The Mystery of the Trinity, Trinity Sunday (A) – June 11, 2017

[RCL] Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

Today, on Trinity Sunday, we enter the Divine Dance, a dance that pulls us inside the circle of love that is our Triune God. This beautiful metaphor is being used by Father Richard Rohr to interpret the Holy Trinity not just to Christians, but to all believers. In his new book, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, he writes that in the past,

“In our attempts to explain the Trinitarian Mystery we overemphasized the individual qualities of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but not so much the relationships between them. That is where all the power is! That is where all the meaning is!” Please note the word relationship in this Divine Dance and imagine not the classic dances of the forties and fifties when dancing meant two people responding to music together, nor the dance of the young today who seem to be dancing with their own selves, but the traditional folk dances of the Middle East— holding hands and moving in a circle.

Another image, a metaphor that Father Richard borrows from St. Bonaventure, is that of the water wheel. The wheel, carrying three buckets, fills and empties, fills and empties unto eternity. There is the constant emptying of the God-self and the constant filling up, world without end, Amen.

The gift of Father Richard Rohr is that he has become so popular through his writings and speeches that he appeals to all religions and even to atheists. His other gift is his insistence that because of the tremendous advances in scientific thinking in our times, science is agreeing with religion, with the reality of our interconnectedness with the universe. So, surprisingly, this mystery of the Trinity that many preachers dread to approach on this given Sunday is becoming less daunting, much popular, and it is making sense.

The Unity in the Trinity explained in a popular book is not something new, however. The brilliant Anglican writer Dorothy L. Sayers wrote a small, tightly packed treatise on the Trinity in 1941, in the midst of the war that was devastating her native England and the rest of Europe. She had become famous and popular as a mystery writer, but her great passion and the focus of her extraordinary mind were meant for theology. And on this, she studied and wrote in a dizzying diversity until her early death in 1957. Her book on the Trinitarian nature of God and of humanity is called The Mind of the Maker and was praised as the best exposition of the Trinity by no less a writer than C.S. Lewis. The book is short but dense, exploring a number of difficult subjects. She makes it clear that the Doctrine of the Trinity is neither obscure nor impossible to comprehend since our own natures, made in the image of God, is also trinitarian. This is what the first chapter of Genesis says:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. . .

So God created humankind in his image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

In The Mind of the Maker, Sayers explains that “in our image” refers to the creativity that exists in God-in-three, a creativity which was also given to humanity. She writes that everything begins with the Idea which finds its reality, its incarnation, in Energy, and is disseminated through Power. In theological language, God the Father is the Idea, Christ is the Energy or Activity, and the Holy Spirit is Power. This is also the way human beings think and create. They have an idea, which becomes real only through implementation, and is disseminated through interaction, as someone else put it. The analogy Sayers uses throughout is that of the creation of a book, since that is what she knew best. The writer has an idea for a novel, but if it stays in the mind it has no reality. In the process of writing the idea becomes enfleshed; it is now energy; and then when the book is read by others, it has power.

All of creation was in the mind of God but it became real when “in the beginning God created. . .”  St. John, in the prologue to his gospel tells us that “In the beginning was the Word.” Notice that in the Old Testament lesson, in the beautiful creation story, words became important. The phrases, “God said” or “God called,” meaning “named,” occur fifteen times in the chapter. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The only continuity between God and God’s work is the Word.” So the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This is the eternal Christ who was with God from the beginning. Because of love, the Eternal, at one specific spec of time—thirty-three years—in a specific place—Palestine—became as one of us and lived among us as Jesus of Nazareth. The mind reels then kneels and offers thanks.

The dramatic beauty of the Creation story as found in the fist chapter of Genesis and the first four verses of chapter two continues in the Psalm appointed for today. This is a Psalm that should be memorized. How many of us who did so as children pause before a sunset, or a clear moonlit night to cry out in awe,

“Oh, Lord, our Lord,

How excellent is your Name in all the earth! . . .

When I consider the heavens, the work of your hands,

The moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

What is man that you should be mindful of him?

The son of man that you should seek him out?

You have made him a little lower than the angels. . .”

Of course, women are included in this wonder but language had and has its limitations. What matters is that the One who was with God from the beginning of creation, the One who participated in the glorious act of creation is the One who took on our flesh and lived among us. This is the gift that also revealed the character of God as Father to us. But even that was not enough. When the hour came for the Incarnate one to leave the human flesh and return to the Father, he gave us the gift of the Paraclete, of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Breath of God as the Greek language calls the third person of the Trinity.

On this day, let us lose our apprehension in trying to understand the Trinity or to explain it in Athanasian terms to others. Let us rejoice in the most loving promise given to us as we read in today’s Gospel lesson:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Let us then rejoice and take comfort in these last words of Jesus: “I am with you always.”

Katerina Whitley, a writer, biblical storyteller and retreat leader lives in Boone, NC.

www.katerinawhitley.net

Download the sermon for Trinity Sunday.

A glowing oven full of love, Trinity Sunday (A) – 2014

June 15, 2014

Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8 or Canticle 2 or 13; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

Well, friends, today is Trinity Sunday, the day in the church year when we ponder the mystery of the Triune God, how God is Three in One and One in Three.

