Trinity Sunday - 2020a
Old Testament - Psalm 133:1-3
New Testament - 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
One Is a Fiction
INTRODUCTION: So usually when Trinity Sunday rolls around in the lectionary every year, as it has today, I just groan.
After all, a sermon on the Trinity is hardly exciting material to work with, right? The topic is just so, well...technical. And while theologians and even some ministers might enjoy delving into such esoteric matters, most of us, I realize, could care less about the subtle arguments and fine points that go into the concept of the Trinity. Most of us, in my experience, just tend to accept the Trinity as an article of faith, even if we find it hard to ultimately grasp.
But this year? Well, this year I actually think we could all benefit from a sermon on the Trinity. Yep, as strange as it sounds, a sermon on the Trinity right now might do us all some good. Let me see if I can explain.
ONE: You see, for some of the earliest theologians, the Trinity was actually best thought of as three people holding hands while dancing around in a spinning circle. If we weren’t social distancing right now, I would have actually put three people up here holding hands in a circle to help with the image!
The Greek term used for the idea can actually be broken into two parts. The first part, peri, means “around.” While the second part of the word, choresis, means dancing. And so the Trinity is three people, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, dancing around in a circle while holding hands.
They are, in other words, a community. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not merely three independent people who decide to form a club - as if the club could be dissolved if one of the members decided to leave.
No. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are who they are because of the shared life they have together. They are what they are and who they are in relationship to each other. Each of the three exists in relationship to the other and none of them could exist apart from the other.
The idea actually has its roots in some of Jesus’ own words: “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” Jesus says in Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel. And so God is what Christian thinkers like to call “a divine community.”
TWO: Well, is it any wonder that many theologians think the Trinity as a divine community is also then a model for understanding human relationships, right?
Humans, it turns out, are also always members of a community too, right? While we like to see ourselves these days as independent persons free to make our own decisions and to live our lives as we see fit, the Trinity reminds us that we are also always part of a greater whole - that great community of humanity made in the image of God. We are, in the end, what we are and who we are in relationship to each other. None of us is ever a totally isolated self free from others.
Like the ripples of a rock thrown into a pond, what we do and say in life ripples throughout the world around us. And others, of course, also send their ripples running past us as well because of their actions and decisions. Our lives, whether we wish to recognize it or not, are always intertwined and connected.
The famous playwright Tony Kushner liked to put it this way: “The smallest divisible human unit is two people, not one; one is a fiction.” We are always, in other words, “beings-in-relationship.” We are who we are in relationship to others.
And so if one member among us is hurting, well, then we all hurt, or least we should. Or as Paul put it after reminding the Corinthians that they are all members of a body made up of different parts, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” Or as Paul also says in Romans, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
THREE: And so obviously a big part of being in community is being able to, dare I say it, empathize with those members that might be hurting.
Today, of course, we are so divided the word empathy almost sounds like a dirty one. But despite the current state of our nation, it isn’t. Empathy, it turns out, is still a really important spiritual virtue - maybe even the most important one of all.
To empathize with someone is to put yourself in their shoes, right? It’s to get out of your own skin in order to try and understand what life might be like in someone else's skin. Empathy is literally feeling into another person. It’s to set aside your own ego, as best you can, in order to take on the life experience of someone else.
“Nothing is more important than empathy for another human being’s suffering,” one person has said. “Nothing - not career, not wealth, not intelligence, certainly not status. We have to feel for one another if we are going to survive with dignity.”
No wonder Jesus spent so much of his time hanging out with the lonely and downtrodden during his life. For his heart, I believe, was broken wide open by those around him he saw hurting. “Blessed are the poor,” says Jesus in Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the hungry and blessed are those who weep.”
And then there’s Matthew’s more well-known version of the Beatitudes where Jesus also talks about those longing for righteousness and peace also being blessed. For Jesus, more than any other person that has ever lived, had a limitless capacity to “feel into” other people.
FOUR: Of course, here’s the hard thing about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. When we do that, some of us will have to admit that life, at times, can tilt favorably in one direction for some, while for others it doesn’t.
Is life hard sometimes because people make silly and poor choices. Yep. There is no denying that people sometimes make their own misery. But life is also hard sometimes for people because there are forces and structures in place all around us everyday that can make life, well, less than for others. And when we put ourselves in other people’s shoes, when we’re empathic, we’re able, I believe, to see those forces at work.
Look, let’s not beat around the bush. Google W.A.S.P (that acronym for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) and you are likely to find a picture of me staring back at you. If I was a loaf of white bread in the grocery store people would be going blind in the bread aisle. And while I am proud of my heritage (especially the Scottish part as many of you know!) I would have to be an unthinking and, frankly, cruel brute to not admit being a W.A.S.P means people interact with me differently than with others.
When I enter a clothing store, security guards don’t have the impulse to follow me. When I go for a job interview, I am more likely to get the job than a person of color with the same education level and qualifications.
And when it comes to pay? Well, I am frequently paid more than a female counterpart even though she might be doing the exact same job.
And how about when I apply for a loan? Because when I apply for a loan, my interest rate is likely to be way lower than for others.
And, yes, when I am stopped by the police, I usually don’t have a big fear that I am going to end up dead. But others, clearly and understandably so, do.
CONCLUSION: But that is what empathy does. It allows us to see what other people might have to go through in life. It also, I think, allows us to follow faithfully in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior, who could “feel into” people like no one else in the history of the world.
For in the end: “Nothing is more important than empathy for another human being’s suffering. Nothing - not career, not wealth, not intelligence, certainly not status. We have to feel for one another if we are going to survive with dignity.”
Now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.