Monday, May 23, 2016

Combatting Summer Doldrums

If you are worried that the summer doldrums might affect the preaching in your parish, you can rest easy--at least through the Fourth of July weekend. Starting this Sunday and lasting for six weeks, the Epistle lesson will focus on Galatians, and I think it's pretty difficult to read Galatians without feeling at least some measure of enthusiasm. Even the most worn-out preacher can be reinvigorated by this emotional text. And I can't think of a better time for us to focus on Paul's fiery message of grace.

Of all Paul's letters, Galatians is his most passionate plea for the gospel of grace. He gets angry in Galatians, and those raw emotions show through. He even resorts to name-calling. This letter was written early in his letter-writing career, and he hadn't yet learned how to hold anything back. This is practically unfiltered, unrestrained polemic against those who would dilute even the slightest bit the gospel of grace. And twenty-first-century Christianity needs a sharp, angry voice calling us back to the uncut truth of grace-alone.

Paul's letters usually follow a form that was widely used in his day. The author identifies himself, identifies the recipients, and then offers a word of greeting. Typically, in Paul's letters that greeting is followed by a thanksgiving, which is then followed by a quick summary of the author's intent before the body of the letter begins. That's not how Galatians works. Paul doesn't have time for that. This is serious. He can't wait.

As soon as he finishes his formalized greeting--"Grace to you and peace..."--he skips the thanksgiving and moves right into his argument:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
Could more timely words be written? Even if we came and told you a different gospel, you shouldn't believe it. Even if an angel came down from heaven and told you a different gospel, let that one be accursed! There is no other gospel. There is no other gospel except the gospel of grace. Apart from that, there is no good news at all. Period. The end.

In contemporary Christianity, I don't hear a lot of debate about circumcision or kosher dietary restrictions. Those were the issues in Paul's day, and we'll see more of them in the coming weeks. Should a Gentile convert become an observant Jew in order to follow Jesus? Paul's emphatic, unequivocal answer is NO! Jesus Christ has set us free from a system in which justification comes from any effort on our part. Only faith in what Jesus did can save us.

If he were writing a letter to the churches of today, what would Paul say? Well, what perversion of the gospel of grace has infected the church? What makes a person good? What gets a person into heaven? What qualifies someone to be a Christian? News flash: it isn't loving your neighbor as yourself. It isn't helping those in need. It isn't going to church. It isn't reading the bible. It isn't following the Ten Commandments. It isn't loving God with all your heart, strength, and mind. And, with apologies to devotees of the 1979 BCP and the Baptismal Covenant, it isn't respecting the dignity of every human being or any of the other responses to the "will-you" questions we rehearse at every baptism. All of those things are fruit of the redeemed life--they come after Jesus has saved us, after his blood has redeemed us, after his death and resurrection have justified us.

For any preacher to set any of those things up as an expectation for her or his congregation is to place a stumbling block in front of God's precious children. All of that is law, and it stands in the way of grace. If we are justified by faith, those things will come. But defining them from the pulpit as the marks of a Christian is no different than preaching the necessity of circumcision and of keeping kosher. Expectations are law. They always get in the way. They pervert the gospel of grace. Period. Try telling your four-year-old daughter that the hallmarks of a good child are to grow up and be happy and successful. See where that gets you. (Hint: a teenager) The parent's job isn't to create expectations. The parent's job is to love his child. And the same is true for the preacher of the gospel.

It's only Monday, and I'm already fired up, and I'm not even preaching this week. I can't wait to see what the next six weeks will bring!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sometimes Words Aren't Enough

May 22, 2016 – The First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday
© 2016 Evan D. Garner
Although I am convinced that that truly glorious hymn “I bind unto myself today” is appropriate for any occasion, I don’t often recommend it for funerals (though I hope you’ll remember to sing it at mine). Instead, when I meet with a family to pick out funeral hymns, I try to steer them in three separate directions. First, to open the service, I suggest a strong, confident hymn like “A mighty fortress is our God” or “Holy, Holy Holy! Lord God Almighty.” Hymns like those remind us of the awesome power of God, and that gives us strength in our time of need. Then, in the middle of the service, I suggest a sweet, comforting hymn like “The King of love my shepherd is” or “Lord of all hopefulness.” Hymns like those wrap their arms around us and remind us that we are not alone in our suffering. Then, at the end of the service, I suggest a hopeful, forward-looking hymn like “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee” or “Lead on, O King Eternal,” which reflect our belief that God has given us a hope that is stronger than death.

