Archive | May 2015

The Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit

(John 3:1-17)

I speak to you in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen

One of the first sermons I delivered here at Saint John’s, without realizing when I agreed to preach, was Trinity Sunday in 2011. I have to tell you, of all the Sundays in the year, this is the one that makes even the most seasoned priests quake in their shoes. This is probably the most difficult to preach on because the concept of the Trinity and the concept of ‘three-in-one’ is hard enough to understand for those trained in theology.

There is an inside joke among clergy:

mystery of trinity - let deacon preach
Today is Trinity Sunday. Since Pope John XXII, the western church has set this Sunday aside for reflection on the tremendous mystery of the Trinity. When we sing the words of one of our best known hymns, Holy, Holy, Holy, we sing, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

Praising the Holy Trinity has been going on for almost 1690 years since Emperor Constantine called 317 bishops from all over the Christian world to settle the question of the divinity of Jesus Christ in 325 CE. They settled the question of whether Christ was simply another great prophet and teacher — even a high ranking angel from God — or was he the divine Son of God, co-equal and co-eternal with God?

The church fathers had spent hundreds of years trying to reach agreement on the doctrine of the Trinity. And we, as preachers, are supposed to pull something ‘out of the hat’ that explains the Trinity as a matter of fact. I will say, since 2011, I have been studying and researching, bound and determined that I would purposely select this Sunday and give my best try at explaining the Trinity. . .

may I leave you with some understanding and no more confusion than you had before.

I have come to the conclusion, after almost four years of studying, that we CAN NOT fully explain the Trinity… we can only speak of things that we can understand that might suggest the Trinity.

Did you know that Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday in the entire Christian Calendar which celebrates a doctrine; and it is an unfinished doctrine, a mystery that is not completed or understood. And many would say that there is reason that only one doctrine is celebrated; because nobody wants to hear a sermon on a doctrine.

But today is Trinity Sunday — what on earth could I say about the Trinity that was new?! How do I even begin to explain the mystery? So it came to me — I CAN’T explain the mystery. No one can. No one has the ability to fathom the mystery, so we express it in symbols — and we look around the church and find Trinitarian symbols.

A doctrine by its nature is an abstraction – never referenced directly in scripture; others still, would state that the Trinity is the most unattainable doctrine of them all.

There are two concrete facts about the Trinity:

  • There is no reference in the Bible to the “Trinity”
  • There is no reference in the Bible to the “Triune God”.

The Trinity has been explained in many ways from very heavy philosophical ideas to picture metaphors like a three leaf clover. With any of these, it is important to remember that none of them describes God in his very being or essence. That cannot be done. The Trinity is a statement of how God relates, not how God is. When it comes to our relating to God, we can’t pin God down to one thing or one way. When we consider one way to view God there is always another way. But why three, as in the Trinity? Who knows? But we do know that just as we can’t pin God down to one of our simplistic ideas, we also can’t pin God down to three either, or any one of the three.

Throughout the centuries, Christians have striven to express this triune understanding of the oneness of God’s in various ways. The underlying belief is that God’s very being is reflected in his creation.

  • Augustine spoke of the Lover (Father), Beloved (Son), and the Love shared between the two (Spirit)
  • John of Damascus was one among many early church fathers who spoke of water that bubbled up from a spring, flowed into a river, and reached its source in the ocean. Water is one, yet spring, river, and ocean are distinctive expressions of it.
  • Martin Luther spoke of the root, trunk, and fruit of a tree as the living God traceable in his creation.
  • The Desert Fathers (the two Gregorys and Basil) compared the members of the Trinity to the source of light (Father), the light itself that illumines (Son), and the warmth when you feel the light (Spirit)

Can we be like God?

Remember, we are the image of God. In that image we also cannot be pinned down to one way of relating. We are all many things. What wonderful surprises we all are, just as God is always a wonderful surprise. God is everywhere; look at the beautiful sunset. God is there. Look at the home destroyed by a tornado. God is there. God is in the tears of joy and in the tears of sorrow.

