Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Trinity: Our Inclusive God

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
May 22, 2016

Year C: The First Sunday after Pentecost – Trinity Sunday
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

The Trinity: Our Inclusive God
            One of the more surprising recent developments in my life is a renewed interest in baseball.
            When I was a kid, I had no skill at actually playing the game but I enjoyed watching the games, collecting baseball cards, and followed my father in becoming a fan of the Baltimore Orioles. I remember watching lots of games on TV and even listening on the radio sometimes. I remember getting up in the morning and turning on the radio eager to hear how the Orioles – and their archenemy the Yankees – had done the night before.
            But, for whatever reasons, over time I lost interest in the game and moved on to other things.
            Yet, this season, both Sue and I have been watching more games – it’s been fun and a nice distraction.
            But, watching games on TV, I’ve noticed something. Maybe you’ve seen it, too.
            Often, many of the seats behind home plate – some of the most desirable spots in the ballpark – are empty.
            Since that’s the image you see on TV every time a pitcher pitches to a batter, it looks terrible. Makes it seem like the ballpark is empty.
            But, that’s not it.
            Instead, it seems that many of those prime – and quite expensive - seats are held by wealthy season ticket holders, many of them businesses, who use them to impress clients or, I hope, sometimes reward employees.
            This means that those seats – some of the best seats in the house – are out of the range of ordinary people who might like to watch a ballgame.
            Recently Sue and I commented about this to someone who suggested that the teams might consider inviting other fans to come down and fill those empty seats, if for no other reason than it looks terrible o TV.
            But, Sue said, no, they probably wouldn’t want lower class people taking the seats reserved exclusively for the wealthy.
            We see lots of examples of it in our society, don’t we?
            If you’ve flown in the past few years, you know that the gap between first class and the poor slobs squeezed like sardines in a can back in coach has grown so wide that it almost feels like we’re not on the same plane.
            The airlines have created programs with names like “Elite Access Advantage” for frequent flyers with deep pockets.
            They get exclusive perks like getting to board first, real food and plentiful drink served on china and in actual glasses, lots of legroom, free checked baggage, and, yes their own bathroom – and God help those in coach who might try to use that first class bathroom – for some reason the TSA has a rule against that kind of mingling!
            And, sadly, sometimes we’ve seen or even still see that kind of exclusivity in the church.
            Yesterday we had a joyous celebration of the renewal of ministry over at our sister Church of the Incarnation.
            Some of you may wonder why Incarnation is only four or five blocks from St. Paul’s – and even less than that from the former St. John’s, which stands only about a block and a half away.
            Well, as I mentioned in yesterday’s sermon, sadly, shamefully, Incarnation was founded because a century ago people of color were unwelcome at the other Episcopal churches in the city, including, I’m sorry to say, this one.
            I suspect that this racial exclusivity wasn’t loudly declared, but instead was subtle and quiet – but, nevertheless, all too clear.
            Obviously, we’ve come a long way but I wonder if today there are certain types of people who we subtly and quietly – but all too clearly – make to feel unwelcome.
            Why do we behave this way?
            Well, we know that sports teams and airlines and other businesses cultivate exclusivity because it makes them money.
            But, why do we behave this way?
            The answer is obvious, right? We like exclusivity because it feels good to build a wall and be on the inside, to be a winner, to look down at others who are different, who are, in the eyes of the world, “losers.”
            Fortunately, for us, God is not like that at all.
            Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday when we’re invited to reflect on God’s inner life, the great mystery of one God in three eternal Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
            Over the Christian centuries, much greater minds than mine have meditated on the Trinity, pondered how it is that God can be both one and three at the same time, puzzled over the relationship among and between the three divine Persons.
            All I can say is that the Trinity reveals to us that God’s very nature is community.
            And, since God is perfect and doesn’t need anything or anyone, the divine community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit could have spent all of eternity, for ever and ever, all alone, the most exclusive community of all.
            But, it turns out that instead of being exclusive, God is inclusive, inviting all of creation, all of us, to be part of the divine community of love.
            We see this way back in the Old Testament, in God’s Law, which takes a special interest in the lives and well-being of the poor and the foreigners and even the domesticated animals who were supposed to also share in Sabbath rest.
            And, we Christians, see God’s inclusivity in Jesus, who hung out with the “wrong kinds of people,” who invited everyone to the table, and who still invites everyone – those in the best seats and those in the nosebleed section – those enjoying the legroom of first class and those squeezed into coach – everyone – no matter what we look like or sound like – everyone is invited, everyone can be included in the divine community of love.
            And, we know that inclusivity is God’s way, we know that this is the way to go, because while exclusivity might feel good, at least for a while, nothing beats when we’re all together.
            On Wednesday night I had the pleasure of attending Hudson County Community College’s commencement out at NJPAC.
            I was honored that our parishioner Missy had invited me and was excited to celebrate her achievement.
            But, I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful it all was.
            Waiting to get into the hall I was surrounded by excited family members and friends, all different kinds of people, speaking many different languages, but bound together by love and pride and gratitude.
            When I got into the hall, I counted about 100 different flags on the stage, representing the homelands of the graduates.
            And, when the grads, who, I’m guessing, were in many cases the first in their family to earn a degree, entered the hall and took their seats they did something I’ve never seen at other graduations: they turned around and looked up at their people in the balconies and cheered and yelled and clapped and waved - it was just an amazing outpouring of joy that brought tears to my eyes.
            And, yesterday, we – the people of all three churches - had a beautiful celebration over at Incarnation – welcoming a new priest, yes – but more than that taking a big step toward healing some of the sins of our spiritual ancestors and finally, truly, becoming the Episcopal Church of Jersey City – finally, truly becoming what we – all of us - were always meant to be – what we – all of us - really are – the Body of Christ in this place.
            As human beings, we like exclusivity, we like building walls, because we like to feel like winners.
            It fees good, at least for a while.
            But, it’s not God’s way.
            God’s way is inclusivity – inviting everyone to be part of the divine community of love – where we’re all winners.