A cup of boldness, courtesy of the Trinity

The other day, I went to Starbucks – that was no surprise, because y’all know that I love Starbucks and that I go there because I love their chai lattes. And you know that whenever I come out here on Sundays, I stop at Starbucks multiple times along the way. So my going there the other day normally wouldn’t have been a big deal.

Except for the fact that the other day, I went there not just for my chai, but to take a stand.

You see, there is a group called the National Organization for Marriage, which is so anti-gay marriage that it organized what it called a “DumpStarbucks Day” because this group is upset. Really upset. Why? Because Starbucks has had the audacity to offer health benefits to its employees’ domestic partners.

NOM’s response to this offer?

It wants Starbucks punished.

So it started a Facebook page, “DumpStarbucks Day,” and asked people to boycott Starbucks on Wednesday last week.

Of course, a slew of my friends, who support gay marriage, among other things, were outraged and expressed that outrage on their Facebook pages, which meant it showed up on mine, and finally, after seeing all kinds of references to this, and wondering why my friends would support an attack on Starbucks, I checked out the whole thing and came away thinking, “Really? NOM is outraged that Starbucks treats its employees and their loved ones well? Hmpph! Not gonna let that happen!”

So on Wednesday, I made a point of going to Starbucks, where they know my green cup (if not me) quite well, and after I ordered, I told the barista I was there to support Starbucks against the DumpStarbucks movement.

Of course, she had no idea what I was talking about, so I explained it to her, and reiterated that I was there to show support for her employer.

“Someone has a problem with Starbucks giving us health benefits?”

“Not just you. But domestic partners as well,” I said.


I had to explain that domestic partners frequently but not always are gay, which is when one of the other customers piped up: “What? Some group is objecting to what?”

So I explained – again – the whole idea, and that I was there to support the company, and that I would be back later in the day, to really show my support, and then the barista asked, in great confusion,

“Why would anyone care who Starbucks gives benefits to? What business is it of theirs?”

“Exactly,” I said.

“It’s nobody’s business but Starbucks and its employees,” the customer said.

And then the barista asked: “Is this group Christian?”

“Yeah, that’s what they claim,” I said.

“See, that’s what I hate about churches,” the barista said. “I hate it when they … they …” She was literally stumbling over her words, trying to figure out how to express what it was that she hated.

“Hijack your faith?” I asked.

“Yeah!” she said. “I hate that.”

“Me either,” I said. “As an Episcopal priest, I can tell you: This is not what Christianity is all about.”

The customer chimed in again: “My dad goes to this church in Fairfax, the Unity church,” he said, “where they welcome everyone, and they relate their faith to what’s happening today, instead of just telling us what was said thousands of years ago.”
“You gotta make the faith relevant to our lives today,” I agreed.

We talked for probably another 10 minutes, ending with me inviting people to The Episcopal Church (alas, I had to tell them the commute to Blue Grass was pretty long), and then I headed on to my appointment.

Afterward, I thought about how, in that short encounter, we – the barista, the other customer and I – had formed a community. Just for a short time, yes, but a community nonetheless.

And isn’t that what we’re talking about when we talk about the Trinity, the feast we celebrate today?

Aren’t we talking about community?

Because isn’t that what the Trinity is all about? Community?

Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

The way we read the Scriptures, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit always work together … in the beginning and from the beginning. You never find two of them off working while one stays behind, drinking a martini. The Trinity is a community, and it is always together.

And remember, my friends, this is the image in which we are made, the image of God, which is one of love and one of community.

Which means that we are created to live in community just like the Trinity.

• • •

I can tell you that there are many, many of my colleagues this morning who claim that you cannot explain the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who say the Trinity is a mystery and we are not made to understand mysteries, who allege that anyone who even tries to explain the Trinity is … well, is a fool. That really, we are all like Nicodemus, confused and wondering what the heck Jesus is talking about in the depths of the night.

To which I reply: Anyone who cannot explain the Trinity isn’t really trying, and that to fob the whole thing of as some sort of inexplicable mystery is … well, let’s just say it’s foolish. Because we are not Nicodemuses! We, my friends, are God’s creation, made in God’s image. And we do not need to stumble around in our faith and say, “Well, I can’t really explain the Trinity because it’s a cosmic mystery”!

Because the Trinity is, in its most basic form, nothing more – and nothing less – than community.

So let’s get the basic explanation of the Trinity out of the way so we can get to the heart of the matter, OK?

See this blue water? This is God the Father, the one who created us not because we are necessary – remember, we are not – but because God loved us into being. (pour water into glass bowl)

See this yellow water? This is God the Son, the one who lived among us as one of us, who laughed and cried, who celebrated and suffered, who died for us. (pour water into bowl, making water turn green)

See this red water? This is God the Holy Spirit, the advocate who comes to us to lead us, guide us, give us the breath to be bold in our faith. (pour water into bowl, making water turn amber)

Now … you tell me … which one is which?

Can you separate God the Father from God the Son from God the Holy Spirit?


That’s because you can’t separate God into pieces. You. Cannot. Separate. The Father. From the Son. From the Holy Spirit.

Three in One. One in Three.

A community.
Because, my friends, that’s the Trinity … an inseparable community that you can’t really tell apart and can’t possibly tear apart, always together, always united, always in love with each other.

And we, who are created in the image of God, are created in that image of community.

Which means that wherever we are, we need to be in community.

But we can’t simply show up and hope community somehow magically “happens.”

We, created in the image of community, have to make community.

We have to work at community.

And just like the community in whose image we are created, we have to be bold at community-making.

Because God the Father certainly was bold in creating us and inviting us  –inviting us! – to love one another and ourselves and God, knowing full-well that we might just turn down that invitation, but boldly taking that chance anyway.

Because God the Son certainly was bold in everything he did, preaching, teaching, healing, giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, voice to the mute and making the lame leap for joy! God the Son was bold in choosing not only to live for us but to die for us!

And God the Holy Spirit? Oh, my gosh, the Holy Spirit is nothing but boldness personified, inspiring us – literally, giving us breath! – guiding us, giving us the right words to speak, helping us choose the right actions to take. Oh, my, the Holy Spirit defines boldness!

This bold image of the Trinity is the image in which we are created! To be bold in our community!

• • •

I read an article yesterday by a church musician named Nicole Keller, who was lamenting the fact that so many Christians seem to give up on their faith.

“… I believe that there is no such thing as a non-extreme Christian,” she wrote on her blog, Under the Cassock.[1] “Christianity,” she says, “is a radical faith, even in its utmost humility. … [T]he core of Christianity includes bringing Christ to those who do not know him by showing them who he is. That doesn’t mean I have to go door to door like our Mormon friends … It could be as basic as helping a random stranger pick up the groceries they (sic) dropped in the parking lot, bringing up your children to be faithful Christians, or feeding the poor at the local soup kitchen – that’s living the Gospel, baby,” she writes. “But along with those actions we must be willing to admit openly, when necessary, that we do them because our faith inspires and requires us to do so with a loving heart.

“Is that really so hard?” she asks. “When someone asks me, ‘Why are you helping me” I can simply say ‘because my faith inspires me to love those around me.’ … It is simply showing them who I am.”[2]

And who we are is a people created in God’s image of community … and not just any community, but a bold community, willing to go out and live our faith and willing to go out and proclaim our faith!

This is what the Trinity is all about …

Boldly living …

Boldly proclaiming …

We are not nice – we do not love one another – just “because.”

We do so because we are created and commanded to do so.

So when you think about the Trinity, here’s what I want you to think about:

Not that the Trinity is some inexplicable mystery about God that will only be fully explained once we reach the Omega of this life so we can get to the Alpha of the rest of our lives.


The Trinity, my friends, is the very essence of our being that empowers us to boldly live and boldly proclaim our faith every moment of our lives, with every person we meet, in every thing that we do.

So the next time you stop for that cup of coffee, make sure you get the bold kind. The kind that builds a community (even for a moment) in the image of God.

Live your faith boldy. And then talk about your faith boldly. Be clear with people: Whatever kindness you are doing, whatever blessing you are bestowing, whatever love you are showing, you are doing so because you are created in the image of God.

Don’t be Nicodemus, showing up in the middle of night, filled with fear and confusion.

Instead, just be who you are.

Bold children of God.


Sermon preached on the Feast of the Trinity, Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va., 3 June 2012, Year B.

[1] Nicole Keller, “Saving The Church From Itself,” Under the Cassock blog, 2 June 2012, http://underthecassock.blogspot.com/2012/06/saving-church-from-itself.html.


[2] Ibid. All emphases original.

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Tales from the communion of saints …

Today is All Saints’ Sunday, the day when we celebrate the saints of God who have gone before us, the saints of God who are among us still, and the saints of God that we hope to be.

And what better way to celebrate the saints than to tell stories about them?

Our first story took place two weeks ago near Doswell, Va. For those of you who don’t know where that is, think Kings Dominion.

On Sunday, Oct. 23, an 8-year-old boy, Robert Wood Jr., visited the North Anna Battlefield Park near King’s Dominion with his family. Robert, severely autistic and unable to communicate with others, ran away from his family in mid-afternoon; within hours, hundreds of professionals were scouring the 2,000-acre park for him.

The searchers looked all day Sunday and all Sunday night. They called for volunteers, who turned out by the hundreds, and searched all day Monday. And through Monday night. They searched Tuesday and Tuesday night. Wednesday. Thursday. And still they didn’t find him.

Six thousand people volunteered to help in that search – 6,000, from as far away as Alaska and Florida, showed up to be trained in search techniques, to learn about autism, and to comb the hills and gullies, to struggle through the brambles, to scan trees and fields, looking for this boy.

There were reports of grandmothers from Pennsylvania joining the search, because they have autistic grandchildren themselves, and they couldn’t stand the idea of their own grandchildren being lost in a wilderness.

People took time off from their jobs and drove miles to participate … because they cared.

They didn’t know the child. They didn’t know the family. For the most part, they didn’t know the area.

Yet they showed up.

Because a little boy with severe autism was all alone, lost in a park, and not one person could stand to think of him like that.

I didn’t show up until the sixth day – I honestly thought that Robert would have been found by then. I’ve never participated in a mass search before and wasn’t certain I could be of much help. But I went … because, just like those other 6,000 volunteers, I cared about a child I didn’t know and to this day have never met.

When I first arrived, I found hundreds of people standing in line, quietly, not saying a word. Have you ever been to an event, stood in a line with hundreds of other people, that was as quiet as church?

Well, I’m an extrovert, so after about 10 minutes of silence, I couldn’t take it anymore. “Does anyone remember,” I asked, “where they parked their cars?”

For the next four hours, we stood in line as the temperature dropped and the snow came and went, hoping to get a chance to go into the field to search for Robert. We talked about all kinds of things, including why we were there (because we cared), what we hoped to accomplish (find the child) and what we feared (none of us wanted to be the one to find Robert’s body).

While we waited, volunteers brought us Starbucks coffee and Dunkin Donuts coffee and 7-Eleven coffee. They brought us fresh Krispy Kreme donuts, and fruit and granola bars and even Burger King breakfasts. They had tons of food donated by local organizations; some of the volunteers spent all their time taking care of those who were going into the field, and those coming back from the search.

Finally, we reached the registration tent, where I was asked the oddest question: Do you have a title?

“Well, sure,” I said. “It’s ‘the Reverend.’ I’m an Episcopal priest.” There seemed to be some people there not used to women priests, so I added, “I can be a chaplain.”

“Make sure you tell your team leader that when you get into the field,” the registration people told me.

“Cool!” I thought. “I’m going into the field!”

Then we were trained in searching and in how to approach an autistic child – because each autistic child is unique. Robert, we were told, could not communicate much beyond saying, “Ba ba ba ba.” He didn’t like to be touched – apparently it felt as though someone were drawing razors across his skin. He didn’t like strangers. And he had never been alone this long before.

Finally, they took us by bus out to an area to search for Robert. As I got off the bus, I told our team leader, a professional firefighter who’s also a Marine sergeant in the Reserves, that I was a priest and could serve as a chaplain if they need me.

And then we began to search.

Now, if you’ve never done this before, there are rules for it. You line up about this far apart (arms outstretched) and your search area is only the area in front of you. You don’t look left and you don’t look right, because the searchers on the left and the right are responsible for those areas. And you walk along (the team leader calls, “Step out!” and frankly, all of us were worried about stepping out first with our left or right foot!), looking intently at the ground, and oh, yeah, don’t forget to look up, because Robert is a climber, we were told. The area where we were searching was covered in pine trees – you know, the ones that are easy to climb with all those branches – so we had to look up and down, and struggle through fields and gullies and brambles that caught at us, and climb over barbed wire fences, and cross small streams.

We only went about half a mile before we ran into another group, searching their sector. The team leaders consulted and made some calls, and next thing we knew, we were told to turn around and search our areas again, going back to our starting point.

There we were, standing on the road with at least three other search teams, when we got the word through someone’s iPhone: Robert had been found, and he was alive! We waited until the news was confirmed, first by one TV station, then another, then another, and finally by the sheriff himself.

And then we all cried.

We all had wanted to find Robert, but we all feared being the one to find his body. Now, that fear was removed, the boy was safe, and all we could do was cry with relief.

Then the team leader came over to me and said, “You’re the chaplain, right? Can you say something?”
So I did. I told them who I was, that I was just like them – a concerned member of the community who came out to look for a boy we didn’t know, and that this was why God created us: To care for each other in community. I asked if we could pray (everyone said yes), and led us in the Lord’s Prayer (the most universal prayer in the world), which we said while a bus went down the road.

My friends, if you want to know what the communion of saints looks like, if you want to see the saints among us, just look at those 6,000 lay volunteers who showed up to look for a boy no one knew … beacuse they cared.

• • •

The second story comes to us from your local neighborhood Starbucks (and I can assure you, I am not  being paid for this endorsement).

On Tuesday, on All Saints’ Day, Starbucks launched an effort to put people back to work. If you give $5 (or more), you get this lovely bracelet (show them), made in America, and every single cent of your contribution goes to the Opportunity Finance Network, an organization rather like a community bank (think, the difference between, say, a local bank like Virginia Commerce, and a national bank like Bank of America).

Howard Shultz, the CEO and founder of Starbucks, has decided that we as a country can’t wait for our government to take care of the high unemployment we face, because our elected leaders are squabbling too much and doing too little. So he’s put up $5 million of Starbucks’ money, and is asking customers to put up $5 at a time to help people get small loans so they can work, or hire others to work for them. If you have an idea for a business, or if you have a small business, you can apply to the Opportunity Finance Network for help, and they will give you that small loan, and train you and help you to grow a business and put America back to work. (http://www.opportunityfinance.net/about/)

It’s an example of the community coming together to help each other. For the price of one Carmel half-fat, no-whip, decaf Macchiato (or whatever that thing is – I don’t know, I drink tea at Starbucks), you can help someone in need get back on their feet.

It’s the communion of saints at work.

• • •

Our third story comes from Detroit, once known as the Paris of the Midwest (or as we called it when I worked for the company that owned the newspaper there, Zee Par-ee of zee Mid-wessst). The founder of Quicken Loans – not Quicken, the program you use on your computer, but Quicken Loans, where you go to get loans – is from Detroit. He grew up there, and he remembers the stories his father told him about his hometown and what it was like in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, when anyone could get a job, regardless of their race, creed or color, and move into the middle class (Detroit helped create the middle class).

But I think we all know that Detroit is not what it once was. Two decades ago, they build the Renaissance Towers there, because they wanted to have a renaissance in Detroit. But now, buildings stand empty.

So Dan Gilbert, Quicken Loans’ founder, has moved his company back into downtown Detroit, and with a group of other businessmen and leaders, he has formed an investment network to give people a chance to work and learn and hire others. If you need a place for a business, if you have an idea for small manufacturing, you can apply to this group and get help. And it’s not just money – they put you through a rigorous three-year program, training you in bookkeeping and accounting and management, and even in writing a decent sentence in English. They have the buildings and the funds, and are looking to give people a step up the ladder, so that Detroit can go through a true renaissance.

Again, the communion of saints is working together.


• • •

Our final story comes from Coney Island, N.Y. Has anyone here been? I’ve never been there, but I’ve always wanted to go. It has some kind of mystical allure for me.

This story is about the Coney Island Bagel and Bialy Shop, the oldest Jewish bagel shop on Coney Island. After 91 years in business, the owners had to shut it down six weeks ago because the owner said he wasn’t making enough money and couldn’t do this anymore.

Five weeks ago, the business re-opened.

Two men in New York heard that the bagel shop was closing and couldn’t stand that idea. Turns out one of them had worked there years before when he first came to this country. So he and a friend bought the company.

Two New York cab drivers bought the shop and reopened it.

Two Muslim cab drivers.

Two Muslim New York cab drivers reopened the shop and promised to keep it kosher.

Some of the employees, who were planning to retire (because the shop was, after all, closing), have decided to stay on, to make sure that the owners know how to make kosher bagels.                  Another example of the communion of saints working together to take care of each other.


• • •

Today is All Saints’ Sunday, the day when we celebrate the saints of God who have gone before us, the saints of God who are among us, and the saints of God we hope to be.

I could have told you stories about other saints, the ones we know … Patrick and Gabriel and all the others we know and love.

But sometimes, the saints among us are those we least expect.

And those are the ones who can help us learn to be saints as well.

By focusing on our communities, by reaching out, by helping each other.

We, too, are saints of God.

If we decide we want to be.

It is All Saints’ Sunday, after all.


A sermon preached on the Feast of All Saints’ Sunday, 6 November 2011, at St. Matthew’s, Sterling, Va.

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