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A Sermon for 16 June 2019 – Trinity Sunday

It’s Trinity Sunday. A day filled with hymns that declare the amazing work of the Godhead. Holy, Holy, Holy is our LORD God Almighty! All creatures of our God and King! This day is a day too to hear beautiful words from Scripture that proclaim the awesome nature of God. I mean, did you hear those words from Psalm 8?! “O LORD: how majestic is your name in all the earth!” How could we do anything but fall absolutely in love with the Creator as we look upon the grandeur of this world? When we gaze up into the night sky – noticing the twinkle of millions of tiny lights that would take millions of years to walk to! When we look at the ground – like how is it possible that we can take tiny seeds that within themselves are a brilliant, beautiful work of art. We put them in the soil, or a songbird just drops them somewhere. The sun shines, the rain falls. The ground gives way. Before we know it, tomatoes are popping out everywhere. Basil is filling the sweet summer air. Even while we’re caught up in the beauty that surrounds, other little marvels are toddling all around us. These human bodies in which we live are sheer miracles. Do you know that when I broke the bone in my foot a few months ago, a very accomplished doctor with a very impressive education working for a well-respected medical group told me that now that the bone (that had been giving me some trouble for a while) finally broke, the body will heal it and build it back even stronger. Sure it’s taking time and there are factors that can impede the process, but I couldn’t believe I waited all that time to have some fancy surgeon tell me the truth of these incredible bodies in which we get to live: it knows how to heal itself! Despite the aches and pains we encounter as we age – indeed, with the Psalmist we can proclaim: O what are human beings, LORD, that you care for us?!

As Christians we believe Christ to be a part of the Triune Godhead that we celebrate on Trinity Sunday. It’s what makes us different from Jews and Unitarians and a whole lot of really spiritually mature people. In Christ, we believe we hear the words of God speaking to us, as Jesus did in that beautiful sermon he gave to his disciples the night before he would die. He promised: “I will not leave you orphaned” (John 14:18). God loves us so much, because, after all, God is Love. And as Love, God never, ever, ever is willing to be separated from us. We are God’s, Jesus declares in the portion of the great farewell discourse that we hear from the gospel of John today. That means that even if it feels like the rest of the world has abandoned us. Even if it feels like no one else accepts us. Even if it feels like we are in this all alone, we are not. God is like that tenacious father we hear of in Jesus’ parable of the lost – or prodigal – sons. One who never gives up. One who is proud to welcome us home, no matter what a mess our lives have become.

Trinity Sunday ends up being a day in the church when preachers around the world try to do the impossible: we try to use words to speak about God. To describe God. To explain the very nature of the Godhead that we proclaim through the doctrine of the Trinity. Though clearly spelled out nowhere in the bible, tradition settled on words like Father, Son, Holy Ghost to describe the relatedness of the Triune God. Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer often are heard as a way to capture the function of each persona of the three-and-one God. This week, I read words written by The Rev. Jacqui Lewis who tried to describe her vision of God. Admittedly, I’ve never thought about God in the same way that this powerhouse head pastor from New York City’s Middle Collegiate Church describes God. And I’m still letting her explanation of God sink into my soul to see how it might resonate. Even as I remember that Rev. Lewis speaks from and for the context in which she ministers which is a multiracial, fully inclusive congregation whose purpose is “to heal souls and the world because they believe faith is about Love. Period” (https://sojo.net/biography/jacqui-lewis). Quoted in Richard Rohr’s daily devotional, which some of you also may have read on Thursday; Rev. Lewis describes what she sees when she imagines God. She writes: “My God is a curvy black woman with dreadlocks and dark, cocoa-brown skin. She laughs from her belly and is unashamed to cry. She can rock a whole world to sleep, singing in her contralto voice. Her sighs breathe life into humanity. Her heartbreaks cause eruptions of justice and love” (Center for Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr Meditation: She Is Love, 13 June 2019). Rev. Lewis claims that we know God is a mystery. She writes: “We don’t know everything about (God). So out of our imaginations and our yearnings, our hopes and our fears, we make stuff up. At our best,” Rev. Lewis writes, “we project goodness, power, kindness, and love unto God. At our worst, we create a God who is punitive, angry, judgmental, and harsh. (Lewis says) We do this because we are those things, and we think they make us safe” (Ibid.).

I would argue that we can find it all in our Holy Scriptures – so many different ways our ancestors in the faith were inspired to use words to attempt to describe what we experience of this amazing Force. This incredible Love. This grand Designer we call God before whose awesomeness we humbly bow. Everything from Good Shepherd to Sheltering Eagle to Righteous Judge to Mother Hen to Solid Rock on which to stand is used in Scripture to speak of God. A plethora of images for just about every need in which we humans will find ourselves. The One – the Force – the Energy – the Love, whichever word best describes God for you – who from the beginning was Triune. Which might just be our attempt to give language – a doctrine, an explanation to the God of the Universe who is relationship itself. And if all this Triune talk. If all this trying to speak of God who took on our flesh and blood to be our Way, our Truth, our Life. If all this trying to speak of the Mystery of Three co-existing as One is too much for our little minds to comprehend, then how about we just listen. Listen for the beauty of how the wisdom writer of Proverbs gave expression to the Divine. Hear God’s word to us in this final Trinity Sunday reading from Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 (NRSV).

“Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth –when God had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When God established the heavens, I was there, when God drew a circle on the face of the deep, when God made firm the skies above, when God established the fountains of the deep, when God assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress God’s command, when God marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside God, like a master worker; and I was daily God’s delight, rejoicing before God always, rejoicing in God’s inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”

What else might we attempt to say about God today? Other than this wisdom text may never have been a reading we’d have known had not the council that created the Revised Common Lectionary decided it must be included every third Trinity Sunday. One biblical commentator writes of these words, “First, the image of Wisdom as God’s helper reminds us of the reciprocity of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit giving and receiving within the very being of God” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 3, Jeff Paschal, p. 31). Acting and resting, I would add. Doing and stopping just to behold. The balance of energies that allow the flow. That show us how to be as well. That same biblical commentator goes on to write: “Even more, the description of Wisdom in verses 24 and 25 – ‘brought forth’ (whirling, dancing) – calls to mind the Eastern Church’s emphasis on the Trinity as perichoresis, literally, ‘dancing around’” (Ibid.). In great wisdom the biblical commentator writes: “So we do not worship a stingy God who grudgingly gives gifts and who grants forgiveness as a divine grump” – another way, I would add, that so many seem to imagine God. “Not at all,” writes the commentator, “The triune God is a joyous, dancing God who pours out overflowing gifts to humanity with gladness!” (Ibid.). What a beautiful way to see God in our lives – a way so many of us have experienced even as we have read of in Jesus, the Christ, who lives among us as God! When we experience joy, we know God. When we live free – free enough to dance – we know God. When we take stock of all the gifts that overflow to us, we know God. When we love, we know God. The Triune God whom we trust and worship and serve!

Trinity Sunday is a day to celebrate God, the Mystery who keeps on giving and receiving and giving for all Life to prevail! With grateful hearts, may we ever rejoice in the God who is One, and three. Three and One, dancing around in an endless, unblocked outpouring of Love. Celebrating the inhabited world. Delighting in the whole human race!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)


Holy Mystery

A sermon for 31 May 2015 – Trinity Sunday

Click here to read Isaiah 6:1-8 first:  http://www.biblestudytools.com/nrsa/isaiah/passage/?q=isaiah+6:1-8

 It seems wise to begin today’s sermon on Trinity Sunday with the disclaimer that the Trinity is a mystery. Three energies coming together into one. One energy having three aspects. How can this be? We don’t really know. We just believe it so. Because, in part, God is a mystery – revealed fully in Christ and among us in the Holy Spirit, and still beyond us; not able to be completely understood. . . . Imagine being Isaiah. Minding his own business when suddenly he’s having a vision of the LORD God almighty. Crazy stuff like God on a throne with a great big robe overwhelming the temple. This is the stuff of nighttime dreams – not quite like what we know in waking life. Creatures with six wings flying about, calling out: “Holy, holy, holy! . . . The whole earth is full of God’s glory!” (Is. 6:3). Who can fully make sense of such a vision? . . . Such a vivid, image-packed experience that might leave our minds tied up in knots. We can seek to gain further insight – not only to joyfully profess the Triune God; but also, with the prophet Isaiah, to encounter and in fact stand in absolute, wonder-filled awe of our ancient-and-living, three-and-one, transcendent-and-so-very-with-us-immanent God. Our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Mystery. Holy Mystery, the Trinity is, which need not frustrate our reason-seeking minds, only fill our God-seeking souls.

Now, Christians believe the Trinity, God in three persons, or the One God who is made up of three personas, is from the start. A close read of Genesis chapter one reveals the creating God whose Spirit is hovering over the watery chaos until the Word goes forth. And automatically, creation takes place. Throughout the Old Testament, we see evidence of a God who is giving life like a caring father, and seeking to save the people like a mighty redeemer, and dwelling among the people like a guiding sustainer. . . . The gospels proclaim Jesus as the full revelation of God. By the Spirit; he ever acts, and prays, and has his being. Always he is in complete union with the life-giving God, who he usually calls Abba, Father. And because Christ does not exist without the other two, Jesus, the Word-in-flesh, often goes out to the wilderness to pray, to be connected both with the Father and the Holy Spirit that descended upon him in his baptism. He is the embodied Word of God that has come among us in flesh to know us in full. Because, as Jesus, the Christ, God experienced our life as a human. With an earthly mother and father who certainly had to drive him nuts sometimes. And siblings who must have gotten on his nerves every now and again. As a human he knew the pressures of learning a profession (carpentry), and living as a God-fearing Jew, in an occupied nation no less. In Christ, God came to know fully what it’s like to be us – with all the temptations we face, but without all the mess ups we make in our sins.

