Sunday, May 22, 2016
The Sunday Sermon: The Power of Three
I have a special fondness for threefold concepts, so I suppose I am just an innate Trinitarian. Our baptism service has several sets of three: the three renunciations of evil, the three turnings to Christ, the threefold Creed, the three Scriptural references to water, the three purposes of the water of baptism - in it, by it, and through it we are reborn. I don't think all these threes are accidental.
The holy family image, which also looks like a trifold Celtic knot, will feature prominently in the appointments being made for our Chapel, which is named for the Holy Family.
And as it happens, our mission statement is also threefold: Love Christ, Serve Others, Welcome All. So, a Trinitarian God, a Trinitarian way of doing church, a Trinitarian mission statement. Very neat and tidy. But I believe that the connection between our mission and our Trinitarian nature goes much deeper than a grammatical arrangement.
The relationship among the three persons of the Trinity has been described as a dance. The nature of our God is to be continually on the move, perpetually reaching outside of God's self and overflowing with divine love onto the creation, and that love returning through our love and care of one another and the world around us. This is our God, a God who brims with love, who moves through and beyond creation, continually making all things new and inviting us to the dance.
As people committed to a Trinitarian God, we live in that overflowing love, and we participate in the constant renewal of creation. Last week we celebrated Pentecost, the day when the third person of The Trinity took up residence in the church, turning lives upside down, sending the disciples out in courage and faith to spread the good news of the Gospel to the ends of the earth, in a mission that continues to push back barriers, to incorporate new cultures and new ways of doing church, to bring more and more people into the dance, until, some day, with God's help, all people may know the fullness of God's love.
In today's Gospel Jesus promises that the Spirit of truth will guide us into all truth. What does it mean to be guided by the spirit of truth? The truth of Jesus Christ remains constant, but we must be ready to reinvent the way we share the truth as the world changes. We must be open to the spirit, being ready to die to our old self in order to be reborn as the people of God. That means making some hard decisions about what to leave behind and what to take with us. It means being ready to let go of safety and certainty in the confidence that the Spirit of truth is our guide. There is nothing safe about following Jesus, but the reward is incalculable: joy, peace, and ultimate union with God.
Our mission statement - what was it again? Love Christ, Serve Others, Welcome All - emerged as part of last year's effort to plot a course for our corporate mission over the next five years. We named the result of that effort the Vision for Mission. You've heard quite a bit about the process and we are starting to see the mission statement all over the place, but behind the mission statement there is a vision, and the vision goes like this: to serve as a center of transformative love, faith and service; an inclusive, Christ-centred community that welcomes all people on their journey of faith. Huh, there's another set of three: love, faith, service ... One more time in case you didn't catch it ... to serve as a center of transformative love, faith and service; an inclusive, Christ-centred community that welcomes all people on their journey of faith.
The purpose of the vision is to inspire us, to guide us towards a destination, to keep us moving forward until we reach a day when we can say with confidence that everything we do contributes to the fulfillment of that vision.
Nothing about our mission or vision says it's OK to stand still: to think we have arrived and our work is done. Remember, it's the nature of our God to be on the move, eternally dancing, renewing the face of the earth and recreating that which has grown old. So, we are on the move too.
We have some bold goals within our vision: to make all of our campus completely accessible, to empower everyone to feel 100% a part of the St Paul's family, to provide all the resources needed for our children to grow into mature and loving Christians, to offer our city a place where important things are discussed and the needy and marginalized can find a home. The goals and objectives which we came up with and which many of you participated in forming provide us with specific ways to move forward: they are the "how" of our vision.
We've been through some challenging times in recent years: the cathedral finances were in disarray; there were transitions of key staff; some of our clergy let us down in painful ways; and we have been bombarded with gloomy predictions about church attendance, fundraising, and the state of the church and the world in general. All of that might discourage some people, but not St. Paul's. We have continued to thrive and grow. Our new finance staff have turned the accounts around. We are welcoming new families, children, and individuals every week. We are reaching out to our neighbors in new and creative ways. And we are on the brink of an agreement to maximize our land resource, providing expanded program and parking space as well as funds for future investment. That's the "what" of our ministry today and the foundation from which we can launch the vision.
What remains, and what is perhaps the most important, is the "why". Why move forward in this vision? The "why" rests in who we are: people who have been created, redeemed and loved by the God who is always on the move and who calls us into this dance we call the Jesus movement; people who cannot stand still until all our neighbors know justice, plenty, and peace; people who are blessed with resources of time, talent, and treasure to invest in the future of our community, and who are willing to step out into a bright but unknown future, trusting in God's love, Jesus' companionship, and the Spirit's energy to guide us ever forward.
Our vision calls us to invest some of our abundant resources now so that we can achieve the vision in years to come. That's a little scary, but it's an investment worth making, because of the "why". To answer God's call; to experience life in its fullness; to know that Jesus is leading us to something new, a way to transform our community, to be a place of healing, a destination for worship, a source of service to the city surrounding us. We do it so that we can become the heart of San Diego. If we don't move forward, this congregation will wither up and die. The people who live in Balboa Park will continue to feel unseen and neglected. Those lonely folks who come to St Paul's looking for a family to belong to will feel marginalized and untethered. Our children will grow up without any assurance of meaning in a bewildering universe. And we will have failed to make the transition to serving San Diego as a thriving faith community for the 21st century. We will have failed in our mission.
When we sign up to follow Jesus we find a way of life that is joyful, loving, and liberating. When we let the Spirit of truth guide us, we find that the truth will indeed set us free. When we step forward boldly to embrace God's dream for us, we do it willingly, because we are stepping out in response to the incredible, immeasurable love of our dancing God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
May 22, 2016, Trinity Sunday The Very Rev Penelope Bridges