May 31, Holy Trinity

Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

Bryan Cones

Ah, Holy Trinity—I’m sure it’s everyone’s favorite feast, better than Christmas and Easter put together! We will have a Holy Trinity shamrock hunt for the kids after church, and then we will all decorate triangles, God’s favorite shape. No?

Kristin and I were joking that today is the only feast of a “doctrine” in the Episcopal Church, a church not know for being exceedingly doctrinal— what we call an “idea feast.” An “idea feast” sounds terrible, doesn’t it— like celebrating the Feast of the theory of relativity. How can you make church even more boring? Celebrate an “idea feast”! While we are at it, let’s have a Feast of the Nicene Creed— I’m sure it would be very popular.

Now you might think, that, sometimes being a heady crowd, we Episcopalians might like a good “idea feast.” The Trinity is like a theological brainteaser: 3 = 1, 1 = 3 I have a feeling our Zen Buddhist friends would encourage us to meditate on the Trinity as a koan, a paradox or riddle meant to break our categories, and lead us to enlightenment, to help us see that the Trinity is not something meant to be “understood” at all. Our brains may not be very helpful here.

Even the scriptures today seem to invite us to get out of our heads. Isaiah’s vision isn’t rational at all: He responds with absolute terror to his vision of a cartoonishly large God, so big the hem of the holy robe fills the temple. And I don’t think anyone in their right mind would put those creepy six-winged angels on a greeting card.

John’s ever-cryptic Jesus confounds Nicodemus, “a teacher of Israel” who can’t seem to understand that you have to be “born again” to receive Jesus’ wisdom. Nicodemus tries to understand it, literally, and so he misses the point, completely.

Paul, too, when he describes life in the Spirit isn’t talking about something intellectual: The ecstatic cry of “Abba! Father!” is the biblical equivalent of O-M-G—a mind-blowing moment of grace.

All of which suggests to me that on this “idea feast” it would be a good idea to turn off our brains for a minute, to remember that we can experience God not only in our heads, but, even more profoundly in our spirits, our bodies, our guts.

So let’s take a moment to remember your own foundational experiences of God: those experiences of “something more” the ones that keep you coming to church, no matter what you think about the Trinity or the creed.

Maybe it was the first time you felt your child move within you, or that first intake of breath of a newborn followed by that first exhale and cry of life. Maybe it was the last breath of a loved one, when you could almost see their Spirit return from whence it came. How about the time someone told you they loved you, and you believed it, or you told someone else that you loved them, and meant it completely. Or that first time you felt it in their body and in yours, if you know what I mean. Or maybe it was the time you really were “born again” in that evangelical sense— overwhelmed by the saving love of God in Jesus, and yes, even Episcopalians have had that experience.

Or perhaps your experiences of God are more everyday: the wonder of beholding your garden begin to bloom, or the excitement of seeing that first tomato start to form. Maybe you see God every morning in the children you work with at school, or in your own children, or the times you notice the unshakeable faithfulness of your best friend or closest family member. Maybe it’s the sense of pride you feel in knowing that you helped or healed someone today, or that by your work made the world a fairer or safer place. Perhaps there was a moment when you realized that by singing, or playing music, or repairing something, or making something beautiful, or cooking a meal, or serving it, or giving a gift to someone who asked, that you participated in the repair of God’s creation, that you were God’s partner today in bringing forth the reign of God.

Now let’s turn our brains back on: I wonder if you notice what I am noticing about my own experience of God: that my feeling of “something more” that I call “God” involved another person, or another living thing, or some other part of what God has created. My experiences of God have always involved discovering myself  in a relationship of love or joy or wonder or kindness or beauty or peace or justice or freedom, with something or someone else. How about you?

I wonder if that is why our Christian tradition has always insisted that our primary way of talking about God is not as some lone deity ruling over everything, but as a relationship, never one person without the other, and in the biblical tradition, never really God without creation. Even Isaiah’s giant, terrifying God needs a prophet.

Perhaps that is why we Christians at our best are so concerned about those relational values, about love, which the very nature of God, about justice, which is love acting from a distance, about peace, which is the foundation of love and justice, about freedom, which makes possible relationships of love and justice and peace.

We are concerned about those things, not because God from on high has ordered them, but because for us God is that pattern of loving, just, peaceful, free relationships, into which we, the offspring of the Holy Trinity, are invited to take part, so that those divine patterns might be revealed more fully in the world God so loves.