Trinity Sunday
The Very Reverend Torey Lightcap

The church year has crested into Pentecost, and now into Trinity Sunday.
It exploded into our hearts last week –
The outpouring of the Spirit,
Tongues of fire, the speaking of a common language,
Formed from the articulation of many languages at once.

That all happened in the midst of a world sunk in deep sadness.
We are at the bottom of the proverbial well, and I pray it gets no deeper.
The global pandemic is the reason we are recording today, marking the distance between us.
That distance we so breezily refer to as “social distance”
Can breed isolation, depression, loneliness, fear, and suspicion of the other.

Added to this, in the last several days, we’ve seen demonstrations, riots, and arrests.
Many are demonstrating for the right to be heard and understood
Over the role that race plays in policing.
Some of those demonstrations have been peaceful, and some have not.
What some deem as the right to expression others judge as wanton destruction.
One thing I have learned: it’s never as simple as it looks.

It seems to me that skipping over these relevant factors wouldn’t leave us with much of a sermon.
It’s sometimes hard to know what to say about this –
Made worse by the fact that as a priest, I’ve learned over the last 15 years
That even though I do my best, anything I say can be turned against me.
There is certainly little that would feel definitive, no perfect message to please everyone,
So let’s just dispense with that mythology.
We are called to be hopeful, to offer a word of faith in these times.

This week in particular we observe the Risen Christ saying to the disciples,
“Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them
And teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.
And I’m with you always, to the end of the age.”
The question this week then becomes, What does he mean when he says,
“Teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded”? To a world that feels unteachable?
Especially for Matthew.
What, specifically, is the “everything” part? How do we teach it? And how do we live it?

First : the question of life itself .
The God we encounter in Holy Scripture is interested in the preservation and abundance of life.
In the Bible, there isn’t much of an explanation as to why God creates life;
It just happens; God speaks it into being.

The creation of human flesh is more or less an act of extravagant love.
We must do and say things that promote a culture of life and love,
And the evidence of that is the existence of justice and peace.
We might remember here the countless stories of Jesus healing,
Such as with a leper in Matthew chapter 8, where the leper is immediately instructed
To go and show himself to the priest so that the man can reclaim his rightful place in society.
That’s justice in action.

Online you can see a video of George Floyd speaking out
About how disheartened he was by gang activity in Houston –
About how hard it was to keep kids out of gangs –
And how he was trying to keep it from happening.
When I saw this, it broke my heart to see his lament about young black men being put into danger.
Because George knew he was loved by God, because he knew he was saved by Jesus,
He wanted to extend that same love and preserve life. It was only fair.

Second : the question of violence.
Scripture commends nonviolence as a way to live,
And to live more abundantly. It is a truly difficult path and the only one worth walking.
In Matthew chapter 5, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands us:
When struck on the cheek, offer also the other cheek.
He says, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Turning the cheek sounds fine in the abstract, but over time, unaddressed,
It can lead to toxic and enabling situations: danger, deprivation, violence, systematic death.
Offering the cheek is already hard to do, and getting harder in 2020, when everything is at a fever pitch
And there is great temptation all along the political spectrum
To move quickly to violence , scapegoating , and assuming the worst about other people.
But these are always insufficient solutions , and they only satisfy us for a time.
From Good Friday we learn that there is power in crowds of people:
The crowd has a “mind of its own,” they say.
That Good Friday crowd did unspeakable things: condemning the innocent man Jesus to die,
And letting a murderer, Barabbas, go free.
As reported in Matthew 26, another crowd, pressuring Peter into denying his relationship with Jesus
By threat of implied violence.
Again, moving quickly to violent solutions to satisfy bloodlust.

Yet there was another Good Friday crowd – a nonviolent crowd –
A crowd that did not give in to its baser urges –
And that stood at the foot of the cross to adore and acknowledge Christ.
A crowd that defended his body, took it down, and gave it a proper burial.
Indeed, God shows us an alternative and a better way to live,
And shows us that we can do it in community.

Third : the question of leadership.
Leadership, especially in times of instability, is an inherently risky activity.
In days of heightened emotion and danger, people look to leaders to provide protection and direction.
Leaders must provide for that, and part of that is clear speaking.
Speech sometimes must become very specific because it can save lives.

In Matthew chapter 23, Jesus gets into this dynamic, saying to local leaders,
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayer:
Therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.”
When he says these things, leveling these accusations against people in power,
He is clearly placing himself at risk, and the Gospels make it pretty clear
That it was this kind of activity that encouraged others to turn him into a scapegoat.
But that didn’t mean that he was wrong to do it –
Only that he was willing to speak where others feared retaliation.

In our Baptismal Covenant, we ask people to undertake four risky leadership traits:
… Persevere in resisting evil.
… Proclaim the Good News.
… Seek and serve Christ in everyone. and
… Strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.
All of these are answered in the same way: “I will, with God’s help.”

Will you, as a Christian, be a leader?
“I will , and I know that when I need God to help me do that, God will be there.”

Fourth : the question of privilege.
All who have privilege need to seek ways to give their power away.
You can see this very clearly in the life of Jesus,
How he is constantly giving his power away – in what he teaches, in how he heals,
And in who he chooses to be with.
I think this is part of what he means when he says,
“Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
When Jesus realizes he is a step above someone else in society,
He takes pains to lift up that person to another level.

Each of us needs to think hard about what we can do to extend power to those who need it,
Especially in this time when people are largely drawn into themselves.
Everyone has a ministry – you have a ministry –
And Jesus commends us to use it
For the life of those whom society would otherwise overlook.
On this he is clear and unequivocal.

Fifth , and finally, and briefest of all: the issue of truth .
Christians have a vocation to tell and live the truth.
If we find ourselves challenged by the falsehoods of the world we live in –
The stories we tell each other, the news we consume,
The narrative we cling to to make sense of our insensible world –
If we find ourselves confronted by falsehoods, we have a duty to repair them, in love, if we can.
Only we don’t get to do it alone, and we don’t have to do it alone.
In Matthew 11, Jesus is speaking about John the Baptist as a prophet in relation to himself,
And he says, “Wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
It is not enough to think oneself wise, nor even to merely be a person of sound learning.
Wisdom is not above the fray; truth is embodied; it is tangible; it is real.

You, my friends, are the feet and hands of Christ.
You are animated by the Holy Spirit and empowered for ministry.
God will bless you as you undertake your work.

Speaking the truth … giving away power … exercising leadership;
Living peaceably ; and respecting life,
Let us set ourselves to the task. Amen.