Sermon Preached on June 16, 2019 – Trinity Sunday
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Trinity Sunday and the Expansiveness of God
Today across the Church, parishes are being subjected to the Doctrine of the Trinity with varying degrees of success, (mostly by associates, seminarians and guest preachers). For our purposes this morning, I think it’s enough to say that this doctrine emerged over time as the early Christians wrestled with their new understanding of God. They had experienced in scripture and experience this person of Jesus – God’s own, and yet distinctly separate; who spoke of the God of Creation intimately as his Father, and taught them to do the same; and who told them of an Advocate – also separate and yet sharing the will and power of both the Father and Son; all of whom abide in one another. This community of God’s Self is the one in three, three in one, the new math of Christianity.
Trinity Sunday is our gateway to the long, green season of ordinary time, the time when we pay attention to the ways of God in our daily lives. It seems fitting that we begin by stretching and learning and continuing to consider the expansiveness of God and what that means to our lives, our communities and our world.
As we begin today, poet and pastor Jan Richardson starts us off with this wish for us:
That one image of God
will never appease you.
That one word for the holy
will never suffice.
That by uncountable names
and limitless forms
the infinite God
will find and delight you.¹
With that in mind, I offer us three glimpses of God this morning – one for each person of the Trinity: Creator God, Christ the Son, and Holy Spirit. Though it seems only fair to start with the Spirit (always last!), and work our way to God.
First, the Spirit: a 100-word poem by Amy Julia Becker, in answer to the challenge:
“How is the Holy Spirit at work in the world today? …in 100 words or less.”²
In nudges and whispers.
Like a seed growing, imperceptible at first.
Like wind, invisible, refreshing, transformative.
Like water, cleansing, renewing, powerful.
Praying: for us, with us, in us, through us.
Convicting, like a judge in a courtroom.
Comforting, like a mother with a frightened child in the middle of the night.
We know her work by experiencing it.
She will not be pinned down,
can only be described with analogies.
But wherever there is forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation, grace,
she leaves her fingerprints.
Always the one connecting,
making us into the Body of Christ,
God’s hands in the world.
Now, a prayer to Christ, the Son, by Padraig Ó Tuama³:
Wandering along the way
like a stranger,
hidden along the way
in many stories and many faces.
May we listen to our hearts when they burn with life
knowing that you are speaking to us.
Because you are with us
along the way
in the faces
of many strangers.
I know that we need to move on to our third piece – an expression of God, Creator. But Ó Tuama’s prayer catches me short. (Prayer can do that.) May we find the hidden Jesus in the stories of those around us, because Jesus will be found when we listen with our hearts, and seen in faces of strangers. This prayer confronts us, grabs hold, and won’t let us move on. Instead it turns us to face the situation in Portland this week with the arrival of a large wave of asylum seekers from Central Africa.
As we know from being involved with the Yarmouth Compassionate Housing Initiative, asylum seekers have been arriving in Portland for the past three years. What made this weekend news were the numbers of people involved, and the large-scale response necessary. Citing limited resources and lack of space, there are those who wanted us to turn them away, or to set a cap on the numbers, urging us to say that we are full and can’t take any more people.
As it happens, this weekend also marks the 80th anniversary of the return of the German ocean liner the MS St. Louis to Europe. The ship was carrying over 900 hundred Jewish asylum seekers fleeing Nazi Germany, they were refused entrance to Cuba, and then when they turned toward Miami in desperation, they were denied entrance to the U.S. The State Department sent a telegram to the ship stating: “[Passengers must] await their turns on the waiting list and qualify for and obtain immigration visas before they may be admissible into the United States.”⁴ When the St. Louis was forced to go back across the Atlantic, four European nations agreed to take the refugees. Over the following years, 532 of the former passengers found themselves in German-controlled territory. In the end, 254 were killed during the war and Holocaust.
