Jun17MonA sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday and World Refugee Sunday June 17, 2019 Pastor Sebastian
Grace and Peace be unto you from God..
Today is a very interesting Sunday.
We are trying to have two themes,
which at first glance seem to be diametrically opposed to one another.
On one hand, today is a doctrinal feast.
The only Sunday of the year dedicated to a doctrine,
or a theological principle,
namely the Holy Trinity,
the idea that God is three in one
and one in three,
three persons, one God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.
On the other Hand, June 20th was declared by the United Nations
to be the World Day of Refugees,
and today is the Sunday prior to that.
So we have two themes today:
the Holy Trinity, and Refugees.
Now both themes are difficult themes.
The topic of the Holy Trinity is, to mis-quote Winston Churchill,
a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
It is a concept beyond our human comprehension.
The more you try to explain it, the likelier you are either
to get trapped in a heresy,
or to bore your poor congregation to bits.
Explaining the Trinity is like dissecting a flower,
once you’ve pulled apart the petals,
you don’t have much of a flower left.
On the other hand, the topic of refugees is a sensitive political subject,
at the forefront of the divide between left and right
both in the US and Canada.
What labels you use make a big difference,
whether it’s illegal immigrants, refugees,
border-crossers or many others.
All messed up together are legal definitions, immigration rulings,
border officer’s decisions, and of course partisan politics,
fear, xenophobia and privilege.
It is a difficult situation, with no easy answers,
affecting the lives of tens of millions of people worldwide.
So, a sermon about the Trinity and Refugees seems like a hopeless cause to begin with.
But here’s an attempt.
Let’s start off with the Holy Trinity.
And luckily for us here at St. Matthews,
we have a host of visual representations in the sanctuary
to remind us every Sunday about the Trinity.
Look all around you here in church.
First, the horizontal pattern along the wall,
that stretches like a ribbon around us, embracing us.
You’ll note every few feet the Trillium.
Three white petals, one flower,
overlaid on a triangle 3 sides-1 shape.
A symbol of the Trinity.
You’ll see on the horizontal pattern also the
blue background of the Luther rose, with three blue semicircles.
Up above the balconies: we have the symbols of the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Each symbol has a frame of a triple semicircle and a circle,
another image for the Trinity. 3 in 1.
Behind the font there is a triple (triquetra) interlocking fish symbol,
which comes to us from the Celtic tradition.
(The fish is the earliest symbol for Christ).
The 3 in one shape is all around us here in our church.
And what does the Trinity tell us?
The Trinity is both community and diversity.
Community, because there are three persons,
and diversity, because each person is different.
Now, the Bible is full of diversity:
there are 2 creation accounts
2 different stories of the Kingdom of Israel (Kings and Chronicles)
Diversity is a good thing,
and if God is good, it’s likely God has diversity within Godself.
Some Early Church Theologians (Cappadocian Fathers) regarded 1 as no number at all,
because it had no diversity.
They saw 2 as being weak, only a dualism, like 2 sides of a coin,
but 3 was the first real number because it had inner stability.
3 was a perfect number for them.
For an image of Inner stability we might imagine a stool.
A stool with three legs is stable. No problem sitting on one.
But a stool with two legs is wobbly. 2 is too few.
And a stool with 1 leg is obviously not enough!
So I think the Fathers were right that 3 is a good number.
Community and diversity in three persons, one God.
Theologians throughout the ages have used various images
to describe the Trinity.
St. Augustine described the Trinity as Lover, Beloved,
and the Love that exists between them.
Tertullian described the Trinity like a plant,
where the Father is the root, the Son is the Shoot,
and the Spirit is the force that spreads beauty and fragrance.
Whether it’s St. Patrick’s shamrock or the interlocking fish,
or the divine dance of our Hymn of the Day,
the images attempt to describe the community and diversity within the unity.
And the Triune Nature of God portrays something ideal
that we should emulate.
The way of the three-in-one community is something we should copy.
