Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Trinity: God is Relationship

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
May 18, 2008
Year A: The First Sunday after Pentecost (Trinity Sunday)
(Genesis 1:1-2:4a)
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20
Psalm 8

The Trinity: God is Relationship

Well, today is Trinity Sunday. It’s the one Sunday each year when we try to focus on the Trinity - our understanding of one God in three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I don’t need to tell you that the Trinity is a great and profound mystery. It is notoriously difficult to wrap our minds around the idea of the Trinity – just how can God be both one and three at the same time? It’s a running joke in the church that since the Trinity is such a challenging concept, it’s very common for the rector to graciously pass on the opportunity to preach on the Trinity, generously giving their pulpit to the curate, or the seminarian, or anybody they can find. Now, I know what you’re thinking, so for Lauren’s sake I want to state for the record that I volunteered for this duty.

All kidding aside, the Trinity really is a deep and profound mystery – and it is challenging to talk about and definitely challenging to preach about. Of course the great mysteriousness of the Trinity hasn’t stopped theologians and church leaders from arguing over the meaning of the Trinity and how these three divine Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - interact among themselves and interact with us. The Nicene Creed that we say each week was an attempt to get Christians on the same page about what the early church had come to believe about this one God in three Persons. The creed is helpful, maybe, but it certainly doesn’t explain the profound mystery of the Trinity.

So, what to make of the Trinity? There’s a famous old story of the great Church Father, St. Augustine, one day walking along the beach contemplating the Trinity. Up ahead he saw a little boy digging a hole in the sand. The boy then ran out into the waves, scooped up a bucket of water, and ran back to pour it into the hole. He did this a few times until finally Augustine approached him and asked, “Boy, what are you doing?” “See that ocean out there?” the boy asked. “I’m going to pour that ocean into this hole.” “That’s impossible,” said Augustine. “You cannot fit the ocean in that tiny hole.” The boy looked up at him and replied, “And neither can you, Augustine, fit the Trinity in that tiny brain.” The story goes on to say that the boy then disappeared, as apparently he was an angel.

But, just because Augustine and we will never understand how one God can be in three Persons doesn’t mean that we should stop using our tiny brains to wrestle with and reflect on the Trinity. Just the opposite! After all, even though we know we’ll never understand it, what could be more important than reflecting on the nature of God?

And this morning as we celebrate Trinity Sunday and we celebrate a baptism we have the perfect opportunity to reflect on the nature of God. As I’ve prayed about and reflected on the Trinity I’ve come up with two points. First, if we really reflect on the Trinity we realize that God in Three Persons is a perfect, loving relationship. God is love, but God is not just love. After all, what is love without an other, or others? Not much at all. No, God is not just love – God is not just love sort of floating around out there. The Trinity reveals that God’s very essence is a perfect relationship of love. God is relationship. This is who God really is – a perfect relationship of love. The relationship is perfect so as Jesus says in today’s gospel, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” There is no division in the relationship among Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Some of the early Christian theologians described the relationship among Father, Son and Holy Spirit as perichoresis - an eternal dance of love. In seminary my Church History professor actually acted out the dance with two of my classmates – which made me laugh, and made me glad I wasn’t picked, but also helped me to remember this powerful image of Father, Son and Holy Spirit dancing away for eternity.

My second point is that the amazingly Good News for us is that in Jesus Christ and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit we are invited to participate in God’s eternal relationship of love. We are invited to participate in God’s eternal loving dance.

The whole sweep of Scripture tells the story of God reaching out to men and women – trying over and over to build a relationship with us. This morning’s lesson from Genesis tells the familiar story of creation. Because it’s so familiar we might miss the crucial point that God could have created only things – unthinking objects. Instead, because God wants to be in relationship, God created us – thinking, feeling, and free creatures. Free to accept the offer of relationship with God or free to reject the offer of relationship with God. From the tragic image of God searching the garden for Adam and Eve who are hiding in shame to God becoming human in Jesus, over and over God has invited us into relationship.

How we respond to that invitation is the big question of our lives. I probably don’t need to tell you that often we get ourselves into trouble when we try to fill our need for relationship with God by desiring lesser things. How often do we try to fill our need for God’s love by turning to material things? If I just have …. then I’ll be happy. Never seems to work, does it?

Instead, we are invited to open our hearts and allow God to build a relationship with us. And hopefully we respond to God’s invitation by building loving relationships with one another. It seems to me that relationships of love are what the Trinity is all about and loving relationships are what we as Christians should be about. We are made to be in relationship with God and with one another. One of the most moving things about being with Constance in the last weeks of her life was recognizing the many close relationships she had built with so many people. We are made to be in relationship with God and one another.

And it turns out that science is revealing what Scripture has told us all along – it is relationships that make us truly happy. A few weeks ago there was interview in the New York Times with a Harvard social psychologist named Daniel Gilbert, who wrote a book called Stumbling on Happiness. In the interview Professor Gilbert said:

“We know the best predictor of human happiness is human relationships and the amount of time that people spend with family and friends. We know that it’s significantly more important than money and somewhat more important than health. That’s what the data shows. The interesting thing is that people will sacrifice social relationships to get other things that won’t make them happy – money. That’s what I mean when I say people should do “wise shopping” for happiness.”

I like that expression – “wise shopping for happiness.” We do “wise shopping for happiness” when we deepen our relationships with one another and when we allow God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit - to be in relationship with us. We were made to have these relationships.

And, of course, we are about to witness some “wise shopping for happiness” in this morning’s baptism. In baptism God forges a bond with us – makes a relationship with us – that can never be broken – no matter what we do or don’t do. In baptism, our relationship with God can’t be broken. As Jesus says in today’s gospel reading, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Like St. Augustine on the beach, in this life we will never understand the Trinity. But, we know enough for now. As we reflect on one God in three Persons we realize that God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is a perfect relationship of love. God is relationship. And the Good News of Scripture - the Good News of Jesus Christ – the good news of baptism - is that all of us are invited to be in a relationship with God. All of us are invited to the dance.