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So, this is the last Sunday in Stuart’s 2019 Sabbatical and he will be back in the office this week and celebrating and preaching next week. As we on staff and on vestry prepared for this critical time away, we fully expected Stuart to have a rich time, and to return to us refreshed and with lots of renewed energy and ideas. What I hadn’t personally anticipated was that his Sabbatical would bring critical lessons to me.
All theology is contextual. That is, the way we make sense of things is to approach them through the lens of something else that we think we understand already. If I’m trying to describe the mood of a room to someone who wasn’t there, I’m going to pull a reference to an event I know that person attended and experienced. “Aha!” she will exclaim, “yes, I understand.”
When it comes to talking about “knowing God” – which is what “theology” means, that’s a shifting shape depending on the context in which we are discussing God.
When things are going well in our lives, we tend to ascribe great beneficence to God, and describe ourselves as “very blessed.”
When things are going horribly, we tend to say that we either no longer believe in God (as though God is capable of only showering us with blessings and if we aren’t showered, then there must not actually be a God) or that God is angry at us (as though God primarily deals with us by inflicting calamity on us, because none of this could possibly be our fault). We don’t tend to describe ourselves as “very blessed” in circumstances where things aren’t going well.
Just so, as I approach Trinity Sunday 2019, I am aware of my context, and in particular, the circumstances of Stuart being away “resting” while life in the parish continues on racing. That his time away comes to a close at the same time as Trinity Sunday is significant. You see, once a year, clergy take a stab at explaining how one God is actually three distinct persons. Some go to H2O, with its solid, liquid, and gas states. But, of course, it doesn’t occupy all three simultaneously. Last year someone suggested an apple with its skin, meat, and seeds. But, of course, none of those parts is fully the apple. I’ve heard “woman” as simultaneously “mother”, “daughter”, “wife” or “man” as “father”, “son”, “husband”. These last two actually come closest for me, but they also expose the crux of the issue; that is, that we can try to be fully each of those roles at the same time, but in truth and practice, we don’t fully function in multiple roles at the same time.
When it comes to the Bible “explaining” the Trinity, I don’t find the gospels particularly helpful. Jesus refers to “going to his Father” and then “sending us the Spirit” which feels a little like they don’t all happen at the same time or are the same “being.” And, in truth, the triune God is mentioned only when the apostles are charged with going into all the world “baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” This is good news as far as I’m concerned because if I’m going to have to scratch my head over something in the text, I’d rather it be something less obtuse and more practical.
But after fifteen years of preparing Trinity Sunday sermons, this year I think I’ve got the importance of the Trinity, and also a pretty good reason for why we can’t understand it. Flying solo without my partner and beloved friend Stuart has been very challenging. Many parishes are fearful of sabbaticals because of stories of clergy coming back and announcing that they are leaving.
Be not afraid! This seems to happen when clergy wait too long to take sabbatical. I look forward to hearing what Stuart learned on his time away, but I can assure you, as I am assured, that his greatest challenge while away is that he’d rather be here with his people.
But my lesson from Stuart’s sabbatical is not just that I missed his company. I didn’t need him to go away for me to appreciate how much fun we have together. What I learned is that I am my best priest-self alongside him. At some time in the distant future when we aren’t your clergy and you look for new leadership, please bring on a team. One person CAN do this, but not for long and not without something suffering.
Last week I felt badly about the long hours and number of tv dinners and cold sandwiches I’d inflicted on Jack during this month and decided I’d see if my oven still worked.
I hadn’t actually used it in months. That weekend, Jack had been out doing something for the team since 4 am each morning and would be pulling into the garage any minute. I just couldn’t bring myself to hand over another sandwich. So, I actually followed directions and made a dish and then for good measure and out of an abundance of guilt, I added more oil, cheese, butter, and pasta than the recipe called for.
Twenty minutes before he was set to arrive, I started to take the conglomeration out of the oven to allow it to “set” before serving it. I hadn’t reckoned on the effect of 375 degrees of heat altering the density of all those ingredients and at the same time softening the pliability of the one-time use aluminum baking dish. A third arm, preferably one that was entirely fireproof, MIGHT have helped prevent what occurred.
We will never know, however. What we do know is that approximately eight pounds of hot gooey stuff slid out of the dish as it collapsed under the weight and into the oven, managing to ooze into the glass door and hit every coil and corner. And it all happened with the speed of Vesuvius covering the village of Pompeii.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I just watched it burying my oven alive while I sat on the floor and wept. I didn’t give two hoots about the dish or the ruined supper. I cried because I was tired and mad about myself for being so old and still so damn stupid. For some stupid reason I feel like I should be able to do everything: cook from scratch, work all day, and twirl the baton. I fussed with Stuart because he couldn’t fully leave us alone and go rest but I failed to account for the fact that one of us cannot do what two of us does in this place.
I’m truly not angling for positive feedback here. I’m confessing that I don’t know how clergy in parishes this size manage alone and still function as part of a household and marriage. I don’t know how parents of small children work all day and then come home and do laundry, homework, carpool to sports and dance, and still have a civil word for each other, not to mention how a single parent manages it. Or how stay at home parents think that because they aren’t working outside the home that they somehow have to do absolutely everything at the house to compensate. I don’t know why it’s so darn hard for us to admit that we can’t do everything. I mean, let’s be honest, it’s not like anybody thinks we actually can.
It’s even better that Trinity Sunday falls on Father’s Day. Dads, along with moms, have a seriously hard time trying to do and be everything. And, too often, they are easy targets for shaming because they are working ridiculously hard and often away from the house in order to honor their role as dads.
Perhaps the difficulty coming up with an analogy of the Trinity is because being fully oneself in three different forms is something that only God CAN do. Maybe this annual theological exercise is to remind us that — even being created in the image of God — the only way we can function effectively in more than one arena at a time is as part of a gathered community. The very nature of our humanity requires that we collaborate with others to make a positive difference.
And that is the perfect segue from today into “ordinary time”. For the next eighty-seven weeks (or so it seems) we will count the “ordinals”, the weeks, between Easter and Advent. We will, without special festivals or celebrations, practice putting one foot in front of the other attending to the duties that fall to being who God calls each of us to be, and time after time and in countless situations, we will have the opportunity to see that we need each other. And, we will see the necessity and the wisdom of taking Sabbath rest – not just every six years but every six days.
“Does not Wisdom call, and does not Understanding raise her voice?”
Speak to us, Lord, and give us grace to listen.
The Rev. Cynthia Park, LPC, PhD
June 16, 2019