May 17, 2016
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
In this week’s Epistle article, I wrote about the commemoration of the First Book of Common Prayer and how the decisions that went into its creation are connected to current day questions about convenience in worship and fidelity to tradition.
The same questions underlie the debate between innovation and received tradition, and they touch on the very nature of what we believe the basis of our relationship with God should be.
Behind those questions and behind the decisions regarding the First Book of Common Prayer lies an assumption…the assumption that as human beings, we have been created to both question and take for granted our relationship with God.
Up until the beginnings of the Scientific Revolution, the idea that we may be able to write God completely out of the picture barely existed, but ever since human beings first started reaching out to the divine…and for us Judeo-Christians…ever since the story of salvation history was passed down in oral and written form…we have been asking questions about the nature of the God we worship and about what it means to be connected to God.
For our Jewish ancestors, God is Father…creator of the universe and God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, but also the God who brought the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt into the land of promise.
God was protector, liberator, the one to be feared, and the crowner of kings.
As centuries passed, and as judges, kings and prophets lived out their lives while trying to understand how to be faithful to God’s desires and commandments, the questions continued.
Then there was Jesus.
Jesus asked the questions and answered them as no one had ever done before.
He pushed the things that were spoken about in tradition to their logical conclusions, except that only the prophets before him had ever dared to get that close to taking the tradition so seriously AND so openly.
He saw the Levitical laws about welcoming the stranger and applied them to the outcast groups of his time…the Samaritans…the Gentiles…the lepers…the poor.
He called God Abba…daddy…not just the domineering, “to be feared” and distant father figure who was known for deeds of power but who could barely be fathomed by the average person…but part of the family.
And Jesus did things unlike anyone had ever seen before.
He healed the sick, cast out demons, multiplied loaves and fish, and changed water to wine.
He stood up to the Romans who ruled the region…stood up to the Pharisees who had taken their desire to uphold tradition so seriously that they had squeezed to death the essence of the faith and kept God’s people from touching the heart of the Father they professed.
And because of his nature…the very essence of who he was…he was able to do what no other was able to do.
He did not “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
The whole experience of the Passion and Resurrection that we just passed through in the season of Lent and Easter allows us to enter into the presence of the nature of the Son of God.
He was Word…Son of Man…Son of Mary…crucified one…resurrected one…the one who bore the marks of the crucifixion and ascended into heaven before promising to send the spirit of truth to guide us beyond where we have been and where we are into where we have been called to go.
The Spirit is so difficult to define…and yet anyone who knows what it means to feel bound to another…to feel linked at a soul level to someone who is so different and yet so much the same…the Spirit facilitates understanding and connection.
Some imagine it as the dove of peace…some as the consuming fire of change…others know her as pure unbounded love that renews the world.
The Holy Spirit is what bound the Father to the Son, and it is what binds the believer to God and to the various children of God’s kingdom.
And she is what leads us to question and grow and move into all the truth that we can handle in this life.
On this Trinity Sunday, we Christians normally take the opportunity to review what it means to believe in a God whose very nature is relationship.
Three in one…three separate identities not defined in isolation, but known because of the way they exist in relationship with others.
It is the height of Christian theology…the pinnacle of the questions that we Christians pose about the nature of God.
If those questions remain solely in the realm of professional theologians, then we miss something.
We were created to ask questions about the meaning of life…about who we are as humans in this vast and beautiful created order…and to apply the wisdom we receive from the questioning to the way we live our lives each day.
How much time do you spend each day asking the deep questions?
I know from experience that there are more than enough distractions and more than enough daily necessities that can tempt us to stay away from entering into the space where we can both trust and question the way we are supposed to as human beings created in the image of God.
Life can be hard…we suffer…we lose loved ones…we experience loss and pain in ways great and small.
But being a Christian, which means being Trinitarian, means that we never stop asking the questions, and we never stop believing that being in relationship is the way of the universe.
The God we believe in is one only because of being three.
The church we belong to cannot exist without all of us being re-membered as one.
Today is a day for each of us to ask questions about the God we believe in, and about how that understanding informs the way we live out our life as members of this church and as citizens of the created order.
I encourage you to do that.
Ask the questions.
Wonder about the Trinity.
But also spend some time considering your place in it.
How are you a part of the story that has been writ large upon creation and upon our hearts through the received tradition of our church and the history of salvation that we have received?
Once you can answer that question…even tentatively if you must…then God will join you in the journey to put those questions into action to bring about the kingdom that has been promised.
The fullness that we all long for.
The joining of heaven and earth…top and bottom…unreconciled reconcileables…oneness.
Well, oneness through diversity and identity.