Sermon for Sunday, June 11, 2017 || Trinity Sunday, Year A
If you look to the back of the church, you’ll notice we have a window missing right now. The good folks at Cathedral Stained Glass in New London are currently restoring our Trinity window, which has deteriorated over the years to the point where it could have shattered during a blustery storm. Today is not the most opportune Sunday of the church year to be lacking the Trinity window. Today is, after all, Trinity Sunday, and in years past I’ve enjoyed directing your attention to the window at the beginning of my sermons on this particular day. I can’t do that today. Instead, I can only direct your attention to the lack of the Trinity window.
But such a lack of the window stirs up some new thoughts; specifically the following question: Who would we be without the mystery and revelation of God as Trinity of Persons and Unity of Being? This question jumps to mind because, in recent years, many faithful Christians have wondered if we really need the encumbrance of the Trinitarian notion of God. Isn’t it just unnecessary baggage weighing down an already weighty topic, they argue. With fewer and fewer people finding God in the Christian church in the United States, wouldn’t it make sense to streamline our beliefs a little bit, make them easier to apprehend?
I must admit, I have some sympathy for this position, though I disagree with it. One of the questions I get more than any other from folks seeking to know God better is this: “So I don’t understand the Trinity; can you explain how it works to me?” And I have to answer honestly and say, “No, I can’t.” This, as you can imagine, is an unsatisfactory answer to these well-intentioned seekers. But it’s the truth. I cannot explain the inner workings of the Holy Trinity. No one can. And so our scientific, data-driven world induces faithful Christians into musing whether or not we might be better jettisoning the doctrine of the Holy Trinity altogether.
But such wording is the first mistake. When we think of the Holy Trinity as doctrine, it becomes much easier to edit out of our faith. We could reason that this quaint notion of Three-in-One and One-in-Three might have worked for ancient Christians squabbling at the Council of Nicea, but we modern Christians can get by without it. And snip, we excise the doctrine of the Trinity from our religious expression.
However, the Trinity is not merely a doctrine. The Trinity is the core foundational principle of existence. There’s a reason we read Genesis Chapter One this morning. We need to cast our imaginations all the way back to the beginning (indeed, before the beginning) to start to glimpse the foundational principle of God as Trinity. This immense and seemingly random universe makes so much more sense (at least to me) when I view it through a Trinitarian lens. And the challenges we face in this modern world of ours also come into focus when we realize humanity is not living in to the model of relationship, which God as Trinity invites us to embrace.
I’ve spoken before about how the Trinity invites us into the perfect relationship of God, so I will be brief here. We use relational words to describe two of God’s persons: Father (that is, parent) and Son (that is, child). Thus, God as Trinity beckons us to believe that before anything existed, there was relationship. And not just any relationship, but a loving one, for the Holy Spirit is the love flowing back and forth between Parent and Child. And not just any loving relationship, but a perfect one, for God is God, a Unity of Being, even as God’s Diversity of Persons creates the reality of love. And not just any perfect loving relationship, but the only one. Before God spoke on the first day of Creation, there was only God. And yet within God existed the foundational principle of existence: a relationship that can hold both diversity and unity within itself.
This is the principle humanity has forgotten. This is the principle humanity has stopped living, if we ever lived it all. We live in a war-torn world where diversity demands division and unity oozes toward uniformity. We see these forces wherever we turn.
Instead of celebrating our differences, we divide along them. Our country’s original sin of slavery spoiled the beauty of racial diversity by using it as the dividing line between who was owner and who was property, between who was a person and who was three-fifths of one. While the original sin is gone, its divisions ripple to the present, and we can’t heal the myriad institutional and societal disparities, which persist to this day, until we learn to celebrate diversity, not simply to tolerate difference. And this is just one example of the human drive to divide due to diversity. But the Holy Trinity models another reality. The Holy Trinity models diversity without division.
Instead of uniting as a diverse body that is stronger because of our variation, humanity inevitably seeks unity through uniformity. The vision of the United States as the great melting pot sounds lovely until you dig into the metaphor. In the melting pot, all difference is melded together until everything looks like everything else. There might be unity at the culmination of such a vision, but there will also be uniformity, which discourages our most prized attribute – independence. A better culinary image is the salad bar, where you pile a diversity of food on one plate to make a unified meal.* The Holy Trinity models this reality. The Holy Trinity models unity without uniformity.
The Holy Trinity models diversity without division, unity without uniformity. This is the foundational principle of existence, the principle upon which all healthy relationships rest. The evil we face in this world of ours attempts to destroy this foundational principle. Racism seeks division. Fundamentalism seeks uniformity. And try this one on: Terrorism hates diversity; terrorists blow themselves up to halt the rise of the acceptance of diversity.
So, I can’t wait until the window is back. Whenever I stand here before you and bask in the spectrum of light shining through that window, I remember again why the Holy Trinity is not just important, but foundational for our existence. The Holy Trinity models the best way to live. The Holy Trinity is a perfect loving relationship, which urges us to allow God to perfect our relationships. The Holy Trinity models this perfection for which we strive: diversity without division, unity without uniformity. That’s true reality, and the Holy Trinity invites us to live there.
* I heard this image at a training a few weeks ago (by Visions, Inc.), and it really struck me.