Category Archives: Sermon

Thanksgiving Day Homily

THANKSGIVING DAY
November 26, 2015

Ms. Judith Kniffin-Shattuck

Good Morning.

As some of you may know, I am a “cradle Episcopalian” and a life long member of this church. Most of my childhood was spent at the old parish house at the corner of Church and Wall Streets, where I attended Sunday School, participated in the Girls’ Friendly Society and sang in the first Girls’ Choir at the 9:15 service. (Yes, there was an original girls choir in the 1950’s at Trinity.) Never in my dreams, however, did I imagine I would someday preach a homily here.

I am grateful that my parents felt that I should receive a Christian education, although they rarely attended church themselves, preferring to go out to breakfast with another couple who had a child in my Sunday School class.  My maternal grandmother was also a life long member of Trinity and I usually accompanied her after dinner on Sunday afternoons to the 5 pm Evensong. I remember being awed by the magnificence of this great building, the windows, the organ, the music and choirs, and the solemnity and beauty of the service, the words of Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer etched in my heart for a lifetime.

My grandmother was my spiritual mentor and I am grateful to her for showing me the way one lives a Christian life. Although she was often in pain, she demonstrated her faith in the words of the General Thanksgiving, “with a truly thankful heart, showing forth her praise, not only with her lips, but in her life, by giving up herself to God’s service and by walking before God in holiness and righteousness all the days of her life.” I remember that she was steadfast in prayer and singing and playing hymns on a small organ in her bedroom. She was known throughout the neighborhood for taking in stray cats and dogs, stray children and even the stray stranger who needed a meal.

When Joe asked me a few years ago to consider giving a homily on Thanksgiving I declined. This year I felt this was the time to accept the invitation. (Joe can be  really persuasive.) It was not, however, without a “quid pro quo.” If I would preach today, he and our friend Jim would share Thanksgiving dinner with me this afternoon.

Joe  advised that I should not feel an exhaustive exegesis of the scripture readings was required. When I read the appointed readings for today I found they were very familiar.

The first memory that came to mind was of a retreat many years ago at Wisdom House in Litchfield that involved singing hymns regularly throughout the three day weekend. One of the first hymns we sang was “I Am the Bread of Life”, #334 in the hymnal. It resonated with many of us and several times during the weekend someone would ask if we could sing it again. The words of the refrain, repeated several times,  were stirring  – “And I will raise them up on the last day!”

The first reading depicts how even when God’s people were wandering in the desert, God provided manna from heaven. Even though I was  thoroughly churched as a child, in late adolescence, I fell away from the church. After writing an honors paper my freshman year in college on the Holocaust and the position of both the German Protestant Church and the Roman Catholic Church, I became intensely interested in Judaism, attending services at several synagogues and taking classes that explored the history of Judaism. Eventually, I took a number of comparative religion courses  and attended  services of both eastern and western faith traditions. I was, in many ways, wandering in my own desert but I believe now that all I experienced was God’s “manna” to nourish my searching soul.

During the fall semester in 1972, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer and I made a decision to return to New Haven permanently  at the end of the semester to be with her and my father. On Christmas Eve I made a last minute decision to attend the 11 pm service at Trinity.

From the moment I entered the sanctuary, choosing to sit near the rear of the church and far over to the left side, I was overcome with emotion and the realization that I had “come home” – home to my church family and to the beauty, power and majesty of a glorious worship tradition.

Lawson Willard, Rector throughout my childhood, had retired and Craig Biddle and Andy Fiddler were the new Rector and Assistant. Craig’s sermon that evening was based on the children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, a story about a stuffed velvet toy rabbit loved literally to shreds by a young boy. Eventually, the toy is forgotten and then discarded as the boy grows up, The story ends with the wonderful news that the rabbit, torn, dirty, with its stuffing falling out, goes to a beautiful peaceful place where he becomes”REAL” cavorting with other living real rabbits having been made whole and beautiful once more. I cried throughout the remainder of the service  experiencing a profound sense, beyond description, when I received the Eucharist  that my very soul was being nourished and sustained. I felt then, and continue to feel, that when I am at the altar rail or in the communion circle, that it is there that I am in true communion with Christ receiving the earthly bread and the spiritual food of His most precious body and blood.

The 2nd reading teaches the core of this theology. Christ begins by saying I AM the bread of life. Throughout the Gospels when Christ begins his teaching with the phrase I AM, the name for God in the old Testament, we know these are the elusive yet fundamental doctrinal concepts of his priesthood. Here, we come to understand that the bread of life is not only grain and and the other fruits of creation, but also the bread of life, the gift of Christ himself, to nourish our souls and dwell within us.

These gifts, for the nourishment of both our bodies and souls, are all part of God’s abounding Grace. We know from the the catechism of the church, that Grace means God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved. By Grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.

But what should be our response to God’s abundant Grace? The first and greatest commandment tells us to love God with our whole heart and soul and to have no other gods before Him and the second commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. All else flows from the first two. I think we learn and grow in maturity as our faith develops and we come to understand that loving God and our neighbors as ourselves means our response is what my grandmother’s faith embodied, to have a truly humble and thankful heart, and as a result of that understanding  to feel profound gratitude and seek to show forth in our lives that gratitude as the prayer says “by doing all good works that He has prepared for us to walk in”, to give thanks for the very gift of life, and to acknowledge “His immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Perhaps today, with so much of the world in chaos, the unprecedented migration of millions of refugees fleeing war, violence and death,  we are more aware than ever of the blessings in our own lives. Last Sunday evening, on the PBS program, Religion and Ethics News Weekly, the results of a recent survey showed that when asked what the Thanksgiving holiday meant to  them, a majority of people said “the need to give thanks for all the blessings in their lives”. The second greatest number said to “spend time with family and friends.” Way down on the list were food, football and shopping.

