June 19, 2011
Sermon for Trinity Sunday
June 19, 2011
The Rev. Bradford Ayers Rundlett
2nd Corinthians 13:11-13
Good morning. Happy Father’s Day. And Happy Holy Trinity Sunday!
Next time you hear a preacher complain about their assignment, remember who drew Trinity Sunday. There’s an exciting topic!
That the Church is guilty of heresy trials, Crusades, Inquisitions, witch hunts, indulgences, and two thousand years of repression, is horrible enough. Adding the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity is truly unforgiveable. It’s the foundation of Christian theology, but no one has ever been able to explain it! Bishops are required to defend it, Priests and Deacons to expound on it, Seminarians to write papers and pass tests on it, and good people like you are forced to endure protracted, mind-numbing, recitations extolling the glorious three-in-one and one-in-three. God help us! No penance can absolve us of this crime. The Doctrine of The Holy Trinity has inspired some of the most uplifting hymns we humans have ever sung - but at what cost?
Take heart my friends; you have only to endure annual homiletic torture. I shall spend eternity in perdition for inflicting it on you.
How did we get into this theological conundrum, and what can we do about it?
As far as we can tell, the notion of GOD as a singular and supreme deity, originated in Egypt around 1340 B.C.E., during the reign of Akhenaton, who was also known as Amenhotep IV. Up to then the residents of the Fertile Crescent were henotheistic; each tribe or town worshipped their own gods and goddesses whose names, numbers, and attributes varied from one community to another. When Akhenaton or Amenhotep tried to convince the Egyptians that one god was better than several gods (and a lot less confusing) they balked: they preferred to keep things the way they’d always been. And besides, renovating the temples, creating new graven images, would be expensive. So in fairly short order the new monotheism failed. The Pharaoh who thought he could start a new religion was scratched out of their hieroglyphs, and the matter was forgotten . . . or so the Egyptians thought.
It just so happened there was another group of people in Egypt called the Habiru (by the way, that’s not a nice term). They were slaves, so no one paid much attention to them. They were strong, smart, industrious, tired of working for nothing, and they did believe in the ONE GOD (which may be where Akhenaton or Amenhotep got the idea in the first place). When the Egyptians rejected the ONE GOD the Habiru (who preferred to be called the Hebrews) figured it was time to leave. So, using an elderly, stuttering, desert shepherd named Moses as the front man, THE ONE TRUE GOD bedazzled Pharaoh, crushed his army, and sent the Hebrew people off to the Promised Land. They were so grateful they vowed never to forget or forsake THE ONE TRUE GOD. In fact someone wrote a book about this wondrous event called Exodus, which later became the subject of a best-selling movie. The Hebrew people gave all the credit to THE ONE who is too GREAT and too HOLY to name, who declared “I was who I was, I am who I am, I will be who I will be;” but you can call me Yahweh. Which they did.
Now, according to another book called Genesis this Yahweh (which is actually an abbreviation of “I was who I was, I am who I am, I will be who I will be”) created everything that is or ever will be, including people (which, contrary to all evidence, we arrogantly insist is Yahweh’s greatest work). And here is a great curiosity! Look at chapter 1 verse 26 of Genesis; after making everything else, THE ONE TRUE GOD said “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”
The word for GOD in this passage is Elohim, and it’s plural! What do you make of that?
Are we to understand, then, that we are created in the image of multiple gods and goddesses?
Are we created in the image of THE ONE GOD, with a dash of angel, archangel, cherubim, and seraphim thrown in for good measure?
Or are we created in the image of THE ONE GOD, the pre-existent SON OF GOD, and THE HOLY SPIRIT?
(I’ve got you on the edge of your pew don’t I).
Since the Book of Genesis was written long before Jesus came into the picture, few Biblical scholars support the notion that this is the first reference to the Holy Trinity. But Scripture doesn’t answer all of our questions or resolve all of our issues. We wrestle with all of this and produce doctrines and dogma that very few people understand, or even want to.
Our confounding notions of the Holy Trinity - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – actually developed in the fourth century C.E. when “men of faith” (you know women had nothing to do with this) tried to reason through who Jesus was and what he actually did. On the one hand there were thoughtful and intelligent men who argued that Jesus was God Incarnate because only GOD could do what he did – heal the blind and the lame, feed thousands until their bellies were full with only five loaves of bread and two fish, raise the dead, and walk out of his own tomb. That made sense. Jesus was God in human form.
On the other hand there were thoughtful and intelligent men who argued that Jesus had to be human; he could not be God, because Jesus really died on the cross, and GOD cannot be killed; GOD is immortal and eternal. And that made sense too. Jesus was simply human.
They went back and forth with their points and counterpoints – while the women were home doing all the work. And when the women had enough, they told the men to wrap it up, get home, and help with the children, for crying out loud, if they ever wanted dinner on the table and a clean toga! So, these wise and prudent men, in a “flash of inspiration,” decided Jesus was both completely human, and purely GOD. And somebody wrote this great revelation down so it would not be forgotten; it became part of our Creeds, which we still recite week after week, though people who did not grow up in the Christian faith wonder where we parked our brains.
But, we weren’t done. This new wisdom gave us a Biunity (which you have to admit doesn’t have a very sophisticated and hallowed ring to it) – “The Doctrine of the Holy Biunity.” Those wise and thoughtful men were sure something was missing.
(You’re dying to know what happened next aren’t you).
Well they got together again, and put their great minds to work on a “third person of the Holy Trinity”, after all three is a sacred number in the Bible; except for the arc nothing significant happens in twos. They wondered, how it was that the disciples, who were understandably afraid for their lives after Jesus was crucified, became so brave such a short time later? How were they able to speak in languages they had not known the day before? How they could do some of the same miraculous things Jesus had done? And how was it that Saul – that murderous Pharisee – suddenly became an Apostle of Jesus whom he had so vehemently denounced?
(You know where this is going don’t you).
They read the Gospel stories, the Letters of Paul and John; they scoured the Hebrew Scripture for references. And lo and behold, there SHE was, THE HOLY SPIRIT! (They called The Holy Spirit “She” because they knew the women were listening, and they rather liked having dinner fixed for them, and clean togas to wear). She was the active agent in Creation, she was the motivating force behind Noah and Moses, she told the prophets what to say, she gave Samson his strength and David his dead aim with a sling shot, she inspired the disciples and sent them out to do what GOD wanted them to do; she blinded Saul, knocked him flat on his back, gave him a new name, and told him to get with the program.
And there you have it, THREE IN ONE and ONE IN THREE - all one and the same, acting in different ways and times and places, yet with one mission. To men who want to avoid helping with the children and the housework, who’d rather stay up all night fussing back and forth about stuff that doesn’t put food on the table, it makes perfect sense.
Someone wrote that down too, so now that’s part of our Creeds as well.
(I know you find all of this so exciting you can hardly contain yourself).
Well, all joking aside, I’ve made light of some pretty serious stuff, and I hope I haven’t offended any of you. There is a very important point to this. Our taking doctrine and dogma so seriously has lead, and still leads to terrible things done in the name of one Deity or another. And in my opinion that’s not what faith is about.
Faith is about accepting mystery. As one of my friends, a female priest, once said “There are a lot of things we will never understand this side of eternity.” That’s an understatement. It’s arrogant to think our religious beliefs are perfectly right, and other people’s views are completely wrong. We’re talking about ultimate truth, things that are well beyond human understanding. When we pass through death, when we crossover, when we see GOD face to face, our questions will disappear, and we will finally know what we have for so long wanted to know. On this side of Eternity, we have to accept that we don’t know everything, and what we think we know may not all be true. We are human, we are fallible; we get things wrong.
Faith is about love, it’s about compassion and charity; it’s about worship and service. In my mind there is one absolute axiom in the Christian faith, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.”
Author Henry Nouwen defined love as “creating a space in which the other person can become who God wants them to be.” I like that. I also like Scott Peck’s definition of love as “wanting the absolute best for another person.”
When we love as Jesus Christ loves us and as he calls us to love each other, arrogance and prejudice disappear.
In The Holy Eucharist, Rite I prayer II, the Celebrant prays that God’s “whole Church may be made one body with him, that he may dwell in us and we in him, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.” The foundation of the Holy Trinity, and the very basis of our faith, is an indissoluble bound between God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, you, and me. On this planet we are all God’s people. In the Church we are united in God’s Holy Spirit; we are bound together in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We do well to remember this; the Church is not just an institution, we are a community. And the Christian community is determined not by doctrine, but by love, in the name of God the Creator, Savior, and sanctifying Spirit.