Monday, June 4, 2012

Trinity Sunday: Letting Go

It’s Steve and I sweeping the steps this morning. And setting up the sanctuary for worship.
It’s Trinity Sunday. We start by singing Holy, holy, holy.... John reads for us the dramatic Isaiah 6: 1-8. I lead a responsive Psalm 29. Hope from Romans 8. Don reads John 3: 1-17, and when he gets to God so loved the world....he chokes up. His voice wavering with emotion. And then, For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. The way this has touched him personally has touched us all. 
I start by crossing myself...and ask What does this mean?  When do you do it? Why do you do it? I get a lot of responses, all adding up to prayers of hope, of expectation, of thankfulness.  As a Presbyterian child,this was all  foreign to me. Part of our tradition’s honoring of  the mind  and reason and general disdain for anything “superstitious” or irrational. I remember my oldest son Micah,with one Jewish and one Presbyterian parent,  on his soccer team almost all Latino and African immigrant, crossing himself before a penalty kick. He had  learned it from his Latin teammates...that’s the way you take a penalty kick..It’s a way of saying a quick thanks for barely avoiding a disaster, even when deserved, or a prayer to prevent  something  bad from happening. Or like on my way to the ATM machine.
In the name of the father, son and holy ghost....
This is Trinity Sunday. This day marked my first post-graduation sermon. At St. Paul’s Episcopal at Chapel and Olive in New Haven. I could remember that I worked there because there was no Presbyterian church in downtown New Haven. Or that this was a vibrant Puerto Rican and Italian neighborhood. Or my recently divorced Puerto Rican girlfriend coming because first sermons in her tradition were big occasions. 
It’s one of two days in the church year devoted to doctrine, not an event...the other one being Christ the King...
I used to take this  occasion to try and explain the Trinity in an understandable way. But I am increasingly of the mind that doctrine is better for classes than sermons. Most of us don’t live by reflecting on the fine points of doctrine. Doctrine is kind of like sudoku, or the New York Times crossword puzzle, entertaining, fun, but....
One commentator suggested before reading these passages, we should engage in free drawing or listening  to music or meditating   or chanting...
They contain pretty wild images:
....six winged seraphs....a house filled with smoke....
God in a thunderstorm with cedars breaking, countries skipping like  calves and if we could imagine calves and oxen skipping....flashing fire, whirling oaks, forests stripped bare...flood....It could all be a scene from Fantasia, all we need is a little Stravinsky...
Then there’s Jesus talking to Nicodemus about  being born from above.... and his super rational response...
Another commentator suggests that there are three steps in the Isaiah passage:
Mystical encounter
Ethical self-reflection
then radical response
In the seminary class I teach I had written in the board the  classic liberation theology formulation: Action/reflection/revision....and another professor had written all around it beginning with reflection...I have always  advocated acting your way to believing..but then there’s Thomas Merton who said that when you begin in meditation, you inevitably wind up in revolutionary action....
The point is,  You have to let go before you can say Here I am .... it’s about being willing to let go....
With Nicodemus...a pharisee...and let’s be clear, on the whole they were not bad guys, historically...our neighborhood rabbis are the direct descendants of the pharisees...who believed that God was not honored through ritual but through study and righteous living (kind of like Presbyterians...)
What it’s about is to not to believe that you know everything, not to be controlled by the rational  analysis of things....and to be  willing to be born again....and again...and again...
As Rolf Kempf wrote and Judy Collins sang:
Hello! Hooray! Let the show begin
I’m ready
Hello! Hooray! Let the lights grow dim
We’ve been ready
Ready as the rain to fall, just to fall again
Ready as a man to be born, only to be born again, and again and again and again
It’s not about a theological doctrine, it’s about living...and being that we can all say, here I am, send me...
I say the words of consecration, break the bread, share the cup..and then we all sing together, Here I am, Lord...
I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard My people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin,
My hand will save.

I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear My
light to them?
Whom shall I send?

Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in
my heart.

I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have born my peoples
I have wept for love of them, They turn away.
I will
break their hearts of stone,
Give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak My word to them,
Whom shall I send?

I, the Lord of wind and flame,
I will tend the poor and lame.
I will set a feast for them,
My hand will save
Finest bread I will provide,
Till their hearts be satisfied.
I will give My life to them,
Whom shall I send?

Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.

When I get to the part about the poor and lame... I cringe...I’ve gotten so enculturated with people first language that I have to stop and talk about it...I see Marsha cringe at my political correctness..I hear her say to herself, We’ve got bigger fish to fry....And Hope, one of those who keeps me honest, surprises me by saying that the sing gives her hope... As one who is lame, it says to me that we all are called, we all can say here I am Lord...and once again my horizons have been expanded....
The service has ended. Once again, lots of conversations going on. Jamie and Glenn discussing possibilities for the narthex. Small groups all around. 
The session meets to review our plans A and B. And for our upcoming congregational meeting. The Sanctuary NYC choir is starting to warm up. 
The morning part of today’s work is over. 

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