The First Sunday after Pentecost: TRINITY SUNDAY: May 22, 2016
Preacher: Rick Hamlin, Parishioner at St. Michael’s and Executive Editor of Guideposts magazine
A couple weeks ago Kate asked if I would preach this Sunday since both she and Leigh would be at the women’s retreat. “Sure,” I said. Then she said, as if it were some afterthought or little liturgical joke, “It’s Trinity Sunday.” Trinity Sunday. Not really the occasion to hear the occasion to hear from an amateur on a topic of theological sophistication. Frankly, I don’t really have a lot of problems grasping the trinity. It just seems fine. God manifesting Himself in Three persons at once. It’s all about relationship which is where love shows itself best. Father, Son and Holy Spirit all loving each other forever. Or even better in the words of that great hymn: “Which were and art and evermore shall be.” I had a friend who threatened to get three dogs and name them Which, Wert and Art. Even better we get the breastplate of St. Patrick today. Binding ourselves to God. To the Trinity.
But first let’s look at the lesson from Romans:
And not only this, but we also boast in our sufferings because suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).
I love Paul, but sometimes I struggle with Paul and this is one of those verses I want to argue with. Suffering bringing endurance and character and hope? Maybe. Sometimes. If we’re lucky. Often enough suffering seems to bring misery and more misery.
But with Paul, you also have to look closer or look again. This hope that does not disappoint us that comes from suffering, this whole transforming process is only a result of God’s love poured into our hearts – thank God for that – through the Holy Spirit. This is not at all something that comes from our doing. It’s not a matter of us tough-knuckling our way through suffering. In fact it doesn’t come from our own doing. It comes from what God does through us. Through the Holy Spirit.
In my daily prayer practice I borrow that meditative habit of “catch and release.” The thoughts come and I catch and release to God. A better metaphor for me is “drag and drop.” Like we do on the computer. Drag and drop into a big file that’s labeled “For God Only.”
Paul asks us to do something else with our sufferings, something that must have gone against the grain in the Roman Empire and certainly goes against the grain in our own Empire City. We boast in our sufferings. We don’t keep them to ourselves. We don’t hide them. We don’t bury them. We share them. We do that here in this church. We ask for prayer. We let others know, our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ, when we need help. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable. When I drag and drop into that God folder, I drag and drop for Margaret and Edgar and Janet and Bentley and Jim and Robert and all the guys in the men’s group when we share on Friday mornings what’s hurting us and what help we need.
I want to tell you about an odd thing that happened to me when I was in the hospital last September. I was not in good shape. I realized that first day in the step-down unit of ICU that I was at the bottom, a scary scary place. Kate visited me that afternoon, a Sunday, in between morning worship here and Intersecction. Goodness how on earth did she find the time? I told her, wheezing with every breath I could take, “I’m in despair. That’s what’s bad. I can’t find hope. Despair. That’s worse than anything physical.” Indeed she prayed for me. But so did you and so did all those people, too many for me to even fathom, who heard of my medical crisis.
The next day, Monday, things weren’t much better, but something internal happened to me, something that didn’t really make any sense. I wasn’t doing any better, but inside, I knew I was going to get better. I knew I was going to get out of the ICU, get out of Columbia Presybterian. I might have to drag a tank of oxygen around with me the rest of my born days but I would improve. Was it wishful thinking? Was it my body telling my soul something? Was it faith? The only way I can explain it was it was from your prayers. I couldn’t pray for myself. But others could pray for me. And here I am. We boast in our sufferings.
“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). So where do we see the Holy Spirit here in this building, in our church? How do you actually show the Holy Spirit. My favorite Tiffany window in this church is that little one above the chapel of the descending dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, descending down on us. In the gospels the Holy Spirit appears “like a dove” at Christ’s baptism, simile turning into symbol.
Then where do we see Jesus? You can’t all see the stained glass window from here but there is a wonderful scene from the gospel shown in the Lamb windows upstairs. When the choir sings down here we have a good view. There is Jesus with Martha and Mary, and interestingly enough a little bird among them. A dove? The Holy Spirit? Perhaps.
Jesus’ Resurrection is shown here in the Chapel of the Angels in the window showing the angel among the lilies, the angel who tells the woman at the tomb who come looking for Jesus that he is not here. He is risen. Risen indeed.
And there is the dread-locked Jesus on the cross at the back of the Jesus. George Brandt, our former rector, used to tell of how an old Armenian woman would mediate with her face to the glass, leaving her tears behind.
The Holy Spirit and Jesus….but what of God the Father? Of course we can hear his voice when we look at that dove and remember how God proclaimed at Jesus’s baptism, “This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” And he is present for me in that image of the Crucifixion.
Some people will object to Christianity and decry its cruelness. Why would God the Father allow his Son to endure such suffering? Why would he put his only Son on the cross? That objection seems to miss the point. God is in on the cross there with Jesus. God is suffering with His Son as he suffers with us. That is inherent in the doctrine of the Trinity. For that alone we have cause to boast in our sufferings.
Knowing that suffering produces endurances and endurance produces character and charater produces hope and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).
Happy Trinity Sunday!