Monday, June 1, 2015

The Sunday Sermon: Dancing with the Trinity

The prophet Isaiah's vision of God's throne room is mind-blowing. A presence that fills the Temple, mystical creatures flitting about, songs of praise that rattle the rafters, hot coals, smoke, a call to serve - it vividly reminds me of last Sunday's festival service for Pentecost. Susan Forsburg's wonderful online photo essay of the minutes before that service began gave a great impression of the color, light, and joy that abounds in this place as we prepare to worship. I derive special enjoyment from singing the processional hymn as loud as I can, in part to warm up my vocal chords but also to revel in this glorious space where we are privileged to gather. Singing is good for you, body, mind, and spirit, when we do it whole-heartedly.

In fact, being whole-hearted is good spiritual advice in general, as Scripture makes clear. Isaiah offers himself without conditions: here I am, send me. St Paul speaks of our being adopted as children of God: adoption is an unconditional commitment, a lifetime relationship, inaugurated by baptism and nurtured by our engagement in the life of the Church. And John gives us the most radical, all-in and best-loved phrase in all of Scripture: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.

The Trinity itself is an icon of unconditonal relationship. Can you imagine any one person of the Trinity quitting, walking away from the others? The Spirit saying to the Son, I have no need of you; the Son saying to the Father, So long Dad, I'm done here? Each of the three - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - gives us a partial image of God. Each participates fully in the Godhead, demonstrating that divine love always overflows itself, cannot be reserved for one and denied to another, is constantly generating new life and opening itself up.

A two-person God might become inward-focused and exclusive. But the Trinitarian Godhead does not allow this: there is always another to love and care for, and this constant movement to the other forms the eternal dance, divinely graceful, never faltering, never failing to reach out, fully engaged in the beloved, giving completely of itself for the sake of the other. It's as if Bach wrote a fugue that never ends: we experience the richness of the different musical strands interrelating, moving inevitably forward, creating an onward momentum of beauty upon beauty that is unceasing and unflagging.

The energy and grace of the Trinity's dance informs our own lives of faith. We are called to live into this kind of energy, giving our whole selves to all that we do, because all that we do, we do to the glory of God and in relationship with the Trinity.

A couple of weeks ago I was at a dinner party and we got into a very funny conversation. It felt so good to have a belly-laugh: whole-hearted laughter carries the same physiological benefits as loud singing. Engaging in the dance form known as Zumba has the same effect on me: it gets the endorphins going that lift us up, that remind us that we are fully alive. The Trinity's loving challenge to us is to live our whole lives in this way. When we enter fully into any activity - listening, writing, praying, teaching - we have the potential to achieve the state known as flow or the zone, a place where we are completely present to the activity. You might imagine the Trinity as being in a permanent state of flow, eternally present to the Creation, which is the object of the divine love. For God so loved the world ...

God gave the son so that we could live life to the full, so that we could grow into the full stature of Christ, so that we could live lives that will transform our communities and bring joy and abundance to a world obsessed with fear and scarcity. God gave the son so that we could care for each other, so that we could fight injustice, so that we could restore dignity and voice to those who are disregarded and silenced. God gave the son so that we could offer our hearts to be broken by the tragedies of human loss and the scandals of greed and waste that beset us.

God gave the son so that we would know that even death will not stop us. Whether it's the physical death that awaits us all, or the death of an individual relationship, or even the death of a beloved institution such as the Episcopal Church, death is never the end of the story. In fact, death is necessary for resurrection and renewed creation. God gave the Son so that we can face the many deaths of this world and know that there is new life ahead, a life that may be much better than the one we left behind. A small group of deputies to this summer's General Convention has submitted a statement, or Memorial, to the church, calling for Episcopalians to be courageous and committed as we consider some major changes to the way we have been doing church. I commend the Memorial to you and I support its premise, that the Spirit is speaking to us in new ways and that we must be willing to be born afresh of the Spirit. God gave the Son so that everyone who believes may not perish but may have eternal life. Just don't expect eternal life to necessarily look the same as the life we know.

God did not give the son so that we could hedge our bets, live on the surface, or so that we could stifle our true selves or isolate from others to avoid hurt. We are not meant to be alone; we are made for relationship, in the image of the Trinitarian God who created us, the God who died for us, the God who continually turns our lives upside down with change and newness of life.

As we celebrate the mystical relationship of the Holy Trinity today, the Gospel invites us to focus on the incredible, unending, unconditonal love that forms the foundation of that and potentially every other relationship we know. For God so loved the world ... That love requires that we live our lives with everything we've got: that we love recklessly, that we laugh immoderately, that we listen intensely, that we sing and dance and hug and even argue with abandon.

The Episcopal diocese of Virginia has a camp and conference center in the Shenandoah Valley, called Shrine Mont. It includes many mountain-top acres of woods, hiking trails, playing fields, camp sites, an old hotel, and an open-air chapel, the Shrine of the Transfiguration. Generations of children have attended the summer camps, and generations of clergy have been nurtured by the conferences and retreats held several times a year. It's one of those thin places where you can sense the love of God more strongly than usual. A few days at Shrine Mont is therapy for the soul.

Years ago a priest who served as chaplain to the summer camps wrote a prayer for the kids to use, especially when they are outdoors on a hike or at worship at the Shrine. The prayer is known as the Shouting Prayer because you are supposed to shout it at the top of your voice and listen for the echo coming back from North Mountain. It's short and easy, and we always pray it responsively, the leader giving a phrase and the congregation shouting the phrase back, so ther's no need for paper.

The Shouting Prayer is something you have to do whole-heartedly, and, as a spiritual exercise in being whole-hearted, we are now going to pray it together. Again, I will give you a phrase and you will give it back. But it has to be shouted. So fill your lungs, and shout as loud as you can!

God loves the world.
God loves us.
God loves you.
I love you.
God loves me.
I love me.
Thanks be to God.

May 31 2015
The Very Rev Penelope Bridges

No comments: