May 27, 2013 by jmw
I think just about all of us have spent some time staring at the starry sky at night while pondering the grandeur of the universe – or our seemingly insignificant place in the world. This is exactly the question posed by the author of Psalm 8: What are human beings that you are mindful of them? Indeed, who are we that the creator God of the universe would care about us?
Speaking of the universe: the universe in which we live is 13.7 billions years old and is expanding as we speak. The edge of our universe is roughly 90 billion trillion miles away. The visible universe is a million million million million miles across. Our solar system fills less than a trillionth of the universe and is moving at 558 miles per hour. It’s part of the Milky Way galaxy and it takes between 200-250 million years to orbit the Milky Way galaxy once.
Let’s move on to the “inhabited world” – our earth. Our earth weighs about 6 billion trillion tons and is moving around the sun at 66,000 MPH. When we look out at the stars in the sky like the author of Psalm 8, the light we see is the stars as they were when the light left them, as they were in the past, not as they are now. When we stand outside and enjoy the sun, we are enjoying the sun as it was 8 minutes ago. OK. You get the point.
So, again, with the Psalmist, I ask, “Who are we that God would care about us?”
This is the most basic and critical question of our existence: Who are we that God would care about us? I’ve often said that the most important question of theology is not whether or not God exists, but whether or not a God that exists cares about us. And, if you look around our world, there are many, many ways to answer this fundamental question.
Some say: You are nothing special! You are a cosmic accident; inherently worthless. You are a thinking thing; an individual programmed for survival. And there is no genuine hope for a healed human family because we’re all in the game of life for ourselves. You must be self-sufficient. It’s a dog-eat-dog world and only the strong survive!
Others say: There is no god! And if there is, it sure as hell doesn’t care about you! You are a failure. You haven’t succeeded enough. You haven’t earned enough money. You don’t own enough stuff! You haven’t saved enough money for retirement. You’re not in shape! You haven’t met the right person to marry!
Sadly, there are still others who say: There is a God, but God does not care for you until you believe the right thing or confess the right faith. Otherwise God holds not care but rather contempt for you!
These are the stories we are told over and over in our world today. Ultimately, they tell us that we are not good enough the way we are and so we must take more and give more in order to be of value in this world. No wonder 1 out of 4 Canadians reported (in 2011) that every day was highly stressful (SOURCE: StatsCan)
But in the midst of all these stories there is another story that answers the Psalmist’s question, a story called “The Trinity.” Who are we? The story of the Trinity answers, “God not only cares for us, but is ever moving outward to be with us that we may participate in the life of God!”
Now, I realize that the Trinity is a confusing concept for many. Three-in-one. One-in-three. It can be mind numbing for me as well. Thomas Jefferson once called it the “incomprehensible jargon of Trinitarian arithmetic.” Indeed, as a theological doctrine it can seem as if it’s just some fancy thought experiment for philosophers and theologians.
But the Trinity is not a doctrine added on to the Christian faith. The Trinity is a story. It is the epitome and encapsulation of the Christian faith. Within this word is the entire biblical narrative, the story of God’s reaching outward to God’s “inhabited world.” In this sense, it is becomes the name of the Christian God. Who is it that Christians worship? The Triune One; God, the three-in-one community; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.
So, what is the story of the Trinity? It is the story of the God whose love is over-flowing and moves outward toward the other in a dance of giving/taking/receiving. It is the story of God’s reaching out in order that we might participate in the life of God.
When I say “participate in the life of God” it is a bit hard to imagine. It is difficult to comprehend how we “mere mortals” might participate in the life of the immortal, divine Creator. But imagine for a moment your own life. Think of your own existence. Do others participate in your life? How? Do you participate in the lives of others? Indeed, we all do! No man is an island and sometimes it is difficult to see where one life ends and another begins. We are inextricably bound together and participate with one another in this mystery we call life. I am reminded of the African philosophy of Ubuntu in which we exist only insofar as we are known by others and exist for others. The saying closely associated with Ubuntu goes, “I am because we are.”
In very much the same way, because of the Trinity, we may participate in the life of God. Allow me to rehearse this grand narrative in concise manner…
The story of the Trinity does not take place in our imagination alone; it is not simply information or philosophy that can be written down into a book and passed on. The story of the Trinity takes place in and through the “inhabited world.” In our reading from Proverbs 8 we get some of the most beautiful poetry in the Bible: the personification of Wisdom speaks and says, “I was beside him like a child, and I was daily delighted, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing at his inhabited world.” Here we see the God who, from very beginning, exists for others and to be with others and to give life and create an inhabitable world where God might share life with others.
This spilling over or moving outward into the world is thematic throughout the biblical story. Beginning with the Hebrew people, God moves outward through this particular people in order to cross into new lands and fulfill the promise made to Abraham: to bless the world. We see God moving outward toward the strangers and foreigners (e.g. Ruth the Moabite, Rahab the Canaanite, Naaman the Syrian, the strangers in exile; the Samaritan woman at the well, Roman centurions, Simon of Cyrene, thousands of foreigners on the Day of Pentecost, the Ethiopian Eunich in Acts 8, Cornelius the Centurion, …. from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and the ends of the earth!)
