Tag Archive: Trinity


Sunday’s sermon from Community Lutheran in Sterling, VA.

Today is Holy Trinity Sunday, and I’d like to begin by saying that I don’t understand the Trinity.  Amen.  Nah… just kidding – you can’t get off that easy! And I think Pr. Joe is with me on this, too.  I find that no amount of seminary training or theological study can help us fully grasp the Holy Trinity.  As St. Augustine put it in a sermon: “What then are we to say of God? For if you have grasped what you wish to say, it is not God. If you had been able to comprehend it, you would have comprehended something else in the place of God. If you had been almost able to comprehend it, your mind has deceived you. It is not God, if you have understood it.  But if it is God, you have not understood it.”  Whoa… That was not so helpful, Augustine…

The God we confess as three distinct persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is a mystery.  On the one hand, I sometimes find this mystery frustrating as I try to understand and to explain it to others, and maybe you do, too.  On the other hand, however, I find that the doctrine of the Trinity is always inviting me to a deeper encounter with God and with others.

The idea that the God we worship exists as three persons in relationship with one another – in community – is amazing to me.  At the core of God’s very being is relationship.  One of the best depictions of this that I’ve seen is Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity.  Painted in 1425, this icon features three divine angels seated around a table.  These figures are taken from the description of the angels who met Abraham and Sarah at Mamre. The figures not only relate to one another through their body language and hand gestures, but also through the rich blue color, a symbol of divinity, used on a portion of each of their garments.  These holy beings not only form a circle and a community by themselves, but they invite the viewer into the conversation and intimacy of the table.

Trinity Rublev

Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity

This is the community, relationship and intimacy into which God graciously invites us.  God the loving Father calls us through the Holy Spirit to an encounter with Jesus Christ – God in the flesh, visible and approachable.  God invites us into the holy conversation and leaves a space at the table open for each of us, inviting us to join the party!

Today’s texts speak about God as community.  We hear it in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians just as we hear it every week in our worship: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”  And in the Gospel we hear Jesus tell the eleven disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” 

Both of these verses point to the second part of trying to grasp the Trinity.  The triune God doesn’t just invite us into relationship with God, but calls us into relationship with one another.  God draws and gathers us together through the Holy Spirit as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Today, we are reminded of this incredible good news in the celebration of the baptism of Xander.  In baptism, we are not only brought into relationship with God through water and God’s promises, but also made a part of the community of Christians here in this place and around the world.

Because God exists as community, communion with God is always communion with one another.  We come together for worship every week to pray together, to share Christ’s peace with those around us, to sing songs in unity and harmony, to receive communion from and with others, and to be blessed to go back into the world to share the communion we’ve experienced here.  We come to deepen our relationship with God and we wondrously find ourselves in relationship with one another.

When I was a new to the Christian faith, I thought I could read my Bible and study on my own.  I found, however, that I wanted to be able to discuss faith and life with others who were trying to follow Christ.  I wanted to be with others who knew God and could help me learn more.  After being a part of a community in high school that proved divisive, I was ready to quit organized religion.  I decided that I would follow Christ, but on my own – without a community.  Sure, I would talk to my Christian friends about faith, but I wanted no part of church life. 

Once studying in Germany, I thought I’d give church another shot.  And so after a time, I found myself nervously walking down a street to a small church in Freiburg, Germany.  I was alone and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be welcomed, or that I wouldn’t understand anything, or that there would be the same insider/outsider lines drawn at this church as I had experienced before.  I prayed and told God as I walked that I was nervous and the response I received was what we heard in Matthew’s Gospel, “You are not alone – I am always with you.”  I ended up loving being a part of that little community, trying to sing the hymns and follow the service.  There, I found people willing to help me learn the liturgy, people who welcomed me although I was a foreigner, people who invited me over for Easter lunch since I was alone, and people who invited me to take my place at God’s table.

Once back in the States, I thought that I might not find another church as welcoming as the one in Germany, so I again avoided organized religion.  That was all well and good until I realized that I was missing out on being able to talk to others about faith. I felt kind of isolated.  I had questions and I wanted grow in my faith, but I needed support.  I was hungry for God and I found myself missing Holy Communion – I longed for and needed to hear those words, “the body of Christ given for you,” “the blood of Christ shed for you.”  So again, I nervously stepped through the doors of a Lutheran church.  The rest is, well, history in the making!

No community is perfect.  I have experienced ugliness in the church and maybe you have, too.  We’re always a motley crew of sinner/saints all gathered together.  But I have also experienced the incredible beauty of community.  I have been formed and shaped, welcomed, loved and taught by pastors and laypeople alike.  And my relationship with God continues to grow because of the encounters I have in this community of faith.  When young and old offer their gifts, or a child offers a prayer during the Children’s Message, or I listen to the wonderful conversations at Bible Study, Adult Forum, or Adults Anonymous, I catch glorious glimpses of God in community.  Where have you seen the face of Christ in this gathering? Who has helped to form and shape your faith?

We all need others to remind us of God and point to God.  There’s too much hatred, hurt and pain in the world for us to bear by ourselves.  And when we’re hurting or don’t know where to turn, we need others to help us see that God is with us.  We need others to care, ask about our lives, and to say, “I’m praying for you.”  We need people to share how God has been active in their lives to encourage us in our journeys.  We need others to inspire us to step out of our comfort zones by sharing their gifts.  In short, we need one another – each and every person.  That kind of sharing and mutual support takes real vulnerability – the type that says, “I struggle, too, but let’s lean on and learn from one another.”  Are we ready for that?

In World Cup terms, it takes a team of eleven working together to be successful.  Usually there are a multitude of passes and maneuvers before anyone can score a goal.  Or, as some might say, a “GGGOOOOOOLLLLL!” Hmmm, now that I think about it, Jesus sent out 11 disciples in today’s text – coincidence, I think not! The point is that no one can maintain the marathon up and back pace of a 90-minute soccer game and score by themselves.  They need their teammates.

Today’s Gospel says that Jesus came to the eleven disciples on that mountaintop and they both worshiped and doubted.  And in my experience, that seems about right.  We worship and doubt, wrestle and struggle.  And still, in spite of their doubt, Jesus sends the disciples out to make communities in the name of the holy community.  Even without perfect faith or complete understanding, he still tells them to baptize, to share the good news, to make disciples, and to teach.  Because the thing is, he’s going to be with them.  ALWAYS. Even until the end of the age.  We will keep messing up, but Jesus continues to forgive us and send us out to build relationships and community in the name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  To keep trying to live out our new lives in Christ together in community because where two or three are gathered, Christ is there among them. 

We are not perfect and we never will be, but the God who does live in perfect communion continues to call us together and to breathe new life into us through the Spirit.  So maybe we won’t always understand the Trinity completely.  But the faces around us will help us understand that God, the three-in-one, calls us to live out our faith in community because it is through relationship with others and the sacraments that we experience God.  And I have learned that I need that community, always, even to the end of the age.  Don’t you? Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Community Life

Hi friends!  I’ve been bad about updating this blog, but it’s because there’s been a ton of fun things going on, and that’s a good thing, right?  Over the past month or so, I’ve been living at the Collegium Oecumenicum in Munich and it’s been great! One thing I’ve really been thinking about is community.  Here, I live with about 50 other students from all over the world.  I share a floor with others, which means that I share bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room with other people.  Some people might shirk at the idea of living together and having to share with others, but I actually think it’s a great thing that everyone should do – at least once!  And, for the record, this is my second round of living in a Wohngemeinschaft (WG – or, “flat-sharing community”).

So now you may be wondering why I would want to live like this, right?  Well, I can sum it up in one word: community.  Here at the Collegium, we have the opportunity to eat breakfast and lunch in the large dining hall, or we can cook in the kitchens found on each of the floors.  In doing so, it means that we often run into others who are in the dining hall or in the kitchen at the same time.  This leads to fun conversations, or to making plans to go out and do things in the city or the surrounding area, or to delicious community meals.  Last night, for example, many of us pooled our resources to make a huge dinner of salad, bread, pasta, and homemade tomato sauce (yes, bread and pasta – I think we were carbo-loading!).  All shared what they had and helped with the cooking and cleaning.  It was a blast and we had plenty of food to left over for today.  It was truly beautiful because everything was freely shared and enjoyed.

And this is not the only time in my life I’ve experienced this.  People here and in Freiburg, where I studied before, – poor students, mind you! – have been so generous with what they have.  When I think about this, I think of the wealth we have in the States (and in a large part of the developed world in general) and the fact that it seems the more wealth we have, the more people seem to clench their fists tightly around what they have.  “This is mine…,” we say (myself included), and we insinuate that these possessions will not change hands any time soon.

I’ve also been struck by how the members of this community support one another.  I was quite nervous a few weeks ago because I had an important interview, but my roommates stepped up and listened to me, later asking how everything had gone and rejoicing with me when things went well.  People really paid attention and cared about what was going on in my life.  This is also something I’ve experienced in the community at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and within various church communities.  It makes such a difference to know that people are really looking after you – that they are listening to you, praying for/with you, and that they follow up with you.

