Sunday, May 30, 2010

Good News of the Trinity

On this Trinity Sunday, our curate preached a fine sermon and joked that curates everywhere get the preaching assignment today. (I note that one of her friends asked on Facebook if there's a rector anywhere in the Episcopal Church preaching today.) It is perhaps a bit curious that so many of us would rather not preach Trinity Sunday. A hermeneutic of suspicion might suggest that this is because too many of us do not believe in this particular dogma and we don't want to publicly "out" ourselves. While there are certainly cases that boldly venture off the dogmatic reservation, I actually think it's because most of us recognize the centrality and critical importance of this teaching for the Christian faith and we don't want to get in the pulpit and make a mess of it.

Over at his blog "Into the Expectation," Fr. Matt Gunter does anything but make a mess of this dogma. Indeed, he offers theologically profound and practical insights into the core of our faith that are worth reading and contemplating. Here's an excerpt:

The triune nature of God is one of the central mysteries of Christianity. But mystery is not the same as conundrum. Nor is it the result of a presumptuous desire to explain more than can be explained. Quite the opposite. Historically, the impetus to clarify some understanding arose in reaction to those who, like Eunomius, claimed to define the essence of God. Theologians like Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa (Basil and the latter Gregory, under the influence of their sister, Macrina) reacted against such presumption. Collectively known as the Cappadocians, they argued that all we can really know of God is what God has revealed in Jesus and the Holy Spirit. What God is beyond that is unknowable. We do not use trinitarian language for God out of presumption. It is just that, as Rowan Williams has said, “It is the least worst language for God we have.”

The doctrine of the Trinity is the result of Christians living and praying with the reality of Jesus Christ breaking in on their lives, inviting them to participate in God’s life. It is the result of Christians experiencing the reality of the Holy Spirit empowering and enabling their participation in God’s life. The doctrine of the Trinity springs from the experience of Christians who knew from the history of Israel that God was one, but who, in the invitation of Jesus Christ and the experience of the power of the Spirit, came to understand that it was not that simple. God turns out to be more complex. God is love, dynamic love within God’s self – a friendship dance.

This is good news because it means that who God is cannot be separated from what God does. God has done something in the sending of the Son, Jesus Christ. God does something in the giving of the Holy Spirit. In that sending and giving we know God. But we are not just given some information about God. Rather, in sending the Son and giving the Spirit, God sends and gives God’s very self. No doubt there is more to God than we can hope to understand. But what Christians claim is that when God reveals himself, God reveals himself truly. Whatever more there is to God, it will not contradict what we know of God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

The doctrine of the Trinity means that at the heart of it all is relationship. Descartes got it wrong when he said, “I think, therefore I am.” It is truer to say, “I am related, therefore I am.” Or, better yet, “I am loved, therefore I am.” When Jesus summarized the law as loving God and loving neighbor, he was simply saying that this is the way it is at the heart of it all. Love – mutual giving, sharing and receiving – is at the heart of it all. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist through relationship with each other. Because that relationship is at the heart of it all, the quality of our relationships matters. Love matters. Relatedness matters. Community and communion matter. Connectedness is woven into the very fabric of things.

The doctrine of the Trinity is also good news because it means there is room for otherness. If there is “space” within God for the Son to be other than the Father, and the Spirit to be other than the Father and the Son, then there is space for us to be other than God. God makes space for creation and for us in it. Understanding God as Trinity means understanding God as involved in, but not overwhelming, everything. There is room for real freedom. We can celebrate our unity and diversity, not as a contemporary cliché, but as a reflection of what it means to be created in the image of God. God is one, but one in whom there is intimate otherness.

Read it all.

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