As with many aspects of our worship, hymns often tell us more about who God is and who we are than even the most carefully crafted sermon. Without a word of explanation, three deliberately chosen hymns can fill the hearts and minds of a congregation with a sense of God’s greatness, God’s tenderness, and God’s hopefulness. It’s hard for me to imagine all three of those things all at once. It is impossible for me to find words that can convey a God who is all of those things and more, yet I experience all of them together all of the time.

What about you? What sort of God do you worship? Which God do you serve? When you come to church, what God do you expect to meet here? When you kneel beside your bed to say your prayers, what sort of God is listening? When you lie awake at night, alone with your worries and your tears, which God is there with you in the silence?

It has always helped me to think of God as the strong, powerful king of the Old Testament. I need to know, in those moments when I’ve gotten myself into some trouble, that God is bigger and stronger than any mess I might find myself in. For others, tenderness and compassion are most important. Indeed, for some the incomparable power and uncompromising holiness of a God who would strike Uzzah dead on the spot for reaching out his hand to catch the Ark of the Covenant when the oxen stumbled is problematic while, for me, that same story is oddly comforting. Which God is your God? Which God is our God?

Have you ever heard someone say, “You know, I like Jesus just fine, but I can’t believe in a God who would send people to hell just because they don’t believe the right thing?” Or how about a Christian who says, “We don’t believe in that Old-Testament God any more. Jesus came and changed all of that?” They’ve got a good point. There is a lot to like about a savior who teaches us to love everyone and welcome everyone and forgive everyone. And we should be skeptical of a God who would tell us to kill everyone. But the really strange thing is that we believe that they are one and the same—that the God who ordered the army of Israel to spare not a single life is the same God who sent his Son to die so that the whole world might be saved. But how can we make sense of that? How can we even find the words to begin to explain it?

On the night before he died, Jesus looked at his disciples and said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Even Jesus couldn’t find the words to say it. Some things cannot be said. How do you explain to someone that the death you are about to die at the hands of your enemies is actually part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world? Even now, two thousand years later, how do we explain it? We don’t. No one can. Instead, we watch what happens, and we wait for the Holy Spirit to guide us--lead us, pull us by the hand--into the truth.

Sometimes words aren’t enough. Sometimes we must see in order to believe. And sometimes not even seeing is believing. For thousands of years, God’s people spoke of God as one who loved the world. The promise God made to Abraham was that, through him, all the nations of the earth would come to know God’s saving love. But words weren’t enough, so God sent his Son. But not even Jesus could find the words to express the fullness of God’s love. And so he died and rose again. But those who saw him laid in the tomb and then, three days later, saw him alive again still could not understand the magnitude of God’s love. And so the Spirit came and revealed that God’s saving work could not be confined to the people of Israel. And so the Holy Spirit continues to guide us, pull us, leading us by the hand, always toward the truth that God’s love has no limits. And still we do not understand.

I don’t know what God you worship. I don’t know which God dwells in your heart. But all of human history has shown us that God is leading us further and further into the truth that God is love. In each generation, we discover in new ways how limitless God’s love really is. And still the journey continues. What will God show us next?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Is God Finished Speaking?

In this Sunday's gospel lesson (John 16:12-15), Jesus tells his disciples that God isn't finished speaking to them yet: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come." The Spirit will say to the disciples things that Jesus could not say to them while he was still with them. But when will the Spirit be finished?

There are at least three ways to hear Jesus' words. First, there's the strictly limited interpretation. You can use John 15:15 as a filter for reading this passage and decide that the Spirit may speak to the disciples but won't tell them anything new. In that part of the farewell discourse, Jesus says to his disciples, "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." Despite what Jesus says in 16:12, that makes it pretty plain that there isn't anything left to be said. I don't buy that interpretation, but I can understand it.

