Relationships Are Eternal
A Sermon preached by the Reverend Michael Anderson Bullock on 4 June 2023; Trinity Sunday; Year A Genesis 1:1-2-4A; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
Didn’t your hearts sing and leap for joy at the words of the Collect of the Day! – especially these: “… you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship…” Truth to tell, on the Richter Scale of the heart, these words tend to lull us or remind us of Charlie Brown’s teacher speaking: “Wah, wah, wah”. Similarly, from another, more sophisticated source, Karl Rahner, the late Roman Catholic, 20th century priest and theologian, has pointed this out: “The Trinity is absolutely foundational to Christianity because it reveals the heart of the nature of God. And yet,” as Rahner continues, “it has made almost no difference in the lives of the vast majority of Christians.” “Trinity Sunday” -- Today: The problem at play here is the erosion over 1,000 years or so of the Trinity’s theological understanding and development. Over this period of time, there has been a movement from the Trinity’s starting point , which originally supplied a vision in which humanity participates in God’s love at work in all creation, eroding to a place of increasingly abstract speculation on the inner life of God 1. The original perception about the Trinity had to do with the nature of reality, but it became most commonly an unsolvable math problem. Richard Rohr helpfully reframes the place and significance of the Trinity with these words: “Most of us began by thinking of God as one Being and then tried to make God into three (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). [What I think needs to be done] – as the Church Fathers did in the fourth century – is start with the three, focus on the nature of the relationship between them, and recognize that such relationality creates the ONE.”2 It was in the light of such speculative abstraction that I recall my first year in seminary, with me taking furious notes in my “History of Christianity” course. (No laptops available!) The professor was lecturing on the “Doctrine of the Trinity”, and I was determined to get all his words and insights down because I knew the “Doctrine of the Trinity” was true. I just didn’t know why it was true. I still believe in the Trinity, and you may be glad or relieved to hear that I also now know a bit more about why I believe it. Nonetheless, believing in the Trinity and having the responsibility of preaching and teaching it always brings me to the memory of the grand dame who left an endowment to support her parish church’s preaching ministry. The bequest, however, held a weighted caveat: namely, that a “learned and faithful sermon on the Doctrine of the Trinity be offered each Trinity Sunday”. One wonders if such a construct housed a gift; or was the donor seeking revenge? I pray that you will feel more gifted than punished by my words today. So, with that, here is my point and my learning about the Trinity: Reality is about relationships, and relationships are eternal. I say this in a kind of reverse-engineering context because I expect that when you and I see life as God sees life that we will realize that every introduction, every encounter, all friendships, all partnerships, every love and every hatred involves an eternal thread of connection, to the point that there is a palpable and eternal fabric of threads between and among us all – Everyone and everything, the living and the dead.. This is the reality of life – all life. And eventually, we will have to address this reality; and how we have regarded and honored these “strings” as carrying life, God’s life. Because (as I said) relationships are eternal, and I believe that our lives are measured (and will be judged) by the degree to which we are good stewards of all these threads and the cloth that they create. Reverse-engineering from the position that relationships are reality’s fabric, we come to the center of it all, that is, to God, who is eternity; who is complete relationship; who is Communion. Those fourth century ancients who initially struggled to express this eternal yet knowable reality spoke from revealed experience of the God who is for us, the God who accompanies us, and the God who is within us. Within the limits of human language and experience, those Trinitarians laid out a specific code that we have come to know as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”. The hard part has always been a matter of grammar: That however God’s nature is expressed in terms of revealed experience (“Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” or the “God who is for us; the God who accompanies us; the God who is within us”) – the hard part has always been to remember that the nature of God is an active verb and not a static noun. God’s life flows, and as it flows, God’s life, God’s presence connects all things at all times, which means that life arises. For instance, in terms of “God the Father”, this is a specific code that speaks of God the Creator being for us, not against us. Therefore, all life is meant as blessing. The Creator “saw that it was good…” and creation is offered to us as a gift and place of life. God for us. But this Creator God, the One who is for us just as a good and loving Father or Mother is to his or her children, is remarkably also the God who accompanies us. The “Son of God” takes on the fullness of our humanity to demonstrate how we might live with and for the God who is for us. The God who accompanies us leads and guides us into a holy and life-giving relationship that neither fear or death nor anything else can break. And so it is that the God who is for us and the God who accompanies us also resides within us, causes that inner part of us we often call “soul” to register Who it is and What it is that makes a home within us: the Spirit of God. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. 3 This the only time Paul offers such a “Trinitarian” benediction to conclude one of his letters. Here he uses another code to describe the reality and experience of God and the God-life: namely, the grace of Jesus (that is, the gift of his accompanying us through death to new life); the love of God (who is for us – no matter what); and the communion life , which is the fruit of God’s Spirit being our deepest home and our guiding orientation. God is life’s true and eternal verb. Even though today’s worship orbits around a learning (that is, a doctrine) a teaching about the nature and reality of God and not a story or a narrative, the “learning” serves to remind us of a truth that is foundational: namely, that the God for us and the God who accompanies us and the God within us is the One and Only God who creates, redeems, and sustains all things at all times—no matter what. Relationships are eternal, which means that in the Holy Trinity eternal love flows as reality’s template, seeking to share life, and to reside at the most intimate and personal way. A great and wonderful mystery of love, life, and connection. Holy Trinity, One God: now and forever. Amen.
__________________________________________________________________________________ 1 Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God For Us: The Trinity and Christian Life. 2 Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation: “The Ultimate Paradigm Shift”; Week Twenty-three: Trinity. 3 2 Corinthians 13:13*|END:IF|*