Karen J. Bowles
There is a Trinity joke I want to share with you this morning. In Matthew 16 Jesus says “Whom do people say that I am?” And his disciples answered and said “Some say you are John the Baptist returned from the dead; others say Elias or other of the old prophets.” And Jesus asks “But whom do you say that I am?” And Peter answers “Thou are the Logos, existing in the father as his rationality and then by an act of his will being generated in consideration of the various functions by which God is related to his creation, but only on the fact that Scripture speaks of a Father and a Son and a Holy Spirit each member of the trinity being coequal with every other member and each acting inseparably with and interpenetrating every other member, with only an economic subordination with God but causing no division which would make the substance no longer simple.”
And Jesus answers, with “Say what?”
This is not actually Trinity Sunday in the liturgical calendar. It was about 3 weeks ago and we did not mark it then so I thought we would mark it today. It is the only day of the liturgical year that calls us to ponder a teaching of the church rather than a teaching of Jesus. The scriptural readings provide biblical backdrop for a non-scriptural word: Trinity. It is the day of the year I am told that most preachers would prefer to be doing anything else but standing up here attempting to explain this ancient formulation, this ancient metaphor for God. But I welcome it today.
Jesus didn’t talk about the Trinity; neither did Paul – It wasn’t until the 4th century – 300 years after Jesus – that Christian leaders formalized the idea of the Trinity. They did it at the Council of Nicea in 325. The result? The Nicene Creed. Then some more Christian leaders in the fifth century wrote another creed trying once again to clarify the Trinity for folks, particularly the Jesus part. That Council resulted in the Apostles Creed.
There are many ways we hear of the Trinity. Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Creator Redeemer Sustainer. Presence Wisdom power. Womb of Life Word in flesh brooding Spirit. Almighty God incarnate word holy comforter. Or my personal favourite – primordial nature consequent nature superjective nature. Some are such gobbeldy goop one wonders about the state of mind of the writer. And perhaps you remember some of these from your Sunday school or Confirmation days – the Trinity described as the three leaf clover – or the three states of H20 – liquid, ice and steam.
When I was in seminary – this was the part of theology 101 I could never write about with any coherence or understanding. I don’t think I am alone in this confession. I think now many years on – it was perhaps the way it was taught or explained. And yet it was a doctrine that was supposed to be at the very heart of the nature of God. It was supposed to describe the relationship between God, Jesus and the Spirit. Either it wasn’t true or I simply did not understand it.
I think the latter was true. I think our misunderstanding of the Trinity and its consequent little use over the last 17 centuries other than to speak the words Father son and holy ghost – has made Christianity poorer as a result. I think the spiritual intuition of our forefathers was spot on and we simply did not get it. Our experience of God personally or in community with one another – does not fit the structure we have been taught of this three in one. There does not seem to be room in this formulation for us to connect with these Three. These three are whole circles unto themselves and there is not a place where we would fit. The way it is often taught – if it is taught at all – leaves one feeling like a child in a sandbox with his arms up yearning to be picked up and held, to be elevated and included, always yearning and never reaching. And yet my own spiritual experiences that led me to this circle of worship today tell me I am held I am included I am part, however small – of the circle. Remember God has no grandchildren only children. Mediated explanation is not experience.
Imagine my joyful surprise when I heard my own experience of God being related by one of the 4th century Cappadocian fathers of Eastern Turkey as a description of the Trinity- who said this: ‘Whatever is going on in God is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between Three – a circle dance of love.’ And in the words of a present day monk : “The ancient Greek fathers depict the Trinity as a Round Dance, an event that has continued for six thousand years and six times six thousand and beyond the time when humans first new time. An infinite current of love streams without ceasing to and fro to and fro to and fro gliding from the Father to the son and back to the father in one timeless happening. The circular current of trinitarian love continues night and day…The orderly and rhythmic process of subatomic particles spinning round and round at immense speed echoes its dynamism.” E. Marechal
This trinitarian language written down by these Elders – sees God not as a static figure or a prime move not even as a dancer but as the dance itself, the flow of relatedness. This sounds like some new age idea but it is about as traditional as it gets. Even the Greek word the Fathers used to describe this Trinity was perichoresis (from which we get the word choreography) – meaning divine circle dance.
And somehow we pretty much lost this understanding. And what a shame because here is what is says: We are all invited in – all creation is invited in – and this divine intention was meant from the beginning – it is imbedded in creation itself. It later becomes relatable concrete and touchable in Jesus – as we see in the writings in John and in Hebrews. From the beginning creation was good – Jesus confirmed it to be so. R. Rohr
I said in an earlier message – your image of God creates you. For many that image is static – out there – mostly extraneous to your own experience – that God feels like God beyond us and outside us. A pyramid if you will with God at the top, the Son and Holy Spirit the other points of this enclosed self sufficient triangle.
Yet if move to this ancient view of the Trinity that of flow of radical relatedness of this divine dance – we might move to a place where we could participate in heart as well as head – a place of our own experience. What the scientists tell us is that the energy, the dance, in the universe is not in the planets or the protons or the neutrons but in the relationship between them, not in the cells but in the way they interact not in the precise definition of the three of the Trinity but in the relationship between them. If your image of God through the vehicle of the Trinity becomes the interplay, the relationship between all things – then there is dynamism and diversity, creativity and room for all to participate in the dance.
I will close with this – many of our children and our children’s children do not attend church and the reason is pretty plain. It is not wholly busyness – it is that our churches have become irrelevant to many because we have boxed ourselves into a corner that does not include all of creation and all that we now understand about it. We have been relegated to a space that does not do justice to the depth and breadth of Christianity beginning with this very old discussion of the Trinity today. Our churches often present the content of Christianity as a rigid set of rules or exclusionary or as confusing and boring. Our savvy children saw how the churches largely ignored the created world in favour of the reward in heaven and preached love but practised exclusion, justified by their interpretation of the gospel. And they left.
And yet – people are hungry for spirituality – and as the churches have not been able through misperception perhaps, to provide that meaning or connection – they have sought that spiritual connection elsewhere or have ejected it entirely. But it does not have to be so. Last week Elder Vince Pawis described how he became out of balance and disconnected and he showed us with his arms how that happened. He moved out of relationship through addiction and fought his way back through reconnecting to the teachings of his tradition through experiencing again his relationship to Creator. It is much the same for us. Rediscovering this old teaching of the Trinity was a very objective way of describing my own deep inner experience of God – of this flow – this circle dance of love – this relationship in which I am a participant – an objective description of a subjective personal experience. A teaching worth knowing. A connection worth relating and relating to in all others. And a teaching and a connection that might very well speak to or confirm the spiritual experience of our children and their children. Christianity began with the spiritual experiences of Jesus. And where it is rings true, is through the spiritual experiences of others, Paul, the monks in Eastern Turkey, you and me. Teachings such as the Trinity that provide a deeply satisfying heart opening word picture of such experiences are faith making.
And so I end with the second reading for today which is a continuation of the first – Isaiah has accepted his call and God gives the instruction:
Let us pray
we pray this morning for sight and for hearing for understanding and for healing among the peoples of creation
we pray this morning for creativity and ingenuity to heal the earth and all who walk crawl and creep upon it
we pray for small mindedness to cease, for hearts to open, for hatred to be recognized as fear and dissolved with connection to you and to one another
we pray for men and women to know their worth in themselves and as mirrors for one another
We pray for kindness to be the highest virtue and compassion to be the driving force of policy makers and decision takers
We pray for vulnerability to be a sought after way of being and connected community to be its result.
We pray that in future times we will exist for one another, and not the one, by means of others.
We pray that your vision of the kin-dom come when each soul will gladly give another what neither would demand. (from R. Steiner)
And we pray this in the name of the three who are one – God, Jesus and the Spirit. Amen.