Preaching on Trinity Sunday is not a task I am going to miss. Over the years, I have made no secret of my distaste for this particular festival of the church year. I am not alone among preachers, when it comes to Trinity Sunday. Trinity is one of those Church Doctrines that defies logic and the best advice, I’ve ever read about preaching on Trinity Sunday is to book this particular Sunday off or call in sick. In twenty-three years, I’ve never called in sick, but I confess to having booked Trinity Sunday off on a few occasions. Alas, this is my last Sunday in the parish and calling in sick wasn’t an option.
So, rather than fall into the trap of trying to explain the Trinity, let me tell you a story, which my Belfast Buddy, Pete Rollins is fond of telling, which captures some of how I feel about the miss-communication which is happening in so many pulpits as preachers are compelled to try to express the inexpressible. According to Pete, there was a Jewish community which had sought sanctuary from danger that was granted refuge in property of the Roman Catholic Church in Vatican City.
The authorities thought the Jewish community would only be there for a few months, but after several years had passed, several priests appeal to the Pope urging him to tell the Jewish community that they would have to leave and find refuge somewhere else. The Pope is reluctant to evict the Jews.
Quite rightly the Pope insists, that to simply evict them isn’t very neighbourly. So, the Pope comes up with a plan. He instructs the Priests to summon the Chief Rabbi, for a debate. The Pope insists that if he wins the theological debate, the Jewish community will have to leave, if the Chief Rabbi wins, they can stay. Adding to the tension around the debate is the reality that the Roman Catholics and the Jewish community do not speak the same language, so the debate has to be conducted without words. A theological debate without words; just signs and symbols. So, the Jewish community enters St. Paul’s Cathedral, with all its ornate signs and symbols. The Chief Rabbi, with the entire Jewish community, walks up to the Pope who is surrounded by priests, bishops, and cardinals. The Pope begins by holding up three fingers. Immediately, the Chief Rabbi holds up one finger. Then the Pope starts to wave round and round above his head. The Chief Rabbi, without hesitating, takes his finger and points down to the ground. The Pope appears a little on edge, almost like he thinks he’s losing the debate. The Pope goes up to an incredibly ornate altar, and moves in close on this diamond encrusted chalice and he pours wine into this diamond encrusted chalice, he takes a single wafer, and the Pope holds this symbols in front of the Chief Rabbi. And the Rabbi, as if he already knew this was going to happen, reaches down into a brown, crumpled, paper bag, and takes out an apple, the Rabbi takes a bite and then he and his community leave the cathedral.
So, the priests, bishops, and cardinals gather round the Pope, and begin to ask, “What happened? Who won the debate?” The Pope says, “Well I tell you what. The Rabbi won fair and square. That guy had an answer for everything. First, I held up three fingers and said, “God is three, a Trinity. And our Rabbi friend held up one finger and said, “God is ONE, a Unity.” So, I pointed up to the heavens and said “God is transcendent. God is above and looking down on all of Creation.” And my Rabbi friend, pointed to the Earth and said, “Ah, transcendence is immanent. God is in the grit and grime of the world.” So, then I brought the wine and the wafer, the body and blood of CHRIST the second Adam.And our Jewish friend, as if he knew I was going to do that, reached into a bag, pulls out an apple and takes a bite to remind me of the first Adam.”
At that moment, the Jewish community gathered around the Chief Rabbi, asking him to explain what happened. The Rabbi begins by telling his community that it was a nightmare, terrible, terrible. First of all the Pope said, “You’ve got three days to leave.” And I’m like, “No way. Not one of us is going to leave.” So, then the Pope says, “Right we’re going to round you all up.” I said, not likely, we’re staying rooted to the ground, we’re not budging. And the Jewish community, got even closer to their Chief Rabbi, as they anxiously asked, “Then what happened? Do we have to leave, or what? The Rabbi answered, “That’s the most frustrating part, because right then, we broke for lunch.”
