Sunday, May 30, 2010

"The Mad Logic of the Trinity"

Trinity + St. Philip’s Cathedral, Newark NJ
May 30, 2010

Year C: The First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday
Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

“The Mad Logic of the Trinity”

Most of us here today can remember a time when life moved at a slower pace. We can remember the days before the Internet and email, before cell phones, before hundreds of channels on TV – although, of course, there’s still nothing to watch!

We can remember a time when life moved at a slower pace, when we had more time to think and reflect. When I was growing up in the 1970s I had several pen pals in different countries around the world. We would exchange letters, telling each other what was going on in our lives. I remember taking a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to write to these far-off friends who lived in places like Iceland, Germany, Tanzania and India.

When it was time to mail my letters I would imagine the journey they would take to reach their destinations. And then weeks or even months would go by before I’d get the reply, in envelopes usually covered with colorful stamps and postmarks.

Nowadays thanks to instantaneous email, the idea of writing letters to pen pals in other countries sounds like something out of the 1870s rather than just a few decades ago.

We live in a fast-paced time which has little room or patience for reflection. I’d like to say that the church is a place where we can still slow down and reflect. But, the truth is, for many of us – for many of you – the church is another busy, hurried place. There’s so much to be done – and I know it seems like it’s always the same people doing most of the work. There’s just not much time for reflection.

I imagine that the earliest followers of Jesus didn’t have too much time for reflection, either. Imagine how amazing it must have been to hear and see Jesus. It must have been nearly overwhelming to follow Jesus around, to see his miracles and to try to make sense of his parables. And we know how often the disciples didn’t quite get it right – how often they didn’t understand what Jesus meant or who Jesus was.

And then in quick succession there were the events of Holy Week – the betrayal, the arrest, the crucifixion, the resurrection. And then, according to Luke, fifty days later there was Pentecost - the disciples received the Holy Spirit and went out proclaiming the Good News to the whole world.

And for sure it’s at this point that those first Christians had to take some time to reflect – to reflect on the meaning of the Good News they were proclaiming. Imagine those early disciples arriving in a new place and telling people – maybe both Jews and Gentiles – about Jesus – his life, death and resurrection. Imagine the disciples saying Jesus is the messiah – not exactly the kind of messiah that was expected, though. Imagine the first disciples shocking some people by using language like “Lord” and “Son of God” for Jesus.

Well, you can imagine the questions, right? We can imagine some people trying to understand, saying, “So, OK, I think I get it. Jesus was a god pretending to be human right? I can believe that, in our religion we have lots of gods and we’re always happy to learn about another.” And the disciples might respond, “No, that’s not quite right. Jesus really was a human being, but God was really present in Jesus in a way that we’ve never seen before but he wasn’t another god, like one of your gods.”

Or maybe some said, “Let me get this straight, Jesus was a prophet, right? Well, there have been lots of prophets so why shouldn’t there be another?” And the disciples might respond, “No, sorry, that’s not quite right. Yes, Jesus was a prophet, but not like any other prophet. He was a prophet but much more than a prophet.”

Or imagine the disciples trying to explain how although they no longer saw Jesus in the flesh, they still experienced his love and his presence and his power in a very real way. Imagine them trying to explain how in some mysterious and very real way they still experienced the love and power they had felt in Jesus. Imagine the first disciples trying to explain the presence of the Holy Spirit – the power of the breath of God – in their lives!

All of this called for a lot of reflection. Who is Jesus? What is his relationship to God? Who or what is the power that we still feel present in our lives?

One of the people who must have spent a lot of time reflecting on all of this was St. Paul who after his conversion spent his life telling people about Jesus. This morning we heard a little piece from his letter to the Romans – a letter written probably later in his life – a letter that is clearly a product of many years of reflection.

Paul understands that through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, Jesus has bridged the gap between God and humanity. Paul writes, “…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.” Jesus has bridged the gap between God and humanity.

After, I’m sure, much reflection and experience Paul also understands that we continue to experience God’s love and grace. He writes, “…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.”

Paul wrote those words probably in the mid-50s of the First Century – twenty years or so after Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It took several more centuries of reflection, controversy, debate and even, sadly, bloodshed, before the Church settled on the doctrine we celebrate today – the doctrine of the Trinity.