St. Augustine, one of the most astute thinkers the Christian Church has ever produced, was walking along the seashore one day while pondering the doctrine of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He seemed to hear a voice saying, “Pick up one of the large sea shells there by the shore.” So he picked it up. Then the voice said, “Now pour the ocean into the shell.” And he said, “Lord, I can’t do that.” And the voice answered, “Of course not. In the same way, how can your small, finite mind ever hold and understand the mystery of the eternal, infinite, Triune God?”

The Holy Trinity is not a debatable doctrine: it is an icon, a window into God. It is a parable, a paradox that invites us to behold the mystery of the Divine. All these efforts to help us in our understanding of God do not explain him in completeness, they keep us mindful of a mystery – an essence that comes through to us in a tri-fold fashion. We have the Trinity, the Three in One.

God The Creator: called Father, not because God is a male – God is beyond all gender, male or female – nor because the first person of the Godhead is like a father. We call the first person Father because this is the Father of the Son and the source of the Spirit. We call the first person of the Godhead “Father” because that is what Jesus called him and taught us to call him. Through Jesus, the One Jesus called “Abba Father,” is also “Our Father” – who is the source of all that has ever been, is, or will ever be created.

God The Redeemer: we call the second person of the Godhead “Son” because he comes from the Father, was sent by God to us, to be God with us, to live out his life with us and for us, as one of us. He was not a hologram; he was flesh and blood. He was , the greatest gift from God who saved the world, all of creation, all of US, through His living, teaching, sacrifice and resurrection. We know Jesus as the Son not only because he was of the flesh, but as the Gospel of John confesses, because of his life lived out in obedience to his Father (John 4:34).

God The Sanctifier: When Jesus prepared to return to his Father, he promised another Advocate – the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit–the presence of God would be with us (John 15:26). The Holy Spirit brings new birth from above, to transform, renew, sustain, to make us children of God. It is the Spirit’s work to make the bread Jesus’ body, and the wine Jesus’ blood to draw us into Christ’s risen. The Holy Spirit is the wireless connection between us and the Son, and us and the Father, because they are “hard-wired” together in the one essence we call ‘God’.

The Father is not the Son or the Spirit, but the Father, creator of heaven and earth. The Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit, but God in human flesh, sent as the Savior to redeem the world through divine love. The Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son, but God’s presence with us today, the means by which you and I come to experience and know God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit – three distinct means of God being over us and above us, with us and for us, and in and among us, – three distinct relationships with one another, who are nonetheless one in essence. What one wills all three will, what one does all three do–they work in concert, the three playing their different parts–three voices emerging from the same string at the same time, forming a trio of melodies that harmonize into one glorious sound, in order to accomplish the same purpose–as indivisible in their work as they are in their being–One God in three co-equal persons.

The Trinity is even a statement of our faith: God created us, saved us, and sanctifies us. God invites us back to Him, back to the Creator, back to the Redeemer, back to the Sanctifier. God calls us home, for we are created in God’s image, and God’s image and Spirit are within us. God is the Trinity. God is Unity. God is One. And God wants to share that Oneness in love. Within God, and with each and all of us, God wants to be ONE….WITH US!

This is the mystery of God we celebrate today: God over and above us, God for and with us, God in and among us, One God, the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, the God who in the waters of baptism makes us his own, the God who meets us at table to give us the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation, the God who is in us and among us, using us to share the good news of his love and purpose for us all.

In the Nicaean Creed we will recite, we affirm that we believe in One God, the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

It would be appropriate for you to say, when trying to understand the Trinity:

“Why bother? I have enough problems with things that I understand, let alone things that I don’t understand.”

Surprisingly, there are THREE good reasons why we should attempt to understand the mystery of the Trinity.

