Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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Trinity Sunday, May 22, 2016

What strengthens you? We are all strengthened physically by enough food, water, exercise and sleep. But what do we rely on for our emotional strength, our mental strength our spiritual strength? One of the things I rely on is my family and my communication with them. I get “News from the Farm” on a regular basis from my sister. I just emailed my brother to see if I can spend Memorial Day with him. My nephew just wrote me about his future plans. And Kristy and Evan and I Skype, email and talk on the phone, though not nearly enough. I also draw strength from singing. My voice teacher says, “With an opportunity to sing like that, who needs therapy?” All I know is that singing fills me emotionally to overflowing. What is on your list? Is it your job and the satisfaction you draw from it? What about your relationships? A hobby? Serving others? Our emotional and mental strength come from these.

Today, we hear about where our spiritual strength comes from as Christians in community. It comes from the outpouring of love, grace, peace, hope and truth from God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God surrounds us and pours Godself out for us in love overflowing, as God did when God sent Jesus to die on a cross to reconcile us to God. Today, we celebrate the feast of the Trinity, that concept that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God in three persons. The Trinity is an unexplainable mystery, so I am not going to spend lots of words on its meaning. Paul and John have no explicit doctrine to share, but the lived experience of the community(Stephen P. Ahearne-Kroll, Beverly Gaventa), so we are going to do what we are called to do today – celebrate that reality – a reality that strengthened them to live together as Christians and do God’s work.

Paul and John’s communities had the experience of being surrounded and filled by their relationship with God. Paul reminds the Romans how they first experienced God – through justification by faith. And that justification, that being made right before God was a gift to them. They did nothing to earn it; they received it when it was offered. God loved us enough to bring us salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection. We can stand strong and confident in the righteousness God bestowed on us. God brought us two things when God saved us. God brought us peace – the knowledge that if God was for us, who should we be afraid of. The knowledge that our sins are forgiven even before we ask, the knowledge that we are given gifts that we can exercise with boldness in the world because God wants us to use our gifts for the building up of the body of Christ and to enlighten the world about the kingdom of God and the good news of Jesus.

God also gave us grace – the grace of salvation without merit, the grace that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. God’s grace has brought us to a place of strength, knowing we can depend on God for help to accomplish things we could never accomplish on our own, knowing God is working for our good at all times, knowing that we are held in God’s hands always. We are with God just as we were with Jesus, the incarnate Word God sent. We are vulnerable and weak, yet strong in God’s grace.

And God’s peace and grace have brought the Christian community to where we are spiritually, looking with real hope at sharing the glory of God. Eternal life is promised us in our salvation, both now as we relate to God in new ways and after death. Jesus died and was resurrected and so shall we be at the last day. We can hope in God’s activity in our lives now and in the future.

Paul has a lot to say about God’s remarkable presence during our sufferings, which everyone experiences, though none of us wants them. Jesus was drawn to the suffering and he still is. We may feel like we have lost God when suffering comes, but we have not, Paul says. In fact our sufferings can be used for good, to strengthen us. God’s presence in the midst of trials produces endurance. It gives us patience to wait for God to make us whole, even though it may take a long time. Our character is strengthened by suffering. In addition to patience, we may develop courage to cope and the ability to help others who are going through what we are facing or other dilemmas.

Our sufferings can have meaning and purpose through the Triune God’s activity in our lives. We become stronger, more faithful members of Christ’s body because we can trust that God and Jesus and the Spirit are with us. Even when we are broken by our tragedies, God still reaches out a hand to us all the time to help us receive God’s consolation again and again.

The hope that we receive though our life in Christ will be fully realized, says Paul, because of the gift of the Holy Spirit. God has sent the Holy Spirit just as God sent Jesus to pour God’s love into our hearts. And it is God’s love overflowing within us that ultimately gives us the kind of strength we need to live confidently, openly, Christian lives, lives of witness and service and love for all our neighbors.

In John’s community, the disciples are afraid that Jesus will just wink out of their lives and their close relationship with him won’t exist anymore. They cannot be as close and intimate with God the Father as they were with Jesus because Jesus slept with them and ate with them and traveled with them and prayed with them and taught them what they needed to know about the kingdom of God. But Jesus is still going to be with them, he promises. God will send the Spirit of Truth to them, to remind them of what they have learned from Jesus and to bring them new knowledge, new interpretations for situations that could not possibly have been dealt with in Jesus’ time. The Spirit will strengthen them with the truth it utters because it will say nothing that Jesus would not say. The Spirit will not be a brand new revelation of God (O.C. Edwards Jr.), inconsistent with the words spoken by their Lord, but will interpret the Word for them in particular situations. And these are not just Jesus’ words; they are God the Father’s words too. The Father speaks to Jesus who gives the Spirit what is his, who gives the disciples what they need to know.

The Trinity is a doctrine of the church and people throughout the centuries have argued about it and its exact meaning. We may not be able to pin that down, but we know the early church experienced the One God in three ways. And we know that we too experience this and are strengthened by it through the peace, grace, hope love and truth we are given – poured into us in abundance, given to us in great love both as individuals and as a community. The Trinity gives us power to vision a future for ourselves in God and a future for St. John’s, as we work to become all that we can be to the world outside our doors that so desperately needs the salvation of God.

Strength, boldness, confidence. The Trinity turns us from being Christians who go to church into Christians who are the church. It gives us energy to use our gifts in the church and in the world. It offers us a chance to give and serve in ways we could never imagine through its power. It helps us discern what we are called to be for the world. Our job is to accept this great love we are offered with thanksgiving, to feel it filling us up to overflowing. We can discern the truth, we can teach what we have heard from God’s word in Jesus through the power of the Spirit and we can hope – hope in the future for our church and for ourselves. Today we celebrate the Trinity and the strength it gives us. Let us confidently engage the world as part of Bishop Michael Curry’s Jesus movement and spread the good news we have received.

AMEN

     -- Rev. Ann Barker