Second, there's the conservative interpretation. The Holy Spirit had important things to say to the apostles, but, once the last one of them died--presumably, according to a conservative reading of the bible, John on Patmos as he wrote Revelation--the revelation ceased. In short, Jesus' instruction to the disciples was limited to the disciples, and God had nothing else to say after that. Again, I don't buy it. It's tempting. It's neat and tidy. It's comfortably static. But the power of Pentecost seems too great for a sixty- or even seventy-year run.

Third, there's the continuing interpretation, which has two distinct branches. Both agree that the Spirit continues to speak and provide new revelation to God's people. One branch is the Catholic version, which states that the Holy Spirit continues to speak but only through the revelation of church dogma. In other words, those who continue in the line of the apostles--and only those who continue in the line of the apostles--have the authority to listen to and interpret what the Spirit says. The other branch is the charismatic version, which believes that the Holy Spirit can and does continue to speak in and to and through anyone who is baptized by the Holy Spirit.

I must admit that I fall somewhere in this third stream of interpretation, but I don't know exactly where on the Catholic-Charismatic continuum I fall. I do believe that the Spirit speaks through anyone--not just those in positions of authority in the church--but I also believe that it takes the whole Body of Christ to understand what the Spirit is saying and that loners or schismatics who hold a Spirit-claimed authority are probably barking up the wrong tree--or perhaps even at the moon.

Is God finished speaking to his people? Did he say everything we needed to hear in Jesus? If the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments do contain everything necessary to salvation, do we need to acknowledge anything that comes after the book closes on Revelation? Did the Spirit guide those successors to the apostles at Nicaea and Constantinople and Chalcedon into the "confession of a true faith," which is "to acknowledge the glory of the Eternal Trinity?" Might the mystics who spoke long ago and those who still speak at nighttime revivals in small country churches where the bare light bulbs hang from an extension cord stapled to the ceiling show us that God still has something to say? Who decides? Have you decided? I'd be surprised if God is finished speaking, but, if not, why aren't I paying more careful attention to what Spirit-filled people are saying to the world?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Words to Bear

Jesus said to the disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now." That's how the gospel lesson for Trinity Sunday (John 16:12-15) begins. It's a teaser. It's unfair. It's like a friend who says, "I've got something really exciting to tell you, but I can't tell you now." What do you mean you can't tell us? What do you mean we cannot bear it? Why don't you just say it and let us figure out whether we can handle it or not?

When parents ask me how to explain something like death to their children, I tell them not to hold back. I also remind them that I've only been a parent for eight years, so maybe they should ask someone else for advice, but, when it comes to my children, I don't pull punches. Death, sex, war, cancer, child abduction--it they want to ask about it, I'll tell them. No, I don't bring it up, but I'm ready to answer their questions honestly and openly. I trust that they will pick up what they can handle and leave behind what they can't. I don't make up false images that distract them from the truth because I am worried that they will have nightmares. Better that they have nightmares today than need intensive therapy in a decade because their father lied to them about sex.

Jesus, however, has another plan. There is something about his truth that cannot be received yet. He tells the disciples that they cannot bear what he would say to them. The word "bear" interests me. In this gospel account, John only uses that word "βαστάζω" or forms of it a few times. In John 10:31, the Jews picked up stones to throw at Jesus. In John 12:6, Judas is described as having pilfered what was put into the money box. In John 20:15, Mary Magdalene says to the risen Jesus, presuming him to be the gardener, "If you have carried him away, tell me." But there's one other use of that word in John that really sticks out. In John 19:17, Jesus went out bearing his own cross. (Thanks to Strong's Concordance for those references.)

In the synoptic gospel accounts, this sense of bearing one's cross is depicted as a requirement of discipleship: "And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, [Jesus] said to them, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me'" (Mark 8:34 ESV). In John, however, the only one who bears the cross is Jesus. There is no Simon of Cyrene who is compelled to carry it. There is no demand that those who would be his disciples must do the same. Only Jesus. And maybe it's because they aren't ready yet. They can't be ready yet.