The first reason is that Jesus revealed the Trinity to us. The existence of the Father, of himself, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, whom He and the Father sent forth upon the apostles. Jesus came and lived among us to teach us, to show us how to live and how to love, He worked miracles and died for our sins and rose from the dead to show us the way to eternal life. So whatever Jesus revealed to us, He revealed for a reason and it is important for us to pay attention to it and try to understand it as best we can.

Secondly, while we cannot grasp the idea of one God – three persons – each of them God, we can recognize that the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the perfect model of harmony and unity, a community of relationship, so perfectly intertwined that you cannot tell where one begins and the other ends.

The third and most important reason is that in the first chapter of Genesis, humankind, you and I, are created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, since Jesus has revealed to us the essence of God as perfect unity, harmony, community and relationship, then the very core of our creation is a call to perfect harmony, community and relationship. This is the real challenge living in a society where individualism is promoted. Nonetheless, we are called to expand our circle of relationship to include more and more people.

We are called to worship the One who created the world. We are called to worship the One who loved the world enough to come into the world and invite us into relationship. We are called to worship the One who comes as Holy Spirit, blowing where it will. This is the Holy Trinity: a mystery we catch glimpses of as we seek to know and love.

A Blessing for Trinity Sunday
In this new season may you know the presence of the God who dwells within your days,
the mystery of the Christ who drenches you in love,
the blessing of the Spirit who bears you into life anew.

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church on 31 May 2015

We ALL Make Mistakes

Last Sunday we discussed how we choose our friends and associates and how we faced our problems; I asked you to think about times you were faced with a problem, what you did about it, or what happened if you ignored it. Does anyone want to share with us?


Seems to me that some of what you shared with us was about times you made a mistake – whether it was intentional, . . . you didn’t do anything when you felt you should, . . you thought you did the wrong thing.

So, today let’s talk about our making mistakes – or things that we may have thought were mistakes.

How many of you have never made a mistake,

Done something you later regretted?


Didn’t think so. . .

When we make a mistake, we often feel that somehow we have failed; and failure, in this society, is something that is very negative. A lot of people view failure as a sign of weakness, a character flaw.

But let me tell you, failure is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw – failure means you TRIED to do something. You didn’t sit in a chair and fuss over what you should or should not do; you don’t convince yourself that it was someone else’s responsibility; you didn’t ignore the whole situation. If you have done nothing and ignored the problem or thought someone else would take care of it, it is the FAILURE.

One of the most important ways we learn is we learn from what didn’t go right and move on. . . move on to a new beginning. So when things do turn out like we wanted, there are a couple of things we can do to learn and move on. In fact, it is through failures that we learn.

The first thing we need to do is stop being scared of failing.

    How many times have we thought about doing something that we knew was right and stopped short, because we were afraid we would do something wrong. . .

    We might make a mistake . . .

    or be criticized . . .

    do something that would made us look foolish?

    We all make mistakes, we all have failures – unless we don’t try at all. And if we don’t try, we are stuck where we are FOREVER!

    No growth . . .

    no successes. . .

    no happiness

    Everyone fails. You can’t succeed if you’d don’t try. It is a part of life. It is normal and expected!

    Doing something and getting it wrong is at least ten times more productive than doing nothing at all. Every time we try and make mistakes or fail, we learn something from those mistakes and succeed the next time we try. . . or the next time . . . or the next time. Behind every success is often a trail of failures, and every failure is leading toward that success. If we do not try, we end up regretting the things we did NOT do, often for the rest of our lives.

    Nobody ever feels 100% ready when an opportunity arises. Most great opportunities force us to grow beyond our comfort zones, which means we won’t feel totally comfortable at first. But as long as we try, we are moving toward a new beginning.

The second thing we need to do is stop beating ourselves up for old failures and mistakes.

    None of us have lived as long as we have without making mistakes:

    we may have become involved the wrong person,

    let ourselves become addicted to substances,

    made decisions that were not in our best interest,

    were hurtful to others.

    That is a part of life – you have not lived unless you have made some mistakes along the way.

