Happy Father’s Day! It’s not so often that Father’s Day and the Sunday set aside on the church’s calendar for discussion of the Holy Trinity coincide. We’re usually well into the Sundays after Pentecost by now, but because of the late Easter, everything on the church calendar got pushed back my almost a month, and so we end up talking about Father, Son and Holy Spirit in church on a day when many are gathering to talk about fathers and children and families.
My own father is a church musician. He’s been one for about thirty-five years now, all served in the same place, at the church where I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. I learned plenty about theology and church history in seminary, but most of what I learned (and continue to learn) about music and worship, I’ve learned from my dad.
Some fathers and sons like to go fishing. Others like to golf. Me and my dad? Well, every year since I moved to Chicago almost five years ago, Dad and I have attended a worship conference at Valparaiso University. We spend two days with other Lutheran pastors and musicians from around the country attending lectures and workshops on topics like “Liturgy in the Public Square” or “Liturgy and Healing” or “Worship at the Time of Death.” This year it was, “the Psalms.”
Often there are workshops that seem more oriented toward church musicians, like reading sessions for new choral literature or hymnody, and others that seem more oriented toward pastors, like preaching seminars. Though they work side-by-side, pastors and church musicians don’t always see worship through the same lens, and there are plenty of horror stories floating around out there about what happens to worship when pastor and musician don’t see eye to eye. But in my family, we don’t even need to leave the dining room table to uncover that kind of conflict. Over the years my dad and I have argued about hymns, about instruments, about language and even about the tone of voice and diction appropriate for leading prayer and for participating in the assembly’s prayer. I half suspect we argue because we believe what we’re saying, but the other half thinks we argue because we argue.
So, we cooked up an idea for a blog we’d like to write together. We’d like to pick a series of topics and for each installment we’d each put our thoughts and opinions out there, but we’d also invite a third party in to add another perspective. A guest expert. If we were talking about language in worship, it might be a poet. If we were talking about healing in worship, it might be a doctor or a hospital chaplain. Someone whose work inspires us. And, what do you think we want to call our worship blog?
Wait for it…
“Father, Son and Holy Spirit”
What do you think? Too much? Too pretentious? I don’t know, but I don’t think so. In fact, I suspect the doctrine of the Trinity might seem less mysterious and more useful if we imagined Father, Son and Holy Spirit;
Or: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer;
Or: God Around Us, God Toward Us, God Through Us
as a family. Parent and Child and Guest, all sitting around the dinner table, inviting others to join them for good food and a feisty conversation about things that matter.
That’s how I think about our friend Melissa, who will be heading back to Angola for the second summer in a row with RISE International to do teacher training and leadership development work in communities still putting themselves back together in a country that was devastated by a civil war that lasted the entire last quarter of the twentieth century. Her Christian faith propels her to go there, not in some sort of colonial missionary way, but because she has experienced around those dinner tables the kind of community that the Holy Trinity represents: life together around the things that matter.
That’s what I love about our new artist-in-residence, BackStage Theatre Company. Listen to their mission:
BackStage Theatre Company is a not-for-profit ensemble of theatre artists dedicated to the exploration of family. Through the creation of bold and eclectic productions, we question and examine what family means socially, spiritually, economically, politically, and culturally. Our BackStage family is committed to the growth of all families.
Wow! What a mission statement! I mean, that’s the sort of mission statement I’d like to hear more churches adopting. Questioning and examining what it means to be family, along all of the dimensions that characterize human life and community.
That, of course, is one of the ways that we describe baptism – as entrance into a new family, one with a new head-of-household, who is God. This is why we call each other sisters and brothers, because we believe that in our baptism we were initiated into a new way of seeing the world where everyone is connected by common bonds of love that require us to be involved in the healing and liberation of all who suffer – whether that suffering be social, spiritual, economic, political or cultural.
And I love that BackStage Theatre company does their work through story-telling. Again, this feels like church at its best to me. After all, we follow a teacher and prophet who used, as his primary teaching tool, stories and parables. And when we gather together as a community we read stories and tell stories as a way of remembering who we are, so that we can live out those stories, join those stories, to every moment of our lives.
Listen to the values that BackStage has named as its own:
- Connectivity: to consider the complex dynamics of human connectivity through the explo
ration of the idea of family.
- Closeness: to embrace and explore the medium of intimate theatre as a unique and essential mode of articulating our stories, gently erasing the lines between artists and audience.
- Courage: to challenge our audiences and our artists with complex thematic ideas, and to give artists and audiences a safe haven to consider those ideas.
- Delight: to captivate our audiences and artists alike; to respectfully engage the hearts and minds of those who produce and those who attend; to entertain with broad minds and open hearts; to produce with ambitious joy.
Again, wow! This is the kind of church I want to belong to. Actually, this is the kind of church I do belong to, and that you belong to, and that has invited BackStage Theatre to come and be in residence with us. I am so excited by the idea that we might explore some of these things together – what it means to be family, in all of the dimensions of human life. We have so many stories to tell.
Which is one of the main reasons why we have also invited Thaddaeus Elliott to be with us this morning. Thaddaeus is an undergraduate student from Northwestern University in Social Policy, and he is with us for twelve weeks this summer as our Community Development Intern. You’ll hear more about Thaddaeus’ internship later this morning, but the two projects he’s here to focus on this summer are our ecumenical collaboration with other churches in the neighborhood to address the childhood obesity epidemic that is becoming a national crisis, and to assist our new Communications Committee with transforming how we think about communicating our story to each other and to the world.
As an example, consider this: as I sat yesterday afternoon with members of the social justice committee here are some of the things they discussed:
- How to complete the one-on-one training for the five people in this congregation who will be meeting with all of the rest of you to invite you to share your stories of passion and commitment, to find out what your faith compels you to care about.
- Who would go to an upcoming Ward Night to meet with Alderman Colon and ask for his support of the “High H.O.P.E.S. Campaign” to reduce suspension and expulsion rates, to keep kids in school and out of prison.
- How to wrap up our clean water campaign, which began at the beginning of Lent as a project to raise $500 for Lutheran World Relief, which is what it costs to install a clean water filtration system that will improve the health of communities with insufficient access to clean water.
- And how to bring a speaker to St. Luke’s, possibly one of the former “Lost Boys” of Sudan, to help us understand the humanitarian crisis being created by massive population migrations that are happening right now in response to southern Sudan’s vote earlier this year to secede from the nation, which takes effect in less than three weeks.
That’s a lot of story to tell, St. Luke’s. And it’s not a story we need to be telling just to each other, like a “save the date” notice. It’s a story we need to be telling our whole neighborhood, and our whole city. A story about faith in action. And it’s not a story we need to tell as bait on a hook to get people in to the real saving work of our congregation. It is the real saving work of our congregation, and every congregation, and every community of faith gathered around the story that God is at work in the world, healing and setting free all who are aching and in prisons of every kind.
The worst way to talk about the Trinity is to try and figure out how three can be one, and one can be three, and how they all relate to each other. That’s like looking at the Tree of Life and photographs back in our narthex and thinking you now know who we are. No, the way you find out about a family is through its stories. And to hear the stories you have sit down over supper and listen. And to share that meal, you have to be invited. And that’s the Holy Trinity: an invitation to join the community, to learn the stories, to share the good news.
Happy Father, Son and Holy Spirit Day to you all.