We are able to resonate with God, Trinity Sunday (B) 2015

During the summer months, we are taking the opportunity to highlight some of the “Best of…” here at Sermons that Work.  Today’s sermon comes from The Rev. Timothy B. Safford, rector of Christ Church, Philadelphia.

Click here to read the sermon for Trinity Sunday

Isaiah 6:1-8Psalm 29 or Canticle 2 or 13Romans 8:12-17John 3:1-17

“We are able to resonate with God because we are made to be in tune with God, a gift imparted by being created in the image of God.”

Download the sermon for Trinity Sunday.

 

One plus one plus one equals one, Trinity Sunday (B) – 2012

June 3, 2012

Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29 or Canticle 2 or 13; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

We live in an age of conflict. It was probably always so, but we hear about things instantly nowadays and even find ourselves watching the most dreadful scenes while we blissfully consume a frozen dinner.

Our nation seems locked in battle between contending parties and groups, and division and tension have wracked even our church. Perhaps we came here today seeking a place of peace. Let’s hope no one gets into a quarrel over the flowers or perhaps the homily.

It would be so good if we were absolutely sure that a group practiced unity. Indeed there was a time, in the beginning, when people said of Christians, “See how they love one another.” One of the reasons we divide is that we feel we can’t be truly human, truly ourselves if someone or something is challenging us or threatening us.

Perhaps you remember the beginning of being in love with someone. In those enchanting days you couldn’t do enough for your lover, and nothing they said or did got to you, and you didn’t have to watch what you said and did in response. Math was confounded. One and one equaled not two, but one. The blessed ones are those who, whether that remained true most of the time or even some of the time, grew through problems – not further apart but closer together. Perhaps you know an old couple who have grown so close, they even begin to look alike. They anticipate what their partner is going to say or do, and smile knowingly.

Today is Trinity Sunday, popularized by St. Thomas a Becket centuries ago. The feast of the Trinity became so important that until recently Anglicans numbered the long summer Sundays as “Sundays After Trinity”.

In Christianity’s “new math” one plus one plus one equals one: one God. So in the Creed we will recite, we affirm that we believe in One God and then go on to talk about “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” For centuries on this day the church recited the long and complicated Creed of St. Athanasius. It is to be found in the Historical Document section in the Prayer Book. No, don’t look it up now.

In one section it states, “Father incomprehensible, Son incomprehensible, Holy Ghost incomprehensible.” George Bernard Shaw used to mutter, “the whole thing is incomprehensible.”

That’s not a bad place to start. The lesson today from Isaiah tells the tale of the prophet having a vision, in which he sees God and shouts, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” In the face of the majesty of God, Isaiah recoils in fear, conscious of his unworthiness.

Perhaps we have lost that feeling of total inadequacy in the face of God? We tend rather to recoil from mystery itself. Yet God showed himself not to frighten Isaiah, but to love him and to send him out to tell others about God. God’s purpose was to adopt Isaiah and to fill Isaiah with strength and purpose.

In the gospel today, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. Isaiah experienced God in a dream by night, and Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. Both sought something they lacked. Nicodemus, a leader in Israel, is curious. He has come to think that Jesus is particularly close to God in a unique way. He’s never met anyone quite like Jesus. Jesus tells Nicodemus that if he wants to know what God is doing, he has to start from scratch, “be born anew.” Nicodemus finds that statement incredible. Here is a mystery and a seeming impossibility: how can someone possibly be born when they are old?

Basically, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he has to have a transplant, not unlike a stem cell transplant or a bone marrow transplant. But by water, through the Spirit. Nicodemus has to be re-born. “How may this be so?” asks Nicodemus. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he alone has “gone up into heaven and he has come down from heaven, for he is ‘the son of man.’” We don’t have time today to unpack that statement, except to say that “Son of Man” is a phrase a first-century Jew associated with the Messiah, the Chosen One.

