Trinity 7-2-17 ACCUCC Rev. Tony Clark
We are starting a month-long series based on The Shack. Some of you may remember that we discussed this book several years ago, and now a movie has come out; we’re going to be showing the movie after church twice this month, next week and then on July 30.
The Shack is about Mack, a man whose daughter is murdered. When he begins to lose faith after that incident, God calls him to spend a weekend in the Divine presence. In a vision, he spends time basking in the love of Christianity’s three-in-one God, and along the way he learns to forgive himself, those who have wronged him, and God.
The Shack leads us to think about several themes from our faith: first, Mack has to face the idea of God as a Trinity, which is often called a dance of three-in-one, Mack also deals the question of why, if God is good, do bad things happen, which on the flip side of the coin brings us to Free Will and our human choice to live morally. And by the end of the book, Mack must also learn how to Forgive and reconcile with those from whom he is estranged. We will spend the next 5 weeks thinking and praying about these themes in our worship.
Today, we take on the idea of the Trinity, this three-in-one God, with which our ancestors in the faith gifted us.
When I am asked to explain the Trinity, I say that we humans need ways to talk about the experiences of something more than ourselves, so we use the word God. We Christians have divided God into three personas or persons. Humans experience something more than ourselves in Creation, so we have a Creator, or a parent whose function it is to create and nurture life. We also experience the Divine through other living beings, especially other humans, so we need a God who lived and breathed and bridges the divide between us and the Creator. And we also experience God as the energy in our emotions, thoughts, intuition, pain and healing, spine tingling sensations, and odd coincidences, so we need a part of God who drives those intangible experiences. Traditionally we name these three the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit).
The author of The Shack, presents a Trinity that is slightly off the traditional. Because Mack had an abusive biological father, a heavenly Father would put Mack off, so instead of a Father God, he meets Big Mama, an African-American woman, who loves to make splendid downhome meals. Jesus, who also goes by Yeshua or Joshua, is a brown-skinned Arabic man who likes to build things, and the Spirit is called Sarayu, or Sophia, and is the gardener, the tender of the garden we call the soul. In this story, the Trinity is a Cook, a Carpenter, and a Gardener.
In my own version of the Trinity, I think of the three-in-one as artist, created object of art, and the process of making the art, or more simply: Creator, Created One, and Creativity. In a few minutes I’m going to ask you to think about what you might name as a Trinity, so get your Creative thoughts moving!
You may hear that the Trinity is not to be found in the Bible; and I’ve wrestled with that a bit. In the scripture we heard this morning, (Ephesians 4: 2-6, & 11-13), there are certainly the three persons: one Spirit who brings unity and peace, One Lord Jesus Christ, who unites through faith and baptism, and one Father who is over all and through all and in all. They are linked grammatically as well as functionally by the author of Ephesians, who may or may not have been Paul. In several of the early Christian writings we find the foundations of the Trinity; however, the Doctrine of the Trinity is a later formula, created by the various councils that met in the first few centuries of the faith to solidify doctrines and dogma of Christian belief. The specific formula of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an inheritance from those early Bishops, men of enormous thought, who codified our faith into a uniform set of beliefs. Now, 17-1800 years later, those Doctrines may not exactly serve us.
So what does serve us? You heard that in The Shack, it’s Big Mama the cook, Yeshua the carpenter, and Sarayu the gardener. One theologian has described the Trinity as a candle: heat, light and flame. You’ve heard of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, which assumes sin comes into the world, must be redeemed, and then we must be sustained in our sin-free-ness. You heard that in my version I think about Creator, Created One, and Creativity.
In all of these, the Trinity has an internal integrity, the three are related in some way that we can understand, a metaphor that we can all relate to. They dance together, play together, work together, or act in complimentary ways. If you start with a homestead you might get a Cook, a Carpenter, and a Gardener. If you start with a family, then you have a parent, a child, andthe spiritual ancestors that shaped this family unit--Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If you start with art, like I did, you might end up with Creator, Created One, and Creativity. If you start with a candle, you might end up with Flame, Heat, and Light.
So, If we start with something like the Symphony, what would be the Trinity?
A fire station?
A court room?
A human being?
What Metaphor works for you?
The Shack points out a few things for us: that the Trinity is not literally a Father, Son and Spirit, but is a metaphor to think about how we connect with God. The novel also shows us that we can create a Trinity that works for each of us, in order to better access God. And for me, one of the biggest things to take away is that God is bigger than any metaphor that we can imagine; we have limited words to describe the experience of something bigger than ourselves, and we want to tell people about our experience, so we label them with words. When words fail to capture the enormity of God, I pray we let the experience speak for itself.
Loving One, Living One, and Laughing One, we come with discomfort in the confining words that describe you. Enlargen our view of you, embolden our words about you, and enliven our experiences of you. In all your many names, we say, Amen.