Sunday, June 3, 2012

Guest Moodler: Trinity Sunday sermon on Friendship

My dearest friend came to join our family for confirmation and graduation this past week, and we had a lot of good talking time together. She presided at her church this morning while her minister (D.) and his wife (J.) were away. Her sermon took on a life of its own after a wonderful conversation in our local coffee shop, thanks to the Trinity. Happy Trinity Sunday! And best wishes to D. & J. in their retirement! Though I don't know them personally, I know them well from Cathy's stories of them over the years...

Reflection on Friendship
Cathy Coulter
 June 3, 2012

When I found out that today is Trinity Sunday, I was a little dismayed. I had another topic in mind and the Trinity did not fit. I thought I’d say, “Today is Trinity Sunday” and then move on to what I really wanted to talk about which is friendship. But I think God had something better planned.
I was in Edmonton this past week, visiting a good friend, speaking of friendship and she’s got a religious education background. We went to a coffee shop and I read to her what I had so far for this sermon and as I read, I knew it was all wrong. I could see from her expression it wasn’t working.  When I finished, she said, “What about the Trinity? Aren’t you going to tie that in?” I said, “But my theme is friendship” and she said, “The Trinity is all about friendship.”
Our God is not the old man up in the heavens sitting on a throne all by himself. Our God is a relational God. The Trinity is a constellation of relationships between God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit; Father, Son and Holy Ghost, as we likely grew up hearing, or a newer expression: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. The three persons of the Trinity are in relationship with each other. This we can understand because, created in the image of God, we are relational beings. Not only do we have the Trinity as a model of relationship, but we are also gathered into that friendship; we are part of it.
My friend explained the Trinity to me like this: God is in everything around us but not visible except with the eyes of faith. Jesus is the embodiment of God, God with skin on. Jesus lived a human life and is someone we can all relate to. The Holy Spirit is the overarching Love that unites us, the Spirit that moves in us and leads us to seek relationship with God. When we pray, it is not us who pray, but the Spirit who prays in us, said St. Paul. I remember the novel “The Shack” that made the rounds a few years ago. William Paul Young, the author makes God, the Father/Mother, Jesus and the Holy Spirit into characters in the story, characters that demonstrate a beautiful friendship with each other. There is a flow of love among the three persons of the Trinity and we can’t help but be participants in that love.
We are made for friendship and I have been fortunate to have a friendship that feels like it’s been created out of that kind of love. It’s a friendship that is into its 5th decade and that’s with Maria, the friend in the coffee shop who gave me a lesson about the Trinity and the girl in my Grade One picture. That’s where we met, in Grade One in Plenty, Saskatchewan. We didn’t get to know each other well in those early years and her family moved to Edmonton when we started Grade Four. But because my grandparents lived in Edmonton, I’d call her once in a while when we went to visit and we became pen pals. We both liked to express ourselves through writing, we both needed a friend to commiserate with about not being popular, and very gradually we discovered a kindred spirit in each other. Our letters became longer – often close to twenty pages –they became more frequent - often crossing in the mail - and our letters became something we both treasured. We wrote through school, university, summer jobs, and permanent jobs, one of us living abroad, one of us getting married. Twenty four years after the first letter in Grade Four, we were curious to see how many there were, and we got together for a letter counting event which included a lot of hilarity and shrieks as we delved into letters we’d written through our teens, twenties, and thirties. Between the two of us, we had 428 letters.
That friendship grew to include lots of face to face time as I lived in Edmonton for 5 years in my moving around. We are in touch almost every day, mostly by computer these days. I can’t imagine my life without Maria. She is truly a soulmate. Years ago, she shared one of her favourite songs with me. It was written by a folksinger named Joan MacIsaac.  If you Google it on YouTube, you can hear the original and also see one of Maria singing it with her budgie accompanying her. This is how it goes:
          I hover over your left shoulder. I am the sunshine in your eyes.
          Though you don’t know it, I’m right with you
          In the shadow that is walking by your side.
          The miles between us, they don’t mean a thing.
          We conquered them so many years ago.
I hover over your left shoulder and I just wanted you to know,
