St. Paul’s Congregational Church
May 30, 2021 Trinity Sunday - B
Let us pray: may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
This is Trinity Sunday – it always falls on the Sunday after Pentecost and is not one of the most well known of the feast days of the church year. My guess is that most of us don’t give the doctrine of the Trinity much thought – we sing the Doxology, the Gloria Patri often in worship – not so much while we’ve been remote worshipping though. We sing that beloved old hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy” on Trinity Sunday – thank you Valeria for leading us in that so beautifully. Probably for most of us what we think of is that hymn for Trinity Sunday – but honestly, what does all this mean to us, day by day?
I couldn’t help but think this week that following the great festivals of the church – like Christmas, Epiphany, and Easter – we ask the question, “So, what does this mean? We celebrate but what’s next? What difference does this event make in our lives as disciples?” And for the next few weeks we explore these things.
Do we ask the same question after Pentecost? Not so much. And I’ve been reflecting on that, especially after reading one of the daily devotionals from the UCC – why not ask what difference it makes question? And then, what’s next? Talitha Arnold is a UCC pastor in New Mexico – formerly from Connecticut and she wrote this week, beginning with the Pentecost story from Acts: “Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” She writes, “I wonder how long their wonder lasted. After the first Pentecost, I wonder how long those early Christians could sustain their amazement and awe at God’s mighty deeds. The rush of the wind, the tongues of fire, the ability to understand one another in all different languages. She reflects, “It was a wonder-filled day.”
But then the next day came, the next week, the next month…ordinary time filled with ordinary life. As a Buddhist saying goes, “Before enlightenment, the laundry. After enlightenment, the laundry.”
Maybe for the early Christians it was: before Pentecost, bake the bread. After Pentecost, bake the bread.” Or maybe, before Pentecost, the Roman Empire. After Pentecost, the Roman Empire.”
So how long did their wonder last? How long will our wonder last – of course, after Pentecost, but how long also after the end of the pandemic? How long will we thank God for vaccinations? Once our congregations regather in person, how long will we be amazed at the everyday joy of being together?
Talitha continues, “I can guess some of my own mantras: “Before the pandemic, keep the church going. After the pandemic, keep the church going. Before the pandemic, the Stewardship Campaign. After the pandemic, the Stewardship campaign.”
Then she turns the question to us: do you have your own mantra?
She ends, “It’s hard to sustain wonder. The early Christians knew that as well as we do. So, after the first Pentecost, they continued to do all the ordinary things we do as local churches. Break bread, pray, engage the Word, praise God, care for those in need, and figure out how to share their common life.
And their common, ordinary life became the greatest wonder of all. It still is.”
She ends with a prayer: Thank you God, for your great wonder. Amen.
Maybe, just maybe, wonder is the greatest gift of Pentecost.
The primary difference between Trinity Sunday and the rest of the church year is this: on this day, at the very center of the church year – we focus on God’s BEING rather than God’s DOING. On who God IS. It’s on this day that we turn from the “sacred story” to the sacred itself.
And the sacred is a mystery isn’t it. Not the kind of mystery that we can figure out if we are given enough clues – the theological definition of mystery is a sacrament – not something to be solved but something to experience. A sacrament draws us beyond the surface appearances of the image to something deeper or higher or broader - a means to experience a higher or deeper reality – sacraments open a door to another dimension: we can peek through and catch a glimpse of an otherwise invisible realm and begin to participate in it.
This is deep stuff, isn’t it. Hard to get our heads around. What does all this stuff have to do with our life of discipleship? It takes a whole lot of energy and it can be easy to wonder, so what? And what does this have to do with paying the bills, of fretting about our finances or about how many people come to worship, or being a small community church who is trying to figure out our mission and ministry for the future.
Friends, it has everything to do with all that.
Gregory of Nyssa wrote a treatise called “on Not Three Gods” in the year about 375. It’s deep, it’s confusing, and it’s awfully easy to say, so what? But in it, he writes something so profound, so simple, that makes so much sense that the energy spent seems worthwhile. He says: Concepts create idols. Only wonder comprehends anything. Again: only wonder comprehends anything. According to Gregory, “the formation of Trinitarian concepts serves only to elicit a sense of wonder before God and to lead the way toward the expression of wonder through praise.”
A sense of wonder. Wonder expressed through praise. See, it’s in our hearts that we really know. Not in our heads. Wonder grows in our hearts, not in our heads. Honestly, I think so often our heads get in the way of wonder, get in the way of the sacred.
So today on Trinity Sunday, let’s experience the mystery of God, the fact of God, the wonder of God. The concept of Trinity was formed to give words to the faith: to give expression of our experience of God: what God has done for us, what God is doing now, and what God promises will be accomplished.
We’ve all been through tough experiences these past months through this pandemic – isolated from families, home bound, no hugs, friends and relatives have died, jobs lost, kids at home for school, even grocery shortages: so much is overwhelmingly different. We’re worshipping from a different sacred space – from our own homes – and we miss the fellowship times, the high holy days special worship and celebrations in church. We’ve witnessed so much violence – in the streets, in mass shootings, in our politics: it seems like that violence, frustration has come to the surface and it’s frightening for sure.
We’ve been through a grief process unlike any other we’ve ever experienced, seemingly with no end in sight. But there is an end on the horizon – with the miracle of scientific development of a safe and effective vaccine. Maybe now it suddenly occurs to us that God is at work here in this painful situation. And we know we’re being supported, led, and loved by the Holy Spirit – that’s a gift of Pentecost!
John Edgerton is a pastor in Oak Park, Illinois – and in his daily devotion, also this week, wrote of the Pentecost event as those gathered asked, “How is it we hear, each of us in our own native language about God’s deeds of power? All were amazed and perplexed, saying “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
He says: New wine is an interesting choice of words here. The accusation is that everyone is drunk, the implication being their reports can’t be trusted. But it’s odd. If anything, people would get drunk on old wine, not new wine. New wine has barely begun to ferment. A belly full of new wine would have an effect similar to a bottle of Welch’s snuck from the sacristy. Sugar rush and regret? Sure. Drunk enough to hear people speaking other languages? Not so much.
But new wine has another meaning, too. New wine also means new ways of worshiping God. On Pentecost, the borders and boundaries of beloved community are expanding far beyond the original audience. Some people sneer at that, dismissing it as nothing more than new wine. The accusation makes more sense.
This has been a year of reinvention in the church. Zoom and drive-in services, porch drops and Facebook Live. New wine abounds! The reach of a local church has never been wider. The temptation will be to go back to how things were, to sneer at these innovations as new wine.
Having had the doors of the church flung wider than ever, the Spirit is calling us to keep our reach wide. The Spirit calls us to continue welcoming those who would never have found us without the new wine of the past year. Because, just as on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit is moving in new ways.”
How has God touched your life during this time? How has the Spirit been leading you lately? Where’s the sense of wonder in your life? In our life together here at St. Paul’s? It’s all around us, if we let ourselves feel it and experience it. And then we can’t help but share it.
Let’s all take some time to reflect on these questions in the midst of this weekend of remembrance. Remember the wonder of God – savor the wonder of God – be touched by the wonder of God. Think of what God has done for you, for us. And then listen for God’s call to you and to us as God’s beloved, gathered community. Because the God of what was, what is, and ever shall be is calling us – may each of us answer, here I am. Send me. Amen.