Saturday, June 10, 2023

The Social God

 Sermon preached on Trinity Sunday, June 4, 2023 at Church of the Redeemer, Addison, New York, in the Diocese of Rochester, my first Sunday as priest-in-residence.

          I am pleased to be with you today and to begin our ministry together, our relationship together.  I hope over the next few months to get to know each one of you, and for each one of you to get to know me.

           I will start by telling you what is at the heart of my understanding of why it is we gather, and what it is we have to say to the world around us in the Name of Jesus.

           I’ve used the word already:  relationship.  The good news is that God desires relationship with us. The good news is that we are capable of relationship with God. The good news is that we are called to be in relationship with one another. The good news is that we never need be alone.

            A friend remarked that it was too bad that my first sermon in this new role had to fall on Trinity Sunday.  I said that actually it is perfect.

           It is sometimes said that this is the only Sunday when we celebrate a doctrine rather than a part of the story. That’s not true at all. The notion of God as Trinity came out of the early Christians’ experience of God. God as Trinity made sense of their story.

           Christianity from the very beginning was an intensely social religion. That is no surprise because Jesus was an intensely social person. The value of life in community shows up in all the writings of the early church. Part of the conversion to the message of Jesus was a profound acceptance that we are responsible for each other, that the common good among us is vitally important.

            Relationship was so critical to early Christian life, that it came to make sense that even God consisted of relationship. Their witness said that it is, in effect, too dangerous to say that God is only one.  The vision of monotheism is the right vision we say, but it is a dangerous vision.  It is dangerous because, left to itself, God too easily becomes distant lord, monarch, detached ruler.  It is a vision of a God who ultimately needs nothing and no one.

           That is not the God known by Jesus, and it is not our experience of God. The insight we bring to the tale is that God needs. God needs the world. God needs us. The very nature of God is community. Our God is not a monarchical God but a social God.

           The Trinity is more than a doctrine.  It reveals who we are and what we are called to do.  It means that we are called to community and society being created in God’s image.

          It is our nature, like God, to need, to need not to be alone.  And not just with whom already know and love.  We are called to co-create with God a world where no thing and no one is alone.

           This is part of “the dignity of every human being” that we pledge to uphold in our baptismal covenant.  We sometimes get this wrong in our culture.  We think that the dignity of every human being is to stand on his or her own two feet, being a “self-made” man or woman.

           No, we Christians say, the dignity of every human being is to stand among sisters and brothers and know herself or himself to be one with them, a fellow, equal child of God.  And it is our vision of the Trinity that leads us to proclaim this radical truth.

           Way back on Easter Day, we heard the risen Jesus say to the women who came to the tomb, “Do not be afraid.

          Now, it is perfectly reasonable for someone in this world of ours, in this county and village even, to respond, “Why not? Why shouldn’t I be afraid?”

           It is a legitimate question.  You only have to read the newspaper or watch the TV news to know that it is a perfectly rational question.  Do not be afraid, you say?  Why not?

           The Christian answer is the answer of the Trinity.  Why not be afraid? Because you are not alone.  That is what happens when we know we are not alone.  It makes it possible not to be afraid.  Because we are not alone.

           Then, of course, we must prove it with our actions.  We must prove it with those two essential things that are at the heart of the life of the Trinity and, therefore, must be at the heart of our life:  hospitality and generosity, the outward and visible signs of real, unconditional, love.

           This is the discipleship to which Jesus calls us this morning.  “Go and make disciples,” he says, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  Make disciples of the Trinity.  Make disciples of the social God, the God Jesus revealed to us whose very life is community.  Go and make disciples who will help me build a world where no one and no thing is afraid because no one and no thing is alone.

           Our belief in God as Trinity is not our belief in some antiquated doctrine.  It is our belief in the fundamental life of God, and the need of God to make a world where no one is alone.

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