Published on May 27, 2013
What does the Doctrine of the Trinity look like if we reject the idea that it describes a permanent unchanging God? It describes a God as close as your breath, a God whose creative power continues to create, a God who we can see incarnate all around us.
Text of scripture this morning is from Romans Chapter 13, verses 11-14. We’re nearing the end. There are only fifteen chapters in Romans, and the fifteenth chapter is sort of a name dropping thing. he just wants to send greetings to this person, that person and the other person and let them know he’s well connected. The translators placed the heading on this text “an urgent appeal.” Would you listen as the spirit of God brings a word to you.
You know what time it is. How it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep for salvation is nearer to us know than when we first became believers. The night is far gone and the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us live honorably in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires. Salvation is nearer now than when we first came to believe. The night is far gone. The day is coming near.
It’s been two thousand years since he wrote that. I think we can all admit right now, he was wrong. He expected the end of history to come within his generation. He expected God to bring everything to a perfect close. It’s been two thousand years. He was wrong. I think he was right about quite a few other things. But he was wrong about time, even his understanding of time, I suspect. He had a deep and profound intuition about the nature of salvation and its relationship to the way we act. But time?
Now this passage brings up some questions about time and they happen to be questions that are talked about quite a bit in the great debate or conversation that continues to go on regarding the doctrine of the Trinity. Today is Trinity Sunday, a day to reflect on this doctrine, this idea that we know God in three ways, as father, son, holy spirit, but that each one of those is the entirety of God. I recognize that it doesn’t make any sense. But any definition of God that made sense couldn’t possibly be true, because I think we can all agree throughout the centuries and millennia that God does remain a mystery. So this doctrine of the Trinity has been pointing at this mystery for two thousand years.
They had the same kind of experiences that we do in the present, the same sorts of things were impacting on them, though they lived in a world that asked entirely different sets of questions. I mean, if we don’t think there is a father up there who had a son, well then whether or not they were of the same substance matters little to us. And so the way this doctrine of the Trinity as it’s been formulated, isn’t all that important to us. And yet it seems to poke at a mystery that has always been within us. Because those ancients, just as we do, have a deep sense that we do relate to God in different ways, that there are different approaches, and yet it seems like the same God. And so it is that we scratch at it, move with it. And of late the questions about the Trinity seem to move towards this question of time, over whether or not the scriptures really understood time or whether it was just part of their world view.
Because what they understood about God, this classical Trinity, is this one God in three persons, all of which were co-equal and co-eternal, because of that, all existed in some perfect space or location, all on their own, without regard to creation at all. The immutable, permanent reflection of God, this God that cannot be touched, cannot be reached, cannot ever be understood because it stands unchanging outside creation. And this God created all things it is thought. Created all things, including time. The idea, this perfect God that is outside creation, always forever unchanging, is that this God would have created creation outside the realm of time, and if so then knows exactly what will happen because the future already exists.
It’s already been decided who will be saved and who will not, already been decided who suffers and who does not, already been decided, for the future has already been created. That’s the God that lives outside of time and the Trinity tells a story where this God is only tangentially related to the creation, as though this God kisses us at that very moment where this God becomes incarnate, enfleshed within us and then pours that spirit within us, so that this creation can become complete, that which already exists can become complete. But the truth is the universe is not made up of things. That is, if things are permanent, immutable things, it’s just not true.
We think of the mountains as things that will last forever, and yet we all know that mountains don’t last forever. Think of islands that live in isolated beauty and yet they’re not isolated at all. You go deep enough and they are connected to the whole world. You’re not a thing, at least not a permanent thing. The universe simply is not made up of things that last forever. Instead it is made up of relationships, interconnections among all the matter of the world, readjusting and shifting. The soul isn’t a thing, the heart isn’t a thing, they are relationships one to another. So what does God look like in a world like that. It’s as though God gets God’s own identity from God’s relationship to creation. It’s as though God exists because God is connected to and related within us.