It is also the day when, throughout the world, rectors usually decide that it is a good Sunday for their assistants to preach.

Ask your average assistant pastor, and he or she will probably tell you his or her files contain several Trinity Sunday sermons, along with several on Doubting Thomas, John the Baptist calling people a brood of vipers, and Jesus saying if you don’t hate your father and mother you cannot be his disciple. And this, ironically, is too bad for the rectors! They are missing out on a great opportunity.

Some of the most creative and important theology being done today is about the Trinity – about how the Trinity helps us to understand ourselves, our place in the world, and our relationship to God. Perhaps this doesn’t rise to the level of “a best-kept secret,” but it does sometimes surprise people to find out how much the Trinity influences Christian thought today.

Because this is an area of research that is rapidly expanding, we can only focus on one major insight today. There is a lot more to be said, but there will be other Trinity Sundays and a lot of assistant pastors scheduled to preach.

So the major point about the Trinity to lift up this morning is this: God is social, and so are we.

Martin Luther once said, “God is nothing but burning love and a glowing oven full of love.” And if God is love, then God cannot exist is isolation. Think about it. To love is to be in relationship, and to love perfectly is to be in eternal relationship. If God is perfect love, then God must be social.

God is not some simple, solitary, isolated, individual being. God is not some kind of Wizard of Oz hiding out behind the curtain of the stars. God is not personal in that sense. That’s anthropomorphic. Rather, God is personal in the sense that God is the love that creates, redeems and sustains everything that exists. The life of God is like a divine dance of persons in love from which sparks fly, the love that moves the sun and the other stars. At the heart of the universe is the divine dance of persons in love, and if God is the love that creates and reconciles and transforms all that exists, then God must be relational in God’s essence. So when we say that God is Trinity, it is a way of saying that God is love, nothing but burning love and a glowing oven full of love, a love that overflows into all of creation.

Now, if God is social, then we are social too. If we are created in the image and likeness of the Triune God, then we are also created to be in loving relationships. Now, this is actually quite a radical statement because it runs counter to the pervasive individualism of our culture. Whether or not we are still living in the Me Generation, many folks, philosophers and theologians, have noted that the rampant individualism of our society is one of the greatest problems facing us today.

In his book “God in Public,” Mark Toulouse writes:

“Personal success and consumption have become the primary ends of American life. Even religion has become a competitive item for sale. As Carlyle Marney used to say Americans are addicted to salvation by successing. This statement might today be altered to include salvation by consuming. The pursuit of private gain has become the great American sport in all walks of life.”

And this is bad. It is bad not only for society, but it is also bad for people themselves. The loneliness and isolation and despair that are so prevalent in our society stem from this view of people as isolated, individual selves.

But the doctrine of the Trinity tells a different story. It tells us that we are created for loving relationships. We are hard-wired for relationships of mutual fellowship and love.

Did you know that many scientists are also saying that we are hard-wired for social connections? In an article on trust in the Harvard Business Review in 2009, Roderick Kramer wrote:

“Within one hour of birth, a human infant will draw her head back to look into the eyes and face of the person gazing at her. Within a few more hours, the infant will orient her head in the direction of her mother’s voice. And, unbelievable as it may seem, it’s only a matter of hours before the infant can actually mimic a caretaker’s expressions. A baby’s mother, in turn, responds and mimics her child’s expressions and emotions within seconds. In short, we’re social beings from the get-go: We’re born to be engaged and to engage others.”

Now this is really amazing, but it really ought not to be all that surprising if God is love. The Triune God is nothing but burning love and a glowing oven full of love. That love has created us and redeemed us and sustains us. Our life, our breath, our very existence is a gift. When we enter into loving relationships, we not only find our truest and deepest selves, but we also find God, because we are created in the image of the Triune God.

God is social, and so are we. The divine life is a dance party. When we join the party, when we enter into loving relationships, then we participate in the very life of the Triune God, in whom we live and move and have our being. We are created to participate in God’s love, and we are created to share that love with others.

Here’s how Miroslav Volf puts it in his book “Free of Charge”:

“The flow of gifts is God’s arms opened to the world, enabling us to partake of the gift exchange that makes up eternal divine life and supreme bliss. … The purpose of the outbound flow of God’s gifts is for us to receive living water from God’s eternal source, and to thereby come to mirror among ourselves the loving gift exchange of [God].”

If God is love, then the purpose of human life is to participate in that love, and to share that love with others. That is why, when Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, he said “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

This may be the key to the universe.

God is love. Participate in that love. Share that love.

So God is social, and so are we. God is nothing but burning love and a glowing oven full of love, and we are created to participate in that love and to share that love. These insights that come from thinking about the Trinity could really transform how we think about God and ourselves and our place in the world.

A theologian and priest recalls that when he was teaching, students would often say things to him along the lines of “I just can’t believe in a God who sits up there in heaven and allows all the terrible things that happen in the world.” And his usual response was to say, “Well, neither do I.” This surprised many students, who seemed to think that priests are somehow contractually obligated to defend God at all times. But their view of God as some kind of aloof Wizard of Oz hanging out alone behind the curtain of the stars is not worth defending. More importantly, it is not the God we know who poured himself out completely for us on the cross of Jesus Christ.

