May 18, 2008
Trinity Sunday (A)
The Arresting Power of Circle
2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Trinity Sunday is the celebration of God’s unique unity within Himself. God in three persons: Father, Son and Spirit. Each unique, yet always in harmony. This image may have been captured most poignantly in Andrei Rublev’s famous icon, “The Holy Trinity,” sometimes called, “The Hospitality of Abraham” (painted approximately 1412 AD near Moscow).

Rublev shared life in the Trinity-St. Sergius monastery where the emphasis upon “fraternity, calm, love (toward) God and spiritual self-improvement” stood in sharp contrast to the turbulent political and social upheaval going on in Russia. Rublev’s icon captured the power of Trinity. Here, in an endless circle, the Father, Son and Spirit exist and minister in harmony.

“A perichoretic image of the Trinity is that of the three persons of God in constant movement in a circle that implies intimacy, equality, unity yet distinction and love.” (George Cladis, Leading the Team-Based Church, pg. 4).

Once again we face turbulent social and spiritual times. Once again the image of the circle arrests us. Even as God exists in harmony, so must the church. When the body of Christ exhibits this “circle dance,” then we will have power to speak into our communities.

Paul understood. After two letters (as we have them) to a divided congregation in the troubled city of Corinth, he comes to his conclusion. “In the name of the Trinity, practice unity and the God of love and peace will be with you.”

In order to have the credibility to speak to a broken world the church must demonstrate a unified spirit and a common commitment to the things that matter.

We must rejoice in spite of our difficulties
The New Living Translation captures the opinion of most commentators. The word translated by the NIV and others as “good-bye” or “farewell” really should be translated “be joyful” or “rejoice.” This imperative verb is found in many of Paul’s writings and reminds us of the power of God over our difficulties. Even in the midst of difficulties, divisions, and differences, if the church in Corinth could demonstrate joy they would have the power of witness.

Life in our day is hard. We have situations in our churches that challenge the most faithful among us. If we can develop a spirit of rejoicing in all things, we will arrest the attention of the world around us. That will be especially true if we can rejoice with and for each other.

We must grow up spiritually
To “aim for perfection” reflects the appeal of 2 Corinthians 13:9 where Paul prays “you will become mature.” At some point we must “grow up” and realize the church is not all about us. It’s natural for babies to be selfish – in fact, it’s necessary. But a parent’s role is to move a child from selfishness to selflessness. It’s a challenge no less daunting in the church.

Every indication in the New Testament is that maturity identifies healthy churches and healthy Christians – they think of others ahead of themselves. They are no longer selfish. The image captured by Rublev is founded on the Genesis story of Abraham’s hospitality – a mark of selfless maturity.

As any dancer knows, the beauty of the dance is in the harmonious movements of the couple, not in the individual antics of each. Dancing requires the maturity to follow the leadership of the other and the selflessness to complement the movements of your partner.

We must be willing to listen
Translated “listen to my appeal” (NIV), this word reminds us of our need to be “teachable.” 2 Corinthians 1 (like its preceding letter) has real elements of harshness and stringent demand. But to have the power of witness in the community, there must be a willingness to grow and change, to reform and be renewed.

The un-churched of our era don’t believe we are listening. According to the study done by the Barna Group, unveiled most completely in the book unChristian, the young non-believer believes evangelical Christians are judgmental, naïve and hypocritical. They believe we exhibit all the characteristics of those who refuse to listen to anyone else’s point of view.

And, if they are correct, we have apparently not listened to teachings of Christ and the apostles. If we had, we would not be hypocritical. If we had, we would know that we must love without limits and without judgmental spirit.

We must live in peace
“Be of one mind” (see also Romans 12:16; Romans 15:5; and Philippians 2:2; Philippians 4:2) recalls the dissension alluded to in 2 Corinthians 12:20, “quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.” (New American Commentary)

“Live in peace” echoes Jesus’ call to “be at peace with each other” and the repeated references by Paul (Romans 12:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:13, et al). Peace is painted on the faces of the Trinitarian figures on Rublev’s icon. God lives in a peaceful “circle dance” of cooperation. Only when the church learns to live at peace (John 17) will we have the power of witness to our communities.

Trinity Sunday, captured in the power of the unbroken – the circle which reminds us of our power, and a church living in the peace and love of God. Trinity Sunday, first Sunday after Pentecost – the day the church broke forth in power. Once again the church has the power to break forth, if it will live the image of diversity in unity.

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