First Sunday after Pentecost – Trinity Sunday – June 16, 2019
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
What are we to say about the Trinity? We might invoke the Celtic St. Patrick’s use of the shamrock to describe the Trinity but the relationship between two parents and their only child. But still we are left with the “so what” when it comes to the practical implications of the Trinity. Functionally speaking, most mainline, liberal, and progressive Christians are Unitarian in spirit, if not theology. The same might be true for many evangelical and Pentecostal Christians who focus on Jesus and the Holy Spirit, respectively. Although we recite the creeds from time to time, the doctrine of the Trinity is vague, confusing, and for the most part irrelevant in most congregants’ experience. Mainline and progressive Christians tend to focus on God as a whole, creator and parent of all things, and Jesus, the way-shower, immanent in our world. The Holy Spirit is absent from many mainline and progressive spiritualities, restricted primarily to our inner wisdom.
God is one: do we need to talk about diversity in divinity? How can reflecting on the Trinity deepen our faith, especially in the context of postmodernism and its focus on experience, rather than doctrine? In what way, will Trinitarian conversation enrich Christian experience and social commitment? These are all good questions and the answers are not necessarily easy to find.
The readings from Psalms 8 and Proverbs 8 are creatively congruent with one another, and both have a place in worship and preaching. Psalms 8 proclaims the grandeur of God. We live in a majestic universe, whose immensity dwarfs humankind. God’s creative wisdom is revealed in all things, in galaxies without number and the intricacy of the human body. Immanent in all things, God still has a unique vocation for humankind: to mirror divine creativity and beauty in our own lives and stewardship of the earth. Our “dominion” is vocational and not a matter of hierarchy. We are to be gardeners of creation, partnering with God in healing the earth. The grandeur of God becomes more appropriate in light of the cosmological journey and the photos from the Hubble telescope – the multi-billion year, multi-billion galaxy universe and the wonders and dangers of human technology, including our impact on climate and information.
Proverbs 8 speaks of Sophia, Divine Wisdom, as God’s creative companion. This is an important witness in light of the patriarchal history of the Western, if not most, religious traditions. Without stereotyping based on gender, we need to expand our theology to embrace the divine feminine. God is not just male or female. Divine creativity embraces the whole of creaturely experience. Perhaps the predecessor of the Prologue of John’s Gospel – and its vision of God’s Creative Word/Logos – Proverbs 8 affirms the feminine creativity of God. From the heart of divinity, she creates alongside the Parent/Creator, bringing order to the universe and delight to the creator. She is almost like a child, creating refrigerator art and spinning tales for the Godhead, and perhaps the world in its complexity can be seen as divine offspring, participating in the Divine DNA, revealing divine wisdom at every juncture. Psalm 8 reveals that the universe was created for beauty, joy, and companionship.
In the spirit of Psalm 8 and Proverbs 8, the reading from Romans 5 describes the immanence of God as Spirit. God has poured God’s Spirit in our hearts, giving us courage, patience, and fortitude. God is our deepest wisdom, welling up into consciousness from the “sighs too deep for words.” Everywhere God acts – and in all of God’s revealing – there is a moral element. The Spirit is person-creating, especially in its aim at God’s glory embodied in our full humanity. God aims at beauty and creative and orderly innovation in the creation of the cosmos; God also aims at character and creativity in the human adventure. God’s Spirit is our deepest reality, flowing into our hearts and throughout our whole being, body, mind, spirit, and relationship. Like the boy Jesus, God is presence in our lives is aimed at us growing in wisdom and stature. The body is inspired and the spirit embodied through the creative wisdom of God’s Spirit.
John’s Gospel speaks of Jesus’ message continued through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit keeps Christ alive in our hearts and footsteps. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, reflecting his message and values. The Holy Spirit’s gifts are not found primarily in speaking in tongues and Pentecostal drama but in living in the way of Jesus, welcoming, embracing, healing, and nurturing. Spirit-centered living is, first of all, ethical and unifying. Living Jesus’ Spirit joins us with all creation, building bridges with diversity, inspiring us to creativity, and mediating divine healing.
If we are to focus on the Trinity – and it seems appropriate on Trinity Sunday! – our focus should be spiritual and ethical, or the integration of doctrine, value, spirituality, and personal and communal transformation. Western Christians might do well to embrace elements of Eastern Christian theosis, or divinization. God’s grace is as much, if not more, about sanctification and holiness, becoming like unto divinity as possible, as forgiveness. Atonement is not an external reality, divine acceptance of the sinner in her or his otherness, as at-one-ment, unity with God in purpose and vision, God’s aim for us to become fully human, claiming our identity as embodiments of God’s glory.
On Trinity Sunday, we are invited to claim our god-like vocation. Limited and fallible, we are yet God’s companions in healing the earth and this healing takes place one intentional and loving act at a time. Trinitarian thinking proclaims a divine bias toward innovation, balancing order, justice-making, hospitality and unity, and healing. To embody God’s Trinity is to imitate Jesus – and Jesus’ own reflection of divine healing-creativity – in our daily lives and political and economic commitments.
Far from abstract, Trinitarian thinking then becomes incarnate in the hardscrabble world of balancing security with hospitality, budgeting with social safety nets, unity with diversity, and national sovereignty with welcoming the stranger. The answers may not come easily, whether in our lives as individuals, congregants and pastors, and citizens, but the bias must always be toward unity, healing, and affirmation.
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of fifty books, including “Spiritual Days: 40 days to Spiritual Transformation and Planetary Healing,” “Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God,” and “One World: The Lord’s Prayer from a Process Pespective.” He can be reached for lectures, retreats, seminars, and conversation at firstname.lastname@example.org.