Trinity Sunday/African Mass by the Rev. Dick Toll

June 16, 2019

Lessons:

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Romans 5:1-5

John 16:12-15

Psalm 8

Today is Trinity Sunday.  It is the only Sunday of the year that is set aside for a theological concept.  It is a Sunday to speak to the mystery of God and attempt to explain the unexplainable…to try to speak to the profound mystery that cannot be explained but because we are human beings we enjoy the mystery and want to define God.  Thus, the Trinity.  God is known in three ways.

First of all God is Creator-Father.  The one who has set in motion everything we know within the created order, the world as we know it, Creator of all things, creatures who have lived and died, humanity, space, and time.  We speak of God as a Creator and as human beings we delve into the mystery of God as we learn about creation through science and our God given brains to discover what is already there.  Profound, mysterious, here we are.

Second, is the person of Jesus who came to us as one of us in our humanity as the reflection of the living God to share with us that that is the fullness of our humanity?  He lived and died as one of us.  His reflection of God and the mystery of God is a moment in time that is a transition of our story with God.  We cannot escape His presence in the world.  Millions and millions of people have been a part of his life, death and resurrection over the centuries and today we find the uniqueness of his person in the Eucharist.

And then finally, we experience the mystery of God in the life of the Spirit.  Last week we moved through Pentecost and have once again discovered the way that God moves within us and creation.  We are surrounded in our individual and community lives by the Spirit of God offering light to the world that often lives in darkness.  We know darkness.  We know light.  We know that the darkness if overcome by light and it is in this knowledge that we are led into relating to God as Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Or maybe expressed as Creator, Redeemer and Friend.

Thousands upon thousands of books have explored the subject of the Trinity so I trust that you will read as many of these as possible to further your knowledge.

But, the truth is that each of us as individuals carries the Trinity within us.  And, we are walking, talking, expressions of the Trinity of God as we live and move and have our being.

One way to look at the Trinity is a three legged stool with the seat representing everything within creation, including us, as individuals.  When I was in seminary the theologian by the name of Paul Tillach described the meaning of God “as the ground of all being”….everything below us, around us and above us is the ground of our being.  In Christianity, we discover ourselves through knowledge of our relationship with our neighbor, ourselves and our God.

I am going to switch to a story now and ask you to reflect on what I have just said.  Elaine and I had another opportunity to go to London, England, and feed two cats last month and house sit.  This could become an interesting habit.  The people we cat set for are friends of our daughter.  So, we hope she has many friends in other far away places.  We went to a play in London that had just arrived in Piccadilly Square.  The name of the play is “Come From Away”.  I had never heard of it before, but it is wonderful.  It is a story about 9/11.

Where were you on 9/11?  I was sitting in a restaurant in Milwaukie having just finished my 7:00 o’clock Tuesday morning service and was ordering my breakfast.  The darkness that can invade our lives was happening that day and as the day unfolded we experienced that darkness.  And as a helicopter crashed this week in New York, it was a reminder of the tragedy and fear that sweep through New York and our country on 9/11.

But the story of 9/11 was not just in New York City.  Planes that were in the air throughout the world were diverted to other landing places because no one knew what was happening.

Do you know about the Island of Newfoundland off the East Coast of Canada?  In 2001 on 9/11 the town of Gander in Newfoundland, a town of 10,000 people was suddenly asked to house, feed and comfort 7,000 passengers of 38 planes that were diverted during 9/11.  Thirty-eight planes with 7,000 people became a part of the Gander community for 5 days until their planes were allowed to fly to their destinations. 

The play is filled with individual stories of how the town responded generously to the tragedy that was unfolding in New York City and the way the people of Gander pulled together to welcome total strangers into their homes.  The local radio station would update the needs three times a day and the play itself shows how humanity can do and does respond to the need of others.  There is one person that takes care of the responsibility of caring for 19 dogs and cats aboard the planes and even 2 monkeys.

Relationships come into being.  People fall in love.  Stories of the past are shared.  A Rabbi hears the story of a Jewish man who had survived the Holocaust.  The call for toilet paper fills up a classroom at the school and the radio announcer has to say, “enough is enough”.  The room at the school has no more room for toilet paper.

As the worst was happening in New York City, the 7,000 people saw the best of humanity.  Many of the passengers could not speak English, many religions were represented including Muslim…how to accommodate the many and various needs, dietary, medical, relatives in other countries?  One passenger could not reach her son who was a firefighter in New York.  She later found out that he died during the collapse of the Towers.

A number of children from the Make a Wish Foundation were on their way to Disney World for their birthday.  A 16-year-old girl put together a birthday party for them, which included 350 people with balloons, clowns and cakes.

In general, the people of Gander reacted to the strangers as they would their neighbors: opening up their homes, their hearts, offering food, phone time, showers or just a hug.  So the play is about the 5 days with 7,000 strangers suddenly arriving in a town of 10,000 people.  And, what we find is that in the midst of the darkness there is a light that is lit that shines brightly as people share and care.

And, I would submit to you that the understanding of God as we know God was being acted out in the midst of a community that accepted their place within Creation, shared their space with diverse people.  To remind ourselves of the reading from Romans that we heard earlier, I will read it again.  “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

The God of History was acting through the lives of many and this story in Gander, Newfoundland is just one example of how God moves within creation bringing light out of darkness, healing out of suffering as we offer ourselves to each other and to God.

 

Trinity Sunday by The Rev. Martin Elfert

Lessons:

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Romans 5:1-5

John 16:12-15

Psalm 8

 

If you are a veteran of Sunday school or, perhaps, a graduate of a class that sought to get you ready for baptism or confirmation, you may have had the experience of encountering that diagram that maps out the Trinity. Do you know the one? If you aren’t familiar with it – or if you can’t quite remember it – don’t worry: turn to the back of your leaflets and, there, you will find it printed.

Here is a triangle. And here in the middle of it is the word God. Orbiting God, on the three points of the triangle, are the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Running between each of these three words and the word God is a double-ended arrow or, sometimes, as in this case, simple a line or a pathway. And in the middle of those three arrows or lines we find the word is. So, the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God.

On the exterior of the triangle, there is a second set of bi-directional pathways or arrows, each arrow running between the members of the Trinity. These are arrows of negation, they are labeled is not. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and so on.

You can cross-reference whichever way you like. Let’s take the example of the Holy Spirit, that frequently neglected member of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is God. And yet She is not the Son or the Father. The same pattern holds true when you examine the other two names on the outside of the triangle.

And now you understand the Trinity.

Right?

There are times when I have looked at this diagram and wondered if it was Christianity’s answer to Hans Christian Anderson’s 19th-Century parable, The Emperor’s New Clothes, if it was a kind of test. I thought: Dare I be the one in the catechumenate or the inquirer’s class to put my hand up and say, “I don’t understand”? Do you need to have the bravery of a child to be the one to blurt out the theological equivalent of, But the Emperor is naked! and say:

But this diagram doesn’t make any sense!

Now, at one level, this diagram really doesn’t make any sense – and nor, for that matter, does the reality that it describes: the Trinity. Here’s the hard part for us living in 2016. The level at which this diagram doesn’t make sense is precisely the level at which, today, we spend most of our time, it is precisely the level which we most privilege. This diagram doesn’t work as a fact or formula or data or even as a hypothesis. There isn’t – and I’m going to go out on a limb and prognosticate that there never will be – a peer-reviewed study that gives us the answer “Trinity.”

If basic math is explained well enough to you – say, 1 + 2 or 27 ÷ 9 – you can say: Yes. Yes I understand. Yes that’s true. Yes that’s predictable. The answer in both cases is “three.” The Trinity, however, refuses to be factual, it refuses to be predictable. Is the answer to the question that the Trinity poses “three”? Well, yes. But hold on, isn’t the answer to the question that the Trinity poses “one”?

Well, yes.

Let’s back up a little. Let’s see if we can find a place of deeper meaning, a place where the Trinity makes a little more sense. A place where it is true.

Among the great stones that build the foundations of Christian faith – think of God’s creation of the earth, think of the Exodus from Egypt, think of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection – the Trinity is unique in two significant ways. First, it isn’t unequivocally Biblical. Today is Trinity Sunday and, thus, our readings are focused on this holy triangle, on Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But notice that none of the readings explicitly use the term “Trinity” and nor do any of them explicitly describe the reality that we see in our diagram. And that’s because, well, there aren’t any readings like that in scripture. It’s quite possible that, if you were to learn ancient Greek and borrow a time machine, you could go to visit Paul and say, “Tell me about the Trinity.” And Paul would respond:

“What do you mean?”

The second thing that sets the Trinity apart from the rest of the foundational elements of Christianity is that it isn’t a story. Or let me amend that, because this is where I’d like to spend some time with you this morning, the Trinity isn’t a story as we conventionally understand stories. The stories of Creation, of the Exodus, of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, have a rhythm, a plot, they more or less have a beginning, middle, and an end. So:

God created, and it was good, and God rested. 

Or,

Jesus saw that the people were hungry, he shared food with them, and there was food left over.

Or,

The women came to the tomb and they saw that it was empty and they shared the news with everyone.

The Trinity doesn’t have that kind of plot. But I do want to suggest that it is a story nonetheless. It is a story that our ancestors in faith left for us about who God is. It is a story that is Christianity’s very best effort to respond scripture and, as importantly, to respond to our ongoing encounter with God.

Christians tried out some other stories first. They tried out a story in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were each God at different times in history (the Father is God in the Old Testament, Jesus is God in the Gospels, the Holy Spirit is God now). But that somehow didn’t work, it wasn’t true. And so they tried a story in which each of the three were different modes or forms of God, much as water can be a solid, a liquid, or a gas. But that story didn’t work either. And so they came up with the story that we remember and celebrate today, the story that we call the Trinity.

The Trinity is a story about paradox, about relationship, and about motion.

Paradox. The story of the Trinity is paradoxical because, as we’ve already discovered, no matter how hard you try, you cannot confine it to the realm of the intellect, you cannot make sense of it with your head alone. The Trinity is a bit like a Zen Kōan (“What is the sound of one hand clapping?” or “Without thinking of good or evil, show me the face of your mother and father before you were born”). One of the things that the Kōan which is the Trinity says is this: God is always more than we can name or measure or contain or control. The Trinity declares that, as that brilliant and difficult old Saint, Augustine, put it, “If you understand it, it’s not God.” The Kōan, the parable, the paradox, the story which is the Trinity declares that God is not a puzzle to be solved, but rather is a mystery to be encountered.

Relationship. Notice in our diagram that everything – or everyone – is pointing at or flowing towards everything and everyone else. Everyone is in relationship with everyone else. The story of the Trinity says that God is who God is because of relationship. Together, the three persons who are one combine to make this holy triangle. (Forgive me if this is awkward or incoherent: we are at or beyond the limit of what human language can express right now. As one of my mentors says, “When I speak to you, I have to use words.”) I wonder if this relationship is what 1John is getting at what it declares that “God is love.” The story of the Trinity says that God is always reaching outside and beyond Godself, God is always seeking to connect. And that brings us to:

Motion. I’ve wondered sometimes if the Trinity was what was TS Eliot was getting at when, in Four Quartets, he wrote of “the still point of the turning world” and then (speaking of paradox) he went on to add, “there the dance is.” Here at the very centre of things, at the still point, is God. And here as well is the dance of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are not frozen in the past, they are not frozen in scripture, they are dancing right now. The story of the Trinity is that God is on the move. Notice that our new Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, tends to refer to our tradition as the “Episcopal Branch of the Jesus movement.

If this thing we call church is, at its core, about trying our very best to be like Jesus, then the story of the Trinity is a big deal for you and me. Because being like Jesus means participating in the story of the Trinity. It means honouring this story, it means being a part of of paradox, relationship, and motion.

The paradox of the Trinity says that, yes, we are individuals, yes we are unique, yes we are the authors of our own stories, yes we are by ourselves on the outside of the triangle. And it says that, simultaneously, we are One we are an integral part of a bigger story, a story that involves every other living thing. The relationship of the Trinity says, Yes, You and I are called to me our brother’s keeper, You and I are called to be neighbour to the one who lies wounded on the side of the road, You and I are called to visit and clothe and feed the least of these. And the motion of the Trinity says that the work of God is something that is happening right now, something that is changing and growing and getting ever more wondrous, it is something that you and I are invited to move with.

The Trinity declares that the still point of the turning world is everywhere and, therefore, that it is here. This, this is where the dance is.