5.30.10 sermon notes: Trinity Sunday
Part of me is a little amused that Trinity Sunday always comes right after Pentecost. With all of our talk of God and Jesus the rest of the year, it seems as if this past Sunday reminded someone: Oh right! The Holy Spirit! We proclaim a triune God! Maybe we should talk about that.
This can be kind of a heady theological Sunday, because it is one of the few times that a doctrine of the church is lifted up as our emphasis. Usually, biblical stories and major events in Jesus’ life comprise our liturgical year. But today, it is not so much an emphasis on the acts of God, but on the being of God. So what exactly do we mean when we profess a faith in the triune God? And other than theological and historical curiosity, why does it matter to us that we have this three-in-one, one-in-three God, who has been described in ways such as:
Speaker, Word, & Breath;
Father, Son, & Holy Spirit;
Sun, Ray, & Warmth;
Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child, Life-Giving Womb;
Source, Substance, Sustenance;
and even (I kid you not) a ponytail: God as the hair, Jesus as the ponytail itself, and the Holy Spirit as the scrunchie holding it all together.
With their varying degrees of success and amusement, these are attempts to put to words the idea that God is with us, above us, & beneath us from before the creation of the universe to the end of all time. God, whose very essence is community, grace, and love, calls us away from our self-absorbed tendencies to live lives of community, grace, and love.
But first of all, I have to share a little secret with you: the Trinity is not in the Bible. You can search the entirety of our sacred text, and you will find no mention of it. Of course, the three parts of the trinity, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are major players, but the Trinity came about later as the early church sought to understand the totality of both testaments and began to try to use more words and creeds to speak about God. And they were no better at it than we are today, really. (The little parenthetical statement in the Nicene Creed that we will say together later as our affirmation of faith was the compromise after extensive debate in the early church about how to understand the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.) It is a difficult and imperfect process. Because the moment we try to speak about God, we are confronted by our inability to express it with the limitations of language. John Calvin himself declared: “If all that can be said or imagined about love were brought together into one, yet IT would be surpassed by the greatness of the love of God. By no metaphor, therefore can God’s incomparable goodness be described.” (Comm. Isaiah 46:3).
So if no one word or metaphor can possibly capture the goodness of God, what are we to do? Since we are compelled to praise and worship God with our voices, we cannot choose to always keep silent. Instead, we must use as many words and as many theologically appropriate metaphors as we can, to even come close to describing God. The richer our vocabulary of faith, the better we might be able to help others get a glimpse of the inexpressible love of God.
Our text from Proverbs today offers one of the rich and varied aspects of God that we encounter in scripture. What a fascinating character here. She is “so unusual that no one seems to be able to explain exactly who (or even what) she is–except that she’s definitely a “she,” this “Woman Wisdom,” “Lady Wisdom,” or, as Eugene Peterson translates it, “Madame Insight.” Some “have identified Woman Wisdom as a figure of poetry, as the principle of order in creation, as a divine attribute personified, even as God’s very own self.” She is also associated with the Word in the prologue to John’s Gospel (that is, with Jesus Christ), and with the Advocate (the Holy Spirit) in that same Gospel. Of course, those last two associations reflect Christian understandings related to the second and third persons in the Trinity, which is probably why this text appears in the lectionary for today (Katie Huey).
Here in this text from Proverbs, Wisdom offers a bit of her credentials. She speaks of her role in creation, being present with God from the very beginning, even assisting in the act of creation. She is there at the beginning. She was there before the water, before the mountains, before the hills. It says she was “brought forth.” Another way to translate the Hebrew verb here is to say that she is whirling or dancing forth. What might it be like to imagine the very being of God as a dance?
Perhaps to escape the challenge of mere words, early theologians like John of Damascus depict the Trinity as three persons engaged in a dance. A circle dance. The word he uses is a fun Greek word called “perichoresis” (say it with me: there, you can entertain and educate your friends at your Memorial Day BBQs tomorrow with your new word you learned in church). John of Damascus uses this word to explain the ways the persons of the Trinity relate to each other— that they go around (and through) each other. This dance is kind of like singing in a round – which is a musical form of dance, really. We’re going to do a little perichoresis singing this morning. I have asked Lonnie and the choir to help us with this. Everyone stand up, and we’re going to sing the trinity . . .
God is inviting us into the dance. How will we respond?
Just as the Triune nature of God exists in a state of relationship, so do we exist in life-giving and life-empowering relationship with God, with one another and with all of creation. The wind of the Spirit is eager to move us; the wounded hands of Jesus are reaching out to us; and the face of God is being revealed to us. God in the Trinity, ever present, always moving, is calling us to dance together.
God is calling us to dance to the music in the rhythm of creation. The music echoes in the vast reaches between the stars, and pulses in springs of water, and travels on every breeze across the mountains, hills and fields, and surges with the blood through our veins. God is calling us to dance during the celebrations of our lives like weddings, or birth or new opportunities. God is calling us to dance during the silences when everything or nothing makes sense. God is calling us during every opportunity we have to be thankful for what we’ve been given, proud of what we’ve done, hopeful about what the future holds.
God is inviting us into the dance. And this involves a bit of risk for us. Dancing with God and with one another inevitably leads us into lives of service. When we enter into the whirling dance, the movements of our brothers and sisters near and far matter to us. When we enter the dance, we are impacted by an oil spill in the Gulf Coast or a suicide bombing in Pakistan, because we are all part of this dynamic dance together.
And when we decide to enter this dance with God, there is no telling what kinds of dance floors we find ourselves on. It might be a soup kitchen, a child care center, a homeless shelter, a polluted stream, an organic farm, a nursing home, or more. And we might be surprised by the varieties of dance partners we may encounter. Entering this dance with God is a risky and rewarding experience. And it is the kind of dynamic faith the triune God invites us into as disciples of Jesus Christ. Let’s dance.