First Congregational Church
June 15, 2014
Trinity Sunday, Father’s Day, First Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
In homage to Father’s Day, little Ole and Knut were sitting together on the bus going to school. Little Ole said, “I made a bad mistake today and gave my dad some soap flakes instead of corn flakes for breakfast.” Knut: “Was he mad?” Little Ole: “Yup. He was foaming at the mouth!”
Once upon a time, in a beautiful land far away called Minnesota, there was - really - an even more beautiful woman, whose name I can’t remember. But she was a looker, as they say, and had won the Mrs. Minnesota pageant - if I remember correctly, maybe about 20 years ago. I was attending a conference of some sort by Jeff Van Vonderen, who has written several books on mental health and recovery, one of which is called The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. This gorgeous, confident, poised woman began her talk telling us about how she had such a negative self-esteem, especially as a teenager, that she had wanted to kill herself. As I listened to her story, I was dumbstruck at the opposite pictures that were being presented: what she looked like on the outside, how she still struggled on the inside.
She went on to share the story of how she had been abused, in all the usual ways, by her brothers, father and uncle, abuse that went on for years. Thankfully, the woman had been rescued from her situation, and started on the long track toward healing and wholeness. It had never occurred to me until that day, that a person with that background would have difficulty with the concept of God as Father. Her reasoning was that if God was anything like her own father, she wanted nothing to do with that kind of God. It took her a while, but she finally found her way back to faith in God, mainly through a church that didn’t focus so much on gender, as on love and the many, many aspects of God.
I am sure there are several of you wondering if I’ve gone completely off my rocker, using such an illustration on Fathers Day, of all days. But I ask you to hold on to any judgement, because it is my hope you will see how this comes around, and why it’s important.
Two weeks ago, “the church” celebrated Ascension Sunday, Jesus rising back to eternity, and last week was Pentecost, the birthing of the church and mission. This week, it’s Trinity Sunday, a day for doing something really odd, because it is the only Sunday that we celebrate a doctrine, and a rather complicated one at that. But actually, as the years have gone on, it’s one I have come to appreciate more and more, and perhaps that may be true for others.
It’s the celebration of one God and three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We can find oodles of places in the Bible that mention God as Father, the Son of God and God’s Spirit. But no where does the Bible specifically say that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit - in Trinity. It comes close to that, in a couple places, but most easily seen at the end of the book of Matthew, right before he ascends back to heaven.
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This is one of a couple places in the Bible where all three “persons” of God are mentioned but it still doesn’t say that the “Trinity” is one God in three persons.
As I was preparing for the message this week, I came across a guy named David Lose, from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, don’tcha know. His suggestion was rather than try to explain the one God three persons doctrine, it might be more helpful to talk about what Trinitarian congregations look like. He said, “And my short definition of a Trinitarian congregation is one that sees itself as called and sent by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed for the sake of the world God created and loves so much.” In other words, it’s understanding that God the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to recognize and believe the Good News of God’s Son, who reveals to us the loving heart and mission of God as Creator and Protector. Maybe part of the reason this idea of celebrating Trinitarian Faith is appealing is because it already feels a lot like what we do.
We come together each week because it’s a long stretch from Sunday to Sunday to remember the nearly too-good-to-be-true news of the Gospel for more than about seven days in a row: that the same God who created us and all that exists, also knows all about us, cares for us and desires for us to us to care for and about the world. It’s not always easy to remember that when someone cuts out in front of you when driving, or someone has said something hurtful to you, or when your favorite sports team fails to win - again. Besides, even after three years of Jesus standing in front of them, performing miracle after miracle, preaching and preaching and preaching, even as our passage says, sometimes the disciples had trouble with issues of faith.
Another mark of Trinitarian faith is that although mountain-top worship experiences are the goal each week, because we feel so much more connected to God and each other, the truth of the matter is that it isn’t always easy to stay with those mountaintop experiences. As much as I am sure that everyone else here shares the joy of this place, it is not where we live. We live on the other side of the windows and doors - with people, family, friends, neighbors, visitors and tourists, check-out people, classmates, all manner of people to whom we are called to live out our faith. Religion would be so easy if it were just about our own little selves. A faith community comes together, believing in the power of what we can do with and for each other - warts and all.