The Trinity is a way of saying, that costly love, that vulnerable love, that suffering love that we know in Christ, that love that continues in the new life given to us in the Spirit is who God most truly, most fully is. God is Emmanuel, “God with us” and for us, who suffers with us and for us, not hanging out in some far corner of the universe watching all the pain and sorrow of the world, but rather hanging on the cross for us and for our salvation.

The Trinity, at its heart, is a way of pointing to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the new life that comes from this, and saying that is what God is most truly like. The love that moves the sun and the other stars is the same love that poured itself out for in the self-giving love of Jesus. God is nothing but burning love and a glowing oven full of love. And if we are created in the image and likeness of God, then we are to find our true selves not in being aloof and alone and apart and above it all, but rather in giving of ourselves away in love, in our vulnerable and suffering hearts, and in all those ways we are with and for one another.

God is social, and so are we.

God is nothing but burning love and a glowing oven full of love.

We are created to participate in and share that love.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano is the associate rector of St. Anne’s Parish in Annapolis, Md.

 

Click here to download a large-print PDF of this sermon.

 

 

You cannot capture nor contain God, Trinity Sunday (A) – 2011

June 19, 2011

Genesis 1:1-2:4aPsalm 8 or Canticle 2 or 13; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13Matthew 28:16-20

God. Is too big for your brain. You cannot capture nor contain God.

In the movie “Three Weddings and Funeral,” the hapless priest repeatedly butchers the name of the Trinity: “In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spicket,” he says at one wedding, and at another, “Father, Son, and Holy Goat.”

Which reminds me of the girl visiting the United States from India. Her hosts take her to church, where she hears the prayers. Later, she asks her hosts, “Why didn’t you pray for the West Coast?”

“What do you mean?” they ask.

“Well, you prayed in name of the Father, Son, and whole East Coast. You didn’t pray for the West Coast.”

As Christians, we say a lot of things about God. What we say about God is called theology: theos, which is Greek for “God,” and ology, “the study of.” The study of God.

For example, we say this about God:

• God pre-existed, chronologically, came before all of created order, all that you see.
• God is all powerful, more powerful than anything in the created order, including atoms.
• God is ubiquitous, existing in all places, all at once.

When we do not understand these enigmatic concepts, we make jokes, or poke holes. For example, “Can God make a rock so big God cannot pick it up?”

On Trinity Sunday, we pay particular attention to this enigma: God is simultaneously three persons in one. Not three persons that seem like one, or one person with three aspects. Rather, we acknowledge something that is physically impossible: three equals one.

Tradition has reduced theological statements about God to writing. You can find them in the Book of Common Prayer, in treatises, and even – in summary form – in the creeds: the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.

The problem with reducing articles of truth to writing is that we end up confusing what is written with the truth itself, the ink with the meaning. Words are finite, and truth like God is not. The writing merely reflects the truth that has been experienced – the writing cannot and does not contain the truth. When you are searching for truth that is contained in written or spoken communication, remember this: experience precedes the communication. In the case of the Trinity, we experience God as triune before writing the word, “Trinity,” on paper. The words, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” followed the experience of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Thus, these three words express some semblance of description of the church’s experience, but they are not the experience itself. For example, one person might identify God as “Father,” while some other person might identify God as “Parent,” or perhaps “Mother.” Or “Creator.” It is the experiential relationship being defined that counts, not the word used. No words can contain God fully – God is much larger than ink and letters. None of the creeds can contain God fully – God is much larger than paragraphs.

Think of the trinitarian words as forming a box, and imagine how silly it would be to try to stuff God into any box, much less one bounded by only three words.

Because modern Christians are learning just how limiting words can be – although Christian tradition has long held this position – we moderns have begun using other words to expand our understanding of God. Greek words, such as sophia, logos, and spiritus. Parallel words, such as “creator,” “redeemer,” and “sustainer.” Some dialectic, metaphysical words, such as “energy,” “wisdom,” “light,” and “justice.”

What is attractive about this redemptive approach is its freshness and flexibility. Like the ancients, people of this generation want to use words that more accurately describe their experience of God. People are trying desperately to understand God. People want to know God.

But of course, it is and always will be impossible to apprehend God. This is why the Hebrews refused to name God, because the word, the letters, are insufficient. They wouldn’t even speak the name of God, exactly because speaking the name limits God.

And before you conclude that the concept of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has always been settled in the church, it took centuries to get to the point of actually reducing the concept to three-in-one and committing the concept to creeds. Plus, the church itself actually split because it could not agree on elements of this stuff. To this day the church is split – east from west – because of disagreement over what the Trinity means.

Well, what is the point of it all?

The point of Christianity has never been to figure God out by reading and learning, but to experience God. The pertinent question is the same question it always was: how do we find God? Where do we find the love and acceptance and redemption?

Finite Humans. We are finite and contained, substance in mortal bodies. At best, we each occupy, let’s say, three cubic feet of geometric space. Three cubic feet, and yet we tend to expect all of the truth of the universe to find a home inside our unique brain and soul.