Ultimately, the invitation to Christians is to participate in the divine life--to share in God's glory, as Paul puts it in Romans 5:1-5. And, like it or not, we cannot do that until we are able to participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus, which is in turn enabled by the Holy Spirit. In that sense, we cannot take up our own cross until Good Friday becomes Easter and Easter becomes Ascension and Ascension becomes Pentecost. Without the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit, we cannot bear the fullness of God's will for us. But now we can. Maybe that's what Trinity Sunday is about after all.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Practicing Silence

Lithium was always my favorite element. Number three on the periodic table, it is one of the simplest atoms. It is the least dense (i.e. lightest) solid element, causing it to float in the mineral oil in which it is usually stored. It is stored under oil because, like the rest of the elements in the family of alkali metals, it is highly reactive and will ignite if exposed to the air. Its hyperreactivity is the product of its configuration. Possessing a single unpaired valence electron, lithium is desperate to bond with anything, seeking a more stable arrangement in which that single electron can be shared with a partner element. Lithium is so unstable that, in the natural world, it is never found by itself and is always observed having already reacted with something else.

Reactivity is a meaningful measure used in chemistry, but it can also be used to help evaluate our spiritual health. How reactive are you? How comfortable are you in anxious situations? Are you constantly bouncing from one emotional state to another, or are you able to let the ups and downs of life pass you by without jumping onto life’s roller coaster? When another driver cuts you off, does the anger within you barely simmer, or do you tailgate that car for two miles while the steam pours out of your ears? When you receive an e-mail or a text message that puts you on the defensive, do you wait a day or two before responding, or do you send out the first thing that comes to your mind? When someone you love is facing a crisis, do you stand by and cheer that person on, or do you jump into the situation without hesitation and start trying to solve the problem for yourself?

For human beings, reactivity is not just a product of a particular circumstance but is also a reflection of one’s spiritual configuration. Some situations require an immediate reaction—a kitchen fire, an automobile accident—but most of the interactions of life allow for a surprisingly slow response. Other people’s anger does not need to become our anger. Other people’s anxiety does not need to affect us at all. But how? How are some people able to confront even the most volatile of circumstances without breaking a sweat? Why are some people able to love highly reactive people without becoming reactive themselves?

Another word for spiritual and emotional unreactivity is peace, and peace takes practice. The most effective way that I have found to cultivate peace in my life is to spend time in silence. In the spiritual sense, silence is more than the mere absence of sound, and there are many different ways to seek it. Earlier this week, I read a piece in the Washington Post by psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal about the benefits of transcendental meditation, which is a particular method of spending fifteen to twenty minutes at a time in meditative focus. In that method, the practitioner uses a word or phrase called a mantra to focus his or her attention while the rest of the world and the cares and concerns it brings fade away into silence. Although at first he did not detect any substantial change in his own behavior, Rosenthal reported that, as his practice developed through the years, his friends and family noticed a big change. Their comments and observations confirmed for him how meditation had helped him let go of anger, anxiety, and reactivity to become more gentle, joyful, and patient.

Although transcendental meditation is not explicitly Christian, Christians have been using similar techniques to immerse themselves in spiritually beneficial silence since the first hermit monks secluded themselves in the desert as early as the third century. One method is Centering Prayer, in which the individual chooses a sacred word not as a focus for their concentration as with a mantra but as an invitation into the presence of God. Imagine using a word like “Jesus” or “grace” or “love” to set aside all of the noises of the world in order to reconnect with God during twenty minutes of silence. Another method is Lectio Divina, in which the individual reads a passage from the bible and sits in a prolonged silence to listen to what the Holy Spirit will say through the text. As with other forms of Christian silence, the benefit comes not from scrutinizing the passage as a traditional student might but from sitting knowingly in God’s presence. At the beginning of a bible study or before meeting with someone for spiritual direction, I invite us to sit in silence as a way for to release our need for answers and acknowledge, instead, that the presence of God is what we really seek. In my personal piety, I most often practice silence within the Daily Office, using a long pause after each reading as a way to pray not by forming in my mind unspoken words but simply by making myself available to God.

I cannot say whether intentional silence makes me a better husband, father, or clergyperson, but I do know that, when I have drifted away from the practice, I become more reactive. I carry more anger and anxiety with me into every conversation. I receive each critical text message and e-mail with a diminished capacity for patience. When offering pastoral care, I find it harder to let go of my needs and focus on the needs of others.

