Companions Along the Way

Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit
Alabaster, Alabama
The First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday
June 16, 2019

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

hqdefaultAs many of you know, I was away for a few days this past week attending the “Invite Welcome Connect Summit” at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. It was a wonderful experience! While I was there, I had the opportunity to attend several workshops and dream of new ideas about how we can improve our ministry of evangelism and help newcomers and visitors feel welcomed into the life of the community. I can’t wait to share with you some of the things I learned and to begin implementing some of these new ideas!

While I was there, I also had the opportunity to catch up with some old friends and to enjoy the company of others who were there for the conference.

I was having a conversation at lunch one day with a friend of mine, a fellow priest from the Birmingham area. Somehow, the topic of preaching came up, and I shared with him that I was preaching this Sunday. You might guess what his first response was. “Oh, wow! This Sunday is Trinity Sunday! I’m so glad I avoided that one!”

In case you don’t know, many priests try to avoid preaching on Trinity Sunday, if at all possible. Many of us try to avoid it like the Plague. Rectors of large parishes will assign the task to their associates. Some priests will just happen to “be away” on Trinity Sunday or they’ll arrange for a guest preacher to preach that day.

All joking aside, the reason why preachers love to avoid preaching on this day is because the doctrine of the Trinity, our uniquely Christian belief that God is three-in-one and one-in-three, is a mystery to all of us. It’s a mystery that escapes our ability to comprehend and fully express in words. That doesn’t mean we haven’t tried, though. We use words like “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” even though we know that God isn’t a particular gender. We use beautiful, descriptive words like “Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer” even though we know that the fullness of God is much more than just the ways in which God is at work in our lives. Yes, God continues to create, redeem, and sustain us. Yes, God is “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” But, God is also so much more. The words we use to express the mystery of the Trinity are feeble attempts to explain the unexplainable. Using the language of music, one of my favorite Christian poets describes the Trinity as “three notes resounding from a single tone.” If you know anything about music, you know how preposterous that sounds. It’s impossible for three notes to resound from a single tone just like it’s impossible for God to be three-in-one and one-in-three. Or, is it?

Personally, I’m happy to be preaching this morning. I’m happy to be sharing with you my thoughts about the Trinity because, from my perspective, it isn’t helpful for us to try and explain the unexplainable with complicated, theological terms. It isn’t helpful for us to use dated analogies or metaphors to try and explain the mystery. In my mind, it’s much more helpful for us to think about the significance of the Trinity and how we can use that image of God as three-in-one and one-in-three in our everyday lives.

A few years ago, shortly before I accepted my first call as a priest in the Diocese of Alabama, I was invited to go downtown to the bishop’s office for a visit with Bishop Kee. You may not know this, but in the Episcopal Church, the bishop has the final say as to whether or not a candidate for rector may be called to serve a parish within his or her diocese. Since I didn’t know Bishop Kee very well at the time, he invited me to come and visit so we could get to know each other better, which was probably his way of making sure I wasn’t going to do anything crazy or start causing too much trouble!

When I arrived for our visit, one of the very first things that the Bishop told me in our conversation was that the Diocese of Alabama is a “relational diocese.” Those were his exact words. “We are a relational diocese.” What I’m sure he was trying to say was that the people who make up this diocese value relationships. There’s a culture of hospitality here and an expectation that, whoever you are or wherever you come from, you’ll be welcome in this diocese, and from my experience, that’s absolutely true.

“We are a relational diocese.” When he said that, my first thought was, “Yeah, Bishop, I know, and that’s why I want to be here.” This is the diocese that brought me into the Episcopal Church. This is the diocese that continues to support campus ministry and ministry to young adults, ministries that have been monumental in my life in more ways than I can count. This is the diocese where I first began my journey toward the priesthood. I knew exactly what he meant when he said, “We are a relational diocese,” and I was thankful that he said it. I was thankful that he took time to express his excitement and enthusiasm for the work that we do in our little part of the Church. I was thankful for his reminder that the people here value not just friendship but companionship, something that can only be found when we live and grow together in community.

The first time that I really discovered this about our diocese was when I attended my first Vocaréweekend at Camp McDowell. It was during my senior year at Auburn, and being brand new to the Episcopal Church at the time, I had no idea what Vocaréwas or what I could expect when I arrived. All I was told when I was invited was that it’s a great opportunity for college students and young adults to explore how God might be calling them in their lives, and after talking with some friends who had already been to Vocaré, I decided that it might be a good way to continue growing in my relationship with God and to meet new people from other parts of the diocese.

So, in February of 2005, I made the journey from Auburn to Camp McDowell, and I spent three days listening to fellow pilgrims share their stories about how God was at work in their lives. During our time at camp, we were invited and encouraged to explore our own sense of vocation and to ask ourselves important questions about who we are and how we’re being called to use the gifts that God has given us in our own ministries. We spent time sitting by crackling fires in the dining hall, playing games, and singing camp songs. We shared meals and meaningful conversations with one another, and we were comforted and surrounded by members of the staff who were there to care for us and to lift us up in their prayers during our journey. It’s important to point out that we did all of this together in community. Sure, there was time for quiet reflection and personal prayer, but we did all of it in community, as companions along the way.

My experience as a pilgrim at Vocaré was powerful and life-changing, one that would eventually lead me to return as a member of the staff so that I could give back that which I had received, and looking back on it, I think that Vocaré probably also played a major role in my discernment to the priesthood, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. The Holy Spirit was already at work in my life, moving in ways that I couldn’t have possibly imagined or expected.

As Episcopalians, we value relationships and living in community with each other because we know that we can’t do the work of following Jesus alone. Vocaré taught me that, and it’s a lesson that I’ve had to re-learn over and over again. We need each other. We need the community to walk with us in our journeys of faith and to lift us up and support us when we fall down. We can’t do it alone, no matter how hard we try.

Trinity Sunday isn’t the time for us to explain the unexplainable mystery of the Triune God. It’s a time for us to celebrate unity in the midst of diversity and diversity in the midst of unity. It’s a time for us to remember the importance of building relationships and living together in community, despite our differences. Our God is a relational God, always at work in our lives in more ways than we can count, and as God’s children, we were created to live in the same way, to live in relationship with each other and to work together in the building up of God’s Kingdom. Amen.

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