- Parish House
sermon for Trinity Sunday
The Rev. Ragan Sutterfield
Last week, one day, early in the morning I went on a walk searching for a sermon with Isaiah’s holy, holy, holy ringing in my head. I carried with me the scriptures, a pen, some paper, and a pocket full of poems.
The heat was only beginning its shimmer from the streets, but already the world of work was on its way–a weedeater buzzing against the marginal grass of a parking lot edge; a security guard offering friendly hellos outside a glass double door; bus drivers on smoke breaks laughing around the corner as business men walked in conversation, jackets off, ties swinging like metronomes with their steps.
“The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy!…. / Everything is holy! Everybody’s holy! everywhere is holy! everyday is in eternity!…” These lines from Alan Ginsberg’s poem “Footnote to Howl” captured what I felt as I walked through those morning streets and I could imagine Ginsberg, in 1950s Berkley, walking around and seeing the same kind of shimmer in the world as I saw now. He recognized, for all his despair, that there was some sort of presence in the world despite the addictions of his age. He saw that “the unknown buggered and suffering beggars” were holy; that even “the solitudes of skyscrapers and pavements” were sacred places–that whatever they were there was something beyond them.
It is that truth that is the eternal song of heaven: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” God–the three times holy, the three times set apart, above and other than us all–saturates the world with God’s holy glory. Separated though we are, God is the one who comes and brings us into God’s self, the one whose glory glows in every atom.
We are tempted, though, to see our lives as separate. To imagine our world as nothing but matter and resources, the raw material that is made meaningful in our work. Along the streets I see the busy bustle, phones out–no moment to wait for an email to be read, another task to be checked off. We find it hard to simply be, to live in the glory that breaks from us not in our doing but in our being. Or perhaps I am projecting to others, what I feel. A sense that every moment needs a purpose when in fact that purpose has already been provided–to live in the glory that is already here; the “it is good” said over us all at the beginning of creation.
This temptation to find meaning in doing rather than being has a long heritage, its most recent forms instilled in us through the Enlightenment. John Locke, a philosopher who was a favorite among the American founding fathers, said that the world is only made meaningful by our work; the architects of our freedom said that we were only happy through our choices and our pursuits. Locke defended taking land from native peoples because they were not making use of it–our trajectory, our economy, our way of life has hinged on doing and so we are plagued by anxiety about whether we are doing enough. But the message of the kingdom is that God’s gifts are right there where you can grab them. God’s glory has already been achieved, it must only be accepted.
Isaiah faced the problem of this acceptance. The king Ahaz was facing threats from beyond the borders. He felt weak and vulnerable; he felt afraid and anxious. Fear and anxiety have a way of drawing us in, placing us within stories that sink us among the trees and keep us from seeing the whole of the forest. In the blindness of his fear he did what we all tend to do–he tried to find some earthly power, an army, a means of violence that could ensure his kingdom’s survival. But the message of God through Isaiah was that an alliance with an Empire would mean his demise. The role of the prophet is to wake us up from the narrow focus of our fears in order to see reality in its wholeness.
Just after our reading today comes that famous passage where a young pregnant woman is offered as a sign; her child to be called “Immanuel”–God with us. This is reality: the glory of God fills all the earth; God is not far away but is here, with us.
I walk along Main Street. A robins sings from a planter anchored tree above flowers blooming amid the concrete. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” wrote the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. And yet, he continues, “All is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil.” It is easy to lose sight of the grandeur of God, just as it is easy to walk through the streets of this city, headphones on, mind occupied, noticing none of the beauty all around us–the child tugging at her father’s hand, the common thrush song of the robin, the miracle multi-blossomed bloom of a lantana and the myriad butterflies that sip from its nectar.
Holy, holy, holy–God is here among the flowers, and the pavement, and the sad broken buildings and the sad broken people. God’s grandeur “shines out” even in our exhaustion and shame just as it does our joy and laughter.
And the great message of this Sunday in which we celebrate the mystery of the Trinity is that God is not just here in glory but offers an invitation that we, too, may become a part of the divine life. For all its complex questions, I believe that among the most important truths of the doctrine of the Trinity is that God exists as a relational community–a kind of divine dance into which we are invited as we learn its rhythms.
This is the promise of the Spirit, the Holy Breath that enables us to become adopted members of the family of God, living in new birth from our fears. Could it be that we are, each of us, not only mirrors of divine glory, but also, with the spirit breathing in us, some piece of that glory itself? The poet Mary Oliver, on a walk by the Clarion River, writes that: “Yes, it could be that I am a tiny piece of God, and each of you too, or at least of his intention and his hope. Which is a delight beyond measure.”
A walk through our city streets, the passing people, the sky gathering its rain for an afternoon storm. There are many worries and fears among us–our weakness, our ignorance–we are all foolish at some point in our varied ways, but there is a music beyond all the noise and racket. It breathes its holy beats inside us if we let it, it welcomes us into the dance of the Abba embrace of a loving God, it says holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of God’s glory–in you and in me–pouring from the broken edges of our lives with God’s radiant reality: we are his children.