Trinity Sunday May 30, 2010

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31                                                        

Romans 5:1-5                                                                     

John 16:12-15

 

I have good news for you. You have inherited a magnificent mansion – in fact, a palace, a castle, an estate of enormous expanse and magnificence beyond your wildest dreams. It’s very old, filled with art treasures and beautiful antique furniture. But it’s also been renovated, brought up to date with new wiring and plumbing and all. You’ve been given the key to the front door; you’re free to wander and explore; there are servants eager to show you about and attend to your needs and desires.

I’m talking about the Holy Trinity, and with it the whole theological and ecclesiological edifice that we’ve inherited as Christians and Anglicans. I was talking with a woman who once went to an Episcopal church with her family and is now a Quaker. “I didn’t want to be forced to believe all that stuff,” she told me. “With the Quakers it’s all free, what you want to believe; it’s just your own inner light.”

I’m in no position to know how accurate that woman’s description of Quakerism is, but I did tell her that I didn’t share her reaction to Anglicanism and orthodox Christian doctrine. And as illustration I offered her that image of the inherited mansion. Doctrines and sacraments and the Bible and all the rich tradition that we’ve inherited, aren’t “forced on” us, I said to her. They’re gifts from the centuries that have gone before us which we’re invited to explore and enjoy. We’re given the key to this mansion in Baptism, and ushered into a lifetime of growing into the richness of our gift.

We wander down a hallway, let us say; one we’ve never really appreciated before, maybe never even visited. The hallway, let us say, of the Incarnation: the doctrine that Jesus Christ is at one and the same time truly and wholly human and truly and wholly divine. Or the hallway of the Trinity: the doctrine that God is both One and Three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. On Sundays we recite the Creed, which affirms these doctrines. But we don’t recite them in the sense that we have to understand and personally agree with all their ramifications. We’re not required to take some sort of blood test or loyalty oath about them.

We recite them as a reminder that they symbolize our inheritance, what’s been given to us. They’re kind of the consensus that’s worked for millions and millions of others through the ages and around the world. One part may puzzle us, seem strange or even impossible on any given day. But the invitation is to listen to how others have understood that part, how they interpret it. And then maybe it suddenly comes alive for us. If not, well, Christianity doesn’t depend on any single one of us absolutely believing every bit of it every moment. It’s bigger and longer and richer than any of us, and we can enjoy the parts that speak to us at the moment and let ourselves be questioned and learn from the parts that don’t. To go back to the mansion: we don’t have to spend time in every room every day, approve of all the decorations. We can just accept that the whole is greater than we, and enjoy the parts we can.

I’ve always been struck by the fact that Trinity Sunday, which sums up all this mansion of Christian tradition we’ve inherited, falls on the very first Sunday after the Day of Pentecost. Our children in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd work with this circular wooden calendar, like a pie with 52 pieces, one for each year. A pointer points to the current Sunday. The Sunday pieces bear the colors of the Christian Year: white, violet, green, red. During the whole first half of the calendar, we celebrate the events in the life of Jesus, from Advent and the foretelling of his birth, through Christmas and Epiphany to Lent and Easter, and finally ending on Pentecost – last week, the sending of the Holy Spirit.

Then the calendar switches to green, green, green, week after week – the color of growing things. During the green season we walk along with Jesus as his disciples, learning to see as he sees, do as he does, grow in him. But here at the very beginning of the green half of the year comes this white Sunday, Trinity. Scholars say that a celebration of the Holy Trinity may have got lodged here right after Pentecost to sum up the whole preceding cycle of Sundays by affirming that we are saved by the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

But I find more interesting an alternative explanation: That as we set out on our journey of discipleship, the most important thing we take with us is our understanding of God. If we believe in a God who’s basically our private Santa Claus or magician, then our journey through life is going to be shaped by that. If we believe in a punishing, remote, unapproachable God, then that belief will shape our life. Likewise with other beliefs. If God is just our own “inner light,” then we’re pretty much all on our own as we go forward, and as our God is distorted, so will our lives be.

But you and I are given this great inherited mansion. We’re on our own in the sense that nothing is forced upon us, but it’s not a lonely, abandoned aloneness. It’s a spacious, generous conception of God that generations of believers have found gives them a spacious, generous approach to life – yet one where they are part of a vast family of fellow believers, sustained, supported and accountable to their fellow saints through all the ages. This God of the Holy Trinity is a God free of distortions, for a people called to live undistorted lives.

But – I’ve been talking too long! Let’s go and explore our mansion. Our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is waiting to share it with us.

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