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.

“Huh?”

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?

No?

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.

No!

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.

Amen.

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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Matthew 28:16-20

Well, folks, this is it.

Rublev's Holy Trinity icon

This is the day when we celebrate the Trinity, that seemingly impenetrable mystery of Three in One and One in Three, something about which thousands and thousands, no, millions of words have been written and which many will tell you is impossible to completely understand.

But I have to tell you, if Jesus were here with us, he would probably be confused. Because for Jesus, the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not a mystery, it’s not impenetrable, and it’s not his focus.

You see, Jesus understood the Trinity because he was one manifestation of the Trinity. So to him, the Three in One and One in Three makes perfect sense.

And if he were here today, he’d probably look at us and say, “Folks, this is not rocket science.”
And then he would wonder …

“Why aren’t you concentrating on that other trinity? You know, the one I gave you as I ascended into heaven?”

But before we go there, before we focus on what Jesus really wants us to focus on, let’s spend a few minutes on the part that Jesus says isn’t that complicated after all but others claim we can’t quite get.

We believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

We believe in One God.

Before anyone tells you this whole concept is too mind-boggling, let me share with you the two easiest ways I know of to explain that Trinity:

(holds up clear glass bowl and glass with blue water)

This is God the Father, the Creator, who brought all things into being.

(pours blue water into bowl, then holds up glass with yellow water)

This is God the Son, who came to be one of us as one of us, who lived for us, who preached and taught and healed and then died for us.

(pours yellow water into bowl with blue water, which now turns green, then holds up glass with red water)

This is God the Holy Spirit, who inspires us, who literally gives us breath – when a baby is born, we all wait anxiously for that baby to breathe in that first breathe, to inspire that first breath – and who tells us what to say, when to say it, and how to say it.

(pours red water into bowl with green water, which now turns amber, then swirls the water around)

Now … you tell me:

Which is which?

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

No.

Because they are all one.

My friends, that’s the Trinity.

Another way to explain the Trinity so that it makes sense to us?

I am a daughter. I am my mother’s oldest daughter, and even though my mother died nine years ago, I will always be my mother’s daughter.

I am a sister. I have seven siblings … two brothers, two stepbrothers, one step sister and two half-sisters. (It’s a complicated family, trust me.) No matter what happens to me in this life, when I die, my obituary will say that I have seven siblings.

And I am an aunt. I have 19 nieces and nephews, and seven great nieces and nephews, and I am their Aunt LoLo. And no matter what happens in my life, I will always be Aunt LoLo to them.

A daughter. A sister. An aunt.

So here’s the question:

How many of me are there?

One?

Or three?

As Jesus would say, “It’s not that complicated.” Because it’s not!

And again, if Jesus were here with us, he would ask us:

“Are you paying attention to that other trinity?”

You know …

The one where he stood on the mountaintop in front of his disciples and said:

Go make disciples.

Baptize them.

Teach them to obey.

….

Go.

Baptize.

Teach

That’s the trinity Jesus cares about.

Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus spend any time worrying about and explaining how God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are together, are one being, are God. To Jesus, it makes perfect sense. Just as me being a daughter, a sister and an aunt all at the same time makes perfect sense.

But Jesus does concentrate on that other trinity – Go. Baptize. Teach. – all the time.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus was constantly teaching us how we are to live our lives, what we are to do with our lives.

Go make disciples …

Jesus talked about it, he modeled it for us, he got into debates over it (remember Zebedee’s wife, trying to ensure that her sons, James and John, got the coveted seats at the right hand of Jesus in heaven? Remember all those debates with the Pharisees about healing people on the Sabbath? Remember how the Pharisees tried to trick him into saying blasphemous and illegal things about paying taxes and being sent by the Father? Remember how they railed at him for eating with prostitutes and beggars and fishermen?).

Jesus was very clear: If we are going to follow him, we cannot do so in a vacuum. We are not to be blind imitators, but active ministers – constantly modeling God’s love for everyone, wherever we go, so that they, too, can see God’s love in action and commit their lives to that love.

Baptize them …

Do you remember what happened when Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan? He heard God on high say to him: This is my beloved, in whom I am well-pleased.

