On the Trinity
Good morning. Since most of you don’t know me, I’ll begin by introducing myself. I’m Carol Luther, chaplain and teacher at St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Oakland. Today is Trinity Sunday, which is all about a teaching.
It is said that one day Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And his disciples answered and said, "Some say you are John the Baptist returned from the dead; others say Elias, or other of the old prophets." And Jesus answered and said, "But who do you say that I am?"
Peter answered and said, "You are the Logos, existing in the Father as His rationality and then, by an act of His will, being generated, in consideration of the various functions by which God is related to his creation, but only on the fact that Scripture speaks of a Father, and a Son, and a Holy Spirit, each member of the Trinity being coequal with every other member, and each acting inseparably with and interpenetrating every other member, with only an economic subordination within God, but causing no division which would make the substance no longer simple."
And Jesus answering, said, "What?"
As Christians came to understand themselves, their Christ and the nature of the Divine, prayer led them to see that God, while One God, exists in Three Persons. Not three Gods. Not three Aspects of One God, but a One that is also Three. Most people today would ask, why does that matter? But did you know that during the fourth century, actual riots broke out on the docks of Alexandra over the nature of the Trinity? That people cared that much?
From our perspective, rioting over a doctrine seems nothing but weird, but that’s only because we’re not arguing over the Trinity at the moment. We’ve got much hotter issues. Can the Religious Right share a table with Christian Progressives? Do Democrats speak to Republicans? You may have seen in the paper yesterday that a Catholic nun was excommunicated when she gave permission for an abortion that would save a woman’s life. Science and the Humanities occupy two different worlds. And so it goes. Ever since the Ancient World, Western society has been fueled by conflict over belief. Conflict mars our relationships. When Jesus began to heal conflicts, people accused him of being demon possessed. He answered, “Do demons cast out demons? A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Even so, Western culture has always sought power by dividing things. Divide and conquer.
But God cannot be divided. God is relationship without conflict. Trinity says that relationships are not to be manipulated, nor seen as a source of domination. Since God is relationship, relationship is divine.
If religions usually start with God, they do not end there. First and foremost, religions teach us what it means to be human. Isn’t that what Jesus came to do? For the past six months, since the beginning of Advent, we have been telling the story of Jesus. We have followed him from birth to baptism to wilderness to teacher to arrest to death and resurrection. We saw him open the gates of heaven at Ascension and the descent of the Spirit as fire at Pentecost. And now that the story is complete, God comes to bless us. “Show us the Father,” said Philip in last week’s Gospel. And today, Jesus does. “All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” Note that the verb is “declare” and not “show.” We do not see God as much as we hear God. In the ancient world, people believed that eyes were lamps that cast light. Ears, on the other hand, received. Even today, in many traditions of prayer, seeing is associated with psychological projection, with my imposing myself upon the world, my “views.” I cannot receive God if I am full of myself. As I listen, I grow empty. As I listen, God can enter me through the Word, the Logos, filling my mind through the ears and teaching me from within. There’s a lovely tradition that says that Mary of Nazareth conceived simply as she listened deeply to God’s life-giving word. Have you ever wondered why silence is so important to the life of the soul?
The Divine. The Human. The Spirit. In the book of Deuteronomy, God told the people of Israel to choose life. God is life. Jesus rose from the dead to show that God is life. The Trinity is life.
In order to live, I must do three things. I must eat. I must drink. I must breathe. We recognize all three in our worship. I eat the bread of the Eucharist. I drink the sacred wine and am washed in the waters of Baptism. With my breath I sing, I pray, I read the sacred story, and in silence, I breathe. Earth, water, breath. These three make life possible, and while each is complete in itself, together they sustain life. This is both religious and scientific truth.
My body is made of the same elements as the stars, the soil, the trees, the insects, the wolves, the deer, the otters, the grass, the dust on my windowsill. Every day I nourish my body with these same elements. Every day my body sheds cells and grows new ones, and these atoms that once were mine now become soil, trees, insects, rocks and solar wind. I am one with earth. The way I treat this world says a great deal about the way I treat myself. If I pave it, pollute it, plunder it, I am in a very real way plundering and polluting my own body. We could go a long way with this metaphor, but I’m going to stop here. The earth and I are separate persons, but we are one substance. God is present in all creation, but God is not the same as creation. There are as many cells in my body as there are stars in the sky.
I am also water. Parts of my body, like my lungs, are 90% water. My veins and arteries are nutrient rich rivers bringing oxygen to all the inner parts of me. If I could see this network within, I would see something that looks very much like the network of rivers and streams and tributaries that water our earth. I must drink water to live. At his baptism, Jesus came out of the river. To the woman at the well he spoke of living waters. That said, to dam up rivers, to keep them from flowing into the sea, as the Colorado River no longer can all the time, is like the build up of plaque within my arteries. Oil is spilling out of the deep even as we speak. To fill the living ocean with plastic, to destroy its silver fish swimming is to have deep and real repercussions upon my own inner tides and currents. I could go a long way with that one, too, but I will stop. The water and I are separate, but one substance. Jesus emerged from the waters knowing that to be fully human was to be fully obedient to the Divine. He was one with God, but also himself.
And finally breath. The entire planet, wrapped in an atmosphere, is infused with breath. This atmosphere animates both us and our world. At every moment, we breathe in and we breathe out. To be conscious of breathing is to be conscious of life. In most languages, the word for breath is also the word for spirit. The baby becomes fully alive when she takes her first breath. In breathing meditation, we are taught that every time we breathe, we are in communion with God, literally infused with God. The tree of life is not a metaphor, but biological fact: the tree inhales our carbon and exhales oxygen. What a beautiful symmetry. That said, it strikes me as interesting that when we started to build smoking factories, we also began smoking cigarettes, becoming chimneys ourselves. And now that we have an economy that is absolutely dependent upon burning carbon, we are endangering the fragile envelope of air that may indeed be the breath of God. I am separate from the air I breathe, but we are one substance. The Holy Spirit is everywhere. The spirit inspires. The spirit is the still small voice that speaks when I am in trouble and helps me find a way out. It was the spirit that showed Moses the way out of Egypt.
I am a single person, yet I am in full communion with earth, water and air. I am also in communion with you. In a culture that likes conflict, it is good to take time for the teaching that the Divine is not an individual but a relationship, that my life depends upon your life. We are separate. We are One. We partake of the Divine Trinity: the One, the Many, the God who is one substance with all things. A God whose very essence is relationship means that you will never be alone. AMEN.