Saturday, May 17, 2008
The readings today are a confusing mix. Ever since Lent we have been hearing lessons that are based on a season or an event in Jesus' life that is appropriate to the Church calendar. Today is only different in that we are celebrating, not an event in Jesus' life, but a theological doctrine. And I believe that this is the only Sunday in the Church calendar that we celebrate a doctrine rather than an event in the life of Jesus or the Church.
Jesus did not speak of the Holy Trinity. It is never referred to in the New Testament. He did speak of the Spirit of God and God who was Father. He referred to himself as "the son of God" in the sense that those who are faithful are Children of God. The doctrine of the Trinity was basically worked out by Tertullian, early in the 3rd century. The doctrine states" that God is one Being who exists, simultaneously and eternally, as a mutual indwelling of three persons: the Father, the Son (incarnate as Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit."
Most doctrines are developed in opposition to some heresy--some clearly wrong understanding of God's action in the world. The doctrine of the Trinity developed in response to the heresy of Arianism which teaches "that Jesus was not one with the father, and that he was not fully, although almost, divine in nature." This was pretty well resolved in the 4th or 5th century and the Doctrine of the Trinity has been a conviction of most Christian churches ever since-Orthodox, Roman Catholic, most Protestant denominations embrace the Holy Trinity.
So what does it mean for us today?
It certainly does allow us to understand ourselves as those who worship one God who is manifested in three persons. We recognize God as Father or Creator, as Incarnate in Jesus the Christ and in the Spirit that is always present to us. But all too often we think of God as three separate entities. Part of that is because we are unwilling to allow the mystery of the Trinity to hold us in our perplexity. Human beings don’t do well with mystery—especially those of us who have lived since the scientific age began. We want answers; we want proofs even for God who cannot be explained or proven.
But the wisdom of God leaves us confused and without ways of describing that presence of the Divine which can only be known in the depths of our hearts and leaves us wordless. It is Love lived out that best describes what the Holy Trinity is. God is lived out in love—a love that moves beyond the corporal or emotional love that we embrace with our loved ones. The God who lives in three—who exists in community—never alone---teaches us what it means to be created in the image of God. We, as Christians, are never meant to be alone—to be individuals facing life solitarily. We are called by God‘s-self—a God that is one in Three—to live together, to embrace life in community.
For most of my life, I have been encouraged to “stand on my own two feet”, to be self-sufficient. These mantras have been with most of us who have lived the majority of our lives in the 20th century. ‘Rugged individualism’ has been the chant of educators, theologians, psychologists and economists (not the least from our parents and relatives) for at least 150 years. It is a sociological thought that perhaps needs to come to an end. At the dawn of a new millennium it is time for us to reconsider our lives in the light of a Triune God.
We are not alone on this planet. We are not alone in matters of faith. And if we are to recognize that we are created in the image of God, we need to see ourselves less as individuals and more members of the great community of God’s creation. If we are going to populate and have dominion in creation as the reading from Genesis tells us, we are going to have to live less as individuals and with more respect not only for one another, but with respect for all living creatures. We are going to have to get better at loving.
Until I began to develop this sermon, I was one of those who was ready to jettison the idea of a Sunday devoted solely to doctrine of Trinity. Like many of us in the theological business, I am ready for some different ways of describing humanity’s relationship with God. There are certainly more names for God than Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As a woman who has gone through an era where Christianity has taken some long hard looks at the ways that women have been treated simply because we thought God was a boy’s name, I have seen the emergence of many varied ways of trying to describe God. As one who has moved from a type of faith that was centered in learning to a faith that is centered in being in relationship with God, I am finding the traditional descriptions more and more filled with meaning. Rather than limiting what and who God is, the Trinity seems to trace images that grow greater as I come to embrace God more.
Faith in the Trinity is a willingness to be transformed by God. And the more that I allow myself to be changed by that God, the more I am able to love in those areas that are the most difficult. Certainly this is the call of a Triune God. Just as a Triune God is always loving, so a Triune God is dynamic—always changing.
For those of you who love to say that you don’t like change, I would suggest that you observe that. I would suggest that if you allow yourself to be curmudgeons in the face of change, you will miss so much that our Lord holds out . If humanity is created in the image of a Triune God—we, as a part of the creation, are called to change. To gripe about change is to gripe about what is essential to human existence. Now I have to confess, I am not liking some of the changes I have to face—I don’t like it that my knees don’t work as well as they once did. But I must learn that God creates my unsure knees just as surely as God creates those wobbly legs of Christina as she learns how to walk. For a congregation who has just started using a new hymnal, we need to be willing to embrace not only the new, but embrace it as a gift from God instead of some botheration that somebody in the Synod thought up.
Resistance to change is what Aristotle called hamartia in Greek. It was what we learned when we studied the Greek plays—the tragic flaw. It is interesting that in the New Testament hamartia is translated SIN. To resist the dynamism of a Triune God is sin.
This is one of those cases in which we are often brought to a new level of transformation—to a new level of understanding of our relationship with God. God is always calling us to something new, something difficult, something always loving. To say NO to that ever- newness of God is rejecting that work that God is doing within us. We cannot continue to be in relationship with God if we are not willing to be a part of the transformation. At the same time, we know that we too are sinners—we often resist the call of God to be more than we were yesterday. And yet, God constantly loves us even in our rebellion.
It is my consideration that the world needs to hear the message of a God who is one-yet-three. It needs to know that the community of God triumphs over the isolation and individuation of society. And we as human creatures need to know that not only that we not alone, but it is not good for us to be alone or individualistic. We need a God who can image for us how to live with one another not only in peace but in a type of activity that creates wholeness and creativity.
This feast of the Holy Trinity reminds us that we may conserve only that which can continue be creative and lead to newness for the sake of Creation. It reminds us that even in sorrow or suffering, that community is the path to living in the way of Jesus. If we suffer in silence we will fail to know the healing touch of the Spirit through the love of others. For community, in the image of a Triune God, is one that sustains both joy and suffering without falling apart. And perhaps it will be the celebration of this Feast that in years to come, we as Church--as followers of the Way of Christ, will be able to stem the tide of “rugged individualism” so that we may become the images of God we were created to be. AMEN