Monday, June 30, 2014

Creation, Trinity and the Celtic Knot

Trinity Sunday June 15, 2014

Genesis 1:1-2:3
Ps. 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

Today we read the beginning and the end: God as Alpha and God as Omega. “In the beginning God created heaven and earth,” and “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” What do these texts say to us about the nature of God? The activity of God? The being of God?

There certainly are literal interpretations of these texts, and of the understanding of the Trinity as a God with three faces, or three bodies – that Old Guy, Young Guy and a Bird image that you know is somewhere in the recesses of your mind. “God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity” IS hard to grasp, as you will hear in this story of the little girl and her mother, talking about God.

Is God big? the little girl asked. Yes, said the mother, God is very big. Is God everywhere? asked the girl. Yes, said the mother, God is everywhere. Could God do anything he wanted to do? The girl continued her line of questioning. Yes, said the mother, getting a little concerned about where this might be heading. God loves us, she assured her daughter, and wants always to be near us. Could God get into my cup? the little girl asked. Well, I suppose so, said the mother. The little girl triumphantly clapped her hand over the cup. Got him! she shouted.

Theologians love to write about the Trinity, and – surprise! – they use stories that are a lot more complicated than that one of the free-thinking little girl and her more conventional mother. One theologian uses the metaphor of water for the Trinity: God as the source, as the spring and as the live-giving stream.i It really makes more sense to talk about God as activity, creating and enlivening and nourishing us all, all the time.

Ancient theologians thought of God as a dance. The Greek work that describes how God the Trinity relates to God’s self is parachoresis, dancing through. The reality of God is that God is dancing among God’s self, bubbling and babbling, twisting and turning, and all the while creating life, reaching out to creation in love and reconciliation, and breathing on it life-sustaining spirit.

Genesis tells us the story of creation, of how God created not only heaven and earth, fish, birds and animals, but some other creatures as well, creatures made in the image of God. God created them, humankind, male and female. This is the image and likeness of God. This collective body of humanity, this maleness and femaleness, tells us something about what God is like. Certainly not everything about us is God-like, for we know the human propensity to pull away from God, from our God-nature. Sometimes we do bad things.
But what is there about being human that draws us to God? In thinking of God as activity, what activity draws us closest to God? How can we behave in a way that could be described as God-like? Surely that is love. And how do we love? In relationship, in community, even if it is only a community of two. And are relationships, even loving relationships, simple? No; they are many-faceted and difficult to describe in their entirety. You certainly can’t put a face on a relationship and say, there, that sums it up, because there will always be something else about the relationship, or the person you love, that will bubble up and surprise you in a new way.

That is where the language of the Trinity came in: from the need Christians had to describe just what this relationship with God was about. Christians had to find words for their experience of God, especially God in this new way: God had become human – begotten – because God loved us so much that God wanted to save us from ourselves. God did not want us to keep pulling away – but how could God be up there and down here? It got too complicated to think of God in only one way, or as only one thing, for now God was doing many more things. Hence: God as the dance, the spring of living water, the fount of every blessing, comforter, Incarnate Word, mighty source, Ancient of Days, immortal, invisible, only-wise, silent as light. In the beginning, and with us always, even to the end of the age.

Read this prayer along with me. It was written down by someone in 19th century Scotland, but it is much, much older than that. This “Rune before Prayer” is really an invitation to pray. When words were not enough to describe the reality of God to the believer, we have Celtic Christianity to thank for just piling on more and more words, and because they did, we are the richer.

I am bending my knee 
In the eye of the Father who created me, 
In the eye of the Son who purchased me, 
In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me, 
In friendship and affection. 
Through Thine own Anointed One, O God, 
Bestow upon us fullness in our need, 
Love towards God, 
The affection of God, 
The smile of God, 
The wisdom of God. 
The grace of God, 
The fear of God, 
And the will of God 
To do in the world of the Three, 
As angels and saints 
Do in heaven; 
Each shade and light, 
Each day and night, 
Each time in kindness, 
Give Thou us Thy Spirit.  ii

i. David Cunningham
ii. Ancient Celtic prayer collected by Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912), published in Carmina Gaedelica (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1992)

Proper 28 C     11/17/2013
Isaiah 65:17-25
Canticle 9
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

I bet you have heard of the “new atheists” – scientist, journalists, philosophers who are on their own kind of crusade to say that religion, spirituality, belief in a higher power is all superstitious bunk. One journalist[i] I read interviewed and read several of these “atheists” and noted that their “creed” was in fact kind of that: a dogmatic system for which they were very evangelical. The world is in danger from religion, some atheists proclaim; all religion tends toward fanaticism. Religious people are dupes; nothing can be proven. It is all very logical, the journalist noted.

And in that logic, the journalist noted, is the rub. Taking a “logical” approach to something as vast as the meaning of existence leaves people a little cold. As journalists do, he contrasted the atheists with a Christian church – and as journalists do, it was a big mega-church with an evangelical rock band performing a concert/worship service/altar call to 500 teenagers. However logical, however intellectual, the journalist noted, the new atheists can’t draw a crowd or build up enthusiasm like the direct, emotional appeal of that Christian evangelical crowd.

Our lessons today certainly are fodder for the new atheists’ scorn. Endtimes, prophecies of doom AND abundance, talk of salvation and the saving of souls would just be proof of our illogicality and foolishness.
But like the young evangelicals headed to an altar call to the strum of electric guitars, the appeal of our
lessons today is in their very big-ness. These lessons remind us that we are part of grandness of God. We are not small, insignificant blips; we participate in God’s great creative adventure. The prophet Isaiah, who never minced words when he told the people of Israel how badly they behaved, now sings lyrically of restoration, of what blessings the people will receive when they return, as promised, to their home in Jerusalem. Jesus’ words bolster people whose lives are on the line, who face imminent imprisonment and death. The people to whom these sayings are directed are not interested in logical arguments, small helping hands, or social niceties. They are involved in a great cosmic drama, and God, our God, is right there with them. To be called by God to God’s mission means being part of the bigness of God.

We don’t have to be prophets to know that there are lots of changes going on in Episcopal Church nationally and locally. I have heard talk at many parishes, including this one, that people are few, resources are scarce, and that the end is near! Such talk demonstrates about as much trust in the mission of God as those “new atheists” admit. Thinking small, thinking shrinking takes everyone down a road of no return.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Episcopal Church, and this parish in particular, have a future, a sustainable future. Our future is in participating in the bigness of God’s mission. Our future is thinking and acting in ways that might be different than in the past, in partnering with other churches and non-churches, on the exciting work of connecting God’s mission with the needs of our community, but also on the practical ways we can be sustainable and steward our resources collectively for a future role in God’s big mission
It is the Sunday of the pledge ingathering. We are giving today – giving who we are and what we have, and nothing that we give is small. No matter the size of our pledge, our giving, here or anywhere else, our gifts are part and parcel of the greatness of God, of the bigness of God’s mission. We give back because we have been promised big things – because we can participate in things that are big enough to be worthy of our gifts – because what we give here inspires and encourages all of us to go out into that great and immense mission of God. It is not logical, it is not intellectual, and it certainly can’t be scientifically proven, but it is true. It is a great adventure. It is the cosmic journey of all creation. Participating in this mission is what it means to be blessed, what it means to gain our souls.

[i] Gary Wolf, “The Church of the Non-Believers,” Wired, November 2006