Sermon 11 June 2017 A – Trinity Sunday

Todays readings for Trinity Sunday
Exodus 34: 1-18 
Song of the Three Young Men 29-34
2 Corinthians 13: 11-13 
Matthew 28: 16-20

Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton.

In churches all around the world people are talking, today, about the Trinity. It is traditionally regarded as the most difficult sermon that you ever preach and people dread it. How do you explain the unimaginable in a way that people will understand and remember? I have never had this problem because in my college days I had a teacher who had been working on the perichoretic dance of the Trinity, and I have been exploring this idea ever since. The concept of the Trinity entwined in the great dance of love, which brings life into being and holds all of life inside it, changed forever my vague ideas about Trinity. It also changed forever my ideas about atonement, sadly I won’t be able to talk about that today. I had been taught, particularly in latter years that the Trinity was a hierarchy, with God the Father at the top, and God the Son next, and subservient to the Father, with the Spirit coming a poor third as the one sent by the Father and the Son into the world, almost you would think to do their dirty work! This hierarchical view is very popular in the diocese where I lived the first 45 years of life, and the reason why this way of describing the Trinity is so popular? It is because it gives us a lovely structure of command which we can then translate into human terms, with the human father, the minister of God, at the top, the husband/man, next, and then the wife/woman at the bottom of the heap. This “ordained” hierarchy keeps us all in our place, which can be comfortable. Even this week the debate has been raging throughout Sydney because of a very controversial women’s conference[1], which was intending to reinforce this view but has backfired a little, with women who have doubts about the conference speaker’s view that if they grew their hair long and helped the men around them to shine they would make the world a better place and grow into their best selves as Christian women. Google it if you want to know more! This however, has produced in certain circles a reiteration of the principle of Trinity as hierarchy. I stand before you today to say that I believe that view to be not just wrong, but heretical.

But rather than describing what I don’t agree with let me try to give you an image of what I do believe about Trinity.

Trinity or the relationship of three in one is essential to God, I believe. God, the creative force, brings into being things in relation to one another, and even at the most basic level all matter is made up of molecules in relationship, protons and neutrons dancing around each other to form the smallest units of being, and at the other end of the spectrum, the great universe of planets and suns, forming galaxies which exist in relation to each other. God, the creative force is always holding the elements in relation to each other- there is no being that isn’t in relationship. So if we can grasp the idea that everything is joining in the great dance of life, of existence, the next thing to understand is the God is, God’s-self, relationship, God is the dance.

The choice that human beings have is whether or not they fully participate.

When I think about this, I remember the dances that we had in the village where I grew up. The village hall was owned by the Progress Association- it was for everyone in the village and everyone could come. The dances were held a couple of times a year and all ages joined in. My sister was one of the giggling teenagers and I was one of the small children. At school we learnt to do the Pride of Erin, the Canadian Three Step, the Gypsy Tap and of course the Barn Dance so that when those dances were being done we could dance too. When they struck up for the Barn Dance everyone in the hall, even the wall-flowers who had been propping up the walls, and the drunks who were out the back near the illicit keg would join in. We formed one big circle, and if there were lots of people sometimes a figure eight so that we could all fit. And round and round we went. In the barn dance you dance with everyone, you might start with your partner but immediately you move on to someone, who might be a stranger, or even someone with whom you were not really very friendly. You held them in your arms, you spun around together and parted to go onto the next one, until eventually, if the band could keep going long enough you came back to where you started. You were the same but also changed by the very dance into a laughing, joyous creature, in love with everyone in the room. Of course, there were those who only joined in under sufferance and who managed to stay grim in the face of the general happiness. But there is something about that community dancing together, the old men whizzing the little girls around, and the old girls who complain about their sore feet, the pimply youths finally catching up with the girl of their dreams holding her in their arms for a brief moment, and then just as quickly, losing her to the next fellow, that shows us something about the bigger dance of life itself. You can’t do the Barn Dance on your own, you can’t do the Barn Dance with just your nearest and dearest, it takes a whole community to make the dance what it is. And once you have joined in the dance there is no refusing the next partner because he is old, or smelly or has sweaty hands, you are in the midst. Our choice is to go along to the dance in the first place, so that we do not rob the others of our presence, and then we choose how we participate, do we join in with complete conviction, moving and speaking and holding with deep and abiding love? Because this dance is life itself. And now I find myself talking about us, about the human element, rather than the Trinity- or am I?

When Rublev painted the very famous icon of the Trinity, it was referencing Abraham’s experience in Genesis 18 where the three “men” came to Abraham, and he welcomed them with hospitality. It is as part of the meal that they tell Sarah that she will have a child, thereby setting the whole journey of the Israelites in motion and, on down to the Jewish Jesus of Nazareth. God, in three persons, is inextricably linked to us, as human beings.

This image of Trinity carries so much meaning, and indeed of course speaks to us in different ways. One of the things that I find very interesting is that unlike the first picture that I had up of the Trinity, by Murillo, in Rublev’s icon it is much harder to identify who is who, the three persons are much more equal, aren’t they? God the Creator is dressed in gold, the colour of perfection, of fullness, wholeness and the ultimate source, in Rublev’s schema. Jesus is dressed in blue, which is supposed to convey humanity, the colour of the sea and sky mirroring one another, the Christ in the world, a with his two fingers showing us that he has both humanity and divinity together in himself. The Holy Spirit is dressed in green, the colour of life and growth, of fecundity and fertility, of what Rohr describes as divine photosynthesis.

But there is more to this image. Can you see a little funny rectangle there in the middle? That is where scholars tell us Rublev placed a mirror so that when we gaze on this picture of perfect relationship, we would see ourselves in the midst of the gathering. These three are sitting at the table together sharing a meal, indeed all sharing the common bowl- the model for us who will in a moment gather around the table to share the meal and its common cup. We are drawn into the meal itself that Jesus has given us to be a sacrament- a concrete reminder and demonstration of the reality of relationship.

The urge towards love and relationship is fundamental to us as human beings, but more than that, relationship is the governing principle of our whole universe. God is in the relatedness, because God is God’self, relationship. God isn’t watching us live life, God is life itself.

As human beings the only way that we can do the terrible things to one another is by denying the relationship between us. We do this by “othering”, by highlighting difference instead of commonality, by establishing “them and us”, rather than just “us”. We see this being played out with tragic consequences in our world. Imagine what our world would be like if we saw each person as a human being with whom we could sit down at the table. Imagine our own country if we saw each other as beloved rather than as Liberal voters or Labour voters, indigenous and incomer, rich and poor, lifters and loafers. It is by disconnecting ourselves that we are able to hate, or even just disregard. And when we disconnect from each other we also disconnect from God. The knowledge that God is Trinity and eternal relationship, changes how we live each day by prioritising relationship over the other things that we hold dear.

Let me pray for us.

‘God for us, we call you Father.

God alongside us, we call you Jesus.

God within us, we call you Holy Spirit.

You are the eternal mystery that enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things, even us and even me.

Every name falls short of your goodness and greatness. We can only see who you are in what is. We ask for such perfect seeing.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen’

Richard Rohr 2005

Much of this sermon is indebted to Richard Rohr’s book The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation 2016 SPCK

[1] Equip 2017