The Very Rev. Tom Callard – June 16, 2019
This week, one of the blinds in my office broke. And the way I knew it was broken is one morning I went in and pulled the chord and the blind just came crashing down. So I begrudgingly got on my chair and put it back in place. And I forgot about it.
And that night as I was going home, I went to close the blind and I pulled on the chord and the blind came crashing down, and I said – oh yeah it’s broken. And so I begrudgingly got on my chair and put the blind back in place. And I forgot about it. Until the next morning, when I came in and went to open the blind and, guess what, I pulled on the chord and the blind came crashing down. And I said: oh yeah, the blind is broken. I’ve got to do something about that.
It didn’t take a genius to realize that it was broken. But it did take me about two days of doing the same thing to realize that I could actually look into the bigger system of what was going on and perhaps even figure out what is the process at work, which meant standing there and looking up at the top of the window and to examine it so I could understand better.
Which made me think, for some reason, isn’t that what theology is, starting with our experience and standing there looking up to try and examine what’s going on, and trying to understand better. What’s going on up there? What is the system at work? In one case you’ve got the blinds, and in the other you’ve got God – up in the heavens or out there on the streets, or here in our lives. We try and understand, as best as we can as we can, based on our own experience, what is the big system at work.
Today is Trinity Sunday. the Sunday after Pentecost is always Trinity Sunday. And it is a day set aside not for an event in the life of Jesus or a major feast or anything like that, but it is set aside to honor this doctrine of the Holy Trinity which is at the heart of our faith. It is a doctrine at the center of our theology as Christians.
The central beliefs of the Trinity are spelled out in the Nicene Creed which we say every week, our beliefs about God as three persons: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, each co eternal and co equal. And this doctrine of the Trinity exists because for two thousand years people have been pulling on blinds and watching them fall and then looking up to try and understand what’s going on. How does my experience of God relate to the big picture of what’s up there?
So two thousand years ago, those who had been following Jesus could see that Jesus was not just a Carpenter from Nazareth, but that he was something more. For he healed them, and he did miracles, and he had this way of teaching and inspiring that showed them this incredible Kingdom of God. And Jesus was part of this kingdom, he was something like a King.
For the early Christians, Jesus was clearly God, at least a central part of God. But it was complicated for he himself pointed to God the father and referred to God the Father who was separate from him. And the followers of Jesus knew, moreover, that there was a time before Jesus, and they looked around to see the stars and the sea and the creation which they knew Jesus didn’t make by himself, so there was a God here before him. Who was the Father. And so suddenly you have not just one but two divine beings or Gods or modalities to deal with.
And then, when Jesus began to talk about things like we have in the Gospel today, to talk about the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Counselor, whom he would send, that points to yet another God, or some other manifestation of God. And so the people had to try and make sense of that. Because you have three aspects, each separate, but can there be three Gods? Looking up, pulling on the blinds of life, you’ve got to wonder- what’s up there?
And so the doctrine of the Trinity is proposed to make sense of this, or at least to bring all these experiences of God into a unified system. My experience of God as Jesus Christ, who saved me. My experience of God the creator, who made this place and made baby birds and baby ducks and blue skies and tremendous sunsets and forests. And my experience of the Holy Spirit which comes to inspire me, and quicken my life, and give me a spark, and has given us gifts by which to live.
The trinity is an attempt theologically to get the big picture, and a big enough picture to include not just one vision or understanding of God, but to include as many as possible. And that’s a beautiful thing.
When you look at visions and comprehensive understandings or attempts to make general statements, it is often the case that someone, or some group, or some experience gets left out. In the vision of the United States of America spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, it says: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” which is a beautiful vision.
But it is also an incomplete vision, for at the time it was written, it left out blacks, who were not free, and Native Americans who did not have certain rights, and women, who were not created equal in the vision. So it was a nice sentiment and a powerful one, but it was a vision that needed to be expanded, and expanded until, little by little, it did truly represent all people.
In Christianity, something similar happened with the vision of God. For you started with this one person’s or one group’s vision and experience and then you expanded it because there were others who had different experiences, and then others.
And they build on it until you’re looking up at something which may not be as clear as a bell, but which at least is broad and expansive and aims to represent plurality. The trinity show us that God is not one monolithic, homogeneous, uniform and bland being, but that God includes variety and community and that, most likely, whatever your experience is of God, the Holy Trinity, also includes you. And your story and your experience and your theology.
I think in general we’re not comfortable with theology. Most Christians are armchair theologians at best who are willing to express their views or their thoughts about God, but only up to a point. Because they figure systematic theology is hard. I know on Trinity Sunday we usually try and get the seminarian to preach. But our seminarian preached last week, so here I am. But we do so because theology is hard. There are lots of things written about God. And most of them are really deep. Moreover, in Christianity fights have broken out and people have come to blows over theology, over some of these same things we find in the Nicene Creed.
But today on Trinity Sunday, let me suggest that theology is not always that hard and that theology can be fun, and that, most importantly, theology is your right. And it is your obligation. Because you and your experience of pulling the chord of the blind and looking up to try and figure out what’s happening up there matters. Your experience of God counts.
And if the notion of the trinity counts for anything today, it counts for inclusion. Everyone’s experience of God needs to be included in our big picture. Otherwise we don’t see God at all. Our vision of God as Trinity, as three in one, is wide enough and broad enough to include not just one viewpoint, but to include many. How will we ever know or see the true God unless we hear your stories of God today at this time and in this place.
Perhaps you heard about the survey that came out a couple of weeks ago from the Barna research company, which said that of all the cities and towns across the United States that Springfield is the least Christian place there is in the whole country. Here we are the least likely to have prayed, the least likely to have visited church, the least likely to have read the bible, and probably the least likely to have practiced theology.
Which means there are a whole bunch of people there who have the experience of God- for everyone has the experience of God, but there is a whole bunch of people here who have not realized it, or thought about it, or even been given permission to think about it or given permission to express it theologically in a religious context, or in a church, for we as Christians have not always wanted to hear what everyone has to say about their experience and about God. We have not always wanted to allow everyone their theology. Or we have simply been so stuck on our own notion of God, that we’ve forgotten that others exist as well, that it’s a complex and beautiful God, that it is a Trinity.
And so people have lost a sense that this is important, and have, sadly, not found their experiences of God to be holy.
Richard Rohr in his book Everything Belongs says that healthy religion is an enthusiasm about what is – and not a way to limit people’s access to God. I love that, because in the end that’s what our theology must celebrate and uphold- What is. The myriad ways in which people find God. The myriad ways in which we dance with the Father and Son and Holy Spirit through this short life.
We want our theology to express our enthusiasm at how broad and wide and encompassing God is. And Healthy religion must do what the Council of Nicea did for the Trinity 1700 years ago, which is to invite people’s experience into our theology, make space for more, and then figure how it all fits together. For it does all fit together, for it is the nature of our triune God to be together.
Perhaps what you can take from Trinity Sunday is this: there is nothing more important to God than trying to make contact with you, than making that connection with you, however that connection comes through. However it is you’re spoken to and breathed over and pushed and nudged and calmed and washed and forgiven and inspired and changed and transported and uplifted.
However that happens, it counts. It’s good. And it fits somewhere with what’s going on up there. And we hope you can find yourself within the theology we hold to every week, for there is a place for everyone.
And hopefully we can let others in our post-Christian city know that their experiences of God matter, and that they count. Maybe we can say: You know what just happened to you, that thing you told me – that was God. It wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t happenstance, it wasn’t chance. Look up and see how it connects to the big picture. That was God