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What Happens Next -- Acts 2:42-3:10 (Trinity Sunday)

Icon of the Trinity, by Kelly Latimore,

copyrighted, used with permission,

As I mentioned at the start of worship, this Sunday is Trinity Sunday. In the rhythm of our life together in Christ, we’ve now experienced three holy days right in a row: (1) the Ascension – as Jesus ascends into heaven, promising power in the coming of the Holy Spirit; then (2) Pentecost – as the disciples are gathered, and there’s a mighty wind, the Spirit descends on the people, in tongues as of fire; and then (3) this Sunday, Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday invites us to think of the expansiveness and intimacy of how we experience God – Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit – in the world and in our lives.

But before we say a few words about that – about Trinity – I’m still stuck on Pentecost – still celebrating Pentecost. That experience of the Spirit is so powerful and overflowing. The Spirit descends onto and into the gathered people, and they begin to speak in languages not their own, and not only that – as they pour out in the streets – people from all across the known world – hear them, speaking their languages – and they understand. Everyone speaking, everyone listening, everyone understanding each other. And then Peter stands up and announces: “This is what the prophet said: God says I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Your youth will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams. Women, men, people of all genders, those held in slavery, those who are free – all people – everyone. And there will be signs and wonders. Just you wait.” The power of the Spirit, the promise of the Spirit.

In that heady moment of Pentecost, I’m left wondering: What happens next. Filled to overflowing with the Spirit, what happens next? This morning’s scriptures offer a glimpse of that – of the what happens next. The second chapter of Acts begins with Pentecost, and it ends with this morning’s Scriptures. There’s Pentecost, Peter preaches its meaning, 3,000 people are baptized – and then we get this glimpse – this glimpse of what happens next – of the life they live in community. The book of Acts actually gives us three glimpses of their life in community – the writer is telling the story – the action is moving along – but then they stop – three times – and say, “Oh, and remember, this is what their life looked like.” Three glimpses. Aimee Moiso preached on the second glimpse back in April. This one is the first. The writer of Acts keeps coming back to it – the life they lived in community.

Biblical scholar Mitzi Smith says that before we notice anything else we should notice how they come together and the power of their mutual commitment to each other and to their shared life.[1] I learned a new Greek word this week – proskartereo. Mitzi Smith emphasizes this central action of committing themselves -- to be steadfastly attentive to – to give unremitting care to. “They were committing themselves (proskartereo) to the teaching of the apostles and to community.” It’s a verb of directional action – they committed themselves toward – toward the teaching of the apostles, toward life in community, toward each other.

That mutual commitment flows out into embodied life – specific actions and practices that come to characterize their life together. They break bread together. They pray together. They pool their resources together – own everything in common – and then they sell those possessions and distribute as any have need. Their mutual commitment to the well-being of all shapes a new economic system, a mutual sharing according to the need of each person – what Margaret Aymer calls “a communitarian way of life.”[2] Their mutual commitment engenders this life of shared community – or, as Mitzi Smith describes it, “the giddy sharing of goods, self, and time for the welfare of all.”[3]

And then, then, there are the signs and the wonders – there’s the second story in our Scriptures this morning. Peter and John are walking along, and they come across a man who can’t walk, and whose friends bring him every morning to the city gate called Beautiful to beg for alms. Peter looks at him, sees him – he looks at Peter – and Peter says, “I have no silver or gold, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ stand up and walk.” And Peter reaches out his hand, and the man not only stands up – he leaps – it’s like he leaps off the page – he shouts and jumps and walks with them into the Temple, praising God. This is big. All the healing that Jesus has been doing – the disciples now do. How did Peter know he could do that? Filled with the Holy Spirit, they find healing in their hands – the healing power of Christ, now alive in their hands – in them.

As the Spirit is poured out into all flesh at Pentecost, what happens next is that (1) the people mutually commit themselves to the way of Jesus and to each other; (2) that mutual commitment flows forth in embodied action in the world and deep connection – breaking bread, praying, sharing all they have as each has need; and (3) they find Christ’s healing power in their hands. What we see and learn in this what happens next is this: The life of Christ is life in community, reaching out to the world with healing in our touch.

