Thursday, May 30, 2024

Life in a Trinary World

 Sermon preached at the Church of the Redeemer, Addison, NY, on Trinity Sunday, May 26, 2024:  John 3:1-17

          It is often said that this Sunday when we celebrate God as Trinity is the
only Sunday that is primarily about a doctrine rather than a story.

           I don’t think that is correct.  My suspicion has always been that the notion of God as Trinity does have something fundamental to say about life in God’s world. “Trinity,” in essence, is how we experience life in its fullness.

           We human beings live in a world that we believe works in dualities—binaries.  Good and evil, male and female, people like us and people not like us, Americans and foreigners, conservative and liberal, the righteous and sinners, straight and gay, black and white, Jew and Gentile, rhubarb lovers and rhubarb haters. You know I could go on and on and on and . . .

           This seems to be how the world works.  It keeps things simple.  But does it really work that way? Is it really that simple?

           I think knowing God as Trinity tells us no. It is not that simple. There is almost always more complexity to life than we care to admit.  And complexity, the Trinity tells us, is actually divine.

           It is, if you think about it, our dualities that are always getting us into trouble.  For example, because we could only imagine there being two kinds of people, we divided the world up by skin color—black and white we call it, when actually skin color is an a continuous spectrum, and there are very few people who are actually colored black or white.

           Those categories became so entrenched that culture grew up around them and soon “black” and “white” became cultural identities. That’s happened with almost all our binaries.  They have become so hard and fast that they are now more about cultural identity than they are about physical or geographic or sexual realities.

           And that’s fine. The way we figure our identities may not change much. On the other hand, they may.  Our younger generations live in a far more fluid world than we baby boomers or even gen x-ers. Some of them are even pushing at perhaps what we thought were our most had and fast binaries:  male and female.

           It turns out they may actually be teaching us about God and the world God has made.  Binary is not the truth in God’s world. Trinary—at least—is the truth.

          So the world God has made is not either/or.  It is not even simply both/and.  It is both/and . . . and something more.

           This has many ramifications but let me say a few words about just one aspect of it.  On my left forearm I have tattooed in Old French, Que scay-je?  It means “What do I know?”

           I learned the importance of this phrase from the man considered to be the father of the personal essay. Michel De Montaigne was a Frenchman in the 16th century.  He wrote about himself and his experiences in the world. He was a man of deeply held beliefs and opinions.  This might mean he was a colossal bore, but he was and is not.

           He wasn’t a bore because he had the habit of constantly questioning those beliefs and opinions. There was always something more to learn, some new way to be surprised by life.  So in addition to his strongly held views, he lived by the motto: “What do I know?”

           What knowing God as Trinity should mean for us at the very least is that Montaigne was right, there is always something more. Our binaries are convenient and simple but they betray a world that is complex and in that complexity is beauty and joy and hope.

           So often when my own opinions have hardened into something that is easy for me to live with, I am brought up short by something more, and that is God the Holy Trinity at work in me, exposing me to more truth, truth that sets me free from my own capacity to think I understand exactly how things ought to be.

           We see this happening as Jesus speaks with Nicodemus.  You must be born a different way than you have already been more.  There is something more, Jesus says. There is the life of the Spirit, but watch out. When you become companions with the Holy Spirit, you’ll get blown about, many things will not be as you imagined they were, but that is the only way to enter the kingdom of God.

           You enter the kingdom of God not by what you know, but by that something other that come when you are able to see the binaries for what they are—idols.  And let the mystery of God lead you into all truth, truth that is more trinitarian than binary, truth that is something ore than we can imagine on our own.

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