Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Trinity


The Very Reverend Donald W. Krickbaum

June 3, 2012

Most Christians know instinctively the importance of the Trinity in defining their faith as Christians, and they are proud to bear its name. We proclaim the Trinity week after week in the Nicene Creed, and often begin what we do liturgically in “the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  We were baptized in that Name.  Belief in the Trinity is the central theological doctrine that sets Christians apart from other faith communities –– such as our Jewish and Muslim friends and neighbors –– who also believe in the same one God.            

But down through the ages, the Trinity has often been the source of confusion and dissension.  We might well ask: What is it about the Trinity that puts it at the very center of our Christian faith but yet remains so elusive to our everyday understanding? Does the Trinity have any spiritual meaning for us today or is it simply some outdated theological/intellectual argument that speaks to no one in the modern era?
We live in a world in which many question the very existence of God.   Some see God only as a “delusion.”  I read of one doubter referring to the God of the Bible as “a petty, unjust ... capricious bully” who should have no place in the contemporary consciousness. Journalist Sam Harris, citing terrorist acts committed in the name of God, argues that the time has come for “the end of faith.”  Some may remember a few decades ago when Time magazine created a sensation with its provocative cover asking, “Is God dead?”  -- from the ideas promulgated by the German philosopher, Nietzsche. . .  (I loved the great t-shirt I saw a few years later:  “God is Dead” ---Nietzsche;  “Nietzsche is Dead” ---God.)
What is a believer to make of all of this? Is it finally time to write God’s obituary and mourn his passing? Or are reports of God’s demise, like those of Mark Twain over a century ago, “greatly exaggerated?”  God is too often blamed for what his followers say about him and surely we can all hang our heads in shame over what has been done and is being done in God’s name.  Actually, what must die are the false notions of who and what God is – a God, too often, made in our image. As Anglican bishop and scholar J. B. Phillips wrote in 1952, “Your God Is Too Small!” Our notions of God are always too small, but does that mean that God is dead?  
It is often said that preachers should be very careful preaching on Trinity Sunday, because it is almost impossible to do so without committing some kind of heresy.  Why?  Because we really cannot understand God, as hard as we try to explain God (or the Trinity) to others.  Only God really knows and understands God.  

For me, Trinity Sunday is not the celebration of a doctrine.  It is not a time when we should be so bold to think we can explain the mystery of God.  Trinity Sunday is best kept simply as a joyful celebration of our life with God.  It is a time to recognize and give thanks for the relationship we have with God and the relationships God has with us in many forms of expression and experience.  The Trinity is an expression of community itself—the dance of God with each of us and with the community of faith.  This faith is grounded in our experience of God in our daily lives, in our worship, in our prayer, in our attentiveness to Holy Scripture, and in the apostolic fellowship of our life together.   

[In a children’s homily I did a few years ago, I used this analogy: My wife calls me Donald.  My daughters call me Dad.  My grandsons call me Papa.  Am I three different people?  Even though I may have at least three different names, no, I am the same person, simply three different relationships. . . .  It is all about relationships.]

Let’s look at our experience of God as a church/congregation.  As a people of faith, this is a time to reaffirm our belief in God, to name our experience of the Holy One in our lives and the life of the community, allowing God to shape who we are as congregation and what we are to do.  Only by having the courage to turn to God and by laying claim to the faith we profess can we truly become who God would have us be.  If we are not being formed by our prayer, our worship, and our faith then all that we do as a church will be focused solely on the need to survive as some sort of benevolent social club in competition with the secular organizations of the world. 

It has often been the tendency of the church, and especially in these more recent times, to structure ourselves on the model of the world around us.  The bishops and clergy become like C.E.O.s of a collection of institutions that we are sometimes hard pressed to tell apart from every other institution around us.  Our people work hard to see that we survive, and at times even thrive, in this secular world, bringing to our life together their own experience of the world.  But at the heart of our corporate life we must remember that we are the people of God and this is God’s church.  One of the great temptations in the life of institutional religion today is to simply to buy into the corporate/business model of functioning in a secular world, rather than seeking to be a genuine faith community set in the midst of the secular world with a mission to sanctify the unholy and to reconcile the alienated.

We are standing on holy ground.  We are in a sacred place.  It is in the church that the sacred touches the secular, a worship setting where God is made known to those of us in the world, and it is to this community we are commissioned to bring others to an encounter with the Holy. This is a holy and sacred place for each of us because here we have found God, we have been touched by Christ, and our lives have been transformed.

We say we are a people who believe that God is our Father who created us; that Christ is our brother who came to be with us – Emmanuel, God with us; and that the Spirit of God continues to nurture, feed, sustain, and love us every day of our lives.  We have committed ourselves to live in this apostolic community of teaching and fellowship, centering our common life around the Holy Eucharist and our life of prayer; we acknowledge our failures and we seek to return daily to God. Through our baptism into this family of God, we say that we will proclaim the Gospel to everyone; that we will recognize and serve Christ in others and love all of those around us; and we will work for justice, peace, and the dignity and value of each individual.  That is the foundation of this family of God; that is the sum total of what we are all about. This is our identity and the foundation of our relationship with God and with those around us.

The idea of the “Trinity” is not trying to figure out who God is, but, rather, this is simply our feeble attempt to speak something of our relationship with the Holy in our lives and in the experience of those who have turned to God.  We cannot “define” who this God is – we can only proclaim that God is Love, the Author of all creation and who created each of us; that God has sent his beloved Son to show us that we are in a unique relationship of love with God; and that God fills us with the Spirit to nurture that love in us, giving us the breath of life to share that grace with one another.  This is not everything we can say about God, but, perhaps, this is all that we really need to know about God.