I’ve always found it a little frustrating that Trinity Sunday falls right as we’re heading into summer. I understand why Trinity Sunday has to come after Pentecost: only once Jesus has risen into a new kind of life and then sent the Spirit to initiate you and me into that life can we have any hope of engaging the Trinity at all. Without the experience of Easter and Pentecost first, the Trinity will inevitably come off as an abstract, irrelevant theory. So yes, I concede, as a matter of principle, Trinity Sunday probably does need to come where it does in the calendar.
But principle aside, I wish that it didn’t always fall just as everyone is getting ready to go spend a week at the lake, or to use a bunch of Cubs or Cardinals tickets, or, like this year, on Memorial Day weekend when I’ll bet half of us already have half our brains on whatever cookout or party or ceremony we’re headed to later. One of the profoundest and most effective things God has revealed to us, and we get it just when our attention spans are at their lowest. Yes, the truth of the Trinity runs throughout our worship every week, but I still kind of wish the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church would schedule another Trinity observance in, say, October.
But it doesn’t. So I want to make one point for us, this Memorial Day weekend that is also Trinity Sunday. I’m borrowing here from the New York City Presbyterian pastor and writer Tim Keller, whose work I like a lot even though I disagree with him on some issues, in his NY Times bestseller “The Reason for God.”
If we accept the classical Christian teaching that God is Trinity – and I would expect not all of you are completely sure you do; this is the Episcopal church, after all, and nobody is going to make you believe anything just because you walked in the door -- but if we accept the teaching that God is Trinity, what we are saying is that we believe ultimate reality is a community. Ultimate reality, if the Trinity is true, is not a solitary Self in the center on a throne, not a monolithic higher Force, not one towering King around whom all else orbits. All those images are far too static for the God who has revealed himself in Christ via the Spirit. No, if the Trinity is our God, ultimate reality is a living interplay of intimate relationships.
Let me actually quote Keller here. “We could say that self-centeredness is to be stationary, static. In self-centeredness we demand that others orbit around us. We will do things and give affection to others, as long as it helps us meet our personal goals and fulfills us. The inner life of the triune God, however, is utterly different. The life of the Trinity is characterized not by self-centeredness but by mutually self-giving love….. Each of the divine persons, [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,] centers upon the others. None demands that the others revolve around him. Each voluntarily circles the other two, pouring love, delight and adoration into them.”
You see what a different picture that is than one big Ego (either some god’s ego, or yours and mine!) at the center and everything else being forced to revolve around that one point? Three selves in the most intimate possible unity, so taken with each other, so open with each other, that their creativity and generosity keeps them mutually pouring out life and love forever.
When we Baptize a child, as we will Baptize Ellis this morning, that endless pouring out of love and life in community is what we are baptizing them into. Baptism ushers us into that experience, into the actual life of our Triune God.
Now if that generous relationship is what is at the heart of the universe, if that’s God, if that’s ultimate reality, what does this mean? Well, for one thing, it means that when we talk about human beings being made in the image of God, that is the image we’re talking about. We were not made in the image of a huge solitary Ego. We were made for relationality – to find our home by being invited into sacrificial, relational love, and then to express sacrificial, relational love in our way of life. Living that way fits with the nature of reality, and living any other way cuts against the grain. Back to Keller: If “ultimate reality is a community of persons who know and love one another [, t]hat is what the universe, God, history, and life is all about. If you favor money, power, and accomplishment over …relationships, you will dash yourself on the rocks of reality. You will never [find fulfillment] by standing still, as it were, and making everything revolve around your needs and interests. … [To live like that necessarily means] that you will remain out of touch with your own nature and the nature of things.”
Now here’s what I want to ask. What if we believed this? What if we lived like the Trinity is real? Yes, I know that nearly everything around us says it isn’t. I know that nearly everything around us encourages the idea that I am the center of my world, and that the more I find and express my own self, the more people and things revolve around me, the happier I’ll be. Yes, I know that nearly everyone you’ve ever met just assumes that your human self should be the gravitational center of all your priorities and all your interests and all your search for meaning.
But what if it’s not true? What if living like that actually cuts completely against the grain of reality? Because if the Trinity is our God, it does.
So what if we experimented with behaving as if the Trinity is our God? What if we looked at, say, our role in the workplace, or in our friendships, or in this parish, and asked how we would do things differently if we were living out of the mutually self-giving image of the Trinity we were created to mirror? What if, just for an example, you took some project you’re working on and instead of your goal being to get it done and chalk it up as a success, you made your goal to allow everyone else involved to flourish to their maximum?
Even simpler: What if you picked someone who, let’s be honest, has no choice right now but to orbit around you -- whom you pay to do that, maybe, or whom you outrank. What if you just decided, since the Trinity is how reality is designed to work, that for the next week you were going to orbit around them for a change? What if at whatever event I’m headed to this Memorial Day weekend, I stepped aside as sovereign center of my world and offered others some space?
That’s all I’m going to say. If the Trinity is our God, if that’s what ultimate reality looks like, it can’t hurt to give it a try.