Laughing Through the Trinity

HolyTrinityWindowLevelled

A sermon for Trinity Sunday, May 26, 2013.  The lectionary readings are Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-5, and John 16:12-15.

On the Sunday after the Day of Pentecost, the Church focuses on a concept rather than a particular event in the scriptures.  Today is Trinity Sunday.  In a very crass way, it’s almost as though the Church thinks out loud, “Ok, God is God, and that’s our foundation. With Christmas and Easter, we come to know Jesus as the Christ, and now that the Holy Spirit has come in a new way at Pentecost, we have the whole team assembled.”  Now that we have the team, how is the game played?  Or perhaps we should ask even before that, “What’s the game?”

As we explore the Holy Trinity, I think we’ll see that no matter what angle me might take, no matter what emphasis or perspective, the Holy Game of God is Love.  That’s all, but that’s everything.  God in the beginning created the world out of nothing, and since forming those first humans, God has done all God could to get into the game of life and love as fully as possible.  Christ is God incarnate, the Spirit is God animated, and together, that holy team of three needs us in order to complete the field.

I’m probably not the only preacher on Trinity Sunday who thinks of Rowan Atkinson in the movie, “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” Father Gerald stands as a reminder for us to measure our words and speak carefully.  You may recall the scene.  It’s the second wedding and the church is filled with flowers and family. But the most nervous person in the room is not the bride, nor the groom. It’s the priest who is terrified. As he sweats and stammers his way through the service, not only does he refer to the bride as the “awfully wedded wife,” he ends one prayer with, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spigot.” Later, somewhat recovered, he gains the confidence to go on, only to conclude another prayer, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Goat.”

Goats and spigots aside, the Holy Trinity is sometimes difficult to get one’s head around. There is no one text of scripture advocating belief in God as Trinity, whether one imagines that as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Instead, the idea of God, three-in-one, was developed by faithful people over the centuries in an effort to pull together various texts of scripture and explain God’s way of being in the world.

Scripture shows a smattering of references to the Trinity. In Advent the Virgin Mary is told that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35). Another hint of the Trinity comes at the baptism of Christ, as a voice comes from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17). And then in today’s Gospel, Jesus

promises that the Spirit will come and “will guide you into all the truth.”

But what does this mean? What does it mean to believe in the trinity of God?

Theologians have differed in their understandings. One (Karl Barth) imagines God as speaker, since in the beginning God spoke creation into being. With God the Speaker, there would be no voice or sound. The Word that was spoken is Jesus, and the spirit is the meaning of both the speaker and the word.

But perhaps a more basic and easier-to-hold-on-to definition of the trinity comes from someone (George Handry) who has put it more simply: in Christ we have God with us. In the Spirit we God in us. But while we have both of these, we also and always have God over us. God the parent is over us, Mother, Father, the author of all life, the one who holds us, cares for us and sets out the plan in which we find our way. God the Son, Jesus, is God with us, walking before us and beside us as an elder brother, a friend, a companion, a shepherd, a guide, and a support. God the Spirit is God in us, giving us strength, probing our conscience, showing us where the world most needs God, which is to say, where the world most needs us to show God and be the love of God.

Some might wonder why a doctrine of the Trinity matters. Theologian Catherine La Cugna argued that the doctrine of the Trinity is not “about the abstract nature of God. . . but a teaching about God’s life with us and our life with each other. Trinitarian theology,” she says, “could be described as par excellence a theology of relationship . . . .” (God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life, Catherine M. Lacugna). The way we think about God influences the way we think about each other and ourselves.

If we only believe in God the Creator, God the Parent, we might have a tendency to imagine God as far off and away. We might not see much relevance for God in the day-to-day. If God is only Creator, after all, how can God be interested in the details and concerns of my life? Why should such a God be concerned with how I act toward my neighbor, how I shop, how I spend money, how I live life?

If one only focuses on Jesus Christ, faith is personal, but rarely has any political aspect. Faith in Jesus alone quickly becomes a dull modeling of morality, trying to be like Jesus in the same way one might hope to be “like” George Washington or Susan B Anthony. Instead, a biblical Christian faith involves all three aspects of God, creator, redeemer, sanctifier, each in relationship with the other.

The Holy Trinity is a description describes the family of god, of God-in-Community with God. But the family of God does not merely rest in heaven, watching the antics of humanity like some set of Greek or Roman gods. Instead, God has come to be among us, come to be like us, so that we might be more like God. God makes possible our family in faith—where we mirror those heavenly relationships and we have brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, inlaws, (and a few outlaws probably)—people to lean on, people to cry with, people to laugh with.

Meister Eckhart, a 13th century monk and mystic, understood laugher as a profound theological expression and linked it with his understanding of the Trinity. He asked, Do you want to know what goes on in the core of the Trinity?

I will tell you. In the core of the Trinity the Father laughs and gives birth to the Son. The Son laughs back at the Father and gives birth to the Spirit. The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us. (Matthew Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, 1983).

We may not always understand God in Three Persons, or the mystery of the Holy Trinity. We may even confuse Ghost with goat, and spirit with spigot; but especially on this day,  let’s not get so confused by God and God’s revelation that we miss the deep laughter and love of God.  May God’s love for us and the world play out from within us, and into all the world.

In the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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