Pool Party; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Notre Dame Baptismal FontOver the winter, Grey Wilkes learned to swim.

Having recently moved to a house with a pool, her parents wanted to make sure she could navigate the waters as soon as possible, safety fence notwithstanding. Instead of floundering in the waters, Grey has learned, should she fall in, to float on her back and then to kick her way to the edge. I wonder if our encountering the mystery of the Trinity might be a little bit like Grey learning a new response to being dropped into water; rather than reacting with fear and seeking to control the water around her, to become master of it, she now calmly floats, allowing the water to be what it is, finding her place in it, and then using her newly acquired habit to relate to those waters.

I have a tendency to come to things like the doctrine of the Trinity and to splash about, all throat-clearing and weight-shifting and brow-furrowing. “Well you see, there’re three. And there are, I mean, there is, one. God. Three. God. One.” Generally, my mind and mouth become a tangled mess, and my spirit just leaves the building completely, shaking her head and rolling her eyes as I splish and splash and in not too much time, end up drowning in words and phrases and analogies and nonsense. So I wonder if maybe we’re meant to learn a new response to mystery. Continue reading

Trinity & Unity

I had two best friends in elementary school; Sarah and Maggie.  Sarah and I lived just 10 houses apart, and we were born 10 days apart–as 9-year-olds, we thought this was very significant; Maggie lived in another town.  Maggie and I both had younger brothers and therefore shared the suffering of older sisters–a unique and very heavy cross we bore; Sarah was an only child.  Sarah and Maggie had been going to the same school together since pre-K; I was new in the fourth grade.  Though we three were devoted to each other and loved each other, there always seemed to be one of us on the outside; a pair of us was always a little bit closer than the other.

Three seems to be one of the most challenging numbers for a group of people to navigate; with two, you’re just a pair, with four, there are two pairs, and once you get to five or six, it’s really just a party.  Three is an awkward number when it comes to close relationships, and yet, that’s exactly the number that God chose to use to communicate to us who he is.  The most challenging of all numbers for a relationship to succeed–that’s the number God uses to reveal to himself to humanity.

Though it’s wrong both to say that God is more unified than diverse, or more diverse than unified, both angles are a bit much to cover in one morning–or at least are beyond my ability to capture succinctly, so I’ll focus on God being three-in-one.

There are many images, or analogies we’re given in our daily lives to help us try to understand how God is three and also one; marriage, though between two people, not three, is a picture of more-than-one-becoming-one.  In Genesis it says “the two became one flesh.”  Some of you know well the challenge of being unified with someone who is very different from you; many of us have seen the beautiful results of a couple who have consistently, for decades, put their unity ahead of their own individual ways. Another picture we see of many-being-one-body is the church.  Now, I don’t have to tell you that we haven’t done a great job of staying as “one” over the last many centuries.  Even before the Protestants and Roman Catholics split off, the Eastern church, the Orthodox Church, split off back in the 11th century, and another branch of churches left in the 5th century–we’ve been doing this all throughout history.  What has happened more recently in the lower part of our state is nothing new. There’s been a lot of upheaval here in the last months, and people have gotten up from the table, they’ve left the room, they’ve removed their presence from us.  We’re left incomplete without them, our church body isn’t whole because we’re missing them.  All our “persons” aren’t here.We worship a God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – three person, one unified God.  The first thing we learn about God in Genesis is that God is singular–it wasn’t, “in the beginning ‘gods’ created the heavens and the earth.”  The three persons of our Triune God aren’t grabbing for the spotlight, crazed to be heard, insisting on their own way or their own distinctiveness.  In the first words of the first book in which God tells us about himself, we meet a creative, compassionate, life-giving, self-sacrificing God.We live in a time and culture that emphasizes individualism.  Our grades in school, our paychecks at work, our email addresses, and our cell phones have one name on them, they belong to one person individually–each of us.  It’s easy to forget that we can’t rely on ourselves, that thinking of individuals as the building block of society is a rather modern notion.This week, Jordan and I are leaving for a trip to see cathedrals in Northern France.  We’ve been doing research and I’ve been calling on my Gothic Cathedrals class from undergrad to prepare.  Did you know that most of those famous cathedrals took more than 100 years to complete?  Not only was life expectancy shorter then, but people who were masons, working hard on the building wore their bodies out even sooner – even 3 and 4 generations might pass before the work was done.Most of those cathedrals are known for the town in which they’re located–Chartes, Cologne, Amiens–the identity is based not on a particular architect or stone mason, but on the community, the whole.  The whole church and community as one.  The name of every person who worked on the building isn’t written down or remembered – what they knew themselves to be working toward wasn’t their own glory or their own kingdom or for the importance of their particular voice, but to glorify, point toward, lift up God’s name, God’s identity.

