The Presiding Bishop Preaches on Trinity Sunday

The Presiding Bishop Preaches on Trinity Sunday

Christ Church, Glen Allen, VA
June 19, 2011

Trinity Sunday
19 June 2011
AFRECS
Christ Church, Glen Allen, VA

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church


What is a face? You heard in Genesis that God created plants for food – and that’s all. Some people won’t eat anything that has a face, which usually means warm-blooded animals. Some won’t eat birds, or frogs, or fish.


What does a face imply about something that has one? Probably something about awareness, and maybe the ability to feel or suffer. To most people, a face means animal. Yet plants have awareness, and even something like a great expanse of fungi or mycorrhizae has the ability to sense a threat and seek to avoid it. Plants are aware in ways that we human beings don’t always recognize. What is it that keeps a sunflower turning to face the sun all through the day, and even through the hours of darkness, so that its face is poised to receive the first rays of the rising sun?


“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” What does it mean for the deep or the waters to have a face?


God’s spirit acts on the deep expanse of waters, in such a way that the waters respond. God speaks, and the light emerges. God speaks, and the dome separates the waters beneath from the waters above. God speaks, and the waters gather into seas.


A face has something to do with the ability to respond, and here in Genesis, to respond to the word of God. We even use the word for parts of creation that we normally think of as inanimate. A rock face, like Half Dome in Yosemite, or Stone Face Rock near Pennington Gap, is the part of the mountain that responds to the forces of change like wind and water and ice. It is the part that relates to the rest of the world.


Look around at your neighbors’ faces. What do these faces imply?


A face is also what we define as distinctive about our understanding of God. When our Greek forebears in the faith began to speak of God as trinity, and note that the Trinity has three persons, they used a word – πρόσωπον – that means both person and face. We say that human beings are made in the image of God, that they bear, in some way, the face of God. We say that Jesus is the human face of God. We speak of meeting God face to face – at the end of life or the last judgment, but also in the sense of turning toward the divine, or in recognizing the presence of God in creation, in Jesus our brother, or in the spirit who continues to inspire us.


In some real sense we cannot meet God except by facing and turning toward the divine with that relational part of ourselves that engages another person. We cannot love our neighbors without facing toward them, without recognizing the image of God in their being. Nor can we love ourselves without seeing God’s beloved reflected in the mirror.


We need faces in order to build relationships. We have to recognize something familiar in order to start relationships, which is why babies and their parents spend so much time looking at each other. Babies begin to trust that this mother or father face will provide food and comfort and incarnate love, and those babies can only thrive when there is some predictability to the faces around them.


We learn to love through trusting a face, and in the process of maturing, our own faces become trustworthy. That is a great part of what it means to grow up into the full stature of Christ – to become a predictable and faithful representation of the loving face of God.


When a face changes, we don’t always recognize it easily. I saw a face across the room recently, thought I recognized it, but I wasn’t sure that it was my friend from 20 years ago until he came closer – he’d changed a lot. Something like that is going on with the disciples in today’s gospel. This encounter comes after Mary Magdalene and the other Mary meet and recognize Jesus at the tomb. He instructs them to tell the others to go to Galilee and meet him there. They do go, but when they see Jesus they don’t all recognize him. His face has changed in some way. Some worship him, and some aren’t sure who this is. But he tells them to go and teach the whole world about what he has taught them.


What would we teach? What does the trustworthy face of Jesus convey to us? Perhaps, “You are my friends; love each other as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” or as Matthew’s gospel puts it, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”


What does the trustworthy face of God look like, particularly in those who bear God’s image on their own faces? The world yearns for faces that can be trusted, faces that bear a message of beloved welcome, that send news of solidarity, even in the midst of trouble.


I heard some news from Egypt yesterday. We have a missionary in Cairo, a priest serving an Episcopal congregation there. He wrote about the religious violence that has been going on in Cairo, which the news media have reported as clashes between fundamentalist Muslims and Christians. He told a more nuanced story of a handful of Christian women seeking to escape violent marriages, who had no ability to divorce, and found a way to leave those marriages by converting to Islam. Brothers and husbands and fathers were taking revenge on those who welcomed these women, and others were retaliating. Churches, homes, and shops were being destroyed. Yet the surrounding community of Muslims and Christians has taken to the streets in demonstrations of support for each other. The priest told of shrouded Muslim women in full veils marching down the streets, with crosses painted on their veils. They cannot show their faces in public, but they can demonstrate their support and solidarity.


That’s what’s needed in Sudan right now – people searching for trustworthy friends, and acting like trustworthy, loving neighbors in the face of suspicion and mistrust that moves toward armed violence. Jesus’ response is always about non-violent witness, to say that I will love you even if you attack and persecute me. Yet he doesn’t tell people just to lie down and die. Solidarity with others brings a bolder face, maybe something like a fish or butterfly that bears great big eyes on its sides or wings. Those eyes aren’t full faces, but they convince predators: don’t attack this face, for a much larger creature is looking back at you. They turn away predators by bearing witness to something larger than themselves. That is what the body of Christ is meant to be – not threatening, but reassuring and bearing the eternal confidence that nothing can keep this body down forever. It will rise again, for God will keep on doing a new thing, even when the world’s evil strikes the body down.


The tyrants have already been put on notice that the world is watching. We stand with our brothers and sisters in Sudan, facing the violence, turning our faces toward Jerusalem, and saying an eternal NO! to forces that would deny or diminish life. This body will live if together we can turn our faces toward the light.


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[1] John 15:14; 13:34-35


[2] Matt 25:37-40


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