The following sermon was preached at saint benedict’s table on Sunday May 27, 2018.  You can also listen to the live recording or subscribe to our podcast. Just click here.


I bind unto myself today
The gift to call on the Trinity
The saving faith where I can say
Come three in one, o one in three

Be above me, as high as the noonday sun
Be below me, the rock I set my feet upon
Be beside me, the wind on my left and right
Be behind me, oh circle me with Your truth and light



It’s Trinity Sunday. The day when preachers all over the world say an extra prayer that they will somehow manage to avoid saying something either incomprehensible or heretical in their sermon so I thought it would be fitting to begin with a literal prayer of protection from the opening stanzas of a song written by Gayle Salmund and made popular by Steve Bell.

“I bind until myself today the gift to call on the Trinity.”

Father. Son. Holy Spirit.

Creator. Redeemer. Sustainer.

The three in one.

The Trinity.

The first theology course I ever took in university was an upper level course on Trinitarian theology.  Partway through the term a friend asked me how I was finding the class and I said, “I think I only understand about a third of what we’re discussing, but I have come to the conclusion that the Trinity is really important.”

I still don’t think I fully comprehend the Trinity, and that’s partly because the Trinity is a mystery.  If you think you fully understand it, you are probably missing something, and fortunately, you don’t need to fully understand it to believe in it or appreciate it.

This week I spent a fair amount of time thinking about the many things in life that come in threes.

There is the classic three point sermon.  There are three steps to the high altar behind me.  There were three Bronte Sisters, three Stooges, and three little pigs. Poutine is made up of cheese, gravy, and French Fries.

None of these perfectly describe what we mean when we say we worship one God, who is also three persons.

In contemporary culture, we say that human beings are made up of body, mind, and spirit. But even when we throw those terms around, we often don’t see them as equally important.

I have a friend who refers to her body as a meat sack, another who says that his body is the “container that carries his brain around,” and another who recently told me that her body is “a bunch of goo held together by skin.”

We tend to have complicated relationships with our bodies.  I do. But I also know that God created each one of us with a body, sees those bodies as good, and even willingly took on a human body at one point.

Which leads me to our passage from Romans which begins:

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  (Romans 8:12-13)

This text reminds me that not only do I have a complicated relationship with my body, I have a complicated relationship with Paul, the author of Romans.

So we are not supposed to live according to our flesh and need to put to death the deeds of our bodies. Does that mean that our bodies are just the containers that carry the really important parts of ourselves around? Is that what Paul is getting at?

Tonight’s reading begins with the words “So then,” which tells us that these ideas are tied with the ideas that come before them.

NT Wright explains that earlier in Romans when Paul begins to unpack what he means by “the flesh” he is not talking about our bodies. Wright explains that:

“The word we translate, here and elsewhere, as ‘flesh’ refers to people or things who share the corruptibility and mortality of the world, and, often enough and certainly here, the rebellion of the world. ‘Flesh’ is a negative term. For Paul as a Jew the created order, the physical world, was good in itself. Only its wrong use and its corruption and defacing are bad. Flesh highlights that wrong use, that corruption and decay.” (Paul For Everyone: Romans Part One, 140)

So to live by the spirit instead of the flesh is not to pray all the time and ignore your body.  Rather, it is to align everything you are – body, mind, and spirit – with God’s way of seeing the world.

In tonight’s gospel passage, Jesus tells the disciples to expect the coming of the Spirit of truth.  NT Wright tells us that the Spirit’s role is to “prove the world wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment all three of which are aspects of the world’s rejection of Jesus…The world judges incorrectly by refusing to recognize Jesus as being sent from the Father and by its inability to penetrate beyond external appearances.”

The point is not to ignore our bodies or to believe that everything about our bodies is wrong, the point it to align our whole being with God’s values and not the values we see in the world which means we have to move past superficial judgments of ourselves, and of others.

One of the key things that the doctrine of the Trinity shows us about how God sees the world, is that God sees everything in the context of relationships. Even God’s relationship to God’s self is relational.  God is a community and not an individual, and God keeps inviting us into that communal experience. In our increasingly individualistic world, God calls us into community.

Community is difficult, and it’s dangerous.  Community involves putting ourselves into situations where other people may not think or act like we do. It opens us up to vulnerability and to judgment – our own and the judgments of the people we are in community with.

So it’s not surprising that Paul is going to jump from talking about the need to align ourselves with God’s way of seeing and God’s values, to a discussion of fear.

Paul writes “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” (15)

We are not slaves, we are beloved children of God. God, who is inherently relational, has adopted us. We do not need to fear. And yet, I suspect that each person in this room has spent at least a portion of this past week feeling afraid. Because fear is also pretty normal.

There is another set of three that I have come to find really helpful. I use them a lot in my retreat and spiritual direction work. I didn’t make this up, but I can’t remember the original source either.

