First Sunday after Pentecost:
Mother Imogen Rodenheiser
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
or Canticle 13 (or Canticle 2)
If you were our children’s minister, Kate Bell, you would have spent the last four months or so with a date imprinted on your brain, which was not surprisingly enough, Trinity Sunday, June 16th, but rather June 17th, which is the beginning of Vacation Bible School.
And if you go to the other side of this beautiful church, you will see all kinds of strange and marvelous decorations in the hospitality center, in the stairwell by 201, 202, that signal to you that there has been a lot of preparation going on for this week-long event in the life of our parish. And that is not the only event of significance on the horizon because a week from today, we also have a group of our youth traveling with our youth minister, Kelly Haddad to the Dominican Republic on a mission trip.
And because both of these enterprises are so laborious and important, we’re going to be commissioning and blessing all those who are participating in Vacation Bible School and in the mission trip at our announcements during this service.
But without presuming to speak on others’ behalf, I would wager that what we’re most hoping for, for all of the children who come to Vacation Bible School, for the youth who are serving asset as well as the adults, for all those on this trip to the Dominican Republic, along with the volunteers and the people that are waiting there to greet them, I would wager what we’re most hoping for all of these is that everyone who’s touched in some way by both of these weeks, would come out of that experience even in the middle of it with a profound sense of what it feels like to be loved by God.
And I think the way that we do that, the way we do it in our lives when we show up for vacation Bible school, when we go on a mission wherever God leads us. To me, the primary way that that happens is through our presence. It’s that thing Maya Angelou was talking about in that famous quote, “People will forget what you did, they’ll forget what you said, including this sermon. But they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”
And it’s not up to us to contrive a situation in which a child or an adult is made to feel the love of God, it doesn’t work that way. But we go in with hope and we trust that God will show up and make God’s own love known and that we perhaps might have a small part to play in that happening.
So whether you two have been thinking about June 17th or whether there are other things on your mind this morning, other people on your heart that you have been given to be present to, but may not be quite sure how to do that, we are offered this morning the gold standard in God like loving presence, which we call the Trinity.
And our first exposure to it is in our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures from Proverbs where we have wisdom, who is not just in one place you’ll know. She’s everywhere. She’s by the city gate. She’s at the crossroads. She’s all over the place. And she is crying out and saying, “Look, look what I have seen. I was there before the beginning even began. I was with God. I was present in that three in one, before the foundations of the world were even laid, before the mountains had even been shaped. And I was so present that I remember in detail what was happening before my very eyes. I showed up to see what God was doing, the God of which I am apart.”
There’s this sense that the Trinity brings this absolute quantity of presence that has no beginning and no end. But it’s not just about quantity. As we all know, it’s about quality. And that we have an opening into – in our Gospel reading from John. Because at one point, that Jesus is explaining to his followers, what’s going to happen next, what will happen after he leaves when they can no longer hear him speaking directly to them. Where will they go? What will they do?
And Jesus says the spirit of all truth is to come. In the midst of telling them this once again, there’s a line that you may have noticed. And it says, “All that the Father has is mine.” And that can seem sort of proprietary. Who has what? Who’s in the loop? And we might think perhaps of the Trinity as this exclusive club that’s all knowing and all powerful, but closed off to everybody else.
And yet, when I hear that line from Jesus, All that the Father has is mine, I hear echoes of another word spoken in Luke in the parable of the prodigal son. And you may recall, the youngest son has gone and squandered all his funds. And he’s come back and his father has thrown him a party and the oldest son comes to the Father and says, “You never did that for me. I’ve been here the whole time.” And the father says, “Son, I am always with you. And all that I have is yours.”
The Trinity, their presence, their love is this open ended – this open ended presence and love that we are invited into so that we too can say as God says to us, “All that I have is yours.” We can say to God, “Everything I’ve got, take it, use it. I’m all in and I’m all yours.” That intimacy, that quantity and quality of presence has been in God’s own very self since before the beginning even began.
And we are invited to share in it. And at the same time, we’re chastened. Because in our readings today, we hear that this three in one God who’s always present is not just present in the miraculous, joyful, springing forth of new things. But that God is also just as present, just as constant, just as loving in the sufferings that Paul talks about. And literally, the word there is pressures. The pressures that come with life, and that stay for a day or a longer season.
And so, we’re invited to share in this love to take our place as God’s presence in the world, not just in the triumph and the glory, but also in the hardship and the pain. And thanks be to God, we have a tiny verse in the psalm that reminds us also, we may be crowned with glory and honor. We may be held in love by God, and we are. But we’re still made a little lower than the angels. We’re still a little less than divine, we’re not God.
