Sermon for June 16, 2019, Trinity Sunday
“…the doctrine of the Trinity means that creation, saving revelation, and sanctification are brought about by one and the same God, operating in one and the same way—the way of love, which is the way of persuasion, not coercive force.”
–David Ray Griffin
Did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to this world
It felt the encouragement of light
We all remain
Proverbs 8:1-4; 22-31
Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
‘To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.
I still have a lot to tell you, but you can’t handle it just now. When the advocate comes, the spirit of truth, he will guide you to the complete truth. he will not speak on his own authority, but will tell only what he hears and will disclose to you what is going to happen. He will glorify me because he will disclose to you what he gets from. Me. Everything the father has belongs to me that’s why I told you, ‘He will disclose to you what he gets from me.’ After a time you won’t see me anymore, and then again a little later you will see me.”
Qur’an Surah 97
In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Verily we revealed it (Qur’an) in the Night of Qadr (Power).
What can make you know what the Night of Qadr is?
The Night Qadr is better than a thousand months,
The angels and the spirit descend therein by permission of their Lord
with decrees of all affairs.
Peace is the whole Night till dawn-break.
Father Earth, Clarissa Pinkola Estes
There’s a two-million year old man
No one knows.
They cut into his rivers
Peeled wide pieces of hide
From his legs
Left scorch marks
On his buttocks.
He did not cry out.
No matter what they did, he held firm.
Now he raises his stabbed hands
and whispers that we can heal him yet.
We begin with bandages,
The rolls of gauze,
The unguents, the gut,
The needle, the grafts.
We slowly, carefully turn his body
And under him,
His lifelong lover, the old woman,
Is perfect and unmarked
He has laid upon
His two-million year old woman
All this time, protecting her
With his old back, his old scarred back.
And the soil beneath her
Is black with her tears.
Sermon: The Trinity: The Church’s Parable for God
Today is the intersection of two celebrations: Father’s Day and Trinity Sunday. I give a nod to both. On the cover is an image of The Green Man or Father Earth, a protector of Earth and a parable for the Sacred Masculine, a powerful and positive image for fathers, and for God as Father.
Today is also Trinity Sunday. It is the only Sunday in the church calendar that commemorates a doctrine of the church as opposed to a biblical story. All the other church days mark a parable around the life of Jesus or the early church: Advent, Christmas, Transfiguration, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Christ the King. Trinity Sunday follows a week after Pentecost, the arrival of Spirit, on the church calendar.
The Trinity is not mentioned in the Bible. The doctrine of the Trinity didn’t arise until two to three centuries after the birth of Jesus. Those who formulated the doctrine found tantalizing scriptures that proved useful in talking about the triune nature of God, but it was a doctrine that evolved after reflection and debate quite some time after the Christian movement began.
The Trinity is the church’s doctrine, the church’s reflection on God or as I wrote in the sermon title, the church’s parable for God.
I like the word, parable. John Dominic Crossan, who visited Southminster in April, uses it often to speak about mysteries, stories, and doctrines that are not historical or objective fact, but speak of things that are true in a more than historical or factual way. Rather than use the words fiction, legend, or myth, the word parable is more affirming I think. Of course, Jesus used parables to speak of truths about God and human beings. As Crossan pointed out in his book, The Power of Parable, even Jesus, to a great extent, is a parable himself.
Thus I think of Trinity, the Triune God, as a parable for God as opposed to an objective thing that exists. To speak of Trinity as parable leaves room for us to appreciate this truth without needing to believe in it as a rigid premise. Trinity is poetic and evocative and as parable allows us to explore it, honor it, sing about it, worship it even, without having to defend it and exclude all other parables for God.
The two scripture texts from Proverbs and the Gospel of John are from the lectionary and are both chosen as texts for Trinity Sunday. The Wisdom Woman in Proverbs is a parable for Divine Wisdom. Jesus, as parable, is an incarnation of Divine Wisdom. The Advocate in John is interpreted by the church as Holy Spirit.
I should note that the Advocate in John is interpreted by many Muslims as Mohammad and what is disclosed is the Qur’an. This disclosure occurred on the Night of Qadr or the Night of Power. I included Surah 97 from the Qur’an in our readings today. So there is another Trinity, three texts from three traditions that are essentially one: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
I am not sure if my interfaith speculations please anyone. But as I see it, it is critical to make the attempt to find points of connection between our faith traditions and to make space for the various parables for God articulated in our various faith traditions.
I like the idea that the Wisdom Woman in the Hebrew Scriptures, a figure from Judaism, is seen in Jesus.
I like the idea that Mohammad is the Advocate whom Jesus anticipates in John’s Gospel.
I like the idea that the Advocate in John is also the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.
I suppose on one level, in terms of systems of doctrine and belief, the Advocate cannot be both Mohammad and Spirit, and Wisdom cannot be both the Wisdom Woman and Jesus, but as parable, anything is possible.