This particular community at the Collegium is also drawn together by our mutual belief in Jesus Christ and I’m really enjoying my experience here.  I find it exciting and refreshing that people invite others to attend church services of various flavors and that faith is something that is openly discussed here.  In an increasingly secular country (32-37% do not profess a religion), I find a great deal of hope in the students gathered here who explore and struggle with faith together.  We’re a community of people that gather together from various backgrounds in worship, confessing our faith together in the Apostle’s Creed and praying the Lord’s Prayer together.  These confessions and prayers happen in whatever language people choose and many have remarked how fascinating it is that, somehow, we all begin and end together when we speak, even if we’re not using the same language.  We’re a people who break bread and share wine together, both in the Eucharist and in every day meals.

Don’t get me wrong, I love having my own personal space, but there is something truly wonderful about living together in community.  It’s not always easy or perfect, but there’s a holiness or a sacredness that happens in community when people come together in spite of their differences.  Communities challenge and stretch us – they force us to examine ourselves and how we interact with others.  And besides, the Trinity, is, after all, a community, isn’t it?

So my question here is how can we intentionally build community where we are?  We may not live in a WG (“flat-sharing community”), but we can still work at building these communities in our churches and in our neighborhoods.  Maybe the foundations have already been laid and there only needs to be a critical mass of people who are willing to commit to spending time together, listening to and caring for one another, or working together to transform the local neighborhood.  The church should be a natural place to start, but if community is lacking, how can you help to foster change?  What ideas do you have?  I’d love to hear them!

For me, though, it’s late…and I don’t want to miss the morning breakfast with everyone!

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Here’s the sermon I preached last week at Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, DC.

It’s Holy Trinity Sunday.  Now, I’ve been pondering for a couple of weeks now, wracking my brain about what to say about the Trinity.  If you want to tie your brain in knots, I recommend thinking about the Trinity.  It’s something we can take for granted because we use the language of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” all the time.  And we speak of God as being three persons, but I don’t know if we actually pause to think about what that means.  God is three-in-one, one-in-three.  As someone put it, 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 What?!  I’m no mathematician, but that does not add up.  So, pondering the Trinity blows my mind a little bit.

In preparing for this sermon this week, I sat down to pray, asking for inspiration and guidance.  And I was surprised and delighted by how God answered my prayer.  As I sat silently, I was overcome by a sense of being invited to just be with God.  To simply experience God.  To stop thinking about God or the Trinity in abstract terms and to just sit with the triune God.

Now the best word I have to describe what I experienced is “invitation.”  And I think that’s what the Isaiah and Romans readings for today, and indeed the whole Bible do.  They invite us to get to know God – not as a doctrine, but to experience the living, active, mysterious God – three-in-one – in our own lives.  The ways in which the authors speak about God are vastly different, but I think this only serves to show the breadth, depth and mystery of God.  These texts invite us into life with the triune God in diverse ways, and they remind us that we can never quite figure God out completely.  They also remind us that our encounters with and our ways of speaking about the triune God might look or sound a bit different from one person to the next.  Overall, they invite us to experience God and to keep our hearts open on the journey.

When I was young, my mom, my brother Zack and I were walking along Carroll Creek in Frederick.  Now if you’re familiar with the creek, you know that there is a bridge there that is concrete, but painted beautifully to look like real stone.  The technique used on this bridge is called trompe l’oeil, which is French for “deceive the eye.”  There are several such paintings in Frederick including one of an old angel who is leaning out of a window, one of ducks flying through an open window, and one of a man who has his arms outstretched.

That day when we were walking along the Creek, the artist was painting the bridge.  We stopped to watch him, filled with awe and wonder at the amazing work he was doing.  Then, to our surprise, he asked my brother and I if we wanted to help him paint the gate he was working on.  We were all shocked!  My mom, naturally worried that her little children would not have the same skill as the artist, asked him if he was sure he wanted to let us paint!  He smiled and without hesitating said, “yes.”

Under the watchful eye and with the guiding hand of the artist, my brother and I each painted a few strokes of black on that portion of the gate.  And to this day, when I walk down Carroll Creek, I always make a point of looking at the gate, right at the spot where Zack and I were invited to be a part of a work of art.

In the Isaiah reading, in an incredible vision, the prophet finds himself standing before the Lord’s throne.  Seraphim fly around and call out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  The throne room shakes and is filled with smoke.  And Isaiah, knowing full well that he is a sinful human being in the presence of a completely holy God says, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”  It’s as if we hear Isaiah saying, “oh boy!  I really shouldn’t be here right now!!”

