Saturday, September 6, 2008

Trinity Sunday, 2007

June 3, 2007 Trinity Sunday (c) Prov. 8: 1-4, 22-31; Rom. 5: 1-5; John 16: 12-15

The great doctrinal definitions of the Trinity emerge in the early church in the context of Christological controversies: deep and passionately felt understandings about how to describe who Jesus was--and about how what he did made any difference.

Some of the vocabulary of those conversations was then and certainly is now intelligible only to the most engaged and educated theologians, but the issues are fresh before us always: those questions about Jesus, about the meaning of the Cross, about why he can or should make any difference in our lives. I have the privilege of wrestling with those kinds of questions a half a dozen times a week in the rounds of my pastoral calling. People who have come in through these doors on Hampton Street and want to explore this sense they have that there is something for them here that would be good and meaningful—even if they may have come from a background of life where these kinds of questions weren’t asked, or even if they have come from a religious environment of childhood or young adulthood that seemed to discourage rather than encourage the questioning process, the wondering process, the effort of trying to figure it out without there being some coercion and authoritarian force along with it. Or sometimes it’s with someone who has been taken with a sudden illness, or at the crisis of a death of a loved one, or with a loss of job or home or some other deep aspect of life. Who is this Jesus anyway? Why does he matter?

Now the bottom line of those ancient controversies was that the folks on all sides believed absolutely and without question that God was working in and through Jesus in a unique and powerful way, and that the Cross and Resurrection were events of cosmic importance that changed everything once and for all, for all of us. Not just historical events, but superhistorical, a part of God’s history as well as of our history.

But there were differences as well, that were important. Sometimes differences that led to foundational questions of identity and purpose and meaning. With high stakes. Serious business. How to describe that relationship, between God and Jesus. And how your description then would have implications for what you understand God to be like, and what you understood human beings to be like. Important questions.

The readings from scripture give us some of the poetry this morning, the indirect language, that we then are invited in our own way to take up and to integrate into our understanding of our life and our walk of Christian discipleship—wherever we might be along that path. From Proverbs that glimpse of a tradition about God’s Wisdom, in Hebrew chakma, in the Greek Sophia or Logos, depending on context. This a fascinating topic, which is related sometimes to another word in Christian theology and ethics, God’s Providence. The idea that while this created cosmos includes a spirit of freedom, it also reflects what we might call a divine plan or intention. A unifying principle, perhaps. This the core element of God’s creative act, and St. John begins his gospel by saying, “In the beginning was the Logos, this Wisdom, this divine plan and intention and principle.” And the Logos became flesh, and dwelt among us. That Jesus was the incarnation, the unique expression, the personification, of God’s Wisdom. And in the 16th chapter, our reading this morning, he says, simply, without qualification: “All that the Father has is mine.”

The doctrine of Trinity that we celebrate this morning, and that for so many years in our customary gave the title and theme for the next half of the Church Year, is about this point of contact, Jesus, and about how in this incarnation and life and death and resurrection God is acting freely and in love to restore us to himself, to heal what was broken, to reclaim what was lost, and how in Jesus, in the tender intimacy of our relationship to him, we are thus lifted to a new dignity. We don’t formally have “Trinitytide” anymore, but Ruth Cover’s seasonal hangings at the back of the church still draw on that symbolism. As we are identified in him with our common human nature, so our human nature is transformed in him to meet the divine nature. A little ornate again, a little remote. But perhaps we would picture the Heavenly Father leaning over the balcony of heaven and then, long white beard, long white robe, clambering down from the clouds to open wide an embrace and to say as with the bumpersticker phrase of the 12 Step A.A. movement: God doesn’t make junk.

In Christ, we are in God. All that the Father has is his, and we are his. And the brokenness and lostness of our lives becomes all about instead dignity and holiness, about life, transformation, renewal, and growth. That’s what happened at the Cross. The transforming event of the history of the universe. Of cosmic significance, but for us, for each of us, personally, individually. In the mystery of our hearts. His heart and our heart beating as one, Father, Son, Spirit. All together.

I’ve told you about my friend in Virginia Beach, who administers Holy Communion to his parish with the phrase: Receive what you are: the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven. And maybe sometimes we think about how we would treat each other differently, if we believed that really and truly deep down. About how believing that might change the way we think and feel about ourselves. About how much of our unhappiness comes from this sense of feeling like we aren’t quite right. That there’s something wrong with us. That we really aren’t good enough. Not good enough for others to love us, certainly not good enough to respect and love even ourselves. We over-react. Get defensive. Take ourselves too seriously. React to every perceived slight. Generate a compensating sense of ego-centered entitlement. But what if it was all o.k., and better than o.k., all perfect, because it all has been perfected in him? What if, as we open ourselves to him, we would find healing and peace?

What I’m thinking about, praying about, in this day of the Trinity, which is the open door past Christmas and Easter and Pentecost now, to the rest of our lives. Father, Son, and Spirit. Here today, right here, and now, and always.

Bruce Robison

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