Introduction to the reading:
Like many of you, I have siblings. I am one of three sisters, different from each other in temperament, appearance, interests and life- style. Yet sometimes it happens when the families are all together that someone in the company will make a remark that evokes a spontaneous, simultaneous, identical response from all three of us. This usually evokes a response of great hilarity amongst the rest of the family! For my sisters and me, it reinforces our sense of belonging and shared identity, experience and values: an unimportant little incident except that it connects us with something beyond our ordinary interactions. I like to think that what we say with three voices carries three times the meaning and power because it springs from our three equally admirable and lovable, if different, characters.
Last Sunday, Pentecost Day, you celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit to the earliest people of the Christian faith; a gift that was packaged in something as basic and everyday as breath or wind, and yet with a quality that was experienced as beyond everyday breath or wind.
Today, in continuity with remembering and reflecting on that gift and its extraordinary quality, we remember and reflect on our experience of the extraordinary nature of God, and how we have come to know that nature. Today is designated Trinity Sunday. We describe God as Trinitarian in a somewhat formulaic way; but we know God not in a formulaic way, rather through our lived experience.
The quality of grace lived amongst us in the person of Jesus. His death and resurrection confronted us with the intensity of Gods love not just for Jesus, but for all of humanity. We have lived experience of grace and love by the activity of the Spirit within us, and amongst us. Those qualities of grace and love draw us into the life of the transformed community. Here, through everyday interactions and encounters, our lives are enriched beyond the everyday by our shared participation in the life of the Spirit.
Paul links our lived experience of the communion of Jesus, God and Spirit directly to the way in which he calls us to live in communion with one another. Communion is beyond community. It is possible to be contentious, graceless and unloving even within a community and indeed some communities are characterised by these unlovely characteristics of their common experience.
In a community, so-called peace can be achieved by intimidation, by manipulation, by corruption, by the sheer force of will of the stronger members. It would be more accurate to call this control rather than peace.
The kind of peace that is achieved through communion with one another within the life of the Spirit is not controlled and directed by human will and dedication to ends that we predict and formulate. Of course there will always be deeply-felt differences of opinion, and clashes of will, between Christians: we are called to regard these things lightly enough that grace and love will displace them.
The cost of regarding them too highly is that they will impede our communion with the Spirit, and the life force the creativity and potential for growth that the Spirit contributes to our communion.
"Live in peace" advises Paul, but he certainly did not live a bland, passive peace himself. He understood that peace has to be intentional: it comes at the cost of our individual pride and will. Read his letter to Philemon and you will see how very well Paul understood the human traits that resist the kind of peace he advocates.
Why does Paul rate the quality of peace so highly that he gives it priority in this farewell statement to the church in Corinth? Farewell notes are our last chance to pass on the core truths of our lives: Paul has lived experience that intentional, sacrificial peace is the medium that releases and mediates the creative and life-giving power of the Spirit amongst us; and he holds this to be a vital truth.
We cannot truly be in communion with the Spirit of God if we do not intentionally and consciously strive to enhance communion with one another. And the bountiful, fruitful, productive power that arises from human and holy communion will not arise amongst us.
At this point Id like to refer us back to the first reading for today, the account of the Creation, in Genesis chapter 1. It paints for us an image of Gods activity that is orderly, progressive, enriching and deeply satisfying God saw all he had made and it was very good. It is also recognised as work: by the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating he had done.
The Spirit was a partner, a presence, in work of Creation and an integral element of all that was given breath, as referred to in Genesis, Job, Isaiah and the Psalms. Jesus refers to his own presence and participation in the work of Creation, in John chapter 17.
So when we strive and struggle for peace in the arena of our faith community, let it not be merely imposed, convenient or contrived peace; let us try to achieve something of the quality of grace and love that lies inherently within the trinitarian communion of God, the Spirit and Jesus. And remember that the greater communion of Jesus, God and Spirit undergirds, over-lies and embraces our own works.
Even at a purely human level when we achieve the kind of unity that allows creativity and productive work to flourish, we find it a deeply satisfying experience. When we achieve it within the richer environment of the unity of Jesus, God and Spirit, our experience is beyond satisfying, it is at once fulfilling and liberating as it bears us into the heart and soul of the dynamic peace that powers all of Creation and life.