Happy Holidays

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Donna Ialongo

Preached on: June 11th, 2017

Trinity Sunday


No recording

Scripture Text:

2 Corinthians 13:11-13


Between Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day, it’s such a crazy time of year. I came to the conclusion this week that it’s truly another holiday season — but without Black Friday or the buying binges (except for Mom and Dad, of course), without the Holiday specials on TV, and all the Christmas music in the Jewel.

Think about it. Between those two parental holidays, we squeeze in three major feast days: Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday — today. The school year ends — with graduations, senior award nights, proms, and special band performances. School sports like baseball and tennis have their yearend tournaments. Weddings of friends and relatives start to pop up and require our attendance. People take early summer vacations. In my family, we have a cluster of birthdays in that time period to complicate things, and all of us are trying to get our gardens started between the last freeze and the summer heat.

So, if you’re feeling a bit stressed between Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day, is it any wonder?

Of course, we are blessed that we get to do all this at a time of year when the weather is more often than not downright beautiful, and the world is awash with the smell of lilacs and roses.

But it still can be a crazy time.

So, I found myself really appreciating this week’s New Testament reading. It’s so calm and reassuring. These verses come at the end of Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians. Corinth was a city in Greece that Paul visited at least three times. 500 years before he came, it had been a center of Greek culture, but in 146 B.C., the Romans completely destroyed it and then rebuilt it as the Roman provincial capital of Greece about 100 years later.

The city was on an isthmus, a narrow strip of land that connected mainland Greece to the Peloponnese region. So, that strip of land was busy with travelers, merchants, and sailors who pulled their boats across the isthmus on a tramway to get from one body of water to the other. There were about 90,000 people in the city in the first century.

Paul loved the Corinthians, but when he wrote this letter, they had been driving him crazy. Quite a few of them had broken off their relationship with him and decided to follow some false apostles who, theologically, were leading them off the deep end. One modern-day commentator wrote that this letter is Paul’s “preparation for a showdown visit.”

So, in writing this epistle, he is seriously concerned about the spiritual wellbeing of the Corinthians. Paul focused the letter on the Corinthians’ need to be reconciled to God, to be in good relationship with God. And, at the same time, he was clearly writing about their need and his need to be reconciled to one another.

Then he ended his letter with these, calm, reassuring words we heard today:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.”

Everything he says there, every wish he has for them, is contained in that one word at the beginning of our translation — farewell, an 800-year-old Germanic word that originally meant more than just “goodbye.” Farewell meant, “travel well.”

“Travel through life well,” Paul is saying to them. “Watch what you’re doing.”

And he gives them exhortations to behave in specific ways. “Put things in order,” he says. He’s not directing them to organize their closets; he wants them to restore order to their lives, to repair their relationships with love.

“Listen to my appeal,” he says. Take it to heart; act on it. “Agree with one another.” Paul is not telling them to be in lockstep with one another, to think in the same way. He’s asking them to agree on the fundamentals of Christian faith: fundamentals that will guide them in how to live life together with love. Paul is not just asking them to get along; he’s asking them to become a new creation through the Holy Spirit. He also hopes that they will live in peace and affirms that, if they do, the God of Love — and Peace — will be with them. This is the only time the phrase “God of Love” appears in either the Hebrew or Greek Testaments.

The message is clear: God’s love makes all things possible. Paul then directs them to give one another a “holy kiss.” This ancient custom is the origin of our practice of sharing the Peace in our service. Doing so reminded Christians that they were to love and forgive one another as they approached Jesus’ table to receive the Eucharist.

Finally, Paul also reminds the Corinthians that they are in relationship with a great many more people than they realize: “All the saints greet you,” he tells them.

For Paul, the saints weren’t sitting on clouds in heaven. They were other Christians living at the same time as the Corinthians but in other places.

Today, you and me are saints. Right now. We are Paul’s saints.

We read this Scripture today, Trinity Sunday, because of Paul’s last line:

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Most commentators agree that Paul seems to be alluding to the Trinity even though he did not have a Trinitarian theology. The doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t developed until a couple hundred years later. But this verse is one of the foundational Scriptures that led the Church Fathers to proclaim the mystery of the Trinity.

I have talked before about how the Trinity invites us all into their dance. I never get tired of talking about that. The dance image is our humble attempt to describe the intimate relationship of the three persons who are so much at one that they permeate, enter, and dwell within one another in a way we cannot begin to understand.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are constituted by their relationship to one another. If there were no Son, there would be no Father and vice versa. Similarly, the Holy Spirit cannot exist without reciprocal relationships with the Father and Son.

Theologians in the Greek Orthodox Church have a name for this Trinitarian relationship. You definitely get a gold star if you remember what it’s called: perichoresis.

These Greek theologians have said that the relationships that exist within the Trinity are like a dance. The movement of one person of the three is responded to by the movement of the other persons. When one person of the Trinity moves or acts, the others move and act. And we are invited to join the Trinity in the dance, to be in intimate relationship with God, to taste the love and joy of God’s self.

2000 years ago, Jesus asked us to join the dawn of a new age in which we would all experience the intimacy of the Trinity with all believers. 2000 years ago, Jesus gave us the Spirit, who in turn continues to give us gifts, so that we can know Jesus even though we were born too late to have a personal relationship with him in his human nature.

But we must move beyond a simply personal, private, mystical experience of Jesus. When we strive to live our lives in the way Jesus lived his life, when we imitate the Christ, we find ourselves all together, immersed in his love, living in community in love, endeavoring to mirror the divine communion of the Trinity by our earthly human communion.

In doing so, we take on and live the life of the Incarnation. 2000 years later, we are able to know Jesus as both God and man.

My, all that seems a long way from Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day and graduations and baseball and tennis and outdoor fun.

But it’s not.

It is in our relationships and celebrations with one another that we find our way to the Trinity.

Paul is also telling us today to “travel well,” to put things in order, to listen, to agree with one another, to live in peace.

It is by living with the mystery and messiness of human love that we finally find ourselves drawn by the hand of God into the dance of the Trinity.

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