Readings for Trinty Sunday 18 May 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Trinity Sunday A,18 May 2008 Textweek

Exodus 34: 1-8; Song of the Three; 2 Corinthians 12:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Any classical analysis of the doctrine of the Trinity will invariably bring up the question about the substance of God; it sort of invites us in to question who and what is God, and the logic and the language that’s employed in the classical analysis creates an assumption very early on of the person or three persons of God. In that classical sense I actually think the doctrine of the Trinity can be quite unhelpful, because it does almost unconsciously serve to underline the dominant stereotype of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. There’s nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong with that at all, and as an entry point it’s quite helpful, just as the book of Genesis is a helpful entry point to reflect on life, its beginnings and the arrow of life, - to what is it orientated? But let’s leave the doctrine of the Trinity and look at the readings we’re presented with today, still holding though, a desire to know, to understand God.

The first reading presents us with the God of Moses, the God of the Exodus and here we find a God who is mediated via and through Moses: ‘I want the rest of you to stay off the mountain. I’ll talk with Moses and Moses will talk with you.’ We find a God who is remote; we find a God who holds the power to forgive, and yet we hear in verse 7, ‘By no means clearing the guilty’.

Next we come to that very short second reading and it gives us just a glimpse of the God of Paul. In verse 11, ‘this is a God of love and peace’. In verse 13, a God of grace, a God of love, a God of communion and then the last reading, in Matthew ‘s Gospel, we find the God of Christ: in verse 18, this is a God in heaven and on earth. In verse 19, this is a God in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And perhaps in all of those glimpses it’s the word ‘and’ that’s important, that brings them together.

We’re still, however, left with the question: Moses, Paul and Christ – are they speaking of one God? It’s a question that probably resides at the core of our faith and at the heart of our doubt. It’s a question that’s been debated constantly by the church; it’s a question that we subconsciously ask as we seek to understand ourselves and to become fully who we are. Whatever the answer is, one thing is clear, we’re very unlikely to show a proof of the answer. A more productive course of action might be to consider the God that we experience, become aware of the God that I experience. Consider the God that we encounter, the God that I encounter – not the one I read about, not the one the church teaches about, the God that I encounter. And then consider the God that we, that I abide with, the God that I spend my life with, the God that eats and sleeps with me. And as we consider those images, that Trinity of the divine, then maybe we discover that’s the God that I can now see reflected in the scriptures.

Looking back to the Sunday before Lent, the Transfiguration, Christ was in white with Moses and Elijah, so the image that we have of the Transfiguration is an image of the Trinity. As we walked through Lent, we had Christ in the wilderness, Christ in communion with the twelve, Christ the triumphal king entering Jerusalem. Then we came to the great three days of Easter, the Paschal Trinity: on Thursday we had Christ washing feet, Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ the criminal, rejected by the faithful. We moved into Friday: Christ betrayed by Judas, Christ denied by Peter, Christ crucified by Pilate. Then we come to the day of Resurrection: Christ risen, Christ found by Mary, Christ encountered on the road to Emmaus. Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost: Christ the living flame, Christ the wind, the breath of peace, Christ enlivened, made alive in humanity.

The Trinity is a very ancient abstract; it predates Christianity. It’s an opportunity for reflection, it’s used in every faith and it’s used probably in every discipline in one way, shape or form, because it does provide such a helpful process to engage us, to enable us to think. The enneagram, which is a way of looking at personality types, speaks about us as constructed of head, heart and gut. There are head people, who speak and act through their thoughts, heart people who speak and act through their emotions, gut people who speak and act through their feelings. Transactional Analysis speaks of us in relationship with another as parent, adult or child. There are so many opportunities to reflect and part of it Peter and I were talking about before the service, if you picture the Trinity in its simplest form, three circles overlapping. We have an opportunity to take any three aspects, to know them on their own, but then also to bring them together, to know that where they overlap something different is created. And then where the overlaps overlap in the middle, something different again is created. We can do it with three, you can pick any number – three has got a wholeness about it, it just goes back in time.

If we look at the Trinity as a cubic equation, and let’s not get lost in the mathematics, but rather put ourselves immediately after the equals sign. If we want to reflect on the Trinity in the simplicity of steam, ice and water, let’s not delight in the physics of it, but rather drink from the refreshment the water offers. And if we see the Trinity as a dynamic dance, a dance of love, then allow ourselves to be seduced by its movement. It’s funny, the more we look at the world, the more we seek the Divine, the smaller the world becomes the more we know about it. In ancient days, you would fall off the end, as we discovered more you think the world gets bigger, and yet we’ve all seen the photos of the Earth from space, and we realise how tiny it is. Perhaps the Trinity is an embrace that holds three points of the universal compass in order that we might find our true direction, a direction moving forward in the only way possible suggested by, held by the divine embrace around us. If we can find ourselves in whatever image we have of the Trinity, if we look for ourselves within it, then we look for our encounter with the divine.

The Trinity is a doctrine the church can continue arguing over. The church’s arguments started in the 300s or finished in the 300s, with the council of Nicea. I’m not that interested in what a group of bishops said in the year 300 and something; I don’t know that that’s going to give me an understanding, a grasp, a satisfaction of the Divine. And yet constantly, the more I tune into an ‘encounter of’, an ‘experience of’, an ‘expression of’, then I find exactly the same with myself - an encounter, an experience, and an expression. At the end of the day we’re all made out of Leggo – you can pull the pieces off and put them back, and if we’ve got the imagination that we were birthed with, we too can pull ourselves apart and remake ourselves........

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris