It was recently Trinity Sunday. When I first looked at the readings for the week, though, I was thinking about it being the first Sunday after Pentecost and the beginning of a long period of regular time, neither a time of preparation, like Advent or Lent, nor of celebration, like Christmas or Easter. My first thought was that, after preaching a service last summer on the longest Psalm, it was funny how short the Gospel (Matthew 28: 16-20) and Epistle (2 Corinthians 13:11-14) readings were. They may be short in terms of the number of words and verses, but they are far from short on import and challenge!
If you set aside the importance of the texts to the formation of the doctrine of the Trinity, these readings, in their few verses, speak to some of the most challenging things in the life of the church. From the Epistle, “Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.”, or in NRSV terms which I read first, “Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace.” These words seemed particularly pertinent in the wake of this year’s General Assembly, three full days of worship and deliberation on issues facing our denomination. And from the Gospel, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Today I’ll focus on Paul’s final words to the Corinthians.
Paul wrote a series of imperatives to the community in Corinth. The first imperative to them was, “put things in order”, or mend your ways. The focus of this directive is for each individual looking first to their own relationship with God before trying to sort things out with others in the church. He “invites them into a time of self-examination and self-improvement. To “examine” and “test” themselves.”
Paul then, after reminding them to listen to him, says, “Agree with one another,” or, “Be of one mind.” No problem, right!
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have trouble being of one mind on an issue, and I have just one mind! As we all know from our personal relationships, agreement between even two people can be hugely challenging. That is the whole premise of the various Love It or List It shows in which one couple is unhappy with their home, one convinced that they must move and the other convinced that renovations can solve the problems. Things can get pretty nasty during the process, but in the end, a decision is made based on what is best for the family.
What happens when we disagree on things? It is so easy for a calm discussion to devolve into argument. There may be harsh words, name calling, accusations may be made, feelings hurt, and the more we battle the less we are able to consider other’s ideas. We focus on defending our own view. This is true of almost any argument, imagine how much more so when the disagreements are on such fundamental things as our faith!
If it was easy to agree with one another Abel may have lived a long happy life, and yet Paul here encourages the church of Corinth, a divided, even fragmented, and contentious community, to agree with each other. “Be of one mind.” Was he kidding?
As we are agreeing already, the rest is to live in peace. I like this story…
There once was a King who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The King looked at all the pictures, but there were only two he really liked and he had to choose between them.
One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror, for peaceful towering mountains were all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace.
The other picture had mountains too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky from which rain fell and in which lightening played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all. But when the King looked, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush, a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest… perfect peace.
Which picture do you think won the prize?
The King chose the second picture. “Because,” explained the King, “peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.” (“Painting Peace”)
This is still a significant challenge, but sounds much more realistic!
In the notes for today on the Church of Scotland website it says, “Second Corinthians is a painful letter for Paul to write, as it deals with the church community in Corinth that has been fractious, irreverent and divisive. The exhortation to, “mend your ways…agree with one another, live in peace…” is forceful. It is a word not only for C1st but also C21st Christians. If essential qualities of the Trinity are unity, togetherness, mutuality, interdependence, then Christians following in the way of the Trinity must also demonstrate those same qualities.
Paul’s letter, after the storms, tears, rebukes, recriminations, and self-justification, according to one commentator, ends with three sweet verses, “…that appear as something of a rainbow.” Paul calls for things to be put in order, for the Corinthians to ‘kiss and make up’, and to be reconciled with each other and with him. It might be that these verses do not give so much instruction about the Trinity, the Trinity is not the focus; rather it is the gifts, given by the Trinity, that are at the forefront: grace, love, and fellowship. The Trinity is intrinsically social in nature; therefore those made in the image of the Trinity are likewise intrinsically social beings. We are called to live in peace and harmony. We are challenged to resolve our disputes graciously and to live peaceably together. Or, to use Paul’s familiar ‘body’ metaphor from First Corinthians, in our diversity we find our unity. In the multiplicity of our purposes, we find that we work together for the good of all. God’s creative imagination and Christ’s redeeming love, culminating in the sustained fellowship and communion that is the binding and joining work of the Holy Spirit.” (“Trinity Sunday”)
And how can we do all this? This is where, in closing, Paul pulls in the ultimate example of a relationship, which we know as the Trinity. Though we can barely hope to do it on our own, we remain hopeful because we are not alone in this. Paul reminds us that we can do it through the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. We have been given all we need…
The Facebook post with the link to the summary notes on the Assembly said, “The best summary of all, though, may just be the Moderator’s words and call to action in the final sederunt. “And now the hard part…in church terms, this is called ‘passing the peace – seriously.’ I invite us all to do that, right now.”” (https://tinyurl.com/y7y4qz7w)
“Painting Peace”. Stories for Preaching. N.p., 2017. Web. 10 June 2017.
“Trinity Sunday”. Churchofscotland.org.uk. N.p., 2017. Web. 14 June 2017.