In the novel the Life of Pi, the young boy, Pi, secretly becomes a Muslim, a Christian and a Hindu, studying with teachers from each tradition. One day, embarrassing for Pi, the three teachers meet Pi as he is walking with his parents. Pi is found out. The Imam says Pi is a good Muslim, praying every day. The priest says no he is a Christian. He has been studying his catechism. The Hindu pandit says Pi has been meditating and is a Hindu. The three religious scholars get in an argument and his parents look on confused. Each of the religious scholars demands that Pi choose one of the traditions. His parents think he probably should choose as well. Pi doesn’t want to choose. Why can’t he be all three? Why must he choose between three beautiful parables for God?
As I read the novel, I thought, “I am with you, Pi. Don’t let them bully you. Don’t let them make you choose. You can be all three, if not outwardly, at least in your heart.”
It was that experience of heart that the parable of Trinity came about. These early followers of Jesus experienced the love of God. The persuasive power of love as David Ray Griffin points out, was known in their lives through the texts and traditions of Second Temple Judaism.
But they also experienced the love of the person, Jesus, who showed them a way to God that was so persuasive that it was as if Jesus was a revelation of God, even one with God. As generations of Christ-followers reflected on the mystery of Jesus and God, they also saw this divine presence among them, working through them, the same mystery, God as Spirit. These three workings of God, faces of God, parables of God, became a parable for God as Trinity, three and one. Three expressions. One love.
As theologian, David Ray Griffin puts it:
“…the doctrine of the Trinity means that creation, saving revelation and sanctification are brought about by one and the same God, operating in one and the same way—the way of love, which is the way of persuasion, not coercive force.”
David Ray Griffin’s formulation of Trinity as persuasive love captures the heart of this entire drama of human existence. Nothing is fixed. It is not certain whether or not human beings will go the way of other species that as I speak are going extinct at 1,000 to 10,000 times the normal rate of extinction. If there is an intelligence, a wisdom in the universe that cares about us and is rooting for us and is “delighting” in us as Proverbs says, and I like to think there is, that revelation of Wisdom comes to us not as coercion, not like a puppeteer pulling strings, but as a persuasive invitation to life.
It is that persuasive invitation that allows me to remain hopeful. What other stance besides hope can we have? I don’t put any trust into our current economic or political systems or arrangements. They are not persuasive to me. In fact, I see them as contrary to life. They are working against life. They do not delight in humanity, but use humanity as a commodity.
The persuasive power of love as seen in the parable of God as Trinity is an invitation to look way beyond our current ways of living, or perhaps I should I say, dying. That is why I tend to appear to be cynical or have a negative view of our societies. I am not negative about God or humanity, but I am negative about the current stewardship of our home, Earth.
The trajectory we are on is leading us to extinction.
But that does not mean I am without hope. My hope is that people will collectively awaken to the reality of the trajectory on one hand, and to the reality of God and Wisdom and Spirit who creates, reveals, and sanctifies, on the other.
There are many other ways of living on Earth that are not based on the delusion of infinite economic growth, exploitation of resources, and war. As hard as they are to imagine when we are in the midst of empire and propaganda, they are not impossible to imagine.
We can imagine a way of living that is 100% sustainable. Humans lived that way for hundreds of thousands of years before so-called civilization arose around 10,000 years ago. This age in which we live is a blip on the screen of time, not only deep time, but human time.
We can imagine the end of all weapons of war.
We can imagine food and energy systems being completely 100% renewable.
If we can imagine it we can, by the power of persuasive love, realize it.
The greatest challenge for us is to imagine life outside of the death matrix into which we have been thrust.
I have said many times that the only thing I really care about is what my granddaughter Pippa, who is here this morning, and other two-year-olds throughout Earth will inherit.
We may not be able to change the trajectory in our own lifetimes, but at least we can awaken to it and awaken ourselves to another possibility.
If there are gifts we can give to our children and our grandchildren, they are the gifts of flexibility, imagination, and hope. The journey they will take will likely be a rough one, to say the least. We need to prepare and equip them the best we can.
On this Father’s Day and Trinity Sunday, I invite you, dear church, to summon the spirit of The Green Man, the spirit of Father Earth, and to hear the invitation of persuasive Love from the Wisdom Woman, Jesus, Mohammad, Moses, the Triune God, whatever name there is that can break us out of this matrix of death, and engage us in creative imagination.
This creative imagination requires every metaphor and parable we can muster and will require each of us to put all these names of God to creative use.
This creative imagining requires most of all, heart. It will require courage and heart beyond which we have ever summoned before. It requires courage to examine our beliefs about how we think life is, and to go to those places that we didn’t think we could go in deconstructing those beliefs. It requires us to look deeply at the delusions that have been thrust upon us. We have to recognize that the death matrix is built upon layer upon layer of deception. It is not shameful to have been deceived. We have all been deceived. Those who deceive are shameful.
We have a mission, my Beloveds.
It is no small mission.
It is a hero’s journey.
It is a mission to save the world.
We have been called and summoned
to participate in persuasive Love
and welcome a New Creation.