God, on the other hand, is infinite.

When one fellow was a new priest, his mentor said, “I challenge you to preach on the Trinity without using the word ‘mystery.’” The new priest could not, for indeed, Trinity is a description of experience, as well as a received truth. It is not a scientific description of God. God cannot, after all, be contained, either by the human brain or its soul. Trinity is and will remain mystery.

If we wander outside at night on a crystal evening and look up, there are stars and constellations and meteors, there is a sliver of moon, and Mars and the Milky Way. And these are the few elements of the universe we can actually see, that we can experience with our eyes. But what about the part we cannot see?

The heavens are like God. We look up to the lights of heaven and in them we see God, but what about all in the infinite universe that we do not see? Now we know in part; now we see in part.

But in the part we cannot see, in that lovely black sky, beyond the stars and Milky Way, there is God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Energy, Wisdom, Light, Justice, Hope, Perfection. In what we cannot see in life, there is God, hidden, yet eternal.

There is both a smallness to the human person, and a largeness. The smallness is our finite structure, but our largeness is the capacity to dream and imagine.

Mystery is about the dream and the imagining. There, in the mystery, is the goodness of God. Who cannot be captured.

 

— The Rev. Rob Gieselmann is the interim rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Belvedere, Calif. Originally from the Diocese of East Tennessee (serving at St. Luke’s, Cleveland), he also served in the Diocese of Easton (St. Paul’s Church, Chestertown). Before entering the ministry, Rob practiced law for ten years. Rob is the author of “The Episcopal Call to Love” (Apocryphile Press, 2008), and is the father of two wonderful children.

A wealth of meaning, Trinity Sunday – 2008

[RCL] Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8 or Canticle 2 or 13; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

Let’s begin with an excerpt from The New Yorker magazine, from an article by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s about, of all things, automobile safety – or the lack of it – and one man’s tragic automobile accident, now more than a decade ago.
Quote: “Robert Day’s crash was not the accident of a young man. He was hit from the side, and adolescents and young adults usually have side-impact crashes when their cars slide off the road into a fixed object like a tree, often at reckless speeds. Older people tend to have side-impact crashes at normal speeds, in intersections, and as the result of error, not negligence. In fact, Day’s crash was not merely typical in form; it was the result of a common type of driver error. He didn’t see something he was supposed to see. His mistake is, on one level, difficult to understand. There was a sign, clearly visible from the roadway, telling him of an intersection ahead, and then another, in bright red, telling him to stop. How could he have missed them both?”

You see, even though visibility was perfect and the roadway dry on this bright, clear spring day, he missed a stop sign, and drove 40 miles an hour through an intersection in New Jersey to his death.

Quoting again: “From what we know of perception, though, this kind of human mistake happens all the time. … Intuitively, we believe that we ‘see’ everything in our field of vision – particularly things right in front of us – and that the difference between the things we pay attention to and the things we don’t is simply that the things we focus on are the things we become aware of. But when experiments to test this assumption were conducted recently … a psychologist at the New School found, to her surprise, that a significant portion of her observers didn’t see [a particular] object at all: it was directly in their field of vision, and yet, because their attention was focused [elsewhere], they were oblivious of it. [She] calls this phenomenon ‘inattentional blindness.’”

Now let’s not be frightened into abandoning our automobiles, or cajoled into more rigorous use of seat belts and avoidance of distractions such as cell phones while driving – although these are good habits. No, but there’s a point here that translates into the spiritual realm.

You see, many people today are hearing a sermon about the holy Trinity – understandably, as this is what we call “Trinity Sunday.” A lot of congregations are listening to some theological discourse on the inseparability of the three distinct persons of the Trinity – about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit being one God. And good priests, pastors, and preachers all over the world are trying desperately to make sense of the creation story – the lengthy creation story – while encouraging us all to go forth and make disciples of all people.

Now, Biblical study, or philosophical discourse, and theological inquiry are all fine things. But when we turn our attention to matters of form, or of doctrine, we miss what lies beyond them: the greater reality to which they point.

For instance, we Christians argue about whether the God we proclaim as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit really must be referred to only as what some jokingly call “two boys and a bird.” We proclaim sometimes-helpful insights, such as the notion of a God who exists in relationship – not alone or apart from everything and everybody else, but in conversation, both serving and being served, accountable. And we come across delights of Trinitarian theology over the ages, like the notion that the three persons of the Trinity loved each other so much that they became one. To Christians who have any sense of tradition, the doctrine of the Trinity is undeniably an integral part of our faith.

One God in three persons: we can debate and discuss and reason, trying to understand more of this mysterious paradox. Yet there is another strand of thought, one that follows from the likes of Justin Martyr, that seeker for the truth who died in about the year 167. Justin tells us that anyone who thinks God even can be named is “hopelessly insane.” And, just so you don’t think he’s hopelessly insane, consider this: no less venerable an authority than St. Augustine of Hippo in his own treatise on the Trinity, cautions against those who “allow themselves to be deceived through an unseasonable and misguided love of reason.”

