In the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity…. and with the expectation of saying something heretical by accident…Amen.
Trinity Sunday! The running joke among preachers everywhere is that no one wants to preach on this day because no matter how hard we try, most of us can’t manage to explain the Trinity without accidentally saying something heretical! If you watched the video we included in the church newsletter, you saw how even St. Patrick’s classic metaphor of the three-leafed clover stumbles into heresy. Good try, though, Patrick!
And if St. Patrick couldn’t manage to find a non-heretical metaphor for the Trinity, I’m not sure I should even attempt it, though I’m sure watching me try might be entertaining, especially for the theology nerds in our community. You know who you are! Nothing wrong with that; I’m a bit of a theology nerd myself, but I’ve always been practically-minded about it. If my theology, my study of God, doesn’t impact my lived experience of God in this life or help me understand how to better love God and my neighbors, then I’m studying for the wrong test. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry puts it even more simply: “If it’s not about love, then it’s not about God.”
The Trinity, I believe, is about love.
In today’s gospel, Nicodemus wrestles with the idea of being born again. He tries to imagine a second physical birth, rather than a spiritual one, and Jesus chides him for thinking so literally. Jesus says, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it goes with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” When I hear Jesus say this, I hear, “You do not need to understand everything about the wind to feel it and hear it and know that it is real.”
But in Greek, the beauty of this metaphor is that the Greek word for wind, pneuma, is the same word used for Spirit. Perhaps Christ means for us to approach the Spirit in a similar way: we don’t need to understand everything about the Holy Spirit in order to feel it and hear it and know that it is real.
Well, as relieved as that makes me feel, I am an Episcopalian! That means I don’t check my brain at the church door. We value using our reason in addition to tradition and the holy scriptures! And we don’t shy away from hard questions, but we do allow for the existence of holy mysteries and questions that might not have an answer. In this way, we share Nicodemus’s desire to understand and learn as much as possible.
So, with both human reason and God’s love in mind, I want to teach you one of my favorite seminary words: Perichoresis. This term refers to the relationship of 3 persons of the Trinity to each other. Perichoresis comes from the Greek for word for “rotation” and it is best defined as a giving way to, a going around, an encompassing… or my favorite…a dance! A dance is an intimate movement, giving and taking, leading and following, spinning in sync. A dance is a dynamic, moving, emotional connection.
I love this understanding of the Triune God; in the Trinity, there is this everlasting dance, intimacy, connection, relationship, and love. In this way, the Triune God, in the simplest way I can understand, is love in all directions.
And if we are made in the image of God, I believe we too have the potential to love in all directions. To love God, to love our neighbors, to love our enemies, to love those who are most difficult to love, and to love ourselves.
At our best, the church should reflect this by loving in all directions. When we are at our best as the church, we love each other, we love God, we love our communities and our neighbors, and we try to leave this physical world a little better than we found it.
But even a 30 second glance at a newspaper or a history book will remind us that neither humanity as whole nor the church specifically have managed to live up to this potential for much of history. Yet, because we are made in the image of the Triune God, and as Paul puts it in Romans, adopted into God’s family, the potential for us to love that much still remains. The Trinity, at least as often as it confuses me and perhaps even more often, fills me with hope. All people were made in the image of the Triune God, and to me that means all people were made with the potential to love in all directions. And that potential gives me hope.
If I have stumbled into one heresy or another, then I will ask forgiveness and trust that both you and God, the Three-in-One will offer loving forgiveness. I don’t know every step to this dance yet, but I’m learning. We all are. The steps will come easier with time, I’m sure; one day the music will be as familiar as each breath. Love in all directions. Creator God before us, Loving Christ beside us, Holy Spirit around us. Come and join the dance. Amen.