Posts Tagged ‘Trinity’

Trinity Sunday, 2016

May 22, 2016

Wisdom and Truth – two very desirable things – today are placed before us for consideration by our lessons.

Here, in poetic prose, ‘the teacher’ gives wisdom a voice and an ancient claim on all Divine activity.  Here, in the wake of “THE SPIRIT” settling on those formerly frightened disciples, the lesson from John’s gospel offers us a brief trip back in time; an ‘I-told-you-so’ moment that comes courtesy of the Revised Common Lectionary, on the Liturgical feast of the Trinity.

Jesus – himself a stand-up member of our Holy Trio – offers some startling words of preparation prior to his arrest: “I still have any things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now…” (John 16: 12, – NRSV)

Presumably they cannot bear to hear them because there is so much happening – so much about to happen – that the disciples senses can’t be trusted.  Fair enough; but if Jesus can’t get through to them – live and in person – what hope is there?

There is the hope offered in the form of the ‘spirit of truth’ -This Spirit will reveal those things – slowly and deliberately – that would be too much to take if the knowledge came all at once.  This is a Spirit that, surprisingly, does not speak for itself.  It reveals only what is has been told, and the purpose of these revelations is to glorify Jesus, whose purpose is to glorify God – and so we catch a glimpse of the divine circle of support.

And from a much older tradition, Proverbs presents us with the poetic reflections of wisdom personified – a description that suggests that while God may have created “from nothing” all that is, God did not work alone.

Much of what we did not read describes wisdom as a virtue – something to which all should aspire – but the real news here is that even God had a helper.

It is through texts like these that the church developed the image of God as Trinity – three “things” that are distinct yet united – to help us understand the scope of God’s presence, purpose and power.  We baptize in the ‘name of the Trinity’ – I offer my sermon each week “In the name of God; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” – Trinitarian language is found in all the common Christian creeds.  It is a mark of the Christian Church, this mysterious amalgamation of “Three-in-one” and whether or not we understand how it works, most of us have agreed that “Trinity” is an acceptable description of God.  But based on this morning’s lessons, I’ll suggest that our notion of the Trinity has more to do with us than with God.

Back to those two desirable traits – Wisdom and Truth – for a moment.  As elements of God’s character, they offer us assurance that God is both an able and willing covenant partner.  But when these two traits are offered as prizes – if we imagine that they are goals to be reached on our journey to understanding, they soon become problematic.  Our desire for the truth – our pursuit of wisdom have led us down some challenging paths.  We are occasionally guilty of taking, out of turn, that which “we cannot bear”.  Wisdom and Truth, like Faith, are gifts of God – offered at the right time, for God’s own reasons.

We confuse certainty with truth, and we confuse knowledge with wisdom. When we embrace certainty and call it truth, we assume power that is not ours to wield, and when we gather knowledge and call it wisdom, we rob the word of its virtue.

Jesus describes a ‘spirit of truth’ as a guide, not a state of mind.  This spirit will “guide you into all the truth” – one step at a time.  The truth is shared, little by little, and so the character of God, the kingdom of God, the way of God is revealed; slowly, deliberately, to the point of frustration, truth is uncovered.  Not because God is slow or deliberately frustrating, but because there are things that we still ‘cannot bear right now’.

And wisdom, rather than being the pinnacle of a life’s work, or the result of our live experience is described as an integral part of ‘all that is’ – not simply present at Creation, but “like a master worker…”.  So so it is that wisdom might be discovered; gradually revealed by our exploration of and engagement with God’s vast and glorious creation.

Trinity has everything to do with our need to bring some measure of clarity to something that is complex and mysterious, and that is understandable.  But if we could really accept that the promised helper was guiding us (gently and deliberately) into all truth; and that wisdom’s work was everywhere, waiting to be discovered, then perhaps we might begin to understand that God is not a prized to be claimed, nor an idea to be defended, but a present, purposeful power to be experienced.