I wanted you to know.
That’s the Spirit hovering over our left shoulders. That’s the love between us. And we never need to say good-bye because of that.
Henri Nouwen is one of my favourite spiritual writers and he tells a story in his book “Reaching Out” about reuniting with a friend and them sitting together in conversation and in silence. After some peaceful silence the friend said to Henri, “When I look at you it is as if I am in the presence of Christ.” Henri writes, “I did not feel startled, surprised or in need of protesting, but I could only say, ‘It is the Christ in you, who recognizes the Christ in me.’ “Yes,” the friend said, “He is indeed in our midst.” And then he said, “From now on, where you go or wherever I go, all the ground between us will be holy ground.” I love that image.
We have had another example of friendship in our church and that, of course is with D. and J. They have been wonderful friends and we don’t want to say good-bye to them. I don’t want to say good-bye. When I started coming to this church 6 years ago, I felt so lucky to have found a church with D. and J. in it. D. gives such a good sermon. His humour and comic sense of timing make us laugh and feel so good but what really stands out is his message. Every time, his sermons give me a new way to consider something, a way to expand the boundaries of my life and I can honestly say, my life has changed for the better because of D.’s sermons. Thirty-some years of ministry shows in the depth of his wisdom. I have gone to D. on more than one occasion for some advice but I remember one occasion in particular when I was really struggling with an ethical issue and with a few words of his wisdom everything became so clear for me and I felt a huge weight lifted. And J….well, I would like to be just like J. when I grow up.   I’ve seen how she generates such love and respect in the kids of the youth group and Sunday Journey, how she displays such love and respect toward every person in off the street. Her grace and clear thinking under pressure and her grace and compassion at all times with all people make her someone I so admire. Together, J. and D. have changed this church and changed us for the better, opening our vision as well as our doors, showing us how to live with respect in creation and in harmony with everyone we encounter. And yet, they remain completely humble. There is a reason I am gushing about them when they are not here. I think they would be uncomfortable with the gushing. And I want to gush.
What is it that makes D. and J. so special? The answer is simply, Love. I found a perfect description of J. and D. in the Bible. See if this sounds like them:
          D. and J. are patient and kind; they are not jealous or conceited or proud. J. and D. are not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; they do not keep a record of wrongs. D. and J. are not happy with evil, but are happy with the truth. They never give up. Their faith, hope and patience never fail.
D. has the gift of inspired preaching...we’ve all heard him…but it’s love we’re hearing. J. has enough faith to move mountains…we’ve seen her quiet persistence… but it’s love that is at work. D. and J. are God with skin on in the way that we all are when we care for God’s creation and each other. And the warm feeling that we get when we think about them, the love that flows when we are with them? That’s the Holy Spirit.  That’s us gathered in and participating in the love of the Trinity.
We don’t have to say good-bye to J. and D. because the Holy Spirit is going to be in us hovering over their left shoulders and in them hovering over ours, especially as they head into new adventures and we head into new directions. From now on, wherever they go, no matter how far they travel, the ground between them and us will be holy ground.
But it isn’t easy to let them go! And it isn’t easy for them to leave. J. is cleaning house! The nooks and crannies and cupboards are getting a thorough going over and are going to be perfect. D. is having a hard time fathoming a Saturday night with nothing to do. After 36 years of a shared ministry, there is a strong possibility that they might feel a bit lost as they make the transition away from a life of being available 24/7. So let’s acknowledge our sadness that they are leaving us and then let’s focus on loving them into retirement. Let’s pour out love on them the way the woman with the alabaster jar poured the expensive ointment on Jesus. Let’s fill the cash purse that Fred is collecting to overflowing. Let’s really tell them how they made a difference in our lives in the paper squares that are going into the scrapbook. Let’s get lots of pictures after church which Lucy and Marta and others will be snapping as we leave.
Let’s pack this church for the next three Sundays. And finally, and most especially, in loving D. and J. into retirement, let’s not forget their legacy of love but work even harder to make this church a beacon of kindness, justice and humility as we walk with God, follow Jesus and open our hearts to the Holy Spirit.

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