Sunday, June 3, 2012
Sermon preached on Trinity Sunday Year B
June 3, 2012
St. Saviour's, Bar Harbor
Based on the day's readings (linked here to NIV versions on biblegateway):
The most useful thing I've ever heard about the Holy Trinity is this: the words “father” and “son”, the way we normally use them, are not people's names. They are names of relationships. God is in-- or God is—father-ness and son-ness. Focusing on relationship as the reality of God, the mystery I'm trying to get to know, helps steer the conversation away from sticky debates about whether God is an old guy with a beard in the clouds, or about the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, relationship thinking invites deep questions about personal experience. It's one reason I like songs and art that refer to the Trinity as “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.” It's easy to think of stories of when you created something or were created, when you redeemed something or were redeemed, when you sanctified or were sanctified.
A fun vocab word for this conversation is perichoresis, the dance of the Trinity. It means “round dance” or “dancing around,” and is used in theology to refer to the idea that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in a dance wherein each dwells within, and transforms into, the other.
Last fall the Occupy Wall Street movement made news. It was unprecedented in my lifetime for a popular protest movement to get this much airtime on the major news outlets, and become something everyone in the country knew about. Not everyone felt they understood what it was about, and not everyone thought it was a good idea, but everyone heard the cries.
In our reading from Romans, Paul says “When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit.”
Whatever your own feelings about Occupy, I ask you to explore with me for a few minutes the shape of the relationships involved. Not the politics, but the possibility that cries of “Abba! Father” and “This is what democracy looks like!” might have the same shape, the same deep source. That a rising up of part of a generation might, like the Holy Trinity, be about co-creation, relationship, and transformation.
I didn't go to New York to see the home base of Occupy Wall Street for myself, but I heard a story from a friend that made me think of these holy relationships. Chris is a group process consultant and workshop leader. He was working in New York for a few days in October, and took a walk down to Zucotti Park. There were many police on duty making sure the encampment and protest didn't spread outside certain boundaries. Chris saw one policeman and one protestor talking with each other over this boundary. It sounded like a debate about some of the Occupy issues, but they were deeply engaged in their conversation, and seemed to be enjoying themselves. When the protestor took a step closer to make a point, the policeman stopped him. He said, “Please don't step over that line. If you do, I have to arrest you, and I'd much rather keep talking to you.” A relationship was built, and as each of them shared his ideas and experience, their roles that might have led to conflict began to blur. Began to dance.
As a community organizer I was taught to always ask questions that will help me learn about the other person's self interest. What's important to them, what motivates them, why they do what they do. Without these conversations, I might assume that the protestor is a lazy kid who would rather protest than get a job to help pay for school. I might assume that the policeman is a grumpy, cold-hearted control freak. But I wouldn't know unless I talked to them. If I asked questions, I could look for ways in which both are motivated by wanting to be of service to their community. As long as I don't assume I already know what I'm going to hear, and am ready to share something of myself, I can join the dance. One of our principles was that political agitating can be healthy and productive, like an agitator in a washing machine, but only if you educate yourself and build real relationships first. We said “agitation without relationship is irritation.”
Along with listening well and asking good questions, sometimes speaking and crying out are the steps in our dance. The letter to the Romans urges church members to cry to God. Paul advises us not to be whiny in our cries, with a pessimistic “spirit of slavery.”
Instead, we are to speak, cry, and pray with a “spirit of adoption,” with knowledge that each of us is a member of the holy family, an heir to the eternal kingdom. We have a right to be heard and, what is more, we love our hearers and know they will continue to love us no matter what we say. The “spirit of adoption” might be what Isaiah received when the angel touched the coal to his lips. He was terrified to speak for his sinful self and sinful generation, but received a gift of divine love that opened the way for his prophecy. That love was so powerful that he became a prophet we remember to this day. If we cry with this spirit, what we say will be much wiser and more loving than we ever thought possible.
Remember Ram Dass and his book from the 70s, Be Here Now? Writing in another era with young people in the streets, he took this idea one step farther. He wrote
hippies create police
police create hippies
if you're in polarity
you're creating polar opposites
you can only protest effectively
when you love the person
whose ideas you are protesting against
as much as you love yourself.
love and coercion can never go together
but though love can never be forced on anyone
it can be awakened in him through love itself.
love is essentially self-communicative.
If you think back on our sacred stories, love is the fuel for the dance of the Trinity. For God so loved the world, Father became Son so that we humans could have someone to relate to, to love better. Son became Father in an act of love that was self-sacrificing but not coercive.
In his debate with Nicodemus, Jesus draws distinctions between things of the flesh and things of the spirit. Pharisees like Nicodemus were famously concerned with rules and regulations, with what can be pinned down. I think when Jesus talks in this story about earthly and fleshly things to be transcended, he meant rules that have ceased to be life-giving, and attempts to put the Holy Spirit in a cage. He tells Nicodemus not to try to predict where the wind is coming from or where it goes, but to stay open and pay attention. When you're dancing with God, relationship is more important than goals, deadlines, or rules. No matter what happens, we've got to stay connected. In the bonds of love lies our perfect freedom.
Let us practice the dance with a prayer from the New Zealand Anglican tradition:
Eternal Spirit, living God, in whom we live and move and have our being, all that we are, have been, and shall be is known to you, to the very secret of our hearts and all that rises to trouble us. Living flame, burn into us. Cleansing wind, blow through us. Fountain of water, well up within us,
that we may love and praise in deed and in truth.