TRINITY SUNDAY 2004
Today is my greatest nightmare as a preacher: the dreaded and despised Trinity Sunday.
It is little wonder that both Malinda Johnson and Michael Spencer both found compelling reasons to be out of town this Sunday! They knew, given any option, I wouldn’t preach today….
People sometimes ask me why I always complain about preaching on Trinity Sunday. Three reasons:
*First of all it’s a doctrine. This is the only Christian Holy Day that celebrates a “doctrine”—not much of a story there….and it’s hard to tell a story about. Since I think preaching is about 90% story telling, the Trinity presents a problem.
*Secondly, just about everything that “can be said” about the Trinity “has been said”. Not much new ground to cover about 3 in One and One in 3. Not a lot of room to maneuver. Better to just sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” and let it go at that.
*But finally, I think what we’ve done, as Christians, with the doctrine of the Trinity, is that we have limited and constricted our opportunity to “know and be known by God”. The Church has used the Trinity to narrow the possibilities to discover God and be discovered by God.
I’m really quite exhausted at tilting with the Trinity. I don’t make any friends, usually, by criticizing such a basic Christian doctrine. In fact, by taking on the Trinity and trying to open it up so it “includes” rather than “excludes” our experiences of God, by doing that I tend to alienate and confuse rather than enlighten. And there’s always the danger that someone who hears me whine and complain about how limiting and narrow the Trinity has made the church will call the Doctrine Police or the Bishop and turn me in for trashing the Trinity.
And I really don’t need to deal with the inquisition of bishops about my doctrinal purity….
So, how about this: I’ll stop now if you’ll tell everyone that I really did preach about the Trinity today and it wasn’t half bad….How about that?
Ah, a good idea, but in the end it won’t work. After all, I get paid to talk about this stuff and you—well, actually, you pay to listen to me talk about this stuff.
Boy, that’s a weird way to think about preaching, isn’t it?
Ok, I’m going to take one swipe at it. Here goes….
Things Happen and then we talk about what happened. The confusion arises because “what we SAY about WHAT HAPPENED” becomes all entangled with WHAT HAPPENED so that we can’t distinguish between what WE SAID and WHAT HAPPENED any more.
Here’s the only example I’m going to give you: two people have a disagreement (that’s What Happens) and then they both go off and “say things” about the disagreement.
Two people: parent/child; husband/wife; brother/sister; two friends; two enemies; two strangers—pick which works for you or make up another one that works better—so two people have a disagreement. (What they disagree about doesn’t matter: politics, abortion, the war in Iraq, religion, what color to paint the living room, what to have for dinner, where to go on vacation, whose turn it is to take out the garbage, Red Sox/Yankees…pick a disagreement that is alive in your life.)
All that “happens” is that two people disagree. That’s all that happens.
But one of them says, “if you don’t respect my opinion, you don’t respect me.”
The other one says, “if you don’t agree with me, you don’t love me.”
So, suddenly, whether to have chicken or fish has become an issue of “respect” and “love” and a disagreement about what to have for dinner has become a struggle about the meaning of life. It’s like the War about the Position of the Toilet Seat. It’s the reason public bathrooms are gender specific. Otherwise men and women would be murdering each other in airports and restaurants over the toilet seat. Whether you leave the toilet seat up or down becomes an issue about respect or love.
Listen: it’s just a toilet seat….
Hold the “chicken or fish” disagreement and the Toilet Seat War in your mind for a moment.
SOMETHING HAPPENED. People experienced God. People knew and were known by God. People encountered the Holy and discovered the Eternal.
Then, some of those people, known as Christians, started talking about WHAT HAPPENED and where the conversation led was that they “named” WHAT HAPPENED when they experienced God. The names they came up with were FATHER, SON and HOLY SPIRIT.
Do you see that the Trinity, as a Doctrine, is something Christians have “said” about experiencing God?
God didn’t make the Trinity up—the Church did. God just shows up to be known and to know us. God just shows up to be discovered and experienced and encountered and unconcealed. God just shows up. And then we SAY THINGS about what we discovered and experienced and encountered and unconcealed and took a vote and said: “Let’s call What Happened there Father, son and holy spirit.”
Now, the problem becomes that how we “named” experiencing God—what we “said about” the experience of God for Christians—limits and narrows how we “experience God” in the future.
If your “experience of God” doesn’t neatly fit into FATHER/SON/HOLY SPIRIT…well, well then, that must not be God you’re experiencing, fellow.
The church has a habit of “getting in the way of God”.
Some of the most holy and spiritual people I know never darken the door of a church. And when I can engage them in conversation, they tell me that the church keeps getting in the way of their experience of God.
The Church is all about control and order and crowd management and drawing lines and boundaries to decide “who’s in” and “who’s out”. God is all about freedom and chaos and messiness and drawing circles so eternally large that everyone is included.
I believe the church has to get out of the “Being In The Way of God” business and get into the “Opening The Path to God” business.
If the doctrine of the Trinity works for you, that’s Great. Really, I mean it. I’m not messing with what “works” for you in knowing and being known by God.
What I want to do is open the doors and windows and knocking down the walls so that we—as the church—can welcome home Dangerous Mystics and Spiritual Rebels.
That’s the business the church should be in: creating Dangerous Mystics and Spiritual Rebels.
The business the church should be in is the business of “letting God be God” and not limiting how God can show up and be discovered and experienced and encountered.
GOD HELP US—and I mean that quite literally—if we don’t commit ourselves to “getting out of God’s way”. That’s the Church’s real job—and our only job—getting out of God’s way. So call the bishop if you must. Tell him he’ll find me somewhere trying to stay out of God’s way….