I was absolutely stunned and left speechless. I know, this must come as a shock to many of you – me speechless and all – but what do you say to something like that? I must confess that my capacity to come up with snappy answers wasn’t as finely honed at 26 as it is today, but even today I don’t think there’s much I could say to this comment. I remember turning around to Lynn and Carol who were just as gob smacked as I was. Lynn said, “What WAS that?!” I said, “I don’t know. I talked to God this morning and she didn’t say anything about being a dude!” Well, we did get a laugh out of that.
God is a man? Really??!! I’m sure if this woman came into Grace Church last week, she would have been shocked by my Pentecost sermon and my pointing out that the Holy Spirit is referred to in scripture by feminine names!
Today is Trinity Sunday: a day when we honor the mystery of the God who is spoken of as Triune – three persons in unity of being as one God. It’s been said that the biggest mistake a preacher can make on Trinity Sunday is to try and explain the Trinity, and many of you have watched the video I posted on my Facebook page with St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies. No matter how you try to illustrate the Trinity, you always end up in heresy. So I just will suffice it to say that Trinity is mystery which cannot be comprehended.
Father Richard Rohr speaks of Trinity as a type of Christian koan (koh-ahn). A koan is a Buddhist concept and consists of a riddle which cannot be solved: the most famous koan being, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” These riddles are designed to short-circuit the left side of our brain. The left side is the logic center which tries to make sense out of everything. We cannot enter a contemplative mindset when the left side of the brain is overfunctioning – which is how most of us operate in our Western culture. A koan is meant to frustrate the logic center until it just declares, “This makes NO sense … I quit!” That’s when the right side of the brain, the contemplative side, says, “Oh thank God you’ve finally shut up! Now we can settle down and listen for God.” So this idea of Trinity is one of those koans: a mystery which can be contemplated but never understood. It is a way of saying something true about God, but also knowing that speaking of God as Trinity is still not everything which can be said about God. We can never say all that can be said. But I am game for exploring and, hopefully, expanding how we think about the mystery of God.
Let’s start with gender. If we take our scripture seriously, we confess a Triune God which includes both masculine and feminine characteristics. God the Father, the creator of all things in heaven and on earth, is admittedly masculine imagery. We have God the Son in Jesus Christ who, while biologically male in this lifetime, exhibited many emotional feminine qualities and engaged women in conversation as equals – not a common practice in 1st century Palestine. And then we have God the Holy Spirit, or shekhina or elohim ruach, names which are feminine and who often operates in more subtle, feminine ways. So, if God has integrated both the masculine and feminine, what does this say? One author had the chutzpah to suggest that embodying both masculine and feminine makes God a drag queen! Admittedly, this was a little off the hook, even for me; but, I am willing to say this makes God transgendered in the classic sense of the word: transcendent of gender. And if God has embraced all genders so as to transcend this issue, I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to image God as embracing the closely tied issues of gender and sexual identity as part of the creation God loves.
Let’s think about what else God may be embracing and including. If we pay attention to the life of Jesus Christ, there is a point where he said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20, Luke 9:8) If this is so, Jesus speaks of himself as being homeless. If this is true, then our Triune God has embraced the homeless.
We also hear that Jesus was born to an unwed teenage mother. While Joseph stepped up to the plate to claim Jesus as his son, the birth narratives were written, in part, to address the legitimacy of Jesus’ lineage. So our Triune God has embraced those whom society might dare to call “illegitimate.”
We also hear in the Gospel of Luke, that there were women who accompanied Jesus and who provided for Jesus and the disciples “out of their resources.” The women were bankrolling the operation! Again, if we take our scriptures seriously, this means that Jesus and the disciples were recipients of what we might call 1st century Palestinian “welfare.” Now we have a Triune God who has embraced the economic vulnerability of welfare recipients.
And then there’s that whole crucifixion thing … admittedly, a big deal for those of us who proclaim Christ crucified and risen. When we hear of the post-resurrection appearances of Christ, what’s clear is that the marks of crucifixion are still on him: they didn’t heal or disappear. Jesus offers his wounds to Thomas in the Gospel of John: “Put your fingers here. Place your hand in my side.” Even in Mark, which has no resurrection appearance of Jesus but a promise he will meet them in Galilee, the messenger at the tomb says, “You seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here.” The way the Greek can be rendered, the messenger’s words can also be translated, “You seek Jesus the crucified one.” Crucifixion becomes part of who he is – ever crucified. So it appears the Triune God has embraced woundedness, and even disability.
Have you noticed a pattern here? The Triune God appears to have embraced and included all matters of gender, the economic vulnerability of homelessness and poverty, and even injury and disability. God has taken in everything that, if we’re honest, scares us to death! We are afraid of injury, disability, the vulnerability of losing our homes or being on welfare, and things about our gender and sexuality give us the yips! But God, being God and all, draws all of this in, embraces and includes it all. And if God has deemed it well to include all of the things which frighten us, why should we fear anything?
This Triune God is bigger than anything we can possibly say: bigger than Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Bigger and more expansive that my little pea brain can even begin to understand. But the love that is so deep, and broad, and high which can and does embrace all of our darkest places and deepest fears is good news for all of us. Nobody sits outside the reach of God.
St. Columba of Iona, that great Celtic saint of the 6th century, gave us another Christian koan. He said, “The nature of God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” It seems to me that the Christian church for many centuries has proclaimed the opposite by drawing circumferences everywhere – circumferences which kept some people out regardless of the evidence of the wideness of God’s embrace. As a result, the center of this sort of Christianity is … nowhere. I truly believe one of the great charisms of our Anglican heritage at this moment in time, is to reclaim Columba’s vision of God whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere. And it is up to us to carry that message into a world that is weary of exclusions and who longs for God’s center – God’s very heart. By virtue of your baptism, you embody this reality of God’s presence with you and through you. You have a mission to share this with others wherever you go: to your schools, your workplaces, your relationships. You and I have work to do … let’s get to it, shall we?