John 16:12-15

Romans 12:1-13

This is the third in a series of sermons on “my dream church.” Two weeks ago, I talked about being a church rooted in the past and carrying on the past traditions we’ve inherited. Last week, I talked about the church becoming something new. So we have two responsibilities: to maintain the heritage of our past and share it with the future, and to let go of the preconceptions and baggage of our past when it’s necessary for us to become something new. We have to live both faithfully to the past and with openness to a developing future.

I wanted to think of what this would look like, and I was thinking about my vestments (now that we’re in the robe-free summer). The practice of putting robes on pastors goes way back. Tradition holds that Jesus dressed like this. Really, as tradition holds, servants would dress like this, and I would wear a robe because the pastor is the servant of God’s people. But, servants don’t dress like that today. Today, they wear an apron. So as I put on an apron now, consider this liturgical wear when I serve at the table. This is a way to be rooted in the meaning of our past tradition, in a way that’s made new today.

Aprons aside, the past and the future seem mutually incompatible. How can the church belong to the past and the emerging future at the same time? How can we be the church I envision, and the church you envision (to say nothing of what the person next to you envisions) all at once?

Well, we can do that because that’s how God does it. That’s how God is. Today is Trinity Sunday. I usually don’t like preaching on Trinity Sunday because there can be too much Greek philosophy to explain, but here’s the short story: the one we call God the Father (who is mostly seen in the Old Testament), the one we call God the Son (who is mostly seen in the New Testament), and the one we call God the Spirit (who is seen throughout both the Old and New Testaments) all look unique and different – and they are. But, on a deeper essential level, they’re equal, they’re made up of one another. We can’t say how this works precisely (that’s the philosophical stuff), but we hold that it’s true. These three distinct entities are united in the mutual love that is God’s essence and the ground of all that exists.

That is to say, the very nature of God is self-giving love for something that is simultaneously united with oneself and inescapably other. This is also the way Christ lived for us in the world, and it’s the way the Spirit leads us to live as Christ’s body. We’re united with many others as humans – as members of God’s creation – in spite of all obvious (and very real) differences between us.

Living like this is strange. It’s unnatural, in a certain way. It’s unnatural because one of the first things we learn in this life is what’s the same and what’s different. We usually have some “natural” tendency to trust what’s the same and fear what’s different. Sometimes, this can develop into a need to make what’s different into something the same as us.

But, this life is deeply natural in another way. We’re born with the capacity for compassion, the ability to imagine what the world might look like through someone else’s eyes. That ability is based on seeing unity where there’s none visible, seeing that we have something great in common with each other. What takes such practice and grace (because we’re all inescapably human) is seeing this connection when it’s not visible. It takes such openness to share yourself with another.

That’s what the church has always been, at its best. It has always been open to everything the other is, to knowledge of the other’s experience and the truth they have that we don’t, while remembering exactly who we are. At its best, the church has always been sharing, cooperating, and opening doors – not to make the other into us, but to be united with the other through giving of ourselves and sharing with each other. This openness will make the church into something it never was before, but it will also make the world into something new. Both of our realities will be transformed, just a little closer to the deep truth of God’s reality.

There are two things we know as the church: we have many unique and special gifts to share with the world, and we don’t yet have the full picture of God’s reality. And we know a third thing: the best way to learn something new about God is to confidently live in the world’s reality as God’s presence illuminates it. To offer our tradition of sharing, feeding, hymns, and prayers to a world that doesn’t look like it has any place for it – because that’s the best gift we have to offer.