Sunday, May 31, 2015

Holy Trinity

May 31, 2015

John 3.1-17

+ I try…I really do. I try not to complain about other preachers.  But, there is one thing I have never enjoyed about preachers.

I am always made uncomfortable by preachers who use the pulpit as a confessional booth.

That’s a joke, of course. Because, who does it more than me? I’ve confessed to you from here before. And I apologize for that.

But…this morning—this Sunday of the Holy Trinity—I am going to do it once again. I apologize in advance for this one too.  This is a confession that one I don’t think I’ve ever share with too many people. Not many people know about this fact about me.

But…many years ago, long before I became a priest, not long before I became interested in the Episcopal Church, as I was still searching on my spiritual journey, I…joined the Unitarian-Universalist Church. I know some of you know about the so called UU Church. Some of you were members of that denomination at one point.

I joined while I was searching and was a very content Unitarian, actually. I enjoyed the UU Church. It was certainly a progressive church. I was very welcomed into the Church and was treated very well by them. I still hold them in high esteem.  And I still have a very warm place in my heart for the UU Church.

I ultimately had a few issues with them, though. One of the main reason I am not a Unitarian-Universalist now, is that the church was very humanist in its beliefs. Oftentimes, I felt as though I was at a college lecture, rather than at a church. And I was craving something spiritual at that point in my life—and of course still am. I was craving God in my life at that time, and there was not much talk about God at the UU Churches I attended.

Another issue was, of course, liturgy. I need my liturgy! And there was no liturgy of any sort in the UU churches I attended. I did not yet know about a Unitarian congregation in Boston called King’s Chapel, which was originally founded as an Anglican church, but later became Unitarian while still keeping a worship and liturgy that is based on the Book of Common Prayer.

Finally, the biggest issue for me was, of course…Jesus. Jesus was THE issue for me. I, as you all know, always believed, in some way, in the Incarnation—in the belief that Jesus was God come to us in the flesh, which Unitarians definitely did not believe.  At this point in my life, I was exploring other aspects of spirituality, but when it all came down to it in the end, this was a very major part of my spiritual life, I realized. In that sense, it was a good thing to explore UUism. I came away with an even deeper appreciation of Jesus after my very short time with them.

The UU Church is a very old, very respected strain of religious thought, that comes from the so-called “Arian heresy” of the third century. Unitarians had an issue with what we are celebrating today—the holy Trinity.

Now, as a Unitarian, I never really had any issues with the Trinity. I didn’t become a Unitarian because I didn’t believe in the Trinity. In fact, the Trinity was just something I has always kind of lived with and accepted.

Most of us, let’s face it, don’t give the Trinity a lot of thought. We assume God is Trinitarian. But for the most part we don’t lose sleep over what it is or how it works.

People who are losing sleep over the Trinity these days are those preachers who have to preach about the Trinity on this Sunday. Our own Sandy Holbrook was originally going to preach about it today. I’m not saying she chickened out on it (she actually did preach on Holy Trinity Sunday three years ago).

But I had no issue taking up the baton for the sermon today. It’s my job after all, as your priest.  I definitely am not one of those preachers who lost sleep this week fretting over what I was going to say about the Trinity, even despite my Unitarian background.  I approach this Sunday and this concept of the Holy Trinity as I approach any similar situation, like Christmas or Easter or, as we celebrated last Sunday, the Holy Spirit and Pentecost.

It’s a mystery. And I love the mystery of our faith. And let me tell  you, there is nothing more mysterious than the Trinity.  God as Three-in-One—God as Father or Parent or Creator, God as Son or Redeemer and God as Spirit or Sanctifier.

I know, I know.  It’s difficult to wrap our minds around this concept of God.  The questions we priests regularly get is: how can God be three and yet one?  How can we, in all honesty, say that we believe in one God when we worship God as three?  Certainly our Muslim brothers and sisters ask that very important question of us: Aren’t you simply talking about three gods? (We’re not, by the way—just to be clear about that)

Whole Church councils have debated the issue of the Trinity throughout history.  The Church actually has split at times over its interpretation of what exactly this Trinity is.  We can debate it all we want this morning. We can talk what is orthodox or right-thinking about the Trinity all we want. But the fact remains that unless we have experienced God in some kind of tri-personal way, nothing I or anyone can say about the Trinity is going to matter.

