Sunday, June 16, 2019
The Holy Trinity, Year C
Prayer of the Day
Almighty Creator and ever-living God: we worship your glory, eternal Three-in-One, and we praise your power, majestic One-in-Three. Keep us steadfast in this faith, defend us in all adversity, and bring us at last into your presence, where you live in endless joy and love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 Wisdom rejoices in the creation
Romans 5:1-5 God’s love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit
John 16:12-15 The Spirit will guide you into the truth
Title: Pouring In, Flowing Out
Leave it to we humans to think ourselves such a high order of thinkers that we can explain God. That what this day is all about, isn’t it? This strange feast day that celebrates neither a person nor an event. It celebrates a theological concept. And while we like to think that through this day, we pay homage to who God is. Aren’t we really just patting ourselves on the collective back for coming up with this awesome articulation of Trinity, for teaching it and passing down through the ages, and, in some rare cases, congratulating ourselves for being able to understand it? But if you look at it, in our “wisdom” all we have done is tried to explain a mystery by coming up with a mystery. We have explained the unexplainable with a concept that is, at best, difficult to explain. This idea of Trinity is such a mystery, so impossible to explain, so fraught with pitfalls, that most preachers, at some point in their sermon today, especially if they try to explain it, will commit heresy. Your challenge today – listen closely for mine.
This year, I was able to start thinking about this annual challenge because I did not preach last Sunday. (What did you think when Reed used she and her as the pronoun for the Holy Spirit? Was it unsettling? Distracting? A non-issue? The first reading this morning, identifying the wisdom of God as female certainly encourages such gendering.) So, I was baking bread last weekend and I was starting to think about this Trinity idea. And the dough taught me something. In the world of cooking, perhaps making dough is a little unique. I mean when you mix a bunch of liquids, they all combine and form a new liquid pretty quickly. Whether by stirring or using the blender, boom, you have a new liquid. New consistency. New flavor. When working with batter, all the ingredients combine to make a think liquid that changes when you apply heat. But making dough is a little different. You are combining liquids and solids. And once you have put everything into the mixing bowl and the solids are all wet and the liquids are all absorbed, it still doesn’t look right, it still isn’t dough that you can bake. It’s, I don’t know, wet flour. You bakers out there are saying, “Dah! You have to knead it.” Or as I like to say, you need to knead. So, I’m kneading these ingredients that will ultimate become our communion bread, and I am thinking about the Trinity. And this time I really pay attention to how the ingredients are transformed. They don’t just combine. But the solids, and the liquids, with the work of my hands added, transform into this mass of dough that can now be rolled out and baked into bread. Time was necessary. Working it was necessary. Getting my hands in there, folding, pushing, adding pressure.
Perhaps this can shed light on just what this Trinity thing is all about. (Here comes my heresy, wait for it.) No, I’m not going down the heretical rabbit hole and saying that God is made up of three different substances coming together, becoming one. What I’m trying to say is as we work with this divine presence that has created us, love us without limit, and continues to be present and working through us, like me working with that dough, what we see changes, or better put, what we experience with our senses changes. But it could only happen over time, through working with it, living into it, being in relationship with this divine mystery.
Back when we did a Bible Study of the book of Genesis, we agreed not to get hung up in the facts of some of those larger than life myths, but more important was to keep looking at them and asking: What do they tell us about God? What do those stories: the Tower of Babel, the Flood, what do they tell us about how the ancient people experienced God? Using my baking image: What were they seeing in their mixing bowl in those early days of kneading the divine ingredients? How is it different from what we are experiencing? There are many images, words and activities of God in the Hebrew scriptures that I have a very hard time folding into my understanding of God.
Certainly, the biggest transformation of our understanding and image of God comes in the person of Jesus the Christ. The ancients thought they heard God say: slaughter your enemies, kill those who challenge the homogeny of the community. Perhaps you have seen that nut case, I’m sorry but that is what he is, a sheriff’s deputy in Tennessee who also has a pulpit to preach from, and he has been preaching a pre-Jesus, fire-breathing, gun-slinging sheriff of a God who is out to get the evil folks. This police-preacher has been encouraging the government to take violent action to rid society of undesirables like LGBTQ+ people. If he has read beyond the book of Leviticus, even within the Hebrew scriptures themselves, seen how our understanding of God evolved even before Jesus. But then add to that Jesus, everything he did and said, every person he encountered, every act of welcoming, comforting, healing, forgiving, feeding. How can one read the gospels and experience this new understanding of God in Christ, and then go back and adhere to an archaic, destroyer-worse-than-Thanos, image? Once the dough that nourishes us is formed, you cannot go back and separate out the ingredients. The bread of life has come, has fed us, and continues to nourish us. The Spirit continues to flow in and fill us.
St. Paul writes it in his letter to the church in Rome. A diverse church that was made up Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. They wrestled with this question of whether they were to hold on to that ancient image of God knowing now what they knew through Jesus. He writes: 1Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; And since it is not about be justified through works of the law, trying to bring glory to God by living pure lives and killing off anyone who wasn’t our version of pure and was thus contaminating the community, Paul continues: and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
The glory God shared with us comes to us by grace through Jesus who is the heart of God in human flesh.
And then Paul includes that further evolution of our understanding of God that we witnessed last week with the events of Pentecost when he writes: 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.
How the divine dough has changed. No, how our understanding and our experience of the divine dough has changed. (See how easy the heresy thing is.) God has not changed. Our understanding of God has changed, is changing, will continue to change, because we will never, in this life, comprehend the fullness of God. The articulation of the Trinity is a nice attempt.
Jesus made it clear that last night around the supper table with his disciples. We have never been able to take in the full picture of God, even when God was in our midst in human form. He said to them, and to believers of every time: I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. And so, the Spirit continues to lead continues to flow into us. Leading us into deeper understanding of God, of ourselves, and our place in the world. The God who, in our eyes, starts the story recorded in the Bible creating and destroying, dispelling and punishing. Nearing the end of the recorded account, as the new story, our story, begins, we see God flowing into us with power and inspiration so that we might be the presence of God – who is love – in the world. A presence of that brings mercy, compassion, justice and peace.
We are wise, not when we can profoundly articulate who and how God is. Rather, we are wise when we know ourselves, see our need for God, and thus, empty ourselves so that this divine presence of love might be poured into us, and flow out into the world. Without explanation.
The Rev. Mark Erson,