Some argue that the Trinity is the first ideal community
a community without prejudice, or competition,
exhibiting perfect love
where all parts are just and equal.
However we imagine the Trinity,
hopefully the concept of the Trinity inspires us to share that love of divine community with the diverse community of human beings here on earth.
And the community of human beings arguably most in need of human and divine love are refugees.
Suffice it to say: that globally 1000s of families flee for their lives each day.
And our Christian response, no matter their religion,
is to help where we can.
I’d like to read to you from the United Nations description of its
1951 Refugee Convention.
Refugees are among the most vulnerable people in the world. The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol help protect them. They are the only global legal instruments explicitly covering the most important aspects of a refugee’s life. According to their provisions, refugees deserve, as a minimum, the same standards of treatment enjoyed by other foreign nationals in a given country and, in many cases, the same treatment as nationals.
The 1951 Convention contains a number of rights and also highlights the obligations of refugees towards their host country. The cornerstone of the 1951 Convention is the principle of (non-rəˈfo͞olmäN) non-refoulement. According to this principle, a refugee should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom.
This protection may not be claimed by refugees who are reasonably regarded as a danger to the security of the country, or having been convicted of a particularly serious crime, are considered a danger to the community.
The rights contained in the 1951 Convention include:
The right not to be expelled, except under certain, strictly defined conditions;
The right not to be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a contracting State;
The right to work;
The right to housing;
The right to education;
The right to public relief and assistance;
The right to freedom of religion;
The right to access the courts;
The right to freedom of movement within the territory;
The right to be issued identity and travel documents.
Some basic rights, including the right to be protected from refoulement, apply to all refugees. A refugee becomes entitled to other rights the longer they remain in the host country, which is based on the recognition that the longer they remain as refugees, the more rights they need.
I found this explanation helpful,
especially in that this Convention was passed in 1951 after the Second World War which was a time of upheaval,
of displaced persons and refugees.
These days, however, we are seeing globally the most refugees
since that time.
Canadian Lutheran World Relief has a long history of refugee resettlement, going back to post-WWII,
and here is a recent video they posted detailing a Syrian family’s story.
Hearing personal stories, I believe,
is the best way for us start loving refugees.
One thing we might forget is what most refugees want above all:
to return home.
Often this isn’t ever possible.
But sometimes it is, and the conditions upon return can be terrible.
What does homecoming mean for a family returning to a war-destroyed neighbourhood?
This video from the UNHCR attempts to portray this.
It is difficult for any of us who are born in Canada to imagine what these two families have gone through and are going through,
but by educating ourselves, talking and listening,
we can take steps to understanding.
As I acknowledged at the beginning of this reflection,
it may be challenging to draw a connection between these two themes,
between the Holy Trinity and Refugees, but I would think there is one.
Christianity and our faith is about lofty thoughts transcending human comprehension,
like the doctrine of the Holy Trinity,
Christianity and our faith is about down-to-earth topics,
of people needing food, shelter and security,
about the globally marginalized, like refugees (as well).
In some ways the mind-boggling theology of the Trinity,
is as beyond human comprehension
as the violence and destruction that causes people to flee and seek refuge in foreign countries.
The concept of God: three-in-one is as incomprehensible as the wars and bloodshed that create the refugee crisis.
And for us Christians, one informs the other.
For our faith it is not either/or
but both/ and.
We need theology, and words about God,
and we need practical outlets for our faith in God as well.
We need theory and praxis,
mind and body.
If we ignore one of those poles, it is to our peril.
If we focus only one one, we will be out of balance.
If we are only concerned with talk of God and ignore our neighbour in need,
then our faith is worthless.
If we are only concerned with acts of charity and compassion,
than our faith is shallow.
If our faith is all talk and no action, it is like a tree that bears no fruit.
And on the other hand if we are only busy with doing,
and ignore building up our faith life and spiritual development,
than our Christianity has no center.
God is love and is community,
so we need to share love and community too.
As we do this, we reflect on how God is love and community,
and we can join that dance of the Trinity with our new friends
from around the world.