parish reminds me of this parish. No, we don’t have painted icons in a rotunda and not every Sunday involves liturgical dance. But, this parish has a sense of itself through its direct and intimate connection to serving the local community as well as seeing God through the face of the other. And both St. Gregory’s and St. Thomas’ can be so focused on loving those who the world has rejected that we can have a tendency to think of ourselves as on the margins, a bit like the inhabitants of the  “Island of the Misfit Toys.” Am I wrong? But there is something vital and, in fact, Godly about knowing we are each invited to the table, holding up a mirror to be reminded that we are also created and held within in this very image of God, embodying the attributes of God in us, bringing ourselves into that iconic picture of what it means for all of us to be in each other, wrapped in and transformed by the divine relationship that is the Holy Trinity.

Our Gospel lesson reminds us that we don’t…and can’t even bear…to know everything there is to know about God. The depth of our trinitarian faith isn’t a remote and abstract theological explanation of God, but a deep and relational understanding about the nature of God, lived out in our relationships with each other. We are guided by the living out of our faith into deeper truth, including the knowledge that each one of us is a reflection of God’s enduring commitment to loving relationship. We are at the table, in the conversation, relating and communing with all of who we are to all that God is, and is revealing Godself to be. God in us. We in God. All of us in each other. No exceptions. Even you. Even me.

This one body that we are includes the whole world, the earth and all its beings, and these are in conversation with heaven, all participate in the responsibility of each for all.

Amen.

Maker:S,Date:2017-3-26,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

[1] Catherine Mowry LaCugna (1973). God for Us: The Trinity & Christian Life.  Chicago, IL: HarperCollins. p. 228

[2] Book of Common Prayer, Holy Eucharist Rite II, Prayer B (p. 367)

[3] LaCugna, God for Us (p. 266)

 

About harasprice

Professor of Social Work and Priest in The Episcopal Church, parent, teacher, learner, writer, advocate, and grateful traveller along this journey through life
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2 Responses to In the picture

  1. Deacon Frank says:

    excellent sermon… mine does have the little rectangle, and I never noticed it before. Never too old to learn something new!

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