SERMON: TRINITY C 6 16 19
Prov8:1-14,22-31; Ps8; Rom5:1-5; Jn16:12-15
There's an old story about someone who was looking out their window and saw someone on a ledge on the next building across the airspace who appeared about to jump. They threw open their window and shouted "Don't jump!" The person on the ledge looked up, surprised. "Life is worth living," they shouted across the empty airspace. "Have faith!" The person on the ledge shouted back, "I have no hope, but I have faith." "What faith are you?" the interloper queried. When the person on the ledge replied, naming their denomination, the other person abruptly shut their window yelling, "Die, infidel!"
At some point in history I suspect that there have been people in every single religion who believe in their hearts and believe from their toes to their nose that their particular brand of religion is the only valid one. In their mind there can be no substitute. Breakaways think their former religion missed the mark while the religion they left believes in fact the deserters are the apostates. When we consider the subject of foreign religions and spiritual beings and practices which seem utterly unfamiliar, it seems any semblance of acceptance or even recognition of parallel beliefs or practices is rare indeed.
I think this is something to consider today since it is Trinity Sunday. This is the Sunday after Pentecost and Pentecost was the day the Holy Spirit first appeared to the disciples. At Pentecost people were understanding others despite their differences, something we would gather from the reporting that was not terribly common. Even so, how long did it take for the members of the newly founded Christian faith to start criticizing Judaism, the virtual font from which Christianity grew? Since we see criticisms of Jewish practices and leadership throughout the New Testament, we can presume wholesale criticism of Judaism was not far behind.
But we don't often consider what it is about our faith that might be upsetting or off-putting for others. After all, in our creed we make some pretty striking statements about what we think took place two millennia ago. We also claim today, of all days, that God is comprised of three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet we also claim to be a monotheistic religion--that is, with a single God--yet we have three persons comprising that God. Compared to some religions that might not see all that odd, but it does stretch the bounds of common sense.
What we're addressing is the nature of God. And maybe that's the point. Religion is not intended to make sense. It is intended to do other things. For example it helps us understand our place in the world. It explains in a kind of mythological way, a theological way, how the earth was formed and what the Creator --all three persons of it in Christianity--is about, not what it is to look like.
As recipients, as inheritors of a faith passed down through the two millennia of Christianity, we presumably have no illusions any longer about being the only faith or the only valid faith. We recognize others practice religions in other ways and, hopefully, they recognize that about us. Sadly there are those ready to dismiss those of all other faiths as infidels, but as a nation we declare that we believe in religious freedom for all. Sometimes we don't act like it but we do believe it.
The essence of faith is relational. Relational to creation, to the Creator, to other people, to our spiritual selves such as we become familiar with them. Everyone does it a little differently, too, just to keep it interesting.
David Brooks, the columnist in The New York Times, wrote a recent column (June 10) which declared that we are returning to the Age of Aquarius, that late 1960s counterculture breakaway from conformity and the establishment. He noted that more people now believe in astrology than Protestant Christianity in the US. He went on to say that Wicca, or modern Pagan witchcraft, is the fastest growing religion in the country. He further described mindfulness as a popular spiritual practice for seekers.
The belief systems David Brooks mentioned offer practices (think of your astrological sign or casting a spell) to aid in understanding spiritual matters or to address them. They may lack the equivalent of a creedal belief system, but they provide a window for a type of understanding.
Anyone who has been paying attention knows that involvement in traditional religion, such as Christianity, has been in decline for a few decades. There are lots of reasons for this, not least that religious institutions have been unfaithful to their followers in discipline and truthfulness. It is also true that no longer does "everyone go somewhere in faith" on the weekend, as in the 1950s. A general disbelief in a physical hell for those who do not fulfill the expectations of their faith is another.
But what we can see is that despite the lack of the rigorous religious expectations of the past, we do have a belief system that helps us satisfy our spiritual and emotional needs in community, in the congregation, in the church. As internally inconsistent as a monotheistic Trinitarian system sounds, it does support Christians in their faith.
My favorite Anglican text, "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church," tells us this about the Trinity:
The term was devised by Tertullian (an early Christian writer from Tunisia) to express the mystery of the unity-in-diversity of God. Trinity means threefold unity. The corresponding word in Greek is ho trias which means the Triad. The Trinity is a perfect relationship of love in which neither unity nor distinctness of the divine persons is compromised. God's life is understood to be dynamic, loving, and available to be shared in relationship with humanity for salvation.
So if you know anyone who wants a clear understanding of God's identity and God's love, offer up this explanation:
The Trinity is a perfect relationship of love in which neither unity nor distinctness of the divine persons is compromised. Gods life is understood to be dynamic, loving, and available to be shared in relationship with humanity for salvation.
I am quick to admit I don't know about most other faiths and I definitely don't know about the ones David Brooks cites. But as for the Trinitarian understanding of God and my relationship with the Almighty: I'll take it, thank you very much! Amen
A sermon preached on Trinity Sunday, June 16, 2019, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector