Life beyond us, life among us and life within us
On Trinity Sunday, The Rev. Mary E. Haddad, joined us to lead our service.
June 7, 2020 - Trinity Sunday In the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: God who is Three in One and One in Three; who is beyond us, among us and within us; who was and is and is to come; world without end. Amen. It’s been said that Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday in the church year, in the church calendar, that commemorates a doctrine or idea and not a person or event.
But that’s only true if you think that life in the church began in the 4th century when most of her doctrines came into being. But we only need to look back a week to last Sunday,when we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit, which emerged in the 1st century fifty days after the resurrection, putting in motion the Jesus movement, a movement living out both the life of a person and that of an event, namely the resurrection.
So what we need to know about Trinity Sunday, is that we celebrate and commemorate our collective experiences of God, as understood and experienced by the earliest followers of Jesus, and, equally important, as experienced by us today, or we simply wouldn’t be here, gathered together from various parts of the world onto one zoom screen.
The first is our relationship with the setting of life itself – the physical environment, light, air, ground, sky, all of creation, including our relationship with the mysteries of life that we cannot see – this is life beyond. The second is our relationship with others – friendship, companionship, intimacy, neighbors, people who keep us company – this is life among. The third is relationship with ourselves – our inner life, our thoughts, learning to love and accept our own unique being – this is life within.
Upon reading this, all the light-bulbs went on and bells started dinging. I’d hit the jackpot, I got it, in a memorable flash I viscerally understood the Trinity, summed up in these three manifestations of God:
Life beyond: God the Father;
Life among – God the Son; Life within – God the Holy Spirit. On further reflection, it came to me that the summary of the law and the commandments to love fit right into this, in perfect symmetry. The commandment to love God was to love life beyond.The commandment to love your neighbor was to love life among. The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, was to love life within. It was the simplest and most lasting revelation, that these are the three ways we experience life and the three ways we experience love; so it follows that they are the three ways we experience God as creator of Life and Love. The Trinity is God meeting us in each aspect of our need for relationships: in our need to be united and connected to the whole of creation, in our need to have friends and companions to share the day-to-day experience of living and in our need to have life within ourselves and the power within ourselves to love and be loved, to be transformed, to be healed and reconciled. This is Trinity—life beyond us, life among us and life within us. It is our life connection to God, to one another and to our very selves. And so, every Sunday, we celebrate Trinity Sunday: we celebrate and experience God who is beyond us, among us and within us. If we go back to the beginning, today, like every Sunday,we celebrate life and we celebrate love. We celebrate the language of poetic imagination in the exceptionally beautiful (and lengthy) creation story we took our time to listen to this morning about God, the prime mover; God, the ground of all being; God, the creator of everything that is and has its being, setting the world, our world, into motion. In the beginning, so our story goes, the love that moved the sun, the moon and the stars is the love that breathed life into us and not just created us, but made us human beings in the image and likeness of God.
Like nothing else in creation, we were made to be partners in relationship with our creator, with each other and with ourselves. Our Hebrew ancestors who penned the poetic creation story, came to understand that God was on the side of life, and would help the people find meaning and grow and learn from their suffering.This wouldn’t make life easier, but it would transform it and allow us to flourish when we confront and grow and are changed by our suffering.
In a later time and place, alongside the banks of the river Jordan, the God of life anoints Jesus of Nazareth, to be good news and to bring good news to the lost, the least and the last, Jesus is so fully for God and so fully of God that he gives the people a whole new way of thinking about God. Jesus confronted injustice in his time and day, injustice in the world of politics, injustice in the world of religion. Or as Barbara Brown Taylor reminded us in her comments on the photo op this week of the President holding a Holy Bible in front of an Episcopal Church, “Jesus was not killed by atheism and anarchy. He was killed by law and order allied with religion which is always a deadly mix.”
As we know, Jesus was condemned to a horrific death on the cross by the deadly mix of politics and religion But his resurrection made clear that God chooses life: abundant, flourishing, courageous and fearless life.
This is the same force and power of life that is breathed upon the disciples at Pentecost when they are sent out by the Holy Spirit to bring the newly charged reality of Christ’s reconciling life to the ends of the earth, that would include us. The story continues and expands as the people’s understandings of God change and expand to now include Jesus and the Holy Spirit. For the first three centuries of the church’s life, the experience of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, came out of the practice of devotion in community; it came out of baptism, it came out of prayer and worship. In the 4th century, everything changed when the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the religion of the empire. The church that was opposed to empire had now become the church of empire. Bishops and emperors were hard to tell apart; mostly politics drove the formulation of doctrine, as councils and heresies bounced back and forth and stories about people faded into the background. And so, our history will always include the experience of our 4th century ancestors who fashioned the Nicene Creed and Trinitarian doctrine but we are not limited or, dare I say, even bound by their experiences or their language.
Because we will always be a story-formed community, a prayer-formed community, and not a doctrine-formed community which is why today, we celebrate Trinity Sunday as life to be bound to and not doctrine to be explained. As a story-formed community, our stories began when God breathed life into us at creation. As a community formed around the person and teachings of Jesus, our stories continued with new life breathed into us at baptism and renewing life breathed into us again and again by the power of God’s spirit. Today our world is torn apart by the unforgettable image of a man named George Floyd, a man created in the image of God, whose life God breathed into him. The whole world watched as this man gasped for his life with the unforgettable words, I can’t breathe; the whole world watched as the life and breath of this man was taken away by misguided representatives of law and order. And now the whole world is watching as communities erupt in smoke and flames with no accord on how to move forward. But as a story-formed community around the life of God in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our response is to breathe and to keep breathing. To breathe life into creation itself, in all the ways we can; to breathe life into our relationships with our neighbors, and that includes strangers, and even and especially our enemies. And to breathe life into ourselves. To come to know that we have power and spirit and strength within ourselves to overcome despair with hope and to overcome the fires and flames of dispute with the power of God, the teachings of Jesus, the breath of the Holy Spirit.
Because that’s how God creates us, redeems us and sustains us. We are a story-formed community and not a doctrine-formed community, so the stories we tell and the stories we live, will tell ourselves and our hurting world everything we know about God and God’s capacity and power to transform all our relationships to life and love.
Today is not the day we celebrate a doctrine
Today is the day we celebrate the power of the one, true and living God to inspire us, literally, to breathe life into us and into our world, to transform our experiences of life and love, beyond us, among us and within us.
So, this Trinity Sunday, take the time to tell a story about your relationship with creation itself, the wonder and awe you have experienced in the world of forest, sea and sky.
Then take the time to tell a story about your relationship with others, with a lifelong friend, companion or great love, or a stranger you just met and felt the world enlarge. Tell about a time you stood on the side of life and healing, or spoke up for justice when it wasn’t easy to do so.
Then take the time to tell a story about your relationship to yourself, where you see yourself as an image of God and where you are always seeking to learn and grow.
These stories of life and love embody our experiences of God in our relationship to the world of awe beyond, the communal world among and the reflective world within.
These relationships are what it means to be human and alive.
And when we allow the breath of God to infuse these relationships, we become part of the life force that moves the world forward. And isn’t that the story we all long to tell. Amen.
This is Mary, one of our two fantastic Bridging Priests, who has helped us enormously through our interregnum. It is always a joy to welcome her, or Thomas, our other Bridging Priest, to our services.
The Rev. Mary E. Haddad