Go baptize others, Jesus tells us, so that they can hear God’s voice as well, so that they can experience God’s love, so that they can commit themselves to that love.

Teach them to obey …

Jesus was a teacher. Pure and simple, that’s what he did: He taught. Every moment of his life, by word, thought and deed, he made sure that we understood what it was that God wanted us to do.

And the key thing he taught was that we are loved, and that we are to love. We are to love each other not just as ourselves – I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again: There are some days when I don’t love myself very much, and on those days, I can tell you, it’s really hard for me to love anyone else – no, we have to love each other a whole lot more than that. We are called to love each other as Jesus loved us!

Which means we are the ones called to feed the hungry until there are no more hungry people in the world. We are the ones who are to give water – clean water – until everyone’s thirst is slaked. We are the ones who are supposed to heal the sick and raise the dead, comfort the prisoner and lift the poor out of poverty.

Not someone else, my friends.

Us.

This is our job, our way of life, because Jesus said so!

Jesus’ Trinity is not some convoluted, impenetrable mystery that sidetracks us from our calling in life.

Jesus’ trinity is the Great Commission.

And the Great Commission is our set of marching orders.

You want to know how to live your lives as followers of Jesus?

Look no farther than Jesus’ final words to his disciples.

Standing on that mountaintop, preparing to ascend into heaven, Jesus very clearly, very succinctly tells them – tells us:

Go make disciples.

Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Teach them to obey all the commandments I have given you.

I’m telling you, this is not rocket science. This is not some esoteric debate about how to figure out the Three-in-One. Because Jesus is not interested in that kind of religion.

Jesus cares about, Jesus loves God’s people.

So, standing on that mountaintop, Jesus lays it all out for his disciples:

My work is done here. I’ve taught you everything you need to know, shown you everything you need to be shown, modeled a way of life for you, even modeled a way of death for you. Everything I’ve taught you, shown you, modeled for you? It’s all about love – God’s love for all of God’s beloved children.

Now it’s your turn, he says.

You go out into the world and love God’s people.

You show them how much God loves them.

It’s your job … your life … now.

You want to understand the Trinity on Trinity Sunday?

It’s as simple as this:

Go.

Baptize.

Teach.

Need I say more?

Amen.

A sermon preached on Trinity Sunday, 19 June 2011, Year A, at St. Paul’s, Bailey’s Crossroads, Falls Church, Va.

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Matthew 5:21-37

“You have heard that it was said … but I say to you …”

Welcome to Let’s-Get-Legal Sunday.

At least, that’s what it sounds like, doesn’t it?

Jesus is still preaching his magnificent Sermon on the Mount, that marvelous sermon in which he blesses those who have been labeled outcasts, and challenges the people to be God’s salt and light in the world.

And suddenly, he goes all legal on us and jacks up the intensity of an already detailed, already limiting, already very, very serious Law … that’s “Law” with a capital “L.”

“You have heard that it was said,” Jesus says, discussing murder, adultery and swearing falsely. (And just to let you know, Jesus stays on this legal kick for another week, so don’t think you’ve heard the last of this.) Then, Jesus continues, “but I say to you …” And he lays down a whole new interpretation of the Law-with-a-capital-L, one that is much stricter than anything anyone has ever heard before.

Murder is wrong, he says, quoting the Law. But so is treating people badly, thus elevating being angry at or insulting someone to new heights.

Adultery is wrong, he says. But so is even thinking less-than-pure thoughts about another person, he tells us. And if any part of our body causes us to sin, he adds, tear it out or cut it off (even though if you do that, according to the Law-with-a-capital-L, you can’t get into heaven, because you can’t be deformed!).

Swearing falsely – telling lies in legal situations – is wrong, he says. But now, under this new interpretation of the Law, all swearing – all taking of oaths – is wrong!

What’s going on here? How did Jesus go from been blessing people and healing them and preaching the Good News of Salvation to making most Pharisees and Sadducees, whose lives are wrapped up in fulfilling the law – every jot and tittle of it – look like legal wimps?

This is not the Jesus most of us want. We want the gentle Jesus. We want the healing Jesus. We want the Jesus who raises us from the dead.

We do not want the Jesus who tells us that we who are trying to follow the already difficult Law, are not doing enough, that even our thoughts fall short of God’s laws for us.

