Trinity Sunday- The Revd Ann J. Broomell
Christ Church, New Haven
May 31, 2015
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today we come to Trinity Sunday. Preaching on this Sunday often falls to the curate while senior clergy supposedly sit back and tick off the heresies. That being said, in reality we don’t especially want to take it on ourselves. Buddy Stallings, the rector of St. Bartholomew’s in New York City, is retiring this Sunday. He wrote this week in his blog that he has assiduously avoided preaching on Trinity Sunday throughout his ordained life, but had no choice but to do so this was his last Sunday in that pulpit. As I begin ministry among you as your Interim Rector, it seemed to me that I shouldn’t duck the opportunity either.
What are we to make of the Trinity which is so fundamentally a part of our liturgy, our prayer, our worship? Let me begin by telling you something about my sister, Susan, who spent a number of years teaching math to sixth graders. Sue had a bachelor’s degree in history with honors and then spent years developing her own business as a title searcher. Studying to become a teacher, she discovered that she had a gift when it came to teaching math. I was astounded. I do have a sister with an MBA. It is not Susan. Every math teacher I had ever known majored in the subject in college and emerged steeped in calculus and higher mathematical theory.
Apparently Sue was more able to communicate the curriculum than many others exactly because of her education and background. She looked at math as a non-mathematician and saw problem solving and equations as tools for living our lives. Because of this different perspective, she was very successful in helping other non-mathematically oriented students master the necessary concepts.
You might ask what this has to do with Trinity Sunday. There are so many descriptions of what the Trinity means, and explanations of why we have come to define God in this way—so many efforts to put labels on that which is ultimately without explanation, that whatever we hear may not have much of an impact on our lives. It may be most valuable to look at the Trinity from the point of view of a non-theologian and ask: What difference does it make in my life that I believe in the Trinity? What difference does it make what I believe about the Trinity?
One well known preacher commented that when we humans try to describe God it's like a bunch of oysters trying to describe a ballerina. (1) The descriptions abound but they’re not likely to lead to understanding of that which is pure mystery.
As you know, the trinitarian formula came into being as the early Christian church tried to sort out the different understandings of God that had begun to circulate. Those that weren’t accepted were labelled heresy. There was Modalism, Sabellianism, Arianism. Mystery remains. Throughout our history, people have found that describing the Trinity was no simple task.
Moving beyond efforts to articulate that which is unknown and unknowable, let me ask again: Why might it matter at all to you that the Trinity exists? What difference would it make in your life, in the lives of others?
I suggest that it does matter and it can make a difference. Soon after the early theologians decided that the best way to describe God was as three beings, three persons that are also one, the Trinity began to become considered a separate entity. God, the Trinity, became further and further removed from people.
Yet a distant God was not part of the early thinking about the Trinity. The Cappadocian Fathers articulated the concept of the Trinity as communion, a relationship between people. Basil of Caesarea wrote that “The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are a fellowship, …in them are seen a communion that is indissoluble and continuous.” (2) It was a radical thought then and can be to our thinking now as well.
The contemporary Roman Catholic theologian Catherine LaCugna raises this description of the Trinity as extremely valuable for us today. If God is relationship between persons, then God is a living active being. If we are made in God’s image through our creation, we, too, are about relationship with each other; then the goal of our lives is to become more relational each with each other. (3)
What if we were to use the image of a dance to describe the Trinity? I remember taking part in an evening of country dance. There were couples and singles, children and adults. We danced up and down in rows, in squares, step to step and partner to partner. Children and adults danced together—everyone could contribute fully. We moved back and forth from person to person with great ease, smiling as we bowed to this person, laughing as we linked arms and swung in a circle with another.
We can see our lives, and the life of the Trinity through this image of the dance. We can see the goal of our lives being in relation with each other rather than with a God beyond and unrelated to us. We discover God existing in relationship with us and among us. We see that God is active in our world, and that God draws us into activity as well.
When we know God as communion between people, our relationships with others take on renewed significance. Living lives of true communion we must reject unequal relationships based on sexism and racism; superiority or privilege; exploitation or dominance and control. (4) And those unequal relationships, so common in our world, then become sinful at a fundamental level because they are a rejection of community, of relationship, even a rejection of God. Making unequal relationships equal becomes a task that is ours to recognize and to change within our selves and beyond.
What if we saw the Trinity as the focus of our lives, community with persons as the ground of our being? As LaCugna writes: To live God’s life is to live from and for God, from and for others. To live as Jesus Christ lived would mean (making his life a model for our own). … To live according to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit (would mean)…responding to God in faith, hope and love; eventually becoming unrestrictedly united with God. (5)
Isn’t that what we pray each week in our Eucharistic prayer? Isn’t that what we ask for in our intercessions? Don’t the chances and challenges of our lives lead us to seek deepening relationships with God in and through people?
And what is a parish that lives a Trinitarian life? Our imagery as we describe ourselves reflects the Trinity: We are the People of God, the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We are energized by the life of God, we are the risen Christ in our world, we demonstrate the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. We interact with each other. We dance a holy dance. We bring that dance into the world. We seek to become a sign of God’s reign, the divine-human com-munion and the Communion of all creatures with each other. (5)
Of course we fall short. But we may want to join more and more actively in the dance. Do you try to stretch yourself reaching out to those you don’t know, seeing the relationship, the communion among persons as God? Do you look at the way you interact with the people you love, family and friends, colleagues, neighbors, co-workers and the way they interact with you, through the lens of equality, mutual benefit, relationship and love? What about the people you work with? Or today’s lepers and untouchables?
Listen to this ancient description of the Christian life from Dorotheos of Gaza: Imagine a circle marked out on the ground. Suppose that this circle is the world and that the center of the circle is God. Leading from the edge to the center are lines like the spokes of a wagon wheel. Each line represents a different way of life—different races, cultures, ways of being in the world. In their desire to draw near to God, the saints advance along these lines to the middle of the circle. The farther into the center they go, the nearer they approach one another as well as God. The closer they come to God, the closer they come to one another.
Such is the nature of love. The nearer we draw to God in love, the more we are united together by love for our neighbor. (6)
Take another look—our neighbor is not just those we know and care about so much today: those we know here at Christ Church, people who are part of our daily lives, people we know through our mission beyond the parish. Those near us on the spokes of the wheel are the people of the world, different as we all are, joined with us in our love of God. Drawing closer to God draws us closer to all people.
The Trinity does make a difference in our lives. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The one who creates us, redeems us and sets our souls on fire. Beings in relationship, with each other, with us and all the peoples of the world. When we see ourselves caught up in that relationship, in that love, our lives will change and this world will change as well. If God is relationship, if God is communion among people, if God is Being in Love, and you are made in God’s image, who, then, are you? Who then are we all?
(1) Taylor, Barbara Brown quoting Robert Farr Capon. Barbara Brown Taylor, Home by Another Way, (Boston: Cowley Publications, 1999).
(2) Basil of Caesarea, Letter 38.
(3) Verhulst, Kari Jo. Sojonet.org Living the Word. May 26, 2002: God So Loves This World.
(4) LaCugna, Catherine Mowry. God For Us: The Trinity & Christian Life. New York: Harper Collins, 1991, p. 399.
(5) Ibid., pp. 400-401.
(6) Johnson, Elizabeth. Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reading of the Communion of Saints. New York: Bloomsbury Academics, 1999.