A few qualifiers: this sermon was delivered in a Methodist church on both Trinity Sunday and the Sunday following the grueling two weeks of General Conference – a once-every-four-years gathering of the worldwide leaders of the United Methodist Church. At this Conference, there were powerful disruptions wherein the Black Lives Matter movement and LGBTQIA clergy and laity joined forces to confront the church’s racism and homophobia. The church nearly split in half over whether or not to eradicate harmful language towards “homosexuals” in the Book of Discipline – the Methodist rule book, essentially. As a guest preacher in a church that I know well – it is my mother’s church, a church i attended while still Methodist, i wanted to be sensitive to my position. They, too, are facing their own transition: my mother is taking a new parish and in a matter of weeks, this congregation will have anew pastor.
I also left the Methodist church because i could not handle the heartbreak of continually being told being queer meant i was not “compatible with Christian teaching.” And yet, i wanted to offer words of encouragement for those brave leaders who had joined forces confront racism and homophobia. And i wanted to care for the people, equally loved by God, who choose not to love the LGBTQIA community and radically confront racism. Because being a priest means loving your enemies and recognizing when you are the pharisee and when you are the outcast. I know it is not a perfect offering. But it was from my heart.
Reading: Romans 5:1-5
Today is Trinity Sunday, a Sunday for recognizing and specifically discussing what it means to worship a triune God – a God who is Holy Spirit, Son, and Parent, and a God who is all of this as one Being.
But even with my newly-minted Divintiy education, when i’m pressed to really explain what the heck this “triune” thing means, usually i throw my hands up and say, “it’s a mystery too big for words!”
There is so much in our world and in our faith that is too big for words.
Do you ever feel that way? When the hollowness of grief is so deep, so cavernous trying to squeeze it into a sentence just falls short? Or when you are so elated, so widely and gloriously happy the words seem too small?
When i feel these things – the feelings too big for words– i turn to music.
I turn to the songs i know will wrap me with their repentance – “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love!” or with their exultation – “how can i keep from singing?”
So it makes sense to me that it was not until i heard the Trinity explained to me through music that i began to find a few words to articular this mystery.
In music, one tone or one sound is called a note [play note] but when we stack notes on top of each other, we get a chord [play chord].
And here is this amazing thing about chords – even though there are multiple notes, the sound they make together is totally unique. Even if you play each note individually, the sounds of them as individuals do not make the sound of the chord. [play notes individually]
But, even when you play the whole chord [play whole chord and hold] you can still hear the individual notes – can you pick them out? [Sing each note while chord is sustained, stop chord]
This chord is like the Trinity. You can hear the distinctness of each note – the differentness of the Parent, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit – but the chord itself is one entity, one entity that is not reducible to its parts.
Our God is a God who contains difference, who contains harmony and uniqueness.
I think this is a lot like the Body of Christ, like us, the people who make up the church. While we each have our own stories, our own melodies, together, by the grace of God, we can make harmony out of discord.
I want to show you this and not just by plunking at the piano. So here is what we are going to do: Jonathan, Matt, and I are going to divide you into three sections. In each section you’re going to hold a note – the note held by your leader. So Matt’s section, you’re going to hold this note [play & sing]. Great! Okay, keep singing that note – stay on that note – and Jonathan’s section, you’re going to sing this note [play and sing]. Great! Okay, keep holding it, and my section, you’re going to sing this note [play and sing].
[Hold the harmony for a beat or two, cue to cut people off]
What music the Body of Christ can make together. What music of many voices!
Because our God desires and celebrates this difference!
Our God not only celebrates this difference, but God also desires to be in relationship with us– and one of the most important ways we know God desires relationships is because God is a relationship.
The Trinity is three equal, different persons who desire each other so completely, so perfectly, they are one.
The very root of love, of desire, is God – because God at once is desire and God desires.
So while we cannot recreate the Trinity ourselves – we are not, try as we might, God – what the Trinity teaches us is that God desires us to be in relationship with God, and with each other – because every single person is made in God’s triune image of love.
When we are drawn closer to God, when we truly allow this love to transform us, we can release our desire for things that are not of God – including our desire to say some people are not made in God’s image.
We realize that we don’t get to decide who is worthy of God’s love. Our reading in Romans today tells us: “we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand” through Jesus Christ. The grace of God is always undeserved and it is always bountiful. God has chosen you. Each of you.
But remember what i said about the Trinity? How the Trinity itself is a relationship, that the very source of desire and of love is God because God both internally has desire and externally desires us?
It is through this boundless grace that we are charged with creating relationships, genuine relationships that are built on this Godly love.
And in the Trinity, in this relationship of love, there is no fear. And perfect love drives out fear.
This week, as many of you know, was General Conference – the once-every-four-years meeting of the worldwide United Methodist church to discuss polity and to break bread together. At this General Conference, there was little of this love that drives out fear – in fact
There was a lot of fear.
