Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sermon; Trinity Sunday A

Today is Trinity Sunday, the day specifically dedicated to the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 3 in 1 and 1 in 3.  And really, anything more than that and you run the risk of wandering off into the land of heretics.  So how do we talk about the Holy Trinity without becoming heretics ourselves?

First, let's talk about talking about God.  In general, there are two ways to talk about God: What God is, also known as cataphatic, or positive, theology; and what God isn't, also known as apophatic, or negative, theology.

Let's start with what God is, or the positive attributes.  God is love.  God is creative.  God is joy.  God is passionate.  God is vengeful.  God is forgiving.  God is all-knowing.  God is unknowable.  God is father.  God is mother.  Those are just some attributes of God pulled from Scripture put forth in a positive way.  But by trying to define God this way we limit the unlimited and unconstrained God.

What about what God is not, or the negative attributes?  God is not hate.  God is not destructive.  God is not evil.  God is not male.  God is not female.  The 9th Century theologian John Scotus Erigena said something along the lines of, “We do not know what God is.  God is not, because God transcends being.”  God is not.  Think on that for awhile.

Both ways of talking about God are helpful because 1) they get us talking about God, and 2) they can challenge us to think about God in ways we never have before.  These are both good things because we need to get better at talking about God, and because we need to be challenged every now and then about our ideas of God.

But there is a drawback to all of the above and that is this: whether discussing positive or negative, what God is or is not, we can get overly scholarly.  We can get too focused on the arguments about God.  We can get so wrapped up in our position that we spend all our time defending it and who we think God is or is not.  And we need to be careful there.

It's all well and good to have strong ideas about God, but we need to be careful that we aren't overcome by dogma.  If that happens, then we might just spend all our time yelling at each other.  And if that happens, then all we've really managed to do is to put us and God into a very small box.   And then we just might lose our imaginations.

I think, when talking about God, imagination is incredibly important.  Think back to your younger years and the games you played in the yard or sandbox or park.  Or think about when your kids or grand-kids were little.  Or think about Calvin and Hobbes and the games he played, or his famous transmogrification machine.  Or think about the imagination of Bill Watterson or Gary Larson (creator of The Far Side) and the imagination it took to put those comics down on paper.  Imagination can open us up to things far greater than that which we can only see.

I follow a few blogs on a regular basis.  There's one in particular where I often offer comments.  Sometimes those comments lead to lengthy discussions.  One side benefit of this is that I have had to think about my beliefs differently and critically.  This has allowed me to have a dialogue with a variety of people about many things, but religion and faith in particular, and it has forced me to go beyond the, “Just 'Cuz” point of view.

A recent discussion revolved around the person of Jesus and, in particular, the tradition that he was sinless.  If Jesus was sinless, went the thread, does that mean that he never made a mistake?  And if he did make a mistake, does that mean he wasn't/isn't God?

I said something along the lines of, “For some people, mistake-free Jesus needs to be protected to maintain his divinity.”  Later in the conversation, and in response to someone else, I pointed out that orthodox Christianity eventually settled on the “fully human/fully divine” aspect of Christ.

Another person responded:  “Fully human/fully divine . . . that makes no sense at all.”  To which I responded, “There's a lot about God that doesn't make sense.”  They responded back:  “That proves he's a fictional character.”

At which point several of the regulars, including atheists, Pagans and other Christians, jumped in to defend me and a moderately lengthy flame-war broke out while I watched from the sidelines.  It was rather entertaining watching all of these other people in this online community taking this one person to task for being a dismissive jerk.  And it was nice to know that, in this setting anyway, even the atheists had my back.

I bring this up because, aside from him being a dismissive jerk, I think he suffered from a lack of imagination.  He was so caught up in things making logical sense AS HE UNDERSTOOD IT that he was unable to suspend disbelief and imagine a God who was bigger than he ever imagined.

Take evolution for instance.  Some people believe that evolution is an impossibility and that God created everything there is, as is, as recorded in the Bible in six days.  But like the positive theology with which I began this sermon, that sort of limits God and places God in a very small and particular period of space and time that you can understand.  What if the eternal God who dwells outside of space and time and for ever sees evolution as a playground lasting billions of years?  Can you imagine such a thing?

In the adult Ed between services last week, we looked at the early days of Abram in Genesis.  In there we heard that through him all families of the earth would be blessed.  And in last week's reading from Acts we heard the twelve disciples preach to all nations in the native language of the listeners.  What do “all families” and “all nations” mean to us today?

Does “all families” mean only families of mom, dad, son daughter and no divorce?  Can it include step parents and step siblings?  Can it include half brothers and sisters?  Do you need kids to be a family?  Do ancient families with multiple wives and concubines count?  Or was God waiting until modern times for a proper family to be defined?  Can it include single-parent families?  Can it include families with gay parents?  Can you imagine a family beyond your experience that might be blessed by God?

Or what about “all nations?”  Borders are fluid; just look at maps from the Babylonians, Egyptians, Romans, 1910, 1944, 1988 and today.  Do nations that don't exist today but will exist tomorrow count?  Can you imagine God's love transcending all man-made political boundaries?

There is a lot to read about on all of this.  There's a lot on positive and negative theology.  There's a lot on the divinity and humanity of Christ.  There's a lot on the Trinity – 3 in 1 and 1 in 3.  On this day that is specifically dedicated to the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the question isn't, “Do you understand it?”  The question is, “Can you imagine it?”  Because I think that it is in our unlimited and unconstrained imaginations where the unlimited and unconstrained God can have the most impact.



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