On Being CommunityTrinity Sunday
I have a dog.
He’s a standard dachshund – not a mini, but the full meal deal. His name is Johann Sebastian Bark. Long name for a long dog. How fitting that you play Johann Sebastian Bach this morning, Christine! It’s a good thing my Johann isn’t here though, because ironically he generally howls when Bach is played on the organ. Or maybe he’s just singing along.
He is gifted. – at least to me he is.
He can hear things that I cannot. He can smell things that I cannot. Perhaps that’s a good thing.
Some dogs can be trained to detect illnesses such as cancer, and I believe there is training being done to help dogs detect Covid 19 too. Some are trained to detect drugs. I knew a man who started the Saanich police Canine unit in the 1960’s.
His German shepherd Rex could find anyone.
In fact the neighbourhood kids would go to his door and ask if he and Rex could come out and play. They could hide anywhere and Rex would find them.
Some animals can detect earthquakes long before they happen. Birds and Sea turtles have the ability to detect magnetic fields in order to find their way as they migrate. Many snakes, – not my favourite creatures – many have the ability to detect infrared light. Elephants with their enormous ears and hearing capabilities can detect a rainstorm from about 240 km away. They can generate low frequency calls to one another – nothing we can hear at all. Some birds can see colours we can’t and Bees can see ultraviolet light. Flowers reflect UV light. Owls and Mountain lions have night vision.
There are so many creatures of God’s creation that can sense things or do things that we cannot – there is so much that science has taught us, things that I have no grasp of, and there is so much about God too that we do not see or understand.
Jesus tells his friends to love one another in back in John, Chapter 15 .
That is the bottom line. And then in our gospel reading that we heard this morning Jesus tells them there is so much more he could tell them but they couldn’t bear it yet. So he will send his Spirit to help them, to guide them, and teach them.
And so – he sent the Holy Spirit and last week we celebrated the birthday of the Church – Pentecost. And today we celebrate and ponder the Holy Trinity and acknowledge that there is so much about God that we do not understand.
These passages of John are difficult to take in. The passage that we heard was only one of a series of comments, prayers and teachings of Jesus. There is much we can’t see or take in or grasp.
Theologians, artists, ministers and priests have been trying to explain the Trinity – since the first Pentecost. We do know that those who live in love, live in God, and God lives in them.
Jesus calls us to love all those we meet with the same grace and mercy as Jesus has for us. Each one of us is a Beloved child of God, connected to and enveloped by this Holy Trinity. We don’t have all the answers or understand God or the Trinity fully – it is our human attempt to grasp just a piece of God’s magnificence.
The Psalm (Psalm 8 that we read at the beginning ) tries to help us praise this – oh God, how majestic is your name! When I look at the heavens and the work of your hands! Or as Eugene Peterson translates it in the Message: “I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry, Moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro-self and wonder, Why do You bother with us? Why take a second look our way?” Artists have tried to depict the trinity in various ways – Celtic art uses patterns of three. The wild goose has been a symbol for the Holy Spirit for centuries. It really is a perfect symbol. It turns out that wild geese can also teach us a little about community. Every spring when the geese were migrating north, they would take up temporary residence in many of the farmers’ fields around one of my first churches south of Ottawa. They could rest in the expansive fields, and be near the Rideau River all at the same time. But I’m afraid they weren’t very popular with the farmers.
The geese kept them up at night with all their honking. And it was truly an infernal racket. And all their droppings unfortunately were toxic to the fields, so the farmers would be out in the fields trying to scare the birds off during the day. By night, they would be trying to sleep. And then every year around Pentecost, when we would be listening to how God’s Spirit descended upon the church – that first community of believers – the geese would arrive. They could not be ignored.
Geese have been a symbol for the holy Spirit for centuries. Perhaps it is because they demand attention, or can keep you up at night but perhaps it has something to do with living in community. Did you know that geese in a flock have a 75 % greater range when they travel together? They also travel about 75% faster than a single goose can when it’s on its own.
Flocks travel faster and more efficiently together.
If we have as much sense as a goose, we will live and work together in community, as followers of Jesus.
You’ve seen what I mean.
When the lead goose gets tired, he rotates to the back and another goose takes a turn and flies up front. The geese honk at the one up front to encourage it to keep the speed up, and when one goose gets sick, or wounded two others fall out of the formation to stay with it to help and protect him.
Neither are there any solo Christians.
While the personal aspect of our faith is important and needs to be nurtured, we never really go it alone. Dr. Kent Ira Groff , a Spiritual director at Princeton Seminary says this: “Without the discipline of community, solitude [can] degenerate into self absorption. It’s in the community of faith that we really learn the language of love… A life-giving church is one where human brokenness is lifted up like bread and wine to be held and touched and blessed – to heal the world.” (paraphrase) Not only are you a part of the community of this congregation, we are all part of the community of the nearby congregations of Trinity and Knox, and the community that is the body of Christ through out the world. Hebrews 12: reminds us of the great a cloud of witnesses that surrounds us; an even wider community.
Even God lives in Community. I’m referring to the Trinity.
