prayer flags

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Texts: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8, 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13 , Matthew 28: 16-20

Our contemplative service culminated in this guided meditation followed by a breath prayer and prayer stations.

Today’s Trinity Sunday readings are among the few biblical passages that even hint at the Trinitarian doctrine. The Bible does not mention the Trinity. Trinitarian theology didn’t crystalize until the end of the 4th century, having developed in response to the problem posed when early Christians began to deify Jesus even as they maintained their Jewish monotheism.

You can appreciate this “problem,” can’t you? Early Jewish Jesus followers believed in one God. Judaism was distinctive among the other Greco-Roman religions for its monotheism. But when those same followers came to claim Jesus as a unique revelation of that one God and lifted him up as co-equal with God, they seemed to be revoking their commitments to monotheism. Some thought they were on their way to creating a pantheon of gods like that of the Romans and Greeks. Eventually, deliberations and battles and compromises and political intrigue and no doubt earnest prayer produced the concept of the Trinity.

The Trinity remains an irresolvable conundrum but, for many including myself, it offers a destabilizing but compelling picture of the Divine. Until my last year in seminary I smirked at the Trinity. Now I love what it values about interrelatedness and the equality of all persons. And a sense of time as cyclical rather than linear.

If you want more on Trinitarian theology, I can point you to one of my earlier Trinity Sunday sermons and suggest scholarly works. But today’s Bible readings aren’t really about the Trinity. I see today’s common theme as beginnings and endings. Whether you think of the Trinity as a contradiction or paradox . . . as a muddled mess or mind-blowing mystery. . . you can certainly appreciate the way we can experience the Sacred in times of beginnings and endings . . . and endings that become beginnings.

Today’s Hebrew Bible creation myth attests to the human need to circle back to the very beginning of our beginnings. In contrast, our New Testament readings speak of endings: Paul’s gentle farewell to the church at Corinth and Jesus’s challenging farewell to the first disciples. We heard a Jewish story imagining the world’s first words: of creativity and affirmation. And we heard in the Christian scriptures Jesus’s final words: of challenge and hope. Our rich Judeo-Christian tradition tells us that God is in our beginnings and endings.

Consider the way our religious rites mark our comings into this good world and our goings from it. The paradox of these demarcations is that our endings are our beginnings and our beginnings also hold our endings. In the sacrament of baptism, for instance, a baby new in this life is “baptized into Christ’s death.” Yet in Christian burial, you and I will be entrusted to the God of life after death. It’s hard to separate our good-byes from our hellos, isn’t it?

You’ve surely experienced the paradox where the death of one thing became the birth of the next thing. Call to mind now a time when you experienced an ending that opened you up to a new beginning. I’ll share an example from my life as you remember a time when saying goodbye to one good thing allowed you to say hello to another good thing.

George shared with you some months ago his perspective about a difficult time in his life when we left the city, the university, the neighborhood, and the church we had loved and served for sixteen years. Oh, in the great scheme of things, moving is not a terrible trial. But it was a move we made very reluctantly at the same time our only child left for college. Overnight we found ourselves in Ohio where we literally knew no one in the entire state. Overnight we were empty-nesters living hundreds of miles from the daughter who had been the queen of our hearts for all of her then-17 years. Overnight we were separated from our beloved church family. Overnight I was without a job. My identity as mother, church leader, teacher evaporated. Some close friends later told me they’d worried about me—mainly about how I would handle life without Georgia. I, too, wondered how I could bear her absence from our daily lives. I still sometimes wonder how it’s possible I’m not perpetually devastated!

But if we had not moved from our contented existence in Nashville, I’d have never started seminary, never discovered my love of theology and the Bible, never responded to a call upon my life, never found the joy of pastoring this amazing congregation. Ironically, our house in Nashville was within walking distance of Vanderbilt’s very fine divinity school. For years I’d secretly dreamed of starting seminary—and becoming a pastor. But the voices of my Southern Baptist past would always drown out those thoughts. Besides, I loved teaching. I was very happy just the way things were.

