Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sermon: Overspilling Love
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ  
The Rev. Vicki  K. Hesse, May 26, 2013
For Readings, click here– Psalm 8 and John 16:12-15
In the name of the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Perhaps, like me, you have been overwhelmed
by the tragic news and images of the tornado disaster
in Moore, Oklahoma. 
The tornado is being called one of the
most destructive storms of its kind ever recorded –
some reports say there were
24 dead and more than 370 injured,
an estimated 13,000 homes damaged or destroyed and
a total amount of damage that could exceed $2 billion.

You may be thinking – hey, today is Trinity Sunday! 
Why is she sharing that horrific news? 
Okay, maybe you are not thinking that –
but Trinity Sunday is one of the seven principal feast daysof the church year.
And although it has been in the liturgical calendar
since 1334,today it is usurped by something more pressing. 

Perhaps through this tragedy, we can notice how the Trinity helps us to respond. 
The reason to share this horrific news is because…
“The human tragedy and the wreckage that natural disasters leave in their wake
never fail to stun us.”[1]

The images we get fromnear-real-time technology are inescapable. 
Yet here we are, in this liturgy, proclaiming Psalm 8’s resounding praise of God,

“O Lord our Governor, how exalted is your Name in all the world!” 
Can we still read Psalm 8 in light of this tragedy?[2]

"You have set your glory above the heavens."[3]
And from those heavens descended a deadly cloud.

"Out of the mouths of babes and infants..." 
The children of Plaza Towers Elementary?

"What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?"

Indeed, that is the question that troubles the heart of the faithful  - in times like these.

Can we still praise God? If so, how do we start?
Can we possibly understand what happened in Moore, OK?
Where is God amid such pain and suffering? 

Doubt – anger – confusion – these are all understandable responses. 

Lament is a major category in Scripture and there is nothing wrong with adding
our lament to those voices already in the bible.    

I suspect that the disciples who gathered with Jesus during his farewell discourse
(heard today in the Gospel reading) probably were asking similar
profound and heart-wrenching questions.

“What? You are leaving us?”
If God is revealed in the incarnation, what happens when Jesus is gone?

We are stunned. We have to admit our inability to answer those questions.
We only “see through a mirror dimly;” we do not know the answers.

These are the questions we will face again and again in our lives,
not just after Tornadoes, but after a disaster of any kind.

So we face these questions, in faith and hope.
Just as believers have done for generations – the prophets, the psalmists, Job, Paul. 
In standing with these believers, we offer lamentations. 
We stay in dialogue.
Not for answers, but because in lamenting,
we connect to God, to our neighbors, to our sisters & brothers.

In standing with these believers without answers,we hear Jesus’ words,

“I still have many things to say to you but you cannot bear them now.” 

We cannot bear them now because we are stunned. 
Although we are stunned, it does not mean we have nothing to say or do.
Nor does this mean that those disciples
– or we –
will have to face future disasters without any words of Jesus.

Jesus promises, in that same moment, that the Spirit of Truth will guide
– will lead in the way – will show the community the life-giving
revelation of God in Jesus.

In the face of that stunning disaster,our baptism compels us, 
with God’s help, to respond. 
We respond by noticing – and declaring – that God is not above the tragedy –
but rather amid the tragedy, suffering with us and for us. 

Admitting our limitations in the face of indiscriminate tornadoes
cannot match the reservoirs of compassion that we,
the body of Christ, can tap in moments like these.

And so we start where the Psalmist started. 
We start with that deep-seated, persistent belief
that God is trustworthy and true,
that God is worthy of our praise.  
Psalm 8 reminds us that we stand today in the long shadow 
of  generations of faithful people who have treasured their faith 
in the midst of human limitation.

In the midst of human limitation, we find the cross of Jesus, too. 
That is where God experienced the fullest human loss
(through crucifixion and death) out of love for us and still, God remained present. 
In the disaster, God remained present:
not causing chaos, but entering into it;
not sending calamity but suffering through it;
not standing over us but holding tightly onto us and promising never to let go. 

Wherever there is tragedy and pain,
the incarnate and crucified God, in Jesus, is there. 

Today’s gospel message offers an additional dimension. 
Jesus speaks through the Spirit of Truth,
sent to and through the community of faith. 

“The Spirit will glorify me,
because the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

When we have questions only, because we cannot bear the answers,
we will begin to notice the Spirit of Truth
guiding our faith community, like the community of Moore,
in pouring love onto that tragedy’s wake.

·        A teacher found the words to tell her students that she loved them (something she had not said prior) before closing them inside the interior closet doors.
·        The superintendant of schools admitted her own limitations and need of counseling, then proclaimed the sustaining presence of prayer in public schools that Monday afternoon.
·        At a gathering of teachers, although pain was evident, they celebrated reckless and abundant acts of love and support - amidst the stories colleagues draping their own bodies over children, singing to them and holding their hands.

These fresh encounters illuminate the Trinity – how God sanctifies, commissions, and sends us into the world to bear and to be Christ’s healing and helping presence,
guided by the Spirit of Truth.

·        We can donate to effective agencies (see your bulletin for how). 
·        We can, if the time is right, travel to Oklahoma to assist the community and to partner with “the God of Rebuilding.”[4]
·        We can, as the needs there are clarified, participate in food or clothing or “stuff” drives.  We can pray.

We are the body of Christ and the agents of
God’s redemptive and restoring love in the world.

From the letter to the Romans today,
“God’s love has been poured into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
And so we pour that love back out.

Well, what about the doctrine of the Trinity?
We express it every week in the creeds,
or in the doxology,
or in nearly ever collect that is prayed,
but how does it apply to us, here, today?

Episcopal Priest and Mystic, Cynthia Bourgeault, offers this helpful metaphor:
Imagine the three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit –
turning round and round like buckets on a watermill,
constantly spilling love over into one another.[5] 

And as they do, the mill turns and
the energy of love becomes palpable and accessible.

This complete intercirculation of love,
called “perichoresis,” by the Cappadocians
(for those of you who like technical words),
this dancing circulation of love
this over-pouring of God’s love from one to another
this is how God reveals God’s innermost nature. 

In love.  In dance.  In flow. 
With that great watermill of the Trinity, the statement “God is Love” becomes real. 

Practically speaking, it means that in God’s love, 
all “random acts of kindness” are connected. 

See, the Trinity assures us is that no act of self-giving, self-emptying love is isolated,
no matter how meaningless it looks,
no matter how unproductive in terms of reward and gain on this side of heaven. 

Love flows in a divine exchange. 
So through this tragedy, in our acts of compassion, charity, and prayer,
God’s pure love animates us. 

An example of the power of this sacred Trinitarian dance
to transform even the blackest of tragedies
can be found in the following poem. 

This anonymous prayer-poem was placed in 
the WWII Ravensbrück death camp, by the side of a body -
but it could have been left beside anyone who has died
in any war or tragedy, as we commemorate Memorial day. 

O Lord, remember not only the men and women
Of good will, but also those of ill will.
But do not remember all the suffering they inflicted on us;
Remember the fruits we have bought, thanks to
This suffering – our comradeship,
Our loyalty, our humility, our courage,
Our generosity, the greatness of heart
Which has grown out of all this, and when
They come to judgment / let all the fruits
Which we have borne / be their forgiveness.[6]

What an extraordinary testament to the human spirit. 
And what a fresh and surprising word that the Spirit of Truth offers –
God’s love turning even the deepest hardness
into something new and soft and flowing. 

My sisters and brothers,
the velocity of this flowing dance is imprinted on our soul. 

Our longing and yearning for the love of Jesus Christ,
our deepest desire for intimacy with our creator God and
our fresh animation by the Spirit –
this is the Trinitarian impulse. 
This is the fullness of God. 
This is what binds us together in the mystery of the Church.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore.[7]

[1] Portions inspired by January 15, 2010 article by David Lose, “Preaching After Natural Disaster,” cited at on May 23, 2013.
[2] Portions inspired by May 21, 2013 article by Eric D. Barreto, “ON Scripture-Special: Majesty and Tragedy in Oklahoma,” cited at on May 23, 2013.
[3] Holy Bible, New International Version (NIV)
[4] Quote from The Rev. Lori Walke, cited at on May 25, 2013
[5] Cynthia Bourgeault, “The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind – A New Perspective on Christ and his Message” (Boston, Shambhala Publications, 2008) page 71ff.
[6] Ibid. page 74, note 12, Quoted from Lynn C. Bauman, Ed., “A Book of Prayers,” (Telephone, Tex.: Praxis Institute Press, 1999), p. 36.
[7] 2 Corinthians 13:14.


  1. Dear Rev. Vicki Hesse,

    Thank you for your beautiful reflection. I find the painting above of the 2 dancers absolutely inspiring. May I ask who the painter was?


    1. Dear Vincent, Thank you for your comment. I found this image on the blog located at:

      There are many images that resonate with me here. Enjoy,