Today I am thankful for so many things, God’s grace in so many forms, the love of family and friends, the wonder of human expression in art, music and drama , the overwhelming beauty of nature glimpsed fleetingly from time to time, the past opportunities to work for social justice, the gifts of laughter and tears, and to know that through both joys and sorrows, I have continuously learned more about God, myself and others.

As some of you know, three and a half years ago I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, stage three ( there is no stage four) an incurable type of cancer where a complete permanent remission is considered so rare as to be miraculous; the goal is to halt the progression of the disease at whatever stage it was discovered for as long as possible. After a long acute treatment phase, with infusion chemo and radiation therapy, I have been stable for the past year and a half. I know my faith  sustained me throughout, allowing me to let go of despair, anger, depression, loneliness and fear. I am grateful that this has led me to an understanding that death is but one final part of  our temporal  existence.

A week ago, following a PET scan, I learned that my cancer has advanced.  The scan found tumors in the bones of both legs. The prognosis and treatment plan are still being formulated by the blood cancer oncology team at Smilow.

I find my comfort and solace during this uncertainty in words from Psalm 18. :The Lord is my strength, my stronghold, my rock in whom I put my trust.” Though fear and anxiety well up and roll over me, “I have called upon the Lord, He hears my voice and reaches down from on high to grasp and support me.” I trust that faith and God’s grace will continue to comfort me.

Like the velveteen rabbit of that Christmas Eve sermon – I trust that I will, at death, find myself in a beautiful place where pain and sorrow are no more, made “REAL”, and whole once again. My wounds will be healed, my “stuffing” no longer hanging out, my tears dried and forgotten, at home with God. And so, I am, above all else, profoundly grateful for the promise of life eternal in Christ Jesus.   AMEN

A Thanksgiving Day Homily

Thanksgiving Day
November 27, 2014

Mr. David Rivera —


Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Good Morning,

I am here today to talk about giving thanks. God is the creator of all life and the creator of all blessings. He gives us all an abundance of blessings and much to be grateful for. Even the challenges in our lives can be reasons to be thankful to God.

I would like to tell you what I am thankful for. I am most thankful for God bringing me to the Episcopal Church and bringing me to this wonderful community of faith called Trinity Episcopal Church on the Green in New Haven. I have always been involved with God and his church. I started out at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Meriden. I really liked that church. But then there came a time though that I was not in church regularly, up until about January 2012 when I began to attend Trinity weekly. Now I am proud to be an usher, acolyte, conference call operator and outreach worker. I am thankful to be in the company of my church family, who love God as much as I do. Trinity Church is an important blessing in my life.

This is not all I am thankful for though. I am also grateful for being able to volunteer every weekend. I have received numerous thanks and appreciation from the folks I escort at Yale New Haven Hospital on Fridays. I am like a positive light at the end of the tunnel on their road to recovery. I also receive thanks from the folks at Loaves & Fishes, Chapel on the Green, The Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen and Columbus House. God has sent me to all these places to help those in need, and I truly thank him for calling me to do this. I sincerely love serving my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I am also thankful for my family and friends. My family has always been there for me. They support me, respect me, value me as a person and love me dearly. They are truly a blessing to me in my life. I think of my friends at church as my second family and am grateful that I can see them on Sundays. I am thankful that I have a house to live in and food to eat. God has been good to me and I trust will continue to be. I will continue to serve Christ through serving others.

Lastly, I am thankful to be asked to deliver this homily on Thanksgiving Day. It was a great opportunity not only for me, but for you as my church family to learn what you have done for me, and what you have taught me about loving and serving God. Amen!

Life’s Double Standards

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19)
September 14, 2014

The Rev. Dr. Molly F. James —


May God’s Word be spoken. May God’s Word be heard. May that point us to the Living Word who is Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The other day I went to pick up our daughter Katherine from preschool. It was a warm day, and so I had worn sandals (fancy flip flops really). Katherine looked at my feet, and said, “Mom!, No flip flops at school.” Well, she was absolutely right. She is not allowed to wear any shoes to school that do not have a strap around the heel because they would be dangerous on the playground. I explained that my day had not involved any running, so it was okay to wear flip flops. But I give our daughter credit for her desire for fairness and her ability to recognize a double standard.

We all need people in our lives who help us point out when we are living out a double standard. Just as the slave in today’s Gospel had to have it pointed out to him. On the surface the parable in our Gospel is a story about the importance of forgiveness. Don’t get me wrong, forgiveness is incredibly important in our lives, and we could all likely benefit from being a little quicker to forgive each other (and ourselves!). Perhaps because I have been so recently been reminded of it, I am even more intrigued by the issue of the double standard in our parable. Jesus lays it out so starkly. The slave owes a debt. He begs mercy from his lord. His lord grants mercy. Immediately the slave goes to see someone who owes him money. We assume he has learned his lesson and will be showing the same mercy to the debtor as he had been shown. But no, he does not. This is all the more remarkable since the debt that had been forgiven was so huge – more than a lifetime of wages, so it was something that could never have been paid back. What the debtor owed the slave was only a few months wages, something that could a reasonably have been paid back. The slave had a huge debt forgiven, a debt that would have been a dark cloud over his entire life, and yet he cannot see his way to forgiving a fellow slave a few months wages. A huge burden has been lifted, but rather than sharing the joy and abundance, the slave seeks vengeance. He has lived out a double standard, and it costs him dearly, for he is now forced to repay his debt.

