Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sermon: Dynamic Hope

Image result for image trinity bourgeaultSunday, May 22, 2016
Trinity Sunday, Year C, 8am service
The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
(no audio available)
In the name of the Triune God. Amen.

Today is Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday is a principal feast in TEC, but is not, for most Christians, a day of great importance.  The Trinity, does not hold evoke any particular tradition nor holiday around which families gather. There is no “Trinity Sunday” mattress sale, either. The doctrine of the Trinity might be considered contrived and irrelevant.

Ah, but what lies behind the Trinity (that we say in the Nicene Creed), is perhaps the most dynamic and hopeful aspect of our faith. Episcopal Priest & Mystic Cynthia Bourgeault offers this story about why:

She recounts this story of her friend Murat, who, during the years after WWII, was ranching in eastern Turkey. During this time, he became friends with an elderly couple nearby – sharing the occasional meal and exchanging news.  Murat learned about the couple’s only son who had left years before to move to Istanbul and they lamented their lack of communication with him. One day, Murat came to the house and the couple was “bursting with joy” about the new tea cupboard their son had sent them from Istanbul.

They had just set their best tea set on the upper shelf when he arrived.  Murat was polite but curious.
“Are you sure it is a tea cupboard?”  They were sure. As they shared tea, he wondered aloud if he could have a closer look. With their permission, he turned the cupboard around and unscrewed a couple of packing boards. When the cabinet doors swung open, a fully operative ham radio set appeared. This “tea cupboard,” sent to connect them to their son, was only being used to display their tea set.

Bourgeault proposes that this is how we Christians have been using the Trinity.  In theological tea cupboard, we display our “doctrinal” china in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is not bad, just as using the cupboard for showing off the tea set was not bad.

But, what if, Bourgeault wonders, inside is concealed the most powerful communications tool – connecting us to the visible & invisible world, allowing us to navigate what she calls “theological blockages,” and enthusing us with the dynamic framework of Jesus’ teachings?  We need to turn the tea cupboard around and look inside. For embedded in this dry doctrine of the Trinity (that we recite nearly automatically) is a powerful metaphysical principle that can rekindle our visionary imagination and more.

Bourgeault’s excellent book “The Holy Trinity”[1] describes the power of the Trinity, a kinetic, overspilling energy flowing between of Father-Son-Holy Spirit. She teaches about the mystical “Law of Three” where any interweaving of three always creates a fourth. Just as three strands of hair creates a braid, the mystical forces of God dynamically affirm (in the Father who creates), then deny (in Jesus’ kenosis or emptying of self), then resolve (through the Holy Spirit’s presence)… and through this relationship, a fourth creation always becomes.

In today’s Gospel message, Jesus asserts this triune mystery when he says, “Everything the Father has is mine” and “*that* is the reason WHY the Holy Spirit takes from me and will report it to you.[2]”  In this relationship between the Spirit, the Father and Jesus, a fourth, new way of being emerged in that community gathered with him there. If you listen to the words carefully, you can almost hear Jesus’ southern accent, “When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide y’all into all the truth…” and “…he will declare to y’all the things that are to come.”

For the community gathered around Jesus on the eve of his death, this teaching was hard to “bear.” They did not comprehend the way Jesus referred to his impending suffering and death.  They could not bear his call to service and forgiveness.

And so it is with every Christian community – Jesus often says more than we can bear, regarding the meaning of his words, his ministry, his death and resurrection. We Christians are still far from grasping the whole “truth.” Sometimes it is more than we can bear to give sacrificially, to serve as he serves us, and to love unconditionally has he loves us. Yet, through the promised Trinity found in this gospel message today, that community was infused of at least a morsel of openness towards the capacity to “bear” it and towards fresh encounters yet to come. The gospel writer used these words to shape a community that was Spirit-led, to inspire a community that was not locked into the past and to encourage a community that engaged their context.

And so it is for us.

Jesus knew that 21st century circumstances and difficult new questions requires our community to think with at least a morsel of Holy Spirit openness to not turn away but engage and discover those “fourth” solutions… for the complicated moral and ethical questions like climate change or stem cell research or poverty or illiteracy or poison water or mental illness or economic justice.

This Trinitarian gospel proclaims – and we hear it afresh today – that inspired by the Spirit, our community conversations will soften hearts and find solutions. An analogy that may be apropos here is this: the opposition of wind and keel will not push a sailboat forward through the water, but with the reconciling presence of a helms person, a new creation arises: the course made good over the water.[3]

To me, this dynamism is an active hope that Love always wins. This love in motion is the exciting inner life of God – the essence of the Trinity. Spiritual master Beatrice Bruteau[4] said, “It is the presence of the Trinity, as a pattern, repeated at every scale in the cosmic order, that makes the universe the manifestation of God and itself sacred and holy.”

Today, God calls us to engage the active, flowing, energy of the Trinity, that ham radio in the back of the cupboard.  The power of that communication device enlarges our hearts’ capacity with God’s resiliency for solutions to problems in our context – the big ones & the small ones.

Today, God brings to bear on our community the Holy Spirit, who with the Father and the Son rekindles our lives, emboldens our imaginations, and splashes us with possibilities through a dynamic, Trinitarian hope.