In the year 213, Tertullian, an early Church Father and theologian insisted that it was important to preserve the idea of One God, in a world filled with pagan beliefs. He claimed that the relationship or the Community of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit was within God. This concept has challenged theologians ever since.
There is a temptation to consider the trinity as a puzzle to be solved: The Three in One the One in Three.
But another way to think of the mystery of the Trinity, is as a Divine relationship that we are invited to enter into, to experience, and then to allow this community to shape, nurture heal and astonish us, with power and awe.
The artist Andrei Rublev created an icon, called The Trinity around the year 1410.
While we are not particularly accustomed to the use of icons in the Presbyterian or in any Reformed churches there is still some deep wisdom for us to glean from this amazing piece of art.
It’s important to note, that Icons are intended not as idols to be worshipped, but as a type of prayer and meditative tools. Back in the book of Genesis you will remember the story of Abraham and Sarah welcoming three strangers to their tent, and offering them a meal under the oaks of Mamre.
The three strangers have sometimes been understood in differing ways due to difficulties with the original language and translation.
They are sometimes thought of as angels, which are messengers of God. They announced that Sarah – who would have been drawing her pension for a long time, was going to have a child. She laughed.
In Genesis sometimes they are referred to as the three and sometimes it is just ‘the Lord’. Historically the three figures have often been thought of as the Trinity coming to visit Abraham and Sarah.
And so in the icon we see both visions: the Trinity of God at table, with wine, communion perhaps, and the Trinity of the holy visitors sharing the food prepared for them, at a table under the oaks of Mamre off in the distance.
And they sit together in the community of the Trinity.
One is not set higher than the other. They are all engaged and connected to each other.
But one of the things that I have always found most interesting and wonderful is that if you look closely the perspective seems off, not because the artist couldn’t draw, but the perspective has actually been reversed – most notably in this icon and often in others.
The idea is to actually draw the viewer into the picture. Like Abraham’s hospitality we are welcomed to come closer and be at table with the three figures seated there.
This picture is inviting us closer to God and into the community of the Trinity, while we gaze at it. And again – this depiction just says there is so much we don’t know.
Paul wrote to the community of believers in Ephesus from a prison cell. His letter was probably a circular letter that went from community to community and not just to Ephesus. We did not read from it this morning but you likely remember it.
Paul wrote to encourage them, to honk at them, and to remind them and appeal to them to maintain their Christian unity with humility, gentleness and patience.
He points out the diversity of gifts within the body of Christ – prophets, teachers, evangelists, pastors – all of which are given toward one goal: to build up the body of Christ in the unity and maturity of faith.
God’s Spirit is an active force, living in you, in me – guiding us. This power of God raised Jesus and this is the power that we are fellow heirs to.
It is the power that continues to enfold us with Divine love.
Living together is never easy.
There is nothing romantic about living in community. It requires patience and gentleness and humility as Paul says.
There are of course large communities such as Iona, in the Hebrides island of Scotland but with members all over the world as well as those living there. Or there is the prayer community of Taize, or the world wide communities of L’Arche, begun by the late Jean Vanier for those with mental disabilities.
There are all the communities of the various branches of the Church and our own Presbyterian community.
And yet there are millions of smaller communities like ours living and working together to praise and worship and serve Jesus Christ and the world that God so loves.
It can be hard to remember that everyone is a child of God. Simply as the church, we can have our moments.
I like to remind myself of something that a long ago Rabbi once wrote: His name was Rabbi Joshua ben Levi and he said,
In front of every person goes a process of ten thousand angels who sing and declare: Make way! Make way for the image of God! How many angels are among us that we can’t see. What is it that we cannot grasp, see, or sense?
All over the world there are Christian communities that surround us and each other- little groups of friends who fly with us together in a V, honking to encourage and stopping to protect and wait for healing.
There is a wonderful book by Sue Monk-Kidd called the ‘Secret life of Bees.’ It is a lovely tale about a 14 year old girl named Lily in South Carolina in the mid 60’s. It speaks to issues of racism and the effects of the civil rights movement.
Her nanny who is her surrogate mother is black. She isn’t. For a number of reasons, the two of them end up living with 3 black women who are bee keepers. It is a unique and caring household, and above all- it is a community of faith.
And as Lily’s life becomes woven together with all these other women, the threads and details of the beekeeping life are set out for the reader to see.
In early Christian art, bees and hives were used as symbols of Christian community. What a lovely description it is.
There are many roles for each bee. There is the Queen of course- the mother bee. –there are the drones that fertilize the queen and help to continue the hive.
Ninety eight percent of the bees are workers (in a hive they are female) mortuary bees carry out the dead ones, fanning bees keep the hive cool, guard bees protect the entrance and the water carriers help with the production of the honey.
Each community or hive produces its own sort of honey, depending on the kind of source they have for pollen.
Each community of the body of Christ produces its own unique sort of honey as well.
May we all be blessed with the sweetness and nurturing love of God. May God use us to feed and nurture not only one another but those who hunger and thirst for the sweetness of God.