May 27, 2018 – Pastor John McNeill
Romans 8:12-17 (CEB)
Three basic topics and some of the connections among them:
Trinity means God is love. God is relational
The Trinity gives us a way of understanding that God is love
If you hear nothing else this morning.
The meaning of the mystery is this: the 3 are one! That is our faith – that such a thing is possible. Love is stronger than individuality. Love can bind together into real unity.
Not a puzzle, it is a mystery. We are invited to live into that mystery.
In God’s very being, in God’s very essence, in God’s very nature as the diverse unity of one in three, God is love. A love into which we are invited.
Now, it’s one thing to take that as a cosmic relationship within God, but then God is aiming at that becoming a reality in this world.
Jesus comes to incarnate that reality among us: God in relationship within the world.
Not to conquer or overpower but
rises and ascends and becomes – in the imagery/story/metaphor the connecting point as human and divine that is the mythical connecting point of all of creation into the trinity.
Love is that doorway – heaven’s love pours out into the world through the Spirit. Christ as meeting point.
Contrast with, for example, Greek and Roman gods. They paint a picture of a contest among powerful personalities. These stories reflect the complexities of persons who are bound to the impulses and actions of characters with huge egos, whose favor can be manipulated by offerings or honor or particular devotion.
The God we worship, who is revealed as self-giving love, is not like that at all.
That’s important. A few weeks ago in on of his daily meditation, Richard Rohr said this, which emphasizes what the doctrine of the Trinity has to teach us:
It is an entirely relational universe. If, at any time, we try to stop this life flow moving through us, with us, and in us, we fall into the true state of sin (and it is much more a state than a momentary behavior). What we call “sins” cannot really separate us from God, because Divine Love is unilateral and unconditional and is not dependent on our receiving it. Rather it is our lonely and fearful illusion of separateness that makes us do sinful and selfish things. Try to make that switch in your understanding, and it will send you on a much more authentic spiritual path.
Love must flow both toward us and out from us, or we do not experience or enjoy its full effects. The Law of Flow is simple, and Jesus states it in many different formulations, such as “Happy are the merciful; they shall have mercy shown to them” (Matthew 5:7).
Sin is a refusal of mutuality and a closing down into separateness. In his classic book, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis has a ghostly soul in hell shouting out, “I don’t want help. I want to be left alone.”  Whenever we refuse mutuality toward anything, whenever we won’t allow our deep inner-connectedness to guide us, whenever we’re not attuned to both receiving and giving, you could say that the Holy Spirit is being shut out from our lives.
So to move from the Trinity to Baptism.
One of the things that happens when a baby comes to live with you in your home is that in large respects you let go of your life.
Your life is no longer your own as a parent.
You have new and more responsibilities. And even the responsibilities you had before to keep yourself together are more important because to be a parent requires keeping oneself together in order to take care of this little one.
How does this happen? What is the strange force that brings this about?
Love, of course.
And in/through this love, we find a relationship that is self-giving, self-emptying, mutually refreshing flow that reflects. or gives us a kind of earthly hint of the self-giving, self-emptying, mutually refreshing flow among the three persons of the trinity.
And in the midst of this early love affair, we hardly even have space to wonder about how this wondrous relationship might begin to fray.
Hints – tiredness, impatience, in parents
Hints in this new baby of never-ending, needs, unable to be satisfied that brings frustration and confusion and feelings of not being up to the task and so the temptation to begin to close ourselves off.
But it does begin to fray. Our capacities to love in this life – to live selflessly – are limited.
Yes, we might aspire to maintain this giving, sharing, open-hearted relationship, but we parents reach our limits and the growing child soon reaches their own limits of tolerance for giving their choices up for their parents and feels their need to assert themselves sometimes even in defiance of parents.
All this is baked in right from the start. And yet love gives us the hope and the faith to take it on.
So, this might be a good reason to remember a piece of the prayer of blessing of the baptismal water.
I prayed: Pour out your Holy Spirit, to bless this gift of water and these children who receive it, to wash away their sin and clothe them in righteousness throughout their lives that, dying and being raised with Christ, they may share in his final victory; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We pray that the blockages of the flow of love – sin – might be washed away. We pray that love might flow freely – that sin is washed away. That in this family arena of love, these children – might be clothed with righteousness – that is, to be prone to respond to love, in love.
This Spirit/Christ/God life of love – the dying to our false and selfish selves, our grasping egos, would release us to live the victorious life of love. To rise into the divine life of love, even in our earthly households. That is a holy aspiration!
So, having talked a bit about the Trinity, and Baptism, now let’s move on to a closer look at the reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans that Karen read earlier.
The thrust of the passage is to invite us to think of our relationship to God in a particular way.
The relationship between us and God is not to be like the relationship between a king or queen and a subject. Nor is it to be like a boss and an employee. Nor is our relationship to God to be like the relationship of a merchant and a customer.
No. We read: All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters.
This has a particular consequence, according to St. Paul: 15 You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children.
Of course, the earthly parent-child relationship can go wrong, but here Paul is imagining that relationship that we aspire to have as parents or children: unconditional love which sets aside what we think we want, but gives priority to the love and nurture of the child and the nourishing of the relationship within the family.
And so St. Paul speaks directly to a fundamental obstacle, namely selfishness. As he says, if we live on the basis of selfishness, we will die.
This is something we’ve talked about before. When St. Paul talks about selfishness, we can translate this as the ego – that is the part of us that is seeking our own advantage and that is trying to maintain comfort and safety for ourselves.
As we have said, ego is not bad, it is just not a good idea to let it be the boss. We are to hold our ego lightly and let it be guided by love. By joining into the love that is the basis of the universe we are freed into the eternal life of God’s cosmic creation.
We are linked into the eternal story and not constrained by the limited life of our bodies which the ego is hard-wired to protect
And so we are Embraced into the Spirit – embraced into the family of God, which means that we have an inheritance:
Inheritance makes sense because within the economy of the family, when the family is grounded in love and freed from selfishness, there is no longer yours and mine. Instead, there is ours.
Now, of course, inheritance refers to the assets. But if we share in the assets, St. Paul tells us, we also need to share in the liabilities. “We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ, if we really suffer with him so that we may be glorified with him.”
We don’t run away when there is pain, when someone is hurting, when someone suffers. Of course, our ego balks at this. The ego wants protection from pain, but love sets that aside and joins the one who hurts. Just as we rejoice with those who rejoice, we weep with those who weep.
Mutuality, living together through thick and thin: that is our glory!
The Trinity is not an obscure theological truth – it is an invitation to a new kind of life. Christopher Mwoleka, a bishop and theologian from Tanzania, has put it this way:
I think we have problems in understanding the Holy Trinity because we approach the mystery from the wrong side. The intellectual side is not the side to start with. The right approach to the mystery is to imitate the Trinity.
On believing in this mystery, the first thing we should have done was to imitate God, then we would ask no more questions, for we would understand. God does not reveal himself to us for the sake of speculation. He is not giving us a riddle to solve. He is offering us life. He is telling us: “This is what it means to live, now begin to live as I do.” What is the one and only reason why God revealed this mystery to us if it is not to stress that life is not life at all unless it is shared?
If we would once begin to share life in all its aspects, we would soon understand what the Trinity is all about and rejoice.
The Trinity is not just about who God is. The Trinity is about how we are called to join in that embrace and be a part of the love that is the beacon of energy that created, redeems, and sustains all of creation.
The Trinity is the loving invitation to life in God. Real life. Now and forever.