The starkness of this passage is meant to make us realize the enormous consequences there can be, if we are not forgiving of each other. Yet it also points out that we can do damage by ignoring the double standards we are living out as well.

Of course there are times, like my wearing flip flops, when the double standard seems innocuous and harmless. Parenting is tricky like that. There are lots of things I get to do as an adult – drive a car, use sharp kitchen knives, wear flip flops, drink coffee – that our daughter does not get to do yet. While we need to be firm in our rules, as many of them are for her own safety and well-being, I certainly do not want her to grow up thinking life is one big double standard. I do not want her to grow up always comparing herself to others. I appreciate that Katherine has an innate sense of fairness, and I am grateful for the way her questions and observations, whether they are about my footwear or life in general, help me to see when I am allowing a double standard.

Katherine’s sense of fairness helps me to be on the lookout for ways in which I might be living out a more costly double standard. Do I insist that she stays home from school when she is unwell, but then go to work myself even when really I should take a sick day? Do I lament my husband logging in to his work computer in the evenings or on the weekends, seeming to forget that I was just checking my work email on my phone? I wonder how many double standards we are living out?

Do we rejoice when we get a bonus at work, but rarely leave a generous tip for the wait staff when we dine out? Do we expect a level of productivity or hard work from our co-workers that we don’t expect from ourselves? Do we insist others take their sabbath or their vacation time, but find ways to justify working through ours?

Here and there an occasional use of the double standard seems to just be part and parcel of the human experience. But if we use it too often. If it becomes a staple of our worldview and our general approach to things. If we find ourselves constantly justifying applying a different standard to ourselves than we do to others, we are probably in need of a bit of self-examination. Living in such a way as to constantly privilege our own needs over others will damage our relationships. Relationships are about honesty and reciprocity, and those can be hard to maintain if we are always living by a double standard. If, on the other hand, we are always privileging everyone else’s needs above our own, then we will do damage to our own well-being. Life is not a zero sum game. It is not all or nothing. There is enough love to go around. In fact, we might just find that if we can strive for a bit more balance and fairness in our lives that we, and those around us, are happier!

So my invitation for all of us this week is to be sure that we have people in our lives – best friends, spouses, co-workers, children, especially children, as they have such an innate sense of fairness – people who will help keep us honest and point out when we are living a double standard. May we all be a little better at noticing when we are about to live out a double standard. May we have the grace not to get defensive when one is pointed out to us. And may we all find our lives enriched and our relationships strengthened when we have the courage to let go of our double standards. I have no doubt that when have the courage to step out in faith and live more deeply into who Jesus calls us to be, we will encounter more fully the grace of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

AMEN.

Our Cross Seen Through the Spirit

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17)
August 31, 2014

The Rev. Eric Jeuland —


Matthew 16:21-28

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering … and be killed, and on the third day be raised. … Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Isn’t this too hard? On first blush, this really does sound too hard.

One of the chief mistakes we can make in understanding the gospel reading today is to conflate Jesus’ cross with our own—to think “Oh, Jesus, he’s so extreme, marching to his death—and look, see, he wants us to do that too?!—No thank you!”

Although this could seem to be the plain meaning of the text, this is precisely the opposite of what we should hear in this passage. Jesus’ primary call to his followers was to intimate relationship. God’s closeness and care must permeate our understanding of all this cross talk. Any discussion of crosses must assume God’s closeness and care.

One key fact to remember is that Jesus’ cross is NOT our cross. We are called to follow AFTER Jesus, not be Jesus. We CAN pick up OUR crosses BECAUSE Jesus first picked up HIS CROSS… AND conquered that cross, paving the way for OUR victories over evil and darkness.

Although the passage today puts Jesus’ self-understanding of his own cross right side by side with his call for us to bear ours, that account is missing something fundamental but often forgotten in many churches: Pentecost, the Holy Spirit’s descent; the necessity of the Holy Spirit in making this make any sense.

We are never left alone—without God close at hand—at any point in all this: Jesus—God—went to the cross to conquer all sin, and the Holy Spirit—God—enables us to bear our crosses and live into that victory ourselves.

Thus, the second key fact is that we bear our crosses—ONLY and COMPLETELY—informed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We can’t embrace our crosses without the Holy Spirit’s inspiration.

So this puts Jesus’ simple and direct words in the context of a more complicated process for the people of God.

Regardless of Jesus’ injunctive to his hapless fishermen friends—and us—in Matthew’s gospel this morning, it is on Pentecost that the call actually gains real traction.

WE would have no inspiration to follow Jesus if it weren’t for the day of Pentecost, the gift of the Spirit empowering those friends to become apostles, and enabling us to step into the victory over evil and darkness that is our inheritance.

When Jesus calls us to follow him, he knows we are merely human and he knows we are STAYING human. What he’s counting on, that we so often forget, is that we have the Holy Spirit and THAT makes all the difference.

Obviously then, the Holy Spirit makes all the difference. But how is this real in our lives on a daily basis? What does God’s closeness and God’s care actually look like?

One of my favorite accounts of God’s care and closeness is Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden before the Fall, when they first breathed in life, the very breath of God, the Spirit of God. Thomas Merton, the Roman Catholic Cistercian monk wrote well about this:

When God made [humanity], [God] did more than command [them] to exist [like the rest of creation]. Adam [and Eve], were to be the son [and daughter] of God [in a wholly unique way—] and God’s helper[s] in the work of governing the world … “Then the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7).

The life […], that is to say the “breath” which was to give actuality and existence and movement to the whole person […], had mysteriously proceeded from the intimate depths of God’s OWN life. [Adam and Eve were] created not merely as living and moving animal[s] who obeyed the command and will of God. [They were] created as a “son” and “daughter” of God because [their] life shared something of the reality of God’s own breath or spirit. For breath is the same as spirit [in Latin and Hebrew]. The creation of [humanity] was not only a giving of [biological] life, but also a giving of love and of wisdom, so that at the very moment in which he came into being Adam was, by virtue of the supernatural gifts … which accompanied all his gifts of nature, in some sense, “inspired”. If the expression may be permitted, [humanity]’s very existence was to be a kind of [divine] “inspiration.” God intended not only to conserve and maintain […] bodily life. He would also foster and increase, even more directly and intimately, the spiritual life and activity which were the main reason for [humanity’s] existence. Adam [and Eve], then, [were] meant from the very first to live and breathe in unison with God, for just as the soul was the life of the body, so the Spirit of God, swelling in Adam [and Eve] was to be the life of [the] soul. For [a person], then, to live it would mean to “be inspired”—to see things as God saw them, to love them as he loved them, to be moved in ALL things ecstatically by the Spirit of God. And so for [humanity] ecstasy was by no means a violent interruption of the usual routine of life. There could be no violence, no alienation in such a life: [Merton ends] in paradise ecstasy is normal. (Thomas Merton, The New Man, section # 33)

It may seem odd to you that I chose this account because it is of PARADISE, Eden BEFORE sin and evil enter the world—so of course there is no experience of the cross or sacrifice—so what does this have to do with today’s Gospel? taking up our crosses?

The reason I picked paradise is PRECISELY to counter our far-too-typical assumption that Jesus came to call us ONLY to sacrifice, to give up of things, to a life of trouble. In some sense he did—yes, of course—but not in the most important sense, NOT in the ultimate sense.

The fact is: sin and evil have taken away our life already—our closeness to God and our experience of God’s love—and God is pleading with us to reclaim our true lives by giving up what is only the illusion of life: autonomy, self-righteousness, self-ownership. Sin and evil have HAD their day, they have BEEN HAVING their day.

Jesus came 2000 years ago; and today, August 31st, 2014, the Holy Spirit is back again to tell us that sin and evil have robbed us of our inheritance: everyday intimacy with God, daily experience of God’s love, and, as Merton put it, an “ecstasy [that] is normal.”

It took Jesus’ victory OVER violence to bring us back into communion with God. It is our role to welcome and desire God’s love as THE usual routine of life.

Trusting that God breathed God’s very own breath into us at our creation, AND has paved the way to victory over all evil,

Are we bold enough

To dream of a God THAT relevant and active?

Are we bold enough
To follow through with that ask and expectation? … that God would fill our lives to bursting with wonder, wisdom, and love?

AMEN.

A Surprising Legacy

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16)
August 24, 2014

The Rev. Dr. Molly F. James —


May God’s Word be spoken. May God’s Word be heard. May that point us to the Living Word who is Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

My husband, Reade, and I welcomed our second child, Halsted, in April. As you might imagine we are having a wonderful time with him. Halsted is a very happy boy who brings much joy into our lives. Of course, Halsted is not always happy. He can get quite upset, particularly when he is hungry. Fortunately, all we have to do is feed him and in a matter of minutes he is back to being his happy self. We get to do the right thing, and receive immediate gratification. We feed Halsted, and he is happy. Would that parenting were always this easy!

It is easy to do the right thing when we get immediate positive results. Of course life is not always easy. We are often faced with difficult decisions where we do not get the immediate gratification of knowing we did the right thing. I cannot help but be aware of how comparatively easy I have it when I read this morning’s lesson from Exodus. There is no edict in America mandating that infant boys be killed. No despotic ruler seeking to limit the growth of our family. Unlike Moses’ parents, we do not have to fear that as soon as word gets out that we have a son, those in authority will try to kill him.

So often in Scripture, we read stories in which male figures are privileged, but this is one story where it is definitely better to be female! Remarkably, this is a story full of strong women. It is a story of women from different backgrounds who unite together to save lives. From the midwives who refuse to kill the male children of the Hebrews, to the Levite woman and her daughter who conspire to give the baby Moses to Pharaoh’s daughter. And finally to Pharaoh’s daughter herself who adopts the baby Moses and raises him as a prince of Egypt.

Each of these women were faced with difficult and risky decisions. The midwives knew that saving the male children of the Hebrews was the right thing to do, but they risked their own lives to do it, and there was no guarantee that even if they saved the babies, the authorities wouldn’t still seek to kill the infants another way. Moses’ mother and sister take the risk of putting the infant Moses in a basket at the river and letting him go. They hoped they were sending him to safety, but any number of terrible things could have happened to him in the river. And, of course, they had no guarantee that Pharaoh’s daughter would adopt the baby. Thankfully, Moses is adopted, but that is not the end of the risk. Pharaoh’s daughter must have known of the edict to kill the male Hebrew children, and yet she defies it. Yes, she is taking him in to be raised as an Egyptian, but still there was a risk that someone would try to fulfill the law and kill Moses.

Despite the risk to themselves or to Moses, these women did the right thing. At every turn they chose to invest in the future, even at the risk of their own lives. At the time they knew they were choosing what was right for this little boy. They were choosing to save Moses. How could they have known that in saving Moses they were saving a whole nation of people?