So, instead of the usual treatise on the foreshadowing of the Trinity in the Old Testament – you know, those three men who appeared to Abraham under the oak at Mambre, and whom Abraham invited in and entertained in the plural, but went on to speak of as one, in the singular – instead of that kind of thing, let’s focus on perception.

When we try to sort out things like the holy Trinity, when we try to establish and fix exactly what it means – we forget that our ruminations are but theories, mere projections of what we would like God to be. “No one has ever seen God,” the blessed Apostle tells us – but that does not stop us from trying, does it? And in our determined search to understand the ineffable, to find out the truth, to know all things – we tend to fall prey to a spiritual kind of inattentional blindness.

We miss seeing that which is right in front of us, just as surely as Robert Day did that fateful day back in 1994. And – in an ironic twist – as a result of Mr. Day’s inattentional blindness, he now knows what we can only speculate about and experience fleetingly: the full presence of God. Do you wonder if Robert Day regrets that he was so focused on his destination that he failed to enjoy the journey? Or if he is glad that, while he lost his life in that crash, his 10-year-old son was spared? Or could he simply be amazed and thankful that he now sees clearly what was right before him all along?

There is not one meaning of the Trinity, or one means of describing that reality – but a great wealth of meaning. That assertion also comes from Augustine. And the doctrine of the Trinity, the very human idea of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” and all our language about God – these are but symbols of a greater reality. Augustine reminds us that when we think about the Trinity, “we are aware that our thoughts are quite inadequate to their object, and incapable of grasping him as he is; even by men of the caliber of the apostle Paul, [God] can only be seen … ‘like a puzzling reflection in a mirror.’” Our thoughts and words mean nothing in themselves, if we cannot look through them, beyond them, and because of them – to something else.

That something else is a vision of peace and harmony that Jesus proclaimed is very near us. That something is a place of rest and refreshment the likes of which we have not dared to imagine. That something is a time of joyful reunion with all our departed loved ones – and indeed, all the company of heaven. A house with many mansions, a lamb that was slain and who reigns forever, a death unto eternal life.

This is the meaning of the holy Trinity: that there is a God, who made us and loves us and cares for us, who beckons us all home to live with him for ever, who calls us now to a new life of justice, freedom, truth, peace, and – above all – love. In our human state, we are subject to a chronic bout of inattentional blindness, in which we sometimes focus our attention elsewhere, and miss seeing the vision of heaven that God has placed right in front of us – each of us, and every day.

May God the holy and glorious Trinity grant that the scales may fall from our eyes, that we all may see what lies in front of us with the eyes of faith. Amen.

Written by the Rev. J. Barrington Bates
The Rev. J. Barrington Bates is rector of the Church of the Annunciation, Oradell, New Jersey.

Trinity Sunday (A) – 2005

May 22, 2005

Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

“Give me a simple religion,” we sometimes yearn. It’s an odd prayer. If someone calls us “simple” we are very offended. Certainly there can be nothing simple about God. It would be very odd indeed if complicated humans and a complicated God met together in a “simple faith.” In a few minutes we will say the Creed together. The Creed is a table of contents to the important teachings found in the Bible. The Creed is full of rather complicated notions. God is “Almighty,” the “maker of heaven and earth,” the maker of “all that is,” whether seen or unseen. Our first reading today drew us into the mystery of a God who creates and sustains and who made us in his own image. The truths we learn here are beyond simplicity, beyond the world of facts. They pierce into the mystery of a truth beyond our understanding.

“We believe in one God.” “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ.” “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord.” Sunday-by-Sunday we gather together and profess the faith of the church. Together, as one family, we embrace for ourselves as individuals, a list of concepts that point to truths which no words may encompass. We read the signposts pointing us in the right direction to God and away from concepts that might harm us and make us less than we were intended to be.

Something deep within us affirms the words we recite. Each of us is an individual with our own unique features, fingerprints, mannerisms, talents, and “personality.” We’ve been gazing at this person in the mirror since we were tiny children. Our Western culture influences us to assert and demand our individuality. “It’s my life and I’ll do as I please with it,” we shout when we lose our tempers. We’ve been doing that ever since we threw our baby food at the wall.

Yet we also yearn to be loved and to be part of someone or a collection of “someones.” At school we wanted to be popular, to have friends, to be admired. Then comes love! How appropriate it seems to tell someone that we live for them; that they are the most important “other” in our lives. How tragic it is when we are judged to have used someone else to satisfy our own selfish desires; when we have dominated, abused, and rejected a love given to us in trust. In the Marriage Service, we are told: “The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy.” Notice the words “union” and “mutual.

Perhaps our need to say we are unique, special, autonomous beings and our need to be united with others is practical evidence that we are made in the image and likeness of God? If this is true, it is true because God made us this way and what God makes is good.

