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On Wednesday of this week Karisse and I will be preparing to go on a trip. We will be picking up the grandkids in west Texas and heading out for Indiana. The camper trailer will provide housing on the trip. We will stop to visit friends on the way, spend time with Karisse’s parents and both our extended families, and then wend our way home again. It’s the first of its kind, and we dearly hope it is not the last, but one must consider that this is not just a chance occurrence. Anyone with an eye toward the trajectory of the human family could have seen this coming. We are grandparents. This is one of the many crazy things grandparents do with grandkids. As soon as our firstborn made his debut into the world one could have predicted this day. Doing crazy things like this with the grandkids is the natural outworking of the process of family-building. Does anyone REALLY think we would have done anything more sane? If not, you’re not a grandparent yet.
This is Trinity Sunday. The development of the idea of the Trinity comes naturally from what we have come to know about God. Our readings describe this kind of natural outplaying of a great divine process. In the first lesson God creates the world. God rests on the last day from all the divine labors. The creation is complete, nothing more need be done. Oh, there will be changes along the way, but these changes are all part of the playing out of the great scheme of Creation. Even the current debate over Global Climate Change, which I believe is a real thing, is at least partly a matter of the choices humans have made in the last 200 years. We are seeing the natural outplay of what has happened. We could have seen it coming if we had known where to look.
In the second lesson Paul has established the Corinthian church. Here we see a shift in emphasis. In Acts Paul is fighting for an audience for the Gospel. Here Paul is laying the foundation for the establishment of a stable congregation in a rather hostile environment: “Keep the peace, keep all in order. Don’t give the Romans a reason to notice you, for that will certainly bring about persecution. Show yourselves to be a stable, honorable, peaceful and beneficial association.” This is a natural outplaying of the process of establishing a new congregation.
In the Gospel lesson today Jesus is about to ascend into Heaven. He gives the disciples The Great Commission: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel, teaching them all that I have taught you, and baptizing them in the name of the Trinity.” The Trinity is not just something some perverse monk invented to trouble young minds about God. Neither is it an invention to make us throw up our hands at trying to understand it. It’s much, much more than simply a call to rest in a mystery that is beyond is. If you put all that we know about God, revealed over the centuries and millennia, from a Christian perspective, you end up with the Trinity. So go, baptize in the name of the Trinity. It’s a natural progression.
If our baptismal formula is Trinitarian there must be a natural progression from the Trinity to the mission. There has to be an organic link between being a Christian and belonging to a community of faith gathered around a Trinitarian concept of God.
Go back to the Creation story for a moment. God creates everything in the world and then rests. God rests not because God is cosmically tired, but because the creation is complete. It has all its working parts, all the right tensions, rhythms and balances. It has been granted a life of its own based on unity in diversity, which is the nature of the Triune God. Everything we need to know about God as Creator is present in creation.
There is a delightful story told by Leo Tolstoy, first published in a volume of 23 short stories in 1886. It is about a Russian bishop who went to visit three monks on an island in the sea. When he got there he found that they really knew nothing of the faith.
“How do you pray now?” asked the Bishop.
We say, “You are three, we are three. Have mercy upon is.”
He taught them about the Trinity and worked late into the night teaching them the Our Father. It came time to leave the island in the morning and the Bishop got into his row boat to go back to his ship. Soon he looked back and saw three figures running across the water toward the boat. He stopped the boat, and the three hermits came running up as if on dry land.
“We have forgotten your teaching, servant of God. As long as we kept repeating it we remembered, but when we stopped saying it for a time, a word dropped out, and now it has all gone to pieces. We can remember nothing of it. Teach us again,” they said.
“Your own prayer will reach the Lord, men of God. It is not for me to teach you. Pray for us sinners.” replied the Bishop, and the three men, content, turned and walked back to their island.
Everything we need for a relationship with God is present at the moment of Baptism. The essential balance of all the necessary parts is there. You are three, we are three, have mercy upon us. That inner sense of the unmerited gift of a relationship with a relational (Triune) God is the foundation of all Christian living. Our Christian walk is not first one of doctrine but of encounter. In that encounter we find that the God of the created order includes us in that divine relationship of love. In our creatureliness we are part of the unity in diversity, which is the nature of a Triune God.
Jump now to the Gospel lesson. Why would the God of all send us out to gather people into this community? God sends us out precisely because the sense of that community has been lost. It is not that the community no longer exists. An infant may not know about aunts and uncles, even brothers and sisters, but the family exists, nonetheless. The infant does not necessarily have to grow into an awareness of the family that gives it life and context in society, but it is hardly who it is without it. The context of our existence exists always, beyond our awareness and active participation. The call of Christ is into conscious and participatory relationship. The relational God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, wants nothing more than for the creation, the product of his own divine dance, to come into the dance with him. Yet we sit on the sidelines, or dance with our shadows, unaware of the whole rest of Creation out there, yearning to dance with us in God. That’s but part of the reason we baptize in the name of the Trinity.
What does that mean for us now, today, here in Silver City, at the Church of the Good Shepherd? That into which we are baptized is a relationship with God. We live that relationship out in three areas. There is our relationship with God’s people, and there is our relationship with God’s creation, and there is our relationship with ourselves. Here is our own inner trinity of relationships.
To be in relationship with God’s people is to be in relationship with others like us. Jesus was like us. He, too, was a human being. To love one another is to love Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. To love one another is to treat each other as if we were Jesus.
To be in relationship with God’s creation is to love the rest of what God makes. It is to recognize that our humanity is not all that distinct from the reality of every other created thing. Apaches, I have been taught, hold everything as a gift from the Creator, and therefore we treat it as we would the Creator. Our stewardship of creation is of a piece with our stewardship of our relationship with the Creator. They cannot be separated. Loving the rest of the Created Order is to love God as Creator, as Father of all.
To be in relationship with ourselves is to love ourselves as we have been loved. We often attend to this last, but it is nonetheless not last in importance. Loving oneself is to recognize oneself as a creation of God, redeemed by God, and called into relationship with God. God must think we’re a good idea to have invested that much in us. When we know ourselves to be loved we can exercise the self-care needed to be healthy, happy and balanced in our living. To love ourselves is to love the Spirit of God within us.
None of these loves is greater or less than the others. I love cherries. The other day Lisa and Jeanie had me come over and pick a bowl full of them from their tree. Do I love any one cherry more than another? No, as long as it goes into my mouth! Do I love the bowl full more than any one cherry? Now, for they generally go into my mouth one at a time. Do I love the taste of cherries more than these cherries? No, for without the cherries there would be no taste to enjoy. Each one of these loves is important, and all of them are important. Without them all we are less than human beings, and certainly not really in relationship with God as we Christians understand God. Most of all, in the end they are one and the same love exercised and acknowledged in three areas of our own being as well as Gods.
When we consider the Great Commission, if we have been so danced into love, how can we let the world go by unconscious of so great a calling? To do so would be to imply that the God who has loved us does not really wish to be in relationship with ALL of God’s creation. That just wouldn’t be love. The call is to go find those who are as infants, those who do not yet realize that their Creator is calling them into relationship, a relationship so powerful and so costly and so precious that in our Christian understanding it took the very Son of God going to the Cross.
Bring them here, that we may love them into the life of the Trinity with us.