Those women did one small act of saving a little boy, but those small actions had huge implications. When Moses grew up he would be called by God to be a prophet and a leader who led the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt to freedom. Simply put, without Moses, our Bible might have ended at the first chapter of Exodus. No Moses, no nation of Israel. No Israel, no Jesus.

Think about it. Each of our lives have been transformed by the person of Jesus of Nazareth. But without Moses, there might never have been a Jesus who lived and died, a Jesus whose ministry changed the world and our own lives. So really, the decisions made by each of those women in Moses’ birth story have ultimately had a positive impact on our own lives, on this community of Episcopalians in Connecticut, gathered for worship thousands of years later. Talk about a legacy!

Well, we might think that is nice, but none of us are likely to have the opportunity to save an infant who will be the savior of a nation. But those women did not know they were saving a nation. They just knew they were doing the right thing and taking care of one child and that was the right thing to do.

It is my prayer that we can see these remarkable women as inspiration. They are inspiration to do the right thing, to choose that which enables the flourishing of others, even when it might come at some risk to ourselves, because we never know how large an impact one small act can have.

Even if our choices are on a smaller scale – putting out the extra effort to smile and be friendly even when we have had a bad day, sacrificing our own money or time to help meet the basic needs of someone in our community, mentoring a child or being the listening ear when someone we know is struggling. All of these acts, all the little things we do to help someone else know that they are a beloved child of God, matter. Even a small gesture or a quick smile can make an impact.

We often think of a legacy as limited to those who have a role on the world stage or enough money to have buildings named after them, but each of us has the power to leave a significant and lasting legacy in this world because of the lives we touch. So keep doing the right thing. Keep choosing that which promotes flourishing. Remind each other that we are all beloved children of God, for you never know how one small act just might change the world.

AMEN.

Profile

Trinity was founded as a parish in 1723.  Its first wooden church was built in 1752–53. The second Gothic stone church, built in 1814–1816—with its carefully maintained and inspiring Gothic revival exterior and interior—is a landmark structure on the New Haven Green at the corner of Temple and Chapel Streets.

Trinity offers compelling preaching, diverse worship styles, and absorbing programs for adults, teens, and younger children.

Trinity’s multiple opportunities for fellowship and outreach are typified by its Chapel on The Green, a weekly Sunday afternoon outdoor service of worship, food and fellowship, open year-round to all and conducted in collaboration with other New Haven area churches.

The church’s strong music program is centered in its choirs: the Choir of Men and Boys, founded 1885 and one of only two such choirs in Connecticut; the Choir of Men and Girls, founded in 2003; and the Trinity Parish Choir, a mixed adult choir that sings a variety of sacred choral pieces.

 

LIfe at Trinity

As we pray, sing, serve others and learn together, we discover more about who God is in our lives. We realize our lives are intertwined with one another and that God is calling us to do something for the world in which we live.

Currently, hundreds of people pass through Trinity’s doors during an average week. We are usually bustling with activities; whether it is one of our three choirs practicing, committees meeting, or a social event, there is always something going on at Trinity.

We invite you to be part of our life together. At Trinity, there are many opportunities for involving yourself, for serving others and for growing in your spiritual journey.

Trinity people take adult and youth mission trips all over the country and beyond its borders. Locally, Trinity people help many important organizations carry out their missions: preparing meals for Columbus House, building homes for Habitat for Humanity, and finding numerous other opportunities to serve God in the world.

Trinity offers many educational activities and programs for children and adults. Each winter and spring, we offer different spirituality programs. On most Sundays, we offer exciting Sunday School classes for children and engaging forum topics for adults. We have two active and vibrant groups for school-aged youth.

As the largest Episcopal church in New Haven, we are fortunate to have many active programs and opportunities to see God at work in the world.

Be Good Soil Out of Joy

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10)
July 13, 2014

The Rev. Eric Jeuland —


In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN

Be good soil,
and do it out of joy,
not out of guilt.

In his parable and his interpretation of it, Jesus warns his disciples of certain conditions which lead to arrested spiritual development.  Jesus here puts some pressure on his listeners to prepare themselves against 3 challenges:

  1. the evil one                     who snatches the seeds away,
  2. shallow roots                  which cannot support a mature plant, and
  3. the cares of the world     which choke the plant and stop the growth.

As far as it goes, it is a good challenge, useful and true.

But first I want to make sure we hear the good news of God’s love and grace. Jesus does put some pressure on, offers a challenge; I want to first focus on the context, which is grace. We do need to be good soil, but for the right reasons. Being great soil for the wrong reasons won’t work either. So we have to back up and start from God’s grace.

To be sure, we definitely need to hear the challenge of the allegory, I personally need to remember daily to make myself receptive to God’s love, to allow that love to go deep, and to be vigilant lest the stress and worry of worldly things crowd out my trust in God.

But there it is right there: my trust in God. At the end of the day, the good news is that God loves us, and has come to us in Christ, and continually returns to us in love through the Holy Spirit, through the sacraments, and through our friends. God gladly takes all the pressure on himself first.

GRACE is that God does this without our help, without our input, without our participation. As Paul tells us a few chapters earlier in Romans 5, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” and a few verses ahead of our reading today he will return to the graciousness of God’s love: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, … nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.”

So, if we are challenged to remain vigilant and wary–and we are–it is a vigilance that is completely powered by our experience of joy and peace from God and our expectation for more of the same. Again, our vigilance need not come from a place of fear of God’s wrath or sense of duty toward a particular set of rules. We have come through the dark cave of judgement and out into the light of Christ’s resurrection into an open space where there is no wrath of God to contend with, no set of rules to get right with God.