    But no matter how things go wrong, one thing is for sure, mistakes help us find the person and things that are right for us. We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But

    we ARE NOT our mistakes,

    we ARE NOT our struggles.

    Mary Pickford, a silent screen actress, once said:

    “To fall is not to fail, unless you fail to get up again”

    The people who rarely fail are usually the ones who never do anything – and trying involves taking a risk – daring to do something, take a stand, or make a commitment. But you have heard the old saying

    “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” –

    And that is always true!

    The Psalmist David tells us in Psalm 37:23-24:

    If the LORD delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.

    In Philippians 3:13 the Apostle Paul tells us to :

    forget those things which are behind and reach forward to those things which are ahead

    We are




    with the power to shape our day and our future. Every single thing that has ever happened in our life was preparing us for today and the future.

    So if we want to move forward to a new beginning, we need to

      • Cultivate friends that lift us up and support our best self
      • Face our problems head on
      • Think of our successes and hopes and dreams
      • Always try to solve things no matter how difficult.

    Remember this: we can do wonderful things if we just

      • Don’t dwell what ‘didn’t happen’;
      • Don’t hang around with those people who drag us down
      • Believe in ourselves – thinking we can do something is halfway to doing and being.
      • Learn from our mistakes, but don’t dwell on them; move past them, remembering what we learned from them;
      • Be open to new experiences; don’t be afraid to try – take a chance!

    Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 24 May 2015
    NOTE: This is part two of a series about how to have a new beginning, overcome old habits and how to discover joy in our lives. – deniray

We CAN Have A New Beginning

We all have dreams and hopes – things we want to accomplish, places we want to go, goals we want to achieve. And some of us work very hard to achieve those dreams. And some of us only allow them to only be ‘dreams’ in our heads and hearts. But we don’t have to let them stay as pipe dreams. We can all work toward making those dreams come true. . . if we just don’t let anything hold us back.

Over the next few weeks I will be addressing how we can

    • feel better about ourselves,
    • be more successful in what we want to do, and
    • be happier in the ‘here and now’,

no matter where we are in our life’s journey.

Today we are going to talk about what keeps holding us back from doing what we want to do and being what we were meant to be.

We all know that nobody can go back and start over; there are no ‘do-overs’.

    what is in the past is done. . .

    gone. . .

    We can never get it back

but we can all begin today and start a new beginning.

But before we can begin to really change our lives and begin a changed and dreamed of life, we have to stop doing some things that have been holding us back. There are lots of things that hold us back from coming from where we are to going where we want to be. Some of these are hardships (deaths of special people in our lives, illness) that are, for the most part, out of our control. We can’t do anything about them, but we can make the most of it, deal with it and move one.

And we all have set-backs in our lives (loss of job, homelessness, addiction). We have to remember that these can often be temporary – we can get past those and start of new beginning. There are a couple of things that we often do that really cause us not to be able to move forward.

The first thing we need to do is stop spending time with the wrong people.

    We all have experiences in our lives where we ran around with a crowd that makes us less of a person. And it is very easy, as we try to build a new life, to return to those who are we comfortable with. If we suffer from domestic abuse or addiction, the lure back to the ‘old life’ is extremely strong. And we often come back to the destructive behavior and lifestyle because it is familiar, comfortable. We think these are ‘our people’ – that they understand us, love us, and will support our growth. But returning to the ‘old life’ makes it almost impossible to start that new beginning.

    It’s kind of like the old saying: “why do you expect different results by doing the wrong thing even harder”?

    Life is too short to spend time with people who suck the happiness out of us, drag us down, or don’t want us to have a new beginning. If someone wants us in their life, they’ll support our growth. We need to stay away from anyone who continuously makes us feel small, insignificant, unworthy. Remember, a true friend is one who stands beside you when you’re at your worst, not just when you are on the top.

