May 22, 2016
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15
Although we think we live in a secular culture people still manage to toss around the word ‘god’ quite a bit, sometimes as a cuss word, sometimes as a plea or a thanks, sometimes as a statement of amazement or awe—which is turned into the initials OMG in social media. Yet, in each case there is no one defining or describing which god, so we are left with the question who is the god that is being talked about?
Maybe they are talking about what is called the god of the philosophers—the god you learn about in an introductory class in philosophy: the “omni” god: god who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. But this only tells you some of what the omni god can do, that it is all powerful, all-present, and all-knowing, but it doesn’t tell us a thing about how this god might use its power, presence, and knowledge.
There is the god of much New Age spirituality that permeates Western culture: this god is friendly, so friendly that this god will do whatever we want it to do, if we just think hard enough. This god will help you get a good grades and a good job, and will bless whatever emotion you are feeling at the moment, even lust and revenge. This god blesses our narcissism and our nationalism, and is incapable of doing anything else.
There is the god of the enlightenment, the god of deism that is a skilled watchmaker who built our universe, wound it up, and then turned it loose to run by itself. This god created natural laws for us to follow, but this god cannot cross boundaries to interfere with our world with miracles and healings. This god isn’t present with you when you pray, and this god cannot heal a broken heart or forgive a terrible sin.
Unfortunately, today there are also people who, because all the other gods they’ve been introduced to are trivial and egocentric, have been captivated by a god that is deeply violent. This is the god that drives members of ISIS to practice beheading and experiment with other unspeakable ways to inflict pain and suffering on innocent women and men.
And there are many more ‘gods’ out there, so whenever you hear someone say they believe in god or that they don’t believe in god, it is appropriate to be curious and to ask them to describe the god they are talking about. Do not assume you automatically know the answer.
Today is Trinity Sunday, the day the Church throughout the world goes to great lengths to describe the God we believe in. To do this the church looks to its master narrative, the Bible, which tells us God’s story.
What the Bible tells us is that God is love: not sentimental, mushy love, but the kind of love that hears the suffering of the Jews in Egypt and uses Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to lead the people from slavery to freedom in a land of plenty.
The Bible tells us that this love comes not from a pantheon of diverse gods, but from the One, True God, who created heaven and earth.
At the beginning of morning and evening prayers Jews would pray, and still pray today, the Shema. Shema is Hebrew for the word “hear” and comes from Deuteronomy 6:4, which says: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.”
Jesus himself quotes the Shema when he is asked what the most important commandment is: he says, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
But in the New Testament something radical and unexpected happens: the Jewish followers of Jesus, monotheists all, at his crucifixion and resurrection, recognize that while Jesus was a normal human being, he was also, the embodiment of Israel’s God. As a hymn in Philippians says: He was in the form of God but did not count equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
IN Jesus they see God’s only Son, the Word made flesh who dwelt among us, and fully entered our brokenness on the cross to set us free to be who we are created to be: children of God and disciples of Christ.
Saint Paul, on his way to arrest and imprison followers of Jesus is a devout Jewish monotheist, yet after his encounter with the Risen Christ he too understands that the One God who is love has revealed that love to us in the man Jesus, who is also God.
So he tells us today: “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ;
The love of the Father creates peace with every man, woman, and child, through the death and resurrection of his Son.
And Paul goes on to say that the divine love is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
So what is being experienced here is the One God of Love who is a trinity of persons abiding in a unity of being that overflows with the love for all creation.
I love how Richard of St. Victor, who died in Paris in 1173, speaks of this: He writes that “for God to be truth, God had to be one; for God to be love, God had to be two; and for God to be joy, God had to be three!
So we can see that the unity, love, and joy of the Trinity overflows into creation making fractured humanity into one people forever reconciled with God and one another, filled with love and joy.
By the way, that’s why we have greeters every Sunday: the outpouring of affection of the greeters for friend and stranger alike bears witness to the outpouring of the affection of Triune God for whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey of faith.
Baxter Krueger puts it this way: “The Christian God is interested in relationship with us, and not just relationship, but union, and not just union, but such a union that everything He is and has—all glory and fullness, all joy and beauty and unbridled life—is to be shared with us and to become as much ours as it is His. The plan from the beginning, in the Christian vision, is that God would give Himself to us, and nothing less, so that we could be filled to overflowing with the divine life.”
― C. Baxter Kruger, Jesus and the Undoing of Adam
Therefore, prepare yourself because as the love of God is visible in your life someone will ask you to describe which God you believe is living through you and you can say you believe in the One Triune God who is love; but if you want to give a more complete picture you can paraphrase Richard Rohr who says:
God for us, we call Father.
God alongside of us, we call Jesus.
God within us, we call Holy Spirit.