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Love’s Triple Play

Love’s Triple Play
June 11, 2017
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

I watch a lot of baseball, but I have never witnessed a triple play. Triple plays rarely occur; it’s a combination of circumstances and action that doesn’t happen often.  In fact, during the ten years from 2000-2009, only 35 triple plays were recorded throughout all the games in Major League Baseball.[1]  The thrill of the triple play surprises everyone:  the batter, the runners, the pitcher, the fielders, and both teams, as they watch an entire inning end within seconds.  The challenge is real—with the threat of two runners on base and zero outs in the inning.  Yet, a triple play only happens with impressive teamwork and reliance in the relationships between players.  No doubt, watching a baseball triple play unfold sparks amazement.

The energy and teamwork of the Holy Trinity also sparks amazement and surprises the faithful.  And like the triple play in baseball, references of the Trinity do not appear that often in the Bible.  From the very beginning, in the first story of creation, the pronouns change and God speaks in first person plural, “Let us make humankind in our image.”[2]  This subtle change is a catalyst for understanding the dynamic relationship of the Trinity.  Theologians and mystics alike theorize and ponder the relational manner of the Trinity—how each member is at work individually and collectively and how God, Christ, and the Spirit relate to the church.  One understanding of the church’s beliefs is outlined in The Declaration of Faith from 1977:

The Spirit is one with the Father and the Son.
In the presence of the Holy Spirit
the first Christians experienced God’s own presence,
not a power different from God or less than God.
In Jesus Christ they met God himself,
not a second God or one who is only like God.
Yet they worshiped with the people of Israel
one God alone.
Reflecting on this mystery,
the ancient church formulated the doctrine of the Trinity.
We believe with the church through the centuries
that God is what he has shown himself to be
in his story with his people:
One God who is the Creator and Sustainer,
the Savior and Lord,
the Giver of life within, among, and beyond us.
In his eternal being and in all his activity,
the one God is always and at the same time
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.[3]

Mysterious and surprising, the holy math may be difficult to compute, but we have ample evidence that the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer continue to act in amazing and surprising ways.  Through the Holy Trinity, we understand how the relationship of one God is active in three ways.  Taking our cue from the Trinity and Jesus’ great commission in Matthew’s gospel, the church is inspired to gather for worship and then sent to Create, Redeem, and Sustain one another in community and over a lifetime.  The Trinity may be amazing and confounding.  Yet, it is God who creates us, God in Christ who redeems us, and God in the Spirit who Sustains us, even in the midst of challenge.

According to Matthew, Jesus sent the disciples to go throughout the world to create communities of believers.  During his ministry, Jesus, the Great Trespasser, crossed many boundaries of culture and custom, expanding the disciples’ expectations of who God was calling to be faithful.  Jesus erased the boundaries of who was acceptable, and he encouraged the disciples to go and make disciples in all nations.  As the church we, too, are encouraged to be inclusive and open to all God’s people, despite our differences.

Since February, this congregation has heeded the Spirit’s movement and is still discerning how to reach out to neighbors and refugees in our town.  The We Choose Welcome initiative has grown from the spark of discussion to plans for action.  I invite you to discern how the Spirit is calling you to follow this part of Jesus’ commission:  to create new relationships, to widen the invitation, to expand our own expectation of how to be faithful witnesses in our community.  Whether you discern to partner closely with a family or to offer your talents and time as needed, UPC will continue to discern how we can be partners together.

Across the country and around the world, other communities of faith are answering the call to serve those who are refugees among them.  One church that has inspired me is the witness of Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia.  Stone Mountain is about two miles from Clarkston.  The people who call Clarkston home have changed since the 1990’s; now refugees make up as many as half of its population of 13,000.  The congregation of Memorial Drive felt called to open their doors and creative partnerships have flourished.

The Rev. George Tatro, pastor of Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, sees the potential for the church to be the heart of the community. His mantra is, “If you have something, share it.”

The Rev. Gad Mpoyo, who grew up Methodist, is the organizing pastor of Shalom International Ministry, a 1001 New Worshiping Community founded by immigrants, refugees and the Tri-Presbytery New Church Development Commission. This new intercultural church began in December 2011 with 11 people from the Congo, Zambia and Cameroon. Today, membership represents 16 countries.

In addition to Sunday worship, the Shalom International Ministry sponsors [afterschool tutoring for around 30 middle school students, children’s programs on Saturdays, and a youth program that meets on Fridays.]

When asked what Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church has meant to him, Pastor Mpoyo said, “In 2012, we had been worshiping for six months in apartments. Then we met with Pastor George Tatro and the session at Memorial Drive. They told us not only would they give us space but that they wanted to do ministry with us.” He remembers that Pastor Tatro said, “‘We may not have money but we open our space to make ministry happen.’”

Pastor Tatro added, “God is always doing something bigger than we planned.”

Tatro said the space originally prepared for the Shalom International Ministry is also shared by two other 1001 New Worshiping Communities — Chin Presbyterian Church and Zo Presbyterian Church — made up of Myanmar refugees who received the Gospel through the work of Presbyterian missionaries.

“God plants, transplants and gives the growth,” Tatro said. “Our part is to be faithful.”[4]

The love of our Creator shared in harmony with new friends can amaze and surprise us.  Jesus sent the disciples throughout the world to share the love of God the Creator, to gather people into families of faith.  We are here today as a witness to their work, and with the love of the Trinity, we are called to continue.  The challenges are real, but among those challenges we witness the power of the Trinity, at work in a variety of ways.

Yet, Jesus’ final commission to the disciples goes further than gathering together.  The disciples are encouraged to partner in redemption, to collaborate with the Trinity while facing threat and trial.  While acknowledging the pain of sin and brokenness, the disciples are sent to baptize and offer new life.  Offering healing where there is pain, offering companionship where there is isolation, offering hope where there is fear, we are called to join the Trinity in the mess and to reframe the world through the Love of God.  The same love that called creation good; the same love that sent Jesus to the cross; the same love that inspired the church with wind and flame.  Like the disciples gathered on the mountain, we are sent to participate in the Trinity’s labor of redemption.

Perhaps you are familiar with the Cellist of Sarajevo, an inspiring story of redemption.  Vedran Smajlović channeled his bravery and his grief to create stirring music while surrounded by violence.

Vedran Smajlović was the principal cellist of the Sarajevo Opera. In the early 1990s, though, life was difficult for everyone in Sarajevo as war broke out.

On May 27, 1992, a long line of people had queued up at one of the still-functioning bakeries. A mortar shell fell into the middle of the line, killing 22 people and creating a bloody mess of bodies and rubble. Smajlović lived close to the bakery and was appalled by what he saw as he helped the wounded. He felt powerless as he was neither a politician nor a soldier—he was a musician, who could speak truth to the heart beyond any language.

So, Smajlović took his cello to the spot where those waiting for bread had been killed and he began to play.  He played in a daze but in an incredibly evocative way.  In spite of the risk, people gathered to listen.  When he was finished he packed up his cello and went to a coffee shop.  Quickly people came up to him expressing their appreciation, “This is what we needed.”  Smajlović went back the next day and [returned for 22 days straight], one for each person killed. Sniper fire continued around him and mortars still rained down in the neighborhood, but Smajlović never stopped playing.

His music was a gift to all hiding in their basements with rubble above their heads, a voice for peace for those daily dodging the bullets of the snipers. As the reports of Smajlović’s performances on the shattered streets spread, he became a symbol for peace.[5]

Smajlović’s story is one example of how we can share our talent to create light in the darkness and hope while living through despair.  He used his gifts to invoke redemption in a war zone.  He created beauty where there was bloodshed, offering peace while his neighbors reeled in pain.  He met the threats surrounding him with the gift of melodies, melodies which moved the hearts of others’ suffering.  Amid challenges and threats, we see the power of God, and how the love of the Trinity is at work in mysterious and transformative ways.

In both texts, Jesus and Paul promise that the enduring presence of the Trinity will remain.  In both cases, the abiding presence of the Triune God—Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer—will go with the disciples, even after their leader in the faith leaves.  Jesus emphasizes that he will be with them, to the end of the age.  For just as Jesus encouraged the disciples that he would always be with them, we are assured that there is nothing that can separate us from the presence and love of the Holy Trinity.   The presence of God, through the Holy Spirit, will abide.  The Spirit will continue to comfort and encourage, challenge and confront, inspire and embolden disciples throughout their lives.  No one could control or contain the Spirit’s work on the day of Pentecost; no one can control or contain how the Spirit will lead the church today.  As we discern together how the Spirit is directing this congregation, we trust that the Trinity’s love is at play.

The disciples were not perfect followers; they faced challenges.  Some of the 11 disciples gathered at Galilee after the resurrection doubted; they were unsure of the future.  But Jesus sent them out to be the church, nonetheless.  Like the disciples, we are not called to be perfect; we too face challenges and pressures.  Sometimes we are unsure of what the future holds.  However, we have a remarkable resource.  We have the surprising power of God.  A God who works in many ways.  Today we celebrate the way God reaches out to us as the Trinity.  It’s love’s triple play:  the love of God the Creator, the love of Jesus Christ the Redeemer, and the love of the Holy Spirit the Sustainer and Comforter.  The remarkable surprises and love of the Holy Trinity may still catch us off guard, may still stun us, but we are called to be the church.  So, with all the love of the Trinity, go forth!

 

[1] http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Triple_play

[2] Genesis 1:26

[3] The Declaration of Faith of 1977, Chapter 5, Section 8, lines 99-114, 122-126

[4] “Memorial Drive Presbyterian partners with refugees in ministry and mission” https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/memorial-drive-presbyterian-partners-refugees-ministry-mission/

[5] “Vedran Smajlović:  Celloist of Sarajevo still moves the world” http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/vedran-smajlovic-cellist-of-sarajevo-still-moves-the-world/

Kate Fiedler , Associate Pastor for Adult Ministries

Email: kate@upcch.org

Phone: (919) 929.2102 ext. 130

Bio:

Kate joined the staff in November of 2014 as the Associate Pastor for Adult Ministries. She focuses her energy on strengthening the adult education program, coordinating congregational life events, and extending warm hospitality to new members. Kate grew up in Virginia and North Carolina, and she has moved back and forth across the state line seven times. She is a graduate of Davidson College and Union Presbyterian Seminary. Before arriving in Chapel Hill, Kate served as the Associate Chaplain at Trinity Episcopal School in Charlotte–teaching third through eighth graders–and then as the Director of Admissions at Union Presbyterian Seminary. Kate enjoys road trips, live music, reading, exploring new restaurants, and cheering on her favorite sports teams: the Bears, the Cubs, and the Tar Heels.