[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity (2013)
[2] Interpretation inspired and expanded from the Greek, in conversation with parishioner Dr. Kenneth R. Walters on May 17, 2016. #grateful !
[3] Bourgeault, 26
[4] Bourgeault, 199, note 2, quoting from Bruteau’s God’s Ecstasy, p. 85

Monday, May 16, 2016

Sermon: Ascension Day Feet

A Sermon preached in 
Christ Church Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The
Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate

Ascension Day, Year C

5 May 2016
Listen to this sermon here
For readings click here.
In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

This evening we celebrate the ascension of the risen Christ to heaven. 

Ascension Day is not, for most Christians, a day of great importance.  It’s the fortieth day after Easter.  There is no particular tradition associated with Ascension, nor is it a holiday around which families gathers.

And, it is a day of utmost importance in our faith story.  Without the Ascension, Jesus’ life – his incarnation, baptism, ministry, crucifixion, death and resurrection – without Ascension, his passion and life would stretch indeterminately out into time and space like a rocket ship into the cosmos…rather than Ascension standing as a conclusive witness to the dwelling of God in creation[1].

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams[2] uses this analogy: imagine what it is like when you first wake up in the morning.  When you turn on the light, all you can think of is how bright the light is.  Only gradually do your eyes adjust enough to make out what else is around the room.  Then, you are not thinking of the light. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, says Williams, are like that initial morning light - Jesus’ resurrected self was so blinding that the disciples could be conscious only of him.  The ascension, however, is that moment when the light itself recedes into the background.  It is through the light of Jesus that we see the rest of the world. As from Ephesians, “…that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.”[3]

With the creative use of light and reflection of colors, many artists have imagined the ascension.  Many of these scenes are painted inside the dome of churches. There are usually two parts – an upper (heavenly) part with Christ making the sign of benediction and the lower (earthly) part below him, signifying the entire Church (big C). 
Inside these churches, congregants, like those appointed witnesses, gaze up toward heaven to witness, once again, the ascension of Christ.  

One Ascension image stands out for me.  It is a stained-glass panel from a church in Norfolk, England,[4] dating from the 15th century.  You can pull this image out from your leaflet as we reflect together.
In the image, we see only the feet of Christ ascending into a blue cloud, which is surrounded in a glory of rays.  His feet display their wounds as they disappear into the cloud.  Just below, we see prominent footprints on the summit of the rocky mound from which Christ has ascended. 

Next to the rising feet are two con-celebrating angels, blessing the ascension of Jesus with their outstretched hands.  Below, the panel is crowded with the haloed heads of all twelve Apostles, with various hairstyles and expressions. In the center of the composition is the figure of Mary, richly dressed: she gazes up at her ascending son, holding up her hands with their slender fingers. (hold up hands).

The captivating image calls to mind both the divinity of Christ (with his feet ascending) and the humanity of Jesus (with his footprints on earth).  Since his feet were the last part of him to touch earth, it makes sense that the center of the image is his feet – also the last part to be visible as he was taken up to heaven.

This captivating image of ascending feet and printed feet perhaps informs us why there are two collects for Ascension day in the BCP[5].  One collect asks God to give us faith to perceive that Jesus abides with his church on earth. The other collect asks God to give us a belief that Jesus has ascended into heaven – and so there we may also ascend. Both perspectives, both petitions, both realities in one whole truth of God.

Practically speaking, this captivating image also calls to mind something my 12-step sponsor often asks me: Where are your feet?  Which is, of course, a rhetorical question, but a question that invites me to be present to this moment, not anxious about the future or resentful of the past Where are your feet? This image empowers us to know and see that our feet are joined by the invisible presence of Jesus; his footprints right beside us, infused with the power of his Spirit. 

Today’s Gospel concludes, …“they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.”  As they were worshipping the ascending Jesus, and in returning to their life in Jerusalem and the temple, the disciples found their faith. A faith not in Jesus’ resurrection, but their experience of the Ascension, and the revelation of Jesus’ divinity. [6]  

See, it was not “…his death and resurrection that changed Jesus from the human from Nazareth to the Savior of the World.  It was his willingness to be spiritually alive forever – to be a Spirit set free from physical limitations.” [7]

·         The ascension for the disciples was that moment when Jesus receded into the background of heaven.
·         The ascension for us is that moment when Jesus’ light itself recedes into the background of our lives and through which we glimpse God’s kingdom.
·         The ascension gives our hearts enlightened eyes so that we may know the hope to which Jesus has called us.[8]
·         The ascension is a reminder that our lives are caught up in something far grander than we can ask or imagine.

In the whole sweep of God’s story of human salvation, the Ascension stands as a crucial moment, illuminating for us the larger story of God’s loving action. 

May we then, tonight, know God’s LOVE in the empty places of our lives where we need to be made whole, God’s YES in the yearning of our souls where we need to know we are enough, and God’s LIGHT in the dimness of our hearts where we can see Jesus’ feet standing beside us, galvanizing us to do God’s work in the world.

Tonight, as we gaze our eyes upward, may we see the feet of Christ ascending as we notice his footprints always beside us, to the end of the ages.

[1] Inspired by Joseph Britton’s Theological Perspective, Ephesians 1:15-23 in Feasting On The Word.

[2] Rowan Williams, Cowley Publications; 1st edition (March 28, 1995)

[3] Ephesians 1:18

[5] Book of Common Prayer, 226

[6] Joseph Plevnik, "The Eyewitnesses of the Risen Jesus in Luke 24," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 1987.

[7] The Rev. Rosemary Brown, Sent Forth By God’s Blessing, cited at

[8] Ephesians 1:18