Sermon from the Rev. Joe Hensley, Rector, St. George’s Episcopal Church
Fredericksburg, VA | Trinity Sunday, Year C, May 22, 2016
How in God’s name do we live together? We have been pondering these words for the last several months. It has been the theme of our program year which began in September. Today, as we celebrate Trinity Sunday, it’s a good time to think specifically about the words, “in God’s name.” How in God’s name do we live together? When we live in God’s name, we are living in the name of the Trinity.
One of the most famous Trinity hymns was written by Saint Patrick of Ireland. It sometimes goes by the title, “The cry of the deer.” Legend has it that when Patrick was under attack by an army of druids in Tara, Ireland, he escaped from them by changing into a deer. You didn’t know we had shape-shifting saints, did you? It was around that time that he is said to have composed his poem which begins with the words, “I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity.” Just as a soldier binds a breastplate to his body for protection, so Patrick put on the name of God who is one and three, to guard him from all danger.
For Patrick, the name of God, the name of the Trinity was literally a lifesaver. But over the centuries, the name of God has often been used not as protection but as a weapon to hurt others. The name of God may remind us of how we have hurt each other. While some find comfort in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…others are reminded that purely male images of God have often been used to make women feel inferior. There’s a lot of healing and unpacking to be done when we talk about the name of God. It’s all related to the same question, “how do we live together?” I can’t unpack and heal all those wounds in this sermon. What I’d like to do is ask whether there is a fresh way to hear the Name of God and its power for us.
We could say that the name of the Trinity is powerful, because of God’s mighty acts. God created heaven and earth. Jesus Christ died and rose again. The Holy Spirit came down and empowered people to do incredible things. But there’s more to God’s power than mighty acts. Part of God’s power is in the fact that God exists as a community. God is three distinct personalities who are bound together in perfect unity. This is the mystery of the Trinity. They surround and enfold each other in an unfathomable web of relationships. The strong web of the Trinity is bound together by love, by mutual delight and joy. The members of the Trinity are in perfect harmony. God the giver of life delights in God the light that came into the world and the Holy Spirit. God the Christ delights in God the loving creator and God the Holy Comforter. God the Advocate and Guide delights in God who made everything and in God who has brought the world to God in reconciling love. The name of the Trinity is strong, because of this delightful community. When we ask the question, “how in God’s name do we live together?” we are asking…how do we live together in a community of mutual delight and joy?
In the reading from Proverbs that we read today, lady wisdom speaks. The writer of proverbs cast the voice of wisdom as a female. And she testifies: “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work…I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world, and delighting in the human race.” In this telling of the creation story, wisdom is God’s first creation. God delights in her, and she delights in all that God has made. And delight is powerful. The ability to delight in God and delight in one another is the ability, the power, to turn away from poisonous negativity. Delight is an expression of love. The power of delight is the wisdom to find joy and to see good, when it’s so easy to find sadness and see bad.
I once heard some good advice, that if you are in a rut in your relationship with someone else, maybe someone you’ve been close to a long time, try to notice five new things about that person. Notice them and take delight in them. Delight has the power to transform how we see each other.
In his prayer, St. Patrick, as a way of protecting himself from harm, from the attacks of his enemies, delights in the creation and in Christ. ‘I bind unto myself,’ he prays ‘the virtues of the starlit heaven, the glorious sun’s life giving ray, the whiteness of the moon at even, the flashing of the lightning, the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks, the stable earth, the deep salt sea around the old eternal rocks. Christ be with me. Christ within me. Christ behind me. Christ before me.’ The hymn goes on, but in these bits of it we can hear the delight, we can sense Patrick’s finding power and strength in the wonders of creation and in the presence of Christ all around. The strong name of the Trinity is woven in and among all these things. And the Trinity is strong not simply because God can protect us from enemies, but because God can transform our relationships through love, through seeing each other with eyes of wonder.
It is said that when saints like Patrick, holy women and men of the Celtic tradition centuries ago in the British Isles, when they would pray for protection, they would sometimes trace a circle around themselves. This circle, called a Caim, symbolized a zone of divinely given safety that would travel with them. And so as someone might recite the words, ‘I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity,’ she would literally point her finger and turn round as an outward reminder of this zone of protection. Maybe it was like making the sign of the cross. Not an act of magic or superstition but simply a visual and physical act to remind the one praying that God’s protection was with them. I wonder if we can draw such a circle around us as a community. Not a circle that excludes others, but a circle that is ever widening. A circle in which we find God’s protection by the power to see each other as God sees us, as wonderful parts of God’s creation. Today we will take delight in four young men who have turned thirteen, who are making a transition in their lives from childhood to young manhood. The Rite-13 ceremony that we will use at the 11:00 service is a kind of caim, a drawing of a circle around these young men to remind them that they are beloved and delightful, that they are included in the words of Psalm 139 which says “your works are wonderful, and I know it well.”
“How in God’s name do we live together?” We live together by saying, “your works are wonderful and I know it well.” We live together in the circle drawn with the powerful Name of the Trinity. It is a powerful name, because it is the Name of mutual delight. We live together, as we are able to find delight in one another, as we are able to rejoice with Lady Wisdom in the wonderful works of God. We live together, as we seek to find something new about ourselves and each other and God that brings joy to the heart. This is a power given to us through the name of the Trinity. As we all bind unto ourselves that Name, may we all see a circle of power and protection, a Caim, around us. Power and protection that comes not from force or violence but from delight and love, from joy and wonder in God and all that God has wrought.