Is your fuse a little shorter than it used to be? Are you angry or anxious at things that have not always bothered you? Is someone you love struggling in a way that seems to be dragging you down with that person? Silence is not a cure-all, but the practice of silence brings us in touch with the one who is in control—the God of love and peace and hope.

God's Gender-Neutral Facility

At some point around the fifth grade, I discovered Deuteronomy 23:10. Even the King James Version gave me a giggle: "He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord." I remember my Sunday school classmates asking what it meant and then bursting into laughter when they learned what "stones" and "privy member" represent. Put into simpler language, that verse tells us that "no one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord" (NRSV). Admittedly, I am no Torah expert, but I understand the thrust of that verse. There were certain expectations of those who would take part in the Lord's holy congregation. Borrowing (unfairly) from the language of Leviticus, the Lord is holy, so his people are to be holy, too. And, in that time and place and culture, an injury or abnormality in the male reproductive organs would single one out as unfit for admittance into God's holy gathering.

So what sort of people would Deuteronomy 23:1 exclude? Again, I'm no expert, but I imagine that there were some individuals who had been injured in a construction project or a farming accident, perhaps even gored by a bull. Others may have suffered from a sexually transmitted disease like syphilis, which may have resulted in castration. Maybe there were even a few boys whose circumcisions had gone tragically wrong, ironically rendering them unfit for participation in the Lord's assembly. More commonly, of course, certain men were chosen to be eunuchs--likely from an early age when they were unable to weigh the ramifications of an irreversible surgery. They were docile, impotent, and had no real sexual identity. Because they were unable to violate the ruler's wives, they made good workers for a harem, as we read in Esther 4:4. Regardless of the cause, men whose sexual organs were nonfunctioning were excluded because they did not belong amidst the holy people of God.

Many years after grade school, I discovered Isaiah 56:3-5, which seems to undo everything I thought about Deuteronomy 23:1.
Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and do not let the eunuch say,
    “I am just a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
    who choose the things that please me
    and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
    a monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off (NRSV).
I trust that the prophet knew the Torah well enough to know what Deuteronomy 23:1 plainly states about who is not allowed in the Lord's house. Still, he wrote of that time when "God's salvation will come, and [his] deliverance be revealed" (56:1b) as a time when even the eunuch would find a place in the Lord's temple--and not only a place but "a monument and a name better than sons and daughters." For the prophet, even the clear prohibitions of the Torah seem overcome by the Lord's vision for that one-day justice on which the whole world waits. Indeed, in the Lord's house, when all of God's dreams are fulfilled, the one who is defined by his sterility will no longer think of himself as a "dry tree."

I don't know about you, but I think it's pretty silly for people to confuse a belief in the bible with a desire to prevent people from using whatever bathroom they want to use.

I don't mean to suggest that transgendered individuals are the same thing as eunuchs. They aren't. I don't think transgendered people would really appreciate being lumped together with those represented by an anachronistic biblical image. Transgendered identity is more complicated than that. But, in biblical times, whether completely castrated, partially castrated, or sexually abnormal for another reason, eunuchs were individuals who did not fit into the prescribed male or female boxes that society laid out for them. They did not belong. They were neither male nor female, which is why they did not fit in God's holy assembly. Isaiah, however, saw things differently. He understood that the transformative, unifying power of God could overcome even those differences that seemed antithetical to the holiness of God.

I wasn't alive in 1956, so I don't know what it sounded like or felt like when Governor Shivers of Texas ignored the order of a federal judge to integrate the Mansfield school district and called upon the Texas Rangers to assist him in maintaining segregation. I wasn't alive in 1957, so I don't know what it sounded like or felt like when President Eisenhower sent federal troops to support the integration of Central High School in Little Rock in response to Governor Faubus' deployment of the National Guard to support the segregationists. I wasn't alive in 1963, so I don't know what it sounded like or felt like when Governor Wallace gave his inaugural address with the infamous line "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." I wasn't alive back then, so I can't say for sure, but, through the hindsight of history, the arguments made by those three governors sound and feel a lot like those who are decrying efforts by the federal government to protect the rights of individuals who want to use the bathroom that reflects the gender with which they identify. Does Governor Allen of Texas or Governor McCrory of North Carolina or Governor Bryant of Mississippi or Governor Hutchinson of Arkansas or Governor Bevin of Kentucky really want to be on that side of history? Do the people of God want to stand with them?