Obviously, the epitome of God’s moving outward and into the inhabited world is in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The Incarnation is the climax and the fullness of God’s moving outward and into the world. As one theologian put it, it is the point at which heaven and earth kiss. The story of Jesus reveals that the God of the universe not only cares about us, but is Emmanuel – God with us – from our first breath until our last! Moreover, it was the person of Jesus who revealed the true nature of God as Trinity, as a community of love. As Jesus embodied God in the flesh he also related to God the Father and the Holy Spirit. This revelation is therefore the climax of the story of the Trinity.
And then, at Pentecost, when Jesus was no longer visible, the Holy Spirit moves even closer and the community of the Spirit becomes the enfleshment of God. (Marshall, 76) Thus, the Apostle Paul wrote that “we are a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19) and “our lives are now hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:3)
This is why we cannot celebrate Trinity Sunday until we have first rehearsed and celebrated the story of Jesus and the story of Pentecost. For these are the stories of God the Trinity moving outward into the inhabited world, drawing us into God’s life, and reconciling the world to Godself (2 Cor. 5:19). And these stories of Jesus and the Holy Spirit are played out in history, in time/space i.e. in the “inhabited world.”
What we discover in the story of the Trinity is that it is not simply a story about God. It is a story about God and us. The story of God the Trinity is wrapped up in the story of us; and the story of humankind is wrapped up in the story of God the Trinity. They are one and the same story because God has chosen to include us in the divine life. It is the scandalous revelation that “humanity has been made a partner in the divine dance.” (Lacugna)
You may notice that the word “dance” is being used throughout today’s liturgy. This is because the word has long been associated with the Trinity. For centuries theologians have used the word perichoresis to describe the way that the Father, Son, and Spirit relate; it means “to dance around”; it is where we get “choreography.” But the point I wish to emphasize here is that we “locate perichoresis [the dance of the Trinity] not in God’s inner life [or in some abstract realm of ideas] but in [the inhabited world!], in the mystery of the one communion of all persons, divine as well as human!” (Lacugna)
This, I believe, is what Paul is getting at in our reading from Romans. He says, “We are justified! We have peace! Through Jesus we stand in grace!” Indeed, we stand in the very life of God. And we have the love of God poured into our hearts.
This is the story of Trinity. The story of the God who wills to be with us and to have us participate in God’s own community of love.
So we are invited to participate in the life of God, in the dance of love. So what? What does that even mean? What does it look like? Well, I’d like to suggest that participating in the life of God means living a life of giving/taking/receiving that is rooted in the dance of love, the dance of the Trinity.
Our reading from John’s gospel provides an interesting look at the divine life of giving/taking/receiving. We hear Jesus talking about the Father and the Spirit: the Spirit listens and speaks; takes and receives and then gives. The Father, who is sovereign over all, gives all that He has to the Son and the Son receives and then gives to the Spirit, who, in turn, gives to us. And so goes the dance of love, the dance of giving/taking/receiving.
This past Wednesday we were exploring the topic of food and celebration as the means by which we experience communion with God. This is precisely the story of Trinity: the “inhabited world” (food being one example) is the time/space for life with God and it hinges upon our ability to give/take/receive. On Wednesday we spoke of this as a “cycle of blessing”: God gives to us as a blessing and we receive it by blessing God. This is, in my opinion, nothing less than the dance of the Trinity. It is taking and receiving with blessing and giving with blessing.
Of these three actions it occurs to me that receiving is a habit not often fostered in our culture. Our dominant culture is one of taking and giving without receiving. It is a culture of transaction, reflected in the spirit of capitalism. Think about it: Most of the things we do in a day require us to fulfill the set expectations of either giving or taking. There is little to no unexpected and unnecessary giving or receiving. Most of us today do not know how to receive free gifts. When we do, we feel awkward and compelled to pay the giver back or even the score.
Similarly, our culture of sexual promiscuity is one of mostly giving or taking: men/women give themselves to one another in the hopes of being received or in an effort to take pleasure from another. What is so often lacking, however, is the ability to offer our self to the other in love and genuinely receive the other in love. To do so requires the God-like capacity to receive and be received. [Going further, I would say it is the ability to be for the other, which is the crux of Trinitarian theology.]
In the various stories that our culture tells, the underlying message is that, because we are not good enough, we must take and take and take while also giving ourselves beyond our capacity in order that we might be of some value in this world.
But the story of the Trinity offers us something else. It is the story of the God who declares our inherent worthiness to be loved and invites us into the divine dance of love. It is the story that urges us to love ourselves and love others through a revolutionary way of giving/taking/receiving one another in community.
[At this point I asked everyone to stand and place his or her right hand out with palm facing up. Then I asked everyone to give his or her left hand to the person to their left.]
This is what it means to participate in the life of God. This is what we do every Sunday when we share the Eucharist. We receive all that the Father has and has given to Christ and poured out to us in the Spirit. We receive the Body of Christ, we become the Body of Christ, and we give the Body of Christ to the world.
“How majestic is the name of God: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit!” The name that tells the story of the God who is for us!
What is humankind that God is mindful of us? We know the story, let us tell the story. Amen.