Still, If you are anything like me, on a good day when you have said your prayers and pulled the metaphorical weeds from around your heart you might feel a certain satisfaction–I’ve done my part, I am in good shape. Good for me.

That attitude is a huge mistake; it is THE mistake. That’s the trouble with hearing in this passage only a challenge to step up and do our duty–it threatens to allow us to feel secure–again, on a good day–in our own efforts, our own sense of control, our own moral strength, our own natural inheritance.

All of the striving in the world is nothing without the Love of God fueling it with God’s peace and God’s joy. The worst weeds of all are the weeds of self-sufficiency and self-justification. These will eventually circle back upon us in the form of anxiety and perfectionism, not to mention judgmentalism against our sisters and brothers. These leave little room for the growth of the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience. These leave little room for the growth of God’s love in our hearts that is meant to bless others as well.

So be good soil,
do it out of joy and anticipation of God’s miracles,
not out of guilt or self-justification.

So a good question to ask is HOW? How do we get from here to there? How do we become good soil for a Kingdom that is not in our hands in one sense and yet, we are told, is in some measure up to us?

I can’t give you step by step how to instructions, but I can share a time I think I experienced God’s blessing in such a way that I also became a blessing for others, and how that made me want to be good soil without even really knowing it. It’s less about doing anything in particular as an agent and more about our receptivity as conduits of God’s love passing through us for the sake of others.

I want to tell you about a friend of mine, Jake, from years ago. We met at church, and we were both lay leaders in different capacities.

We met doing a ministry similar to Chapel on the Green here. Every week, a group of us from the church would carpool over to a local park on a rough side of Chicago, set up a grill, light up the charcoal, and greet whoever we met there.

Jake and I would lead different parts. I felt most drawn to praying for people one on one before and after the service. Jake was much more extroverted and he welcomed–often brought–newcomers, and shared the message, the homily if you will, on many occasions. I loved ministering with him and the other folks at the park.

But guess what? … There was a lot more that differentiated Jake and me than the introvert-extrovert dynamic. I said we’d met at the park ministry–we’d actually met at the park. Jake basically lived in the park. He would always be there when we pulled up our caravan of cars. Once he knew we would keep showing up, HE was THERE to greet US. Jake was a huge part of that ministry, and really more than anyone else, he came to define the tone of the community that gathered there.

Long story short, Jake and I became friends, as I said. He would come to church on Sundays and we would always catch up and laugh together. It was really amazing how good friends we became despite our many differences.

I am sharing this story because it is an example of becoming better soil without it feeling like work or duty. It was a natural byproduct of being part of something great God was doing. Most of all I learned to want to be good soil out of joy and anticipation of the miracles God was doing in and around me.

Because here was the biggest miracle for me: my friendship with Jake, as much as it may have been a blessing for him–and let’s not get ahead of ourselves with that–it was truly a blessing for me. Not because it assuaged my sense of middle-class, liberal arts educated guilt but because God continually reminded me that actually, we are not so different from each other. Most importantly, we are both in total need of God’s charity. Peace, joy, and purpose are God’s to give no matter where you are from or what you do for a living. And God doesn’t hesitate to give, God is eager. Jake and I, we are the same, in the Kingdom of God where it matters most, we are brothers.

The fruit of that ministry for both of us was a joy and peace that we never would have known without God bringing us together. Our partnership with God bore fruit in that growing ministry because God brought us to authentic relationship and friendship. That spirit brought others and blessed them as well.

Whenever we take up a challenge to grow spiritually, it is so important to remember that God loved us first. Anything we contribute ourselves is simply done to make space for God’s love to flow through us for the sake of others. Let’s be honest, God knows we are not all born into this world with the same natural inheritance–but let’s not allow that to hold us back from claiming our true inheritance–the spiritual one, in Christ, the one that matters most–God’s supernatural peace and joy.

So be good soil, but when you have a self-aware moment, take that time to say to yourself not a self-congratulatory “Good for me,” but instead “Thank you, God, for blessing me with these undeserved riches, your peace and joy; help me pass them on and bless others as I have been blessed.” AMEN

Sacrificial Welcome and Father Anthony

Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8)
June 29, 2014

The Rev. Dr. Luk De Volder, Rector —


To welcome is a verb that comes with more sacrifice than we often realize. Because in order to welcome others we must step out of our comfort zones, sacrifice things that are dear to us, and in doing so make space in ourselves for the other. But in sacrificing things to which we are attached in order to make space for others, we might just find that we have also made space for new parts of ourselves to emerge. In welcoming others, we wind up welcoming our truest selves, the selves God would have us be.

When I was a child my parents used to welcome a missionary in our home. Every two years Father Anthony would return from the Sao Paolo region in Brazil to his home country of Belgium to drum up support for his work. Before he became a missionary, Father Anthony was the former youth pastor of our church, and he and my young parents went ‘way back’ as they say. Father Anthony’s visits were always a treat for the kids. He had a natural sense of kindness, a bellowing voice, and beautiful Portuguese expressions that he would translate for us. Today Brazil is hosting the World Cup soccer tournament, but in the ’70’s it was still a country in need of much support. Father Anthony would tell our family about the fire in the bellies of Brazilian Christians who were building new communities and defending their land against exploitation. But what I remember most about Father Anthony was that he was not afraid to ask people to help and to reach beyond their comfort zone to welcome people into the world-wide community of love.