God the Father Almighty, our King Jesus, the Life-Giving Spirit—to use the language of the Creeds—are certainly individuals to an extraordinary degree. Each has a distinct role, by nature or personality, and as lovers of all that has been made, seen or unseen, including us all. Strangely, their personalities, their perfect personalities, create unity as they share together love. Love belongs to God, is created in God and is shared by God. We should be grateful for love, and greet it wherever it is found, as God’s gift and not as something we manufacture. Love humbles us. For God’s love may be found well beyond the “individualism” of our personality, family, race, religion, language, politics, causes, or culture. Truth and justice, as God’s features, always draw us together and never divide us into individualism: “It’s my life and I’ll do as I please.” While love impels us to strive for truth and justice it does so in a manner that reflects the long-suffering, loving, forgiving kindness of the God whose loving diversity creates oneness and wholeness.

“Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.”

So St. Paul speaks to each of us on this Trinity Sunday. Finding order and agreement is not a political process after all, but what happens when we open ourselves collectively and individually to the God of love and peace. This we symbolize when we share the “Peace” with one another. In the Gospel reading, Jesus commissions us to go into the world telling everyone what it means to discover oneself as a person, an individual, and how our personality and individualism is celebrated most forcefully when we live in unity with each other as people possessed by the God who is unity in community and community in unity.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

 

— The Rev. Anthony F.M. Clavier was, until recently, the dean of the Institute of Christian Studies for the Convocation of American Churches in Europe. He is now interim rector of Christ Church in the Auvergne, Clermont-Ferrand (France), a church in the Convocation. 

Trinity Sunday (A) – 2002

May 26, 2002

Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8 or Canticle 2 or 13; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

Trinity Sunday – what an amazing thing it is to celebrate a doctrine of the church with its own Sunday in the church year! There are designated Sundays for a couple of Christianity’s central doctrines – the Incarnation and the Resurrection – but these are directly related to the life of Jesus. The doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t articulated as such until Tertullian coined the word in the early third century. Certainly there were hints before: The fact that God refers to God’s self in our Genesis reading as “we,” not I. Paul’s wonderful closing benediction in his second letter to the Christians in Corinth: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all evermore.” And, of course, Jesus’ Great Commission in the final ending of Matthew’s Gospel: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” These are the building blocks from which the historic doctrine of the Trinity was carefully crafted in the fourth and fifth centuries. We assert that there is one God – not three Gods, but one – in three Persons – not two, not four, but three persons, all of the same substance, the God-substance, the God-essence of the Eternal. These persons are called “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Father Grant Gallup, a priest in Managua, Nicaragua, and one of the most creative and courageous preachers in the Episcopal Church, writes in his “Homily Grits” of the Holy Trinity as a hierarchical image within the context of a hierarchical church. Using the classical symbol of the equilateral triangle, he notes that the very geometry of the symbol places one point of the triangle at the uppermost part of the structure – God the Father at the pinnacle, in other words. He uses the old spiritual, “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,” to illustrate the “upward” journey from the merely human to the Supreme Divinity, the First Person of the Trinity, the Father. However, the Creed of St. Athanasius, which you can find on page 864 of The Book of Common Prayer, says of the three persons of the Trinity, that, “none is greater, or less than another.”

Gallup suggests that an image more faithful to the historical formulation might be the circle, and a better “theme song” for the Trinity might be sung to the melody of “Jacob’s ladder,” but like this:

We are dancing Sarah’s circle,
We are dancing Sarah’s circle,
We are dancing Sarah’s circle,
Sisters, brothers, all!

Every ring gets fuller, fuller,
Every ring gets fuller, fuller,
Every ring gets fuller, fuller,
Sisters, brothers, all!

Think of it: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in community with one another, dancing forever in a circle dance of Love, love that flows out from that Circle into the hearts of all the beloved children who are invited into the dance, created male and female in the image of God. “In our image,” as today’s lesson from Hebrew Scriptures reminds us.

There have been many attempts in recent years to expand the traditional language of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” to words which reflect a broader understanding of the Trinity, such as “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.” Although this is an official option for several mainline Protestant churches, it describes different functions of God, rather than naming the persons of God. The personal nature of the Trinity is too central to our understanding to limit our prayerful references to a functional description. New Zealand’s Prayer Book does better at this task, suggesting, as one option, “Divine Parent, Only Begotten, and Holy Spirit.”

No matter how traditional, inclusive, or expansive our language is for God, it’s still no more than our best attempt to name what we have experienced of the Divine.

God the Father – Creator of the Universe, Lover and Pursuer of the Beloved, source of all life eternal and goodness universal, the Supreme Parent who never lets the family down.

Jesus, God the Son – the Eternal become Us, the Forever Word spoken into the Finite World, Immanuel, God-with-us, risen and alive. Fr. Gallup, as he repeats the beginning of Paul’s final blessing to the Corinthians, says, “The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ – Paul starts at the place in the Circle of God where it was broken, so we could join!”

God the Holy Spirit – God with us today, illuminating the Scriptures, animating our faith and worship, interceding for us in our weakness “with sighs too deep for words,” leading us, strengthening us, turning on the lights for us when our paths become indistinct, blowing as powerfully and unpredictably as the wind. As Jesus reminded us, we can’t see the wind, but we can-especially in its aftermath-witness its power!