The other trade mark of a Trinitarian congregation is that they discover the real reasons about Jesus’ disciple-making commission and the promise of Christ’s presence. The goal isn’t growing the church for the church’s sake or filling pew seats or offering plates for growth’s sake. The goal is for as many of God’s people to hear just how much God loves and values them - no matter what they look like on the outside. But this is by no means easy. So much of life conspires to make us doubt that we deserve love or respect and we often feel like we face innumerable obstacles, both cultural and personal, in sharing our faith.
Which brings us back to Mrs. Minnesota. Your presence in church, this one or any other one, is not about numbers, but about hearts and souls and being a community where it is okay to doubt and hurt and cry and laugh and sing - being real human beings. Then we live out of the idea that the Creator sent the Word to live among us, that we might better understand Emmanuel - God-with-us - even if we don’t fully understand what that means.
Some of you remember the movie, The Karate Kid. When young Daniel talks Mr. Miyagi into teaching him karate, the “lessons” begin with car-washing and waxing. Miyagi: First, wash all car. Then wax. Wax on...
Daniel: Hey, why do I have to...?
Miyagi: Ah ah! Remember deal! No questions!
Daniel: Yeah, but...
Miyagi: Hai! [makes circular gestures with each hand]
Miyagi: Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don't forget to breathe, very important. [He walks away, still making circular motions with hands]
Miyagi: Wax on, wax off. Wax on, wax off.
All summer, Daniel thinks he is wasting his time painting and waxing for the teacher. He thought you had to train in karate moves. Mr. Miyagi was developing the muscles, concentration and skills needed in karate - by other means. Mr. Miyagi was using a sort of koan - a paradoxical anecdote or riddle to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and providing enlightenment, so to speak. That’s the reason for the inclusion of that definition in the bulletin.
I hadn’t thought about it until writing the actual words, but maybe the whole of this morning’s message is an exercise in getting ready to wax on and wax off with the Trinity and the mystery of relationships. I’ve mentioned the extremely interesting Steve Garnaas-Holmes before, Methodist pastor of over 30 years all over the US. Of himself, he says, “I write and perform with the Montana Logging & Ballet Company, a quartet that does music and comedy around the country. I write a lot of church music. My favorite food is toast. Flying geese always stop me in my tracks. I do not act my age. Before today’s message came into being, I knew that his poem called “The Names of God” would be a huge part of this morning’s Trinitarian Faith worship.
He wrote: The Holy Trinity is not a doctrine but a mystery, a koan, the paradox of three persons in one, a meditation on the names of God. Meditate on the mystery. Pray with the names. Let them speak.
Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
Mother, Child, Love Between.
Creator, Christ, Holy Breath.
Source of all Being, Eternal Word, Living Spirit.
Abba God, Only Begotten, Spirit of Love.
Infinite Parent, Infinite Sibling, Infinite Self.
(This is my favorite) The One Beyond, the One Beside, the One Within.
Transcendent Mystery, Healing Presence, Emergent Energy.
Source of Love, Experience of Love, Energy of Love.
Holy One, Holy Many, Holy Us.
Lord of the Universe, Jesus of Nazareth, Heart of my Soul.
Loving Silence, Gentle Word, Abiding Love.
Mystery of Being, Gift of Love, Breath of Life.
Mother, Son, Holy Spirit.
Loving One, Loving One, Loving One.
Let us pray - some more. Glorious God, Son and holy, Holy Spirit, thank you for providing so many ways to get our minds around you and your love and grace and joy. Thank you for loving us when we doubt, when we hurt, when we are wounded, just as much as when we are well, on the mountain and in the groove. Help us to remember that your Trinitarian relationship is not about closing ranks, but opens out to us, that we may be the gentle place for growing disciples for you. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.