• • •

There’s a new TV show on the USA network called “Fairly Legal,” in which a young lawyer becomes a mediator, using her skills at negotiation to solve problems that normally would end up in the courtroom. In one of the teasers for the show, the main character is seen talking on the phone, saying something like, “The law! The law! The law! What is it with you people and the law?!”

And of course, in the course of 42 or so minutes, this young woman manages to negotiate her way to miracles.

The young man, a college student on scholarship, who is going to jail for his involvement in a car crash? She gets him off. (Turns out he didn’t cause the accident after all.)

The two drivers on the edge of a knock-down, drag-out fight in the streets of San Francisco? She gets them to apologize for each other.

The aging but still powerful father who can’t recognize that his son is a good man, ready to take over the family business? She achieves reconciliation and a major reorganization of that family business … all in 42 minutes.

If you watch the show, you think to yourself: Yeah, right. That’s not going to happen. It would take a miracle …!

And yet … isn’t that what Jesus does? Take impossible situations and do miracles?

That’s what Jesus is doing in this morning’s Gospel … he’s taking impossible situations and making miracles out of them.

Jesus is trying to show us that the Law-with-a-capital-L does not exist for itself – but for us.

Meaning: The Law is not about how to live your life within legal constraints.

The Law, Jesus is telling us, is there to help us live together in relationship – with God and with each other. (Can’t you just hear Jesus saying, right about now, “The Law! The Law! The Law! What is it with you people and the Law?!”)

The late Verna Dozier, an incredible lay theologian of the Church, taught that God’s desire, God’s dream for us, is that we become “a good creation of a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky.”[1]

Dozier is using the word “friend” the same way Jesus did in John’s Gospel, when he said, “I no longer call you my slaves but my friends.” “Friend” is a theological term for Dozier.

And the only way we can become that good creation of friendly folk beneath that friendly sky is if we go beyond the Law – to love.

God’s true desire for us is not that we fulfill the Law.

God’s true desire for us is that we love.

For you see, we are created in God’s image, and that image my friends, is first and foremost one of love. We know this to be

true, because we know, without a doubt, that we are not necessary to God. God is necessary to us, we believe, but we are not necessary to God, because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so God does not need us to exist in God’s very good creation.

Since we are not necessary, God had to have wanted us, God desired us into being, God loved us into being.

Michelangelo's Creation of Man

So we were created – each of us – in love.

And because we are Trinitarians, because we believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We believe in the community of the Trinitarian God.

Which means that we who were created in God’s very image of love were also created in God’s very image of community.

Which means … which means … that we are created in love and in community to live in love and community.

In the end, as it was in the beginning, we are created by love to love.

So when Jesus is upping the ante on the Law – when he’s giving an even harsher interpretation of the Law than anyone had previously heard – he isn’t turning into an über-Pharisee.

He’s reminding us, once again, that the Law was created to help us live as God’s beloved with and for God’s beloved.

He’s asking us, once again, to remember – every moment of our lives – that God loves us, and (and this is hard for some of us to hear some days) God loves everyone else just as much.

Professor David Lose of Luther Seminary in Minnesota tells us that:

Jesus intensifies the Law – not to force us to take it more seriously … but instead to push us to imagine what it would actually be like to live in a world where we honor each other as persons who are truly blessed and beloved of God. It’s not enough, Jesus says, to avoid murder (or adultery or anything else that is against the Law); you also have to treat each other with respect, not letting yourself fly off the handle in anger because that … demeans and diminishes God’s children.[2]

Fulfilling the Law – especially the Law on steroids[3] that Jesus proclaims today – is not about how closely you can toe the legal line for the sake of toeing the legal line.

That’s not enough, in Jesus’ mind. Jesus is calling us, as Professor Lose says, “to envision life in God’s kingdom as constituted not by obeying laws but rather by holding the welfare of our neighbors close to our hearts while trusting that they are doing the same for us.”[4]

Now that’s a tall order, isn’t it? Not only to care for our neighbors’ welfare, but trusting that they are doing the same for us?

When you think about it, that’s an even taller order than fulfilling the Law-on-steroids that we thought we were dealing with when we heard this morning’s Gospel.

