Sermon for Sunday, May 22, 2016 || Trinity Sunday C || John 16:12-15
There’s a group of folks at St. Mark’s that meets every Thursday morning for Bible study. The class is called “Genesis to Revelation,” and as its name implies, we set ourselves the goal of reading the entire Bible. We started last autumn and should finish sometime around next winter. It’s a daunting task to read the whole thing, but very worthwhile too. A few weeks ago, we were working our way through a particularly thorny section, and one member of the group said something to me that made the whole group double over in laughter. She said, “Well, I thought I understood this until you started explaining it.”
So with that humorous word of caution in my mind, I turned my attention to Trinity Sunday, traditionally one of the thornier preaching days of the year. I’d like to share with you a particular version of the story of us and God, with special focus on certain truths God has revealed to us. These truths will culminate in the truth of the Trinity, but we need to begin at a more fundamental starting place.
So the story begins with a bit of exposition: If you drill right down to the core of existence, there are two fundamental states of being. There is God, and there is Not-God. God has always been. Not-God is more recent. The universe God created is part of Not-God. This fragile earth, our island home, is part of Not-God. The witness to God called the “Church” is part of Not-God. You and I are part of Not-God. God is perfect. God is eternal. And God is love. Not-God is not perfect. Not-God is not eternal. And Not-God can only derive love from God, like the moon shining by the reflected light of the sun.
Over the short course of human history, we have erred time and time again by worshiping part of Not-God. We worshiped mighty animals or features of the landscape or the weather. We worshiped graven images and golden calves. We worshiped our ancestors or powerful people who required adulation. We worshiped money or power or fame, which are all pieces of the self-worship called narcissism.
A couple came along in the arid region known today as the Middle East. There names were Abraham and Sarah, and they worshiped in a different way than their neighbors. They worshiped a God who was not bound to a place or an object or a thing. For them, all of God was in every place.* This God showed them a new land and promised to bless them with descendants too numerous to count – as many as the stars in the sky and grains of sand in the desert. They believed in and trusted this God of theirs even when having children seemed impossible. In time God fulfilled the promise, giving them a son named Isaac and then a daughter-in-law named Rebekah, and then two grandchildren named Jacob and Esau, and then more and more and more descendants down through the generations.
One of those descendants was a man named Moses, who awakened to the presence of God while herding sheep in the mountains. A bush was burning but was not consumed. Moses noticed this odd sight and realized he was standing on Holy Ground. Along with a job to do, God gave Moses the gift of God’s most holy name. But this name was a puzzle. “I AM WHO I AM.” What kind of name was that? It wasn’t just a name. It was a revelation of God’s very nature as the ground of all being, as the genesis of all creation.
Now we knew all of God was in every place. And we knew God was the fundamental being, through which all things exist. But God wasn’t done with Moses yet. Later on, while Moses’ people were backsliding into the worship of Not-God in the form of a golden idol, Moses was up on a mountain gathering a list of the best ways to live. We call them the Ten Commandments. The first is, appropriately, the most important. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me” (Deuteronomy 5:6-7). Moses’ people enshrined this commandment in their call to worship: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
Now three pieces of the revelation of God were in place: All of God was everywhere, God was the ground of all being, and there was only One God. Of course, we know how the story goes. We’ve lived the story in our own lives. Not-God continues to seduce us away from relationship with God. This seduction happened in the lives of the people of Israel when they yearned to be like the neighboring nations, all of whom seemed to have much more pliable gods than did Israel. This seduction happens in our lives when our own particular idols tempt us to prioritize them too highly, to the detriment of all our relationships, including the one with God.
God realized that we perceive Not-God to be so much shinier and more immediate than God is. So to save us from our idolatry and our failure, God came to us directly in the form of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Now we could see and touch the revelation of God. We could hear him welcome the outcast, watch him heal the sick, follow him on the way to a life of love and service. The worst parts of Not-God – death, domination, envy, fear – conspired to kill the revelation of God. They thought they succeeded, but no. Their power died when the Son rose on the third day. And in his resurrection, Jesus makes good on a new promise – to be with us forever.
God first fulfilled this new promise in sending the Holy Spirit, “who guides us into all truth” (John 16:13). By the power of the Holy Spirit, we continue to encounter the God of Abraham and Moses. And these encounters have depth that we cannot fathom because God is even grander than we at first thought. We experience God as a perfect relationship and so we use relational names: the Parent and the Child and the Love between them.Throughout the short course of human history, our God has revealed so much truth to us who are fallible parts of Not-God. What a gift! What grace! We believe all of God is in everywhere. We believe that God is the very ground of all being. We believe God is One. We believe that in God’s Oneness is a perfect relationship, in which God calls all of Not-God to take part. This we name the Holy Trinity.
Not-God is filled with imperfect relationships; even the good ones are imperfect because they can’t be anything else. Only God is perfect relationship. Only in God can we find a perfect relationship to be the ground and the guide and the goal of all our relationships. Only in God can perfect love transform and elevate our imperfect love. Only in God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.