Archive for June, 2020

The Pandemic, the Protest, and…the Trinity.

June 7, 2020

When I was growing up, we were treated in church every Trinity Sunday to our parish priest “explaining” the unexplainable! How can the one God be Three Persons? Simple, right? And then we would hear about how the water molecule H20 is found in three states –liquid, solid and gas – and yet remains one substance. Or, how one can be a mother, a daughter and a sister – and yet be one individual. Or even worse, God help us, a shamrock!  I never quite got that one!

Apparently having endured the same kind of thing over the years, my homiletics professor in the 1960s said we should NEVER, EVER preach on the Doctrine of the Trinity on Trinity Sunday. “Just preach on the Lessons,” he’d roar, “just preach the Gospel! Leave your Trinitarian theology for Confirmation Class!”

But then, in the 1970s and 80s along came Jurgen Moltmann, the brilliant professor of systematic theology at the University of Tubingen, who not only developed a form of liberation theology in a book called “The Crucified God” but also a “social trinitarianism” in a book called “The Trinity and the Kingdom.” And, preaching on the Trinity became respectable once again. Even contemporary commentators like Richard Rohr are fond of speaking about the “communal nature of God,” that God IS “relationship,” and of the “perichoresis,” a dance of mutual indwelling by what Christians call the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

These are all interesting speculations about the internal nature of God, but I must confess to being more of an “economic Trinitarian” myself. In other words, I’m more interested in how we have experienced God over the years than in God’s inmost being…which, in any case, is largely unknowable.  

And so, this morning rather than speculating on what the authors of Genesis might have meant by having God say, “Let us make humankind in our image” or what Matthew’s Jesus might have meant by commissioning the apostles to baptize “in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” I’d like to focus on one of the earliest New Testament blessings which were later understood as having Trinitarian implications.

Written perhaps only 25 years after Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the Second Letter of Paul to the church in Corinth ends like this: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” (2 Corinthians 13:13) And, since the last words one writes in a letter are usually pretty important, I’d like to unpack those for us on this Trinity Sunday.

First of all, the “grace” of Jesus Christ! I love that phrase! Of course, grace has all kinds of theological meanings and interpretations. But it’s also a word we use in common parlance. “See how graceful that jump shot was!” Or, “She responded with uncommon grace in that situation.”

I actually like to think of the grace of Jesus being something like that; like the grace of a fine athlete or an accomplished dancer. These are people who have gifts and abilities and who perform best when they simply relax, don’t “overthink” things, and let those natural gifts and abilities take over.

I think Jesus was like that. Clearly gifted in so many ways, Jesus seems to have moved through life with a kind of centeredness and ease which not only drew people to him, but also allowed him to accomplish some pretty amazing things that people remembered, wrote about, and are still writing about today! Paul is praying for that same grace to be manifested in our lives!

 I’ve seen that grace in so many of you over these last weeks and months as we’ve lived through this national and worldwide pandemic and as you have responded in simple and in some extraordinary ways, being aware of your many gifts and abilities and simply using them by doing “what comes naturally.” You have been occasions of grace! 

Next, “the love of God:” Christianity is not the only religion which teaches that the very nature of God is love, but it is absolutely essential to our faith tradition.  God IS love, St. John writes in his first Epistle. And that just about says it all. At its core, love is not just a feeling or even an emotion. To love someone is to want the very best for that person and to be willing to put that person’s needs above your own to that that happens.

And again, how many times have we seen – in these days – in our own community, across the country, and around the world people doing just that! Caring about others, wanting the very best outcome for another person, and going the second mile, at great cost, to put another person’s needs ahead of their own. We’ve seen countless examples of love in action, God’s love in action, as we have wrestled with the murder of George Floyd and the outpouring of anguish and action in our own community and around the world.

And, finally, “the communion of the Holy Spirit:” We used to translate this as the “fellowship” of the Holy Spirit, but “communion” is so much better. Not only because it’s less sexist, but because the Greek word is the “koinonia” of the Holy Spirit. And “konoinia” not only means fellowship and communion, but “joint participation,” “the share we have in something,” “a gift jointly contributed one to the other!” It also refers to communion with God…as well as communion with one another.

You and I have had to re-define what koinonia looks like in these days. No longer able to gather on Sunday mornings, to sign one another with the water of baptism, to exchange the Peace, to share Blessed Bread and the Common Cup, we have been in touch by telephone calls and Zoom meetings. We’ve prayed and even sung hymns separately, and yet together! We’ve continued Ted Talks and even a modified form of Bible study.

We’ve had fellowship and communion…just in different ways. We’ve participated in one another’s lives and we’ve shared gifts in a variety of ways. We have remained “in the communion of the Holy Spirit!”

I suppose there have been some out there in the world, and perhaps even at New Song who have asked the question, “Where is God while all this is happening?” But I haven’t really heard much of that. Perhaps we’ve just grown up enough to realize that God doesn’t send sickness or disease to chastise or punish as primitive people believed. And God certainly didn’t cause the violence in Minneapolis!

But it may also be that people have intuitively perceived where God is in all this! God is in the grace of health care workers putting themselves at risk or teachers finding new ways to reach and teach their students.

God is in the love of all those people, from every race and language and tongue in the streets in these days calling for justice and for peace. And God is in the communion we find ways to share even when denied the Broken Bread and the Poured Out Wine.

You can think of many more examples. And perhaps we can share them as we speak together this week, as we are able. Until then,

May “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the koinoia of the Holy Spirit” continue to be with each one of you, my beloved!