Jesus then says some words that are familiar. The Anglican bishop and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright translates Jesus’ familiar words in this way:

“So, just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so in the same way the son of man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may share in the life of God’s new age. This you see, is how much God loved the world; enough to give his only, special son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost but should share in the life of God’s new age. After all, God didn’t send the son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world could be saved by him.”

So what has that to do with our vision of God the Three in One? The three “Persons” who are God are not drawn apart by their perfect individuality, but united into one through love. Jesus, in being lifted up, in dying, demonstrates what self-sacrificial love looks like. Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness and the story goes, all who touched the serpent were made whole. So we are invited to touch Jesus and to be made whole, and as whole people to be drawn into God’s incredible selfless love.

Why?

Isaiah, through his vision of God’s majesty was touched, made whole, and hears God’s call to serve the God who loves the world. Each of us, in baptism, have been “born from above” in order that we may witness to God’s love and share it in the world. We too have been called to give our lives, imperfect as we are, and in that act of sheer love and obedience, been made worthy to be God’s friends, his presence, as the church in a divided world.

We have been commissioned to show what real love is all about, as we are filled with the presence of God’s forgiving, restoring, compelling love. All we can reply is: “Here am I. Send me.”

 

— Fr. Tony Clavier is a retired priest and a missioner in the Diocese of Springfield.

The Lord’s voice is the music at the center of all, Trinity Sunday (B) – 2009

June 7, 2009

Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29 or Canticle 2 or 13; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

[NOTE: If a piano is available, consider playing the musical notes described.]

Imagine that you are sitting at a piano, and with your left hand you press down on the key in the middle of the keyboard – middle C. What do you hear?

One full note that fills your ears and your senses. It is pure.

Then imagine that with your right hand, you press down very, very gently on the key exactly seven keys above middle C, the note of C one octave above middle C. Imagine you’ve pressed the key so gently that the hammer doesn’t strike the strings in the piano. Those strings remain undampered, or as the musicians say, “open.”

Now, without moving your right hand or releasing the key an octave above middle C, imagine that once again your left hand presses down on the piano key for middle C, and once again hear that beautiful tone. Now, imagine letting go of middle C.

You might expect that all sound would stop.

But you can still hear a musical tone.

The vibration of the strings of middle C has caused the strings to vibrate on the C note one octave above – so much so that you can hear it softly. The undampered, open note has been made to resonate by the lower note. The vibrations of middle C have given life to the strings one octave away.

So, this might be another way to imagine God – not another way to see God, but a way to hear God. God is that powerful musical tone at the center of the universe, vibrating so steadily that all that is open and undampered will begin to vibrate also.

Imagine that you are those open strings one octave above middle C. You begin to resonate, not because something, or someone, has struck you or plucked you as a harpist does, but because you are open and in tune with God.

We are able to resonate with God because we are made to be in tune with God, a gift imparted by being created in the image of God.

The Anglican theologian and musician Jeremy Begbie encourages us to use music to help us imagine God – not in images, but in musical sounds. Just as one note in the piano sounding will cause another to resonate, In the book Beholding the Glory, Begbie writes that God interacts “with the world intimately, without violating it or merging with it, liberating it to be more fully itself.”

Our God truly is a liberating God, not a controlling God. In our resonance with God, we move from dissonance to tunefulness, which is freedom to live fully into God’s image of us, not the world’s version of us. Begbie writes:

“God’s involvement with our lives neither pushes us out, nor swallows us up, nor leads to some kind of fusion. God does something much more creative: through intimate interaction with us, God frees us to ‘sound’ as we were created to sound, enabling us to be more fully ourselves. We are not de-humanized, but re-humanized.”
With this in mind, listen to Jesus’ words to our old friend Nicodemus. Jesus tells him, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Jesus strives to put Nicodemus in tune with the music that God makes in the creation. He does not de-humanize him, but seeks to re-humanize him by liberating his spirit from the brokenness and folly of the fallen world – so that his spirit may be resonate with the Spirit of God that has given life to all of the creation.

