Thursday, August 03, 2006

Sermon by Wayne Sherrer: A Big Name to Live Up To

Trinity Sunday, June 11 2006

A Sermon by Wayne Sherrer

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Five years ago my daughter was born. Some weeks later her future godfather saw Regina Victoria for the first time. He recognized her name meant Queen Victoria and he immediately remarked, “That’s a big name to live up to.” And it is. We hope she learns from the examples of Queen Victoria and other women who have dreamed and accomplished much. As she gets older we will read her some of their stories until she can read for herself the accomplishments of a woman whose empire spanned the globe and the achievements of other notable women.

This congregation here assembled also has a big name to live up to. Congregations named for an individual saint like John or Peter or Augustine can look to the saint’s life for examples of faithfulness and service. They can be inspired in their own journeys by accounts of the saint's path of discipleship. They can put their own trials in perspective as they hear about their namesake’s struggles with temptation, fear and doubt. They can identify with another human being who shared our frailty and limitations and yet fought the good fight. They can trust God more completely by remembering that God never abandoned their patron saint.

However, we, like St. Patrick, have bound unto ourselves the strong name of the Trinity. Of course, all Christians do this in the sacrament of baptism, but our congregation has chosen that name as our public name—our identity—our first witness to the world. But there are no biographies of the Trinity. We don't see God learning how to be God by trial and error. The persons of the Trinity are perfect—a standard that we can’t ever reach. It’s awfully hard to follow a role model like that.

By word and symbol we proclaim our faith in a God beyond logic: Three equals one and one equals three. Just turn in your Book of Common Prayer to page 864 and begin to read the Creed of St. Athanasius. See how far you get before your brain says, “Wait a minute!” But the truth of the Trinity is what we believe and what we teach. How can we possibly live up to that name? By our own strength and effort it would be impossible. With God’s help and by God’s grace all things are possible.

In its simplest form, the Trinity is one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How can this be? It is a mystery. Our experience and the nearly 2000 years experience of the Christian community tells us it IS so, but not How it is so. As we look in today’s Gospel reading from John, we see all three mentioned, but they are not described in isolation or alone. Instead, they are always in relationship. The Spirit is the active agent in a believer’s birth from above. The Son comes into the world to save the world. The Son is lifted up so that believers might obtain eternal life. The Father loves the world and gives the Son so that believers may have eternal life. How do the persons in the Trinity relate to one another when they aren’t saving the world? We aren’t told. What we ARE told is that the three work together for the purpose of human salvation because God loves the world.

As we seek to live up to our name, that is perhaps our first call—to love the world that God loves so deeply. To love the world so much we will risk all that we have for the sake of that world, just as the Father gave his only Son. To love the people in the world without preconditions and without judgment. To love without a mental scale that tries to balance the giving and receiving of love. We do this already in many ways—perhaps most clearly in our soup kitchen and our other ministries of the month. Yet each of those ministries has opportunities for service and has people whose needs that are not being met. Each of us is also in the world each day—where we work, where we shop, where we play—and every person we meet in the course of the day is a fresh chance to love the people God loves so dearly.

Next, the Trinity can remind us of the importance of community. Before creation, before the world existed, God was. And by the mystery of the Trinity, God was already in relationship—the Trinity was the first community. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Our congregation bears witness to the Trinity by the vitality of our common life and mutual love. Our weekly worship is not a drive-thru drugstore where we get a week’s supply of pep pills and go on our way. It is an experience of heaven on earth—a sample of the heavenly celebration of life that Jesus often compared to a wedding banquet. It is a family reunion where we who have become brothers and sisters through adoption can deepen our relationships with one another.

It is appropriate that we celebrate the feast of the Trinity with a meal after our worship. As the community gathers first around the altar to share Christ’s Body and Blood and then continues to share the stories of our lives as we eat and drink in Conine Hall, we increase our unity and imitate the oneness of spirit and purpose that the persons of the Trinity have shown.

It is fitting also that tonight we open the doors of the Sitgreaves Coffeehouse. That coffeehouse serves a dual role, as it provides additional opportunities for members of Trinity to know one another better and it invites non-believers into our midst. There they experience our hospitality and see the love we want to share with them. There the language of music speaks to hearts that words alone cannot reach. Through that ministry we reach out an open hand and invite others to meet us, and as they meet us, they also meet the God we know.

Lastly, as we bear the name of the Trinity, we witness to the presence of mystery in our world and in our lives. In our first lesson Isaiah recounted his encounter with God, but he offered not a single word to describe God himself. The angels are described in some detail, but God—the central figure of Isaiah's vision—is simply present. Then John reminds us that “the wind blows where it chooses, and we don't know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” As we accept the limits of our knowledge, we allow ourselves to follow the leading of the Spirit and trust its guidance.

Trinity Episcopal Church—that’s a big name to live up to. With God, all things are possible.

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