Trinity Sunday 7th June 2009 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

TrinityB Sunday 7th June 2009 Textweek

Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

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

The Holy Trinity is one of, if not the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith and it’s probably the most oft–repeated formula or mantra in our liturgy. For most Christians and probably for most of us it was learnt by rote, that is without much thought, or by osmosis as we join in the liturgy of Sunday worship. Technically and historically it’s a stunningly complex piece of theology and for some it’s a field of study in its own right. The first time I was ever invited to preach was on Trinity Sunday, and I was told afterwards that the reason I was given the invitation was that the priest thought it would be great fun and very enjoyable to sit back and tick off all the heresies I would bring out during the sermon.

I did a unit at Murdoch called ‘Triune God’, and it just gives you just a glimpse of just how much there is and how difficult it was bringing the church together around the theology of the Trinity. In a one-off sermon and with the attention span that’s tuned to the time taken for a television commercial to run, it’s absolutely impossible, I think, to teach, to explore, to analyse the Trinity, which is interesting, because it means that here it’s impossible to teach, to explore, to analyse the foundation of our faith. And partly that’s because of the complexity of the theology that we’ve inherited; we would have to look at concepts such as ‘generate’ and ‘ungenerate’, ‘procession’, ‘substance’, ‘the accident of being’, and all that stuff would only take us to look at the path that’s already been walked in relation to the Trinity. In the world of understanding that now embraces theoretical physics, fractal geometry, string and brain theory, quantum mechanics, there are even more opportunities to look at and to consider the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the three in one. So rather than revisit the established theology, let’s today take it as an invitation just to look, to think about to consider the Trinity. Like Nicodemus, let’s ask questions, and as we explore this foundation of our faith, so too we begin to explore the foundation of our faith. As we look questioningly at the Trinity, we look questioningly at who we are.

Nicodemus was a leader of the Jews, a person of faith who participated in the religious practice of his day. If he were here now he’d be one of us; he’d be a good Anglican, probably a member of church council, maybe even a church warden. He had some understanding, but as we hear in today’s gospel in his dialogue with Jesus, his questions opened up a doorway, they opened a way to a newness of life, and so to a fullness of life. In his questioning, he discovered that there was and is more to it - more to fullness of life and more to who we are.

As we contemplate the Trinity, as we question the Trinity, there is a risk. The risk is that our faith will be found to be a house of cards. In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – do we really believe that God was Jesus’ daddy? A ‘yes’ answer to that will follow the path of much historical and contemporary orthodoxy. It also gives God a male gender and in turn, reinforces what we already see, the patriarchal culture; and perhaps that evidences that ‘God the Father’ is a manmade fabrication – God in our image, rather than ourselves in the image of God.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit: if we look at both the liturgy of the church and the scriptures of the church, we find that Father and Son get much more air-play than the Holy Spirit. And that has arguably reinforced what we know – a family first culture and a culture that is out of tune with the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbour as yourself – which suggests at best, that a ‘family fourth culture’ is more in tune with divine orientation. Father, Son and Holy Spirit – that mantra is shaped by and gives shape to our very culture. The Holy Spirit, of course, spent much of its Christian life as the Holy Ghost and so to a large extent was subconsciously omitted from the popular theological equations. The Holy Ghost – you didn’t really go there, there was something eerie about it and it was left on the shelf.

The doctrine of the Trinity in its common and orthodox understanding could well be getting in the way and so blocking our spiritual quest, our questioning of spiritual things. Until we contemplate its mystical qualities, it’s nothing more than a pre-medieval painting, but if we look at it, if we quest for its truth and its wisdom, it becomes an icon that can enliven and open up our faith.

Riding a motorbike in Bali provides an object lesson in theological reflection. It’s an opportunity of seeing and experiencing the world differently. At first to the western eye it looks like chaotic madness, the way they drive. It’s almost incomprehensible – it’s dangerous, it’s out of control and seemingly without rules or regulations. But to join the mayhem is an absolute delight, because the traffic flows. It’s not stop-start: it seems as if we travel as one, organically moving and without the road rage that simmers in our own traffic systems. There’s one explanation for that phenomenon: in the west, we see and we focus on the car, the object on the road; in the east they see the gaps, the spaces in between. What we see when we’re driving is what blocks the flow, and so we see ourselves as one of the blockers of flow. What they see is what opens up to enable flow; they see the spaces where movement can occur. It’s a different orientation, and it leads therefore to a different way of being.

Likewise with the Trinity: if we focus on the objects - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - we fail to see the relationship, the movement, the dynamic. Trinity Sunday is an invitation to look again. Not to look again at God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, but to look again at the divine dance that embraces the universe, a dance that constantly opens itself to invite our participation into its way of being. That’s the invitation of Trinity Sunday: don’t look back to the theology of the past; don’t look to the definitions of the objects that might block your way, but rather contemplate the whole and its movement, and seek the reflection of ourselves in that contemplation.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris