Rev.Dr. Molly Scherm
Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday, as we do annually on the first Sunday after Pentecost, to reflect on and give thanks for the Trinity, our conviction that ONE God – the source, the creator, the power that infuses all life and redeems all life - is experienced in three forms, and yet is ONE God.
But this Trinity Sunday 2020 comes in the midst of what has to have been one of the hardest weeks we collectively have lived through in terms of the state of our world and our nation. A deadly virus continues raging, forcing us to isolate from one another and causing economic impact that will undoubtedly affect us for years to come. Those of us who are white have seen the veil ripped off of the broad and deep and ugly racial hatred that that is woven into the very fabric of our country, and we are, perhaps, beginning to truly acknowledge it: our black and brown siblings have never had the luxury of ignoring it. We’ve watched horrifying videos of violence by those we have trusted to protect us, and listened to rhetoric from our President that holds up domination and force as the appropriate way to peace and justice.
So in this context, what do we do with Trinity Sunday? Is it even relevant? Come along and let’s look for what wisdom we might find in our sacred texts.
Our first reading from Genesis - the very first words of Jewish and Christian scripture, making the claim that the whole world is the intentional work of our Creator God, and that it is orderly, and that it is good.
In this first creation story, which we believe to have been the creation of what’s called the “Priestly” author - which means it was written for use in worship - God’s creation of humankind is basically the crowning glory of creation.
The astounding claim is that
God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Today’s psalm likewise praises God for the unutterable majesty of the created world and echoes Genesis in marveling at the place of humankind within creation:
What are humans that you should be mindful of us? *
the children of humans that you should seek us out?
You have made us but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn us with glory and honor;
You give us mastery over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under our feet.
The priests and the psalmist understand and share an understanding of God’s design, God’s intent, what Michael Curry calls “God’s dream” for the world – a reality in which the beloved children WHO ARE MADE IN THE VERY IMAGE OF THE CREATOR bear responsibility for God’s beloved world, and for one another. Taking it just a step further, in God’s design, God’s intent, the beloved children recognize and honor the image of God in one another.
When we acknowledge this and commit to it in our baptismal vows, we speak of seeking and serving Christ in all persons, of striving for justice, and of respecting the dignity of every human being. And, of course, this is where we have fallen short.
We, the Church, we the nation have not even caught a glimpse of what it might mean to live in the image of God. We have passively accepted a world in which some lives have not mattered as much as others, in which basic human rights have been denied to those who do not belong to the dominant majority.
We who live in this beautiful and peaceful corner of Western Massachusetts, we who are educated and housed and fed, who have good health care and access to the all of the things that allow us to thrive, but mostly, WE WHO ARE WHITE have the option of not worrying about those who are not, and who do not have the same advantages and protections. We can say “not my problem”, or “I didn’t choose this”, or at best, “there’s nothing I can do about it”.
I’ve spent some time this week thinking about my own culpability in not being more active in challenging the injustices that don’t touch me personally, and I think this is an important step in moving toward changing things, but I’ve also recognized that dwelling in my own white guilt is yet another way of making it about me, rather than listening to and caring about those who are suffering and figuring out what to do about it.
What I mean to say is that I believe the scripture we have heard this morning calls us to a very high calling. It says that in being made in the image of God, we have the capability of seeing the world as God does, and of caring for all of God’s beloved as God does, and of shaping our shared world for the benefit of ALL.
Injustice against any of God’s beloved IS OUR PROBLEM, and yes, WE CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. We are NOT powerless.
An important first step is educating ourselves. Heather wrote an incredibly important piece in our newsletter this week that I hope you have read and that I encourage you to save and read again at least a few more times. In it, she provides links to books, to discussion groups, and to anti-racism resources. Remarkably, my cable TV service, this week, is featuring films that explore the Black experience in America. This very morning Heather has posted a link on Facebook to sermons by Black preachers from the last week. These are good places to start, to move ourselves beyond complacency and complicity, toward living up to having been created in God’s image.
But there’s another scripture we heard this morning that I haven’t mentioned yet. And it’s important. It is a promise that Matthew tells us Jesus made in his last moments with his friends:
Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
This life we live, these huge challenges we face, these fears and confusion that disrupt and disturb us – we’re not alone in them.
(And here’s where I’m sneaking us back to the joy and the gift of the Holy Trinity.) The God who creates us in her own image, who entered our life to draw us to himself to then be lynched at the hands of those who sought to protect their own supremacy, who surrounds and sustains us, remains with us.
