Trinity 2011

Gen. 1-2:14

On most feast days you and I celebrate either a person or an event. Today we celebrate a doctrine: the Trinity. I know of no other feast in the Church that celebrates a doctrine. So this is a unique time in the calendar of the Church. Furthermore, the doctrine we celebrate is complex and has been the cause of debates and divisions within the Church for centuries. The doctrine of the Trinity maintains that God manifests Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is a unity of three persons in one godhead.

By now you are probably planning your shopping list, balancing your checkbook, cleaning out your Filofax, or texting on your Blackberry. On the one hand, the doctrine of the Trinity is just not high on your list of relevant topics. On the other hand, the doctrine of the Trinity is a very useful cluster of concepts and metaphors which help us to arrange our thoughts about God and life and which help us in our relationships with God and one another.

As some of you know, I often deal with a problem by asking questions. Thinking about the Trinity, I asked myself two questions. The first is why do people come to church? Why are you here today? There are lots of reasons: habit, courtesy to a relative or friend, concern about a sick spouse, confusion over a moral decision, a Sunday assignment (ushering), and perhaps loneliness. For years I went to church regularly because I knew that I literally could not make it through the week without divine help. There are a lot of reasons why you and I are here. But I think that one of the major reasons why you come to church is that you want to find God in your life. You’ve had some glimpses, but you want to increase your knowledge and experience of God.

The second question I asked myself is which lectionary reading speaks to our most elemental knowledge and experience of God? For me, and I expect for you, the reading of the creation story in Genesis (although long) resonates deeply with my life experience of God.

A third question popped into my mind. Does the doctrine of the Trinity help us with useful images in our knowledge and experience of God? Furthermore, does it help us in understanding Genesis? The answer is yes in both cases.

It is my thesis that the doctrine of the Trinity (that cluster of concepts and metaphors) expresses the experience of God in the life of the people of the Old Testament (the Hebrews/Jews), the people of the New Testament (early Church) and Christians today (you and me). To use the metaphoric language of God as Father, son, and Holy Ghost (or Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer as my politically correct clergy friends prefer) helps us to reflect upon those moments in our lives when we are open to and encounter God.

To illustrate my thesis, I want to tell you a story that I call “Kansas Genesis.” In 1950 I spent my summer working at the Boy Scout camp in Bonner springs, Kansas. The camp was located high on a bluff over looking the Kaw River. At the base of the bluff there was a state highway, railroad tracks, the river, and as far as the eye could see farmland. Up the highway was the town, whose sole claim to fame was the Lone Star Cement plant. This was in the days when cement plants made cement for building road and dams and foundations, rather than serving as assets and collateral for junk bonds and financial speculation.

Summer started out okay, but gradually a gentle wind arose and it began to rain. It rained and rained and rained. The Missouri River backed up and the Kaw River swelled over its banks. Boxcars floated down the river like matchboxes. The wind sashayed across the landscape pushing the rain against the bluffs and obscuring the town and the cement plant. When the rains stopped, the width of the river stretched from the base of bluff to the horizon. All the visible farmland (16 miles) was under water. We learned over the radio, for we were stranded for a week, that 50% of Kansas City had been wiped out by the flood. Gradually the waters receded, and a gentle wind hovered over the landscape, caressing the earth back to life. I watched from the bluffs. A flower would sprout; stalks of wheat would poke up. Within time the earth burst forth in its fecundity. I remember thinking at the time that standing in the wind and watching the waters recede and the vegetation return was like being present at the time of creation. I had an overwhelming sense of God as Father and Creator. There was an eeriness of life over the land, which was embodied in the wind. Surely it was the breath of God. I wondered if this were a similar experience to that of the Native American Indian, who knew beyond a doubt God as Creator and Holy Spirit.

Have you not had a similar experience or time like that in your life? Did you not marvel at the birth of your child? Has your heart not stopped for a moment at the sight of a sunset? Did you not become dumb struck at the Grand Canyon? No one had to explain to you God as Creator. And in those moments of recognition, did you not feel the eerie presence of God, the force of existence, not necessarily a mighty force, but the silent pressure of a presence, like a baby’s breath. Such is the moment of recognition of the mysteriam tremendum, the presence of God. We call it the Holy Spirit.

Ten years after the flood of 1950, I translated Genesis from the Hebrew. As I translated, I thought over and over of my experience of watching the rebirth of the Kansas countryside. Berashit bera Elohim. In the beginning God created. Listen to the magnificent saga of creation. Can you not feel its grandeur in your very bones?
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was
Upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit (also translated
wind or breath) of God was moving (hovering) over the
face of the waters. (1:1-2)

Here we have God as active creator, not sitting back, but hovering over His creation. The Spirit of God is the intentional presence of that positive creator whom we call God. This is what I experienced in 1950 when I looked across the waters in Kansas.
The narrator continues:
And God said, “let the waters under the heavens be gathered
Together in one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was
So. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were
Gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was
Good. And God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants
Yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their
seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth.” And it was so.
….And God saw that it was good. (1:9-12)

Have you not marveled in the spring at that moment when the green shoots are right on the edge of popping through the soil in a field or in a garden? You can just glimpse the tantalizing hint of green, and you are totally caught up in a moment of expectation right at the tip of birth. This is life. This is the moment of creation. This is the showing forth and the very presence of God and the Holy Spirit. The whole valley awakens in spring. Have you not seen it? Have you not heard it?

The divine power is intentional and purposeful in its creative force. God’s creative work climaxes in the creation of man. We are told:
God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness;
And let him have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over
The birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth,
And over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he
Created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them,
Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and
Have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of
the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.
…. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it
was very good. (1:26-31)

The image of God: thinking, choosing, moving, living, breathing, being. It’s incredible! You and I bear that image of God. We have His imprint. His stamp is upon our very being, our genes, and our chromosomes. Our personhood is imprinted with God’s personhood. He is within us and we are within Him. Incredible!

So there are in the creation story of Genesis (a saga which is the culmination of hundreds and thousand of years of the development of the Hebrew faith) the essential elements of the doctrine of the Trinity. There is God the creator/father. There is God the spirit. There is the image of God/man. As the experience of the Hebrews developed, they knew God not only as father and spirit but also as present in individuals such as the kings and the prophets. Their expectation was for a Messiah who would be the total image, or embodiment of God.

You and I confess this Messiah, this total image, to be Jesus Christ. Just as creation is not totally understood by us, and as the Spirit is slightly beyond our rational comprehension, so too Jesus as the Son of God (God incarnate) breaks the molds of our expectations and assumptions. At the end of the Mass we hear read the prologue to the Gospel of John. In this prologue the evangelist retells the Genesis story of creation, setting forth the pre-existence of Jesus Christ as the third person of the Godhead. It assures us of the divinity of Christ and the substance of the Godhead as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

You and I come to St. Andrew’s on Sunday mornings yearning to know and to feel the presence of God in our lives. Our hearts are strangely restless. The concepts and images of the doctrine of the Trinity pervade our liturgy and our worship. They are instruments or vehicles, which help us to order our minds and thoughts for God. They carry us into the sacraments, where you and I receive the body ad blood of Christ and are renewed. They open our ears and hearts to the Word of the Gospel. They accompany us from this hallowed sanctuary out into the workaday world. The concepts and metaphors of the doctrine of the Trinity stand with us in the world of life and action as we seek to serve God and our neighbor.

And now to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be all honor and glory. Amen. –Fr. Gage