Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Trinity Sunday Sermon

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15
Psalm 8

We celebrate today Trinity Sunday.  This Sunday is the day when we express one of the central mysteries of the Christian faith—a Triune God.    Unlike the Jewish Faith, the Unitarian Universalists’ belief, or the Islamic faith, we know our God to be three in one.  And we express that Trinity in our declaration of faith in the Nicene and Apostles Creeds, as one God:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.    As a Church we have used an articulation of Trinity in our worship since at least the 6th century when we used the Athanasian Creed.

The Athanasian Creed was more explicit the Trinity.  You’ll find it on page 864 of our Prayer Book.   “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.”  Each person of God is uncreated, incomprehensible and eternal—but there are not three God’s, but there is one Almighty.

If you read the Athanasian Creed, you can quickly get deeply engaged in theological debates that have gone on for centuries.   When you look at Scripture, it’s clear that since the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament texts, there have been references to God the Creator, God among us—God the healer, God made man.  And then there is God the Spirit—Sophia, Wisdom.  Three persons, or three natures, unified in one Godhead or one Being.    The traditional expression of the Trinity in human terms—Father, Son and Holy Spirit can get us locked into imagining God as the man in the clouds who is overseeing creation at the beginning of time, or God as the Palestinian Jew who challenges Roman authorities and is martyred.  We can see the Holy Spirit as a wind or as the dove descending to bring us a message.

But the question I think we have to ask today is:  Why does it matter that we know God as a Trinity?   We have one God, Almighty.  Why does that one God need three persons, three natures, one substance?  Ivone Gebara, an eco-feminist theologian suggests that we need to understand the Trinity not in the abstract language of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but in the concrete knowledge that comes from our own human experiences. 

We know ourselves to be separate, independent beings.  But Gebara suggests that it is our life’s work to find ways to be connected to one another and to all of creation.  This struggle for connection and connectedness, in spite of our autonomy and alienation is a struggle to make meaning of our existence.  It is a struggle to know God.   One way to understand the Trinity is that it expresses a hope, a hope that comes from God for inclusion.  When we say God is One Being—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—we are expressing the hope that as we come closer to God, we might achieve that same unity.  Our creator, us here alive and our future, our movement, our motivation.  All of this is part of who we hope to be when we are united with God.  For our lives to be meaningful, we can’t be separate beings we must be related beings.  Perfect, eternal relatedness, oneness and unity with all things—this is our hope, a hope that arises in our God.

Gebara begins her chapter on the Trinity with a quote from Albert Einstein:  “Human beings are a apart of the whole we call the universe:  they are a tiny fragment of time and space.  However, they regard themselves, their ideas and their feelings, as separate and apart from all the rest.  It is something like an optical illusion in their consciousness.  This illusion is a sort of prison; it restricts us to our personal aspirations and limits our affective life to a few people very close to us.  Our task should be to free ourselves from this prison, opening up our circle of compassion in order to embrace all living creatures and all of nature in its beauty.”  Albert Einstein

Isolation is perhaps the most dangerous force in our world.  When we think of ourselves as disconnected from other people, we can come to exclude them or hate them.  We find ourselves warring over insufficient resources—I must get mine, it’s unfair that they have “more”.  A sense of independence can give rise to violence as we try to maintain ourselves at the expense of other people.    When we think of ourselves as disconnected from animals and plants, we can abuse God’s other creatures to make our own lives “better”—pretending that we are distinct and autonomous rather than intimately connected and dependent. 

If God is three in one, then God has overcome this sense of separatedness.  In God’s one being, there is inherent relatedness.   As we seek to become divine, we seek to become more like God’s related self.  As we move towards new life in Christ, we come to more deeply understand that through Christ we live in God, God lives in us.  We know the Creator God as working continuously in the world.  We know the Spirit as moving in all beings and motivating change. 

If we focus on our experiences of relatedness, we might have some deeper understanding of our Trinitarian God.  Our very first experiences are in utero.  We are born from our mother’s womb.  We were one (unity) being with our mothers.  Now we are separated from our mothers. But our lives are spent seeking that ultimate comfort, ultimate connectedness that we knew from before our births.  We could describe the Trinity as the ultimate perfection, that ideal aspiration for each of us—we seek to be unified with all of God’s creation.  Just as God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are one being. 

Let’s look at the Cosmos.  When we think of the universe, we think of many separate planets, stars, galaxies, satellites, the atmosphere, seas, rivers, winds, rain, snow, mountains, volcanoes.  All separate elements—but all one Universe.  Happening simultaneously in the Universe, we have the birth of new creatures and people and the death of stars, we have volcanoes erupting and rivers expanding.  We have species becoming extinct and we have new strands of viruses that have never existed before.  We people are part of the cosmic universe.  And we are unique in our ability to name the universe and see our place in it—a place in which we are separate and yet totally dependent on the other bodies in it.   Does the fox think of itself as number 1, first fox—or does it think of itself as part of the woods, connected to the creatures it eats, connected to the place it will sleep?

If we think about relationships between peoples and cultures we can see that all different languages, customs, sexes contribute to the community of the human race.  We are all cosmic citizens.  In our plurality, express our shared humanity.  When we think about human relationships—we might see ourselves as separate and distinct, but we are related and interdependent.  We are a family comprised of individuals who are born or chosen into family.  We are one neighborhood—comprised of families who share streets, a sense of identity.  

We are the Church.  I am not the Church alone—I am the Church in relationship with all of you, building up our collective commitment of faith, our shared worship, our common mission and ministry. 

All of these experiences— one with our mothers, part of Cosmos, Planet, Culture, Family, Church—all experiences of unity and multiplicity.  All experiences of being part of one unified substance with interdependent and yet distinct components.

Holding these concrete experiences, we can imagine the Trinity as God who knows us as part of God’s self.  Instead of thinking of an abstract God up in heaven, far from us--through Christ we know God as both human and divine.  If we leave aside the Father, Son and Holy Spirit abstraction and focus instead on our own experiences of relatedness, we see that we are part of God, God is part of us.  To acknowledge the Trinity is to know our relationships with all of God’s creatures who came before us—we are part of God the Creator and part of God the creation.    We look forward to our children and to the planet that we will leave them and we know that God the Spirit will be with them in that future. 

And so we pray to a Trinitarian God with the hope of relationships—relationships that will overcome our isolation, our sense of separated-ness, our sense of independence.  We seek a New Life in God in which we are loved and cared for as part of God’s being, a Kingdom in which there will be peace and prosperity for all God’s creation coming from that deep connection that binds us and stops us from hurting one another. 

The Trinity matters as an articulation of hope that we are becoming whole.  We are seeking  to express our full potential—that potential that God has given us.  Our wholeness depends on our relatedness.  The peace of God flows from a love that connects us to all other people, plants and animals.  Instead of focusing on Father, Son and Holy Spirit—let’s engage in the sense of God as Family, God as Cosmos, and ourselves as the Body of Christ, the Church.  If we focus on these relationships, we may see the Trinitarian ideal as a guide to us as we seek to follow God’s call and live as God would have us live.  The Trinity may be the model for our ministries, the model for our love for one another and the model of the life everlasting.

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