Jesus points us in the right direction; what we need to know cannot come to us all at once – we could not bear it.  Wisdom, truth and every other good gift will find those who are humble and patient before the eternal mystery of God.  That was Jesus example to us, even as he faced persecution, arrest, and certain death.  Our path, wherever it leads, has been illuminated by his great light.  We would do well to follow him.  Amen

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Trinity Sunday – 2015

May 31, 2015

Even among the Theologically trained there is uncertainty and perhaps a little dread when it comes to the Trinity.  Last week at the Presbytery retreat, we fretted together around the supper table about children’s stories and worship themes that might help us (as clergy) approach this week’s service.  But we don’t need gimmicks – we don’t need colourful illustrations.  We have surrounded ourselves with evidence and immersed ourselves in living examples/illustrations of what it means to say “God is One, yet Three-in-One”.

The creeds are the response of the church to the questions of the faithful – and so, from these long and occasionally complicated formulas, we learn that

“We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity,

neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being.”

Makes perfect sense, right?

Our more common creeds and more recent statements of faith describe three “elements” of God – Three persons of the God-head – without shedding any light on how they came to that conclusion.  How do we tell the difference between God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and the Holy Spirit, whose creative power was responsible for Jesus’ conception?  The search for an answer has filled many libraries and caused otherwise sensible people to present us with such mind bending statements as we find in the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father.

But the church has organized itself around the central idea that God is “Three-in-One”, and the language we use and the way we gather we have answered the riddle of the Trinity in the best possible way.  We have focused on relationship: between and among ourselves; between the Creator and the Creation.  We call ourselves a family of faith, claiming the title “children of God” – and in this, I think, we have found an explanation for how the Trinity works.

The relationship between and among Father – Son – Spirit is the most important thing about any Trinitarian talk.  The Trinity is the model for the family of God.

No one more important than the other – each necessary to the completeness of the other, yet  at the same time independent in their identities.  A complicated relationship, to be sure, but one with great power to support the work of Creating – Redeeming – Sustaining.  It’s not magic, it’s family, and that’s something we understand.

Isaiah approaches that relationship with fear and trembling – in fact, the whole earth trembles.  Fear is the starting point for Nicodemus too, who comes at night, unseen by his colleagues, to ask Jesus for the answer to this most difficult question: “How does your connection with God work?”

“We know you are from God…” he says – but I don’t understand.  And Jesus explanation doesn’t make it any easier; “you must be born of the Spirit” – “born from above” into the family of God.  To be born in the regular way leaves only ‘regular’ options to pursue the tasks assigned to us.  To be born “from above”, to join the family of God, is to gain a different perspective.

Thomas Long, a teacher of preachers at Emory University in Atlanta GA,  puts it this way:

In other words, Jesus Christ…leads us into the joyful and loving life of God. This is why when people choose to follow Jesus and are baptized as new Christians, they are baptized not just in Jesus’ name but in the name of the Trinity. To be baptized is not just a ceremony but a rebirth into a new way of life, into God’s own life. To be a follower of Jesus is not just to ask “What would Jesus do?” but to be drawn into a communion with the fullness of God’s life. Just as a new bride soon realizes that she has not just married a husband but married into his whole family, just so, to belong to Jesus is to belong to his whole family, to be drawn through Jesus the Son into a deep and loving relationship with God the Father in the power of the Spirit.  (from Thomas Long’s sermon “The Start of the trail” – http://day1.org/3823-the_start_of_the_trail)

The same is true of the Sacrament of Communion; we come to the table, not as mourners at a funeral lunch, but as “members of the body looking to take Jesus into ourselves” – looking to be connected to God intimately, by taste and touch.

These Sacraments of ours each try to establish our relationship to this mysterious, three- personed God.  And while there is comfort and security in the familiar words and the common rituals, we should come to the table and font with our knees knocking, for the Sacraments draw us into a relationship of responsibility and power.

Long tells a story of a recently retired Presbyterian minister who remembered baptizing a two-year-old boy. After the child had been baptized with water, the minister, following the directions of the Presbyterian prayer book, put his hand on the little boy’s head and addressed him in Trinitarian language. He said, “You are a child of God, sealed by the Spirit in your baptism, and you belong to Jesus Christ forever.” Unexpectedly, the little boy looked up and responded, “Uh-oh.”

Well, it was an amusing moment, and people in the congregation smiled, of course, but “it was [also] an appropriate response,” wrote [the minister], “… a stunning theological affirmation” from the mouth of this child. And indeed it was. That “uh-oh” was a recognition that everything had changed, that this boy would never be the same.

That is what waits for us at the font and the table; an invitation to be changed – to accept our role in the family of God; to live out in the world the kind of love and self-giving that goes on among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Thanks be to God for the mystery and privilege that comes from being in a family such as this.  Amen

Trinity 2010 – year C

May 30, 2010

There have been hundreds – maybe thousands of books

written trying to explain the Doctrine of the Trinity.

Three-in-One – Father-Son -Spirit –

that ancient formula that seems to bring both comfort and confusion to the church.

Comfort, because it is part of the “formula” we use in worship –

a pattern that links us with our past

and offers us a glimpse into the complex nature of that mystery of mysteries,

the character of God.

Confusion, because in our battle with language,

to make our ideas clear and accessible,

there have been generations of effort put into ‘re-naming’ the persons of the Trinity .

The most recent of these books is a bit of popular fiction called “The Shack”,

written in 2007 by Wm P Young

It is the story of a man who suffers an horrific loss,

and in his journey to come to terms with that loss,

he comes face to face to face with the Trinity.

I won’t spoil the ending for you – in case you might want to read it.

And although the author may have hoped he was being provocative

by portraying Father-Son-Spirit in an unorthodox manner,

I have to tell you that I found nothing unsettling about his image of God

as a gregarious, compassionate, African-American, Grandmother.

What did strike me as strange

was the lengths to which Young goes

to convince the books main character that this representation of God –

three persons who are really one being – is just as it ought to be.

Sometimes we try to hard to convince – and that is one of the places this book fails.

When making arguments to convince ourselves (or others) of the validity of our ideas

I’m beginning to think that less is more.

If we are overwhelmed by evidence, as the saying goes –

we are often left powerless to experience the truth of the matter.

An explanation of the Trinity – with countless Scriptural confirmations

and references to historical theologians

would leave most of us breathless and, quite frankly, uninterested.

What convinces us is experience, plainly stated.

Paul’s writing is often complex and convoluted –

and it is complicated by the fact that his style was so often imitated,

scholars cannot seem to agree on what exactly he wrote.

Occasionally, Paul (and his imitators) bring us the bare goods.

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand;

and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings,

knowing that suffering produces endurance,

and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

and hope does not disappoint us,

because God’s love has been poured into our hearts

through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

This is one of those rare times

when the word “therefore” actually brings us to the end of a thought in Romans.

And without laying it on too thick, Paul (?) has declared himself a Trinitarian theologian.

One experience of God – justification by faith –

has shown him three elements of the Divine nature:

Christ, the portal of grace –

God the source of grace

the Spirit, the ‘catalyst’ of grace.

Paul does not try to tell us how this works, only that it works.

Simple is good, because God remains infinitely complex.

We each have our own, unique experiences of the bounty and beauty of God

we have been blessed, consoled and challenged

by God’s power, Christ’s purity, the Spirit’s purpose –

yet there remain thousands of ways to describe these three characters.

Does that make nonsense of the Trinity,

or does it merely remind us that neither our experiences,

our languages, nor even our imaginations,

are big enough to contain the whole of what God is…

The whole of God’s nature –

God’s goodness, mercy and truth

stretch beyond our descriptive capacity.

We choose to use broad strokes – to identify recurring themes:

the compassion of God, our parent,

the companionship of Christ, our brother,

the creativity of the Spirit, our inspiration –

knowing none of these things are adequate,

but certain that together they might help us

accept the mystery

that is ours to worship – ours to praise – ours to share.

Amen