Welcome to Trinity Sunday. Some opening thoughts…
Doctrine is a funny thing, and sometimes belief can be a minefield. We have joked in the past about preaching on a day when we celebrate a doctrinal position. (Again, doctrine is a belief or a position that is put forward by a church, or a nation, or a political party that does not have universal acceptance. Shocking – there are Christians who are not trinitarians!!!) Michelle reminds us that it is one of the Sundays when priests gladly punt to their deacons. I am not one of those. I relish this annual battle of wits.
When it comes to the Trinity, neither language or tradition is a friend. As I will note this coming Sunday, our language is limiting and tradition has erased why at some point in its evolution, the Church thought this doctrine was needed. (Jesus, Paul and Peter – not one of them knew the Trinity. Same way that Adam had no clue that his story was about original sin. Hint: it wasn’t.)
Language: Any attempt to explain God by formula has already gone off the rails. In my way of thinking, this is what the commandment about using God’s name in vain is all about. It is a vain attempt to control or limit who or what God could possibly be. An effort to make God controllable, comfortable, disciplined, pliant to the needs and concerns and hopes of one group over another is dangerous business – not for God, but for those who get in the way of where their specific God is being aimed. More on Sunday.
Tradition: This doctrine was in response to numerous heresies that had sprung up over the first few centuries, and in my opinion, only opened the door for more to evolve. (Hey, a little heresy is good for the soul. Besides, as the saying goes, what was heresy yesterday is dogma today). The point is, that it was meant to hold in tension many conflicting views of God and Jesus and the Spirit and their relationship, the while giving the Church some cover from those who accused it of no longer being monotheistic. That’s a tall order. I can understand and appreciate the tension, but as both Luther would remind us, we can argue about the number of angels that can dance on a pinhead for hours. It will not bring forth the kingdom.
Well, I hope that whets the appetite for our feast on Sunday. Here’s my take on the texts…
Isaiah 6: 1 - 8
While this is the call story for the ‘first’ Isaiah – making the rounds and railing against the establishment prior to the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom in 722 B.C.E. – our focus for the sake of the lectionary is really on the majesty of God
Anyway, the Jews believed that the Temple was God’s earthly dwelling place and when God showed up, the smoke machine was always on the highest setting (Or – for Spinal Tap fans - maybe even on 11). And, Isaiah is duly impressed. He is so overwhelmed by the smoke and lights that – as mentioned – he was more than ready to step up when the call was given. Contrast that with Amos, who was a contemporary of Isaiah I. He went kicking and screaming into the fray, saying some pretty nasty things about God and the horrible message of doom that he was forced to convey. Isaiah gladly volunteered, not that the word he had to speak was any better. In fact, verses 9 and 10 – which are NOT included in our reading, show what God has in mind:
“Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed”
Smoke and mirrors can be impressive, but better pay close attention to the man behind the curtain.
Romans 8: 12 - 17
The spirit within us was groaning last week as if in child birth, but now we have moved on to crying out, ‘Abba, Father,” thanks to the Spirit that bears witness to our spirit within (as Paul says it). Flesh is the operative word here. It is the flesh that falls victim to our selfish instincts and the rivalries and jealousies that lie beneath and behind our malevolent thoughts and actions against each other. (The Spirit has its work cut out for it).
John 3: 1 - 17
Wait. Didn’t we just have this text a few weeks ago? (Get it together, lectionary)
Yes, we did, and at that time we focused on the notion of eternal life and what John meant by that. (So, I refer you to the blog posting of Lent 4, March 8). In the context of the day, however, as we focus on the Trinity, we discover that all three members are in play here. (Jesus representing himself)
And, Nicodemus is quick to point out that Jesus is a teacher who comes from God, since in his words, though I paraphrase a bit, “you could not do those things you do” if that were not the case. (And John chips in verse 13 – ‘No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man,’ which has been often quoted to prove that Jesus was the original trinitarian theorist). IN that light, what puzzles Jesus is that Nick is unable to figure out the true origins of the Spirit – also from God – which blows where it chooses.
OK, it’s sketchy, but there is a trinitarian formula waiting to be discovered in this text, hence its encore appearance this Sunday as we contemplate the mystery and celebrate the unity. Or, is it the other way around?