Sacred Soil

Yeah for Dogma!
May 26, 2013, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday

Proverbs 8:1–4, 22–31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1–5
John 16:12–15

There are so many things in this world that I just don’t understand. Though, with a four-year-old in the house, “why” is a common refrain, lilting through our daily conversations. And I, being the person I am, try diligently to explain. What is dirt made of? Where does rain come from? Why does a caterpillar change to a butterfly? Where did our flamingos go?

And I am a curious person, I delight in these questions. I delight in helping her figure out the answers on her own. The joy of discovering compost, the butterfly room at the nature museum, visiting the flamingos at their new home…

But, I surely hope that she doesn’t ask me to explain the trinity anytime soon.

I’d try. I’d do my best. But, wow. This is a complicated teaching of the church, a complicated bit of dogma. (By the way, I find it somewhat delightful and odd that this is the only holiday of the church year where we celebrate a dogma.) But, you see the thing with the Trinity is that any simplistic definition is immediately rendered heresy. Wrong. False. And depending on the crowd you’re with, that can get pretty dicey.

Indeed… how many of you remember the Athanasian Creed? Hopefully you read it at confirmation? Perhaps at another time? We don’t tend to read it in church these days, because it is very long. And tremendously confusing. Here’s a little taste:

We worship one God in trinity
     and the Trinity in unity,
     neither confusing the persons
     nor dividing the divine being.
For the Father is one person,
     the Son is another,
     and the Spirit is still another.
But the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
     is one, equal in glory,
     coeternal in majesty.
What the Father is,
     the Son is,
     and so is the Holy Spirit.

This is one of our historical creeds, one of the documents we affirm in this church. It came into use in the 6th century, and is a reflection of our beliefs about the trinity. It is a document that seeks precision, exploring how we understand God with great faithfulness and care. But, nonetheless, I believe it is safe to say that most of us don’t really understand it. What does it mean to be “coeternal in majesty” or to “confuse the person” or “divide the divine being?”

I do actually admire those who have taken the effort to dig into this creed, and to do their best to fully understand it, to honor this faithful work, to seek the wisdom within, and to share it with us. As indeed, this, and all our creeds, are one of the ways we get to be in conversation with our ancestors. And that’s cool on it’s own. Sorta makes me want to say, “yeah for dogma!”

But, the thing is, our ancestors couldn’t capture all of God in these words. Even as we explore God as trinity—as we search for language that’ll capture what we hope to mean… we will always find that this language eludes us. That our words for God are always inadequate. Always just beyond our reach. Because, this is the very nature of our God—always larger than our imagination. Always, just beyond.

It’s humbling and beautiful. That for all our yearning to understand, all our whys, all our declarations of discovery, that God is always beyond, urging us to explore even further. Urging us to discover anew, again.

But, we often forget this—moving either into the arrogance of presuming we actually do know, and understand, or into the apathy, that blandly declares, “why does it matter?”

The church has been plagued by both. For centuries, church institutions have counted themselves as the arbiters of truth, the place to come to “get it right.” Judging disdainfully those who might stray from the doctrine; in centuries past, we would have excommunicated someone. Placed them in exile for a failure to believe correctly.

And today, noting our hypocrisy. Noting that we don’t get it, and never really did get it (despite our declarations to the contrary)… well today, we are so tempted to throw up our hands and say, “why bother?, why play with these unpleasant people?”

In our passage from John, we are reminded that there is a third way. Between the margins of arrogance and apathy, there is an invitation to dance. Between the borders of self-righteousness and giving up, God has entered in with the Spirit of truth, of divine truth. It is a truth older than time. It is a truth that is the very wisdom of God.

But, rather than something to be pinned down, (as if words might contain God’s truth), this truth is a dance partner, extending her hand, inviting you to join in the dance. To join in the discovery. To live this question, bumping between knowing and unknowing, allowing ourselves to be clumsy, and explore this God who will always be beyond our comprehending. Beyond our capacity to know and understand.

There is this lovely thing about truth. The truth is personal. What I know to be true is an intimate thing, bound up in the stories of my own life, my own experience, my own reality. I know that one and one = two, because of my experiences counting my fingers as a child. I know the truth of honor and duty, because of my grandfather who served in WWII. I know the truth of good food, because my mother cooked everything from scratch. And I know the truth of love in those moments when Jeanie, our daughter, and I embrace in what we call a Maddie sandwich.

I think that for most of us, what is true is a reflection of our hearts, and not a reflection of dogma. We don’t believe because someone told us to. The search for what is true and declarations about the truth are claims on our inmost being. On what makes us human.

But, the beauty of this is that our God, this utterly confusing and confounding Trinity, came into our lives not to tell us to believe something. Not to make a bunch of rules about our lives. But, to transform our hearts. To enter into relationship with us. To join us in this human life. To enter into our own reality—our own truth. To dance with us, and pull us beyond what we thought was possible.

And I believe that it is in this dance that God becomes true, that the trinity becomes true. It is not because I’ve laid out all the math, all the precise proofs and equations, but because this God has entered into our most personal life. Poured into our very hearts. Extended a hand as a dancing partner.

So, it is on this day, that we celebrate a dogma. Not because we understand, and not because we have to. We do this, as a celebration of our God who enters into our reality, into our truth, and invites us to dance between the margins of knowing and unknowing. Invites us to discover God at work, far beyond our expectations.

So let us dance. Amen.