If you ever want to stump someone with a trivia question about the Episcopal Church, ask them “What is our only major feast that celebrates a teaching?” The answer is this one: Trinity Sunday. It’s a terrific day because we get to focus on who God is – a question so important, and so determinative of how you live your life, that we don’t want to get it wrong.
Sometimes church folks talk about the Trinity with a kind of embarrassment, as if the concept were an obscure, non-essential matter along the lines of arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin or whether to use violet or blue hangings in Advent. Even some clergy joke about how arcane the Trinity is, and how they wish they didn’t have to preach today – which is something I really don’t get. You’re clergy, and you don’t want to talk about who God is? What do you want to talk about? God isn’t exactly an optional extra.
A few weeks ago when we were getting ready for the 1662 Evensong, I was on the phone with a photographer from the News-Gazette trying to tell her how to get access to our building on a Wednesday evening. She knew the red doors, but that didn’t do her any good. She knew our address was University Avenue, but that didn’t do her any good either. She’d been told to come to Park St, but even that wasn’t enough information, because only 1/5 of the doors facing Park St were open. We got her in, but it was just a textbook Episcopal Church moment. One thing Episcopalians are known for is how hard it is to find the entrance to our buildings.
You know, access to the church is important any day, but perhaps especially on Pentecost, which in a way is a great celebration of open access. With the coming of the Holy Spirit God offers us a kind of access to the Divine that we never had before. In fact, we can tend to miss just what that access is, because when we think on our own about it, most of us default to a different mindset than what we see in Scripture. Let me say what I mean.
As our readings in Acts continue this Easter season, we have come to what’s called Paul’s Second Missionary Journey. You can probably all deduce at least one thing from that name: there must have been a First Missionary Journey. And yes, there was. On that trip Paul went a lot of places you never heard of unless you are a big fan of the book of Acts, places like Iconium, Perga and Lystra.
So we’re reading today about the start of his second journey. Intriguingly, we’re told just before this passage that Paul and his companions kicked off their trip by attempting to visit two places they thought would be strategically good choices, but that the Holy Spirit did not allow it. The writer, Luke, says they tried to go west into the province of Asia, and the Spirit stopped them. Then they tried to go north into the province of Bithynia and the Spirit stopped them again. We don’t know what that looked like, an exterior circumstance, an internal sense of wrongness, or what, but somehow the Spirit made clear that Asia and Bithynia were not on God’s wish list for the Second Missionary Journey. Twice they create what seems to be a sensible plan, but twice God somehow vetoes it. I imagine by this point they’re wondering if there’s going to be a Second Missionary Journey at all.