Harrowing Of Hell
June 18, 2019

The True Colors of the Trinity


Good morning Christians, seekers, and friends:

Folks have often asked me if I ever re-use a sermon and I can honestly answer that, “No, I don’t.” This question came up the other day as I was working on my sermon at the Madison Park Starbucks which I like to call the other Epiphany office as I run into a least one parishioner every time I go there (and more often 4 or 5). But I digress. The reason why I can’t re-use a sermon is that while the readings repeat every three years, I am not the same person who read them three years before nor is the community and the world in which we live. We change. Our experiences change. And so I try to listen to the Spirit anew each time.

I will confess, however, that I am make the same remark I have used at least a couple three times in my ministry. And this it– Trinity Sunday sermons are often given by whomever draws the short straw – because trying to explain the theological meaning and importance of the Trinity in a way that doesn’t put everyone to sleep is difficult stuff, indeed. Now in this case, of course, with Doyt on pilgrimage, there is only one straw to pick.  And it is mine. So, there I was trying to write this sermon with the same thought I have every single time I write a Trinity Sunday sermon which is; “How am I going to explain the mystery of the Trinity in a way that, if it isn’t exactly compelling, is at least a little less soporific?”

But then, there at the Madison Park Starbucks, with a flash of much-needed Divine inspiration, I realized that I didn’t have to talk about theological formulas of the Trinity this year— because what is  actually important about the Trinity is the relational and communal aspects of God that it represents. Theology is, after all, just our attempt to put into words our lived experience of God. So all we really need to know about the Trinity is that it seeks to explain how God is in relationship with us –God is in all that is around us, God walks with us and God is in us too.

This is what Jesus is trying to say to his disciples in today’s gospel. Part of what theologians and commentators refer to as Jesus’ ‘farewell discourse,’ today’s gospel finds Jesus trying to prepare his disciples for his departure and the new way that God, that He, will be with them after his death. Jesus is trying to explain how, even though it will hurt, his departure was a good thing – as a further progression, if you will, of the new relationship that he, Jesus, had come to initiate. His disciples, however, are finding it hard to understand. And those of us who have lost loved ones probably know pretty well how they must have been feeling, right? Because while we Christians know that our loved ones will always be with us in some way, we still mourn their loss – we still cry. Because we miss their bodily presence. We miss hearing their voices. We miss the hands we could hold and the bodies we could embrace. We miss the nearness of them. Today on this Father’s Day, I still miss my father and my grandfather even after many years.

So, while we use language to try to describe and explain the Trinity, the reality of the Trinity is found in relationship—and relationship is part of the essence of God. This is what we try to explain using the terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So it is not about theological abstractions – what Jesus seems to be trying to explain in today’s gospel –“(m)aybe through tears of his own, and possibly to weeping disciples” – is that, even though they and we will miss him – he is not leaving us behind to try to ‘make do’ on our own. Jesus will never abandon them or us. In fact, Jesus died so that the Spirit would come to us, reside within us and help us recognize Jesus’ presence as he continues to work in the world.

The Trinity, therefore, is the way in which we try to explain this miracle that God remains near to us, continues to work in the world, and reveal God’s self to God’s people. Because God is with us – God is in relationship with us still – now—and God still seeks to lead us forward.

This is what Jesus is talking about today in the gospel. Jesus says to the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” In other words, the Spirit will continue to reveal God’s Word and God’s desire for us – but it will not all come to us all at once – because, well, it would be too much for us to take in.

Last week I talked with our little ones about how the Holy Spirit chose to come to the church rather than the individual. While God loves each and every one of us, our Trinitarian language seeks to give voice to the fact that God is only truly known in community. Just as our language is not big enough to hold the concept of God in all God’s immensity and grace – the Spirit in each of us cannot hold all truth. But together, in our relationships with one another – with our fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, friends and neighbors we can get a better understanding of God in God’s many aspects. And the truer, the deeper, the more loving these relationships become, the more God will be revealed through them.  Just in the last twenty-five years, for example, the Episcopal church’s understanding of many long-held beliefs have changed for the better.