It wasn’t until the 300s that church councils crafted the Nicene Creed that we say each Sunday in church – the creed that affirms that God is one in three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It took all that time of reflection for the church to finally figure out that God is a perfect relationship of love. And through Jesus and the Holy Spirit you and I are invited to be part of that divine love.

This is the awesome truth – the ultimate Good News – that we celebrate today. But, let’s be honest, even after all these centuries, the doctrine of the Trinity – one God in three Persons - is still hard for us to grasp.

In his novel Things Fall Apart, the author Chinua Achebe tells the story of the arrival of the British in what is today Nigeria during the late 1800s. Among other things, the British bring Christianity and manage to convert some of the people to the new faith. One of the converts is a young man named Nwoye, the son of a local strong man.

Here’s how Achebe describes Nwoye’s attraction to Christianity. “It was not the mad logic of the Trinity that captivated him…It was the poetry of the new religion, something felt in the marrow.”

If we try to apply human logic to the Trinity we’ll never get anywhere. Three and yet one at the same time – that really is mad logic! But the Trinity isn’t logic – it’s poetry - it’s poetry that we feel in our marrow, in our bones, in our heart.

The doctrine of the Trinity reveals to us that God is a perfect relationship of love. This three-in-one God of perfection could have spent eternity alone but the nature of God is to share God’s love. So God created all of us – God created this beautiful planet, this vast universe, God created all of it to share God’s love with us.

Over and over, the Bible tells the story of God reaching out to us, wanting to be in relationship with us. Finally, in Jesus, God reaches out in an ultimate way by in some mysterious way becoming one of us, living among us, saying to us, “Look, this is who I really am.” In Jesus, God reaches out to us in an ultimate way, stretching out his arms on the cross, forgiving us, right to the end inviting us to be part of this relationship of love – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – and us.

It’s mad logic, but when we’re open we feel its truth in our bones and in our hearts. When we gather at the Lord’s Table to receive Christ’s Body and Blood we know that we are part of the divine relationship of love.

When we’re open to it and paying attention, we can really see that we are all – all of us - invited to share in the divine relationship of love. And the Holy Spirit inspires us to follow God’s example by reaching out and inviting others to be in relationship with us and to join in the divine relationship of love – Father, Son, Holy Spirit and us.

And standing here this morning, like Nwoye in Things Fall Apart, I feel that truth and power of that invitation in my bones, in my heart. Some of you know that I’m privileged to serve on the Cathedral Chapter. And almost exactly three years ago I was ordained a deacon right over there. Both are very important to me, but I feel a special relationship with this cathedral family for a deeper reason.

Today in our diocesan cycle of prayer, we are praying for the Rev. Canon Dr. David H. Hamilton. More than ten years ago, you welcomed David Hamilton as your interim dean. So, many of you know his story – a story of great loss and also a powerful story of resurrection and renewal. It’s a story in which you played a crucial part.

After he left here, he became rector of St. Paul’s in Jersey City. And a few months after that, my wife and I stumbled into St. Paul’s looking for a spiritual home, looking for God. That first Sunday, during the peace Fr. Hamilton came down the aisle, reached out his hand and said, “I’m Dave Hamilton. Welcome to St. Paul’s.”
That day, that moment, is etched on my heart. Through David Hamilton, I felt God’s invitation to be part of the divine relationship of love. Over time, Dave and I became good friends and I began the process to become a priest.

A few times I was here in this cathedral with him and the bonds of love between you and him were beautiful and obvious. I used to tease him that being here with him felt like being with a celebrity. But it was clear to me that you and he were sharing – and continue to share - in the divine relationship of love. It’s not something I’ll ever forget. Dave’s example and your example of sharing God’s love have shaped my priesthood and assured this congregation a special place in my heart.

So, it’s Trinity Sunday and it’s good to celebrate the mad logic of the Trinity here at Trinity + St. Philip’s Cathedral. Let us ask God who is Three in One for the quiet time to reflect on the good gifts we have been given – the gift of life itself, our families and friends, the Church, our Cathedral, this beautiful planet, and most of all the invitation to share forever in the divine relationship of love – Father, Son, Holy Spirit and us.