Our opening and closing hymn – one of my favorites, of course - offers us that image of God the three-in-one and one-in-three WITH US, protecting us and helping us.
The words of “St Patrick’s Breastplate” are a translation of Gaelic poem attributed to St. Patrick in the 3rd century, but probably, really, composed by an anonymous author in 8th. It’s also known as “St Patick’s Lorica”, a Lorica being a mystical garment that protects the wearer from danger.
The style of the hymn’s text is that of incantation, a spell cast using words, for protection on the journey.
It calls for “binding” ourselves through invocation of the “strong name of Trinity”, referencing St. Paul in Ephesians, who speaks of “putting on the armor of God.”
It promises us and invokes the presence of the Holy One:
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
It is not easy stuff, these times we’re living through. We have hard work to do, and we must no longer settle for our own easy excuses. It is time to REALLY start building a world in which ALL of God’s children can live without fear, in which all can thrive.
Jesus has shown us a life lived as God intends for us to live. The Christ within and beside and before us can help us to live that life.
Let us pray.
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed
us through Jesus your Son:
look with compassion on the whole human family;
take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our
break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love;
and work through our struggle and confusion to
accomplish your purposes on earth;
that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve
you in harmony around your heavenly throne;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Today’s lesson is part of Jesus’ Farewell discourse, preparing his disciples for his departure and for their reception of the Holy Spirit. These sorts of formal farewell speeches seemed to be traditional in Bible times (in and out of the Bible), offering flowery rhetoric and words of comfort and instructions to survivors of a departing leader or teacher. It’s still a rather long goodbye, filling five chapters of John, but not as long Moses ́ good-bye to the Hebrews, that took the whole book of Deuteronomy.
In his farewell, Jesus both reassures and directs his disciples about how to carry on after his death, not that talk of his departure is anything they want to hear. He also promises the Holy Spirit, and he emphasizes the intimate unity of Jesus, God, the Spirit, and the Believer. basically throwing in another layer to the Trinity.
It’s interesting that the longer he talks, the more confused and anxious his friends seem to be. But then when were the disciples ever portrayed otherwise? But maybe in this case, why not?
They’d left their old lives behind to follow Jesus, and now he was going to leave them? They’d taken all kinds of risks, breaking Jewish law and offending religious officials. He had taught them, walked with them, blessed and broken bread with them, and they’d come to rely pretty heavily upon him. They’d even recognized him as the Messiah ... And now he was going away, and they weren’t invited, and he was leaving them in charge. What sense would any of this made to them?
Talk about separation anxiety! But it turns out that they were not being left alone to fend for themselves exactly, and, John suggests, nor are we! No, part of the good news of Jesus’ departure was that it would make way for the arrival of another advocate, the Holy Spirit, who would be with them always, not only when Jesus was physically present ... which means that even for us, who were born far too late to encounter the earthly historical Jesus, this Holy Spirit was and is present, active, and available, even to us now.
I think for most of us, the Spirit is the hardest part of the Trinity. I remember growing up with images of Jesus hanging on the Sunday School walls (even if he was rather blond-haired and blue-eyed for a middle-easterner). And the image of God wasn’t too hard – we saw images of him from up there on the Sistene Chapel ceiling with Adam. But the Holy Spirit is tougher, less tangible. Some people equate the Holy Spirit with a particular kind of experience, like talking in tongues or something. But most of us are probably content with a sense of something “out there” that we cannot name.
In our Gospel today, Jesus declares that if his disciples love him, they will keep his commandments. “What commandments?" they might ask. Because unlike, say, Matthew, nowhere in John does Jesus command us to go the second mile, turn the other cheek, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. Famously, John’s Jesus gives only a single commandment and it occurs in the chapter just before ours:
"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
From our Gospel writer John, at the end of each day, and during each moment of each day, there's only one question to ask yourself: “In what ways did I or did I not love today?”
This idea reminds me of an aspect of Benjamin Franklin (one of our nation’s founders and self-proclaimed sage). Franklin famously kept a journal on a form that he had printed. (Perhaps you’ve used something similar from the Franklin Planner company or an equivalent.) At the top of every page of Franklin’s original was the question, “What good shall I do today?” (sort of like “In what way can I love someone today?” At the bottom of page was a final check-in question for end of the day that said, “What good have I done today?”
Remember according to John, Jesus’ one commandment is to love. So we could ask, “In what ways should I – or did I or did I not love today?”