Is it allowable to think of being “born from above” as God’s profound music at the center of the universe causing us to come alive because we resonate with God’s very music in the creation itself? Can it be that Nicodemus, in asking his questions of Jesus, is seeking to undamper himself from all that keeps him from resonating with God, a desire he feels because he sees others in Jesus’ midst resonating with God?

Jesus tells Nicodemus, “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

We hear the music of God, and do not know from whence it comes from. This music gives us birth, for we resonate with the music within the Spirit of God.

Maybe St. Paul is sharing the same truth when he writes to the church in Rome, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” We are suggesting, “All who resonate with the music of God are children of God.”

Paul then says, “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” We might say, “When we resonate with God’s music, it is the very vibrations of the Spirit of God vibrating our spirit, showing us how we are birthed by God, making us children of God.”

God begets us by making us sing the same song of God’s creation.

In our musical musings, one note vibrating causes another to do the same. That reality is a model of the incarnation. When we resonate with God, similarly, God is incarnate within us. The challenge is to make our resonance possible by being in tune. Tunefulness is certainly a gift of grace, but we tune ourselves by sharing in the life and death of Christ.

Paul said if we suffer with Christ – meaning, if we imitate his life – “we may also be glorified with him.” We might say, “As we incarnate Christ into our very being, we will resonate with God in the same way that the Son resonates with the Father.”

If we say that the Father resonates with the Son, we are saying that the Father is incarnate within the Son. When we resonate with God, God is incarnate within us. The music of God animates us. The Spirit – if in this moment we can hear the Spirit as the wind of God’s glorious music – gives us life by making us resonate with God.

As this is Trinity Sunday, maybe we should say that there is not one note, but three notes – a full chord – playing at the center of the keyboard that makes resonant the other open note. In Beholding the Glory, Jeremy Begbie asks:

“What could be more apt than to speak of the Trinity as a three-note-resonance of life, mutually indwelling, without mutual exclusion and yet without merger, each occupying the same ‘space,’ yet recognizably and irreducibly distinct, mutually enhancing and establishing each other? To speak of three strings mutually resonating instantly introduces a dynamism … far truer to the trinitarian, living God of the New Testament.”

The Lord’s voice is the music at the center of all life in which we strive to be in tune. Through our being formed in Christ, by imitating the life he showed us, we turn from the sin of the broken world that dampers us, and open ourselves to being made resonant with the eternal life of God.

Jesus explains it this way to Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

On this Trinity Sunday, we give thanks that we do not perish, but are made eternally resonant with God the Father who resonates with God the Son who resonates with God the Holy Spirit, the very “three-note-resonance of life, mutually indwelling, without mutual exclusion and yet without merger.”

Better yet, just listen for the music.

 

— The Rev. Timothy B. Safford is rector of Christ Church, Philadelphia.

The heart of creation is love, Trinity Sunday (B) – 2006

June 11, 2006

Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29 or Canticle 2 or 13; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

Over 30 years ago, Karl Rahner, one of the finest theologians of this century, lamented the fact that most Christians are “mere monotheists.” By this he meant that if the doctrine of the trinity were eliminated from the faith, then the bulk of popular Christian thinking, preaching, writing, and singing, and the mind set it reflects, would not have to be changed much at all. That’s still true. We don’t pay much attention to the Trinity – to what it says or to what it means. We know we believe in God – the same God everybody believes in – and that, pretty much, is that.

But it’s not that simple. We Christians do have a different and distinctive way of understanding God, one that sets us apart from everybody else. And even though the prayers, the creeds, and most of the symbols we use in worship are thoroughly Trinitarian, the bulk of our thinking about God is not.

So, since today is Trinity Sunday, the day we are called upon to pay special attention to the way God has been revealed in the Christian faith, we should consider the Trinity. Of course, God is a whole lot bigger than anything we can say or imagine, so all references to God will be both metaphorical and incomplete. At the same time, this vision of the Trinity of God is true, and it matters, and it makes a difference.

