Presented to the First Congregational Church May 30, 2021
Tomorrow, our country will celebrate Memorial Day – a holiday originally designed to honor all people who died while fighting in the Civil War. During World War 1, this holiday was expanded to include all Americans who served and died during any war. The holiday morphed again in 1971 to become an official national holiday which is celebrated now on the last Monday of May, every year.
For me, this holiday has always been complicated. Yes, complicated is a fair term as I am exceedingly grateful for all of our soldiers who are not only called to serve but especially for those who have paid the ultimate price for their calling. Each person who served in this way I want to honor on this day. But, it has been difficult for me as well because I believe in peace – the blessings of peace offered through Christ. Therefore, I felt like celebrating Memorial Day seemed more like I was supporting war. Simply put, I found it difficult to reconcile one with the other. How can I honor the soldiers in war and remain faithful to our triune God of peace? It did not seem possible.
Through God, though, all things are possible and there is a third way – a third way to celebrate this holiday and maintain my morals – a third way which is found if we expand the meaning of Memorial Day to honor all people who are sent and died in the course of that service.
Before I continue, let us pray.
Holy God, invoke in us Your third way which is always present in the world. The way to love You through serving and nurturing our relationships with one another. The impossible way revealed in your Trinity. May the words I speak only share Your Truth and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You God.
Now beloved, I in no way wish to minimize the sacrifice of people in our families and community who have been called to war and died during their service. Each and everyone of these blessed souls, I believe, should be honored. Rather my point is that throughout our faith and society, we create divisions – rules – laws of what is right and what is wrong. We do this often because it makes life simple. Simple if you know what is right – you can do what is right. If you know what is wrong – you can choose to not do what is wrong. I did this in my own life – I determined war is wrong and peace is right based on what I witnessed in the Bible. It made my life simple. That is until I thought about Memorial Day or considered the African Apartheid, Nazi – era Germany, or the Civil War. Then life was not so simple. The lines of right and wrong became clouded as they always do when we try to judge right and wrong. For you see, I understand the Civil War was fought to free people and bring people dignity. This truth seems right – seems to be God’s love revealed. But it was war. And World War II was fought to save the Jewish people and their dignity. This truth seems right – seems to be God’s Love revealed. But it was war. Then the US chose to not help the African people. This truth seems wrong – seems to be opposing God’s Love for all people. But it was peace. Again, it seems impossible for me to reconcile something like war and the peace offered through God, especially on days like Memorial Day.
Yet today is not just a remembrance of Memorial Day – it is also the celebration of the impossible – the Trinity – our ineffable, or unknown, God who reveals the Way. And beloved, the Trinity is one of the great impossibilities of our faith. An impossibility for we humans cannot truly reason, or understand, the Trinity. How can we? The Father – Son – Holy Spirit are distinct, yet they are also of one substance in a unified, loving relationship known as God. This reality seems impossible; for, we have never witnessed this Truth in Creation. Still, we have faith that this impossibility is the best way for us to understand God. It seems right in our witness of God.
However, this impossible doctrine of our faith is also a division, a line, a wrong. Arius, one of the Church Fathers from the third to fourth century, felt this judgement. For, he expressed an alternative doctrine of the Trinity, called Arianism. In his belief Jesus is subordinate to the Father. The Church deemed him wrong and excommunicated him from the faith. The Unitarian Church judged the Trinity doctrine itself was wrong and left our Congregational church in 1825 AD. Again, our church is presented with the same type of conflict I felt about Memorial Day – a failure to reconcile belief with opposing views based on the determination of right and wrong.
Through God, though, all things are possible. The Trinity is possible and therefore the Way to reconcile belief and opposing views must be possible. And, beloved, I assure you that it is possible through the Trinity. This Truth is the Good News found in the impossible Trinity – Good News found in the one thing we do understand about the Trinity. Good News that the Father – Son – Holy Spirit are One. Three distinct individuals in one unified, loving relationship as one nature called God.
This Truth, beloved friends, is what we come to celebrate today in worship, not the impossibilities of how we can reconcile our beliefs with opposing views but that all impossibilities are possible through God and the revelation of the Trinity which is witnessed as a unified, loving relationship. When we focus on the possible, the reconciliation of our beliefs and opposing views will happen naturally.
So, what is possible in the Trinity – in my conflict about Memorial Day – in every single interaction we have with people throughout the world? How about – relationships? Simple relationships. When we work at building the relationships between people, we are living the Good News and witnessing the possible come into being right before our eyes.
That said, there are many ways to build relationships in our world. Many ways if we are not opposing one another. When this conflict happens the number of choices falls dramatically. So, what do we do then? When we are in opposition to one another – when our beliefs oppose a holiday – when core doctrine seems to be opposite to different factions of our faith. It almost seems impossible.
Yet, the Apostle in Paul’s Letter to the Romans reminds us that these conflicts are manufactured by our divisions – laws – and rules. They are the things of the flesh which claim there is an impossibility because we have determined what is right and what is wrong. These are the ideas of human beings. Yet, beloved, we are called to the blessings of the Spirit – the impossible made possible when we share in the life and suffering of Jesus who chose to serve all Creation.
So perhaps, this Truth – this truth known by the prophet Isaiah – this Truth of allowing service to guide us past the impossible conflicts is the solution. The Good News revealed – the Third way to reconcile with one another when our beliefs are in opposition to another person’s view. Simply build the relationship by offering your hands and feet to serve them – care for them – love them. What I believe you will find is that the person you are serving is not different, but the same in Spirit, the Truth which can only be revealed when we build a relationship together. The Unitarian and Congregational churches are not different, we both love God – I am not different from our soldiers, we all want peace – you are not different from those you oppose; but, we must serve one another and let the things of the flesh – the judgement of right and wrong – the belief of impossibilities all die in order to live in the witness of the possible revealed through the Trinity and our relationships.
Therefore today, I invite you to consider celebrating Memorial Day with a renewed vigor. Celebrate this day not only for those who are sent into war; but celebrate all those who are sent to serve one another in order to make the impossible – possible through our Triune God and the unified, loving relationships revealed to us when we choose to serve one another as Jesus. May the impossibility of the Trinity guide you and call you to be one of those who are sent to serve – care – and love another human being. In love, we always pray. Amen.