Moving to Ohio wrenched me free of the old roles and patterns and plunged me into the new. I enrolled at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, a 90-minute drive from our new home. I told myself I’d take a few courses to distract me from the pangs of missing my daughter, my friends, my career, my progressive and inclusive church, my comforting home. Simply staying busy would stave off misery, I hoped.

Life in Ohio would begin each morning for me as I walked our dog Lily in our new neighborhood, and I spent most of that quiet time spotting deer and rabbits in the nearby woods while trying to name things for which I was grateful. One morning I said to myself, “I’m surprised and grateful I’m not feeling as totally devastated as I expected. Good for me!” Days later I admitted to myself that I found theology courses fascinating. Soon I was making new friends and studying again with my old ferocity and admitting that I really was preparing myself for pastoral ministry. I had thought I’d never stop lamenting the loss of our old life. But I loved seminary. I wanted to preach. But I would never have started seminary in Nashville—though the seminary was practically in our backyard instead of a few counties from our house.

When I said good-bye to the life we loved in Nashville, I said hello to incredible new friends, an amazing new church, new learnings, new challenges, and a new pastoral identity. Soon the new loomed larger for me than the old.

So now it’s your turn. Maybe you’re in the midst of a farewell. Some chapter in your life is closing—by choice or chance. Are you seeing any signs of the new thing that’s next on the horizon for you? What are you saying “hello” to that has potential for good in your life? Can you give thanks for the part of your life that is ending (perhaps a relationship, job, home, past time)? Can you summon up a bit of gratitude for the new thing on the horizon?


Think now about our church family’s perennial challenge to say goodbyes graciously and hellos expectantly. How does a church say goodbye to some ways of doing things? How might we say gracious goodbyes when some people decide their needs are best met elsewhere?

Silence for Reflection

How do we say hello? What’s new on Open Table’s horizon? Are you ready to embrace the new?

Silence for Reflection

On Trinity Sunday you might think a triangle would be the best symbol for the three-personed God. But I picture the confounding Trinity as a circle. History may live on a linear timeline. But sacred time is circular. Good-bye gives way to Hello which then gives way to Good-bye, and the cycle continues.

Breath Prayer

Breathing out reminds us of the need to let go with grace, to say farewell.
Breathing in reminds us to be refreshed, to welcome the new with thanks.

Prayer station 1: FINGER LABYRINTH
Take a copy of a Finger Labyrinth on lectern and move to a nearby pew. “Walk” the labyrinth with your finger or a pencil, going in and out again. Trace the path in a relaxing pace as you journey back and forth to the center. Repeat several times. Try it with your non-dominant hand for more of a challenge. It will help you to give up control and break out of a linear response pattern. As you “walk” this labyrinth, you might repeat a mantra like “To end is to begin again.”

Prayer station 2: GOOD-BYE. HELLO.
Using the cards on the table, write a brief note on one side to say farewell to something in your life that is coming to a close. Perhaps this is something that you did not/do not really want to end. Then write on the other side a “hello” note to some new opportunity you can imagine opening up because of this ending. (“When a door closes, God opens a window.”) If you’re willing for your card to be read aloud later, please leave your card in the basket. If not, take it with you.

Walk slowly around this sacred space with gratitude for what we have received here. Pray for the rector and people of St. Luke’s. Stand for a time at a window and know that much lies beyond these walls for our faith community.

First study the Andrei Rublev icon that pictures the Trinity as a 3-personed community. Note the figures give and receive around the Table in mutuality and equality. Note that the Table seems open enough to include the viewer. There’s space for you.

Next, prayerfully give to serve others and contribute to Open Table’s ongoing purposes. In doing so, you end your ownership of that money (and its ownership of you) so that it (and you) can be used for a new purpose.

Then receive the Lord’s Supper, remembering Jesus’s Last Supper. Give thanks that what seemed the end was in fact a new beginning. Pray for graceful endings and gracious beginnings in your life.

Kneel beside the pastor to share in confidence a particular prayer concern. She will then offer a quiet prayer for you.


Category Contemplation, Prayer
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