Tag Archive: Vulnerable


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 in Christ

This is the sermon I delivered on Sunday morning at Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, DC.

As the semester draws to a close and senior graduation creeps closer, I have been thinking a lot about my fellow students and life on Seminary Ridge in Gettysburg.  I’ve been thinking about the experiences we’ve all shared – both good and bad.  And I’ve been thinking about where we will all be in the coming months, whether in first call congregations, doing Clinical Pastoral Education and serving as chaplain interns, or beginning internship around the country.  Seminary has a way of bringing people together in community only to send them back out again.

And I’ve also been thinking about my upcoming trip to Munich to live in an intentional ecumenical community while I study at the university.  I’ve been reflecting on what it means to live in relationship with others from sometimes vastly different backgrounds.  In short, I’ve had community on my mind!

The author of 1 John also had community on his mind.     His community was going through conflict and strife, differing on theology and church practice.  And so he was writing to encourage his community to “…love one another, because love is from God.”  The reading we have for this morning uses some variation of the word “love” 27 times and the word “God” 21 times – that’s quite a bit of repetition and emphasis, so these must be important words!

Love comes from God and, as 1 John explains, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  Everything begins and flows from in God’s loving action toward and for us.  Through Jesus’ death, he has restored our relationship with God the Father.  And what’s more, Christ’s death has enabled us to love one another.

Now, we participate in all different types of communities: our families, our groups of friends, sports groups, music groups, book groups, academic or professional groups, theater and arts communities, and religious communities.  And, through social media, we participate in online communities.

And we all know that life in community is not always…how shall I put this…pretty.  We all sin, make mistakes, say things that aren’t very nice – we have all been there and done that.  As it says earlier in the letter of 1 John, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  So when our human imperfection and sin happen in community, people get hurt, angry and upset.  It’s a vicious cycle that’s easy to get trapped in.

I’ve been taking pottery lessons in Gettysburg for about three months now.  Besides being something I’ve always wanted to do, I’ve found the classes to be a wonderful stress release.  There’s just something about getting messy with clay that is incredibly freeing.  If you mess up, you can usually fix it with a bit of water and some elbow grease.  Or, if it’s really bad, you can ball it up and begin again.  Some of the best pieces I’ve made have come about through mistakes.  I’ve only had to take a step back to rethink what was happening and remain open to inspiration.

Life in community is kind of like pottery.  It’s not clean, simple or perfect.  It’s messy.  But it’s wonderful.  Just like with pottery, some beautiful things can emerge from the messiness and struggle of life in relationship with others.

For example, our recent conversations surrounding what we can do about economic disparity may be difficult conversations to have, but the Holy Spirit is at work, bringing about good fruit, even if we can’t imagine what that will look like right now.

God’s love as shown to us in Jesus’ death and resurrection restores our relationship with God.  And knowing and abiding in that overwhelmingly beautiful and powerful love, we are to love one another.  The author of 1 John even takes this a step further, saying that, “no one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”  It is through loving one another, that God’s love is perfected or fulfilled in us.  In practicing loving others, we come to know and understand more about the God who is love.

The church community, drawn together by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, is where we should be able to let our hair down and be ourselves.  It’s the place where we should be able to be vulnerable with one another.  It’s the place we should be able to come and say, “I’m struggling with this and I need prayer.”  It’s also the place we should be able to say, “God has done something amazing!  Let’s celebrate together!”

But I fear that maybe because of our experiences in the world the other six days of the week, we may be less likely to embrace the church as the loving, forgiving, encouraging community it is.  The world prizes individualism and self-sufficiency.  The one who shows no weakness is the one who is valued as a strong person.

But the gospel flies in the face of all of this.  We proclaim that we rely on the undeserved grace of God.  We follow a savior went willingly to a cross for us – we didn’t do anything.  We are called to abide in Jesus – to draw our strength, hope and our very lives from him.  And we are called to live in community.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his classic work on community, Life Together: “Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle, you pray.  You are not alone, even in death, and on the Last Day you will be only one member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ.”

In baptism, we are welcomed into the body of Christ where we find support for our lives and faith journeys.  And in Holy Communion, we are fed together at Christ’s table in a meal that connects us not only with God, but with each other and all Christians, past, present and future, around the world.  I love Communion – it’s a such an important part of worship for me.  And part of it is being able to witness people receiving communion – it’s the communal aspect that helps to make it powerful for me.

I once thought that I could be a Christian on my own, but I ended up really missing the community of believers.  I missed being able to worship God with others – to sing, pray, and to receive communion with fellow believers.  I wanted a place that I could explore the faith and learn more from mature Christians.  But that was only going to happen in community with others.

This community in Christ is an incredible blessing that I think we may take for granted.  With texting, the Internet and social media, people are constantly “connected,” but these connections are not actually helping people to form or grow relationships.  Instead, they are making us more lonely and less connected to actual human beings.

As Sherry Turkle, Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, explains in a TEDTalk: “Human relationships are rich, and they’re messy and they’re demanding, and we clean them up with technology.  And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. … That feeling that ‘no one is listening to me’ is very important in our relationships to technology.  That’s why it’s so appealing to have a Facebook page, or a Twitter feed – so many automatic listeners.  And the feeling that ‘no one is listening to me’ makes us want to spend time with machines that seem to care about us. … We expect more from technology and less from each other.”

People are hungry for connections to others, but we’re tricking ourselves into thinking that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, MySpace, Google+, FourSquare or Pinterest will suffice.  And don’t get me wrong – I’m on many of them!  But people are longing for others to actually listen to them – to be present with them in the midst of what they’re going through.  People are desperately yearning to be themselves, and to be welcomed and accepted for who they are.  People desire real connection, but they are scared to death of intimacy.

Now people do post some important things on Facebook – things that they might not have the courage to say in person.  Things that can be as simple as “please pray for me as I go through this difficult situation.”  However, it’s one thing to be on Facebook and type something or respond to someone’s post – it’s another to walk up to a human being and be with them – to sit with them, listen to them, talk with them, and pray with them.  We have been drawn together by the Holy Spirit into community – to pray for one another, listen to one another, learn from one another, encourage one another, share our joys and how God has been at work, as well as to share our sorrows, needs and shortcomings.  The church is the place for people to be vulnerable and to learn to be themselves with one another.  This means that we risk being hurt, but it also means that we have tremendous opportunity to grow closer to each other.  And by being so open and vulnerable, we open the door and welcome others to be themselves.  People are looking for real community where they can encounter God present in the faces of those around them.   People are looking for a place where they can discover who God is calling them to be.

We have a priceless gift in the gospel and in our community that worships and bears witness to God together.  “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…  We love because he first loved us.”  This gift is not something to keep to ourselves.  It is something that is meant to be shared with others.  If fear of others’ judgment is holding us back from connecting with people, or being vulnerable with them, or inviting them to check out the community that means something to us, then may we look to God’s love – that perfect love that drives out fear.  Drawing from God’s love, we, too, can love one another with all boldness.

How can you really connect with others in the coming weeks?  Does this mean changing how much time you spend online in favor of spending time with people instead?  How can you reach out to people longing for God and for real community?  How can you welcome others into the community of faith?  How can you support others in their lives and their faith?

Look around – look at the faces of the saints around you.  These are your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Let us take a moment to give thanks and to pray for this community that we may be filled with the love of God and strengthened by the Holy Spirit to welcome others into the body of Christ.  Amen.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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