DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.
May the Spirit Speak to you!
15 June 2014 – Trinity Sunday
Seventeen hundred years ago, the church was fighting about the Trinity. It can be a confusing concept which we have great difficulty wrapping our minds around. It is, after all, a mystery. Though this gospel reading of Matthew makes reference to baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; it doesn’t explain the relationship between these three. Nor does it seem to worry about delicately holding the tension of the three-yet-Oneness of God. To make matters worse, the Trinity’s not clearly explained anywhere in scripture. In fact, the word Trinity never is used. The gospel of John’s farewell discourse of Jesus (chapters 14-17) might be the closest attempt to talk about this God that is in us even as we’re in God, and Jesus is in God, and Jesus is in us, and another Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will be among us forever. But that whole section can be more trouble than help. We do have the second letter to the Christians in Corinth which closes with the message: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor. 13:13); though the benediction isn’t really explaining Trinity as much as it is naming for the first followers of Christ’s Way the experience of the grace, love, and companionship of God – the various aspects of God that can be real in our lives. And just as Christianity began to gain some ground in the Roman Empire of the early Fourth Century, the church started fighting about the Trinity.
It’s called the Arian controversy. A man named Arius and a man named Athanasius led the way. They stood at polar opposites about the nature and power of God. Arius (wrongly) was convinced that the Son and the Father were not co-eternal. “’There was when he was not,’” Arius said – referring to an independent God (the Father) creating Jesus (the Son) right alongside everything else in creation – something we Christians do not believe. For Arius, “God was an utterly unique, self-contained, and self-sufficient reality” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 3; Stephen B. Boyd, p. 46). . . . Fathers’ Day seems a good time to remember that the church did not accept this notion of God. For how long has our culture, especially tried to tell the males of it, that they too are individual? Self- contained. Sufficient all on their own. Arius was terrified of any sense of vulnerability in God. For him an eternal partnership with the Son, not to mention the Holy Spirit; implied weakness in the deity. You know, one that could be affected by another; changed by another; to Arius that was weak. Unacceptable in any sense of God – which tells us that Arius may not have been reading the scriptures very much because it’s all over the stories. This amazing Deity who chooses to come to us in such a vulnerable way. This God who feels and weeps, and deeply is affected by the faithfulness and waywardness of God’s creation. . . . I know a mindset still lingers in our society: that to be a man is to be like this invincible, independent, hover-a-little-bit-above-it-all kind of god.
Fortunately, scripture gives witness to something else, so the church decided to follow Athanasius. As one commentator explains: “Athanasius believed that the incarnation of God in Christ revealed a different kind of God and a different kind of divine power. Rather than an isolated monad, God from eternity is relational; between the Father and the Son, for example, there was, is, and always will be mutual self-giving. . . . a ‘unity of love, a unity in which the identity of each party is not swallowed up and annihilated, but established” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 3; Stephen B. Boyd, p. 46, 48). It’s a mutuality. A shared being. An inter-dependence where three co-exist in beautiful harmony with one another – like a perfect musical chord. One’s not more important than the other; they’re all necessary. Distinct, yet equal. One never without the others. It’s often called the peri-choresis of God: the dancing around in great delight. A circular image of God where the God beyond, among, and in us exists in this joyous right-relationship. Almost like a synergy or living sphere of powerful energy. A God who is plural, yet one. . . . It’s a much better message for the men and women of our culture – a helpful, healthy way to be reflected in our own relationships at home, in our congregation, and beyond in all the world! . . . I love how one preacher put it by saying that: “God does not exist in solitary individualism but in a community of love and sharing. God is not a loner. This means that a Christian in search of godliness (Matthew 5:48) must shun every tendency to isolationism. The ideal Christian spirituality is not that of flight from the world like that of certain . . . traditions where the quest for holiness means permanent withdrawal . . . away from contact and involvement with people and society” (http://www.munachi.com/z/trinity.htm). It means getting in there. Living rightly alongside one another, even as we tenderly tread upon this earth.
In officer training this week, one of our officers-elect explained it beautifully. A person can be daughter and a sister and a wife and a mother and a grandmother. And in all those ways how she is in each of those roles is influenced by the other; but she’s still one woman – and so much more even than just those roles. Boys too: sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, and grandfathers – all impacting how you are in each one of those, but more than each one too. I like that. Especially because it gets at the heart of why the Trinity matters: because in the image of God we are made. Not a power unto ourselves to do whatever we want with one another and the rest of creation. But a relationship – a mutuality. In other words, though we may have been reared in the great Western independent philosophy of “I think therefore I am;” the African inter-dependent notion of Ubuntu would have been a more Christian way to have been reared: that I am because we are. As South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu so often proclaims: our human-ness is bound up together. In many ways, Trinity captures not just the truth of God, but also the truth of us. We never are one all on our own. Each one of us always is in relationship with God and the rest of creation, even as we are with our own self. In other words, three: a self, God, the rest of the world. We too are thoroughly relational no matter how much some of us might try to fight it. We may not be able to explain it all; but we certainly experience it.
I’ve been reading about something called the Law of Three. I admit I don’t fully understand yet all of what this contemporary Christian mystic is trying to say, other than that there is a metaphysical Law of Three. Our world isn’t just binary opposites like yin and yang, male and female, dark and light. Rather it takes three to make anything happen: like a seed in the fertile soil. Without the third element of the sunlight, that seed never will sprout to grow. (Cynthia Bourgeault, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, p. 40). About the Trinity, this mystic writes: “A solitary God could not be ‘love without limits.’ . . . The Three-in-One denotes the perfection of Unity . . . fulfilling itself in communion and becoming the source and foundation of all communion” (Ibid., pp. 43-44).
Returning to the gospel of Matthew, that might be why the Risen Christ commands his disciples to go baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Because first of all, it’s going to take something outside of us to get us out there. A force; a power; a Spirit beyond us to motivate us to go forth into all the world with the good news. Second, thanks be to God, we have a most beautiful example of how to do this: Jesus himself, God-with-us, or the God among us, divine yet seeking to live a flawless human life. He held in perfect harmony those right relationships between God, self, and all creation. And third, thanks be to God, we have something within us: the Spirit of God burning like a fire within to give witness to the love, and hope, and forgiving grace of God. In our baptisms, we’re marked with the sign of the Triune God – the God beyond, among, and within us – we’re marked by them all in baptismal waters that we might live in God’s likeness as we delight in such beautiful balance with God, self, and the rest of creation.
As we go forth into the world, that’s the good news our lives are to reflect! That we do not go it alone. Trinity matters because our God is beyond, but among, and in us too! And like God, we work best in threes: me, you, God with us. As the wisdom writer wrote: “a three-fold chord is not quickly broken” (Eccles. 4:12b). Together we can fulfill the Risen Christ’s command – or at least begin to try. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; we go forth to give witness to our mysterious, Three-in-One God.
Alleluia and Amen!
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