Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
Trinity Sunday – May 26, 2013
May the peace of God be with us, the grace of Christ embrace us, and the Holy Spirit live within us forever. Amen.
A senior citizen drove his brand new Corvette convertible out of the dealership. Taking off down the road, he floored it to 80 mph, enjoying the wind blowing through what little hair he had left.” Amazing,” he thought as he flew down I-95, pushing the pedal even closer to the floor.
Then he looked in his rearview mirror and saw the police car behind him, blue lights flashing and siren blaring. He floored it to 100 mph, then 110, then 120. Suddenly he thought, “What am I doing? I’m too old for this,” and pulled over to await the Trooper’s arrival. Pulling in behind him, the Trooper walked up to the Corvette, looked at the old guy, looked at his watch and said, “Sir, my shift ends in 30 minutes. It’s Memorial Day weekend. Today is Friday and I’m off till Tuesday. If you can give me a reason for speeding that I’ve never heard before, I’ll let you go.”
The old man paused, then said, “Years ago, my wife ran off with a State Trooper. I thought you were bringing her back.” The trooper tipped his hat and said, “You have a good day, Sir.”
Some things we’re asked to believe are just a huge challenge. We celebrate one of those things today—the Holy Trinity. The greatest theologians the Church has produced have struggled for centuries to explain the mystery of the Trinity—a doctrine of the faith that teaches that there are three distinct persons in one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It took them more than 400 years to sort that all out.
Martin Luther once said, “To try to deny the Trinity endangers one’s salvation; to try to comprehend the Trinity endangers one’s sanity! British author and theologian, Dorothy Sayers, once used these words that parody the Athanasian Creed in the script of a play: “The Father is incomprehensible. The Son is incomprehensible. The Holy Spirit is incomprehensible. The whole thing is incomprehensible!”
There is one thing about the Trinity that should make sense to us or at least make this doctrine a little more fathomable: the Trinity is a metaphor for relationship—a relationship of deep love between these three persons— and God created us to be in relationship with one another and with God, to live always in relation to a community and to work for the well being of others. The doctrine of the Trinity then becomes a core belief about God’s life with us and our life with each other: God in us, we in God, all of us in each other.
What is a challenge for many is the reality that the formulation of Trinitarian doctrine is the work of a male-dominated church and culture. We even refer to the authors of the Creed as “the Fathers of the Church,” so our theology comes from the minds and wills of those who were in power at the time and, although we believe that the essence of the decisions they made in the great ecumenical councils of the church was inspired by God the Holy Spirit, we can still in good faith challenge some of the finer points and hold the culture in which it all happened in perspective.
Note how traditionally only masculine pronouns are used to refer to God. This is appropriate when we talk about Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, who took on flesh and became one of us and as a male. But God is beyond gender and, if we are going to attach a particular gender to God the Father—whom Jesus has told us we should address more intimately as “Papa” or “Daddy”—why should we not consider that the third person of the Trinity—the life-giving Holy Spirit—be referred to in the feminine gender?
In the Hebrew Scripture we heard today, the Spirit is called, ‘Sophia—Holy Wisdom’ referred to by the feminine pronoun ‘she.’ The Hebrew Scripture also calls the Spirit ‘ruah,’ a feminine word, to describe the feminine aspect of the Godhead, the breath of God, the mighty wind that hovered over the empty waters at the beginning of life in the process of creation—all feminine images of the birthing, mothering God who brings forth life.
What is puzzling is that for centuries the people of God have not challenged the masculine images attributed to the first Person of the Holy Trinity but there is often great consternation over the suggestion that the Holy Spirit might be spoken of in feminine terms. We seem to forget to whom the message of the resurrection was first delivered on Easter morning. Was God in Jesus not making a point in that? In limiting our images of God in Trinity to just masculine images, the genderless God is gendered and the fullness of God is denied in the Church. The Church itself stays half whole.
Perhaps the larger question is does God really live in that narrow place where everything is either black or white and we have all the answers about everything? Or does God prefer to hang out in the kind of place that fosters growth, renewal, amazement and surprise and where we can view everything in brilliant living color?
Beyond that, what does one dare to say about the Trinity that has not already been argued, theologized, wondered, and preached for centuries? The rector of St. John’s in Battle Creek, Tennessee was wont to announce to his assistant clergy that he would always preach on Trinity Sunday, because if there was to be any heresy preached at St. John’s, it would come from him.
I hope I have passed the heresy litmus test well, at least, for today! I don’t think there is much point in trying to explain the Trinity any more that I have attempted to. I will leave that to the theologians and seminarians to debate.
We Episcopalians have this great thing called the liturgy where we can explore its images, its music and hymnody, and even beyond that the beauty of nature and genius of imagination to help us comprehend that the Trinity is a mystery and that God is mystery and that mystery is a good thing. It’s OK. We don’t have to prove it. But more important than that, it is all about complete and embracing Love that reaches out to gather into it each and every one of us. What more do we need to know?