Monday, May 31, 2010

White Again - A Sermon for Trinity Sunday

We have an odd situation today where we have an important Christian feast on the same weekend we have an important state holiday. Everyone knows that this is Memorial Day weekend -- that tomorrow is Memorial Day – and we all know what it’s for.

But I bet many of us here might not know what the Christian feast day is without looking at our bulletins. The strange thing in our church is that some of the most important days go undervalued or even forgotten because – just guessing here – they don’t make good Hallmark cards.

Now, I’m faced with a dilemma. If both of these two holidays are important, which do I address? Well, as a preacher, I really only have one choice. Memorial Day will have a lot of parades and speeches. I myself will offer prayers tomorrow at the Presidential Library. It is important to honor those who died in our nation’s wars, and we will tomorrow, but I have another obligation today.

Because today is the third in a series of extremely important Feast Days of the Church that make up who we are. For us, these three days are as important as any other series of days you can think of with the exception of Holy Week and Easter. Remember two weeks ago was Ascension where Jesus tells the disciples they can’t grow up until he leaves – which he does. We wore white which is a clue that something important is happening. It’s the color of life, of rebirth, of God.

Last week, we celebrated Pentecost when the church received the Holy Spirit and became the church. We wore red, the color of fire and apostles. Red is another clue for us that something big is here.

Today is different, and we’re wearing white again. It is Trinity Sunday, and what we commemorate is not so much an event or a person but an awakening. This is the day we recognize that God is three persons yet still one God. After decades of struggling with how to relate to God in the wake of Jesus Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, after decades of trying to understand this power they were granted through the Holy Spirit, the Church slowly realized God is Trinity.

This was big. No, it was mind-bogglingly incomprehensible and yet unavoidable – God is not just one person. They had a hard enough time grasping the idea that Jesus was fully God yet fully human. Now they embraced the idea that if Jesus is fully God, and the Holy Spirit is fully God and the Father is fully God, then all three are God.

But this was no emerging polytheistic religion. This was different than anything else ever seen before. A new and revolutionary understanding of God. God is not A PERSON. God is an eternal, loving relationship. Without the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Father is not God. Without the Son and the Father, the Holy Spirit is not God. Without the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Son is not God. We don’t know what they would be if they were not together, but in the end the church recognized that it wouldn’t be God.

I say recognized because the clues were there all along. The earliest writings talk about the spirit of God. In Genesis, the word they use for God, Elohim, is plural. God says, “Let us make…” Throughout the Old Testament, writers say “God is Love,” which is impossible in solitude. Love is a verb that requires a subject – and an object. Old Testament writers don’t grasp the ramifications yet, but the foundation is there.

Then Jesus came, and as they understood how much more he was than a mere prophet, the church began to see. It took time – but then, the greatest insights into life do. Think how long it took you, as a kid, to wake up to the fact that your parents were real people who had once been kids, then teenagers then adults in love – we wake up to these vital things gradually.

Yet it is of vital importance that we do wake up to them. Because until we can grasp their relationship, it’s hard for us to grow in our own adult relationships.

It’s the same for us today. Until we grasp what it means for God to be in Trinity, we can’t really grow in our relationships with God and each other.

So what does it mean? Just as our parents are individuals apart and only become a couple together, so it is with God. The church recognized that apart – unconnected – the persons of God are not God.

With God – however the Father, Son and Holy Spirit came to be together – whether they spontaneously emerged from nothingness at the same time or were three “something elses” who came together, it is only when they were together in love that they were God.

Because God is love. You’ve heard me say it before. The basis for our religion is not worship of an individual but becoming part of that eternal loving relationship.

What this means for us is that we don’t make sacrifices to appease an angry God. We offer ourselves so that we might love with God’s love. We don’t reject others who don’t believe as we do but we look for the love that is within them – because that is where we see the light of Christ. This arises out of understanding God as Trinity.

Sadly, too often, we don’t. We either talk about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus or “The Big Guy” up there. That is not the Trinity.

The Trinity – that which makes us Christians rather than, say Unitarians – means that the primary purpose of our existence on earth is to become loving people – not right, not powerful, not rich, beautiful, or successful, not even or hopeful – just loving. There is no higher good.

Which means we have to ask ourselves in everything we do: Is it loving? Am I loving my neighbor as myself. Am I loving my enemy? This is hard, especially as we approach a day when we remember those killed by enemies in war. But it what our Lord has commanded.

And how to we accomplish the feat of loving even enemies? Well, just as Memorial Day has its proper day, so too does the question of HOW. We will address it in the season to come.

Until then, as we pass through this trinity of holy days and move on to the state holidays – let’s hold fast to that recognition of who God is – and what the resulting good is for us. Amen.