There was a lot of fear that the church was going to split in half, which caused anguish on all sides. The split was proposed because some people do not believe that LGBTQIA people deserve to be ordained, or married, or even considered compatible with Christian teaching.
Even in our own state, there is a lot of misplaced fear that trans people are rapists lying in wait in bathrooms. In reality, there are no reported incidents of a trans person sexually assaulting a cisgendered –a non-trans person – in a bathroom, and instead trans people are far more likely to be assaulted or murdered for living their God-given authentic truth.
I also see a lot of fear from the LGBTQIA community. Fear that we are always going to be seen as pedophiles, which is painfully untrue and insulting. Fear that we will always be told God loves us less because of who we love. Fear that we will never be able to fulfill the call God has given to us – to preach, to teach, to bless the sacraments.
There was a lot of fear.
The relationships of love, of desiring to be in mutual and equitable communion, seemed to be disintegrating before my very eyes. Loud songs of fear obliterated the voices that longed to be seen as God’s children. What is a church to do when we forget what our Trinitarian God is calling us to be?
Mother Teresa once said “if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Trinity Sunday reminds us that we belong to one another. Trinity Sunday also reminds us that there is not hierarchy in the Father, son, and Holy Spirit. Together, these three equal persons who are one remind us that the hierarchal power structures of this world are not of God. Our God is a God who is difference, who celebrates diversity even in unity, who brings low the powerful and lifts up the weak.
I told you that when i feel at a loss for words – when i feel fear, i turn to music. This week, i have prayed in song this hymn over and over again – it is a hymn we will all sing in a moment. A hymn about what it means to radical welcome, to live into this love without fear. But, if you’ll allow me, i want to highlight for you one stanza:
[sing] Here the outcast and the stranger
Bear the image of God’s face
Let us bring an end to fear and danger
All are welcome!
All are welcome!
All are welcome in this place!
Even with all of this fear, i am not beyond hope. I am not beyond hope because it is not me, or you, or even the entire Methodist church that is in charge of casting out fear. We are not the ones who make the peace beyond boundaries.
God does that.
God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit swoops into the midst of occasions of sin and says “even here, I love.” (Teresa of Avila)
I am never beyond hope because the Scripture has told us this very morning in Romans 5: Hope does not disappoint us. Hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
God’s love has been poured into our hearts.
This pouring of love is part of our relationship with the Trinity. We, too, are in relationship with our relational God – and it is on us, on our end of the relationship, to do the work of reaching back out to God.
God may have it covered, but that doesn’t mean there is not work to do. There is work to do to recognize where we have not loved the stranger with the love God calls us to live.
Part of maintaining our relationship with God is opening ourselves up to that dynamic beckoning of the Spirit – to say, I know you love and desire me, I am convinced that nothing can ever separate me from the love of Christ Jesus, and it is because of your love and desire for me that I desire to emulate your love.
When we let go of our fear, when we trust God’s limitless love for us, we liberate ourselves. And in liberating ourselves we help make the world a less dangerous place for everyone else seeking their own liberation.
Let US bring an end to fear and danger.
Evergreen, i know many of you know intimately what that is like – both to be the stranger and the outcast, and to see and welcome the outcast and stranger. I have seen you welcome the stranger in, i have lived it myself. You have been a beautiful and hospitable church to me, to my mother, and to my husband. You watched Jonathan’s and my courtship blossom – half of you knew we were in love before we did. You have loved my mother as your leader and you have loved her as you taught and led her, too. I know you are facing your own transition, your own fears of what the future will hold.
Here is my challenge to you: as a community facing the fears of transition, let this transition be a dynamic one for you. Romans also tells us that our suffering is the root of our hope. I don’t think this means that to have hope, we have to suffer. I don’t think God ever desires or inflicts suffering.
But what i think Paul means when he says “suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope” – i think what Paul is getting at here is that this moment of trial for you, this transition, is a chance to let your hearts be broken by the Spirit of God. It is a chance for this love of the Trinity to sweep in and hold you, caress you, teach you even deeper love yet.
To love deeply like that, to love without limit, is to know your heart is always going to be open to the wounds of this world.
But to again quote Mother Teresa, “I have found the paradox: that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only love.”
And here’s the thing about love: even when your love fails, when the transition is exhausting and the change is too much, it’s not just your love you’re relying on. It’s not even just the love of this community – great and beautiful that your love for each other is. The Lord tells us in Isaiah, “for the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but My steadfast love shall not depart from you, and My covenant of peace shall not be removed.”
You are charged to love and lead and build a community that is free of fear and danger. You are charged with the blessing of God, triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to love boundlessly, and you are to be comforted in the knowledge that even when the mountains are falling beneath your feet, even when your love fails, even when your suffering does not feel like it has produced character remember the music, remember that old hymn, “Amazing Grace” –
The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.