Because it means that we have to put others first, and sometimes those others? The ones we are supposed to love? We don’t like them so much. And when we don’t like our neighbors, it’s easy not to love them. When we are afraid of them, it’s easy not to love them. When we don’t know them, it’s easy not to love them, or even care for them. And when we hate our neighbors – then it’s really easy not to love them.

But in God’s very good creation, in God’s friendly creation, whether we like someone, whether we are afraid of someone, whether we know someone, whether we hate someone – it’s not important.

Not in God’s eyes.

Because in God’s eyes, we are all beloved. The truth of the matter is that God loves each of us. God loves you … and you … … and you … … and you … … and you … … and you … … and you …

And because God loves each of you – because God loves each of us – God is asking us to love each other. To remember that the Law is there to help us love each other. That every moment of every day of our lives, we are called, first, last and always, to love.

Jesus is not on some kick this morning to elevate the Law to the point that none of us can achieve it.

Jesus is telling us, that yes, actually, we can fulfill the Law, every jot and tittle of it.

If – and only if – we remember to love.

I want to share with you with a prayer I found this week, the author of whom is unknown, but who nevertheless speaks wise words the echo Jesus’ preaching and that will send us out into the world … in love:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.

Watch your words, for they become actions.

Watch your actions, for they become habits.

Watch your habits, for they become character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

Amen.

————————

A sermon preached on the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany, 13 February 2011, Year A, at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church, Leesburg, Va.

————————-

[1] Verna Dozier, The Dream of God: A Call to Return. (Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 1988), p. 125.

[2] David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, on http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=452 with my addition.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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Do not lose hope – we shall have new life

Joel 2:23-32

On Friday afternoon, about 4 p.m., Immanuel Chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary burned down. Within minutes, the entire chapel was on fire. Within an hour, it was gone. By nightfall, the walls were all that remained standing – although the fire department warned that they could yet collapse.

The historic Great Commission window in the VTS chapel, before the fire.

Most of the windows, many given by graduating classes, are gone, from the great stained glass depiction behind the altar with the inscription Go Ye Into All the World and Preach the Gospel, which inspired thousands of worshippers and had its Robert E. Lee-look alike St. Peter, to the great Tiffany window of St. Paul testifying in chains. Some windows melted, some exploded. All that is left are jagged openings from which many of us watched water pour as the firefighters fought the two-alarm blaze. On Saturday, we learned that apparently, the six-toed Jesus at the back did survive after all.

The altar rail that was sent from Liberia in the late 1800s is gone, as is the altar table and the organ, which seemed to burn for hours.

Everything in the sacristy was destroyed, from the patens and chalices and old, time-worn prayerbooks to “Anna Baptist,” the baby doll that thousands of us used to learn how to baptize children.

Gone, too, is the pulpit, from which were spoken great soaring sermons meant to inspire us and not-so-great sermons given by preachers who were literally quaking in their boots, and which many of us thought would collapse a few years ago on Martin Luther King Jr. Day when Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina pounded and swayed and called us yet again to realize the dream not of Dr. King but of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Immanuel Chapel, the home in three-year cycles for thousands of seminarians for the past 129 years, the place that nurtured us and then sent us into the world to preach the Gospel, is no more.

This is a time for great mourning among the Seminary community. It is a time of great sadness.

But already, the community is giving thanks.

Thanks that no one was in the chapel at the time and thus no lives were lost. Thanks that none of the dozens of firefighters were injured. Thanks that none of the surrounding buildings were damaged. And yes, thanks that the great cross still towers above the ruins.

And already, it is a time for the community to dream.

To dream of the new chapel that will rise from those ashes. To dream of better access and better bathrooms. To dream of the unknown possibilities that make up those dreams, and that inspire us to new heights, not just of how to glorify God through our worship, but how to glorify God with our lives.

It is as though the prophet Joel were writing this morning just for those of us who loved that Chapel.

“Then afterward,” Joel wrote – meaning after the great calamity which in his day was famine brought on by an invasion, either of real locusts or of the locusts known as Babylonias –  “afterward,” the Lord says, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.”

VTS Chapel after the fire.

In other words, God says to us through the prophet Joel, despite the calamity of your life, do not lose hope.

