The Holy Trinity (Father’s Day)

Father’s Day in the United States has an interesting history. While in Catholic Europe since the Middle Ages March 19, St. Joseph’s feast day, was held up as a day to commemorate the exemplary service of Jesus’s so called or putative father, it wasn’t until a mine disaster in West Virginia left a thousand children fatherless that a Methodist Church memorialized “fatherhood” on the fifth of July. The date, of course, was overwhelmed by Independence Day and the celebration wasn’t promoted beyond that grief stricken community. Not until 1912 when the designation Mothers’ Day called for equity for fathers here in June.

Being a child presupposes a father, even if only a matter of DNA. It poses a kind question as in how a story poses a prequel and a sequel to fill out its context fully. I want to use my time with you today to try to make sense of the divine Trinity in terms of narrative, of a story. Most of us, I fear, have come to the Trinity as a mystery not to be penetrated or comprehended but simply accepted. Rather, I want to invite us to try to tell the story of our own life in trinitarian terms, or better perhaps as a theological doctrine elucidated with reference to the semantic terms of our own life story. 

But with a twist: normally we would start at the beginning, as we have with the seven days of creation and Adam and Eve, and continue through the Noahic and Abrahamic Covenants and the Exodus and the giving of the Law focusing on our sinfulness and hence our need for a savior. This is how the Catechism traditionally progresses attention to the introduction of the messiah. But something so radical was revealed about God in the resurrection of Jesus, in fact in the whole incarnation, that we must start our story there. We begin our reflection on the New Creation with Jesus’ resurrection appearance in the upper room on the evening of Easter Day when he shows his disciple his hands and feet and breathes on them. In doing so he repeats the gesture in Genesis that made Adam a living soul and he commissions them to forgive sin: “whose sins you forgive are forgiven . . .” It is the very creative breath of God, the Holy Spirit, that enlivens us with the essence of God. As Paul puts it today in Romans 5:5: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Since God is love as John has it in his first epistle, then we participate in God’s being, in God’s substance. We grow into as it were from our baptism through our birth into eternity we grow into the “full stature of Christ.” 

We are created in the image of God, but until we saw ourselves in Christ we had been mistaken, and we continue to be mistaken, about the nature of that image, because we project onto the image of God our own violent tendencies, our own need to control others out of fear, greed, and resentment. The model of Christ the Second Person of the Trinity is expressed in the hymn in the second chapter of Philippians: “though in the form of God he does not take advantage of his status but empties himself taking the form of a slave being found in human form becomes obedient even to death, the shameful death of a criminal, strung on a cross.” In baptism, the catechism tells us, “We share in his victory over sin, suffering, and death.” And we do so more and more as we receive the love of God, as we participate in the love the Father has for the Son and the Son has for the Father. 

What is so radical about the Trinitarian revelation of God is precisely its relationality God is a community, a small group into which we are invited. The Greek word perichoresis describes the dynamic relational movement of God and within God. It is the physical expression of ecstatic love and joy, something like the famous 1910 painting by Henri Matisse called simply Dance 1 which shows five naked figures of unclear gender in a circle dance but very animated with hands clasped as they move invitingly in a circle. They seem almost to be falling so it becomes clear that they have somehow been taken over by the music or the dance itself and have lost or let go of their footing, of their staid self control. For me that is what the word perichoresis connotes, God on the edge of letting go, of being transformed. And so the incarnation is God’s way of opening up this relational three person dance so that others might be connected and become a part of the dance. It is quite a remarkable notion, the idea that God is structurally unstable, incomplete without the other, without you and me, without the whole of the created order. Christ contains all things in heaven and earth and in him they are reconciled, brought together, invited into the cosmic dance. 

It is the nature of that relationship, the relationship that the father has with the son, that mutual humbling of themselves, that constitutes the proper relationship between a father and a son, or more inclusively, of a parent and a child, between the old and the new, tradition and innovation. They respect and honor one another without envy or rivalry but with self-effacing mutual sharing. I’m learning as I grow into my own family that my role as father or parent only deepens and matures in its love for my children as I learn and relearn the dance of letting go, as I participate in the divine gesture of humbling myself before another who invites me to connect. 

Classically this participation in God, this being joined to God’s love by the Holy Spirit is the adventure of theosis, or divinization, the adventure of being drawn into God’s plan and purpose of redemption and renewal. I saw this yesterday at the memorial service for a Roman Catholic priest I have known and loved for many years in Kairos prison ministry that took place at a nearly full Serra High School auditorium in San Mateo. John Kelly left the parish ministry forty years ago to teach at that school and then became a community organizer creating Samaritan House which cares for homeless families in that county. Then he left and came to San Quentin. Scores of former inmates and fellow volunteers came to remember his loving service to them. He exemplified the process of being drawn into God’s Love for the sake of the redemption of the world. 

The Trinity is not just a unique doctrine or definition of God. It is a strategy for renewing the face of the earth through loving service. This poem of handed out at the memorial: 

“Whatever the question is, love is the answer. 

Whatever the problem is, love is the answer. 

Whatever the fear is, love is the answer. 

Whatever the illness is, love is the answer. 

Whatever the pain is, love is the answer. 

Love is the answer no matter what 

Because love is all there is.”

Reminder of Our Wider Redeemer Community

Reminder of Our Wider Redeemer Community

Every once in a while, I like to send out the church’s weekly email updates to the wider Redeemer Community, which includes the families of Redeemer Preschool. It is important for the church and preschool to remember how interconnected we are and how much our success depends on one another. For those who don’t know, my name is Daniel London and I have been the Priest-in-Charge at Church of the Redeemer since October 2016. I generally go by “Father Daniel.” Over the last several months, I have been visiting with the preschool classes (especially the Pre-K) and teaching the children about Christianity and the Church, mostly by playing interactive games and teaching songs on the guitar. I plan to start visiting with them on a monthly basis. Many of the children know me as “Father Daniel” and understand that I am the priest who works at the church “where people pray.” They are absolutely right! More specifically, we at Church of the Redeemer seek to embody the love of God in San Rafael and the world and strive to provide a welcoming place where all can deepen their understanding and experience of God’s liberating love through prayer, worship and service.

Although we always strive to make our Sunday morning worship services welcoming to children of all ages, we have a few Sundays each year that are specifically family-focused. The two big upcoming family-focused Sundays are Back-to-School Sunday (Sept 10) when the Bishop and I will bless students’ backpacks and then the Feast Day of St. Francis (Oct 8) when we bless our beloved pets. So remember to bring your backpacks on Sept 10 and your pets on Oct 8 to church on Sunday at 10 AM. Check out our other church activities and events by visiting our website, liking our Facebook page and scrolling through the rest of this email. Also, if you ever want to meet or chat in person, you can visit me at my office hours (3 PM to 7 PM on Wednesdays and Thursdays) and, of course, on Sunday mornings.

Song of Songs

“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away…the winter is past…the time of singing has come!”  (Song of Songs 2:10-12)

Tomorrow, Ashley and I leave for Virginia, where we will commence our Honeymoon Road Trip through Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York. We will be visiting friends and family in the area as well as St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Whitemarsh PA, where I will be guest preaching. I love the fact that the lectionary readings for this Sunday include a portion of the great love poem, the Song of Songs, the same portion that was read at our wedding more than a year ago. I was initially hoping to preach on this biblical love poem myself, but when I realized that I would be away, I asked the Rev. Dr. Arthur Holder to preach in my stead. He has taught graduate-level courses and translated ancient commentaries on this mystical text, so you are all in for a real treat. The biblical poem has been a major source of inspiration for artists and mystics over the centuries, including my favorite artist Marc Chagall, who painted a series of pieces on the Song of Songs (including the one above). I encourage you to read it before Sunday – it’s only 8 short chapters. Perhaps the Song of Songs will inspire you to create something new, holy and beautiful.

Upcoming Guests

Upcoming Guests

As a sacred space for sharing diverse views, it makes sense for Redeemer to routinely host guest speakers and preachers; and summer is a perfect time for this! Mark your calendars so that you don’t miss the following brilliant guests!

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The Rev. Elizabeth DeRuff

On Sunday June 25, Elizabeth will be our guest preacher. She is the President and Chair of Honoré Farm and Mill, a public charity focused on restoring vitality to wheat and the land upon which it grows. She also works as an Agricultural Chaplain, launching The Farm to Altar Table Project and Staff of Life Flour. If you are interested in baking Communion Bread and/or in growing wheat for Communion Bread (perhaps even at Redeemer), then come hear her preach and get to know her!

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The Rev. Dr. Arthur Holder

On Sunday July 9, Arthur Holder will preside and preach on the world’s first great love poem: the Song of Songs. Dr. Holder served on the faculty at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and then served as the Dean of the Graduate Theological Union. He is a medieval scholar, a professor of Christian Spirituality, and one of my favorite priests. My only regret is that I won’t be here to hear him preach, so I’m hoping someone can record him.

