Generous Orthodoxy: Wisdom in Relationship 10-23-16

Instead of being sick of the election and the campaigning season, wouldn’t it be nice if the campaigns were just starting this week? Up in Canada the campaigns are so much shorter and there’s much less waste of money. As we long for the end of this particularly disgraceful season, I suspect that few in our congregation were saying, “I wish we could talk about the Trinity instead!” “The Trinity is what would get me really excited!”

It may not seem like the most exciting topic, but I have found it a great diversion from my fascination at the self-destruction of our political system. I have found it useful to think about this traditional concept of our faith – to think about a foundational understanding of who God is and why it makes a difference to worship the One God of Life in this diversity of forms.

Our second reading today is one of the few places where a Trinity-like benediction actually appears. Listen for the Word of God for you today.

2 Corinthians 13: 5-14 Test yourselves to see if you’re really walking in the faith.  Examine yourselves!  Don’t you realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—That is, unless you fail the test! I hope you come to see that we haven’t failed it. We pray to God that you won’t commit any wrongdoing—not that we should appear to be in the right, but that you should do right, even if we appear to be in the wrong. For we can’t do anything against the truth—only for it. And we rejoice when you are strong and we are weak.  We pray that you will be made complete. I write this while I am away from you, so that when I come, I need not be severe in my use of authority , which God gave me for building up not for tearing down. And now, sisters and brothers, I must say goodbye. Mend your ways. Encourage one another. Live in harmony and peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the holy ones send greetings to you. The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

October 23, 2016

Generous Orthodoxy: Wisdom in Relationship

So, I can understand why you might not be as excited as I am about the new understandings of the doctrine of the Trinity. Too often people come to church looking for God and we give them religion instead. Trinity may sound like an arcane religious concept rather than a way to experience God’s presence and power. I am suggesting this month that having this framework that contains paradox and contradiction and rich theological depth pushes Christians to a less simplistic, more nuanced and more powerful understanding of the Living God in our midst.

The negativity and animosity in our current election season is enough to drive any of us to despair for our country and our society. You may blame both presidential candidates for this negativity, or you may blame one more than the other. Either way, the blaming picks up on the negative energy. People on all sides get caught up in the negativity, blaming and despair, including myself.

Christians have posited for hundreds and hundreds of year that God does not get caught up in this negativity – that God the Creator is always in joyful relationship with God in Christ and with God the Spirit.

Listen to this astounding bit of poetry from Meister Eckhart, the wonderful fourteenth-century German Dominican mystic:

Do you want to know
what goes on in the core of the Trinity?
I will tell you.
In the core of the Trinity
the Father laughs
and gives birth to the Son.
The Son laughs back at the Father
and gives birth to the Spirit.
The whole Trinity laughs
and gives birth to us.

“God has done only one constant thing since the beginning of time: God has always, forever, and without hesitation loved “the Son”—and yes, you can equally and fittingly use “the Daughter”—understood in this sense as creation, the material universe, you, and me. The quality of the relationship toward the other is the point, not gender or even species….

“The Trinity beautifully undoes all negativity by a totally positive movement that never reverses its direction. God is always giving, even in those moments when we experience the inaccessibility of love as if it were divine anger.” Father Richard Rohr (11/28/16 email)

We can mess anything up, so we mess up this beautiful understanding of the Trinity when we think of it as a hierarchical construct – with God the Father being supreme and over the other parts of the Trinity. Then we also use ‘King’ language for Jesus to make him part of the eternal structure of dominance and submission.

Rohr argues that the mystics’ understanding of the Trinity undoes this hierarchical understanding. Indeed, traditional theology claims that Jesus exists from the very beginning of time, co-equal with God the Creator, and the Spirit – that from the very beginning was the Relationship with One God – with three

“What if we actually surrendered to the inner Trinitarian flow and let it be our primary teacher? Even our notion of society, politics, and authority—which is still top-down and outside-in—would utterly change. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 13:13) should be our circular and all-inclusive ecology.”

The summer after my first year in college I went to a Christian camp where a counselor challenged a group of us saying that there are two basic things you have to believe to be a Christian, one was the Trinity and the other was to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. At that point in my life neither of those ideas seemed vitally important to me, in the hierarchical, insistent way that he put them out to me, and I decided then and there that I was not a Christian.

It took me 10 years to come back to the church and it has taken me even longer to reclaim what that misinformed counselor took from me – a powerful understanding the Trinity as the flow of basic reality, and of Jesus Christ as liberator and brother, as part of God’s work in the world who frees me to be part of the divine work as well.

When we renovated this sanctuary two years ago, we tried to represent this basic flow of God in Christ and the Spirit in the way we organize our worship. We moved more toward circles and waves and relationship in our worship instead of being focused on straight lines and hierarchy and strict order. God in Christ and the Spirit is represented consistently in dynamic flow – by the dove that flies down from heaven, by the river that flows through the midst of the city, by the relationships and community within a congregation.

God is One, yet God contains multitudes, God is Three in One – loving diversity within God’s very being – loving you as you are, completely, as part of who God is. Personally, I find this understanding of God clarifying and so much more uplifting than anything we are hearing on the campaign trail. Shane Claiborne say, “The work of community, love, reconciliation, restoration is the work we cannot leave up to politicians. This is the work we are all called to do.”

I say Amen to that.

I don’t always take church doctrines to heart just because they are church doctrine. I sometimes find orthodox doctrines valuable only with a fair amount of generosity. You may or may not find the understanding of God as Three in One to have a deep sense of truth for you. It is an odd, paradoxical, and tricky idea, more useful in thinking about big questions than day to day practicalities. I have to say that I have been delighted 40 years after a camp counselor tried to force the idea on me, to come back to it on my own and find a new delight in it.

Politicians – even religious ones – are so preoccupied with raising money, running for office and fighting with each other that they have trouble staying clear about what is really important. And the truth is that most all of us easily get caught up in that energy of contentiousness and blame.

Take heart. It’s only a few more weeks. And God has not stopped loving us nor calling us into relationship with the sacred and into sacred relationship. Luckily, we don’t vote for God. God is in charge of Creation, renewing all of our lives through Christ and living in the very Love of the Spirit that we share with each other. This is God’s Good News.

Responsive Hymn 3017  Come, Join the Dance of Trinity