Sunday, August 2, 2020
Sunday, June 7, 2020
Sermon for Trinity Sunday June 6, 202St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to mea. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Trinity Sunday is not a day for me to preach! I failed in trying to explain the relevance of the Trinity in 1500 words on my General Ordination Exams, the GOE’s – or God’s Own exam as some have jokingly referred to it. In response I was told by the commission on ministry that I should read another book on the mystery of the Trinity. Perhaps it is God’s holy humor that has be standing here – a trinitarian humor!
With all that has happened in the past two months – and especially in the past two weeks it does not feel like a time to preach a sermon on the doctrine of the Trinity, a sermon sure to make all of you tune out and tune into another service. It is a day that feels like I should stop right now for the 8 min 48 seconds of silence to remember the life and cruel killing of George Floyd.
Systemic racism is nothing new. It has been a part of our dominant culture for years – indeed centuries. On Friday we attended a zoom birthday gathering for a dear friends 100th birthday. One of the participants asked him of his earliest memory growing up in Sacramento. He said that his earliest memory dates back to when he was two or three – living at 14th and W. His memory was of the KKK burning a cross in the vacant lot across the street from the house.
Trinity Sunday is usually a Sunday when the readings are not that helpful. The lectionary committee struggles to find trinitarian references in our scripture – so we get the version story of creation where we hear God say that humanity was created in the plural “Our Image”, and the only trinitarian reference in Matthew from the final farewell to the disciples.
However this Trinity Sunday the lessons speak to be about a way to see through the terrible devastation of a pandemic and the horrors of systemic racism and injustice. And the extreme reaction by some law enforcement to peaceful protests that included the removal of peaceful protesters, including clergy, who were offering water and medical supplies, from historic St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington D.C. for a photo op. A photo op that has been criticized by both the progressive side of our church as wells as the conservative side.
David Lose, a preacher I follow, said in his reflection for Trinity Sunday:
...in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the massive and world-wide protests that has sparked – not to mention that we’re still coping with a pandemic that has now claimed more than 100,000 lives in the United States and countless more around the globe – the Trinity has never seemed so unimportant or irrelevant.
Except if there is one thing that seems important and concrete and meaningful about the Trinity, it’s the idea of relationship. Particularly as we – ourselves, our congregations, our communities – seek to move into a future that aligns more closely with what we believe deep in our heart God wants for us, then it matters a great deal that we affirm that God is, at heart, inherently, undeniably, and inextricably relational.
These lessons provide a lens in which we may be able to envision a way to work to bring about God’s dream as expressed through Jesus – when he commands us to love God and to love all people, and to spread that love to all nations – not some people, all people, not some nations but all nations.
In our story of creation I take comfort that God sees all of creation as Good. As creation unfolded the refrain we hear is that God saw each creation and that it is Good. Indeed in the end God says that creation is Very Good. Humanity – in all its varied expressions: races, gender identities, liberal bias, conservative bias, all was created to be very good. All was created to be in the image of our triune God.
In our very creation God commands that we be stewards of creation. That we be in relationship with God and all of Gods good creation. A command that we have failed over and over again. In response to our failure God has sent prophets and wise women and men to call us back.
To call us to recognize our systemic failures that treat others as less than fully human. To repent the societal failures that lead to others being treated as less than fully human. To call for change that recognizes that God sees that all creation is good. A God that calls us to remember, to insist that, Black Lives do matter.
We are reminded to say that in the story of the good shepherd – the story of God going after the one that was missing from the flock. A popular meme of the story of the Good shepherd has the “lost” sheep saying that she was driven out of the fold – she did not run away. Jesus reassures us that those society casts out matter – and with the horrifying murders of people of color in our society at the hands of authority – we need to be reminded that Jesus tells us that Black lives matter and we need to stand with Jesus and say that Black lives matter until our society lets people of color back into the fold.
In our Patron Saint’s second letter to the Corinthians Paul closes with “Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” Paul emphasizes that God’s dream is for us to live in peace and when we do the God of peace will be with us. I want to be clear that this is not a call for the protests to end. The protests are calling for peace and reconciliation. The protests are prophetically calling us to hear the words of Micah “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Calling us to hear the words of Isaiah "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”
Paul is reminding us that God is calling us into a relational faith. A faith that calls, no demands, that we see all of creation as very good. A faith that calls us to break the bonds on injustice, to call out the systemic racism that has allowed predominantly white churches like ours to flourish for centuries.
Elizabeth Kincade, professor of Christian ethics and moral theology at Nashotah House Seminary said in her editorial in the Living Church on the photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church:
However, while it is easy to condemn the violation of the message of the gospel that the photo-op represents, it is important for the Church to remember that the reason the President chose to appear in this way is simple and utilitarian: this type of appropriation of the Church has worked in the past and he thought it would work now. As abhorrent as his actions are, they only worked because in the past we, as the Church, have failed to rebuke and challenge exactly this type of appropriation and have not made it clear that we choose justice and love over safety and power.
White Christians are responsible because we have let the president and other Americans believe that the Church was the building, rather than people of God on the move with those in the square. There are many ways that the Church in America needs to repent, change, and grow, many of which the protests across our country are making plain. The president’s shameful demonstration throws into bold relief another area of needed repentance. We have allowed the powerful to believe that not only can the things of God be co-opted to promote injustice, but that this is what we want. We must ensure that this never happens again, by making clearer than ever before whose servants we are and which way we follow.
Which brings me to our Gospel reading. Jesus promised that if we make disciples of all nations Jesus will be with us to the end of the ages. To be disciples mean a relational faith, a faith that recognizes the image of our trinitarian God in each person.
It can be a comfort to hear that Jesus is with us when we suffer. These words have been a comfort to those who are being oppressed. I have been comforted by God’s presence in hard times. I have been comforted and upheld by prayer when I had cancer, when my mother died and in many other times.
There is an unfortunate flip side that we Christians in power have misused the statement that Jesus will be with us to the end of ages. We have used it to say that Jesus is on our side – and by implication not on someone else’s side. We co-opt Jesus as our ally in oppression at our peril.
Matt Skinner, professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary said we should:
… approach Trinity Sunday with repentant and humble hearts, for a theology that is Trinitarian, confessing faith in a Holy, self-giving, and immanent God, can never become smug. Trinitarianism rules out pretentiousness.
Too often we take Jesus’ pledge I am with you always in a presumptuous way. We assume “I am with you” means Jesus is saying, “I am on your side” or “I will follow where you lead.”
The blood of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, [Stephon Clark],and too many other black bodies is crying out to God from the ground. So too are the lonesome remains of people of color whom America is offering as sacrifices to COVID-19.2 It is past time for white preachers in particular to take another look at the “with” in Matthew 28:20.
Instead of reading “with” as an endorsement of our self-serving ideologies or an assurance of personal comfort, let us take it as a simple claim that Christ is always present around us, calling to me from among “the other.” In that call I experience judgment but also invitation.
Christ beckons us out of our own fortified assurances. You have heard his voice again, probably more loudly than usual, during the past one or two weeks.
Christ continues to cry out in agony, cast out to die in abandonment.
That cry, that presence of a suffering God, must pull and not repel us.
Christ continues to show up among the outsider and the oppressed. Christ continues to surrender his own advantages and privileges, urging us to join him.
Will we be with him?
Accessed June 4, 2020
Accessed June 4, 2020
Accessed June 4, 2020
Sunday, May 17, 2020
Sermon for Easter 6 2020St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
[The sermon can be heard on St. Paul's Facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/StPaulsSacramento/videos/240192093877057/ The sermon begins at about minute 24]