In my first year of seminary, both my sister and my beloved grandfather died. One of the hardest moments of that difficult time was consoling my mother after she had been approached by a religious leader who wanted to pray for whatever sins she and my father may have committed that resulted in my sister’s leukemia. And while this particular understanding of illness probably sounds unbelievable to our ears, my parents, whose hearts were already breaking – were devastated. Because our broken world often wishes to make the suffering responsible for whatever they suffer – and we internalize it. My parents and my sister were just two of many whose sins were deemed by some religious folks as the cause of their illnesses. During that time, many politicians and churches were openly discussing the sins committed by those suffering HIV/AIDS and the plague got had sent on them. So my grief was just a drop in the bucket to the communities which surrounded my seminary in Chelsea, New York City where the death toll of those suffering this terrible illness peaked during my time. My grief was shared by my dear friend Clay an openly gay, HIV-positive seminarian whose doctorate in string theory still didn’t give him a chance at ordination then.

So, it was with Clay, whose Baptist family prayed for his sins and lost soul – Clay who, at such a young age, had buried so many friends even as he survived this ‘plague’ on his community with whom I shared my grief. And it was through Clay that God comforted and revealed Godself to me. As we studied together, laughed together, and shared brunch together Saturdays at the Paris Commune in the Village, the church we sought to serve was trying to figure out how to live into the recognition of God’s equal love for the LGBTQI+ community that it had officially affirmed in 1976. But during that difficult time, we found hope. I remember Clay coming home late one night and telling me of an experience that would help sustain us for a long time. Clay had gone to a party for the 25th anniversary of Stonewall during Pride week. Held on the Intrepid, a de-commissioned aircraft carrier from the Vietnam war that now rests in the Hudson River, the evening ended with by a performance by Cyndi Lauper. I had long loved Cyndi Lauper with her bright red or crazy-colored hair and her Queens accent.

Well Cyndi, a true New Yorker, had lost a friend to the AIDS epidemic. Before he died, however, she wanted to write a song with him for his community.  So, he came up with the da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da, and then she wrote the melody and the lyrics to the song. And that night in 1994, she sang their song wrapped in a rainbow flag to a grieving community. She has said about writing the song, “I realized it had to be a voice that whispers to you. Don’t be discouraged, a voice that’s almost childlike so that it would speak to the basic DNA, the softest most gentle part of a human being. Then you’d hear a voice whisper to you and tell you it’s gonna be okay.” And that was what came through to those there present. In that moment, Clay said he felt seen and loved in a way he never had before. And as tears streamed down his face, he felt somehow healed by God’s grace and mercy.  And so, as we went on living, eating, drinking and praying together in that old seminary in the middle of a sorrow-filled community— we hoped –we believed somehow that the wheels of change were beginning to slowly turn. And while it would not happen all at once, the hearts of many in our community, indeed, were changed. We believed that Christians would come to see that our God of love—well that the God who proclaimed on those first days of creation that all that God had made was ‘good’ well that God could never despise any whom God had made. And we believed that the same God that loved us so much that God sent God’s only begotten Son to die so that we might not perish, well God didn’t wish to damn us—or inflict pain, illness, or death on any of us for our ‘sins.’ After all. Jesus had come to save us sinners.  And the Spirit, the Spirit spoke and helped us to see that God continues to act in and through us – and so we needed to pray and act and speak courageously what the Spirit was speaking to God’s people in that time. 

So while the world doesn’t want us to remember this – well the Trinity reminds us that God can be found anywhere — in  people and places which we don’t necessarily identify as ‘holy.’ God can be found in a kooky pop star with a Queens accent, a rather odd girl from Montana and her good friend Clay from Texas – God can be found in a de-commissioned aircraft carrier and at the Madison Park Starbucks– that other Epiphany office… Because what Jesus tells in today’s gospel is that God will not only come to us exactly where and when we need God most, God will be with us through it –all the time—residing in each one of us and revealing God’s self in our relationships and communities. So we do not need to be afraid—we are loved. We are not alone.

Show me a smile then
Don’t be unhappy
Can’t remember when
I last saw you laughing
If this world makes you crazy
And you’ve taken all you can bear
You call me up
Because you know I’ll be there

And I’ll see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful,
Like a rainbow