Imagine a series of three concentric circles. In the middle, you have your comfort zone.  For most of my life I’ve been taught that a comfort zone is a bad thing, something I needed to get out of, but the truth is, there is nothing inherently wrong with a comfort zone. It’s, well, comfortable. It makes us feel good and warm and safe.  We all need to spend at least some of our time existing in this sort of space.

The outer most ring is the exact opposite of your comfort zone, it’s your extreme discomfort zone.  In this zone you feel so uncomfortable that it is life threatening. You become so focused on staying alive that you don’t have the energy to focus on anything else.

Although the comfort zone and the extreme discomfort zone are opposites, they do have one important thing in common.

You won’t learn or grow in either space.  In one because you are too comfortable to be motivated to change or question anything, and in the other because you are too uncomfortable to be able to change or question anything. That’s what we need the middle circle for.

The middle circle is the “slightly uncomfortable zone.” A space in which you are both not entirely comfortable and not concerned for your personal safety.  Something about the situation is motivating you to change and to question, but you have enough of a sense of safety to actually question and change.

I was reflecting on the nature of the trinity on Wednesday when I was waiting for the noon Eucharist to begin. Barbara Schoomski, one of the priests at All Saints, came by and we started to talk about the tent city that has sprung up on the lawn and the new dynamic that it brings to this property.  And as we were chatting I realized that there are now three main groups of people using the three main spaces on this property. There are those of us who are part of worshipping congregations who primarily use the sanctuary, there are the folks at Agape Table who use the hall, and there are the people sleeping outside who currently call the front lawn home.

A holy trinity of sorts.

It’s not a perfect metaphor, however. With a few exceptions, we tend to function more like three in three – three distinct groups in three distinct spaces – rather than three in one and one in three.

We all have our comfort zone.

Personally, having worshipped here for almost eleven years and having volunteered at Agape for almost eight, I am fairly comfortable in those two spaces, but this new space on the lawn is more challenging for me.

It’s not because the people make me uncomfortable.  The few times I’ve chatted with folks out on the lawn have been pleasant enough. It’s not the people.  Perhaps some of you have chosen to join us tonight. If so, welcome here.

You don’t make me uncomfortable, but what your presence represents to me does.

Last year I was chatting to someone about a similar situation and I said, “What concerns me is that the average person in Winnipeg seems to think that the problem is simply one of information.  They seem to think that our city is just bursting with resources designed to help folks who are homeless, and the challenge is simply to connect the folks who need the resources with those resources.”

But that’s not the case. Those resources either don’t exist or are already overburdened. There are a lot of reasons why a tent city can spring up on our lawn, but the solution isn’t as simple as handing out some telephone numbers or email addresses.  It’s not as simple as asking these folks to move either, moving the people only moves the people, it doesn’t solve the problems associated with our broken housing, mental health, and economic systems.

I’m like a problem I can fix. A question I know the answer to.  Tent city doesn’t provide me with either of those things, and that makes me uncomfortable and because I see it almost every day, it won’t let me just ignore the situation and slip back into my comfort zone either.

When I use the model of the three rings with people, I point out that there are typically two reactions when move from our comfort zone to our slightly uncomfortable zone:

1) We may discover that this new thing is actually quite comfortable and we simply expand our zone of comfort.

2) We may discover that the new thing is not immediately comfortable and we move quickly to judge it.  It makes us uncomfortable, so it must be bad.

But rather than judging this new thing or experience as either good or bad, there is a third posture we can hold.  Rather than saying it is good, or bad, we can say “Huh, that’s interesting.”

“Huh, I’m noticing that I find spending a whole day in silence really tough. That’s interesting.”

“Huh, I’m noticing that when I talk about my childhood I get really angry. That’s interesting.”

“Huh, I’m noticing that when I see the tent city on the church lawn I experience a range of complicated thoughts and feelings. That’s interesting.”

Now I don’t know what your personal reaction has been to the folks on the lawn – fear, sadness, a sense of pride to come to worship in such a countercultural space – but I suspect that whatever your reaction is, it says more about you than it does about the people living on the lawn.

I can’t tell you what to do, I don’t know what you should do, what we should do.

What I can say is that if you hold your reactions without judgment, if you view them as interesting instead of merely right or wrong, you are more likely to discover what it is you should do.

It may be to pray, to write a cheque or a note of encouragement to All Saints’, to choose to walk through the garden into the church instead of circling around it, to take your coffee outside after church and say “Hi” to someone, always respecting their right to not say “hi” back. It may be to talk with someone you trust to help you sort out your feelings.

Whatever it is, I hope we can, as Paul says, work to align ourselves, more closely with God’s way of seeing, than with the world’s. To realize that because God loves us enough to adopt us, that we do not need to be slaves to fear and to look to extend that freedom to others. Because God doesn’t long to be in relationship only with Godself, or with those of us who are gathered here tonight, God longs to be in relationship with everyone.

And that’s worth celebrating.