Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday – June 19, 2011
Today is “Trinity Sunday,” the day set aside in the church calendar to celebrate the triune nature of God – three in one, one in three – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is the one feast day dedicated to a doctrine of the church rather than a particular person or event. It is also the day, according to some, when more pulpits are filled with junior clergy than any other Sunday of the year.
The Trinity – God in three persons, yet one in substance. It is a doctrine hammered out at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD and this celebration of it, Trinity Sunday, has been observed on the Sunday following Pentecost since 1334 when Pope John XXII fixed it on the calendar.
The “Trinity” as such, is never mentioned in the Bible, though this morning’s lessons suggest a trinitarian God by the use of what is called the “Trinitarian Formula” – any time the three persons of the Godhead are named. We baptize in the name of the Trinity, as Jesus suggested we do, and we bless in the name of the Trinity.
But the doctrine of the Trinity itself is a human construct – set forth most explicitly in the Athanasian Creed which was written in the late 5th century to combat various heresies that had erupted in the church, mainly having to do with the divinity of Jesus. You can find this creed in the historical documents section of the Book of Common Prayer.
So, it’s old – this fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith – and it has stymied some of the most brilliant theological and philosophical minds for centuries.
During the 4th century, over a ten-year period, Augustine wrote 15 books on the Trinity beginning with these statements about God:
“The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. The Son is not the Father. The Father is not the Son. The Holy Spirit is not the Son.” And then, after these six statements, he added, “There is only one God.”
In the 18th century Immanuel Kant wrote, “From the doctrine of the Trinity, taken literally, nothing whatsoever can be gained for practical purposes.”
So, what’s a junior clergy person like me to do with it?
Let’s think about social roles for a minute. Like most of you, I have had several.
All of you first got to know me in the role of clergy person – newly hired to assist Fr. Nicholas in encouraging you in your faith and in your ministries. I have prayed with you, worshiped with you, celebrated Baptism and Holy Communion and done some teaching. In the Sunday leaflet, I am referred to as “Mother Stravers,” a title that corresponds with the work I do here and the nature of our relationship.
Before I became “Mother Stravers” I was “Professor Stravers” for a while. In this role, I spent my time preparing lectures, grading papers, holding office hours, and answering questions posed by my students – the young men and women with whom I shared another kind of relationship.
But way before either of these titles, I was known as “Mama Cindy.” That’s what my kids always called me. This role entailed giving birth, nourishing and nurturing, saying no when necessary, saying yes as often as was possible, braiding hair, creating paper mache Halloween costumes, sewing prom dresses, walking two of my daughters down a long aisle. It involved mutual expectations, mutual respect – tons of wonder, even more love.
And of course, before I had any of these roles, I was Jeanne and Gord’s daughter, Sandi’s twin sister, Janie’s best friend, Rick’s wife.
The point is, I’ve been in many roles and yet I’ve always been me. Furthermore, the roles I’ve played and the corresponding names by which I’ve been known have all been based in relationship.
This is the reality of human existence. We look for ways to make sense of the world – we differentiate and compare, we look for patterns and analyze, we recognize, we categorize and we name – all based on our relationships.
And that seems to be what human beings have done with God too – attributing certain characteristics and behaviors to one or another of the ancient names – following our ancestors in the faith and creating theological boxes to help us make meaning, slicing and dicing until we have bite-sized pieces that we can name and swallow and sometimes we go so far as to pick a favorite.
We need to be careful so that we don’t let human constructs limit God, our understanding of God, and most importantly, our experience of and relationship with God.
When someone is known as a person playing only one role, carrying one title, everyone misses out. When we limit our knowledge and understanding about God to even three roles and titles, we all miss out.
And while this is officially Trinity Sunday, maybe we can let our imaginations go and see if there aren’t other ways to describe what we experience in our relationship with God. Have you known God as Artist? Architect? Dancer? Bringer of Order? Surprising One? Have you ever experienced God as Flirt or Lover? Has God been a Disturber in your life, shaking you into a new awareness?
We don’t need to be afraid to see more of who and what God is. That’s always God’s gracious invitation. How we experience and name God today is almost immaterial – THAT we experience God today is the real invitation.
“Come, let’s hang out,” God says. “Get to know me. Tell me your stories and listen to mine. Tell others our story. Let’s go deeper and build on what we’ve already experienced. Give me a new name. And when all the names are in, know that I am One.”