A Sermon by the Rev. Elizabeth Costello
Associate Rector of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church
In Fort Washington, Pennsylvania
Delivered on Sunday, June 11, 2017
Out of the mouths of infants and children your majesty is praised above the heavens. Lord make it so, even with us grown folk. Amen.
One lazy Saturday afternoon, I went to visit my eldest sister, Meghan. Meghan is the eldest of three girls, and she just had her third of what would be four kids, Peter. As my sister nursed Peter on the couch, the oldest sibling and I had a tea party. With a pink plastic Beauty and the Beast tea set, we had one of the finest high teas in town. The clotted cream, jam, and scones would make even the English blush – well, at least in our imaginations! Thirty-minutes into this tea party, my niece, Sophia, looked at me with seriousness and enthusiasm and said, “Aunt Lizzy, we need to baptize Peter now! I responded, “Why is that, Sophia?” She said, “Because Peter needs to be part of God’s family.”
After some negotiation, I convinced her that we could do a pretend baptism. She then instructed me to get my Book of Common Prayer. A little known secret about me is that I am easily bossed around by this little girl! I got my BCP and with her pink plastic tea set (without water!), she proceeded to baptize Peter in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This life that Sophia wanted her brother to enjoy, is a life that we all are invited into through the waters of baptism.
It is the great commission that Jesus gave to his disciples. Jesus told his disciples to go out to the far reaches of the earth and to baptize the people in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The great commission is ultimately an invitation into the life of the Trinity.
The life of the Trinity was best captured in picture through the icon, “The Holy Trinity,” by Andrei Rublev a sixteenth-century Russian iconographer and painter. For those of you who don’t know this icon, let me describe it for you. In the icon, there are three androgenous figures sitting around a circular table. The central figure, the largest figure, is God the Son. God the Son, looks out at the viewer, inviting them in. To the viewer’s left hand side there is God the Father, and on the viewer’s right hand side there is God the Holy Spirit. There is a clockwise motion that the circle makes that invites the viewer to join. The movement in the circle begins with God the Father, whose hand reaches out His hand in blessing to God the Son, whose body is turned to God the Holy Spirit, who is sent out to the viewer, inviting them to join in the communion.
The relationship of the Trinity was once described by St. Bonaventure, a thirteenth century Italian Franciscan as a water wheel. He said that the wheel, carrying three buckets, fills and empties, fills and empties onto eternity. There is the constant emptying of the God-self and the constant filling up, that we are invited into. We are invited to become recipients of God’s love, healing, and grace and to invite others to. We are invited to be like my niece Sophia, and to be six-year old evangelists. As we join the circle, as we join the water wheel, we are filled up to the brim. We cannot help but share God’s love, healing, and grace with others.
We realize that it is only by being in communion with God and one another, that we can be our full selves. This morning, we heard the story of creation and our theological anthropology. A story of how we were created to be in relationship, with God, one another, and creation. As we join this circle, we realize that we can only be who we were created to be by being in communion.
We join this circle, we do so, knowing that we are not, as John Donne once said, “islands onto ourselves.” Within ourselves we bring a collection of communities that have formed us in different ways and are united to through Christ. We stand with the rest of Christ’s body, realizing that only by being in communion with one another, can we know the fullness of Christ. This means, our brothers and sisters flourishing is our flourishing, their joys are our joys; their concerns become our concerns.
It is “Ubuntu.” Ubuntu, a popularized phrase by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu during Apartheid. This term, “Ubuntu,” can be translated: “I am because we are.” Our humanity is more connected than we sometimes realized. This interdependence that we share together, that is reflected in the life of the Triune God is something that we are invited into and that we are asked to invited others into.
We saw this interconnectedness in the news recently, when a homeless person, who lived in the ally way just outside the concert hall in Manchester England, leap into action to help victims of the terrorist attack.
We heard this interdependence in the news from Portland Oregon, when three men defended two Muslim women, who were being harassed on a train by a person for the simple reason of being Muslim.
In our church, I have seen us reflect the life of the Trinity, marked by interdependence, love, and self-gifting; in how we treat one another.
When a parishioner cannot make it to church, we feel like part of us is missing. In response, our pastoral care team reaches out to the sick, hospitalized, or those recovering from surgery by adding them to our public or private prayers, sending flowers, meals, or a prayer shawl. Or in the relationship between a Stephen Ministry care giver and care recipient.
When we say that we care about children, that we want to nurture the faith of each child; we mean all children. We invest a tremendous amount of person power and financial resources into St. Thomas’ nursery school, First Steps to Worship, and the outreach camps. Because we know for our children to flourish, the children living in homeless shelters in Philadelphia also need to flourish.
On this morning, as we pay tribute to Derrick Goff, on this, his final Sunday at St. Thomas’ church, I am mindful of the ways in which his presence has impacted us as a worshipping community. As we wish Derrick all of God’s blessings in the next chapter of his life, we know that we would not be where we are today musically, without his leadership and presence.
On this first Sunday after Pentecost, known as Trinity Sunday, let us be mindful of the ways that God calls us into a deeper life in the Trinity. This is a life that is rooted in relationship with one other and all of creation. May we be like my niece, and go to the far reaches of our worlds, as we invite the people that we encounter into this life-giving, loving, and healing circle that is known as the Triune life. Amen.