In other words, God says, do not let the tragedy overcome you. Overcome the tragedy instead, because I the Lord am pouring out my Spirit upon you, because your young are prophesying and seeing visions, and your old are dreaming dreams.

Even in the midst of despair – over an economy that will not get its feet back under itself, over wars that are claiming thousands of lives, over injustice and oppression in Sudan and Congo and Zimbabwe, over enduring desperation and a sudden, deadly outbreak of cholera in Haïti, over hatred in the Middle East and oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, over stubborn unemployment and devastating housing foreclosures – even in the midst of all that can send us plummeting into the pit of despair, we are not to give up. We do not lose hope.

Because God’s spirit is pouring over us, and because we are prophesying and dreaming and seeing visions, and therefore, we shall overcome. We shall have new life. That is where God’s Spirit, which is being poured out abundantly over us, leads us: to new life.

But only if we live into those prophecies, those dreams, those visions.

My friends, let’s be plain here: This is our calling in life. To take the gifts God gives us in the Spirit – the prophecies, the dreams, the visions – and to make them happen.

We – who are the beloved children of God – we – who are created in God’s image of love and community – we – who are created to live in love and in community – we are the ones who are especially called to make God’s dreams for us come true.

This is not someone else’s call … it is not up to someone else to work on God’s behalf.

It is our call.

It is our mission.

It is, in fact, why we were created.

• • •

I need you to know that I am a missionary. For the last five years, I have served as your missionary in both Sudan and Haïti. I have been an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church, which means I represented you and the entire Episcopal Church wherever I went, whomever I served.

And because I am a missionary, mission is important to me. But I tend to define “mission” a bit differently than most people, because for me, mission is not simply about going into the world, it is not merely about doing things.

For me, “mission” is a way of being.

It is how we live our lives as beloved children of God.

“Mission” encompasses every aspect of our lives, every action we take, every word we speak, even the thoughts we think.

Our mission in life is the result of God creating us in God’s image, and declaring us the beloved.

You see, when God created the heavens and the earth and the birds of the air and the fishes of the sea and the animals of the land, God brought forth man and woman in God’s very own image. God did so not because God needed us, but because God wanted us. Remember, we are not necessary to God – and we know that, because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so we can’t possibly be necessary to God. Which means that God loved us into being. So the image of God is that of love. And because we are Trinitarians, believing in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always together, never apart, God’s image is that of community.

So we are created in love and community to live in love and community.

The dance of the Trinity

All of which means that each of us is and all of us are God’s beloved children. I’m a beloved child of God. You are a beloved child of God. And you. And you. And you. And you. You are the beloved. We are the beloved.

Our mission, therefore, is to love. Not just the people and the things we like. Not just the people and the things we know. But all of God’s creation. As fully, as wildly, as radically, as inexplicably, as eternally as God loves us.

We want to make those prophecies and dreams and visions, the ones that come from God and are God’s gift to us … we want all those things to come true?

We have to start with love. And we have to always act as God’s beloved. And we have to always remember that everyone else also is God’s beloved.

If this is how we live our lives, if we always begin and end in love (no matter how hard that is), when tragedy and calamity hit, we will be fine. Not because we are immune – for we are not. But because we know how to move forward. We know that God loves us, and because God loves us, God gives us the prophecies, the dreams, the visions we need to continue bringing God’s love to the world.

God who loved us into being is pouring out God’s Spirit upon us. As the beloved, we have the prophecies, we are dreaming the dreams, we are seeing the visions.

Our job, our mission, is to bring those prophecies and dreams and visions to life. To make them happen. God doesn’t give us everything we need so that we can ignore it. God gives us everything we need so that God’s dream for us can come true.

That seminary chapel that burned down on Friday? The one where I was formed as a priest, where I learned to baptize (with dear Anna Baptist, that unregenerate baby doll), to celebrate and marry and bury people? It is gone now. But the love that built that place, the love that made it a holy place of God? That love remains. And because the love remains, the community will move forward.

We are God’s beloved.

Don’t ever forget that.

Amen.

A sermon preached on the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 25, 24 October 2010, Year C, at Grace Episcopal Church, Goochland, Va.

 

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