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Br. Jude Hill

On Sunday July 16, Franciscan friar Jude Hill will preside and preach. Br. Jude is a Jungian Analyst who also works for the San Francisco Night Ministry as a Night Minister on the streets from 10pm – 4am. He is also an associate priest at the Church of the Advent of Christ the King in San Francisco and in his spare time repairs and restores old clocks. When I asked him to visit, he said, “I’d love to come. Probably a few of us will. We travel as a pack!  One of us will preach and I’m happy to celebrate. Love the people at Redeemer.”

Perichoresis?

Perichoresis?

Do you remember what it means? It is the Greek word that I have referenced in my last three sermons. It is the word and image used by the Cappadocian (Cappa-doh-sh-ian) Fathers of the 4th century to describe the Trinity. It means “Circle Dance.” There is an Episcopal church in San Francisco that actually incorporates a circle dance into the Eucharistic liturgy. Appropriately, this church is named after one of the Cappadocian Fathers: St. Gregory of Nyssa. Perhaps someday we can perform a circle dance together on our outdoor prayer labyrinth. In the mean time, we will continue to form a circle around our indoor altar and participate in the Trinity through the power of the Holy Spirit, who makes us all sons and daughters of the Father. We will continue reflecting on the inexhuastible mystery of the Trinity this Sunday in the last of a series of sermons that I like to call the “Circle Dance Sermons.

The Trinitarian Flow

Last Sunday was such a joy! I particularly enjoyed the presence of so many children and even a doggy. I’ve been reading Richard Rohr’s new book on the Trinity and he talks about how naturally children and dogs exhibit what he calls the Trinitarian flow. He writes, “Children and dogs are filled with natural hope and expectation that their smile will be returned. They tend to make direct eye contact, looking right into you, just grinning away. This is pure being. This is uninhibited flow. Surely, this is why Jesus told us to be like children. There is nothing stopping the pure flow in a child or a dog, and that’s why any of us who have an ounce of eros, humanity or love in us are defenseless against such unguarded presence. You can only with great effort resist kissing a wide-eyed baby or petting an earnest dog. You want to pull them to yourself with love because they are, for a moment—forgive me—  “God”! (Rohr, The Divine Dance, 81). Learn more about the Trinitarian Flow this Sunday, which is Trinity Sunday.

Happy 1,984th Birthday to the Church!

This Sunday we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost with baptismal water, balloons, birthday cake, a bounce house and more. Be sure to wear lots of red as we commemorate the generous outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church, which will turn a whopping 1,984 years old! If you want to know what the word “Pentecost” means, scroll down to the bottom of this email. If you want to know what “Pentecost” means for you as a baptized (or soon-to-be baptized) member of the Church, come to Redeemer this Sunday!

What does the word “Pentecost” mean?

On May 30, 31 and June 1, many of our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrated the feast of Shavuot (pronounced “Sha Voo Oht”), a holiday that commemorates the giving of the Torah to the people of Israel, exactly seven weeks after God liberated them from slavery in Egypt. The name “Shavuot” is Hebrew for both “seven” and “week,” referring to the 49 days (the seven weeks) between the Passover and the receiving of the Torah. During Jesus’s day, the Jewish people often referred to the Feast of “Shavuot” by a Greek name that emphasized the Torah being given on the 50th day after the Passover. The Greek name they gave to Shavuot was “Pentecost,” which means “fiftieth day”; and it was while celebrating Shavuot (or Pentecost) that the Jewish disciples of Jesus received the Holy Spirit of God. Just as the people of Israel received divine wisdom in the form of the Torah 50 days after the Passover so too did the Jewish followers of Christ receive divine wisdom in the person of the Holy Spirit 50 days after Christ’s Resurrection (Easter).

Still Flying High…

In some ways, I’m still flying high from the graduation celebrations last week. It’s an appropriate feeling for me to have since yesterday (May 25) the Episcopal Church celebrated the Feast of the Ascension. If you look carefully, you can see Jesus ascending above Bishop Curry and me in the graduation picture to the left. This Sunday, we will learn about the spiritual meanings and implications of Jesus’s Ascension as we prepare for the powerful Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday (June 4), with fire, water, barbecue, a bounce house, art (see Paula’s message below) and more. And since my graduation robe is red, I think I’ll be wearing my academic regalia as my religious vestments!