Trinity B – 31 May 2015 – “Partners With God”
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On Pentecost we unveiled our own collection of original icons. Three of the saints were obvious choices — Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac and Rose of Lima. The other five were selected by you the parishioners — Francis of Assisi, John XXIII, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Dorothy Day and Kateri Tekakwitha.
Looking closely at them we find they reveal something of ourselves. They mirror for us the values and beliefs of this particular faith community — our care for one another, social action beyond these walls, our attention to faith formation, prayer and worship.
Today we celebrate a key doctrine in Christianity. And, there’s a famous icon for that. In the 15th century Russian artist Andrei Rublev wrote an icon for the Cathedral of the Trinity Lavra (monastery) of St. Sergius. The original hangs in the Tretyakov State Gallery in Moscow where I had the chance to view it some years ago. That icon is known as “The Trinity.”
It depicts the beauty of the hospitality that Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18:1-15) showed to three strangers near the oak trees of Mamre. The visitors are depicted as angels — the embodiment of God shown in equal dignity. When the icon was created, the Trinity was thought to symbolize spiritual unity, mutual love, the world and a readiness to serve.
That icon could be understood literally — three angels sitting around a table under a tree. As a metaphor, however, it reveals the nature of God and how we relate to God. It is the setting for Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality toward the visitors. It is also God’s place of hospitality for us. Our place of worship here at St. Vincent de Paul reflects that same spirit of inclusivity and hospitality. Our gathering in a circle as an assembly of saints continues to reshape the way we pray, sing, and treat one another.
The secret words for grasping the Trinity are “relationships” and “hospitality.” The feminist Reformed theologian Letty Russell uses one word to explain ways in which we connect with God and each other — partnership. She wrote, “The partnership of God in the persons of the Trinity provides an image of mutuality, reciprocity, and a totally shared life.” 
Some parishioners helped me understand this partnership in different ways. One quoted spiritual writer Philip Yancey.  God is without us (in the sense of being more than we are). Jesus is with us. The Holy Spirit is within us. Another offered a reference to St. Bonaventure who called the Trinity a fountain of love. The author Richard Rohr  said this ever flowing font of love is the blueprint and pattern for all relationships and thus all of creation.
The first reading today speaks of God being revealed in creation. God is present on the edge of the world and very much in the world. God is both immanent and transcendent. There are references to God, Christ and the Spirit among us in the second reading. And, although the gospel refers to a Trinitarian formula for baptism the Trinity was not defined as dogma until the early fourth century at the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople.
If we believe that the Trinity is about relationships and partnerships then it makes sense that we live accordingly. Here is where we have some work to do. Our Catholic tradition continues to establish partnerships with other Christians, Muslims and Jews. Our church is also very much present to people living in poverty and on the fringes of society.
However, when it comes to the members of our own church our religion still struggles to find ways to employ a Trinitarian based hospitality in relating to women on equal terms, opening new doors for divorced and remarried persons, respecting the relationships of same sex unions and honoring emerging definitions of the word family.
Works of art in our churches tell stories. They speak of the lives of women and men, saints and sinners, our ancestors in faith, models for living justly and humbly. They also say something about us and they speak to us. Those ancestors of ours continue to invite you and me into a loving partnership with them, with God and with one another.
1. Russell, Letty M. Church in the Round: Feminist Interpretation of the Church. (Westminster: John Knox, 1993)
2. Yancey, Philip. Reaching for the Invisible God: What Can We Expect to Find? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000)
3. Rohr, Richard. God is in Everything. Center for Action and Contemplation, May 25, 2015