Trinity C, 2013
A Liturgy is also available
GOD IN RELATIONSHIP, NOT FORMULA
Every time the church calendar comes round to Trinity Sunday,
I confess to giving a sigh of disappointment.
The reason for my sigh is that for me, Trinity Sunday symbolises all the failures
of institutionalised Christianity.
For me (and I suspect for many others), Trinity Sunday has become an ‘empty cocoon’ -empty,
because the life which shaped it has long since departed.
Indeed, I am reliably informed that the great 20th century Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner,
claimed that if the Trinity were to quietly disappear from Christian theology,
never to be mentioned again, most of Christendom would not even notice its absence!
For me, the Doctrine of the Trinity has become a mathematical formula,
much like and as arid as, E=MC2 that Einstein told us
was the clue to the physical universe.
However, when I read some of the more creative biblical scholars of our day,
I learn that the doctrine was ‘created’
to describe, define and safe-guard an experience.
But in the process of time, the ‘experience’
seems to have been drained right out,
and what we have left is just the formula -
as if this was what being a Christian is.
Let us go back, for a moment, to the originating events of our faith
and see what these events suggest to us.
A man by the name of Jesus or Jeshua,
who was landless and probably worked as an ‘odd-jobs’ man for some years,
changed jobs in mid-stream, and
became an itinerant teacher, healer and storyteller - respected as a sage.
And during one to three years
(depending on which storyteller is in charge of the story),
he seemed to attract a mixed group of people,
usually from the fringes of his society.
With these people he was able to share himself so completely
that over time and after a lot of struggle
they became new people -
gripped with a new creative imagination.
In this becoming, the thoughts and feelings and stories of each other,
resonated with the thoughts and feelings and stories of others.
This was not something which Jesus himself did.
It was something that happened when he was present,
like a catalytic agent.
One theologian who has influenced me greatly, has put it like this:
“...something about this man Jesus broke the atomic exclusiveness of those individuals so that they were deeply and freely receptive and responsive each to the other... It transformed their minds, their personalities, their appreciable world, and their community with one another and with all [people]...” (Wieman 1946:39-44).
Following the death of Jesus despair gripped this group of people so much
they could not see any good in him.
He was not the messiah they had expected or hoped for.
In fact, for them, he was no messiah at all. Period.
However, this is not the end of the story.
After a while, when the numbness and the shock
began to wear away, something happened...
That transforming creativity
previously known only in fellowship with Jesus,
began to work again.
It had risen from the dead.
Now, when the church around the 4th century created the doctrine of the Trinity,
in a climate of dissension and so-called heresy,
it was to safe-guard an experience...
An experience, similar if you like, to the resurrection experience.
An experience of life over death, of making new and alive,
that which was dead in their lives...
An experience which pointed to Creativity God
in the world, and in the human being Jesus of Nazareth.
And Creativity God is not limited to only one form or style of self revelation.
What makes us truly human, and thus truly Christian,
is not accepting superstition or what can’t be believed,
nor accepting what can only be presented
in some kind of arid formula.
What makes us truly human, with or without God,
is being able to live in relationship to the other.
The relationship is what constitutes our existence and our wholeness,
not the efforts to formulate and analyse.
We are all webs and we are part of a web!
Let me suggest a practical matter.
I would like to ask you a question and then
invite you to ponder it for a moment - what are your best moments?
Your really best moments?
While leaving myself open to criticism
for me my best moments were when I was in relationship.
• When my mother or father, son or daughter hugged me - my best moment.
• When my wife embraces me - my best moment.
• When someone who cared for me was in the same room with me.
• When a teacher or colleague affirmed me.
• When friendship was valuable and touchable and strong...
I remember those as my best moments.
When I was and am in relation.
What’s the so-called ‘point’ of all this? Simply this.
These experiences are universal experiences that tell us about ourselves.
They tell us that not only do we exist (a web) but that we exist in relationship (webs).
Relationship is what makes us what we truly are.
And what makes G-o-d God, is relationship.
Using anthropocentric language, relationship is what God is about,
and therefore it is no wonder that we,
who are made in God’s image and likeness,
are also essentially about creative relationship.
So those are my comments:
Trinity Sunday is about me and it’s about Creativity God and it’s about relationship.
The Trinity is not a mathematical question.
It’s not even a theological question.
And any reference to it is only found once in the entire Bible
and then scholars tell us, it was a very late addition.
At best it’s a relationship.
PS: Some additional thoughts:
Gordon D Kaufman (Jesus and Creativity (2006) Augsburg/Fortress) has some different comments on 'trinity'. He says it is very much tied to the traditional or orthodox ministry/death/resurrection/ascension-to-heaven story about Jesus...
"... the traditional trinitarian claim that the three persons of the trinity all co-inhere in each other... and are all equally involved in everything in which any one of them is involved - and thus equally involved in everything throughout the cosmos. The doctrine of the trinity may be faulted here on two counts: (i) in its lifting a human being (Jesus) up into full deity, it makes the creativity throughout the universe fundamentally anthropomorphic and anthropocentric; and (ii) this sort of move seems to presuppose some version of the old two-worlds cosmology (Pg:55).
"... Most of the vast universe, as we think of it today, is in no way at all affected by Jesus' life, death, and resurrection; it is only the human project and its evils, on planet Earth, to which the Jesus-story - because of the healing and new life that it has brought - is pertinent... (Pg:55).
"We need to recognize that from the very beginning of specifically Christian thinking about God, all the major issues that needed addressing involved human choices... It was through choices made by various followers of Jesus that the affirmations and claims that eventually developed into [ministry/death/resurrection/ascension-to-heaven story about Jesus]...; it was the choices of councils of bishops that eventuated in the understanding of what would be regarded as 'orthodox' in the churches - including the doctrine of the trinity - and what would be regarded as 'heresy'; and it has been repeated choices over the centuries - by bishops and popes, by congregations, by reformers of various sorts as well as other individual women and men - that have determined in every new present whether those earlier choices should still be regarded as of central importance in orienting and ordering life" (Pg:55-56).
"We in the twenty-first century are the heirs of many different ways of understanding and interpreting Jesus: Which (if any) should we commit ourselves to and seek to develop further? Which should we ignore or discard?... When the churches in the early centuries of Christianity accepted or consented to the notion of orthodoxy, the range of options for Christians was significantly narrowed... (Pg:56).
"[Contemporary Jesus study] actually brings us a number of significantly different Jesuses to which should we... commit ourselves? Here again we are confronted with a matter of choice or at least consent: Which Jesus, if any, really 'grabs' us? Which makes sense to us? Which will help us grow in import new directions? Whatever we regard as of unique significance in the complex of events 'surrounding and including and following upon the man Jesus' will largely determine the version of the Jesus-story that we choose as we seek to discern what light that story might throw on human life and death today" (Pg:57).
Wieman, H. N. 1946. The Source of Human Good. Carbondale. Southern Illinois University Press.