Augustus William Hare, a 19th-century divine – with all the masculine language of the 1800s, of course –  wrote in “The Alton Sermons” (Isbister, 1874) the familiar, classic and still useful reflection on the Trinity, “The Holy Branches: Or Why Was the Trinity Revealed?”:

“One of the comparisons or likenesses I am speaking of is taken from the most glorious object which our eyes see, the sun. That ball of light and heat, which we call most properly the sun, may be compared to the Father, from whom both the Word and the Spirit come. From this sun the light issues, and is as it were a part of it, and yet comes down to our earth and gives light to us. This we may compare to the Word, who came forth from the Father, and came down on earth, and was made man, and who, as St. John tells us, is ‘the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.’

“But beside this there is the heat, which is a different thing from the light: for all we know, there may be heat without light; and so may there be light – moonlight, for example, and starlight – without any perceivable heat. Yet the two are blended and united in the sun; so that the same rays, which bring us light to enlighten us, bring us heat also to warm us, and to ripen the fruits and herbs of all kinds which the earth bears. This heat of the sun may not unfitly be compared to the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, as the creed calls him, for heat is the great fosterer of life: as we see, for example, in an egg. As that is hatched by the warmth of the parent bird, sitting on it lovingly, and brooding over it, until it is quickened into life; just so does the Holy Spirit of God brood with more than dovelike patience over the heart of the believer, giving it life and warmth; and though he be driven away again and again by our backslidings, he still hovers round our hearts, desiring to return to them, and to dwell in them, and cherish them forever.

“Moreover, if any seed of the Word has begun to spring up in any heart, the Spirit descends like a sunbeam upon it, and ripens the ear, and brings the fruit to perfection. Thus have we first the sun in the sky, secondly, the light, which issues from the sun, and thirdly the heat, which accompanies the light — three separate and distinguishable things; yet distinct as they are, what can be more united than the sun and its rays, or than the light and heat which those rays shed abroad?”

Although sentimental, Hare’s piece captures something essential: the love that is the very essence of our God in all three persons, the substance of which God consists, the “heart of the eternal,” which is “most wonderfully kind.” Using Grant Gallup’s metaphor, let us join in the eternal circle dance of Divine Love, singing with all our being:

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
Amen.

 

— The Rev. Katherine Merrell Glenn is vicar of the Episcopal Mission in the San Luis Valley, a joyful and active “total ministry” congregation that encompasses six counties – 9,000 square miles  of rural southern Colorado.

Trinity Sunday (A) – 1999

'Remember: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'

May 30, 1999

Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8 or Canticle 2 or 13; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

Have you ever lived remotely, in a place apart?

Many people live in places that are remote – sometimes by choice, sometimes not. Those who live apart from others by choice may have moved there in search of peace and quiet, escape from hustle and bustle. Some may be looking for healing in their respite, expecting in time to return from whence they came. Others are retiring, cherishing at long last a way of life for which they have yearned for years.

And there are those who live in remote places not by choice, but for reasons of obligation or limited means or unrealized dreams. For these, quiet, open space may not be experienced as a gift, but as a frustration. Thus, it is difficult for these people to embrace their place as holy, as still filled with possibility.

Whatever draws people to live apart, they soon discover that they can never really live apart from “the world,” even if they want to. The desert fathers of the fourth century – who left the cities to flee into the wilderness of Egypt – spoke of this: that though they had sought to leave the world behind them, they found in their solitude the very heart of the world they had sought to escape.

It is a mystery of life that we are created in relationship and for relationship – and there is no escaping that. What makes us whole is to embrace what we are given in our relationships with one another, even when those relationships seem a bit uneven.

This day, Trinity Sunday, is a celebration of all this, that “God is friendship, and those who live in friendship, live in God.” It’s not hard to imagine why God should have it this way. For it means that even our one God is never lonely!

Our one God is always in relationship (even if no one else shows up): the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, or as St. Augustine of Hippo put it: the lover, the loved, and the act of loving, itself.

So also you and I, whoever we may be, wherever life may lead or plant us – ultimately none of us is ever alone. We are always in relationship with others, first of all with God our creator, our redeemer, our companion, our pain-bearer, our life-giver, our beginning and our end.

It has been this way from the beginning of creation. God is first revealed in an act of self-giving love: God emptying herself or himself into creation: the act of bringing out of nothing all that is. Out of swirling, blooming, buzzing confusion, God separates light from darkness, day from night, sky from earth, waters from dry land, vegetation from the ground that gives it birth, seed from the fruit that bears it, fish from birds, wild life from domesticated life – and amazingly, all of it is good!

Never forget how much each depends on the other, and how, in its balance, creation itself is holy. Into this good creation, God adds even more good creation: humankind. And notice how in this act, for the first time, God says, “Let us make humankind.” When humankind is created, it is absolutely a creation in relationship. We are created in the image of God who is friendship, ever in relationship: the lover, the loved, and the loving. Even the first human created is created in relationship: “male and female He created them.” Being in relationship is something we can never escape.

And now, as this “good thing” is added to creation, God pronounces not just that creation is “good,” but with all that has been created now in place, in relationship, including humankind: it is very good. Now God can rest, for now God has a partner – you and I – to work with in holding this precious creation in balance – if only we would remember that is why we are here.