In 2017, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, a software engineer and a rabbi teamed up, and began using Twitter to share the manifest of the MS St. Louis. Now an annual memorial, the St. Louis Manifest Twitter feed reads like a slow dirge, steadily announcing throughout the day the names of the St. Louis passengers who were killed, each following a simple format:
“My name is Fritz Lichtenstein. The US turned me away at the border in 1939. I was murdered at The Netherlands.” The tweets include pictures of the passengers if they are available. The twitter feed’s bio states, “On Holocaust Remembrance Day #WeRemember the victims of Nazism turned away at the doorstep of America in 1939. #RefugeesWelcome.”⁵
In response to the asylum seekers coming to Portland this week, an on-line podcaster from Portland said, “This is our ocean liner. It’s coming, and it will really define who we are as a people. Whether or not we welcome people on the docks with open arms – or turn them away to face their fate in a violent world.”⁶
My Friends, maybe Trinity Sunday came along just in time, we needed a chance to stop and pay attention to the nature of God and who we are as God’s people.
Now, finally, we are able to share the third expansive vision of God, Creator. This by Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, an African American pastor and author who speaks and writes on racial and gender inequity. Not only does she offer a rich vision of God’s Self, but she articulates the danger of allowing our image of God to be too small.
Rev. Lewis writes:
My God is a curvy black woman with dreadlocks and dark, cocoa-brown skin. She laughs from her belly and is unashamed to cry. She can rock a whole world to sleep, singing in her contralto voice. Her sighs breathe life into humanity. Her heartbreaks cause eruptions of justice and love.
Of course, because God is a mystery, we don’t know everything about Her. So out of our imaginations and our yearnings, our hopes and our fears, we make stuff up. At our best, we project goodness, power, kindness, and love onto God. At our worst, we create a God who is punitive, angry, judgmental, and harsh. We do this because we are those things, and we think they make us safe.
Projection itself is not the problem. The problem occurs when we don’t examine those projections with a critical eye, with a hermeneutic of suspicion. The issue is that we write laws that codify the shadow parts of the god we create, in order to diminish others, to abuse others.
The trouble starts when our god is too small, when we reduce our worst projections to fit in our pocket and keep this god on our team. When we neglect to confront this created god, we get the Crusades and the Doctrine of Discovery; the murder of indigenous people and Jews; apartheid and enslaved Africans; sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia—all in the name of the too-puny god that is the worst of ourselves.
I know I’ve got my projections. They are inspired by my imagination and by textual studies. In Hebrew, the words for womb and mercy have the same root, and the word for spirit is feminine: ruach. In Greek, the word pneuma [breath or spirit or soul] has a feminine article, the word Sophia stands for wisdom, and the word agape—God’s love for us—is also a feminine word. Therefore, my God is an incarnate feminine power, who smells like vanilla and is full of sass and truth, delivered with kindness. She’ll do anything for her creation; her love is fierce. She weeps when we do, and insists on justice. She is God. She is Love.⁷
This why we do this, why we spend time pondering the Trinity, and imagining God as more than we are, and why it matters. An expansive understanding of our God allows us to become expansive in our beloved-ness, and in our capacity to respond to that love. Allows us to be extravagant in our loving, as we continue to live who we are called to become, the beloved people of God.
As she began us with a wish, it seems appropriate that Jan Richardson should bless us out, in the name of our Three-fold God.
May we go
with the protection of God
who made us for wholeness,
the encompassing of Christ
who calls us beloved,
the grace of the Spirit
who bids us be as one.
1 Jan Richardson, Sanctuary of Women, p. 198.
2 Amy Julia Becker, “How is the Holy Spirit at work in the world today? …in 100 words or less.” From Patheos.com, 2012.
3 Padraig Ò Tuama, Daily Prayer with the Corrymeala Community, p. 38.
4 Jason Daley, “Haunting twitter account shares the fates of the refugees of St Louis,” Smithsonian.com, January 27, 2017.
5 Jason Daley, “Haunting twitter account shares the fates of the refugees of St Louis,” Smithsonian.com, January 27, 2017.
6 Paraphrased from podcast by MaineBeacon.com, aired June 14, 2019.
7 Jacqui Lewis, “She Is God. She Is Love.” the Mendicant, vol. 9, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019), 23.
8 Jan Richardson, Sanctuary of Women, p. 296.