Transcribed from the audio.
In the name of the one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
As I mentioned earlier, and you’ve no doubt picked up, today is Trinity Sunday. There’s a running joke among clergy, largely unspoken, that clergy who have some experience go to great lengths to manage to not have to preach on Trinity Sunday. I mean, who really wants to wallow around in the theological thicket of: one God, three persons; one plus one plus one equal one? And you may have noticed, particularly those of you who are familiar with the Cathedral community, that there are four Cathedral clergy on staff. Two are mysteriously absent today and I’m sure that’s just a coincidence! In fact, it is. The dean is in New York on a fund-raising trip and the canon precentor is at her annual conference in Texas. Nevertheless, my colleague Preston Hannibal got to wrestle with the Trinity at 8 o’clock and here I am at 11:15, with fear and trepidation, climbing into the Canterbury pulpit to unveil for you the mystery of all time: one God, three persons.
The truth is, it’s really about relationship. If you think about it, over the centuries people have wrestled with this broader vision of God and it all changed when Jesus came and took on flesh and dwelt among us. It opened wide our imaginations on who God is—who God was, who God is, who God continues to be. And so, in the early church Christians wrestled with how to explain the unexplainable. We had this view of God as explained to us and experienced in Hebrew Scriptures, but here was Jesus, Son of God, who gave us a whole new view of who God is. And then last Sunday, you recall, on Pentecost Sunday, we celebrated the ongoing gift of God in the Holy Spirit. God the Creator, God the Redeemer, God the Sustainer.
We’ve heard many formulations trying to get our heads around who God is; including—I really like Frederick Buechner’s: “the mystery beyond us, the mystery among us, and the mystery within us.” Or Daniel Migliore’s: “the Begetter, Begotten, the Breathed Forth.” So, as early Christians began to wrestle with this and argue what it meant, it finally culminated in the Council of Nicaea in 325. And the formulation they voted on became known as the Nicene Creed which we will recite a little bit later. But what is behind all of that? I would posit the view it’s about relationship, not a formula.
Frederick Buechner says that “No matter how fancy and metaphysical a doctrine sounds, it was a human experience first.” Think about that for a minute. God is relational. And as a priest in the church, I have the privilege of intersecting with you in many different ways and often at tender times in your life. To underscore my point that it’s about relationship, not doctrine—as important as that is—just take a quick look at my week just past:
A week ago I had the privilege of giving the keynote address on National Cancer Survivors Day at Sibley Hospital. Gathered there were fellow cancer survivors, caregivers, and people who were obviously receiving treatment for cancer. And as I stood up to speak on the theme that they chose on faith, resilience, hope, I guarantee you, no one was there to hear my best 10 minutes on the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s important; it’s good to know. It’s more important to live. St. Augustine who wrote a book on the Trinity put it this way: “If you don’t believe in the Trinity you will lose your soul. But if you try to understand it you will lose your mind.” So let’s live into it.
Last Saturday speaking to a fellow group of cancer survivors.
Later in the week, having the sacred privilege of being bedside with someone in hospice who is very near death.
Sitting with someone who wanted to explore with me: “What is faith? I believe in God, but tell me the difference. What does it mean to be a Christian? How do I live that out?”
Getting a call from another member of our community on my cell phone asking me to join in prayer for a family member who was gravely ill.
God the Healer, God the Comforter, God the Sustainer. We know God in so many different ways, but it is relational. The questions that come to me are not so much about doctrine. They are about “Who is God?” “How do I find God in the midst of this place in my life?” “How do I live out what God intends for me to do—a life of meaning and purpose?”
Let me give you one more lens through which to explore this. For those of you who really do want to get into the thicket of theology, God bless you, I’ll recommend a book to you. Write it down; Daniel Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding. It’s a great readable treatise on Christian theology. But I want to open up the possibilities in a personal, relational way.
About six years ago a good friend and fellow priest recommended a book to me that his men’s group was studying. Now, I would have read the book anyway, just based on his recommendation, but I wasn’t familiar with it and so, what does anyone do? I Googled it. There were two things that became readily apparent to me. One: there were many religious authorities who were proclaiming it heretical. Well, that piqued my interest! Two: the book was selling like hotcakes; copies were flying off the shelves. In an interesting story about this book, the author tried to peddle it to at least 26 different publishers, none of whom would publish it. So he self-published. And as of last year some 18 million copies had sold. So between the combination of heresy and books flying off the shelf, how could I miss?
The name of the book is The Shack by William Paul Young. The story, seemingly simple, is about a man named Mack who goes on a camping trip with his family and his young daughter is abducted and then brutally murdered. Not surprisingly, Mack goes into a deep dark pit that he calls The Great Sadness. He’s lost his relationship with God. He’s lost his relationship with his family and his friends. He is in a bad place with seemingly no way out. Then mysteriously one day he gets a note and it appears to be from God inviting him to go back to the shack where his daughter was murdered. At first he thinks it’s just a really sick bad joke, but something in him compels him to go. He journeys to the shack, the very place of the biggest heartache and heartbreak in his life. And there he encounters God in the Trinity. Now, let me underscore, this is fiction. It’s designed to open wide the throttle of your imagination.
He depicts the Trinity: God the Father as an African-American woman who asked Mack to call her Papa—works for me; Jesus, not surprisingly, is portrayed as a Mediterranean male who happens to be a carpenter; and then, the Holy Spirit is this shimmering sort of essence that Mack can only sort of see out of the corner of his eye and she has distinctly Asian features. Over the course of 48 hours, God, in all of God’s self, helps Mack to see how God created the world to be, how even in the midst of this great sadness God was present. And as Mack attempts to live his life, how God sustains—Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. And Mack slowly but surely begins to trust enough to open up and to let the full essence of God renew, restore, and empower him once again. All of God, all of the many expressions and relationships and understanding of God. And as Mack is preparing at the end of this 48 hours to return to his regular life he asks God, “So what do I do now?” To which God responds, “What you’re already doing, Mack, learning to live loved.”
My friends, isn’t that what we’re all trying to do? To experience the fullness of God, to be in relationship with God? To let in the light and the life and the love of God that gives our life meaning and purpose and joy so that we, too, may live into Jesus’ commission to the disciples that you heard in the gospel lesson today: to go, to baptize, to teach, to remember that “I will be with you always to the end of the age.”
God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. God the Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Begetter, Begotten, Breathed Forth. Live into the fullness of God in your life and go forth sharing it with a world that desperately needs to receive it too. Amen.