Holy Trinity C—5/22/16
Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
Pr. Scott Kramer
Close your eyes for a few seconds. Take a couple of deep breaths. Imagine that you’re walking up to a closed door. As you approach, the door opens and there…is God. What do you see?
You can open your eyes now. When the door opened, what did you see? When some folks think of God they see an older man with long white hair and beard, sitting on a big throne in the clouds—the one who shows up anywhere from the Sistine Chapel to newspaper comics! Others among you might see Jesus, whatever you imagine he looks like. Others might imagine a bright light.
Years ago, some of you read The Shack. It was a novel written by a Christian that made the bestseller list for two years back in 2009-2010. It’s a story of family, tragedy, and faith in the midst of tragedy.
But what I remember most clearly about the book is not the story as much as the characters. Specifically, God shows up—and not as an individual, as we commonly imagine but as three people. You know them as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Other Christians would say Creator, Redeemer and Spirit. But in this novel, the one we speak of as Father is an African-American woman named Elouisa, or, Papa. The one whom we call Son is a Middle-Eastern carpenter. And the Holy Spirit appears as an Asian woman named Sarayu.
Each of us likely has some preferred image of God. Some of those images may be based on traditional cultural or Biblical images. Others, as in The Shack, might be more unconventional and creative. This is not to say, as our culture teaches, “to each his own,” or, “God is whatever you want to believe God is.” But however you imagine God we need to take seriously a community of (three) individuals, working so closely together that they appear to be one. The Holy Trinity is a vision of perfect community for God’s own children to study, to learn from, and to imitate. The Holy Trinity is a vision of perfect, self-giving love. It is something beyond our experience and beyond our imagination. It is…mystery.
Today’s readings refer to “God’s glory” over and over: in the psalm, in the reading from Romans and in John. Now, when I think of “glory” I think in human terms of hierarchy, of ranking. We think of glory as specially reserved for certain people, certain groups. The word “glory” implies some kind of special status—having achieved something that makes a certain person or group higher than or better than others.
But when our Scriptures speak of the Trinity, glory is not something to be grasped at for oneself or one’s group. It is given away and distributed evenly among others. In today’s gospel reading, for example, Jesus gives glory both to the Holy Spirit and to the Father, who in turn glorify him. [The Father] will glorify me because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine, Jesus says.
The Apostle Paul writes something similar: 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. God’s love…poured into our hearts…through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Just as each person of the Trinity gives itself away for the sake of the others, so also God gives God’s love…without limit…to us.
What would this kind of self-giving love look like if God’s human creation…were to take this example…and put it into practice?
For starters, it might mean recognizing, admiring and celebrating the gifts and strengths of others who are different from us. Think about how much energy we invest in giving glory to ourselves. Our human insecurity and limited perspective drive us to draw attention to ourselves, and to attach ourselves to people and institutions that seem to us the biggest, the best, the most powerful, etc. –whatever makes us feel good about ourselves. Whatever is different is seen as a threat or less than us and is to be avoided unless we see some obvious self-interest.
How different from the community of the Holy Trinity! The Creator of the Universe, the human Son, the Holy Spirit—how completely different from one another! And yet, how perfectly they honor and glorify and love one other.
And how different from the time and place we live in, where what is different is viewed with fear, suspicion, and maybe even contempt. This perspective is the very opposite of the example set by God’s own self: different entities serving one another, learning from one another, honoring one another.
Is this vision of Godly, self-giving love just some dream, some lofty ideal, some pie-in-the-sky fantasy with no real-world application? Some would say so—even church-going people! But this is where disciples of Jesus Christ have a saving word for the real world. At our best, we point to examples of very different people giving themselves to one another and learning from one another through deep, self-giving love. However small or however imperfect, wherever we see such love at work we announce with confidence that the Holy Trinity is present and powerfully at work.
But here is what for me is the most incredible thing of all: God has not only set for the human creation an example of perfect, self-giving love to admire from a distance. God invites us to participate in that love as equal partners with God: As the Psalmist writes, What are mere mortals that you should be mindful of them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you have made them little less than divine; with glory and honor you crown them. And Paul writes that “we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”
We, God’s beloved people, share the glory of God when we take our cue for living from the Holy Trinity, welcoming and celebrating and learning from what is different in others.
Last night, on the long flight home from Atlanta, my wife and I watched a wonderful Argentinean movie called Francis: Pray for Me. It’s the story of Pope Francis and how he came to be pope. It’s not a documentary but a drama with actors playing the various roles. And yet, at the very end of the movie is actual footage of Pope Francis meeting and greeting leaders from many different faith traditions, including Jewish and Buddhist and Hindu. And it’s clear from his expression that he is delighted and grateful to honor cultures and traditions that are in many ways very different from his own.
And yet, it’s one thing to admire the example of prominent people from a distance. How do we apply the spirit of self-giving love among diverse populations as regular folks, in the ordinary days of our lives?
This morning I opened my e-mail and saw that I had been copied in on correspondence among some of you who are preparing to host ARISE…in June. In June?? Don’t we do that in March? Yes, we do. Yes, we did. And now, there is a need for the month of June. The word went out to many congregations throughout South County. And instead of saying, “We’re too small,” or, “We’re doing enough already,” or, “We don’t have enough money”—all of which sound like reasonable arguments!–some of you asked some good questions: What is God doing among us? How might God be inviting us? What do we have that God might use?
Well, we have ourselves—that’s a lot right there! But we have sister churches, too! Lo, and behold, they have stepped up to the plate. And all of a sudden, we have a living example of the Holy Trinity: God’s power, local churches, and the community of homeless men. This is not a top-down, rich people doling out charity to the poor. This is a partnership of mutual respect. Not only do homeless men receive shelter. I have witnessed how those who serve them learn from and are changed by them, which is pretty remarkable because according to Jesus it is the “haves” who are most likely to be spiritually poor.
Dear friends in Christ, the Holy Trinity is not some stuffy doctrine gathering dust on our shelves–I hope not! The Holy Trinity is the very core, the very essence of God’s nature: perfect, self-giving love among very different entities, given as an example for us to learn from and to imitate.
If you close your eyes, who do you picture God to be? If we are spiritually awake, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we will see at least hints and maybe even powerful evidence of God’s love in action all around us, and around the world. And, if we are spiritually awake and alive, we will accept God’s invitation to be full partners and participants in this kind of Trinitarian love…to the glory of God!