The First Sunday after Pentecost is known as Trinity Sunday. The Trinity is one of the great mysteries of the Christian tradition—how the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ and God are distinct and yet one. Many churches will tell you what to think about this mystery, they will insist that even though it is a mystery there is only one correct interpretation, but not only is that illogical, it takes away the greatest power of the Trinity, which is that it invites endless contemplation bearing endless fruits along the way to enlightenment, like a koan of Zen Buddhism (eg “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”).
A leading insight today is that the Trinity means that God is all about relationship. God, Christ and Spirit are constantly pouring themselves out in love for one another, and moving us to pour ourselves out in love for one another in the same way, all of us constantly emptying and being filled anew with love.
This Sunday we will not talk much about the Trinity directly, but we will look at how God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit move us to relate to one another and the world. We will hear the story from the book of Acts of how the earliest church organized itself to reflect this relationship that they had learned from Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They saw their true oneness, so they shared all that they owned in common. They were moved by love and compassion for all, so they made sure that all had what they needed to live. They were particularly moved by those who were most vulnerable and suffering and in greatest need, so they shared with them everything they had beyond what they needed to meet their own basic needs.
We can imagine most of our society today calling this communism or socialism as if it were a dirty word, but this is in the Bible! This is how Peter, James and John lived in response to the teachings, life and death of Jesus. They completely redesigned society according to the principles of Christ-like love and the Golden Rule, and they didn’t just preach it, they lived it.
Today we need to change human civilization in equally radical ways in order to replace the systems that are threatening our survival with new systems that create sustainable harmony between humans and the earth and among all people. The good news is that the teachings and example of Jesus give us a vision of life lived by the very virtues and ethics we need, and we can see from the Book of Acts that when we create a model of that ideal society it can have a powerful influence on the world around us.
What will the ideal society of today look like? That is a mystery at this point, and like the Trinity mystery, the fruit will come in the contemplation of the question and our discussion of it together. We need to combine the Way of Christ and the model of the early church with the kind of sophisticated systems thinking that Gus Speth and others have been doing for years. We have everything we need to find our way if we have the courage and will to change. Clearly the Holy Spirit gave those gifts to the disciples. We can trust that if we open ourselves entirely to the Spirit’s guidance and power, we will have the courage and will we need.
We will read a beautiful passage about Wisdom from Proverbs 8, as well as the description of the first church from Acts 4:31-35, plus messages from John’s community about love and the Spirit, I John 3:14-17 and John 16:12-15. We will sing a contemporary hymn by Thomas Troeger, God Marked a Line and Told the Sea, set to a favorite old hymn tune, as well as a hymn from the Pilgrim Hymnal with words that sound as if William Sloane Coffin wrote them, “God Send a Church Whose Aim ’Twill Be” (formerly “God Send Us Men”). The last hymn will be by another of the great modern hymnodists, Fred Kaan, “We Utter Our Cry,” set to another old tune.
The choir will sing, “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying,” by Ken Medema, “Dreams that Children Dream” by R.E. Schram/C. Staggers, and send us out with the inspiring South African “Siyahamba/We Are Marching in the Light of God.” Pianist Annemieke McLane will play pieces by C. Chaminade, L. Boulanger and R. Schumann.
The Schumann piece performed below by Vladimir Horowitz was one of Annemieke’s father’s favorites, and she has chosen it for this Sunday in his memory: