There is a story told on seminary campuses of a theology professor who every year would tell his students that they had the option of skipping their final exam if they could complete one, simple requirement: they had to invent a new heresy. Seeing as this professor’s final exams were known for being particularly brutal, every year a handful of students would set about the task of creating their own, fresh new heresy. And every year, they all would fail. No matter what crazy, cockamamie idea they would come up with about the nature of Jesus, or the creation of the world, or the second coming, the professor could always find someone who’d had the same crazy, cockamamie idea twelve hundred years ago. The lesson was a simple one: there is very little, perhaps nothing at all, about the Christian faith that hasn’t already been harmfully twisted by someone. That sounds like bad news, perhaps, but it is not. Because that also means that there is very little, perhaps nothing at all, of that twistedness that the Church hasn’t already put in its place: namely, a large box labeled “Untrue and truly unhelpful.”
And yet, year after year, preachers stand before their congregations with trembling knees on this Sunday, terrified that they are going to spout some new – or old – heresy. Why? Because today is Trinity Sunday, the day when the Church focuses on the great mystery of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This week, my Facebook feed has been abuzz with preachers joking about their struggles with their sermons for today. One of them created a “meme,” essentially a photo with a funny caption, that shows a small, fluffy kitten and reads, “Want to avoid heresy on Trinity Sunday? Forget the sermon and show pictures of kittens instead.” Someone else went so far as to create an animated short of two ginger-haired Irishmen haranguing Saint Patrick for his use of the shamrock as an analogy for the nature of the Trinity. (The heresy there is apparently tritheism – ask me later if you’re interested.)
Now this is all a bit over the top, of course, but there is some real grounding to the fears about preaching on the Trinity. Because the blessed and glorious Trinity is not exactly the easiest theological concept to explain. Heck, forget about explaining it, the Trinity is just hard to talk about. We have a God, one God, revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ, the co-eternal Word, who was made flesh by the Virgin Mary his mother, who prayed to God as his Father, and yet said that he and the Father were one, but then seemed to be abandoned by his Father on the cross, who then after his resurrection promised to send a comforter, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the one who stands beside us, but who seems not to have been just sent, but always been standing beside us, the ruach who moved over the waters of creation, who alighted on kings and prophets, who was present at Jesus’ baptism and in the wilderness, who speaks what he hears of the father and of the Son and reveals to us all truth. Three persons, all God; God who is one.
Obviously the doctrine of the Holy Trinity can easily lead to serious confusion. To simplify things for ourselves, we might start thinking about Jesus as a person, wholly separate from God, or of the Holy Spirit as a kind of force field that Jesus, like some ascended superhero, shoots out of his fingertips from heaven. But if Jesus is just a person, then how did his crucifixion change anything? And if the Holy Spirit is just a watered-down, less-present stand-in for Jesus, then how can He (or She) know enough to reveal anything of the truth? You can see how easily we get tied up here. We need some help. We need some greater understanding, some greater wisdom.
And look what we have here, in Proverbs! "Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?" Huzzah! We are saved. Here is the wisdom we have been seeking. And as we read on, this just keeps sounding better and better. Because this Wisdom isn’t hiding her light under a bushel; no! She is standing out on the street corners, parking herself by the entrance to the PATCO line, or working her way down the outdoor tables that line Rittenhouse Square, offering her insights to all people everywhere. She is ready to share her knowledge, and what a knowledge it is! She was created first at the beginning of everything, present when God hung the stars and the moon, cradled in the crook of God’s arm as he bent to separate the waters, to bring forth dry land, to make mountains and rills and sheep and spiders and begonias and crabgrass…and us! Wisdom was there when we were made, when God breathed life into the first dust man and made for him his very own dust woman. Wisdom has been around long enough to know the truth of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and so we read on, anxious to see Wisdom get down to business, explaining, codifying, enlightening us about this tricky, testy doctrine of the Trinity.
But wait, what is this? When we read on, we find that there is actually no explaining to be found. None at all! It’s crazy making! Here is Wisdom, Wisdom herself, who knows the truth of all that has ever been and ever will be, and when she is presented with the infinity and majesty of the Triune God, she dances. She who knows the intricacy and immensity of all of God and God’s Creation explains nothing. Apparently all she wants to do is dance, to whirl about in wonder. “I was beside him,” she says, “like a master worker;…rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” She offers no explanations, codifies nothing; she just dances before God in joy.
And perhaps here is where we realize an important truth: that today is not really about a puzzle. Of course we will always continue to ponder the mystery of the Holy Trinity. We will always be drawn to the Trinity, running around it in circles as we try to find where it stops and where it starts, trying to sketch out a family tree of who begot whom and who is made from what. We will always try to figure out the Trinity. And that’s fine, we should – some of us should try a little and some of us, with brains more nimble than mine, should try a lot.
But today is not about a puzzle. Today, we recognize that the Holy and Blessed Trinity is not, at its core, something to be figured out. It is not a set of cosmic magic rings that need to be pulled apart and then slid back together. For Trinity Sunday is not really a day to celebrate a doctrine; it is a day to celebrate a God, three persons in one God and one God of three persons. We are here to celebrate persons, not a puzzle, to celebrate the fact that our God is a Trinity of persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with whom we actually have a relationship. This Trinity of persons knows us, more than knows us, loves us, delights in us, pours out upon us all of the gifts of Creation, all of the Wisdom of the ages, all of the forgiveness and mercy and love and truth and justice that we will ever need. This Trinity, this great and majestic mystery, is persons and therefore personal. And, most importantly, these persons are for us.
And that just leaves us in absolute wonder. That understanding that God is for us, that the Father chose to pour himself out to you and to me through the revelation of Jesus Christ and by the workings of the Holy Spirit, that Wisdom leaves me openmouthed with awe. Because truly, what other response can there be to this much love? I cannot explain whence it comes. Why does God love us this much? Why does God delight in us, in the human race, when we like to spend so much of our time ignoring Him and crucifying each other? Why? Why so much grace poured out on us who are so undeserving? “When I consider your heavens, O Lord, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses, what is man that you should be mindful of him? the son of man that you should seek him out?”
But this question seems to provide its own answer, and that is: who knows? Who knows why God loves us so much? Who knows why the glory of the eternal Trinity is offered to us free of charge? Who knows, other than the God who made us? And perhaps we are meant not to know; perhaps we are just meant to see. Perhaps we aren’t meant to explain; perhaps we are just meant to dance, as the very Trinity dances in itself, to rejoice in the Trinity as the Trinity is so obviously rejoicing in us. Perhaps that is what this broken world really, truly needs: not people who can explain their faith, but a community of Christians dancing their faith in gratitude and joy, pointing again and again to the wonderful mystery of the Trinity and saying Wow! Perhaps this is the gift of Trinity Sunday – to remind us that it is enough, enough to rejoice, enough to give thanks, enough to fall to our knees, enough to sing Holy, Holy, Holy, enough to dance.
Preached by Mother Erika Takacs
26 May 2013 - Trinity Sunday
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia