Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Trinity
Preached at: House for All Sinners and Saints
Sunday June 19th, 2011
Texts: Genesis 1.1-2.4
2 Corinthians 13.11-13
"God is a fugue." - Robert Jenson
One thing you will learn – if after having me for a year, you actually want to keep having vicars – is that seminarians love doctrine. Often, one of the greatest challenges facing a teaching parish like House is to wean seminarians off high-theological speak, and teach us how to get speak about “the real world.” In this sense, Nadia’s kind of screwed me over by inviting me to preach on the ONLY Sunday of the church year devoted to a church DOCTRINE. Thanks.
That being said, who doesn’t love a little doctrine now and then? Its like red velvet cake – delicious on certain occasions, but a death sentence if indulged regularly. Doctrines can help orient us, give us a sense of direction, delineation, even security. Or, they can serve as really easy targets, sure-fire enemies for those of us with a “need to be against.” I’ve found that most people have “doctrines” of one kind or other. If they don’t tell us who we are, they at least help us define who we are not.
I believe that doctrine is passed on for the sole reason of helping us better tell the story of who God is and who we are as God’s people. In this sense, its less a set or rules, and more like...stage directions, or, if you will, like a rhythm section, providing the time and chords over which the people of God are called to improvise and sing the song of the Gospel.
That’s why, in the end, I don’t think its Nadia so much who gave me a raw deal, as the tradition of the church that taught me that Trinity is only a doctrine. Because last time I checked, Trinity is not a neat geometric shape, a perfect triangle or an equation that explains away conundrums. Rather, Trinity is an identity – or, rather, it proclaims the story about who this God is that we claim to be worshipping here. What’s more, I’ve come to believe that the name “Trinity” is a kind of melody that enables us to hear our God as a God of (drama) musicality and song. So that when we encounter the divine music alive and mischievous in the world, we will recognize the tune, feel delight or terror, and if we dare, join in with a dance or a riff of our own. Trinity tells the story of a god who is more like a four-part fugue than a fact or a formula.
I’ve found that meditating on the musicality of the Trinity enables us to encounter a God who seeks communal collaboration in God’s creative endeavors. God desires to be a band, a troupe, more than a diva or a solo act. Today’s texts are like sound stages, on which we can catch glimpses, hear snippets, of the new things this super-group’s been cooking up.
In Genesis, the Triune Troubadour sings creation into being, delighting with sheer wonder at the fact that, again and again, “it was good.” Here we glimpse a Godhead collaborating harmoniously and vivaciously as a community of persons. And the grand finale is the continued sharing of the blessings of the divine life through a charge to humankind to carry on the cultivation of the cosmos – to be not only a cover band, but also co-creators.
Then, in our Gospel, we witness the Risen One, not as Jesus Christ Superstar, but giving over his lead singer’s role to his bandmates. The Church is empowered to “make disciples” – of inviting others into the art and skill of playing the intimately subversive music that wrote the world. And did you notice? “They fell down and worshipped him – but some doubted.” The Triune God revealed in Christ does not discriminate between the believers and the cynics, between Gospel music and the blues. God surprises again and again by creating a symphony out of dischord, by composing the music of salvation out of notes both in and out of tune.
And then, ministering to the broken people of Corinth, St. Paul makes his appeal: “agree with one another!” Paul’s Greek verb here literally means “be the Holy Spirit to one another.” The creative, capricious music of God’s Spirit reaches a climax when we trade in our arms for the common anthem of true community, punctuated by the intimate lyrics of a holy kiss.
Throughout the story which tells the life of Trinity, we see a God not only willing (pause), but practically brimming over with the desire to share the sheer power and delight of Her music with others. This is not God the 1950s Father heading off to work by himself, leaving the wife and kids at home; this is a Father, a Divinity, a Lover, who from the start shares His creative love, His delight, and His power. The results will almost always surprise us – as surprising as the Son laying down his life for sinners. As surprising as a Resurrection, or an outpouring of the Spirit. As spontaneous as a dance.
Justin Nickel (fellow pastor) and I were comparing notes on seeing Mumford and Sons last week. We agreed that the most powerful moment of the show came when the band surprised the enraptured audience by asking for silence. It was awkward. It was difficult. It defied the expectations of the mad dancers and raucous shouters. But as the sweetness of silence flowed across the Fillmore, a soft, gentle, harmonied song could be heard as the band sang, without the aid of microphone or amplifier. All the way in the back, we heard familiar lyrics in a new, intimate way: “you are not alone in this.” And an auditorium filled with thousands of people were drawn into the life of the music in a glorious and hitherto unimagined manner.
Perhaps the best person to talk about the “doctrine” of the Trinity is not a seminarian who has spent three years in the library. Perhaps it is someone who has spent three years listening, in enraptured wonder, to the music the Trinity is. Someone who, in so doing and so delighting, has learned to enjoy and to know personally the intimacy of our lyrical God. Perhaps it is one who has committed him or herself to hearing that music even and especially where it is least expected, and who is willing to follow wherever it may lead.
It all sounds so poetic, so sublime, so egalitarian. Musical doctrine. A God who is a collaborative, creating community. A life of bohemian, artistic discipleship. So its kind of weird that in so many ways, I prefer to remain a seminarian, and not a musician. I still prefer the safety and control of a doctrine to the wild ecstasy of knowing the person this identity names. This God sounds wonderful. But such power – and such intimacy - is also unsettling. Its good fun to talk about, to imagine, being the kind of community where we literally embody the inclusive, improvisational love of the Trinity. But actually becoming that community is not only inconvenient, but also intolerably humbling, and if I’m honest, downright terrifying. After all, do I really want some white guy trying to rap over my perfect fugue? Am I really open to a little bit of country, a dash of punk rock, the unintelligible anomaly of a-tonality? Can I really label my musical tastes the ever-popular “eclectic?”
Moving from a personal “doctrine” of a safe, ideal community and a safe idealized Trinity, into the risky reality of a capricious, collaborative concerto of a God is not only a personal inconvenience. It is also to risk becoming vulnerable. Vulnerable to change, vulnerable to suffering, vulnerable to newness. To my ego being bruised, crushed, and resurrected.
The result may not be the kind of community,
the kind of music,
OR the kind of GOD, we thought we knew.
But the promise is that the power of this music will move us,
and that “it will be good.”
The promise is that Christ,
the One who became inconveniently vulnerable to us
for the sake of making us singers in this song of new creation,
will be singing with us, “even unto the end of the age.”
Friends, we all get tired of improvising and including.
Yet, even when we would rather settle
for a doctrine than a relationship, even when we place limits
on what the musicality of God can achieve,
even when we are simply too tired
or too afraid
to be as vivacious as the endless variations
of God’s ceaseless composition,
the Good News is that, the Holy Trinity,
the eternally self-giving,
wildly dancing communal Godhead,
is making beautiful, glorious music
out of our blue notes
in the key of grace.
The Good News is that, in the end,
it is not our song we sing,
but God’s song,
God’s triune life,
That we, doubters, we un-kissable lepers,
we doctrine-addicted concert junkies,
are precisely the players that God desires
for His troupe of Trinitarian troubadours.
The Good News is that we dance with a personal, intimate, ever-loving God, revealed in Jesus Christ, who no doctrine can ever contain.
and so glorified,
we give delight to our loving Father,
our resurrected Brother,
and our Sister Spirit.
And in so doing,
will draw a desiring world into delighting in the same.
Such is the messy, magnificent music of the real world,
Of the true God,
and of His new creation.
Come, join the dance of Trinity!