Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“It’s All Relative”
Rev. Art Ritter
June 7, 2020
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
If you think that your family has problems, consider the marriage mayhem created when 76 year old Bill Baker of London recently wed a woman named Edna Harvey. She happened to be his granddaughter’s husband’s mother. That is where all the confusion began, according to Baker’s granddaughter. The granddaughter said, “My mother-in-law is now my step-grandmother. My grandfather is now my stepfather-in-law. My mom is my sister-in-law and my brother is my nephew. But even crazier is that I’m now married to my uncle and my own children are my cousins.” Kind of reminds me of that old silly song, “Now I’m My Own Grandpa!” A commentator remarked that because of this, the granddaughter should gain some profound insight into the theory of relativity.
This morning is Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday in the Christian year that is devoted to a doctrine and not an event or feast or person. It is the day in which preachers usually bring out the same old tired clichés: holding up images of triangles or shamrocks; pointing out H2O’s ability to be water and ice and steam; or bringing up that age old story about the three blind men in the same room with an elephant. Preachers are always trying to find a way to make the difficult concept understandable in the minds of their listeners.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not biblical. The Trinitarian formula appears in Scripture only once, in Matthew 28, during the Great Commission when Jesus tells his disciples to go forth baptizing others in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity was first formulated in the fourth century and then developed throughout the succeeding centuries. It has been the subject of many debates within councils of church authorities. It has been the focus of wars between rulers and peoples. It has been the starting point for many heresies and excommunications. Today the doctrine of the Trinity is something that we usually accept without much thought, probably because we think that we are supposed to accept it, even if we don’t understand it. Questioning it seems impolite and it may hurt our heads trying to really wrap our brain around its issues. Martin Luther, in great wisdom once said, “To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; to try and explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity.”
Essentially the Trinity confirms that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We modernize that to say that God is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Back in the fourth century, when all of the Trinitarian talk first started, St. Augustine had a wonderfully simple idea. He developed a metaphor for the Trinity that said God is Lover, Beloved, and Love itself. I am also fond of H.C. Read’s explanation of Trinity that I have shared with you before: God everywhere and always; God there and then; God here and now.”
One of the things that struck me most as I contemplated the Trinity is its emphasis on relationship. Too often our faith is more mechanical than spiritual, more in our head than in our soul. To get closer to God we might go to books for answers or test ourselves through the discipline of religious laws that measure our purity. Yet at its simplest explanation, the Trinity teaches us that God is not an academic concept or distant law giver. God is relational. We truly find God when we consider the ways that God is in relationship with us. It is when we live in relationship with God and in God with others that something of structure truly becomes something spiritual.
In her book The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers divides creative action into three categories: idea, activity, and power. For example, if someone is to write a novel, they must first have an idea for the book. Then the book has to be written, chapter by chapter, bringing the book into being. Once the book is written and published, it does no good unless other read it. But once read the book begins to effect the reader. It has a power of its own. It moves them to think and act differently. Idea, activity, and power.
Sayers’ metaphor seems to fit how we contemplate our experience of God on Trinity Sunday. It draws our attention to the three-way interpersonal relationship of God the Creator, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. God as Father is the creative idea. God as Son is the creative activity. God as Spirit is the creative power. Each is necessary for the other. The Trinity makes us see that we are invited into relationship in a way in which God can be personally experienced, where rigid doctrine becomes living faith. As God’s love and mercy and grace is more easily understood when we are in relationship with God; such love and mercy and grace can be more clearly lived when we are in relationship with others. The true meaning of what God creates and calls us to be comes when we are in relationship with God and with others.
As you know, this has been a difficult week in our country, beginning with the events of Memorial Day in Minneapolis, as George Floyd, a Black American died while a police officer’s knee was upon this neck. This has happened too many times recently, with Black Americans as victims. At first there were peaceful protests. Then some of the protests grew violent. There was looting and rioting and arson. Bricks and other dangerous objects were thrown at police. There were tear gas and concussion grenades tossed at protestors. Politicians postured and made threats. Accusations were raised about who really was behind the violence. Many supported the actions of the protestors. Many were so upset with the looting and burning that they could not listen to the concerns of the protestors. At the end of the week, thankfully many of the protests were peaceful and included large groups of young people. I struggled with this week even as I wrestled with the concept of the Trinity this week.
I read a powerful Facebook post by our former Director of Music, Marcus Peterson. Marcus wrote from his heart. He said, “I’m upset, enraged, afraid, scared, hopeful, and black. Being a 6’7 and a half” black man is seen as scary, and I’ve been given this look of fear many times throughout my life. People purposely cross the street to avoid running into me …. I have been give strange looks when I walk at night, and so much more. I’m afraid to jog anywhere other than my apartment complex or my neighborhood at home, even then I am hyper aware. I share these experiences because we do notice and there has to be change.”
Marcus’ words were a slap in the face for me. I thought to myself, if I did not know Marcus I might be fearful of him too. From a distance, if I saw Marcus walking toward me my rational assumption might be to try and avoid him to protect myself. That is sad. It brings me no small amount of shame.
But I know Marcus. I know him as a gentle, compassionate, thoughtful, funny, and talented young man. To think anything else is just plain silly. I know Marcus and long for what is best for him because we have a relationship. We have shared experiences together. And because I know him I am moved to examine my own attitudes toward racism and move to change my thoughts and behavior.
Things need to change. Racism is present in our world and our society and its institutions and in us. And it is wrong. Change can only come when we seek the intention of God, when we are active in ways that bless others and we feel blessed by God. In this case change can come when we seek relationships that create understanding, demand justice, and reach out in love.
Thankfully all of us here at Meadowbrook have more of a soul and heart experience of Marcus that creates trust and love, rather than a head and logic assessment that generates fear and suspicion. Our heart and soul relationship with God needs to move us to act as God’s faithful people. As we experience God as a creator of good and as a liberator from bondage; as we experience Jesus as a healer and Risen One who breaks down the barriers of death and oppression; as we experience the Holy Spirit as an instrument of change and energy toward hope- we want to be the force of that triune God. God desires that we be less concerned with our comfortable prejudices, our easy political persuasions and our rigid moral judgments; and more concerned with creating relationships which focus the needs and aspirations of others. God yearns that we would reach out to others in loving action so that our experience of them has a power to teach us something different, something holy and transforming. We learn this by experiencing God’s creating and redeeming and sustaining power ourselves.