So, as preachers all over the world, do their level best to express the inexpressible, I suggest we move on to my other task for this particular Sunday and that is for me to bid farewell to my role as your pastor. I simply don’t have words to express the inexpressible emotions which are careening around inside of me today. Fortunately, the Gospel reading assigned for this Trinity Sunday, actually, quite literally comes to us from the section in the part of the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as John’s account of what the church calls Jesus’ farewell discourse. The gospel-storyteller goes on for several chapters. Only a few lines of which are assigned for today. Listen to the Gospel to part of the way Jesus is reported to have said farewell:
“I have much more to tell you, but you can’t bear to hear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all truth. She won’t speak on her own initiative; rather, she’ll speak only what she hears, and she’ll announce to you things that are yet to come. In doing this, the Spirit will give glory to me, for she will take what is mine and reveal it to you. Everything that Abba God has belongs to me. This is why I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and reveal it to you.” This is the GOSPEL of CHRIST.
Ah, Dear ones, I do indeed have so very much more to tell you. I suspect that you can’t bear to hear it now. I know I can’t bear to tell it now. You see, I’m from Belfast and in Belfast we have a special way to say Goodbye. It is known as the “Irish Good-bye” The way an Irish Good-bye works is, we wait until the farewell celebrations, get to the part where the drinks are flowing, and the stories are being told, and while people’s attention is held by the story, we slip out while nobody notices. That way there’s no tears. Unfortunately, a while back, when I told a friend whose advice I value, of my plan to avoid the tears, she reminded me of something, I’ve said, over and over again, during my ministry, and that is that some things, some people are worth crying over. So, there’ll be no Irish Good-bye today.
So, before I fill up, and am reduced to a babbling, soggy, mess, for you my dears are definitely, worth crying over, let me end my ministry with you as began my ministry with you. tell you a few wee snippets from a couple of stories. Open up your bulletins, where a couple of pages in, right under the Gospel, where it says, Irish Goodbye followed by a question mark. For our ONLINE friends, the picture we’re looking at should be on the screen right now. Do you see that Bunny? That bedraggled creature is my granddaughter Evelyn’s Bunny, I think BUNNY is a boy, but I really can’t remember, because Evie’s bunny is simply called ‘BUNNY”, so she could be a girl. Let’s just say BUNNY is non-binary, BUNNY’s pronouns are “they, them, their”. Now, I hope that you can see from this small picture, just how worn out BUNNY is. Evie is seven years old and BUNNY has been with her for seven years. BUNNY arrived all pristine and new, full of lovely fur, which my darling Evie loved off BUNNY. Every last piece of fur has been loved off. Over the years BUNNY’s legs and arms have been loved right of their body and sown right back on again. BUNNY’s nose has been rubbed off and their ears are frayed and tattered. That’s what seven years of love has done to BUNNY; I can only imagine the state they will be in after twenty-three years.
Twenty-three years and three months ago, I was welcomed into this family, and given the privilege of serving as your pastor. I arrived before I was ordained, and you saw to it that the church ordained me and together with all the folks of Holy Cross, some here, and some who have moved on before me, you have loved me and more importantly, you have taught me how to love you. I can still remember, way back in my seminary days, in our Christian Doctrine class, where I failed to learn how to explain the Trinity, our professor Dr. Bob Kelly, reassuring us wanna-be pastors, not to sweat the doctrine, because being a pastor was about one thing and one thing only, our job is in the words of wise old Dr. Bob, to LOVE them. LOVE our parishioners. At the time, I thought there must be more too it than that.
I didn’t realize that LOVE was so much more than I knew at the time. You see Dr. Bob didn’t tell us to comfort you, to reassure you, to agree with you, or to simply love you. Dr. Bob insisted that the job of a pastor is to LOVE the people with whom we serve. I’m a bit dim, because when he said “love” I saw hearts and flowers, and I wasn’t sure I was up to the lovie dovie parts of this job. It has taken me decades to understand just a small part of what it means to be LOVE in your congregation.
