Sermon–June 15, 2014


Trinity Sunday (Year A)

June 15, 2014

William Bradbury


Genesis 1:1-2:4a

Psalm 8

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Matthew 28:16-20

We’ve come a long way in the church year and now we’re at Trinity Sunday where all is summed up in the worship of God as Triune—as Tri-unity.

The German mystic and Dominican priest Meister Eckhart in the 13th century put it this way:

“Do you want to know what goes on in the heart of the Trinity?

I will tell you. In the heart of the Trinity the Father laughs and gives birth to the Son. The Son laughs back at the Father and gives birth to the Spirit.

The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us.”, 6/14/14.

But we humans created a world filled not with laughter but with violence.

So the Son comes to us in the Jesus Event to save us from ourselves.


Karl Barth compared the Jesus Event to the explosion of an enormous bomb, leaving behind a vast crater which we call the church, whose job it is to bear witness to the Event that creates it.

The Jesus Event breaks apart the destructive way humanity builds its communities and nations.

One interesting way to look at this is through the lens of someone like The Reverend James Alison who uses the ideas of French social philosopher Rene Girard who taught at Stanford for many years.

Girard focuses on how human beings are formed, claiming we are shaped by imitating the desires of others. So I often change my order at dinner when I hear my tablemates ordering something that all of a sudden sounds much better than what I thought I wanted.

Madison Avenue gets us to desire their products through the beautiful people in the commercial who desire them first.

The problem comes, however, when there is only one of something and two people want it—like 2 year olds fighting in the sandbox over one red dump truck even though there are four blue dump trucks sitting idle. Then a rivalry is created and there will be violence, unless an adult can step in and separate the kids.

The police play this role when a rivalry begins among adults—like when two alpha males want the same parking spot.

But when communities and nations are just getting started there are no police, so there must be a mechanism that brings the community together in the face of rivalry.

The mechanism that glues them together is violence against a chosen other: that is, the group will decide one person, or one type of person, is the cause of all their problems. Therefore, they come together to eliminate these others and by sharing this violence the group is forged together and for a time there is peace.

Think Nazi Germany’s rise to power: you remember Martin Niemoler’s famous quote:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

The Third Reich could not have forged without using violence against those others designated as the source of the nation’s problems. This shared violence brought then nation together and gave them purpose and a sense of inner peace.

Racism also kept the Old South together–Nothing like a good lynching to bring peace back to the city.

This is the scapegoating mechanism in the Bible where the High Priest transfers the sins of the people onto the goat and then sends it out to die in the desert. Using an animal is a step up from using people, but modern cultures still use people—for example the Sunnis and the Shia in Iraq blame each other for their misery over the past 1000 years and in killing each other solidify their own community.

But be clear this is not just a flaw in Islam but a flaw in humanity. In the 1700s Europe was awash with its own religious wars. And would our nation have been forged without naming Native Americans as savages who must be eliminated?

But we don’t have to think all violence is physical:  Alison uses the common example of the class fairy. The class designates that boy or girl who is different and too vulnerable to fight back and therefore carries the shame the group projects onto them. Making fun of the class fairy serves the purpose of bonding together the class. Many participate on some level because if you don’t, you might be next and you can’t let that happen.

What do these anthropological observations have to do with the Jesus Event that cratered the world?

Jesus is the one who willingly goes to the place of shame and stands with the people the world has placed there: the weak, the deformed, the sick, the different.

Jesus occupies the place of shame—which is to say God occupies the place of shame with us and for us.

When we finally see that Jesus is both man and God we can know the innocence of the victim and see this scapegoating mechanism for what it really is.

Jesus endures the shame and death, but then is raised by God and returns to his disciples, not to retaliate against them for betraying him, but to forgive them. Jesus, the forgiving victim, forever unveils the mechanism of violence, so that now we like Peter can hear the cock crow and repent of our sin.

When we see Jesus as the forgiving victim we receive his Spirit so we too can stand with the other and live outside the system which requires us to be over against them.

Now we can forgive as God forgives us.

Now we can build community that doesn’t create itself over against the wicked other and stand with all those the world designates as such. In God’s time the whole earth will be united by the forgiving victim, who is Christ the Lord.

By standing with those who are in the place of shame we find what we’ve searched for our entire lives: unconditional acceptance. No longer do we have to spend our energy running from our shame by trying to succeed in the goodness system and the worthiness system by pointing our finger at the wicked others.

Finally we can live in a community that is over against no one. It is there that we are embraced by a grace that is bigger than our shame and bigger even than our death, which is the most shameful thing of all.

There is enormous freedom when we join Jesus outside the system of rivalry and violence. In his first book called “Knowing Jesus” Roman Catholic priest, theologian, and gay man James Alison writes:

“It was the thought of Rene Girard [that helped] me to work out what the Gospel could mean in the midst of a poverty-stricken Brazilian AIDS hospital, and the humorous and disastrous ups and downs of attempting to share something of the life of transvestite prostitutes, dancers, and military policemen who people the world which received me so graciously. It is these people, and the way they set me free, that opened up a quite new sort of knowledge, a new way of knowing Jesus and of knowing victims.”  There are many You-Tubes videos of Alison including one about how he is both a Roman Catholic Priest and a gay man: 

The Jesus Event reveals there is a tri-unity at the heart of reality:

As Paul writes to us this morning: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

That’s the “Tri-unity” that craters the world with the possibility of laughter.