But the story continues. God, who is friendship, reveling in the joy of sharing life with others, watches as those created in love and for love, in complete freedom, now choose to step back from love of one another – and God’s beautiful creation begins to wobble.

As the rest of the story of the Bible unfolds, we begin to wonder whether God was too quick to rest. We were created to be partners with God in creation – but the track record of humankind leaves so much to be desired. We were created by God, who is friendship, primarily to be in right relationship with God’s creation. But when we forget this, things go wrong.

From the beginning, things go wrong. Given all that is needed to live a full and glorious life, we are not content with what has been given. We demand more – and more and more. And when we do so, reaching for forbidden fruit with Adam and Eve, we find ourselves for the first time distanced from the garden – for the first time out of balance and right relationship with ourselves and one another and God’s creation. Have we ruined things forever? Scripture, as it unfolds from this point, is all about God seeking to mend creation, reaching out to us relentlessly in love, even though we consistently refuse to return to right relationship with God and God’s creation. And then, in the fullness of time, God, the lover, sends the beloved, Jesus, the Son, to live among us as one of us. Maybe in this way, we will be reminded of how God, by nature, lives not to himself, but finds fullness of life in his relationship with us, his creatures.

And how do we greet the beloved? The answer to that question, tragically, is the Cross. God-among-us dies on the Cross – by our own hand. It is that easy for us to live by violence instead of the love in which we were created and to which God is calling us to return.

But – thanks be to God! – that is not the end of the story. Jesus rises, reminding us that only love is truly powerful in a creation formed in an act of self-giving love. And Jesus, risen, walks with those who had denied and betrayed and abandoned him – and at last meets them at the top of a mountain where he had told them he was headed. This is where our gospel story for today begins.

Now the top of a mountain can be a remote place, a place apart. We can wonder whether it felt that way to these disciples, even as they met Jesus there. It seems unbelievable, that some of these disciples could still not quite believe that this was the same Jesus whom they had betrayed and abandoned – who had returned to them, risen from the dead, and given them directions to meet him atop this mountain in Galilee. But we are told that still “some of them doubted!” What in the world would it take for God’s children to return to right relationship with him?

Here is Jesus’ answer. Yes, Jesus has a plan to restore these disciples – all of us – to right relationship with God and one another. And the plan is this: to these hapless disciples, Jesus gives authority. “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” I now give it to you!

Do you think that maybe Jesus could have had a better plan, one that did not rest entirely upon these unreliable disciples? In fact, this is Jesus’ only plan. For in this most unlikely act of friendship, Jesus gives to his followers, to you and me, responsibility to participate fully with him in the mending of this still broken creation.

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” What does this mean? To make others like themselves, these unremarkable disciples? Is this all that God has in store for us?

No, for Jesus commands them in this moment to, “baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Maybe these disciples, who have struggled so to obey all that Jesus has commanded them, would discover in their new relationship with the new disciples they would go out and find, a new opportunity to accomplish all that Jesus had promised. Maybe, by baptizing others, they would discover new friendship, new life-giving relationship with those they had previously dismissed as alien to them, and, thereby, find new and fuller life for themselves.

In fact, those who baptize, especially those who baptize adults, know what a moment of miracle it is. We are not speaking here of some kind of wholesale, swift baptismal gesture, but of souls being swept up together in the ongoing miracle of conversion.

From the earliest of times, the Christian community has found it compelling and profound when a person who has never met Jesus comes to a community of faith seeking that relationship. Given all we know about ourselves and how our congregations really function, we know that this happens only by the action of the Holy Spirit. So, in the work of preparing for such a baptism, a congregation stops in its tracks and draws near to this person in whose life the miracle of conversion is taking place. Perhaps by drawing near, we will all be converted more fully ourselves into the life of Christ.

Yes, perhaps the life of the Holy Spirit will continue to take root and grow within and among each of us, too. All who have experienced this miracle know it to be true: when we as a community baptize another, we are changed ourselves, made new, challenged, moved closer to the heart of God at the heart of the world.

These are Jesus’ last words to us as he ascends into heaven: “Remember: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

What St. Paul later writes is true: “There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

This God, this triune God, who is friendship – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – will never forsake us. What is accomplished when we pursue this Great Commission is not a conquering of those different from us, but rather precisely that which is expressed in the second chapter of Ephesians:

“Now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us … that He might create in Himself one new humanity in place of two, thus making peace. … So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the same household of God.”

As we embrace the fact that we are created in God’s image, our lives are woven into that Life as if for the first time. As we allow our broken relationships with God and one another to be restored by encounter with the Risen Lord, our lives are again woven into that Life. And as we accept the invitation of this Great Commission, to go out into the most remote corners of the world to seek out those whose lives are being made new by the work of the Holy Spirit and draw near to them to be converted with them as we gather to baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit-again, our lives are woven anew into that Life.

Yes, God is friendship. And those who live profoundly and joyfully in friendship, live in God.

 

— Steve Kelsey is missioner of the Middlesex Area Cluster Ministry in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut. Over the years has been privileged to minister primarily with smaller, more remote congregations in New England, Alaska, New York and Northern Michigan. As a twin, he knows first-hand what it means to be born into relationship, and the challenges and blessings it can bring.