Trinity Sunday – June 11, 2017
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Trinity Sunday: The Stories We Tell
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.
Rabbis, in the Hasidic tradition of Judaism, have a story that tells about God’s people who would go together into the forest where they would gather around a crackling fire to tell the ancient story of redemption. As time went on, however, the people forgot the story… and they could no longer find the place in the forest where they used to gather around the fire to tell the great story. They did remember, however, that THERE WAS A STORY, and they remembered that the story had been told around a fire. So they would light a fire and tell the story that there once was a story that was important to their ancestors. The rabbis knew about the power of stories, and that God loved stories.
Stories are the containers for meaning… When talking about faith stories there are three levels of meaning. We each have a story about our lives, the story of our birth, the story of our families, the record of our heartbreaks, our dreams, our landmarks and our achievements. We share a story of faith that is “Our Story” the story recorded in our scriptures, the Good News that Jesus was and is for us, reminding us of how we are called to be in right relationship with one another, to care for the stranger and the outcast, to feed the poor, to receive the abundance of life that God desires for us, and to remember that even though he is no longer walks among us, Christ is still here with us as living presence. Jesus’ final instructions were to continue living the story, carrying on in discipleship as he had taught in story… in parables… and by example. There is a third level of story that contains the other two. There is “MY story,” and “OUR story.” The third level is “THE STORY” in which all other stories are contained… the stories of humanity’s relationship with God told from different faith perspectives, through different lineages of tradition, in a wide variety of tongues, in the diversity of human culture, including the stories of science that continue to be written using God given tools of intellect, imagination, skill and ingenuity. Central to all of the great stories dwells the God given gift of curiosity and longing to reach for the bigger picture and to locate our own place in the big, big story.
Our biblical story begins at the very beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. Out of empty darkness, out of the void, a great wind swept over the primordial waters and God spoke light into being. God spoke the cycles of day and night into being. God spoke life into being… all the life that fills the earth, and God pronounced the whole of creation “Good.” We know this story well and we tell it over and over again. It lights up our imagination… even as we have new stories of creation that continue to be developed by scientists who look up to the heavens to assemble a story of creation that sits side-by-side with the ancient stories of God’s people… both stories igniting our imaginations and filling us with wonder. Both stories giving us information about who we are today and about the big story that continues to be written, the grand story into which our own life stories are interwoven.
On this Trinity Sunday we remember the tradition of our faith that has been passed down for these two millennia. The story of the Trinity is about love and relationship. It is a story that is difficult to nail down. In Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermon entitled “Three Hands Clapping” (a play on the Buddhist koan “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”) Barbara quotes one of her colleagues who said: “When human beings try to describe God, we are like a bunch of oysters trying to describe a ballerina. We Simply do not have the equipment necessary to understand something so utterly beyond us… but that has never stopped us from trying.” Yet we still grasp for understanding. We continue the struggle to nail down some concrete meaning of the divine story… we continue to wrestle with concepts about the natures of God, and of Jesus, and of this Holy Spirit who entered late in the game and who moves like the wind stirring our hearts and urging us to action. But rather than giving up in frustration for not being able to figure out how this divine trio works, we are encouraged to enter into the paradox and to flirt with the mystery. Barbara Brown Taylor says, “Preachers tie themselves into knots trying to explain what all this means. One Trinity Sunday I found a lumpy envelope on the hood of my car. Inside was a Three Musketeers candy bar with a note that read, ‘All for one and one for three! Happy Trinity!’” She adds, “Meanwhile I do not know why we hold ourselves responsible for explaining things that cannot be explained. Perhaps the most faithful [approach to the concept of] the Trinity is [to] sniff around the edges of the mystery, hunting for something closer to an experience than an understanding.1
Meister Eckhart said that God is “both unnamable and omninamable.” God is “The Source.” God is “Presence.” God is like a brood hen who cares for her young. God is a sufferer who suffers with us. God is delight. God is the author of our joy and delight. God is the igniter of awe and wonder. God is the great healer. God calls us… to be healers, reconcilers, and peacemakers. Sally McFague names God as “Mother, Lover and Friend.” God is the mover and shaker who stirs us to life. God lifts us up when we have fallen and embraces us no matter how tattered, bruised and broken. God calls us together into community to tell the ancient stories and to remember that we belong, that we matter, that our lives have meaning and purpose. God calls us into relationship with the Holy Mystery and with one another. God is “purpose, presence and power.”2 In our story of faith, we use shorthand: “The One holy and undivided Trinity.” “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” “Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.” All of the names are insufficient, yet they speak to us, in our tradition of faith, of the longing that God has for us. A triad, a trinity, opens into a flow of relationship. If we have but two choices, humans are prone to move either towards one option or the other, choosing A or B, black or white, red or green, conservative or liberal…. one or the other, a ping- ponging or a fixation between two options. Add a third element and a dynamic of movement and flow is initiated.
The icon that you see on your bulletin cover, known as “The Trinity, is by the 15th century Russian icon writer Andrei Rublev. It depicts the three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre, in a story that is found in the 18th chapter of Genesis3. On another level, the three depict the Holy Trinity with God the Father on the left, Jesus… God incarnate, God with us… in the middle, and God the Holy Spirit sitting to the right. The three form a dynamic circle of relationship that welcomes the viewer in. The image on your bulletin shows only the upper portion of the icon. Richard Rohr has made an observation4 that on the original icon, just below the table, there is a small rectangular residue of glue. Some art historians believe that the glue once held a small mirror that was meant for the viewer to see his or her reflection within the circle of the Trinity. When the viewer stood before the trio, he or she would see themselves joining the sacred circle of love and life. More than that, the circle is open, and beckons us all to join.
And so it is. We belong to the ancient story, the divine story that continues to unfold. Week after week we tell the story of God’s redeeming work known to us in Christ Jesus. Week after week we retell and reenact the story of Christ with us in the sacrament of community, in the sharing of bread and wine. Week after week are sent back out into the world to live into the story of God’s great love and dream… a story of which we are a part… a story that continues to be written in us and in all of creation.
1 Barbara Brown Taylor, Home by Another Way, sermon “Three Hands Clapping,” Cowley Pub., 1999, pg. 156
2 Dean Alan Jones
3 Genesis 18:1-8
4 Richard Rohr, video “God For Along and Within” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkKLN1WGKlM