Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
I think you will be pleased to know that I am not God! I know I am.
I share this because I was called God by one of our Preschool little ones this past week! Of course, our Preschool children most often call me Pastor or Pastor Eric but have been known to call me Vicar Scott or even Vicar Julie!
And, it is not only small children who are confused about who God is and what God looks like – most of us, if we are honest, would have to admit that picturing God is not easy.
Jesus, we can picture Jesus, although the most common images of Jesus in white culture are probably not even close to how Jesus actually looked, since he was a Jewish Arab.
And then we add the Holy Spirit which we celebrated last week, the Day of Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit first came to Jesus’ disciples, and the Holy Trinity, which we mark today, the day we talk about the three-in-one – God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
I have asked Samantha LaDue to join me as we reflect on the Holy Spirit and our three-in-one, Trinitarian, to use a churchy word, God.
Scholar David Lose, whose Bible work I am using extensively in this sermon, points out that the Trinity, as the first Christians experienced it, was very dynamic and alive – a way to describe God in their actual, lived experience of Jesus Christ, in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and their actual, lived encounter with God’s Holy Spirit. The Trinity provided an answer for what they had directly experienced – God in Jesus Christ, God in the Holy Spirit, both part of God. It all made sense to them from their direct or nearly direct experience.
We do not have that advantage. We certainly can sense the Holy Spirit in our lives but we no longer can see Jesus in the flesh, so to speak.
Samantha, how do we experience God in three persons today?
And here we are, on Trinity Sunday with this tool: A trinitarian God. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Too often and too easily this idea, this tool for experiencing that which defies definition— God - I Am— is used as doctrine. A Truth which can have only one inflexible interpretation that happens to fit perfectly into a male-dominated (and predominantly white) social structure.
We start to use this tool meant for experiencing the world as a way to define people or actions: Here- You’re the father, and you’re the son…and since I’m the woman, I’m the Holy Spirit— and all of the potential wishy-washy subtext that entails. It’s interesting that the least defined of these three -Holy Spirit- is often times the role that we set to the side and talk less about, isn’t it? We’re assigning and identifying with roles here, but spirit is tough to identify with. Mom. Dad. Son. Mysterious spirit? Authority figure, slave… revolutionary? The grounded and practical one, the artist with their head in the clouds.
When we buy into, identify with and take on roles— or use them to define how we experience God, we move away from our authentic selves, away from an authentic life present in the now, and into acting parts.Rather than using these roles to help us experience the world, to help us experience I Am, we are entering into using these roles to define expectations for ourselves and others. This leads us away from the child-like vulnerability we are called to. It generates conflict and aids in avoiding connecting deeply and personally with those around us as well as with the source and summit of life- God – I am.
Definitions are nice. Identities and roles give us structure and maybe even some relief in a chaotic world. Although, when not used with a critical eye and watchful mind, they bar us from experiencing an active God in our midst.
And, How do we experience God today? The Holy Spirit may be something we spend less time on because this role lacks the ease of definition that we encounter with the other aspects of a triune God. The Holy Spirit is dangerous. It asks us to accept and move forward in blind faith- a difficult choice. (Maybe for some…I’m a fan of adventure). This choice, the one where you can’t see beyond because there are no structures and roles to tell you how things will turn out, is the doorway to a rich, challenging, and growth-filled life. The Holy Spirit asks us to be present right here, right now. We are called to be fully immersed and responsive to life as it is unfolding right here in this moment- happy, sad, painful, frightening, awesome, exhilarating— we are simply asked to be and experience all of the riches that are right here in our midst.
If we lean too much or allow any individual of the trinity to become an identity or role, we open ourselves up to a unique kind of slavery, one that precludes us from being known, loved and accepted for precisely who we are. That would keep us in darkness, cowering in fear.
Ah, fear - both Jesus and Paul had a lot to say about fear: Last Sunday, the Day of Pentecost, we heard these wonderful words from St. Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.”
Not a spirit of fear, but one of adoption. A “spirit of adoption” means you have the confidence and courage that comes from knowing that you have been chosen, accepted, and loved for who you are.
Not fear, but courage.
There is so much fear in the air these days. It is fear being stoked by political candidates who know they can count on our votes if they first create a sense of fear and panic and then offer themselves as the remedy. Think of the made-up fear about genders and public bathrooms. Closer to home, there is the fear of job loss for those left behind by a rather anemic recovery or the fear of losing a loved one. And we could all add other fears to this list. Fear.
Which is why Paul’s words are so powerful and necessary to hear. “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
This is the work of the Holy Spirit – to come along side us in times of anxiety and remind us that because we are God’s children, we do not have to give in to fear.
Actually, Paul goes a little further. We are not only children, but heirs of God, those destined to inherit all good things. And if that’s not enough, we are not only heirs in general but co-heirs with Christ. We are among those God has called worthy to receive all the inheritance and merit and reward and favor that Christ is accorded and deserves.
In today’s brief Gospel lesson, Jesus again promises that the Spirit will come and guide his disciples into truth. Jesus knows that there are some things that his followers simply can’t bear yet. These disciples have more to learn. These disciples – those who have spent so much time with Jesus – do not have all the answers. And this means that the Christian community then and now continues to be dependent on the Spirit as we are dependent on each other, because the Spirit so often speaks to us through the person and words of those around us.
So might part of being a Trinitarian community be striving to be a place that knows it doesn’t have all the answers, and so consequently makes space for conversation and values those who are bring different voices and experiences into its midst? Conversation, valuing difference, being inclusive – these things aren’t easy, but genuine community, while challenging, is also creative, productive, and enriching.
And, while it is totally understandable that we want to cling to the assigned roles, labels, definitions and structures we have created— a Father. A Son— why not choose freedom from these? Why not choose the balance of a father, son AND a holy spirit. Or maybe skip all of them, they are a tool meant to help us experience God, but perhaps this tool is actually getting in our way.
There is great freedom and possibility when you consider community without assigning and identifying roles and stereotypes. We open ourselves up to the possibility of allowing the true mystery of faith to come to full life and work actively within us— as the body of Christ.
By detaching from roles and doctrinal definitions, accepting a lack of form or definition and choosing to be present and with Spirit, we find that we become, in scholar David Lose’s words: “a community that knows it doesn't have all the answers, and so consequently makes space for conversation and values those who bring different voices and experiences into its midst.”
And if we are this community, then we are safeguarded from slavery. By constantly receiving others with a spirit of adoption, we also receive ourselves with a spirit of adoption. The peace of God— which surpasses all of the structures and tools we like to build for understanding— of which we are heirs, becomes the nourishment and glue that binds us together in faith and hope.
And, Paul’s insistence is that it is precisely because we have the peace given to us by God that we can endure almost anything, and not just endure but grow stronger and find hope. This is nothing less or more than the promise that God accepts you as you are not because of who you are or what you have done, not because of what you might become or do, of who you have promised to be or what you have pledged to do, but that God accepts you because that is who God is and that is what God does.
Not fear, but endurance, hope, acceptance, grace, mercy – those are the attributes of what we call the Trinity - God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
God in Three Persons
Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
May 21 & 22, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California