Date: May 31, 2015
Title: “Adopt Me, Teach Me, Send Me!”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17
Today is “Trinity Sunday”. And it is “Peace with Justice” Sunday. And it is “Reconciling Sunday.” Wow! That’s a lot to cram into any one Sunday! So where should we begin?
Let’s start with Trinity Sunday. Traditionally celebrated on this first Sunday after Pentecost, Trinity Sunday is that day when Christians consider and lift up the theological doctrine of the Trinity – the idea that God is three-in-one, or one God in three forms (Father-Son-Holy Spirit, or if you prefer more inclusive language, Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer). Trinity Sunday is meant to tie together, in one neat package, the resurrected Jesus and the Pentecost Spirit and the Creator God. It is intended to clarify this whole question of one God in three forms, although it often only serves to confuse and obfuscate the immensity of our faith.
And then there’s Peace with Justice Sunday. This is a United Methodist invention, and is a day meant to highlight our call to make the world a more just, more loving, and more God-like place. On Peace with Justice Sunday we celebrate our common ministries to proclaim the good news of God’s realm and our work to fulfill God’s promises of justice and wholeness and peace. It is a day to remember John Wesley’s understanding of Christianity as that faith which marries personal devotion with social activism.
And finally, there’s Reconciling Sunday, the day we lift up the courage and the witness of this congregation, which twenty years ago decided it would not put limits on God’s love, or on our sharing of that love. On Reconciling Sunday we rejoice in the diversity of this beloved community as we recognize what we can accomplish when we come together in God’s love.
Trinity Sunday, Peace with Justice Sunday, and Reconciling Sunday…they really do hang together. They really do make sense on this one Sunday, because each of these celebrations, each of these recognitions, each of these proclamations is all about relationship. David Lose puts it this way:
At the heart of our understanding of God as somehow three-in-one is the notion that you can’t fully or finally understand God without talking about relationship. You cannot understand God without recognizing that God is so full of love that there has to be some way of talking about love shared in and through profound relationships.
The doctrine of the Trinity says that God’s essential, core being has always been the giving and receiving and sharing of love that finally spills out into the whole of the universe and invites us into it.
The Trinity is really just a picture of a God who begins and ends in relationship. And Peace with Justice is surely an ideal which demands relationship. And to be a Reconciling Congregation is to understand that love is what keeps us always ready to make room for one more relationship, with one more neighbor in our lives. Whether that neighbor looks like us or not. Whether that neighbor acts like us or not. Whether that neighbor sounds like us, thinks like us, or even lives like us – or not.
They say that real estate is all about “location, location, location.” I say that faith is surely all about “relationship, relationship, relationship”. This morning, the Apostle Paul would have us believe we are God’s children – that we are in an intimate relationship with the Divine. And not only does Paul call us children of God, but also heirs, equal inheritors of all God has to give. And then, Paul tells us that this matters, that it makes a difference whether we see ourselves as servants of God or as children of God. It matters whether we live our lives cowering in fear, or striding forward in faith.
Now I have to tell you … you do not have to go to the Prado in Madrid (one of the grandest museums of all), or to Sevilla, to visit the world’s largest Gothic cathedral, if you want to find the greatest treasures of the Church. All you have to do is come here and look around you. All you have to do is come here, where relationship is primary and grounds so many acts of kindness, service, compassion and grace.
Here you will see people bringing dinner or spending the night with our shelter guests, while others are packing backpacks with food for school children to take home in order to eat over the weekend. Still others you will find helping a child learn to read, or taking communion to a shut-in, or lobbying for public policy to turn back climate change, or ensuring that autistic children receive the help they need along with their families. Always you will find someone offering encouragement to someone in need of hope, or help to someone in need of love.
Look around you here and you will see that the work of reconciliation, the ministry of peace with justice, and the theology of the Trinity is being lived out right here, right now. Because we are like Isaiah, standing before God and hearing the query, “Whom can I send? And who will go for us?” We are being asked, even in this moment, to not only call ourselves “reconciling”, but to practice reconciliation – bringing people together in love, accepting each other and making our actions consistent with our beliefs, and our lives compatible with our identity as God’s children and heirs.
Reconciliation is a practice we are called to continue, knowing that the work itself is never complete. The job will never be done, and we will not do it perfectly. Shannon Johnson suggests:
Our claim of God as Divine Community (the understanding of Trinity as grounded in relationship) has serious implications for us today.
In a denomination which is still fighting over what it means to be God’s children, still arguing about who will inherit and who must be content to serve along the sidelines, the claim of relationship is a claim on all of us. Again, in Johnson’s words:
I know that theological church fighting has been going on since God birthed the church into the world, and I am convinced that it will continue until the last days. However, this claim of God as Divine Community requires us to stick in there through all of it.
We cannot just pack up our toys and go home when something happens that wounds us or wounds the people we love. If God is Divine Community at God’s very core, then somehow, we have got to figure out how to stick in there with each other, so that we do not lose out on who we have been created to be together.
In God’s great imagination and humor, it is only when we are together that we see the Holy Mystery with the clearest eyes. Some days I wish it were not so. But I believe that it is.
In God’s great imagination and humor, faith is all about relationship, relationship, relationship – whether we like it or not. So perhaps the real reconciling question for us is, are we willing to be adopted, taught, and even sent in God’s name? Will we stand with Isaiah and say “Here I am, send me!”, even when faced with opposition, or threatened by dogmatism, or demonized by those with much narrower interpretations of Church? Will we stand with people like Jimmy Johnson and help him to practice reconciliation?
You don’t know Jimmy Johnson? One day, I suspect you may…right now he’s about seven years old. But he belongs on the list of those living out the spirit of adoption and practicing reconciliation. You see one day, not long ago, Jimmy was walking home from Sunday School, where the lesson for the day had been Jesus’ parable of the last judgment. Jimmy just couldn’t get out of his head the teacher’s comment that “When you give something to another person, you’re really giving it to Jesus.”
Walking through a park, Jimmy noticed an elderly woman sitting on a bench, feeding some pigeons. She looked lost and lonely, so Jimmy went over to her, sat down, took a package of M&Ms out of his pocket and offered her some. The woman smiled and took some.
Jimmy liked her smile so much he gave her some more. This time they exchanged smiles for awhile, then sat together in silence. Finally, Jimmy got up to leave. As he began to walk away he turned, ran back to the bench, and gave the woman a big hug. She gave him her very best smile.
When Jimmy arrived home, his mom saw the big smile on his face and asked “What made you so happy?” He said, “I shared my M&Ms with Jesus. And she has a great smile.”
Meanwhile, the woman on the bench returned to the little apartment where she lived with her sister. “You’re all smiles,” said her sister, “what made you so happy today?” And the woman replied, “I was sitting in the park, eating M&Ms with Jesus. And you know, he looks a lot younger than I expected.”
We have not received a spirit of slavery. We do not need to fear. We have already been adopted, and taught, and now, O God, here we are… send us! Amen.