Dr. Merritt's Trinity Sunday 2011 Sermon
What’s In a Name
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
June 19, 2011
This day in our lectionary offers us several topics to consider. I hope you will take this fast ride with me as we consider Trinity Sunday, The Great Commission and Fathers Day. Would you pray with me?
We love you and we bless you, O God. We lift you up and now we listen for what your Spirit is saying to us together this morning. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to You. AMEN.
I like what my colleague Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins writes about the Trinity. He says, “The Trinity represents intimate relationship, being in actuality a “Tri-unity.” The image suggests inseparable togetherness, infinite cooperation, and shared purpose. These qualities are probably more important than incomprehensible hypotheses about the metaphysics of the “Triune” God.”
Trinity is a language about God, or at least it has been since the early 4th century. It is not an explicit biblical doctrine, and it is probably important to note that both Jesus and Paul were devoutly Jewish, and Judaism does not have a theological understanding of the Trinity. Rocco Errico (an expert on ancient Aramaic idioms) has said, “God learned about the Trinity in 325 C.E.”! In any case, the clearly articulated doctrine is from that time and not from the heart of early Christianity.
Let’s put “Trinity” into context. Julian of Norwich imagines the Tri-unity as Father, Mother, & Lord (Overseer/Protector/Provider). In Christian Science God is Father & Mother (Life Principle), Christ is the perfect spiritual Idea embodied by (but not limited to) Jesus, and Spirit is the Comforter which is Truth or Knowledge (“Science”). A Course in Miracles shows that God is ultimate reality, the Child of God is all people (with Jesus as our elder brother and wayshower), and the Spirit is a gift of God to communicate with human minds to help us awaken from all illusion so we can realize our unity with the Divine. Charles Fillmore uses Mind/Idea/Expression. God is Universal Mind, Christ is the divine Idea of what humanity is meant to be, and Spirit is Expression (the Substance of all that is). Latter Day Saints say that God, Jesus, and Spirit are three separate entities, united in purpose but not in being. Jehovah’s Witnesses say God stands alone. Jesus is a spiritual being created by God, like the angels (similar to Arius’ view), and the Spirit is God’s active power or force in the world.
Pre-Christian Religions also had Triad images for the Divine: Ancient Celts believed in a 3-fold connection between Divinity, Humanity, & the World. Neo-pagans acknowledge Feminine (goddess) & Masculine (god) energies, and in the Feminine aspect of the Divine they see a “triple goddess” – Maiden, Matron, & Crone (the three phases of a woman’s life – pre-menstruating, menstruating, & post-menopausal). Pythagoras called “Three” the number of God (beginning/middle/end…complete cycle of creative life). Hindus have a Triune Deity: Brahman (Creator), Shiva (Destroyer), & Vishnu (or Krishna, the Repairer). And Buddhists, while usually non-theistic, do have their three Jewels: Buddha (Awakened Nature), Dharma (Spiritual Truth), & Sangha (spiritual community). The Ancient Babylonians, Persians, & Egyptians also had divine Triads. (Thank you to Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins for this synopsis).
So we see that although the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is relatively new in the world, the worldwide concept of Trinity is not. So what does it mean for us? What’s in a name?
I believe Trinity is one of those wonderful mysteries that we can still experience today. Rev. Dr. Mona West says the Trinity is a dynamic movement within the Divine life in which we are invited to participate.” Father Thomas Keating claims “In the Trinity, there is no self, no possessive attitude. Everything is self-surrender. Everything is gift. Everything is love.” It is much of what is captured in Julian of Norwich’s earlier quote that we read this morning. Trinity is a mutual enclosing, a mutual calling and a mutual empowerment that binds us together and enables us to fulfill God’s callings on our lives.
I’m glad this church is called “Trinity.” It means we are bound together, that we are enclosed together, called for a purpose, empowered to do that purpose which is the Divine calling of God. That, for us, is what’s in a name.
And what is that calling? Hear it again from the Gospel of Matthew 28.19, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Creator, the Christ, and the holy Spirit. Consider with me three important aspects of this Divine calling. First, to baptize is to claim our own sacred value as individuals as a children of God. It is an act of saying “yes” to God’s call into relationship. It is not an act of saving the person from their sexuality or queer gender identity, and all the other things others say are wrong with them as it has been used and continues to be used. It is a move into committed relationship with God, in the context of which we claim and proclaim our identities as beloved children of the most high God.
Second, to follow is to know the command of love and to live it out. Jesus’ commands were and are not rooted in condemnation, but in love. So, to follow Jesus is not to brainlessly accept the teachings of religious leaders, but to use our intellect and our experience in discerning truth. It is to use our own study of scripture and scholarly literature and to use our own personal experience with God as foundation for loving people the way Jesus/God/Holy Spirit has first loved us. The final important aspect is for us to Remember. To remember is to awaken to the reality of the Divine around us and within us, even though we cannot literally see it, hear it or touch it. An important part of awakening to this reality is also finding the Divine Presence within all people, regardless of their identities or behaviors. “I see the Christ in you” or “Namaste, (I salute the God within you.” We always remember Jesus, the Christ who did not fit gender norms and expectations, who did not live according to social norms. And yes, we remember a Jesus who sometimes broke the rules in the name of love, justice and equality for all he encountered. That is the great commission for us and that is the calling God places on us again today. That, my sisters and brothers is what’s in a name; the name Christian, the name Child of God.
We remember on this day, relationships with Fathers. Let me say first of all that the relationship I have with my own father is one of the most difficult relationships in my life. Almost without exception if you ask for our view on a subject, mine will be directly opposite from his. I know he wanted a macho man for a son. He wanted me to play sports and I became a musician. He wanted me to go hunting and fishing and I became a vegetarian. He wanted me to be the Golden Preacher Boy of the Southern Baptist Convention and here I am in MCC. We wanted me to be conservative in politics and I am a tree hugging, bleeding heart liberal. I share that with you because I know this father thing is hard for many of us. When it came time to plan for my graduation a few months ago, he surprised me. He said, “If any son of mine is going to be a doctor, I’m going to be there,” and he was. Throughout my life, in spite of our differences, he has shown his love for me. When I wanted a piano, he got one for me. When I wanted to join the band, he bought me a trombone. When I chose Stetson for my undergraduate experience, he found a way to make up the balance between my scholarship and the actual cost of living there. Shortly after I left the Baptist church he took me for a ride in his truck during which he said, “Jimmy, you’ve fought this think long enough and I think it’s time for you to find a good man and settle down with him and be happy.” WOW. And I did. He makes me crazy a lot of the time, and I love him still.
Isn’t that the kind of love God to which God is calling us today; the kind of love that hangs in there and lasts a lifetime, even when someone drives us crazy? I believe it is. Men, women, I love you, Jesus loves you and so let us embrace God’s great calling to love each other…at all times.
Happy Trinity Sunday, Happy Father’s Day, God bless you..