Imagine that on Sunday morning, you simply walked into the church and sat down. You remained standing to sing, to pray, to hear scripture. No passing of the peace. The bread is already on the altar, so no need to bring it up. We have an automated system for giving, so no need to collect offerings. At communion, a tray of wafers and wine comes down the aisle for you to take one. From start to finish, we worship from our seats.
Would it matter? What would be lost? Would you still come?
Episcopalians are famous for moving around a lot during worship. None of this movement is necessary. But the gestures, the standing, the reaching out – all of this is part of the gift we give God and the gift God gives us. It is a gift to God because it allows us to bring more of ourselves to our worship. It is a gift to us because through this movement we enact in our own imperfect way something of the life of God. We learn something about who God is, and therefore, as people made in God’s image, who we are.
Today is Trinity Sunday, when we ponder and celebrate the great mystery of God’s being as triune – Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. The testimony of scripture and the teaching of the church is that God is revealed as dynamic and relational. God is in relationship with God-self and with all of creation, including us – ever-creating; ever-redeeming; ever-blessing. God is dynamic. God is relational. “God is love,” and love is by nature relational – it is by nature a reaching out, moving in response to need, a pouring out, a cherishing and offering to another.
We talk about this loving Trinity each week when we recite the Nicene Creed. But we are formed by it each week through our worship.
When our first gesture of worship each week is to place food in a basket for our neighbors, we profess a dynamic, loving God. When we sit to listen and stand to pray; when we raise our hands to acknowledge the glory of God and walk forward to receive the life of God into our hands and our bodies, we profess a dynamic, loving God.
When we cross ourselves to remember that God so loved to world that he gave his son for us and for all, we pray “Thank you God, for reaching out to me.” When we pass the peace and share a common cup we acknowledge, “This isn’t just for me. God loves you, too. Our dynamic, loving God calls us into dynamic, loving relationship. And God promises that we will be better together than apart, so I’m going to trust that.”
We are shaped here each week to be dynamic, relational people, made by Love for love. But then we have to leave the building. What happens then? We can’t walk around Watertown Square passing the peace and singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.” What does it mean to live our faith in a dynamic, relational God out there?
That’s what both our first reading and our gospel reading today help us grasp.
In this famous passage from Isaiah, the prophet has a vision of the heavenly court, where the angels are exclaiming “Holy, holy, holy.” Christians sometimes read this as an early naming of God as three persons, which is why we sing this line every week during communion. But in Isaiah, the more important thing is that here is this very normal mortal standing before God at a time of crisis. This is “the year that King Uzziah died” – an important fact! This was a great king, and he reigned a long time, and now he is gone. What will happen? The people are grieving and unsure, and where is their hope?
And the voice cries, “Who will go for us?” (Notice the us). And the prophet is marked by God and sent by God to the people, who are in need. Imagine that moment when he turns to face his task. Where to begin? What words are needed? How to create a future for the people of God?
Let’s leave him there for now and turn to the gospel. Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the cover of darkness. He is a leader, one to whom others come for answers, but something is stirring in him. He knows he needs Jesus, but cannot humble himself to approach him during the day. He has this awkward, humbling conversation with Jesus in which Jesus basically says to him, “start over. Let yourself be grafted into the life of God, who is love,” and follow me. What will he do?
Picture Isaiah and Nicodemus turning from the face of God to the world. Turning into their confusing, uncertain worlds and sorting out what it means to be agents of the living God.
I would imagine that in that moment and for a long time to come they felt not euphoria or power, but something like “gut churn.” Gut churn is the phrase Jad Abumrad uses to describe the long, queasy, uncertain journey of bringing a hunch or call or idea to birth. In his case, the new thing was a show called “Radiolab,” which is now the 2nd most popular show on public radio, but for its first several years was an obscure, evolving radio-thing. Jad reflected on the process of creating Radiolab with his co-creator, who said, “It was years and years of being sick to my stomach. My head hurt, because people kept asking me what’s your long term place, what’s your funding plan, and I had no plan!”
Gut churn. Created in God’s image, God works in us, speaks to us – often in dreams or visions or in the darkness of night (as it was for Isaiah and Nicodeus) – and we find ourselves stirred to bring something into being – a community, artwork, justice. It is easy to stay put; to stay seated; to close in. When we are experiencing it, it is so tempting to turn around and go back – Go back to smaller dreams, go back to old, easy ways of being, go back to thinking our ideas and visions aren’t really important or holy.
You, too, are called into this dynamic, loving life of God. Whatever it is you are called to create, whatever is churning in you, it will probably take longer to bring to being than you think. You may need to fail time and again before it takes the form it’s meant to take. You may be incredibly tempted to give up, turn back. Keep going. Give it your all, as God gave his all for us, and through the Spirit gives his all every moment.
The Trinity is a mystery, but it is a mystery turning to us. God searches for us to complete the revelation of God’s Being. God searches for us to participate in God’s life. That seeking derives from the anguish of God – God’s longing for the work of God’s hands.
Both Isaiah and Nicodemus turned from their encounters with God to the gut-churning experience of trying to bring that love to the world. Isaiah will use his words and his body to cast for the people a vision of renewed life with God, and his words will be treasured not just by the people of Israel, but by the followers of Christ and Mohammed, as sacred. Nicodemus will show up to defend Jesus against the Sanhedrin, and then after Jesus dies, he comes with Joseph of Arimathea to take Jesus’ body from the cross and prepare it for burial.
So let us stand and sit and cross ourselves and lift up our hearts and pass the peace. Let us lay hands on one another and put money in plates and juggle prayerbooks. And let all of this form us for the life we are called to live.
— The Rev. Amy McCreath