May 26, 2013

“A Hard Road”
Romans 5:1-5

Today is Trinity Sunday. This should not be a surprise, as it is every year, the Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday. It is also a demonstration that God is merciful and just; in that because we join our ecumenical partners today at 11 in the grove for our Memorial Day service, I do not have to try to explain the Holy Trinity to a mob of children during the ‘children’s sermon.’ All sorts of heresy and blasphemy is uttered when pastor’s like me try to distill down the idea of the Trinity to a simple object lesson. Fortunately, I only need to remind you what this observance is all about.

Before the church moves into that long, not-so-ordinary time of hearing about the mission of the church and the ministry of Jesus, weeks of Green Paraments, we tip our hat to this theological construct that is as old as the church itself.

Sometimes theology comes from the intellectual activity of some very smart people who have time to wonder about things, and argue…in the best greek sense of that term…about their thesis. In the case of the Trinity, it did not happen that way. It seems that very early in the life of the church, when they were still not sure that the government was going to tolerate their existence; early on when they were gathering in peoples houses, sitting around the table and breaking the bread and drinking the cup together; early on someone listened to their worship and accused them of straying from the faith. Someone said, “It sounds to me like you no longer worship the single God of the Universe, the God of Abraham and Issac and Jacob.” You sound like you worship three Gods: The Creator, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

The answer came swiftly, from those around the table. See the idea of the Trinity did not come from an ivory tower, then given to the church, saying, ‘ok, now do something with this.’ No, the idea of the trinity came from Worship. It came from what the church was already doing at the earliest days of its existence when the people gathered to praise God.

Then, and now, everything hangs on the pattern of love-in-communion that exists among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity names the truth of both God’s vulnerability and God’s power–or, rather, that God’s vulnerability is–through the suffering death of the Son–God’s power. And, as Nicholas Lash has said, the Trinity names “the mystery that constitutes, transforms, and heals the world.” Trinity permeates the church’s life and witness. When we baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we name the Trinity as the church’s “determining reality” In the Eucharist, the gathered community “incarnates and realizes its communion within the very life and communion of the Trinity” In the Athanasian Creed, The justice, generosity, and equality we seek to embody in our life together all have their source in the Trinity, in which “none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another; but the whole three Persons are co-eternal and co-equal”
Now do you get it? No? That’s not surprising. Don’t beat up on yourself.

The Trinity is a concept that very bright and faithful people have tried to explain (in great detail) for a millennia. What makes me think that I can adequately do this for you? Yet, as I prepared for today, I opened my bible to the Roman’s text, read this morning, and written by the Apostle Paul, and I had an idea.

I do not know the challenges that the Apostle Paul faced. His imprisonment in Phillipi and his thrashing before it are things I know nothing about. But I, for one, believe that suffering is relative. A colleague once told me about an urgent pastoral call. He was in his office late one Friday afternoon, preparing for Sunday worship when a frantic call came in. The woman, obviously distraught, said, “Pastor, it’s an emergency, can you come right over?” So he jumped in his car, fought the ‘Durham triangle’ traffic across town. The woman greeted the pastor at the door, box of tissues in hand. They sat down and the pastor asked just what was going on? She proceeded to tell him that on Thursday night their hot water heater failed, “Pastor, do you have any idea how awful it is to go without hot water for 24 hours?”

I do not wish to trivialize whatever someone else has deemed at a tragedy. But I am not sure that the resources of the One, Holy, and Undivided Trinity can come to bear, constructively, on this situation.

Still, long ago I promised myself that I would never tell anyone, “I know what you are going through.” The fact of the matter is that I do not know what you are going through, but I do know what I’ve been through. And I know that it is in the mysterious completeness of God we describe as the Trinity that there are resources for us.

So when I read what the Apostle tells the Romans,

“3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,”

I felt that he was speaking to me.

And there was a part of me that wanted to simply tell each of you that which Paul proclaims. Unfortunately, I know how cheap that may sound on ears cauliflowered by the pounding some of you have taken. But listen to how Eugene Peterson translates these verses in “The Message:”
3 …We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, 4 and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. 5 In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

We know that God, who created all that is and who loves each one of us, this same God has already marked each one of us for salvation by Jesus Christ through our baptism, this same God strengthens us for life by the presence of the Holy Spirit. This we affirm, this we believe.

Still, it doesn’t mean a hill of beans unless it means something on the difficult days. The miracle of the trinity is not found in understanding the mysterious way that God was revealed to the disciples long ago. It is about this same mysterious revelation in our lives, in the life of the church that says “ For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

So it is my deepest desire that you will come to know, if you don’t already, this tippy-toe-stance where we perch in the midst of our own hardship in alert expectancy of what God will do next.

The fullness of God is beyond our comprehension. Our speech may be halting and tentative as we talk about the Trinity. But God is much more than a doctrine and much more than a mystery. In His great love affair with us, God decided that the best way He could build a relationship with us was with three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit; Parent, Savior, and Presence. And the more we understand that we are all children of God, God’s beloved, the better we can relate to one another, and the better we can relate to God.

And, we relate better to one another.

And, we relate better to one another .

And, we relate better to one another .

…Because with God it’s all about relationship – relationship with us – God who is one, God who is three, God who is all. The God who we stand in awe of as we look upon our world, the Son with whom we walk in our struggles, failures, and joys, and the Holy Spirit with whom we remember all that is good and wonderful in God.

It is good to rehearse this in your mind when the road is rough.