For some individuals, gender isn't as simple as male or female. That's true today, and it was true way back when the bible was being written. Eventually, God's prophets realized that gender confusion wasn't a reason to exclude someone from God's house. Thousands of years later, why would we let nontraditional gender identity be a reason to exclude someone from a public restroom? Perhaps someone could make a case for such discrimination, but I don't think the bible supports that view, and I don't think the constitution does either.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Don't Say What Can't Be Said

This week is every preacher's favorite Sunday: Trinity Sunday. Last Sunday, we received the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, and now, one week later, it's time to explain the mysterious doctrine of the Trinity--a doctrine at the heart of our faith yet essentially absent from scripture. That's right: there is no "One God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" in the bible. The closest we get are invocations at the end of Paul's letters, the creation narrative with its God, Word, Spirit imagery, or the words of Jesus to his disciples about his coming from the Father and the promised sending of the Spirit. So, yes, a sermon with no clear scriptural warrant. What could be more fun?

I'm preaching this Sunday, and I'll spend the week looking at the lectionary-appointed readings to see if any of them might lend itself to a coherent, non-heretical sermon fit for this feast. In weeks like this one, however, it often works best to pick a lesson and preach a sermon without any regard for the theme of the day. (Right now, I'm leaning towards Jesus' "this ain't over yet" advice in John 16.) But for today I'd like to invite you to consider modeling the doctrine of the Trinity instead of explaining it. After all, it can't be understood. Maybe the best we should hope for is to reflect the truth of God's Trinitarian nature in our worship.

How about this liturgical practice that completely blew me away? This past week, I had reason to browse the Eucharistic prayer from the 1662 BCP. (Don't ask; it happens.) In my reading of this beautifully Calvinistic, Epiclesis-absent rite, I noticed an asterisk that I had never noticed before. Immediately after the sursum corda, the celebrant continues, "It is very meet, right and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, *Holy Father, Almighty, Everlasting God." Have you ever noticed that asterisk before? Maybe it's just me, but, when I read the accompanying instruction in the margin beside it, I was taken aback: "These words [Holy Father] must be omitted on Trinity Sunday."

Wait, what? Omit "Holy Father" from the opening of the Eucharistic prayer? That's part of the auto-pilot words that priests say when they've offered these words to God in prayer over and over and over. You can't take them out. I mean, I get why one would do that. It's Trinity Sunday, and we want to reflect the unitary nature of the three persons by not using appropriation to artificially direct our prayers to the Father when it is, of course, the One-in-Three who always receives our prayers. But that change seems so inconsequential to everyone except the celebrant who must now train his focus on not reciting the words that are only omitted one day a year.

How long did this go on? I looked into it and found, again to my surprise, that this liturgical practice was used in the Episcopal Church all the way up until the 1928 Prayer Book. That means that for the majority of our church's Anglican history--stretching from 1662 (the rubric doesn't appear in earlier versions) all the way through the 1920s--we dropped the reference to the Father on Trinity Sunday. Leaving it in, therefore, is just a newfangled liturgical innovation--like the Peace.

So what's the point? Leave it out this Sunday? No, I don't think so. But I do think we should look deeply and specifically at our worship and wonder to ourselves--perhaps even aloud--at the ways in which our worship reflects our belief in the Trinity or, perhaps more often, masks that belief. Are we separating the works of the persons, making one Creator, one Redeemer, and one Sanctifier? Heresy! Are we pretending that the death of the Son satisfies the wrath of the Father? Heresy! Are we praying to the Father, through the Spirit, in the name of the Son? Unless we see that the separation is only a pretense to help us make sense of it, it's a heresy.

The truth is that we can't say much about God. In fact, when preachers like me try to explain anything about God, we usually end up making the situation worse. The best we can do is not do any harm. This Sunday, don't do any harm. Get out of the way. Trust that God--Father, Son, and Spirit--is drawing us into the divine life. Don't split it up to make sense of it. But listen for it. Look for it. Take a long, careful look at the liturgy--as if you were presiding for the very first time all over again--and see how what we will do reflects what we believe about God. When it comes to the Trinity, it's always easier to do it than to say it.