Sermon for Year A, Trinity Sunday
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
June 15, 2014
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Good morning! After the storms of last night, it’s great to be among friends in the light of day.
I should probably start by saying that almost everything about this morning is a little different.
Right?! Can we admit that?
Sort of feels strange.
I wonder if you would let me take the first few moments of this time
And just make a laundry list of what’s different, instead of pretending things are all the same.
I promise, this has everything to do with the Holy Trinity or I wouldn’t waste time on it.
First of all, it’s nine in the morning! Maybe that feels a bit foreign.
Now, how did we manage that?
Well, you’ll remember that that was a decision we made
When we realized that we could have church anytime we wanted during the summer,
And we don’t have air-conditioning, so we decided it would be better to gather before it got hot.
Nine a.m. service time, and then Bible study in the parish house, all summer long.
Now, I want you to seriously consider coming to Bible study;
I understand that for some reason Episcopalians aren’t naturally trained to do it,
And that makes no sense to me. No sense at all. Pardon this old Baptist, but ...
Episcopalians like to say they get a lot of scripture by sitting in the liturgy.
That’s true, but that’s not the same as reading the Bible and talking about it.
It’s like sitting in the same room with the same biblical wallpaper week after week;
Eventually an awful lot of it just sort of blurs together.
You need a fresh view!
Now, if you haven’t come to a study yet,
You might think it’s like having to take your medicine;
Couldn’t be more the opposite. It’s actually really interesting.
Christians pray and read the Bible together, and they talk about what they read.
You’re a Christian, that’s what you do. Period.
Have kids? Bring ‘em. Who cares.
Don’t think you know very much about the Bible?
How else you figure you’re going to learn it?
Okay, so that’s the schedule.
What else? Oh!
Courtney Stanley is playing piano this morning. Thank you, Courtney.
All summer long we have Courtney, and Victoria Conover, and Linda Yagel.
Thank you, ladies.
They filled up just about every Sunday for the whole summer already without a stitch of complaint.
And I want you to know that this summer we’re singing
What I call “read meat Episcopal” hymns --
The tunes you know how to sing, the songs you may have some history with.
God speaking to us, moving us, in some familiar ways,
But the person playing the piano or the organ is different.
What else? What else? Oh!
Today we will start reading a small section of the Catechism of the Prayer Book together.
We’ll do that until we get all the way through. Eighteen Sundays’ worth.
It’ll only add a few minutes to the whole worship experience,
But I dare say you will emerge from it feeling confirmed, helped, maybe a little challenged.
I’m not completely certain that I agree with 100 percent of everything in the Catechism;
Good Anglican theology allows for a certain amount of space, give-and-take,
Even when the Catechism is printed right there on the page.
The question as we read through the Catechism week by week is not, Do you believe, yes or no?;
The question is, Are you willing to enter into conversation with these ideas
And be transformed through them, by God’s grace?
So there’s that.
Let’s see. What else? What else?
Oh! Why is the altar right up here when it could be ... back there?
When it’s been “back there” for years?
Well, in a very real and urgent sense, ... why not?
I mean, you know by now that I’ve been preaching from this spot down in the middle and front.
Not standing in our pulpit-proper very often.
You know I’ve been doing that off and on for a few months now, mostly “on.”
You might have opinions about that. You might not.
Let me just put all my cards on the table, okay?
We need to cozy up and bring the action in to where the people are.
A high-and-mighty message delivered from “six feet above contradiction”
Isn’t always in that spirit.
What I’m wanting to do is for us to consider together what it means
When 40 or 50 or 60 people gather together for worship in a room built for 250.
We can’t make that consideration if we stay put in our old places. It just won’t work.
This is a fairly urgent question, or at least it should be,
Because what it means when you put 60 people in a room meant for 250
Is that you feel like you’re knocking around in some big cave.
If you regularly added even 30 or 40 people it still wouldn’t feel quite right.
The family of God would still be held at a neat arm’s length from each other.
I don’t like it. It doesn’t work. Our attention needs to move more to the center.
So down comes the sermon, out and into the midst of the people;
And down comes the altar, the sacrament, into the fuller view of the people.
And why not? Isn’t that your birthright as a people of faith?
And maybe, just maybe -- and this is the last card I’m holding --
Maybe at some point we can address the fact that this little rolling altar is actually only a substitute
For that great big beautiful table that’s propped up against the east wall.
The people who built this church with their dollars and their sweat so many years ago
Never imagined for a moment that there could ever be a time
In which there would be Sunday crowds like this in size on a regular basis.
They never for once imagined that “Spiritual But Not Religious” could be a legitimate label
That people would unironically place on themselves,
Intentionally keeping themselves out of church.
And so those faithful founders build a house of faith for all people to come and pray in.
They built a big, gracious, beautiful, important house for God with a spacious dining room
And a big, beautiful table.
And they never imagined our having to have our supper -- the Lord’s Supper --
On a lovely little rolling table.
Eventually, we need to think about pulling that great big beautiful altar forward a few feet
So that it can be more than just a table again, and be used as an actual altar,
With the Presider standing behind it,
Which after all is the practice in almost every Episcopal congregation in this country,
Even though it somehow managed to pass us by. For now.
So for the summer, this is how it goes:
Come up to receive communion bread, then go to the chalice. Return to your seat.