But just as Isaiah is overcome with panic and feelings of being unclean and not worthy to be in the presence of the Holy One, the unthinkable happens.  One of the Seraphs uses a hot coal to touch Isaiah’s unclean lips, telling him, “your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”  In the throne room, filled with God’s overwhelming holiness, Isaiah is forgiven and made clean.  As if that isn’t amazing enough, God issues an invitation: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  Sins blotted out and guilt washed away, Isaiah is able to say “Here I am; send me!”  God invites Isaiah, a man of previously unclean lips, to be a messenger of God, speaking God’s word to Israel.  From sinner to God’s spokesperson – that’s pretty good.  Just as a talented artist invited relatively unskilled little kids to participate in his work of art, God invites Isaiah, a man of unclean lips, to participate in God’s salvation-oriented work of art.

In a completely different way, Paul continues this idea of invitation into relationship to God in his letter to the Roman community.  Through the movement of the Holy Spirit, we are invited to know and trust God.  The Spirit leads us and through Christ, makes it possible for us to be called the children of God.  It is through this movement of the Holy Spirit that God adopts us as God’s own daughters and sons.  And for Paul, this means that we are freed from all that holds us captive or keeps us bound.  As he says, “for you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.”  Through this holy adoption, we are invited into a life of forgiveness and freedom, rather than one of fear.  And when we cry out, whether in joy or sorrow, to God as our Father in heaven, it is the Holy Spirit bearing witness that we are indeed children of God.

But Paul doesn’t stop at saying we’re children of God.  He goes one step further.  “And if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ — if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”  If we’re the adopted children of God, we’re brothers and sisters with Jesus, the Son of God.  And even more than that, we are heirs with him!  With Jesus, we inherit or receive all of what God has to give.  That’s crazy!  Since this is possible through Christ, just as Jesus suffered on the cross and is glorified, we also encounter suffering, all the while awaiting the glory the Father has to give.  Just as Christ died and has experienced resurrection life, we, too, die to ourselves and experience resurrection life and hope through our baptisms into Christ.  In others words, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together for the redemption of all of creation.

In both of these readings, the triune God – God three-in-one, and one-in-three – reaches out and draws humanity into the life and work of God.  In Isaiah, just when Isaiah was overcome with knowledge of his own sinfulness, impurities and imperfections, God forgave him and sent him out to serve in the world.  When we feel bogged down by our sin or feelings of unworthiness and wonder if God could possibly work through us, God reminds us that God prepares us for service and empowers us to say “Here I am; send me!”

Paul describes powerfully how the triune God has freed us from all that keeps us bound.  We have received a Spirit that liberates and empowers, rather than one that keeps us trapped with fear.  We live in a broken and fallen world and so we continue to suffer with illness, relationship struggles, grief, lack of self-confidence, guilt, and shame.  However, we have tremendous hope because we have been adopted as daughters and sons of God and we are heirs of the resurrection life of Christ.  The Holy Spirit reminds us of this when we forget, bearing witness that we are the children of God.  The Spirit reminds us that we can always cry out, “Abba! Father!” in our deepest need and that nothing can separate us from God’s love.

God continually invites us into relationship with Godself.  And as I was thinking about the Trinity and invitation, the image of Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Trinity kept coming to mind.  Nadia Bolz-Weber, the pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado describes this icon beautifully:

“The three figures in the icon are depicted as angels seated at an altar table. They have identical faces but their postures and clothing differ as though we are looking at the same figure shown in three different ways.  But it is the way in which the figures relate to one another which is so compelling.  The father looks to the son gesturing toward this Word made flesh, Christ gazes back at the Father but points to the Spirit, and the Spirit opens up the circle to receive the viewer.  Between the Spirit and the Father in the Trinity icon is an open space at the table in which the viewer is brought to sit in communion with the Godhead.  Here we see an image of God’s relational circle into which we are welcomed.  The Father sends the Son the son sends the Spirit and the Spirit welcomes us to the table.”

God longs to welcome us into an experience of the Trinity – God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And because of this deep longing of God, God never stops inviting us to experience Godself.   God draws us through the Holy Spirit, forgives us through the Son, adopts us as beloved children, and empowers us to serve in the world.  We are invited into the experience of a God who lives and acts in relationship as three-in-one, one-in-three.  We are invited into loving relationship with the God whose very being is loving relationship.  Thanks be to God for such an incredible invitation!  AMEN!

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Andrei Rublev’s Icon of the Holy Trinity

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