So now, let’s say something about the Trinity. The Trinity is this central understanding of Christianity that reflects the expansiveness of how we experience God. We experience God as Creator – source and sustainer of all creation – in and above and around all things – loving and accompanying all creation toward that day when all things will be made whole. We experience God as Christ – God come to us in human flesh – our flesh – in liberation and healing – saving us from everything that does us harm. And we experience God in Holy Spirit – God’s own Spirit alive in us – empowering us – calling and shaping us into one body to live the life of Christ.

This central understanding of God that we call Trinity isn’t expressed in any one verse or passage of the Bible – it’s not expressed in this morning’s Scripture. This understanding – it’s something that came after – after all this was written down – as Christian communities searched the witness of Scripture and the experience of God in our lives – and said, this is how we have come to experience God’s creating, saving, loving action in our particular lives and across time and space. Perhaps they knew that no one word was enough. God in three persons, living life together, one God.

Now, over the centuries, there have been way too many fights and arguments about what the specifics of what all that means – exactly, how is God three and at the same time one? I think it’s best to hold the mystery of all that as blessing. If you asked seminary students today what the Trinity means, I bet 9 out of 10 would lead off by saying that the Trinity tells us something about God’s life in relationship – Creator, Christ, and Spirit. They might even tell you a Greek word that’s come to signify the dance of the Trinity – three persons dancing one life in relationships of mutuality.

Here are some ways some artists have imaged the Trinity:

· This is the Rublev icon that we saw during the Prelude – folks have seen in this the mutuality and hospitality of the Trinity – gathered at this table – inviting us the viewer in to sit at table.

· Here’s a modern riff on that same theme – by Kelly Latimore – as he images the Trinity even more expansively – the community of the Trinity transcending boundaries of gender and race. (image copyrighted, used with permission)

· And there are symbols of the Trinity, centuries-old – this is a Celtic knot – a Triqueta – the threeness of God – Creator, Christ, Spirit – flowing into and out of each other. In the traditions of Celtic spirituality, it’s an expression of God as deep connection – God connected to us – Creator, Christ, and Spirit connected together – God and us connected to all creation.

That Trinitarian sense of connection and relationship infuses Celtic prayer through the ordinary moments of the day. There’s one prayer I just love. It’s for the start of the day – you splash your face with three handfuls of water – one palmful for the Creator, one for the Christ, one for the Holy Spirit – God’s life in community present with us, rousing us for the day. [4]

Over the centuries, in the experience of the Trinity, we come to see this: God’s own life is life lived in community – in community and mutuality – reaching out to us, and inviting us and the whole world in.

On this Sunday after Pentecost, on this Trinity Sunday – we see life – God’s own life, the life of Christ alive in those first days after Pentecost, and our life – we see life lived out in community. As one of my mentors, Eugenia Gamble, loves to say: “It’s all about community.” This life lived in community, it is a part of God’s identity – who God is. And, it is a part of our identity – who we are, in Christ. As ones made in the image of God, as ones who by the power of the Spirit of Christ now live the life of Christ, we can’t understand ourselves apart from the life we live in community. It is who we are.

This life lived in community and mutuality – it is at the heart of the “what happens next” of Pentecost – and, it’s at the heart of our “what happens next.” I’ve been hearing versions of that question – “What happens next?” – a lot these days. I’ve been wondering it a good bit too. As we seem to be re-emerging from pandemic, as a nation, as a church, as families and individuals, we’re asking this question – What happens next?

On June 15, we expect that the State of California will end a good bit of the regulatory structure that has shaped our lives for more than a year – as the State, in Governor Newsom’s language – re-opens. We expect that the State will follow CDC guidance – and replace much if not all of the regulation with a face-covering guideline for individuals based, in large part, on vaccination status. What’s not clear is what all that looks like when individuals then go out into public spaces and mingle there – and what the responsibility is for those businesses and places where people gather.

It’s a big change. We should name that. And our unease may be counter-intuitive. We think of regulations as binding and stifling – but in the uncertain world of pandemic, for many of us the regulations and protocols have given some structure, some sense of safe harbor in a world that has felt very unsafe. Now, as we safely can, how do we let go of that?

What happens next?

As the answer to that question is still coming into focus, I want to suggest that we ground ourselves – and our conversation here – in the glimpse we get in this morning’s Scripture of the life of Christ lived in community. I want to suggest that we claim this Scripture as a touchstone text. When the world is spinning, this is a bit of solid ground on which to stand to say – “Oh yes, this is who we are; this is what we strive to be.” In this glimpse of the life of Christ – life lived in community – here is what we see:

· They commit themselves to the teaching of Christ and toward each other.

· They share what they have – their life together – as each has need.

· They share the work together.

· They experience deep connection.

· They reach out their hands and find Christ’s healing touch, alive in them.

What we see has evoked five questions for me that I want to offer for our conversation in these coming weeks. I have no answers for these questions, but they hold within them values that I think can guide our way.

Throughout the pandemic, we have been committed to moving forward together faithfully and safely – that is to say, we have been committed to moving forward led by the teachings of Christ and, in pandemic, also by science. So the first question is this: Just as we followed science into the collective practices of sheltering, how do we now follow science back out? Step by step, steadily – how do we embrace the new opportunities that we have to be together?

That first question is held in balance with the second: How do we move forward mindful of the needs of others – living together, as each has need? I remember that evening, way back in March of last year, when our Session decided to suspend in-person worship, and move entirely online – and I should say that this church decided to do this before it was required by the County or the State. We listened together, that night, as folks who were in higher risk groups shared their agonized decision that they would stop attending church. Someone in the conversation said, “You shouldn’t have to bear the weight of that decision alone – we should make this decision together – and if so many can’t come to the sanctuary – maybe we should all move online together.” It was a powerful conversation – and a unanimous vote.

In this moment, how do we act together, mindful of the full range of individual need? In Marin County, we know that large numbers of people are vaccinated. And there are also those who are not - our children are not. And, there are those for whom the vaccine does not provide the same protection that it does for others. How do we hold all that with the healthy intention of re-emerging and embracing new opportunites, as we continue to shape a path for moving together?

Third: How do we sustain and grow this deep sense of connection we have found in sheltering? Who would have guessed that Zoom, with all its limitations, would also open up to us an opportunity for deeper connection? In a world of sheltering isolation – this hour of worship has been a moment in the week where we can gather with others – face to face – where we see each other, and where we are seen? How do we find even more of that in days where we can be in-person together? How can we do that better now that we can never again take that for granted?

Fourth: How will we share the work? It has taken a village to move us through pandemic. This re-emerging is hard. Hybrid experiences are hard – as we are determined to hold together an even broader, more diverse community. We will likely need an even more expansive village to share the work, and in the weeks to come, we may be inviting folks to think of how each of us can be a part of this.

And then, fifth: How will we reach out our healing hand? We’ve been so focused on pandemic for so long now – necessarily so – and not just for ourselves, we have been part of a great collective effort to slow and end this pandemic, to save life. But as we re-emerge, we will regain space and time to think of other things – to expand our horizon again – to see visions and to dream dreams – to more broadly again see the needs of the world. Where and how and to whom will we reach out our hand?

Today, we’re talking about Acts 2 and Acts 3. Last weekend, I watched the SFTS graduation – cheering on the graduates, including Juliette Razafirisoa, who offered the Benediction. The Distinguished Alumnus, Rev. Dr. Jorge William de Castro Abdala, when he got up to speak, he invited the gathered community to write together Acts 29. You see, the Book of Acts only has 28 chapters. Rev. Dr. Abdala said he wanted to focus on chapter 29 – the what happens next – the chapter that we are writing even now – as the Spirit continues to empower God’s people – as the healing, liberating, saving power of Christ shows up in our hands.

This life in community, in Jesus Christ, it is who we are. We can only move forward together. It is who we are. As we, with the whole body of Christ, write Acts 29 – the next chapter – as we live together this “what happens next” – maybe one day, something like this will be said of us:

They devoted themselves to Jesus’ teaching and to community, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done. They were together and shared what they had – distributing what they had as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day, the Spirit welcomed into community so many who were being fed, and sheltered, and loved, and freed, and healed.

© 2021 Scott Clark

[1] See [2] See [3] See [4] See Esther de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer (New York: Image Books/Doubleday, 1997), pp.38-50.

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