There are two fundamental perspectives we can bring to the Trinity, to the doctrine that one God exists in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, the Trinity describes the way that we, as Christians, experience God. We know God as God is revealed in the person and life of Jesus – and this revelation happens by and through the Holy Spirit. That is, the Trinity speaks to how we discover and experience who God is. This is the perspective usually offered when talking or preaching about the Trinity.

But there is more. The doctrine of the Trinity also talks about who God is; it talks about what God is really like inside. This is where the mystics and the theologians sort of run together, and speak perhaps with more poetry and awe than precision. But let’s look for just a minute at what they say about God, borrowing some language from the third century.

Once upon a time, way before the beginning of everything – not at the beginning, but before the beginning – God the Father, who is love and who therefore must love, God the Father speaks his own name; He says his own word. And God the Son is begotten – true God from true God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father. The Son is the second person of the Trinity. Later, after the beginning, the Son will become incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and will be born as Jesus of Nazareth. The Son is what happens when the Father expresses Himself, when the Father reaches out in His love. Now, the Son loves the Father, for the Son is the Father’s word, the Father’s self. And the Father loves the Son, totally and without reservation, and so the Father and the Son are bound together in love.

This love, which binds together the Father and the Son, is also real. This love is God the Holy Spirit – the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. And the Son and the Spirit are of the same substance, the same stuff, as the Father; that’s the only stuff there is. In this way the Godhead is complete. Three persons, each distinct, each real, each from before the beginning, each and all are one God. The one-ness of God is discovered precisely in the free act of love by which the three persons of the Trinity choose to give all to each other. This relationship is what makes God who God is. Put another way, God is what happens when the Father loves the Son in the Spirit.

St. Augustine says this about the Trinity: “Now, love is of someone who loves, and something is loved with love. So then there are three: the lover, the beloved, and the love.” This relationship of love, God the Holy Trinity, is the foundation, the bedrock of the universe; it is the heartbeat of all creation. Everything that is begins here, has its purpose and its meaning here, and will find its fulfillment here.

Such is the living center of the Christian understanding of God. We insist that God is not a mean old man with a beard; that God is not some unconscious force out of Star Wars; and that God is not that peculiar little committee – two guys and a bird – that we often imagine. Instead, God exists, at His heart, as a relationship of love – one God in three persons, the well-spring of existence.

That’s a quick look at the Trinity, at our alternative to the “mere monotheism” that Rahner decries. It is a complex, dynamic, and exciting understanding of who God is and what God is like. Like any good theology, it has consequences, and it sets the stage for how we can live.

If you think about it for a minute, it’s no wonder, as we heard the Epistle of Peter say a few weeks ago, that the Church learned very early that they could tell whether they were truly entering the mystery of Christ by how well they were managing to love one another. Remember that? Of course. Relationships of love are what God is all about.

And it is no wonder that the one new commandment that Jesus gives us is the commandment to love one another; which is the commandment to imitate Jesus and his life – to imitate his life as a human being among us, and at the same time to imitate his life as the only begotten Son.

It is through this command, seen in the light of our notion of God as the Trinity, that we can begin to see what God really wants from us and what God really wants for us. God’s will for us, God’s desire for us, is, first of all and most of all, that we choose to share his life – that we become more and more deeply a part of that conversation of love, that constant, obedient, and joyful relationship that is the very core of who God is.

After all, we are created in God’s image – in the image of the Trinity. So, the more our lives are shaped and formed by the life of love we see in the person of Christ and in the life of God, the closer we get to our best and truest selves. The more we become who we really are.

This business of the Trinity is not just abstract theology, it is very immediate, and very personal. In some very important ways, it is about us – about us here and now; and about us forever.

The heart of creation is love, and we are both created and invited to enter that love, and to share that love. The divine love is our source, our vision, and our final end. That is good news. It is good news about why we exist; and it is good news about our destiny. It is worth paying some attention to.

 

— The Rev. James Liggett has been rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Big Spring, Texas, since 1994. He is a native of Kansas and a graduate of the University of Houston and the Episcopal Divinity School. He has served parishes in Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. Fr. Liggett and his wife Kathleen have a 20-year-old son.