Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year C – Holy Trinity Sunday
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – June 16, 2019
For thousands of years, good churchfolk have sought to understand and describe the Trinity – one God, three persons. Inevitably almost every description or attempt at explanation ends up in puzzlement and often heresy. But one of the most wonderful descriptions of the Triune God is as a relational community involved in a beautiful dance. The word for this is perichoresis, which simply means “rotation” or “circle dance.” As Jonathan Marlowe writes, “If any of you have ever been to a Greek wedding, you may have seen their distinctive way of dancing . . . There are not two dancers, but at least three. They start to go in circles, weaving in and out in this very beautiful pattern of motion. They start to go faster and faster and faster, all the while staying in perfect rhythm and in sync with each other. Eventually, they are dancing so quickly (yet so effortlessly) that as you look at them, it just becomes a blur. Their individual identities are part of a larger dance.’ It’s a harmonious set of relationship[s] in which there is mutual giving and receiving. This relationship is called love, and it’s what the Trinity is all about. [It] is the dance of love.”
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in a gorgeous interweaving – love in motion, circling and swirling, going under and over, gliding across, in, and out of the landscape of our lives. What an exciting, dynamic, and joy-filled way to think about God! That’s a dance I want to be a part of in spite of my lack of dance skills. And it’s the dance we’re invited into. God makes room in this divine dance party for us to join in. In the words of Whitney Houston, God says to us, “I wanna dance with somebody! With somebody who loves me!”
Sometimes though, we don’t know about joining in. We feel we shouldn’t jump in to the dance because we’re unsure of the steps. That it’s somehow safer or better to stand awkwardly on the sidelines like at a middle school dance. We don’t know precisely how to follow Jesus. We aren’t Bible scholars or saints. We have fallen short and don’t know how to approach God or others in our mistakes and brokenness. We don’t know if we want to lose control as we join the dance. Who might we be called to love? What might be invited into?
God knows this. God knows we have much to learn. And that doesn’t drive God away. In speaking with his disciples, Jesus says that there are things he has to say to us, but that we can’t bear them right now. But he also tells us that we’re not alone – that he has sent the Spirit of truth to guide us into all truth. To lead us into understanding – not just at an intellectual level, but into a deeper, fuller comprehension that looks like full communion with God. Understanding that looks like dancing and dwelling with the God who is communion. This invitation to relationship is not something we can grasp with intellect, but faith, curiosity, and embracing the mystery. There are some things it takes time, maturity, experience, and the gracious guidance of the Holy Spirit to recognize.
But the question that remains throughout our life, no matter how much we grow is, “who is leading?” Swing dancing in college taught me that partnered dancing needs not just the leader, but the follower. Without the proper framework, a leader can’t direct the dance, and without clear direction, dancing becomes a fight for control. You can repeat the basic steps, but it’s more fun to do spins and advanced moves. They change the pattern and mean that every dance is new and fresh. But it takes trust to do this. Leaders are always invitational, not trying to force anything on the followers. As trust and the relationship build, you can understand your partner’s dance style, understand slight signals, and be free to trust the riskier maneuvers they might invite you into. A good dance partnership is about give and take, mutual respect and trust, hearing the music and responding not only to it, but to each other. The Triune God, who exists in perfect community, does this effortlessly – God giving everything to Jesus, and Jesus giving it to the Spirit and so on in a never-ending circle. But the humbling, awe-inspiring and praiseworthy thing is that this perfect community makes room for us. In the dance, they bow gracefully, welcoming flawed and clumsy dancers like ourselves to experience this flow of love.
And we might have some awkward, rough moments as we participate in life in the Trinity. The Spirit might have to repeat a few things for us along the way, inviting us again and again. It will take a while to pick up on the cues the Spirit is offering and to trust them. It will take us learning to examine ourselves in light of the goodness of God to see how much we have yet to learn. To discover the depth of our need for God’s gentle grace and our reliance on God. It will take time and practice to figure out how to live in community with others – honoring and loving one another’s unique giftedness as we take our places in the dance. But how can we be patient and compassionate with ourselves and each other as we bear in mind that we are all learning the steps?
As Sister Verna Holyhead explains, “The Trinity is encircling and embracing us; a graceful movement of loving attentiveness into which we are invited as partners who must, in our turn, draw others in the dance by our loving outreach to them.” Yes, the Trinity is attentive to, invites and embraces us, and, in turn, teaches us how to be attentive to God in our midst. The Spirit is the One who has the lead in this beautiful and intricate dance of faith and doubt, joy and sorrow, life and death. But the Spirit does not just do this work for our sake, rather for everyone who has not yet heard that God is inviting them into loving communion – not just with Godself, but within the community and life of the church. We invite others because it is more fun, more joyful when all are on the dance floor.
In group dance, there is often “call and response” in which one person shows or calls out the dance moves and others follow. To get a picture of this, think of folk dances or even the song “Step in Time” from “Mary Poppins:” “Kick your knees up! Step in time! Flap like a birdie! Step in time!” In our life of faith, we are to follow the call, the guiding of the Spirit and respond. We are to join the dance and to follow the footsteps of Christ as we love others. The Trinity, founded and moving in love, has made room for all creation as we will sing in “Come, Join the Dance of Trinity:” “The universe of space and time did not arise by chance, but as the Three, in love and hope, made room within their dance.” And the beautiful thing is that even though we’re following the motion, we will always put our own energy and flair into it. Remember, the individuals remain themselves even as they join the whirl of the dance. We’re not all going to look the same as we join the dance. But as we join the flow, we all add our own vibrancy and embrace the richness of what others bring. And as we participate in this community, we are to invite others into the life-giving, joy-filled dance. We are freed by the wild Spirit to “tell the world of weight and woe that we are free to move!”
As we enter this season of Ordinary Time, we look at faith and following Christ in the warp and woof of everyday life. And, even more importantly, we learn again what God’s everlasting faithfulness to us looks like. Are there things you cannot bear right now? That you’re struggling with? What are the things you are finding you need time and space to be able to hear, process, accept, and live into? What new steps or moves might you want to work on this summer? Is it spending more time in prayer? Working on your relationships with others or being more open and vulnerable with those you love? Practicing Sabbath or turning off technology? Or becoming more involved with those things that inspire and feed you by serving or giving of your time, gifts, and treasure? Maybe it’s intentionally listening to God’s leading so you can practice faith, trust over fear and isolation. How do you feel the divine music inviting you into the holy dance in this time of your life? What’s the call and what is your response?
Today, I invite you to write down what you feel called to on one of the footprints in the narthex. You don’t have to put your name, but as we worship this summer, you will see these footprints hung up in the sanctuary, reminding us that we are part of a beautiful dance – a community of love and grace that is always welcoming and calling us to learn new ways of moving through this life. And you will be reminded in the dismissal that: “Christ is sending you.” Sending you to join the dance. To participate in what God, three-in-one and one-in-three, has already started “before all worlds begun.” To share with others that they are invited into God’s never-ending dance party of welcome, hope, joy, and abundant life. And to remember that God is an excellent dance partner and teacher.
So you think you can’t dance? To us, God says, “Get out here – even with your two left feet! Hit the floor and bust a move!” Thanks be to God! Amen.