Monday, May 31, 2010

Mindful of Us?

Sermon for Trinity Sunday (5.30.10)
Psalm 8; Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

Please pray with me: Dearest God, come and nurture in us the spiritual gifts on which life in all Your fullness relies. We pray to You through your Son and in the renewing power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

From this morning’s New Testament Lesson: “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.

Years ago, as the Red Army was marching into the Ukraine, a father prepared to say goodbye to his son, an officer in the White Army. The intensity of feeling, the love and pride, were understood by each. It was also understood that these were dangerous times and that they would probably not see one another again. There was little need for words, but the father gave his son a small coin minted in the year of the young man’s birth. The young man, who eventually became my father, entrusted the coin to me and it is one of my treasures.

The feelings generated by this story help me understand what Jesus and his disciples might have been feeling in our Gospel passage this morning. There was to be a parting and it would be very hard, too painful to put into words. But the love is so powerful that there will always be a connection. My grandfather gave my dad a coin, a token of enduring love that he could hold when everything else was gone, something he managed to keep through an escape that eventually led to New York. Jesus promised a gift to his frightened disciples. It is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, who will guide and protect and speak in the name of Jesus and of the Father Almighty.

This Holy Spirit is an enduring lifeline from our Lord. And so for two centuries, Christians typically pray to the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit. We call Father, Son, and Holy Spirit the Trinity, and on this Sunday, the Sunday after the excitement of Pentecost, we are invited to consider what thinking of our God as three-in-one might mean.

There are the historical events. Jesus was born as a human being, spoke of his heavenly Father, and promised a Comforter, an Advocate, who would remain with us after he ascended back to his Father. That Comforter announced itself with passionate urgency and inclusiveness on the Day of Pentecost. We are wonderfully prepared for the Comforter by the description of Lady Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs: “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.” And so we can think of the identity of these three: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. You may also have noticed that because I love to think of their function, I address them as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. But churches have fought bitterly over the complicated relationship among the persons of the Trinity. Different answers are one reason for the schism between the Churches of the West and of the East. Arguments over the divinity and humanity of Christ are only one example, but such arguments caused blood to be shed. There are churches in the South today that are “Jesus only” churches. All of this means, of course, that students in seminary are tortured by having to write papers about the finer points of these controversies.

Far more important is for us to realize how blessed we are that our God is complex and rich in identity. Other religions attempt to capture this by having a pantheon, a whole collection of gods. We express God’s personhood as three-in-one, diverse and with differences, yet working together, in a harmony that is often a wonderful counterpoint of independent melodies joined into one. Our poor brains need to have something like a Trinity to hang onto since the fullness of God, the awesomeness of God is far beyond anything we can comprehend. It’s like the old story of the blind men and the elephant: to the one touching the leg, the elephant is like a tree; the tail feels like a rope; and the trunk seems like a snake. Both elephant and God are vaster.

Part of that vastness is the incredible generosity of God’s creation, a generosity that is also mindful of us, that sent Jesus to be one of us. This is also called love, the love—the letter to Romans tells us—that God poured into our hearts through Jesus and that Jesus pours into our hearts in the Holy Spirit, that he has given to us and wishes us to give to others.

For Proverbs, the incredible generosity of the Spirit of Truth is called Wisdom, a figure who is a continuing presence in our lives. For Proverbs and the great collection of Wisdom literature, she is a woman, Lady Wisdom. The description here is poetic and powerful. Proverbs describes Wisdom/personifies her as calling to us publicly, from the crossroads. The point is that she is strong and assertive, with a fresh perspective that she is not afraid to express. Because she stands in the crossroads, she speaks to everyone. She was not just added at the time of Jesus, but was there from the beginning, helping God. She is still here, helping God and us. She is “mindful of us,” not as a chore but with gladness, “rejoicing in [God’s] inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” She is our Sustainer, connecting us to past, present, and future. What companionship do we look for with her? What companionship do we have with her as part of God? How are we willing to witness to her as an aspect of our God?

What appeals to me most about the Trinity is its reciprocity. This reciprocity is basic to our lives as Christians: God giving to Jesus, Jesus giving to the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit beside God, “like a master worker,” God’s daily delight. The suggestion of attraction is appropriate here. For the Trinity is a circle of holy love. The Eastern Church—the church that is struggling now so desperately because of the wars in the Middle East—has always described the Trinity as perichoresis (peri + a Greek chorus), literally a group of dancers moving all around. Beautiful dancing always involves a give and take and the dance of the Trinity is no exception. Or here’s another metaphor of intimate involvement: Imagine “the Trinity as a plant, with the Father as a deep root, the Son as the shoot that breaks forth into the world, the Spirit as that which spreads beauty and fragrance” (Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace, 291).

Clearly this group of persons called the Trinity is not static, each person in its own little box with a fixed identity or function. Such a bureaucratic God wouldn’t be very helpful. Think of all the spiritual paperwork. It’s fine to turn in prayer to the sympathy of the Son or to the power of the Parent. But the compassion is united to the power. They are connected, united in the Trinity. Our God is whole. God is not fractured, broken, or partial, as we are. We can turn to God’s wholeness and be gathered into it.

Our Godhead/our Trinity is organic, either growing or dancing or both! It’s “a community that holds together by containing diversity within itself” (Norris, 289). It’s a community that’s diverse and yet works in harmony. It’s a community that not only needs the totality of itself and totally loves itself, but that draws us into itself as well. God is not a maker or owner. It is as One who suffers and who self-gives that God can claim “creation and all creatures as creator and redeemer” (M. Douglas Meeks in God’s Life in Trinity, 17). This is crucial: God as first person may be seen as a mighty honcho, if looked at in one way, but God as Trinitarian community owns and receives by giving and by the giving of self.

In this way the Trinity is mindful of us, draws us in, by overwhelming gift, example and precept. God’s community-with-us invites us into community with God and with one another. It fully shares our suffering and our joys. It connects us in full openness and receptivity to those families who are about to join our church. It invites us to recognize the fullness, the richness and the life-giving power of a community shaped and guided by such an awesome God.

Please pray: Dearest Triune God, joyful and faithful and strong, gather us into your fullness. Nurture us, teach us, and build within us a fuller understanding of you and of your ever-responsive and dynamic love for us. Teach us to hope despite the sorrows of this life. Keep us open to fresh encounters with you in all that you have been and are and will be. Through your love for us and in the way that you know best, set us free to become your children. Amen.

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