Before I totally depress us all with another installment in the Sweet-Jesus-what-is-happening-in-the-church? Series, want to hear what happened on Sunday? Because it was not at all depressing.
Sunday, as I’m sure you are aware, was Trinity Sunday. Feast day not only of orthodox Nicene faith, but of curates, seminarians and seminarian wannabes. The day when rectors and bishops beat the bushes to find the lowest preacher on the totem pole and force them to explain, in 10 minutes or less, the inscrutable mystery of the One, Holy and undivided Trinity.*
Bottom line is that I’ve preached on Trinity Sunday since I was 20 years old. I’ve developed a weird affection for it.
This Sunday happened to be my first in a steady supply gig at St. Andrew’s, Sedona. Their rector is on sabbatical, so they have me for the next three months, interrupted only by the one Sunday I’ll be at General Convention. I really like this congregation. They’re very friendly, and (being in Sedona) slightly quirky.
Best of all, their friendliness is the engaged, welcoming kind, which is invaluable. They walk me to coffee hour after each service (not just me, mind you– each visitor gets this treatment). They broke into applause after my sermon at the 10am service. (See? Quirky. There can be no other explanation for why sane people would applaud an explanation of the Trinity.)
However, the best part’, the part that cemented my love for this feast, forever and ever, Amen,
was a little girl who walked up to me after the service, and handed me this:
She drew it during the sermon.
I can retire now.
Anyway, here’s what I said.
Trinity Sunday! Year B
My father manages a flexible packaging plant outside Philadelphia. He has for 17 years now. And he likes that job fine. They make that shiny film that makes it so you can see stop signs at night. Very specific job.
But this is not really what he likes to do. What he likes to do is on the weekends, when he coaches a basketball rec league for kids. And every year, he does the same thing– he constructs a team of the kids that no one else picks out of the draft, kids who have never played before, or who just have no talent, or who, like me, are massively uncoordinated, and he takes the parent who wants to help, but has no idea how to dribble, and he teaches them basketball. Every year.
Now, my father was a professional basketball player. He played in college, was drafted by the Celtics, played in Europe for a few years, then got hurt and retired. He’s actually good at basketball. And my mother, my brother and I tease him, that there are simpler ways to coach than to put on your own underdog Disney movie each year, with kids who get so excited when they get the ball that they just start running up the court holding it, and then get called for travelling. And for whom winning one game is a massive and unexpected triumph.
But Dad, i think, gets sort of offended by the teasing. He doesn’t see the point. To him, the point is simple. Kids should learn the game. So everyone should play. And everyone should get better. Everything else: winning, losing, egos, all come second.
And while most often, that ends up looking, to the casual observer, like complete chaos on the court, like little kids freezing the minute they get the ball, or panicking and outright tackling the other kid who has the ball, or something else that should really end up on a blooper reel, by the end of the year–the kids have grown. They’ve learned. They’ve gotten better, and they’ve gained confidence. They may never be perfect, but that was never the point.
Perfection, though, is a human obsession. We really like to be perfect. We like to do things right, to have things proper, in their places. Otherwise, what’s the point of doing them at all? Perfectionism! Very human obsession.
Watch Isaiah, in that first reading. He is having a vision of the glory of God, called before the throne of the Most High, angels flying all around– not just the normal angels, but the weirder, seraphim with the many wings, and the funky looking things, and all that. And there are beasts and fire, and all sorts of stuff. Overwhelming!
And in the middle of it, this overwhelming scene, Isaiah freaks out. He remembers that he’s a bit of a screwup, and panics. He gets the ball, and freezes like a six-year old. “Have mercy on me, for I am a man of unclean lips, and i come from a people of unclean lips.”. In other words, I don’t always speak rightly. I don’t always manage to tell the truth, either about myself, about others, or about God. And neither do my people.
I’m not perfect. Says Isaiah.
And God calls him anyway.
Because that is both exactly the point, and entirely beside the point, all at the same time.
God is, in fact, well aware that Isaiah is a screw up. God is, in fact, well aware that the people of Israel haven’t been getting it right, and aren’t going to get it perfect now, and most likely, aren’t going to get it perfect the next time either. God’s been with them for a while now, through the exodus, the ten commandments, the golden calf mess– none of this is really news to God. God is well aware of the tendency of humanity to consistently take a good idea and charge in the wrong direction with it.
But the reason God tries, time and again, to get it right with us isn’t because we are so very perfect and good– it’s because that’s just how God operates. That’s who God is.
God must be in relationship. God must love. God, by his very nature, so overflows with love that it must go somewhere, out into the universe, and so God creates a cosmos with which to be in relationship. God creates out of love, because love is inherently creative.
The nature of God is love, and so the nature of God is relationship, is community.
God sends Isaiah and the prophets, and keeps trying with humanity, and eventually shows up in Christ, not because we’re going to get it perfect anytime soon. But because it is in the nature of God to seek relationship with us. To love us. To try to teach us how to get better, and to walk with us.
You don’t teach something you don’t love. You don’t teach someone you don’t love either. And you also don’t teach someone who has everything figured out already. They don’t need you. But creation, wrapped up as it is in the embrace of God, is still being created. The kinks are still being worked out. We’re still being shaped and guided and taught by a loving God. We still have a ways to go before this project is anywhere near finished.
Today is Trinity Sunday– a day when we attempt to explain one more time what on earth we’re talking about when we talk about God as a Trinity– the three in one. One of the oldest images of this was called perichoresis. Not only will that word win you Scrabble,but it describes an image of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all dancing, around and around in a circle, twirling forever in a dance of creative love.
We too, are caught up in that endless dance. We, too, are caught up in that whirl of life giving love. Not because we have it figured out, and never is that more clear than Trinity Sunday, and not because we are perfect. We are called to be none of those things. What we are called to be is faithful. To keep learning. And to keep dancing.
*And then they sit off, afar, giggling madly and drinking adult beverages. Or at least that’s what I plan to do someday.