The future does not exist, the future unfolds moment after moment after moment. It’s not been decided whether or not you suffer, there’s not a God out there that made it that way. Instead, this God would unfold within us, would almost evolve with us, because this God is related at the very core to us. How do we know this God of relationship? This God that swirls and understands itself as related in these three ways. We know God as the creator, the one. The I am is the way Jesus referred to it. The last few weeks I’ve been poking at or pointing to an experience of the one where if we sit and take one step back from ourselves and ask ourselves who’s having this experience, who’s sitting here, who’s hearing, who’s tasting. who is touching, there is that something, that true connection, that lays as an observer behind all that, all connected one to another, all living in relationship as one true self, the I Am, related out of connection one to another.
And this I Am expresses itself in unique ways. Each one of you is a unique expression of that I Am, each one of us has the opportunity to live out the love of the I Am, that connects all things and as we do that , we relate one to another, defining one another by our relationships, by our love, by our care, by our actions in the world around us we are relating in an I Thou relationship. This is the second person of the Trinity. I Am and I Thou, a father and a son who becomes incarnate within each and every one of us.
The point was never that Jesus was incarnate the only one, no. Jesus invited us into a union where we became the incarnate presence of the one as well. We look at the whole world, at everything that is unfolding, the whole creation evolves in all ways and what’s driving that? That presence, that one. The one that expresses itself in you and expresses itself in me, exists in all things, connecting all things. This is the spirit, the third person of the Trinity. We see it everywhere we look if we open our eyes wide enough and recognize the presence of God within all things. An I Am, an I Thou and an I It. A first person, a second person and a third person relationship to the divine, each of which in some sense grasps hold of the whole nature of God in a great big dance, a dance which unified us, to the presence of the God whose word brings things into being for it creates the relationships among us.
I know that’s a little heady. Sometimes I think about those things and I’ll preach about them in a sermon like this and some folks say “I don’t get it,” and that’s okay. I don’t either. We’re working with complex ideas. What happens then is over the next few weeks we have a conversation and some of these ideas will unfold over time and we’ll begin to get a sense of how it is they might change the way we live, change the way we love, change the way we know our God.
So what difference does the Trinity make, this God who we know in these ways, this God who has not from a far decided whether or not we suffer, but rather this God who is in the midst of our lives touching us at every moment, enabling us to carry forward and break free from suffering, what difference does it make that we see God that way? The Apostle Paul was pointing at it, that’s for sure. Paul understood the difference between darkness and light and the difference for him was between being connected to the presence of this intimately loving God and living in the darkness unconnected, dead as it were, unable to live in the wholeness and the care of God. All the things he pointed to, and I’m just sorry he didn’t bring up profligacy. That’s my favorite word in the Bible, but he brought up debauchery and licentiousness, you know, drunkenness. What are those things? Those are things we do instead of connecting. Those are the things we do to replace an empty sense and feeling that we do not have the love of one another, or the love of God.
It seems to be as though sex gets an awful lot of play in the Bible. You know, it seems that the Bible might be over-focused on sex, but I think there may be a reason for that. Because the way we use sex is often a replacement for connection, at least the licentiousness and debauchery that Paul is talking about is doing that. We expect our sexuality to fill all the voids and allow all connections to be made. Ask any married couple and they’ll tell you that you’ve got to work at sexuality. In order to have it be something that connects human beings together, you’ve got to work at sexuality. The debauchery, the licentiousness, the easy connections, those are instead, those are the things that break boundaries instead of engaging us in relationships so profoundly untied they have no boundary as we connect one to another. Sex throughout the scriptures is a model for the spiritual – a model or a reflection of what human life is in the darkness when we use sexuality to fill needs it is not there to fulfill.
But it is not always about sex. What do you do instead of connecting to the presence of God, when you feel that empty moment? What do you do instead? Some of us aren’t even aware of the empty moment? I was talking to a friend who said that is what fasting is for. If you fast, you notice, you’re spiritually aware and you notice when you are empty; and when you are empty, you reach for something. There is that moment of emptiness when you have a choice to move into darkness and fill it up with falseness and nothing or move into light by filling it up with the presence of God that is already as close to you as you are to yourself. That is the wonder and the beauty of life in the light; the tragedy of the darkness is we’re disconnected and therefore dead because creation is connection to the presence of God. And the wonder of the light is to wake up and realize that the presence of God is already as close as your very breath, the love of God cannot be escaped because it’s what brings you into being, always becoming, it’s what allows us to connect one to another as part of this enormous beautiful project called creation that becomes each and every day, always out of the heart and the love of God.