When I was 8, Father Anthony had returned again from Brazil, but this time he asked something new. This time he invited the children of our family to give something to the children of his mission. While eating my dessert I thought of something, but then thought again about it. I sat quietly deliberating because it would be a great sacrifice. Then right before Father Anthony left, I ran upstairs, and in a wave of sharing frenzy, I rounded up my favorite matchbox cars, emptied my little piggy bank, and made my offering for the children of Sao Paolo mission of Father Anthony. It was all very exciting.

But once Father Anthony was gone and the thrill quieted down, I began to feel the pain of my sacrifice. My piggy bank was empty. How did that happen? My favorite toy cars, for which I saved precious pennies long and hard, were now off to Brazil. What did I do? I felt a bit sick to my stomach realizing, those cars were never coming back. That night my heart was broken open a bit by giving up something dear to me, by giving up something to which I was very attached. But as my parents helped me to focus on the children who would play with my toy cars, children who had far fewer toys than me, joy filled the space in me that was broken open by sacrifice. Welcoming others, even those oceans away whom I would never likely meet, meant sacrificing something dear to me. But in willingly giving away something to which I was attached, the pain made room to welcome new parts of me that would emerge, like compassion and joy and new imaginary international friends.

In today’s lessons our God draws out for us the relationship between welcome and sacrifice. On the one hand we hear in the Gospel that we are called to welcome others as a way of welcoming God. And that may at first may seem straightforward and easy. As if just saying the word hello or welcome to passers-by magically makes them feel welcomed. But we are also reminded today of the sacrifice of Isaac. And it is when we see these two callings together, welcome and sacrifice, that we realize just what it is our God asks of us.

Abraham and Sarah thought they would never be blessed with a child when three angels share dinner with them one evening and tell Abraham that Sarah will conceive a child in her old age. With great joy Isaac is born and is showered with all the love that such a long awaited child would evoke in parents. Then when Isaac is nearing manhood, God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, to kill him, to demonstrate Abraham’s love of God. With great sorrow, Abraham obliges and hikes up the mountain with Isaac to slaughter his only beloved son. Then just when Abraham has already made the sacrifice in his heart, knife raised high over the bound Isaac, God stops Abraham and tells him to sacrifice the Ram caught in the thicket instead. Talk about tension building in narrative!

But this story of the sacrifice of Isaac is not just good storytelling, it is a profound spiritual lesson. When we welcome others as though we are welcoming God, we too are called to sacrifice what we most love as part of the welcome. We too are called to stretch beyond our comfort zones, beyond what feels easy and right for us, beyond the meager offering that our larger society now suggests is sufficient welcome. We too are called to give away our Isaac. Because when we give away what we most cherish, we will find that like for Abraham, God, will fill something new in that space of pain that comes with sacrificing.

In our modern world, we put great emphasis on our individual needs, on our own personal care and wellness. And while it is good and right to care also for ourselves, the pendulum has swung so far in our time toward self-care, that we hardly know what whole hearted welcome looks like, or feels like, anymore. But real welcome feels like we are making a sacrifice. Real welcome involves human encounter that stretches us. Not just a passing greeting that means nothing, but real engagement with the other. It doesn’t matter whether we are introverted or extroverted, we are all called to give away what is most difficult for us to give, whatever that is for each of us, and by doing so create a stretch, a space in ourselves that not only makes room for the other, it makes room for God to pour into us new more mature dimensions of ourselves.

As God would have it, when we make sacrifices to welcome the other, we also find that we welcome ourselves. We become more ourselves. We meet the fuller richer version of ourselves.

This is a hard message to hear today, especially for Christian communities that have big welcome banners flowing over cliques of people ignoring strangers. But we are not called to take the easy route of doing what is comfortable every Sunday at church or every Monday at the office. We are called to stretch beyond what is easy, called to figure out how to make conversation and build a bond with the stranger in the back pew or that weird guy Joe from accounting. Yes, it will feel strange for us to do what we don’t know how to do, but that is the sacrifice. That is the stretch. That is the space in which God will pour in something new.

When we welcome others our God is directing our attention to a basic premise of existence, that all life is about welcome and encounter–from birth, to family, to romantic love, to friendships, to death. Encounter. Everything else is just the way we are making encounter happen. Our values and duties, our hopes and our trust grow from within this very welcoming encounter. The welcome experience is in fact like a cradle for human life.

Our God teaches us today to welcome the stranger, to step outside our comfort zone, outside our clique of friends and attachments. Because God’s empowering grace is very often reaching us exactly through others. As the rabbi, Emmanuel Levinas, stated: “It is in the [welcoming] response to the call of the other that I become truly myself.” By welcoming the other we grow in empathy, responsibility, and loving care. We become a richer being.

May we go out on this day and welcome others with sacrifice, with stretch and intention, so that we may draw them into the community of God’s love and in doing so become who God has called us to be. For this we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

Love In a Period of Conflict

Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7)
June 22, 2014

The Rev. Dr. Luk De Volder, Rector —


Love in a period of conflict is one of the most challenging exercises of our human adventure. Will Tea Party members ever love left wing Democrats? Will Hamas ever love Israel? Or more internally: will I ever love those parts in myself that others have taught me to reject? Some of the so called hard sayings of Jesus that we hear in today’s gospel come across as challenging exactly because Jesus is not avoiding the complexities of our human existence. Rather, we learn that conflict is part of human growth and at the same time, there are ways that we are called to rise above it.

The World Cup Soccer tournament is in full swing these days and I know many Americans don’t really care about the game. Here in the US, soccer doesn’t feel like a real sport. It’s a lot of running for meager results. If a team is lucky, they get three or four scores in an hour and a half game of constant running. Wow.

Still, the match between Spain and the Netherlands might make even a soccer agnostic become a fervent believer. The Dutch team played phenomenally well vanquishing the world leader, Spain. For those of you who don’t know, the Netherlands and my own country of Belgium live embroiled in a fraternal struggle. Like many siblings, we are two countries that speak the same language, but hardly understand each other at all. And so a Belgian praising the Netherlands is most unusual.

Still, at one minute before the half-time break the Netherlands scored a goal that took seconds to execute, but years to achieve. Bruno Indi, the midfielder, kicked a luxurious air ball far and long down the field to his teammate Robin Van Persie. And rather than catching it with his foot or chest, Van Persie dove to catch the ball on his head, thrusting a gorgeous header over the Spanish goalie and scoring a goal the world has been replaying all week for its sheer beauty. The radio commentators shouted their favorite word: Goooal! It was what Europeans call: true art.

One of the hidden aspects of the World Cup is that these national teams are not the usual soccer club teams. The team members must have the nationality of the country they are fighting for in order to participate in the World Cup, regardless of what team they normally represent. David Beckham must represent England, even though he usually plays for the US. As a result some players end up in the national team after having been competitors all year long. Imagine Red Sox and Yankees players training together to form one team during a year that they are also playing against each other on other days. Feuds have to be put aside; suffered injuries need to be forgotten, and conflicts must be surmounted. This conflict management is harder than it looks. In 2006, Tiffany and I watched as the French soured majestically through the World Cup tournament to the final game, only to let internal team conflict finally rip them apart.

World Cup champions must undergo not only intense physical training, a concentration on field formation and an abstinence of alcohol and other pleasures. The World Cup champions must excel in conflict management, internally and externally. They must learn to control their own frustrations and grudges and rise above them in pursuit of a higher goal.

The Gospel of this Sunday dives into the theme of conflict management with its infamous conflictual hard sayings of Jesus. “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.”

In so many other areas of the Gospels we learn of God’s profound love for us and of God’s call for us to love one another. But Jesus preferred not to leave his message of love and compassion hanging in some utopian fantasy that bears no resemblance to the reality we face with other human beings. Instead, we learn that conflict is part of the way we love one another. And so Jesus directly faces the issue of relational conflict including its rawness and potential.

Our God reminds us that conflict is part of growth. Every basil plant is fighting to poke through its hard-shelled seed to grow up. Every downy chick is pounding its beak on its egg to crack it open and burst into growth. Growth involves conflict. Necessarily so. And our God helps us understand that this is a normal part of the process of maturation.

But just because conflict is normal does not mean every way of handling conflict is healing. There is a healing way to move through conflict and there are many harmful ways to do it. Harmful ways are usually ones in which we allow ourselves to be guided by fear and in which we descend into a spiral of amygdala-in-overdrive aggression. We tighten ourselves, brace ourselves, sensing the other as a threat. Fear makes us react without empathy for those around us. Only protecting ourselves. No wonder a main theme of Scripture is: do not be afraid.

But our God gives us another way of dealing with conflict. The way of compassion. We can choose to steep ourselves in God’s love. There, God loosens us, opens us, and helps us to see the other as a companion on the journey who is challenging us to grow.

To love the Lord, above anything, with all our heart, and soul, and might is a conflict management approach. Whatever may be the conflict, if we choose to focus on God’s love rather than on what we are not getting from the other, we see things differently. If we join our God, as though we are sitting on a cloud with the divine, and see the conflict from God’s perspective from above, we can see the situation and the people in all their fullness, struggle and pain. And we will act differently when we return to that very conflict.

God does not physically live in a space hovering above us. But because God knows us so well, better than we know ourselves, it is sometimes helpful to imagine God living on a cloud. When God asks us to love God more than our mothers, God asks us to soar above any conflict with our mother, and there are always conflicts! God asks us to lift up our hearts and to hover above the situation with God and join in the divine compassion for creation that sees the fragility and fears of each person involved in the conflict. And by doing so we return to the situation a different person. We return with compassion and internal conflict management that has the power to heal the conflicts necessary for growth.

Whether it is a tween pushing away her parents, a twenty something searching for identity, a spouse pushing us away during a midlife crisis, or a friend acting out from shame of unemployment, our God invites us to lift up our hearts and to rise above it all and find our own comfort in God’s love. We are called to do this not just to comfort ourselves, but so that we are strengthened and empowered to love the ones around us through their pain until they find their balance again. We are called to be the immediate face of God to each other, to be compassion in the conflict.

That said, God is never ever suggesting we stay in abusive relationships. We must take turns rising to see the situation from above and supporting each other. If we are the only one who ever does the rising to the cloud with God in a relationship, it is a lopsided relationship that may need serious consideration.

Love in time of conflict, conflict that leads to growth: Approaching conflict with love is certainly not easy, especially when facing serious divisive questions: such as whether soccer is a true sport! But when we manage our internal conflict well, we might just find that we are able to achieve far more than we could ever ask or imagine, to grow in ways we could never dream. The Dutch team was able to manage itself so well that they beat Spain and lead to this Belgian boy to praising them from the pulpit. That is the expansive power of internal conflict management. Even those outside the direct conflict are touched by it.

So as we return to the world this week, may we too, learn to approach whatever relational conflicts we have by hovering above it in a cloud with God. Because when we do, we might just find we learn how to deal better with conflicts, and suddenly all these clouds we have been having this Spring don’t seem so bad. That we may all learn that conflict is always an opportunity for growth, in Christ name, we pray. Amen.