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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Trinity SUnday Sermon

“Holy! Holy! Holy! Is the Lord…” sing the Seraphim. The holiness of God is a reminder that God is beyond us! The Hebrew word, Qadowsh, appears 116 times in the Jewish Bible. It refers to people (saints) and objects set aside to God’s service. It conveys the idea of clean, pure and unpolluted. Yet, we see that all holiness is derived. God is holy, we are holy by “participation” in God’s holiness. The identity of God, however, becomes an expectation for us. In Leviticus 11:44-45 we read

“For I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves…..” (an idea repeated in

Leviticus 11:45; 19:2;and 21:8.)

The words of Isaiah about the three times Holy God were considered a declaration of the Trinity in the early church. Ambrose, Fulgentius, Theodoret, Cyril of Alexandria, and Jerome (from the time period of the late 300’s to mid 400’s) each declared this in their own sermons and writings.

Dating prior to them, the first great scripture scholar of the church, Origen (185-254), said that his “Hebrew teacher used to say that the two seraphim…were to be understood to mean the only begotten Son of God and the Holy Spirit.” Those who knew Jesus saw a new depth in the Jewish text.

Such views may seem to us to be an over-reach, but the Jewish understanding of the Bible six hundred years before this included the belief that there is a depth in God's word, that He communicates and we must go through layer after layer to discover all that is there. The early church, with its metaphorical, spiritual and allegorical readings of Scripture, merely continue the same approach. The mystery of God is deep in His revelation to us, and it goes deeper and deeper the more we dig!

Let us be clear, the doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery; even if I could explain the Trinity to you it wouldn’t matter--because you (and I) could not understand the explanation. It is a mystery but religion is not the only place where mystery can be found. Our world is full of such mysteries. The list of things we do not understand goes on and on. Math reveals that we live in a world of eleven dimensions, barely one third of which we understand. Time is called an illusion by scientists, where past, present and future are simultaneous. Nature abounds with mysteries. We know ”that” things are, but we cannot understand “why” or “how.” If this is true of our physical world, then it is even more true of discussions about God. The mystery of three and one is just that, a mystery. A mystery which lies hidden in the Biblical texts of the Jews, but a reality which faith can find!
The problem is, it is hard to believe. And in an age of unbelief, not believing becomes more and more the norm, and an increasingly hostile, angry and aggressive norm. “How can this be?” the doubters mockingly ask. Yet such a question is found today on the lips of the teacher Nicodemus. There is nothing new in the skeptics disdain, unbelief is ancient, too. In the Gospel of John Jesus asks, “if I told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe it I tell you about heavenly things?”
You and I are believing recipients of a divine revelation. The rest have rejected it, perhaps based on the claim that “they want to believe but they cannot.” I believe this is an error about what faith is.
Faith is not Understanding.
Faith is not knowledge.
Faith is not a feeling or emotion.
Faith is Trust.
It is, in the end, a gift and submission of one’s self to the Other. And what can be more ‘other’ than a God Who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit--one God--three persons?

Yet the revelation of Trinity provides insight into God’s nature. God is love. A love of parent and child, a love of community. God is love from before time and forever.
We are made in the image of God. We are, therefore, creatures intended for community. We are love, or at least we were before the Fall. Our difficulties with others mirror God’s own struggles with us. Love is self-gift and self-emptying. It is sacrificial and seeks the good of the other. It is what we are created for and we do well to focus on that all our days. Yet, since the Fall, we ask "what is in it for me?" Our love can also be consumptive. Ironically, those we love most we also hurt most. This is why God's love, in Jesus, ends up on a cross. Self-gift in love, when it meets the hunger to control, to take, to rule---it is killed.
In preparing today’s sermon I stumbled across an article on After Death Experiences of Hell. Lacking any discipline I ended up reading it. The details of the five cases were similar to the revelations to medieval nuns and monks and modern day mystics. One thing that stood out was that the worst part of it for those having the experience was the isolation. They were surrounded by millions of souls, but no one cared about anyone as each was totally consumed with his/her own misery. The anger, resentment and self-centeredness were the central feature of Hell.

It is important to understand that isolation can occur in a group. Ironically, the person in solitude, distanced from the distractions of life, is able to go deeper into God, to become more integrated and whole, and is able to love. Isolation, the act of turning in on one's self in lovelessness, hardens the heart and makes it cold and callous. The choice of Hell is easy to make, especially as we demand justice and exercise "our right" to be mad, bitter and resentful. But there is a remedy for this disease: God, the Trinity!
I do not understand the Trinity, but I do understand that it is a revelation of God which must shape my life. No one “gets it”--no one ever can. However, if we “get” that Trinitarian spirituality is about love and community, if we "get" that we are called to be like God, self- emptying life givers, then we "got" everything we need. People who "get" love may never understand God the Holy Trinity, but they will meet Him and live with Them in glory everlasting!   

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