Trinity, Diversity and Unity

Transcribed from the sermon preached May 31, 2015

The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor

Scripture Readings: Romans 8:12-25, John 3:1-17, Acts 2:38-47


Today is Trinity Sunday. Yippee! It’s Trinity Sunday! I am sure it is right up there with Christmas and Fourth of July on your important and exciting days of the year. The word Trinity has got to be one of the most impersonal dry words in the Christian vocabulary. Trinity, not a word found in the Bible, is the word which came to describe the nature of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The need to think out this idea came as believers began to experience divinity in Jesus as they developed a relationship with him. The experience and feeling in relation WITH Jesus precedes the language, thought and reason ABOUT him.

If there is only one God as Judaism, the religion of Jesus proclaimed, then in what sense was Jesus divine? Was the worship of Jesus as God a heresy? Such a question required thought and reason. And by the time they got around to serious thought and reason on this subject, believers also noticed that they were not only experiencing God as: 1) the divine power, King and Father of Creation, 2) the embodied, incarnate divine love and grace in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, but also 3) in a Spirit which empowers and unites us. Thinking evolved to an understanding that there is one monotheistic creative force who is God, yet this single divine power is manifest in different forms. And those forms, while one, also are distinct and relate to one another.

John addresses the issue in the last decade of the first Century by connecting Jesus to the Spirit present before Creation: “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

It is to the degree that the life and light of the Spirit of God is present in us that we are, as it says in Genesis, made in the image of God. Process theology posits that the One Sovereign Creating God give each becoming occasion, each piece of life being created in each moment a divine aim. The divine aim takes in consideration all the contingencies and influences around us in any given time and space, and points us in the best possible direction for us in the becoming moment. Yet the aim or direction of God for us does not always become incarnate, we do not always and in every way become that divine aim, the best us that we can be. We sin. But Jesus pulled it off. Jesus embodied each initial aim of God in such a beautiful, complex and harmonious way that he became an actual experience of the aim of god. He embodied the very Spirit of the One God.

I am deviating some from more traditional understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity in saying that we too have an equal potential to be divine, or at one with the Creator. If we too were to hit God’s aim for us in each moment, then we too would be God and human like Jesus. Paul in Romans speaks to this. For all who are led by the spirit are children of God. The Spirit of God and Christ is available to us and to the degree we are open to it, we embody it. We may embody it but we cannot contain it. The Spirit continues to exist as that power which created us, and the grace through Christ which forgives and empowers us.

I believe the paradox of the trinity is similar to that idea Eugen Herrigel attempted to communicate in Zen in the Art of Archery: We may think that the object of our life is to utilize a bow and arrow to hit a target, and the target for a Christian would be righteousness or heaven. It is a goal that is out there in front of us, beyond us. Yet to the degree that we are created in the image of God, and the Holy Spirit is available before and within us, then we are also the target. Or we might say that the divine within us, God, is the archer and we are the arrow God shoots toward the target that is us. “The contest consists,” says Herrigel, “in the archer aiming at himself – and yet not at himself, in hitting himself – and yet not himself, and thus becoming simultaneously the aimer and the aim, the hitter and the hit.

God shoots Jesus the arrow and hits himself. You can switch it around any way you like: God shoots the arrow of the Spirit and hits Jesus. The Spirit shoots Jesus and hits God. God shoots Jesus and hits the Spirit within us.

The actual discipline of the physical art of archery and the art of life, all the acts we are called to do and perfect on the way to hitting the target do not pass away to triviality or irrelevance, but are enhanced and deepened even as we recognize their smallness.

The specific tools and art we use do not change the underlying spiritual principles which enable the act to be art or the artist to be artistic. Zen and the Art of Archery could be Zen and the Art of Dance or Gardening or Motorcycle Maintenance, So Jesus is a very particular person in a particular culture: a Judean peasant with a Pharisaic education in Israel, which was under Roman occupation. The sovereign God of all time and place becomes incarnate in the particular. But God is not contained in the body of Jesus or Judean land or culture either.

It is the particular brilliance of Christianity that on the day of Pentecost the Spirit and power of God’s grace through Christ not only jumped people but jumped culture and language. Lamen Sanneh, a Gambian Muslim convert to Christianity, who then became Professor of Missions and World Christianity at Yale writes in Encountering the West that Pentecost “set a seal on mother tongues as sufficient and necessary channels of access to God, a piece of cultural innovation that enable the religion to adopt the multiplicity of geographical centers as legitimate destinations for the gospel. Christians continued to cherish their Judaic roots in the context of growing pluralism within the Church, a pluralism at the core of which is the principle that no culture is the exclusive norm of truth and that, similarly, no culture is inherently unclean in the eyes of God…From the point of view of God’s ‘plan of salvation’, all cultures are equally valid, if equally inadequate.” (Sanneh p. 135,136.)

The heresy Christians committed was that after they extend beyond Judean cultural norms and laws to Roman Gentile, they then once again absolutized those Western cultural norms and used them alongside armies to concur and subdue peoples for economic gain. “Ethnic individuality yes,” says Sanneh, “but ethnic divinization, no.”

Sanneh goes on, “When he stressed faith over against works, Paul was intending to enunciate the inclusive principle of God’s right and freedom to choose us without regard to our cultural trophies. Faith as an absolute gift of a loving, gracious God, is the rule that unmasks culture.” (p.138)

As the Gospel was translated into the languages of different cultures, despite often being brought along by those seeking conquest, Sanneh notes that it resulted “almost everywhere in arousing deep loyalties towards the indigenous cause.” Because translators shared God and Jesus using terms from within the indigenous culture, God jumps sides. The Holy Spirit will not be contained by the idolatry of culture. God is both within culture and beyond culture, God is many and one.

God comes to us where we are and within the particular culture through which we can understand. So God may have particular attributes in one culture which may not be applied to Her in other contexts. So says Sanneh, “The Psalmist may declare that God is a shield or a rock, or Luther that God is a mighty fortress and bulwark, or a western liberal that God is the god of motivation without any of them excluding other descriptions of God, such as the Dewy-nosed One of the cattle-owning culture, the One of the Sacred Stake of the pig-herding people, the Nimble-footed One of the Sacred Dance, and the Long-necked One of the hunting group.” (Sanneh, p. 146) With all our cultural particularity, with cultural signs and symbols which differentiate us in our respective particularities, we are united in our relation to God.

Our Acts 2 reading this morning picks up after the Holy spirit tongues of Pentecost fire reached down and touched the crowd listening. Its says 3,000 people repented of their sins, received the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and were baptized. This has always been the fundamental aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.. Repentance and forgiveness of sins. Then the Holy Spirit comes to empower us to live love like Christ as children of God in our particular context.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread (eating rice or tortillas) and prayer. Many wonders and signs were done, and all who believed were together and had all things in common, they sold their possessions and distributed them, as any had need. They worshipped and shared meals with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day.