There is the old story of the wise father, who after growing frustrated with his four sons’ constant fighting sent them out to collect sticks from the nearby woods. As the four young men brought their collection of sticks to their father, the father asked each of them to divide the sticks into four piles. One pile for small thin twigs. A second pile for the slightly thicker twigs and then finally a pile for the thickest of the sticks they had collected. He then asked each young man to take one stick from each pile and to break them in half. As each son picked a stick of various sizes, they easily broke each stick in two. After all four had broken their sticks, the father collected the remaining sticks and bound them. He then asked each son to attempt to break the bundle. The youngest son tried and failed, the next older son tried and failed as did the second eldest. Finally, the eldest son attempted break the bundle. With great arrogance he lifted the bundle assuming he could break the collection of sticks, but no matter how hard he tried to even bend the bundle, the bundle wouldn’t give. Finally, after several minutes of attempting to snap the bundle, he gave up.The sons were now perplexed, they couldn’t understand why the father had asked them to do such a silly task. After all four had given up, the father explained how they were each like the individual sticks, vulnerable and easily broken when on their own. However, when bound together, unified in focus and willing to support each other, they, like the bundle of sticks, were each unbreakable.
This morning we celebrate Trinity Sunday, it is, for all intent and purposes the Feast Day, or the Celebration of how we have come to understand the Godhead. As a Christian people we understand God as a fully relational being. We cannot speak of one aspect of God, either Father, Son, or Holy Spirit without speaking of the other two. The Trinity also serves to remind us, because we are created in God’s image, we are inherently designed to live and work in the context or our relationship with each other and with the rest of creation.
In Sunday school, I was often reminded that the church was not the stones and mortar of the building but the sum total of the people who made up the congregation. St. Paul on more than one occasion tells his listeners they, not him or the head of the congregation, but all who are part of the congregation are part of the Body of Christ and then further builds on how each of us, through the gifts and talents God has given us at birth, have a part to play in allowing the work of the congregation to function in fulfilling its role in the kingdom on earth.
Unfortunately, our understanding of being created in the context of relationship and within the total context of creation has greatly disappeared as our emphasis as individuals has risen. As debate in this country continues over foreign policy, gun control, same-sex marriage etc. at the very root of the debate is the question as to how we balance individual freedoms while extending these same freedoms to those who for centuries have been marginalized members of both our society and the global society we now live in.
In recent international treaty discussions, congress has questioned how much we are willing to limit our sovereign rights in order to enter into international agreements centered on issues of climate change, environmental conservation, etc. Issues surrounding gun control continue to fall along the lines of ones rights to bear arms and the overall health a safety of the community.
Even when understanding understanding of what it means to be part of the church has changed over the past forty years. With the rise of the nones, those who have no religious affiliation and those who claim to be spiritual but not religious, meaning they believe they have found God without an institutional relationship, individual piety is trumping the communal sharing and understanding of God. How contrary these beliefs are in comparison with our earliest understanding of the church. Even sadder, our sense and commitment to the greater community is eroding away with it.
According to some sociologists, the demise of our interconnection started with the loss of the front porch, literally our door way into the world. Others may say it came with the advent of the car and urban sprawl. I am not sure this is necessarily true. All throughout American history, the individual has been held in high esteem. We glorify the self-made and totally independent individual who came into this country with but the shirt on his or her back, who pulled him or herself up by the bootstraps and has become a great success. But anyone who has become a great success knows, pride and arrogance are vices not virtues. And that most who are successful are successful because they had the fortitude to never give up, were willing to listen to others and seize opportunities when they became available.
No one can grow in the image of God, or fulfill the dream God has ordained for them outside the context of community. Yes, we can be spiritual but not religious for a little while before our growth is stunted. It is only through the relationships we form with each other that we are challenged to move forward in our journey’s with God, where we are able to clearly discern our path with God and survive the inevitable spiritual challenges everyone faces from time to time.
Sadly, even at St. Luke’s we have seen the ongoing erosion of our life as a community. In a world where time is our greatest commodity, we have lost the sense of how important it is to just be together as a community. Often we are asked to choose between our families who are not actively involved with the church and opportunities to be part of the church beyond Sunday mornings. Others of us have left behind traditions which did not emphasize participation beyond Sunday mornings, did not encourage us to study and share our own understanding of the Bible with others. You have rejoiced in the freedom to explore the Bible and to form your own opinions, now consider being part of the greater life of this community, allow yourself the opportunity to be in deeper relationship with others.
For as children of God we have been created to be in relationship with each other, to live within the image of the Trinity by living and growing spiritually in the context of community. We need to be constantly mindful that in isolation we are easily broken and defeated, but bound together we are unbreakable, in the same way the Godhead has been since the beginning of time.