Lectionary Reflections for Trinity Sunday, June 3, 2012
Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17
For the third Sunday in a row, we are reflecting on some of the most challenging and provocative themes in Christian experience – the Ascension of Jesus, Pentecost, and now the Holy Trinity. The Trinity is only an occasional theme in progressive and moderate Christian preaching. Indeed, most progressives tend toward a type of Unitarianism that focuses on the unity of God with only modest attention to the Father/Mother, Son, and Holy Spirit, or Creature, Redeemer, and Transformer/Sustainer. Still, reflection on the Trinity has a place in Christian theological reflection and spiritual experience. The Trinity points to the mystery of unity and diversity in God’s experience and in the ongoing creative process. God is not an unchanging monad, but a lively dancing, creating, and relating being/becoming, constantly growing, evolving, and inspiring. The Trinity is not segmented or digital but a holistic reality in which each one of the “many” experiences and acts in relationship to the other. Here we can agree whole-heartedly with the wisdom of early Trinitarian thinking – the Divine Parent feels everything the Holy Child experiences, the Spirit reflects and embodies in history the loving and embracing character of the Holy Child, and the Creative Power of the Universe is ultimately loving, revealing, and healing. The “Father” feels the pain of the Cross and the joy of Resurrection.
Isaiah’s experience in the Temple joins mysticism and mission. Yet, its mysticism is not timeless but concrete, relational, and embodied. “In the year King Uzziah died,” Isaiah seeks solace in Temple only to encounter the Living God in all of God’s glory. All creation is filled with God’s glory, filling Isaiah with awe, wonder, and humility. Experiencing his finitude and imperfection, Isaiah feels unworthy of divine consideration. Yet, God asks the prophet-to-be to become the divine spokesperson to a wayward nation. God cleanses, heals, and transforms Isaiah, preparing him for a mission of challenge and hope, and critique and transformation. This experience gave Isaiah authority and confidence, and openness to speaking for God in a time of national crisis.
Similar to the mysticism of Pentecost, Isaiah’s experience inspires him to action, giving him a vocation and the energy and insight to fulfill it. While we may not anticipate such self-transcendent experiences, our own more modest encounters with the Holy One are intended to inspire us to partnership in healing the world.
Psalm 29 proclaims the glory of God as a lively, dynamic, world-shaping power. Not aloof or absent from our world, God enlivens, enlightens, and energizes all creation, including the non-human world. Divine energy courses through our cells and souls and the evolutionary process.
The Psalmist’s response – and ours – is, in the words of John Bell – to give God “glory and gratitude and praise.”
Romans 8:12-17 explicitly describes God’s presence in the Christian life, and presents the Trinity as an interdependent, interactive reality in the life of faith. We are the children of a Divine Parent, inspired to say “Abba” by the spirit moving within us, and joined with Christ as heirs to divine energy and vocation. Divine inspiration is never static but moves us forward from glory to glory, beauty to beauty, and mission to mission.
In light of last week’s reading (Romans 8:22-27), manifestations of the Divine Trinity are not restricted to human experience, but encompass every living thing. Creation groans, cells grow, and our spirits move in synch with divine intercessions.
John 3:1-17 joins the personal, communal, and cosmic. Beginning with a Christological koan, involving “new birth” – utterly mystifying to the Teacher Nicodemus – the passage moves to a description of God’s character, the results of human responsiveness, and extent of God’s loving activity. God loves the world. God seeks to save every person. Those who respond to God’s love have eternal/everlasting life right now, not just in some far off realm.
To be born anew, or born again, is to experience God’s presence in this sacred, present moment, and in the vicissitudes of human life and the unfolding of our personal and communal experience. Being born again is not so much a choice but a result of our opening to Ever-evolving Divine Emergence. We can’t conjure up new birth – Nicodemus is right! – but we can receive it as did Isaiah in the Temple, the Psalmist in wonder, and Paul in the inner voice of the Holy Spirit. Though we are always receivers, our desire to awaken to God – to pause long enough to embrace grace – opens the door to a superabundance of Life which enables us to be born again and again and again.
Being born again is not a static state, reducible to a datable experience (although such experiences my get us started on the path), but an ongoing process of growing in wisdom and stature in partnership with God’s intimate-cosmic call. Here the fabled encounter of Yale professor Hal Luccock and a street evangelist is insightful: When the street evangelist asked Luccock, “Are you born again?” the professor responded, “Everyday!”
The everydayness of new life is at the heart of growing in grace. Justification is not an end in itself, nor is the call to salvation; rather we are constantly involved in a process of sanctification – a growing in wisdom, stature, and holiness. While we can never separate the “persons” of the Trinity, today’s scriptures inspire us to align ourselves with a lively, inspiring, and loving God, present in many ways on every step of our spiritual journey.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.