Trinity Sunday, Year C
Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: "To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.
The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth– when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
There are two traditions in Christianity today that seem to dominate. There is the tradition that seeks to move away from the ‘traditions’ of the church and seek only what is in the Bible. This tradition rejects the creeds of Christendom as dogmatic overlays on biblical theology. One finds this in the naivete of both Bible believing Christians as well as the academic condemnation of Christian dogma.
The second tradition seeks to affirm the great creeds (and councils) of the church but it frequently does so at the expense of listening to the actual biblical voice. The recital of the trinitarian creeds might as well be the recital of a key lime recipe for all of the passion that they elicit.
Folks have become bored with the Nicene Creed. It talks in language we no longer use or understand, the language of Hellenistic ontology or metaphysics. We no longer study the trinitarian controversies of the early church. We have lost what is at stake in our trinitarian talk of God. We have assumed that the question raised by these controversies is one that assumes that we already know about God, and that our task is to describe the ways that Jesus is like God. But at Preaching Peace, we have proposed that the New Testament does not do this but rather asks the question, “Is God like Jesus?” And we have found that indeed the answer is a heartening, overwhelming YES!
To demonstrate this, ask your parishioners if Jesus is like God. You will find that while they wish to assert the divinity of Jesus, they struggle with how God is so different than Jesus, how they are to understand the relation of the biblical Testaments and how they are to make sense of a powerful and wrathful God in relation to a forgiving, loving Jesus. This is the tale of Christianity from the get go. If we seem to be pressing this question on PreachingPeace.org, it is only because it is the question pressed in the New Testament revelation and the ensuing struggles of the early church to understand this relationship. We must come to terms with this question, there is none greater, for with this question we are bearing witness for or against the God who made heaven and earth.
It is not too much to say that much of modern Christendom has lost its way. Many have said it before us, Kierkegaard, Luther, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Weil, and a multitude of others. We have only lost our way because we have ‘the Way’, Jesus Christ. We have failed to connect the dots of his life with the life of the Father. We have also failed to connect the dots of his life with the life he lives in us by the Spirit sent from the Father in his name. We have become Christians in name only, there is little about the character of Jesus in the many modern churches.
In saying this we do not mean that there are no lights in congregations. Many are the followers of Jesus who understand the importance of mercy, love, forgiveness, kindness, joy and peace (the fruit of the Spirit). But there are many who hold to their anger while believing that they have divine justification. Many keep resentments when they are called ‘to forgive as your heavenly Father has forgiven you.’ Many spend time justifying themselves before God and others when they are called to see that God alone justifies. Christendom is in a sad state today and this is nowhere more true than in America, a so-called Christian nation.
Proper trinitarian thinking is subversive, radical and life giving in the face of conformity, security and death wishes. Real trinitarian faith is able to know God because it is able to affirm Jesus. Real trinitarian faith is truly monotheistic because it recognizes that there is only one God who has been revealed as Father, Son and Spirit.
If you have been following our discussions in the Fourth Gospel these past weeks and indeed this past year, it will become apparent that we believe that a real affirmation of the Nicene Creed would go a long way toward solving the problems that beset Christianity today and healing the wounds that we Christians afflict upon one another and the world.
If at times we have been repetitious or redundant, it is only because we have felt compelled to follow the repetition of the New Testament witness, particularly as it occurs in the Fourth Gospel. We can ill afford to act as though the New Testament and the Gospels in particular do not constantly bring before our eyes something new, something fresh, something other-worldly. That something is the pure love of God.
We have named several crucial places where our modern theologies have succumbed to sacrificial logic; inherent dualism, a flat view of Scripture, a docetic Christology, a mimetic view of God, a powerless Spirituality. To follow Jesus today, we are called to the unenviable task of telling our churches that we have been deceived by the principalities and powers into accepting a God who is nothing other than a god conceived in victimage, a god that is mythical, a god who lies. And like Jesus’ contemporaries, we will find it hard to repent and acknowledge that this is the case. Yet repentance is the essential posture to enter God’s reign and to share in God’s life.
We can no longer afford to follow those Christian thinkers who proclaim the sacrificial logic. We must, like Jesus and the early Church, stand prophetically in love against all the gods of violence, including the so-called God of Christianity. We have a modest proposal to make for clergy who wish to take their congregations on a journey so that they may find a way out of the impasse of the dysangellion (bad news) of modern thought.
On his website Paul Neuchterlein has a series of Core Convictions. These convictions are framed in a series of theses illumined by Girard’s mimetic theory and make an excellent educational tool that can be printed and copied by pastors for congregational discussion. We would encourage clergy to do this as an exercise that will help to reframe how we are to conceive of God and the Christian life today. By discussing these theses (which have the power of Martin Luther’s 97 Theses!) clergy will find a non-threatening way to help bring their congregations to a new appreciation for Scripture and what it means to hear Scripture and follow Jesus.
We offer our blessings to you this day, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.
So what indeed! It is time to reverse the common approach to the question, and start trying to understand how it is that God the Father can be like Jesus. “I and the Father are one.” Either we take this statement seriously, or our theology crumbles into the dust of death-dealing myth making. Either we take this statement seriously, and stop preferring our metaphysical speculations to the human demonstration of God’s very life, or we are not Trinitarian Christians.
But how do we preach this?
Ask any clergy person. Which Sunday of the year is the one that’s hardest to preach? In our experience, about 9 times out of 10, the answer will be “Trinity Sunday.” The reason? We are trapped into talking, as the Church has done for centuries, about metaphysical speculation.
But it wasn’t metaphysical speculation that caused early Christians to shed blood over Arianism. It was a matter of life and death.
Either God is the God shown forth in Jesus, or we have a god like every other god. And if we have a god like every other god, then we’re dead.
But we’re not. Trinity Sunday is the day to shout from the rooftops, “Hey, everybody! The God you always wished was God, well that’s the God you have! The God who looks like Jesus IS God the Father. We don’t have to wish any more!”
When parishioners, newly moved to begin reading the Bible seriously, come and ask for guidance, I always, always, always ask them to begin with the Gospels. Jesus is the lens through which we read all the rest of the Bible.
For too long, we’ve gotten ourselves tangled up in speculation because we started with the images of God that often turn up in the Hebrew Scriptures, and try then to figure out how in the world Jesus and this “god” could be “homoousios.” Read the New Testament. That’s where you’ll find God. Then read the rest of the Bible. What doesn’t fit, isn’t God.
Now, some of you will say, “But, isn’t it all inspired?”
To that I will say yes. But not all of it is accurate. That is to say, I believe that God has chosen to reveal not only himself in Scripture, but to reveal us as well. The writing and inclusion of those texts that mistake human violence for divine are there for a purpose, to help us see ourselves more clearly, to see our own propensity for blaming God for our own reliance on victimage. Inspired, yes. Accurate? Only if we can see ourselves in the text.
Perhaps, for some of us, this isn’t such Good News after all. After all, if we really do believe in the Trinity, we lose all our divine sanction for our love of retribution! But, truth be told, none of us wants that as much as we want the God displayed to us in Jesus.
This, this is real, orthodox Christianity. The Father and the Son are One. God is fully revealed in Jesus.