Monday, May 12, 2008

Sermon for Holy Trinity from Three Years Ago

Trinity 2005
Genesis 1:1-2:4, Psalm 8, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20 Daniel Meeter

The Hospitality of God: The Trinity

This is the seventh and last of my series on the Community of Jesus. Since Easter, I have been asking two questions of every set of lections: "What is the community of Jesus?" and "What is the power of the resurrection?"

Text: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. (2 Corinthians 13:13)

The Christian faith is more historical than philosophical. It developed from observation more than contemplation We put our hope not in a set of ideas but in a sequence of events, we look to the mighty acts of God within world history. The gospel is news, good news, headline news. It’s by telling the news that we spread the faith, by telling what happened, and what that means.

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity did not result from a group of early theologians proposing profound ideas. It evolved as the community of Jesus made sense of the news, as they worked out the implications of God’s activity.

The community put two and two together. They kept believing the earlier news from Moses: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is one." To this they added the later news, that the One Lord God of Israel raised the Messiah Jesus from the dead, and that Jesus was also Lord and God. It took a while to sort this out, but they put two and two together, and came up with Three!

Of course it wasn’t only the news but also their experience. Now experience is always unreliable, so they had to keep testing their experience The epistles of St. Paul are all about keeping the new community’s experience on track. But their experience did substantiate the news; God kept acting in their midst to vindicate the news.

And that led them also to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit—that the living God is present in a special way in the community of Jesus. They found themselves experiencing the communion of the Holy Spirit, and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God. Their making sense of this is doctrine of the Trinity.

And they could look back at the old, old story of the God of Israel, and in it they began to see new things in it. In the way that science does—now that we know about DNA, paleontology can look back at human history and see new things in it; we can make new sense of the fossils and the archaeology. Looking back, we can see both new facts and new mysteries. Just so, looking back from the resurrection we can see new things in the God of Genesis.

Not that we try to prove the Trinity in the Old Testament, but more deeply to enjoy the God already there. And look! Community is built into a God of three persons. Look! God’s fellowship with the world comes out of God’s self, communion expresses God’s own nature.

It’s from the Trinity that we say God is love. The three persons in their eternal community are a constant fellowship of love. Yes, to love yourself is love, but to love your neighbor is lovelier, to love someone who is not you and will never be you, to love a person eternally distinct from you is the loveliest love. God the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, but they are always distinct from each other, they are always other than each other, and they delight in their mutual otherness.

Do you see how loving your neighbor as yourself is built into God if God is the Trinity? The love of God is an eternal hospitality. This is the love that God has shared with the world when God created it. God wants the world to have its own existence, God has given the world room and freedom to be itself, God is a very good neighbor, God does not want the world to merge back into God’s self. God practices eternal hospitality, for God is love.

God says, Let there be. Notice, not There must be, but Let there be. That’s very gracious on God’s part, rather polite, I would say. God is even more gracious and polite than I am with my flower garden. I have put there the flowers I want, and I classify as weeds the plants I do not want and pull them out. God is more gracious and hospitable than that.

In the news you’ve heard about the revival of Creationism by the Christian right. But isn’t evolution the very proof of God’s polite and gracious hospitality, that God allows the world to have its own existence? God says, Let there be, and then enjoys what comes to be, and calls it good, and blesses it. Don’t let fundamentalism ruin Genesis 1 for you. It is first and last a hymn, a poem, a cantata, a song of joy.

The first three days of creation are when God makes room. Out of God’s own self God makes room for others. God takes the intimate space between the three persons of the Trinity and shares it to give room and space for other beings too.

First God makes the spaces of light and dark.
Then God makes the spaces of sky and sea.
Then God makes the space of dry land, carpeted, as it were, with plants and trees. God makes room, God is extending God’s own internal hospitality.

The second three days of creation is when God makes communities to live in these spaces, and this is the extension of the community of the Trinity.

For the spaces of light and dark God makes the community of sun, moon, and stars.
For the sky and sea God makes the community of birds and fish.
And for the dry land God makes the community of animals, including us.

God looks at it all, and says it’s very good, I love it. Here is grace, here is love, here is communion.

It began with the communion of the Holy Spirit, the wind from God. Before God spoke God was breathing on the unformed world, God breathed into the otherness, God warmed it up with God’s own self, God prepared it to hear God’s voice. The communion of God’s Spirit made the otherness able to listen to God’s word, to answer God’s gracious authority by freely saying "Yes, yes, we will be. Yes, God, we will answer your word by developing and bearing fruit. Yes, God, we accept your hospitality."

God is so gracious and polite that God gave us freedom even to say No instead of Yes, God gave us room even to rebel. And God is so loving of the world as to also become a creature, to be born a little baby, accepting the burdens of having a body, suffering our rebellion, accepting our death. But with the resurrection God accepts that physical body into God’s own self. A physical body with permanent scars. A new fact and a permanent mystery.

I think that the surprising news of the resurrection is what forced the doctrine of the Trinity on the early church, that the one God had to have room enough inside God’s self to include a human body with scars. That the one God had such community within it as to accept the communion of our suffering.

So because of the resurrection, God’s own self is a community of Jesus. And because God is a community of Jesus, we are too, we are the expression in the world of God’s own self. Our mission is to express God in the world. Not to prove God or defend God but express God.

And one of the chief ways we express the character of God is by our gracious hospitality. And this sanctuary can be the symbol and expression of our hospitality, but all whom we graciously invite into it. All this room, all this space, much more than we need, right, we often feel like a small community inside it, but even when only two or three persons are here, we can be just like the community of God inside the center of a great big universe.

We often think of mission as giving, that we have something to give to the world. Can we think of it as receiving? It is generous to give, but isn’t it just as generous to receive? What is more hospitable than to accept the presence of others, especially when they are way other, and to receive their gifts, so different than our own? What gracious hospitality on God’s part to welcome a human body into the Trinity, especially a body with scars.

Look, our hospitality to Jews and Muslims in this church, without trying to convert them, is considered disloyal to Jesus by many good Christians. Well, we’re doing it because of the power of the resurrection.

Look, our openness to bless gay and lesbian Christians is even regarded as heretical. Well, Old First, you can regard yourselves as orthodox, very orthodox, capital "O" Orthodox, because the historic measure of orthodoxy is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and it’s the Holy Trinity we’re expressing with our hospitality.

Copyright © 2008 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.

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