Jesus constantly asks the Bible characters questions that help them understand their own lives and motives more clearly. He asks questions not because he doesn't know the answers, of course (and John assures us that Jesus already knew everything); rather, he asks so that we might know, and therefore move forward with clear vision into the truth, and light, and glory, and love, – all abundant for which God has created us. It's all of a piece.
John’s Gospel is different from the other three in so many ways, of course. In Luke, for example, the Holy Spirit is heavily active in the lives of the characters from the beginning of his Gospel through the end of Acts. But John insists that the Holy Spirit will come only after Jesus departs.
I’ve kind of wrestled with why this is? I think a clue lies in John’s Jesus referring to the Holy Spirit as Another Advocate. Not as The Advocate but as Another Advocate. Which can only imply then that Jesus himself was the first Advocate.
Advocate is the word used in this translation. The original Greek is “Paraclete,” ( perə - klēt ) which is a combination of “beside” and “to call.” The word Paraclete has a range of meanings in Greek that includes Comforter, Advocate, Counselor, Helper, and more. The word occurs only five times in the Bible, four in John 14-16 and once in 1 John.
So, Jesus was the first Paraclete; For the Spirit to be active among them while Jesus was there (like the Luke version) would have seemed sort of redundant since they each serve the same kind of revelatory function. What appeared to be bad news to the disciples in one sense – that is, Jesus' departure from them – turned out to be the best of news in another sense.
While Jesus walked the earth, his ministry was limited to one locale and one person, himself. But on his departure, his disciples are given the Spirit and moved from the status of apprentices to full, mature revealers of God's love. And this happens not just to the first disciples, but to all those who would come later, those who never saw the
The evangelist insists that present believers are at no disadvantage in comparison to the first believers. John suggests that everything they were taught and everything they experienced is available to the same degree and with equally rich texture, even to us.
We Christians are reminded at least every Sunday in our worship about the Trinity, so I think maybe the most stunning or surprising feature about this Gospel is the concept of the Quattrinity according to a professor at Southern Methodist University, or, probably more properly, from my hierarchical dictionary, a Quaternity.
In John’s particular version of the Good News, Jesus insists that the intimate relationship that exists between him, and God, and the Spirit also includes believers. The believer does not stand there just admiring the the majestry of the Trinity; rather, the believer is an equal part of it. I think I like that. Maybe one of the most intriging parts of John’s Gospel
John’s believers don't “imitate” Jesus; they participate in him wholly. If we read the next couple of verses, Jesus was asked, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” And Jesus answers, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
The word “home” is used only one other time in John, in verse 2, “In my Father’s house are many rooms [which is the same word as “home” in verse 23]. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” Which means: If you love me and keep my word, my Father and I will come to you and – in all your suffering and trials – give you heaven on earth.
So if God and Christ have made their home with us, how can we imagine there to be any distance between us and God? It seems that John is saying that ultimate intimacy with God and Christ and with the Holy Spirit, is available now. What might one hope for beyond that? God is not currently holding out on us in any way – Love God and Jesus, and life, abundant life, is available for living – Now and to eternity.
Join us for a few minutes of prayer during these Rogation Days, as Rev. Molly and Rev. Heather ask God's blessing upon the gardens at Saints James and Andrew, the gardens and fields where you are and across Franklin County.
Rev. Heather J. Blais
Part 1: Tradition of Morning Prayer, Opening Acclamation, Confession, & Absolution
Across religious traditions and cultures, people have been pausing to pray at particular times throughout the day for thousands of years. Some of you may be familiar with the phrase ‘praying the hours’, this idea that communities of faith stop at set times to remember that God is walking with us. Praying the hours binds a people of faith together, even as they are physically apart. Monastic communities have played a critical role in the development of these liturgies, such as the Benedictine practice to stop and pray at eight intervals throughout the day. When Thomas Cranmer offered the first prayer book, he simplified the number of set times for prayer, what we commonly refer to now as the Daily Office. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer features Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline. Today, we’ll focus on Morning Prayer.
Morning Prayer is a rich resource, which can be used by individuals at home, or as the chief liturgy on a Sunday. It may be led by the laity or the clergy. We begin with an opening sentence from scripture, praying that God open our lips in order that we might praise God. We then move into a confession of sin, where we confess not only our individual sins, but also our failures as a community--such as poverty, racism, and violence. At the heart of the confession is our recognition that sometimes we choose selfishness, instead of love for God and neighbor. Then in the absolution we pray for God to forgive us and strengthen our resolve to live a life of love.