    We need to find a group of people who support us, want to grow with us, want to share the new experiences and achievements with us. I hope that each of you, in some way, find that within the community of In The Garden. We are here to support you, walk with you on the journey and show you that not only do we love you, but you are all children of God, beloved children of God.

Secondly, we need to stop running from our problems.

    None of us want to admit that we have problems. Most of us would rather not deal with them, some of us just ignore them all together. Some of us have the ‘head in sand’ philosophy – if we ignore them, they will go away. But we all know, they do not go away. We must face them head on. No, it won’t be easy.

    No one in the world can dodge every punch thrown at them. We may be able to deflect some, but there is always an uppercut that is going to get us on the chin. We aren’t supposed to be able to instantly solve problems. That’s not how we’re made. In fact, we were created to get upset, sad, hurt, stumble and fall.

    Look at little babies, if they don’t stumble and fall and get back up, they never learn to walk or learn all the wonderful things in the world. That’s the whole purpose of living – to face problems, learn, solve them and change our lives over time. This is what shapes and transforms us into the person we become. That’s what allows us to enjoy our life and the wonders of this world.

    Each and every problem or setback has a lesson for us to learn if we just listen, pay attention, and think about it. How many of us have heard as a child that we need to stand up and face a problem?

    Can’t you remember your mother or aunt or someone saying that to you? Someone who jerked you up by the back of the collar (or by your ear) and made you face the problem.

    We know that there is always a solution to any problem if we just look it in the face . . .

    call it what it is . . .

    and patiently and thoughtfully think about what we really need to do.

    And there are lots of people (in the new community) who are willing to help us solve the problem. The solution may not come quickly or be exactly what we would like, but there are solutions to any problem. Some solutions to problems may take time and others may never be totally resolved. But we cannot move on to a new beginning if we don’t stop running from our problems.

So if we want to move forward to a new beginning, we have to stop

    • Spending time with the wrong people
    • Stop running from our problems.

Remember this: we can do wonderful things if we just

    • Don’t dwell on the ‘didn’t happens’;
    • Don’t hang around with those people who drag us down
    • Believe we can – thinking we can is halfway to doing and being.

I would like for you to think in the coming week about times you have either faced your problems and found a solution or times that you were not so successful in overcoming obstacles. And for those who are willing, we would like for you to share them. Who knows, someone may be dealing with the same problem and your experience could help them.

Delivered to In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 17 May 2015
NOTE: Ascension Sunday is something that has little or no reference for most of the people who frequent In The Garden. Their real needs are hearing of God’s love and how to take their lives, where they are, and make them better. ‘Better’ is a relative term to most of us; because of circumstances or decisions made in their lives, what is better for them may not seem significant to most of us, but to them just leaving feeling that they are loved and people care about them is more important to them than how we would feel if we won the lottery. These are God’s ‘least of these’ and it is our responsibility and biblical imperative and baptismal commitment to care for them.

Not surprising to me, there were lots of ‘amens’ throughout the homily; these people are far more aware of their shortcoming and hopes and dreams than most who sit in the conventional pews on Sunday. But what surprised me was the response at the end – applause and gratitude for talking about how to make their lives better in ways that were not theoretical, but things that they could and some would do. The community of In The Garden gives to me much more than I ever feel I share with them. – deniray

Happy Mother’s Day 2015

Today we celebrate Mother’s Day – a day to honor the mothers in our lives, or those who loved and nurtured and led us on the path to adulthood.

But did you know that the original purpose of Mother’s Day was NOT to honor mothers? It was started in 1870 by mothers who had lost their sons in the Civil War. It was an anti-war celebration; as a humanist who cared about suffering people – as well as a feminist and a suffragette who advocated social justice – Julia Ward Howe penned her “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870 as an appeal to mothers to spare their sons and the sons of others from the cruelties of war.

    a far way away from what is has become today!