Do the first part standing, and when you get back to your seat, take a knee.
I promise from this end, we will do our absolute best to accommodate everyone.
And I know your personal piety may simply be annoyed at this --
You will come up for communion, and some part of you will be screaming for a kneeler! --
I know! Believe me! I’m a creature of habit myself.
I get really annoyed when I think things are being changed around just to mess with me!
I really don’t like “Change for Change’s Sake,” and I don’t think it’s helpful.
But change for the necessity of God’s purposes ...
I just think we have to be sensitive to the kinds of practices
That are going to allow the Church of Jesus Christ to evolve
Into whatever it needs to become next. And why?
Because -- this morning, Jesus tells us, his disciples, to do five things:
(1) To go -- in other words, to leave all the various mountains on which we stand;
(2) To make new disciples of everyone;
(3) To baptize those new disciples in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit;
(4) To teach those new disciples to obey everything that he has commanded us to do; and
(5) To remember that he will always be with us.
Five things. To go. Make. Baptize. Teach. Remember the promise that he’s always there.
Matthew invokes the formulation of the tripartite nature of God
Which is called to mind every time we baptize another human being.
He shows knowledge of the fact
That even the first generations of Jesus-followers
Were aware of the divine dance of the three natures, or Persons, of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Of particular interest to us should be the language of this one aspect:
For us old dogs to teach the new dogs to obey everything Jesus has commanded us.
In Matthew, this means something quite specific.
Because the Jesus of Matthew lives and moves in an inhumane world
Where power is wielded absolutely and humans are cattle.
People who are not Roman citizens are devalued. They are only units of production.
Jesus, though, has taught us how to live an alternative way of being
In which we do not devalue or dehumanize others,
But on the contrary, seek to humanize those who have already been dehumanized.
In other words, seek to show that when the world discounts you, God never does.
To teach others that they always possess an infinite worth in God’s eyes.
True Christian action sheds light on people in ways that value them, that humanize them,
Even and especially when they have already been accounted as nothing.
So the changes I want us to consider by trying them out this summer --
All these crazy things I’ve talked about today --
They all come with this one question:
How can we leverage what we have to build people up after they’ve already been torn down?
Christians are people who are deeply involved in the life of the Holy Trinity
Whether they know it or not.
We derive our entire existence, meaning, and identity from the active dance of the Trinity
Whether we know it or not.
The life of the Trinity is a life of perpetual evolution,
Constantly bringing light and creation and redemption and love and revelation forward
So others can catch a glimpse of it -- get the message anew, in their own way,
In ways that make sense to them, so the story can continue.
God who is both Father and Mother is the generative energy for all of life -- the One Who Makes.
God who is the Son, whom we call Christ or Messiah,
Is the articulation and revelation, the word of life -- the One Who Redeems.
God who is Holy Spirit is the spinning centrifuge of constant creativity --
Bringing the truth to us and unsettling us and making us new --
The One Who Tills the Soils of Our Hearts.
God is all these things, and so is only one.
God’s oneness is known in these many expressions.
God’s story is the coming-together of many stories.
God’s voice, and our ability to hear it and act on it, is what keeps the story going and renewed.
Now, does any of that sound like it’s nailed down and not subject to further change?
Or can it be that somehow what it means to follow Jesus
Is not to live with the same-old, same-old;
But somehow instead, to walk each day into ever-new circumstances and find Jesus there,
For the first time or the second time or the hundredth time or the millionth?
I will tell you that this is so much more liberating to me
Than following out every old formula to its final, dusty end.
Because as tired and as unsettled as it makes us to change,
We still have a lot of work to do.
There are a lot of forces at work in this world making people feel less-than, dehumanized;
And Jesus has commanded us to get to those folks
And to tell them we love them and God loves them.
Here’s a quick, final thought.
I’ve been slowly reading Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
With my daughter Annie at bedtime.
If you haven’t read it or you never saw the show, Little House
Is about things that happen starting in the year 1869 --
No cars, no electricity, no cell phone towers --
In fact, not even very much in the way of roads or indoor plumbing.
It starts out with Charles, the father of the family, getting itchy feet;
Pa can’t seem to stay put for very long.
So the Ingalls family throws everything that isn’t nailed down into the wagon
And they hitch on the horses, Pet and Patty,
And they head south, from Pepin, Wisconsin, to Montgomery County, in southeastern Kansas.
And in Montgomery County, before they decide to stop for good and build a cabin,
They sleep out in their wagon night after night.
The grassy green hills of the prairie just roll away from them very gently in every direction,
The blue sky of day, the stars hung up on the ceiling of the heavens at night.
After several days it becomes easy to believe that they’re the only people left on earth.
What Laura never says openly, but is communicated clearly nevertheless,
Is that she is on a grand adventure -- a quest --
And that absolutely everything about the future is available to her at that moment.
Her writing seems to suggest a very quiet sort of exhilaration.
Now, this is in every sense precisely what I pray for, for all of us here.
That we would be so totally open to the leading of the Holy Trinity in our lives
That we would easily submit to knowing and following
The path and the will of Christ in our lives as individuals and as a church.
May it never be said of us that we lost our taste for adventure.
In God’s good time, and with our willingness to come along on this grand quest with our Father,
May it be ever so. Amen.