The Trinity. That community of love and ongoing presence can hold everything and all things and does. But I don’t know about your life of faith. But at some point in trying to hold all of the things, I myself become depleted in some fashion. And so, the question seems to me to be how is one to be present to share in this life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? How does one do that under pressure?
And in reflecting on this, I was reminded of something that happened a number of years ago. And it was one of those memories that you remember one piece of, and suddenly you start remembering all these other parts of it. Which is that while I was at seminary, I became involved with the local Episcopal Diocese there, in particular with a ministry that was devoted to serving young adults and adults who are attending two and four year higher education institutions, especially those who had not had an Episcopal chaplaincy built into them from the beginning.
And so, the diocese had purchased a food truck. And the idea was that we go around in this food truck, we’d serve food. It was called a Moveable Feast. And now that we had this gorgeous food truck, they thought, “We’ll bring it to the diocesan convention, so all the churches everybody can see it, we’ll raise the visibility. And then we can serve cider and donuts out of it.”
And so, I went. And as you might imagine at this convention, the hotel was here, the conference center was here and there was a little road in between. So it was as convenient as it could be. And we were there. I was standing outside the food truck around the front. And some of my friends were in it handing out things from the window. And all was well.
Except that then this girl, who I remember being about 12, had gone on a Starbucks run to the hotel. And she was coming out between two parked cars. And before you know it, she’d been hit by a car. And she stood up. And she was stumbling around in the road and yelling.
And so, someone ran to try and find her parents in the convention hall, somebody ran to the hotel to try and call their room. And somehow I wound up holding her until the ambulance got there. And her mother arrived and her mother got in the ambulance with her and the ambulance left.
And then I remember, the chaplain, the Episcopal chaplain of Duke and I, we stayed and we sat and we prayed with the woman who’d been driving the car. And she had been on the way from a Narcotics Anonymous meeting to a birthday party. And this was at the very end of the convention. So, it was Saturday.
We came inside, we prayed. We all went home. And then it was Sunday. And I went to the church where I was serving at the time because you have to get up and go do what God needs you to do. And the rector at that church, she had been there. So she knew what had happened. And she knew that I had been present. And she asked if I wanted to talk.
And I remember sitting in her office and saying, “I just don’t understand how you hold all the things. If this is the very beginning of the possibility of my ordained life, I just don’t understand how you keep holding people’s stuff.” And she said, “I don’t think you do ever learn how to hold everything. But you learn how to hold it differently.”
And I can’t remember if this is something she actually said or if this is what came to my mind when she said it. But I saw and I have kept with me this image, that there is such a way that you can hold something with your hands that your fingers are spread apart. And they have some space between them so that you can still be holding whatever it is you need to hold.
But that other things can fall through that you don’t need to be holding. And to me, one of the most sophisticated endeavors of the Christian life is that constant need to be asking, “Lord, how? How do I hold this? What are you asking me to hold?” And Jesus I think must know that because he says to his followers, “I’ve got lots to tell you. But you can’t carry it right now.”
We believe in a Triune God who is eternal, ever loving everlasting, who is with us in the joys and the triumphs and in the things that keep us up at night. And we’re invited to share in that kind of robust presence with one another. And yet, we are very human. And God is not asking us to be God.
And so on this eve of Ordinary Time, which will enter into next week. Our invitation is to wander and reflect upon perhaps, what are the things you do? Where do you go? Who do you talk to? So that you can hold what God needs you to hold so you can be present in the way that God is asking you to be present.
And at the same time, let go, let through some of those things that God can hold, but we cannot. And whatever you do in order to be able to do those things we call those spiritual practices. And two of mine, that I see a therapist, and I see a spiritual director. Because I need people who will love me, and listen to me. And who will challenge and encourage me and help me see what is God asking me to hold and what is God not asking me to hold.
Because half of the time on my own, mine two eyes, my one heart, I can’t tell. The girl who had been hit, she was fine. She made a full recovery. I never saw any of those people, again, besides the ones I already knew in the diocese. And I think that’s also one of the strange things about what God gives us to hold is that you don’t know how long it’s going to be for.
You don’t know how long the season will last. And so, while we live with and are loved by a dynamic God who will ask different things of us. And sometimes give us plenty of notice and sometimes give us no notice at all. With all that dynamism, it is a God of steadfastness and faithfulness. It is a Triune God who was made, has ever existed in love, who holds us in that love and humbles us enough to know that we are not that God and yet we are swept up in that love and called to be that loving presence every moment as God will make possible.
So whatever mission you are called on in the coming weeks, in this day, in this morning, whether it’s the vacation Bible school, or the Dominican Republic or your own neighborhood, bind unto yourself as our final hymns says that strong name of the Trinity, and know that you are held by an utterly loving God. And may that love lead you and guide you to love yourself and your God and this world with a more powerful presence than God can even say.