Perhaps it’s helpful to consider the Trinity in light of triplets – not the kind in music. But triplets: as in children. Many of us might be familiar with twins. Some of you might be a twin. And thanks to the conveniences of modern fertility treatments, triplets are more common today than in days gone by. Triplets all grow in the same womb. Some even from the very same egg. They are connected in a way that singles are not. Yet, even triplets that look exactly alike, never truly are exactly the same. One might have a birth mark another does not. Or a shade lighter hair. And certainly each has characteristics unlike the others: one is withdrawn. The other out-going. And other incredibly unsure of themselves. Triplets are a set; and yet, they each are unique. . . . You could say the Trinity is a set. Yet each persona or aspect of the Triune God is distinct. One being, with three unique functions.

Somewhere along the way Christianity – at least the branch from which we come in the West – went a little bit astray regarding the Trinity. We start off as concrete literal thinkers, which from childhood on really can do a number on our images of God so that we can take things like Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple as a literal picture of the divine. . . . The limits of our language and of our minds ended up leaving many of our Christian ancestors thinking that there’s some sort of pecking order in the Trinity – we see it everywhere else. Why not in God? Before you know it, we start to believe that one persona of God is more important, or above the other. Like a hierarchy where one is over the other – more powerful, more ancient, just more. In our minds and in some of our church architecture, we started drawing triangles for the Triune God instead of circles. I think the idea was that the top point of the triangle represented the all-powerful Father-God, the oldest and most important. In this thinking, the Son and the Spirit come later in the story and so get represented at the lower points of the triangle. Hear me now: centuries ago the church declared such thinking un-biblical heresy, though this hierarchal image of God still lingers in some. . . . Thankfully a part of the tradition preserved another picture of God. The perichoresis of our three-in-one God. Three interconnected circles, distinct in their own function, but equal. Always, all together existing even from beyond time. The image is of three interconnected, equal circles. The perichoresis of God is the dancing around together in relationship as the life-giving, life-redeeming, life-sustaining God. An energy like a three-fold cord that cannot be unbound. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, blessed Trinity! . . . Christians believe it’s the we referred to by God here in Isaiah’s vision. As in “who will go for us?” (Is. 6:8). . . . It’s the we proclaimed in Genesis chapter one when God says: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). And like our Triune God, we too are made for relationship. Connections of equality where we all may not have the same function, the same gifts and abilities. Still we’re made for relationships of mutuality in which life for us all is promoted.

I’m not sure we all fully appreciate each aspect of our Triune God. I’m guessing most of us gravitate towards one aspect of God over the others. I mean, let’s face it: Presbyterians haven’t been known for monumental focus upon the Holy Spirit. Though I’m encouraged that our latest confession, A Brief Statement of Faith, gives equal billing to God the Holy Spirit: everywhere the giver and re-newer of life. It’s high time all of us welcome a little bit more of that part of God into our individual and collective lives because each part of the Trinity is necessary for us. Like all those years of perfect musical chords our retiring organist has played here in this sanctuary. One note of the chord isn’t more important than the other. They’re all needed for the beautiful, inspiring music they make. It’s like that in God. . . . Think about it: are you feeling kinda fragile? Like you really need to know someone cares and seeks to protect, nurture, and provide? God our Creator, the persona of God often named Father, might be just the encounter with God that you need. . . . At times we need to know someone understands. Someone will stand by us no matter what – even take a bullet for us if it all comes to that. Christ Jesus our Redeemer, often called the Son, might be exactly our guy. . . . We all experience those times when we need to be guided. Sustained by something beyond us, which strengthens and burns, and moves in us the ways we need to be, even beyond our own wills. God the Holy Spirit, the Sustainer, is the persona of the Trinity we cannot live without.

I could remind us of the egg: shell, yoke, white stuff. Or roots, trunk, leaves. Someone once suggested to me Neapolitan ice cream – chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Decide for yourself which part of the Trinity is the chocolate, which the vanilla, and which the strawberry.   . . . All sorts of images are out there to help us wrap our minds around this holy Triune mystery. In the end, perhaps it’s best just to be alongside the prophet Isaiah: filled with incredible awe as we encounter One we cannot fully comprehend. Ready to respond when God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit calls. Our Triune Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. . . . Whether or not we fully can wrap our minds around it, today – and every day – our spirits can join in the chorus: Holy! Holy! Holy! Blessed is the amazing Holy Mystery!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Alleluia and Amen!

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)