The church, God’s people on earth, Jesus’ hands and feet in the world–us–existed long before we came along, and will be around long after we’re gone.  Our work is not to be heard or to be remembered or to be concerned and proud and angry about what makes each of us so terribly unique, but to do as Paul exhorts us in this morning’s epistle reading from 2 Corinthians,

“11 Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

12 Greet one another with a holy kiss.

13 All the saints greet you.

14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” (13:11-14, NKJV)

Weak Coffee & Steeping

20140123-103826.jpgO everlasting God, you revealed your truth to your servant Phillips Brooks, and so formed and molded his mind and heart that he was able to mediate that truth with grace and power: Grant, we pray, that all whom you call to preach the Gospel may steep themselves in your Word, and conform their lives to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

(Collect for the feast of Phillips Brooks, Bishop of Massachusetts, 1893)

My husband Jordan and I are fortunate to agree on the most important things–religion, politics, and how many coffee beans constitutes a decent cup of coffee.  I’m not sure where he developed this sensibility, though, because my in-laws have a disturbingly divergent understanding of hot coffee.  Whereas 1-2 tablespoons-per-cup is the norm at our house, and we admit it might be a little excessive, up in the North Dakotan Hylden house, 2 tablespoons is enough for an entire pot.  We all joke when we’re up there for holidays, we call it “coffee water” and we speak about experiencing “the idea of coffee” when we partake of the morning brew.  To be honest, it’s got less color than my afternoon cuppa Earl Grey.

I think Phillips Brooks is something like the coffee us younger Hyldens drink.

The collect written and prayed to remember this fellow disciple speaks of us being “steeped” in God’s Word, and it is clear from his many sermons which still instruct and inspire today that Phillips Brooks was a stellar example of a life steeped in Scripture, worship, and prayer.

It’s as if God, in the forms of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are the coffee grounds, through which our lives–water–is poured.  The most potent brews are those which use lots of finely-ground beans.  The water is transformed, it’s hardly recognizable as water anymore, but becomes a different sort of liquid.  For one thing, instead of being hydrating water, strong coffee, on the whole, is a dehydrating beverage; steeping in coffee grounds completely reverses the effect that the water has on our bodies.  Studying Scripture, praying, and attending worship can have the same powerful result in our lives.

As Episcopalians, we believe that worshiping together is the most powerful sort of brewing to which we can subject ourselves.  Do you know Drip Coffee, downtown, or in Five Points?  They don’t make pots of coffee from a coffeemaker like we have on our kitchen counters; they grind each serving of beans individually, tap them into a single-serving filter, and use an expert method to slowly pour the hot water over the grounds, so that the water takes on the beans’ aroma, taste, and caffeine in a special and intense way.  Episcopalians,and Anglicans throughout the centuries, have believed that worship is that kind of steeping.  It’s when we’re together, seeking God as a community, that God is most clearly with us–we need each other to know God best.

To carry the analogy a little further–maybe too far, but here I go!–often, when I go into Drip, I ask them which coffee I should get.  Is the Peruvian best?  Or does Kenya have a great taste this week?  The baristas are quick to explain the differences between the kinds of beans that week–which ones are more chocolatey, or have more fruit in them.  In order to know those sorts of things off the top of their heads, the baristas do a lot of tasting and reading and studying of their beans.  Phillips Brooks, for one, and many other fellow saints in the history of our church, and today, have spent a lot of time steeping in Scripture, studying, tasting, reading, and meditating on God’s Word–getting to know the God revealed in Scripture through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  By becoming very familiar with the way that God often talks and acts, Bishop Brooks could more easily point out God’s work to his churches, and bring them along in knowing and recognizing and growing with God all the more.

When we show up to worship, if we’ve been reading, studying, and praying Scripture, we’re much more attuned to God’s voice, and we can hear in our hearts what God wants to say much more clearly.  May we hide God’s Word in our hearts through study and prayer, that we may become ever more deeply steeped in the particular coffee grounds which are the only living and almighty God.  Amen.


On Jesus “taking” a Life

Jesus gave his life.  God gave his Son. 

The Christian, Triune God does not take lives, or take away loved ones.  Death is not God taking someone, death is a problem we humans, in our sin, have made for ourselves.

God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is in the resurrection business, not the death business.  God makes life out of death.