Part 2: Venite/ Jubilate/ Christ our Passover, Lectionary, & Canticles
Morning Prayer is rich with poetry and song, most of which is drawn from scripture. One of the places we really notice this is in the selection between the Venite, the Jubilate, and Christ our Passover in Easter season.
The Venite is taken from Psalm 95, “Come, let us sing to the Lord…” The 1545 Primer of King Henry VIII calls the Venite a “...song stirring to the praise of God”.*
The Jubilate is taken from Psalm 100, “Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands…”. The psalm invites us to come before God’s presence with a song and to marvel at the goodness of our creator.
In Easter season we’ll say Christ our Passover, which draws from Paul’s letters’ to the Corinthians and Romans to celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
We will use the Sunday lectionary readings, just as we do when we have services of Holy Eucharist, featuring lessons from the old and new testaments. For those interested in praying the daily office at home, I will be posting links to many resources with this sermon, including links to the daily lectionary. One difference with Morning Prayer, is that we have the psalm prior to the first lesson, followed by the Glory Patri, more familiar to us as “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…”
The most unique and beautiful part of Morning Prayer may be the canticles which follow the lessons. Depending on the number of lessons, we will have one or two canticles. For those of you who are longtime Morning Prayer fans, you may notice that we are using a more diverse selection of canticles than what is found in the prayerbook, as we are also drawing from canticles found in Enriching Our Worship 1. The word canticle is derived from latin, and simply means a ‘little song’. Canticles are generally drawn from biblical texts other than the psalms, though three of the ones adopted in Enriching our Worship 1 are taken from other sacred texts written by Anselm of Canterberry and Julian of Norwich.
Today we will get to hear one of the Julian of Norwich canticles, as I know we have several Julian of Norwich fans in our faith community. If now is not the time to embrace Julian’s teaching that ‘all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’ then I’m not sure when it is!
Part 3: The Apostles’ Creed, Prayers, Suffrages, & Collects
One of the differences we’ll notice with Morning Prayer is that in lieu of the Nicene Creed, we say the Apostles’ Creed. The Apostles' Creed dates back to at least the fourth century, and is sometimes referred to as the baptismal creed because it is what we say at our baptisms. It is a brief summary of the core beliefs we embrace when we seek to follow Christ, which we remember at every baptism, daily office, marriage, and burial service.
Following the creed, we then transition into a series of prayers, suffrages, and collects focused on expressing our concerns to God. We begin with the Lord’s Prayer, which is the prayer Jesus offered to the disciples, and we use it in every service. Then follows the suffrages, which are responsive prayers of petition. You may notice we are using an unfamiliar form of suffrages today--these too are taken from Enriching Our Worship 1. Like many other parts of Morning Prayer, suffrages are composed of various psalms assembled in a call and response format. Following these suffrages, are a series of collects. A collect simply means a prayer that collects the thoughts and prayers of all.
The Collect of the Day is focused on tying together the themes of that day’s assigned lectionary readings. We will hear a variety of other collects during Morning Prayer, such as the one for Sundays, for the renewal of life, for peace, for grace, for guidance, and for mission. This time of lifting up our concerns to God concludes with intercessory prayers where we are all invited to lift up our thanks, prayers, and praise.
Part 4: Peace, Offertory, General Thanksgiving, Prayer-St. Chrysostom, Dismissal
Next comes the Peace. The Peace is an ancient Christian practice where we share a sign of reconciliation, love, and renewed relationships by greeting one another. While the Peace is not formally a part of Morning Prayer, it is an important part of our primary worship as a faith community. Similarly, the offertory and doxology are not routine parts of Morning Prayer, but they are an essential part of our communal life and so we include them. At the offertory, we offer ourselves as well as our material gifts to God and we conclude by singing the doxology as a means of praising God: our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.
Morning Prayer offers two concluding prayers. The first is a General Thanksgiving, which may have been inspired by a private prayer of Queen Elizabeth I. We know part of why it appeared in the prayer book was pushback from Puritans, who were frustrated by a lack of prayers focused on thanksgiving. The second is a prayer attributed to Saint John Chrysostrom. Saint John was Bishop of Constantinople and is remembered throughout history for his way with words. You might remember hearing his famous Easter sermon at one of our Easter vigil services. The very last part of the service is the Dismissal. The Latin phrase that describes this portion of the service translates to, “Go, it is the sending.” At this point, the worship service has ended, but our service as ministers of Christ is just beginning. We are to go into the world in the name of Christ.
* Mariot J. Hatchett in Commentary on the American Prayer Book, pg. 105.
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