For God is LOVE and LOVE is DIVINITY, the LOVE which Dr. Bob was talking about is in and of itself inexpressible. Being LOVE in a congregation, includes, the lovie dovie aspects of LOVE, I’m still learning that part, so I’m grateful that LOVE also includes, challenging one another, disturbing one another, pushing one another, leading one another, helping one another, crying with one another, questioning one another, tolerating one another, appreciating one another, embracing one another, having one another’s backs.
Which brings me back to BUNNY, bedraggled, worse for ware BUNNY. Go back to your bulletins and turn the pages to a couple of pictures. You’ll see a photograph of well-loved BUNNY and then you will see WELL LOVED BUNNY and BACK-UP BUNNY. BACK-UP BUNNY came into Evelyn’s life round about the time BUNNY became indispensable. A very wise person in Evie’s life realized that if something terrible ever happened and for whatever reason BUNNY couldn’t be there for Evelyn, then BACK-UP BUNNY would have to be there. Now you can see that BACK-UP BUNNY has managed to do their job while keeping their fur on, but even BACK-UP BUNNY is a little worn around the edges.
Evelyn has so much LOVE to give. So, before I stretch these metaphorical bunnies beyond their ability to carry us beyond themselves to the truth which I am trying to communicate to you, let me just say, that over the years, sometimes, I have played the role of BUNNY and you have been my BACK-UPS. Sometimes, I have taken on the role of BACK-UP while you have been BUNNY.
I don’t mind confessing that two-years of lockdown, have left me wondering if my hair, or my arms, and legs are going to fall off. But all the while, whether it was struggling to make the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada a fully inclusive Church, receiving death threats at the parsonage, or being disciplined by the Eastern Synod, or welcoming renowned speakers to Newmarket, having the audacity to ordain Lionel, or to welcome Tom to Team ministry, or all the questions and challenges of progressive theology, or being locked down for two years, this bedraggled, worn, out, old BUNNY of a pastor, has felt the LOVE. You my dear ones, you have had my back. You have had my back. I hope that over the years, when you have been worn out, you have also felt the LOVE as I have done my best to have your backs. This being LOVE in the world, is not comforting, it is not easy, and it is not safe. But over the years, we have had our moments of sanctuary from the world, here in this place, and online, and those moments of sanctuary have nourished, grounded, and sustained us for the challenges of being LOVE in the world. I have so much more to learn about being LOVE, LOVE in the church, LOVE beyond the church, LOVE in the world.
But as I leave you, I want you to know that you have taught me well, you’ve LOVED off some of my rough edges, and even though I may be worn, I am also excited and hopeful. New chapters are about to unfold for me, for Carol, and for all of you. After a long rest, I hope to get some of my colour back, and I may even grow some new fur. There’s still so much more that I want to learn about being LOVE. My hope is that you too will continue to get your colour back as you continue to come back from lockdown, some new fur is called for. I suspect colourful things will once again begin to appear from Holy Cross as you discover new ways to be LOVE in the world. I trust our friends Online to gain some colour as well.
I look forward to all these new chapters unfolding as we learn new ways to be LOVE. So, there will be no “Irish Goodbye” because as I will keep saying, some things, some people are worth crying over. I have no words. I have only LOVE, the LOVE in which we live and move and have our being. The LOVE which will continue to nourish ground and sustain us as we continue to find new ways to be that LOVE in the world. I can’t begin to express the inexpressible, the inexpressible gift and gifts of LOVE which you have been.So, let me end this not so Irish Goodbye, with an Irish Blessing,which I have adapted from the words of another Irish friend of mine, Padraig O’Tauma, whose words of Benediction come close to expressing my emotions:
the task is ended
go in pieces
our concluding faith
is being rear-ended
certainty’s being amended
and something’s getting mended
that we didn’t know
and are travelling to a place
with delusion as a fusion of
loss, and hope, and pain and beauty.
the task is ended
go in pieces
to see and feel
Go in pieces my dear ones,
go to be LOVE in the world,
blessed by MYSTERY,
BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also,
LOVER, BELOVED, and BREATHE of LOVE.
Shalom, Dear ONEs. Shalom…
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