|Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 15, 2013||Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||Isaiah 35:1-10, Matthew 11:2-11|
|First Sunday in Advent, Year A -The Circle of the Church Year||December 1, 2013||Advent 1, Year A||Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44|
|Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, Yr C||November 24, 2013||Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, Year C||Luke 23:33-43|
|Twenty Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||November 17, 2013||Proper 28, Year C||Malachi 4:1-2a, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-10|
|Twenty Fifth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||November 10, 2013||Proper 27, Year C||Job 19:23-27a, Luke 20:27-38|
|Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||October 20, 2013||Proper 24C||Psalm 121, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Luke 18:1-8|
|Twenty First Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||October 13, 2013||Proper 23, Year C||2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c, Psalm 111, Luke 17:11-19|
|Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||October 6, 2013||Proper 22, Year C||Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4, Psalm 37:1-10, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10|
|Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||September 29, 2013||Proper 21, Year C||Luke 16:19-31|
|Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||September 22, 2013||Proper 20, Year C||Luke 16:1-13|
|Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||September 15, 2013||Proper 19, Year C||Exodus 32:7-14, Luke 15: 1-10|
|Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||September 8, 2013||Proper 18, Year C||Luke 14:25-33|
|Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||September 1, 2013||Proper 17, Year C||Sirach 10:12-18, Psalm 112, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, Luke 14:1, 7-14|
|Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||August 25, 2013||Proper 16, Year C||Isaiah 58:9b-14;Psalm 103:1-8;Hebrews 12:18-29;Luke 13:10-17|
|Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||August 18, 2013||Proper 15, Year C||Hebrews 11:29-12:2|
Ninth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C
Sermon Date:July 21, 2013
Scripture: Genesis 18:1-10a, Colossians 1:15-28, Luke 10:38-42
Liturgy Calendar: Proper 11, Year C
In today’s reading from Genesis, Abraham is camped out by the oaks of Mamre.
He is sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day, and we know what that pulsating heat feels like, based on the scorching temperatures we’ve experienced in this past week.
Maybe Abraham is napping, or praying, but when he looks up into the shimmering heat, three men are standing near him.
Abraham immediately offers them hospitality—rich, abundant hospitality—
Not only water to quench their thirst and to wash their feet, but freshly made bread, and roasted calf, accompanied by curds and milk–
A feast for these three visitors who are resting in the shade of the mighty oak trees.
In these three visitors, God has appeared to Abraham. We, the readers, are told this at the beginning of the story—“The Lord appeared to Abraham.”
And Abraham knows that these visitors are the Lord when the visitors ask where Sarah is, and when Abraham says that she is in the tent, one says, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah will have a son.”
Remember that God plans to make of Abraham a great nation through which all nations will be blessed. And these visitors announce the birth which will fulfill this promise.
This story from Genesis is so powerful!—because not only does it describe the hospitality of Abraham, but it also provides for us a glimpse into the very nature of God.
God’s very nature is one of hospitality, communion, and interrelatedness—God as Trinity, not a lone being, but three in one.
So it’s no surprise that this passage from Genesis has been seen from the earliest years of the church as a description of God as Trinity.
In the early 1400’s, Andrei Rublev, a Russian iconographer, created an icon of this visit of the Lord to Abraham, and in this icon, he imagines the Trinity.
And I want to talk about this particular icon, but first I’d like to say a little about the importance of icons in the history of Christianity.
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church explains that icons are flat pictures, usually painted on wood with egg tempera. The art of iconography became important in the fifth century in the East, and today, icons still play an important role in the liturgical life of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In the past century, the Western church has found that icons offer valuable ways to pray and to worship.
And I’d like for you to know a little bit about how to pray with icons as a way of enriching your own prayers and as a way of inviting God into your lives through this particular practice of prayer.
So let’s take a look at this icon, known in Russia as The Old Testament Trinity, by Andrei Rublev. The website listed in the bulletin supplies the information I’m about to share, and will provide you with more details about this icon. Tony Castle, who has written a book called Gateway to the Trinity, wrote the meditation I’m referencing in this sermon.
These are the three visitors that appeared to Abraham at the entrance to his tent.
Notice that the three of them could be contained in a perfect circle.
Now let’s look at each of the figures individually.
We’ll start in the middle.
This figure is Christ the Son. Note that he is wearing an outfit of blue and and a rich reddish brown. Blue is the color of heaven, and represents his divinity. Brown, the color of earth, represents his humanity. The gold stripe represents His kingship.
Notice that the Christ figure has two fingers on the table—these two fingers representing his divine and human nature. And his hand draws our attention to the chalice on the table, which contains wine.
As we look at this figure of Christ, we hear echoes of the Colossians reading from today, a hymn from the early church that describes the divinity of Jesus.
“Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created….in him all things hold together….for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell….and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
Note that the faces on each of these figures in the icon are identical—Christ is the image of the invisible God.
Also very important is what appears in the background of each of these figures, and behind this Christ figure is a tree, which represents the oaks of Mamre under which The Lord met with Abraham and experienced Abraham’s hospitality.
And the tree can also represent the wood of the cross, or the Tree of Life in the center of the Garden of Eden, or the tree with its leaves for the healing of the nations that lines the banks of the stream of living water in Revelation—this tree in the icon is a rich image that can lead deep into prayer.
Christ is looking to his right, so let’s go to this figure next.
This figure is God. Notice his outfit. He, too, wears blue, but we can’t see a lot of the blue, because we can’t ever directly see God—and the rest of his outfit is this shimmering golden color representing his royalty. All three of the figures hold a staff, a sign of authority, but this figure holds the staff with both hands, symbolizing the fact that all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Him.
Note that above this God figure is a house—which brings to mind Abraham’s tent where God has been welcomed. It makes me think of that wonderful passage a little later in Genesis when Jacob has the dream about the ladder reaching up into heaven with angels of God ascending and descending on it. And then the Lord appears to Jacob and Jacob says, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
The house of God—into which we are welcomed. “In my father’s house are many mansions.”
God looks toward both of the other figures, so let’s look across the table now to the Spirit.
This figure is clothed in green and blue; blue for divinity, and green for new life. This figure touches the table, representing the fact that the divine life of God is present to us here and now on earth through the Holy Spirit.
Behind this figure is a mountain. Mountains reach toward heaven. Mountains are the places where heaven and earth seem to touch. God appeared to Moses on a mountain, and whispered deep into Elijah’s soul on a mountain.
Jesus was transfigured on a mountain.
And in Revelation, John is carried to a great high mountain and sees the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. Mountains are sacred spaces where God communicates with us through the Spirit.
Now last, note that these figures can be enclosed in a circle, but they are not enclosed in upon themselves.
Imagine now a three dimensional circle.
We are invited into this circle. This circle reaches around behind the three figures and draws each one of us in as well, invites each one of us in to a place within this Trinitarian circle at the Lord’s table.
In today’s gospel, Mary has entered the circle, and Jesus calls Martha to put away all that is keeping her from entering this circle and to come and join Him too.
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre. The Lord appears to us as well, no matter where we are, and invites us to enter into this Trinitarian circle of hospitality, into this place of mutual love, to take our place at the table God has set for us.
But we must not rest within that circle with our backs to the world.
As the writer of Hebrews reminds us,
“Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Third Edition, Revised. Edited by E. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford University Press, 2005.
Early Russian Icon Painting. By M. V. Alpatov. Moscow, USSR, 1974.