Now did you hear that word I just used?  Tri-personal. There, for me, is the key to everything this Sunday is about.

So, what are talking about here is not three gods, as some people seem to think.  What we are talking about it one tri-personal God—a God who cannot be limited in any way, but a God who is able to come to us and be revealed to us in a variety of ways.  We can go on and on about theology and philosophy and all manner of thoughts about God, but ultimately what matters is how we interact with our God.  

How is our relationship with God and with each other deepened and made more real by this one, tri-personal God? How do become closer to God?  This is our primary responsibility: our relationship with God. How can all this talk about God—how can this thinking about God—then deepen our relationship with God?  Our goal is not to understand God: we will never understand God.  God is not some Rubik’s Cube (I’m dating myself with that reference) or a puzzle that has to be solved.  Our goal is to know God.  Our goal is to love God.  Our goal is to try to experience God as God wishes to be experienced by us.

Because God does know us. God does love us.  And, more likely than not, we have actually experienced our God in this tri-personal way more than once in our lives.

I personally have experienced God in a variety of ways; certainly I have experiences God in that tri-personal way countless times.

I have known God as a loving and caring Parent, especially when I think about those times when I have felt marginalized by people or the Church or society or by friends and colleagues.

I have also known God as my redeemer in the Person of Jesus—as the One who has come to me where I am, as One who knows my suffering because this One also has suffered as well. And this One, Jesus, has promised that I too can be a child of this God who is my—and our—Parent.    Because of Jesus, I have been able to take comfort in the fact that God is not some distant deity who could not comprehend what I have gone through in my life and in this limited, mortal body.  God as Jesus the Redeemer knows what it was to be limited by our bodies.  There is something wonderful and holy in that realization.

And I have known the healing and renewal of the Spirit of God of my life.  Certainly we, at St. Stephen’s have experienced and continue to experience this Spirit’s presence in the life and renewal we are celebrating in our congregation.  We have known in a very real way the healing and renewal of the Spirit of God here among us.

And, I don’t need to tell you,  it is wonderful.

Last year I preached about the famous icon of the Trinity, written (that’s the proper way to say an icon is painted or drawn) by the great Russian iconographer, Andrei Rubelev. I have placed the icon here.  Definitely go and take a  look at it and see how truly beautiful it is.  In it you’ll find three angels seated at a table.  According to some theological interpretations, these three Angels represent the three Persons of the Trinity. In the icon we can see that all three Angels are shown as equals to each other.  In a sense, this icon is able to show in a very clear and straightforward way what all our weighty, intellectual theologies do not.
What I especially love about the image is that, in showing the three angels seated around the table, you’ll notice that there is one space at the table left open.  That is the space for you.  In a sense, we are, in this icon, being invited to the table to join with the Trinity.  We are being invited to join into the work of the Trinity.  And I think that is why this icon is so important to me.
If all we do is ponder and argue and debate the Trinity, we’ve already thrown in the towel.  And we are defeating the work of the Trinity.  But if we have sat down at that table with this tri-personal God, if we have joined in that circle of love and, as followers of Jesus, shared that love with others, then we are truly celebrating the Holy Trinity. We are joining the Holy Trinity. We are sharing the love and work of our tri-personal God.

So, no matter what the theologians argue about, no matter what those supposedly learned teachers proclaim, ultimately, our understanding of the Trinity needs to be based on our own experience to some extent.

The Trinity does not have to be a frustrating aspect of our church and our faith.  It should rather widen and expand our faith life and our understanding and experience of God and, in turn, of each other.

So, today, as we ponder God as Trinity—and we should ponder this tri-personal God in our lives—as we consider how God has worked in our lives in a tri-personal way— and who God is in our lives, let us remember how amazing God is in the ways God is revealed to us. God cannot be limited or quantified or reduced.

God can only be experienced.

And adored.

And pondered.

God can only be shared with others as we share love with each other.  When we do that—when we live out and share our loving God with others—then we are joining with the tri-personal God who is here with us, loving us with a love deeper than any love we have ever known before.

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