In 1907 Anna Jarvis began a crusade for a national holiday to honor mothers after the second anniversary of her mother’s death. Her campaign resulted in a Congressional resolution in 1914, signed by President Woodrow Wilson, proclaiming Mother’s Day as a national holiday to be celebrated on the second Sunday in May. Mother’s Day is now celebrated in over 46 countries around the world.

Today, over 139 million Mother’s Day cards are mailed each year to mothers, mothers-in-laws, grandmothers, aunts and other women who have been significant in someone’s life. Between cards and flowers and chocolates, children spend over $20.7 billion every year on Mother’s Day.

That’s a lot to, in small way, say ‘thank you’ to our mothers.

Before you guys start screaming that you are being left out, Father’s Day was established in 1910 by Grace Golden Clayton, mourning her father. After many tries to get it declared a holiday, Franklin Roosevelt signed a proclamation in 1966 naming the third Sunday of June as ‘Father’s Day’. Surprisingly, it was the men who objected, saying it was just a reasons for businesses to make money.

So know now know the ‘rest of the story’.

Mother’s Day is not a happy day to all people.

Some churches make a big deal about Mother’s Day – handing out flowers, making them stand in the service, having Mother’s Day luncheons. That all sounds nice, but to some members of the congregation, this is a most painful time of the yea; I know several women who will not go to church on Mother’s Day. Whether they had a dysfunctional relationship with their mother, cannot become mothers, have lost their children, did not have a mother, or are single, this is a very difficult time for them.

And I can venture a guess that there are many of you here today that fall into one of those categories. And there are many of you who had a wonderful relationship with their mothers.

So let’s take a few minutes, if you are willing, to talk about our mothers – the good and the bad.

Let me start:

    My mother was the only girl in a family of five boys – they treated her unmercifully and her father and my grandmother divorced when she was young. She was cared for by my grandmother and great-aunt until she could go to school. The boys were older and could function by themselves. She always resented her father for leaving my grandmother. I was born at the end of World War II, with my father in the Army Air Force. My mother and I lived in the country in central Illinois, where she saw no adult except the coalman once a week for deliveries. To keep from losing her mind, she treated me like a ‘miniature adult’. There were lots of positive things about that, but I never was allowed to be a child. I was held to higher standards than the other children and always had to be a ‘good girl’ and do what the people in authority told me to do. I am thankful for her teaching me to read and becoming an adult, but it took many years to therapy to understand that she did the best she could do.

Does anyone else have something to tell us about your mother or the primary caregiver in your life?


So as we close, let us be thankful that we had someone who tried to care for us. And most of all, let us remember, that in most cases, our mothers did the best they could do. . .

they tried their best to raise us into good people.

Let us pray:

On this Mother’s Day, we give thanks to God for the divine gift of motherhood in all its forms. Let us pray for all the mothers among us today; for our own mothers, those living and those who have passed away; for the mothers who loved us and for those who fell short of loving us fully; for all who hope to be mothers someday and for those whose hope to have children has been frustrated; for all mothers who have lost children; for all women and men who have mothered others in any way — those who have been our substitute mothers and we, who have done so for those in need. We pray this all in the name of God our great and loving Mother. Amen
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 10 May 2015

Southernism: Queer as a Three Dollar Bill (or LGBT in the Southland)

insightful, even if you don’t live in the South


southern easter brunch

In Southernisms, we look at common southern phrases, practices, foods, music, or culture, usually after allowing readers to comment using a hashtag.  This began as #youmightbegltbinthesouthif but I expanded it to help reference some of the ways LGBT life is changing in the south.  I hope to next talk about the “new south” and the fusion of traditional southern culture with new trends.  Post a description of something you think of as a fun, thought-provoking, or quirky example of the newsouth with #newsouth, and share it here on this blog post or on our facebook page.

This Easter Saturday, for the second year in a row, my wife Katharine and I were blessed to go to the home of two of our friends in the Triangle area of North Carolina for an old fashioned southern brunch with a twist.  As with any southern brunch, there is rich food.  There are…

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