Trinity Sunday – Year A
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
June 07 2020 – 10:30 AM
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Exodus 34:4B-6;8-9 | Daniel 3:52-56
II Corinthians 13:11-13 | John 3:16-18
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
What is the Trinity? No one really knows. Just like the doctrines of the Virgin Birth, the spontaneous healings performed by Jesus, the Resurrection, and the Ascension, the Trinity is ultimately a mystery, that is, something part of a mode of existence beyond rational human understanding. The mystery of the Trinity, like the mystery of God himself, or herself, is beyond the grasp of the human mind. But more than anything else, I see the Holy Trinity as a paradigm for relationships. It is a template for how we relate to God and how we could and should relate to each other as human persons.
As many of you know, I am an avid Facebook user. One of the biographical categories in the profile section asks for relationship status. The options given are, “Single, ”Engaged”, “Married” and “It’s Complicated.” The last one reflects most accurately how I think of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s complicated.
The relationships between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the relationship of the Triune God, or persons thereof, to humanity, are all quite complicated. Similarly, relationships between persons within the church, and between members of the church with the outside world, and the relationship of the church as an institution to both the individuals within and those outside the church, are always complicated indeed. Nothing about God is ever simple.
But in an effort to simplify those relationships, the church and its people formulated rules that purport to put every little detail in its place. A few years ago, Saint Catherine of Sienna Church, an independent Catholic community in the Saint Louis, Missouri area, distributed blue tee shirts that read, “Relationships, not rules,” or some words to that effect. Indeed, the impetus behind the independent Catholic movement was to recognize that rules for the sake of rules, and rules to serve one person or group of persons while disadvantaging other persons and groups, more likely than not, doesn’t serve the church very well when one looks at the big picture over the long haul.
The Holy Trinity, however, is more like that independent Catholic tee shirt than it is like the Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law. The mere existence of the Trinity communicates to us that relationships between people are more important than rules. Why? The very existence of the Trinity is that it is a set of relationships, not a set of rules. It depends on love, not rules. Why? As the Fourth Chapter of the First Epistle of John tells us, God is love. Since all the persons of the Trinity are God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all embody love in and of themselves and in their relationships with each other.
As much as humanity likes to grasp on to rules to meet emotional needs for security and certainty, our relationships with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are more in the realm of a mystery than a law book, a history text, or a scientific treatise. The mystery of the Trinity invites us to not only consider the mystery element of our relationship with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but in our relationships with other people.
The Holy Trinity shows us what love looks like. The relationship between Jesus and God the Father can best be described as, “like Father, like Son.” As Jesus told us in the Gospel of John. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” God the Father dwells in Jesus and does His works through Jesus. The primary message of Jesus is quite simple: love God and one another. That’s so easy, yet it is so hard for humanity to love one another. The recent events in the news bear witness to that.
The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota arose because a store owner suspected that George Floyd was using a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill to purchase inconsequential merchandise. We don’t know if the bill was actually counterfeit, or if George Floyd knew that it was. Yet the store owner was focused on his concern for the loss of a trivial amount of money that should have been foreseen and provided for in the pricing of his merchandise. But he called the police.
We all know what happened next. Instead of writing a citation to appear in Court, the four responding police officers arrested George Floyd and subsequently murdered him. When you kneel on the neck of someone held down by two other people, the reasonable person would know that death is likely. This incident was caught on video and “went viral”, so to speak. American cities reacted by exploding into demonstrations which gave way to violence, prompting repressive responses to deal with it.
All of these events tied together say plenty about how people relate to each other in our day and age. Put in very stark terms, many people live for themselves alone, with God nowhere in the picture. Suffice to say, all of these events showed us what a loveless human race looks like. The murder of George Floyd and the events that followed it speaks volumes about where human relationships are in today’s world, a place where the essence and energies of God are nowhere to be found.
What do we mean by the essence and energies of God? The church has traditionally taught that the mystery of the Trinity is the most important mystery for Christians. It is the mystery of the identity of God, or as our Eastern sisters and brothers would say, the Divine Essence, that part of God which always remains hidden. This unknowable part of God is the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them, the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith”. What we see on the outside is God’s energy, or what God does.
The stumbling block for humanity is that we can see what God does, but we ultimately do not know why God does what God does. That’s God’s essence, the mysterious, unknowable part of God, that which keeps us guessing as God communicates to us and becomes part of us.
All three persons of the Trinity share in God’s essence. All three persons of the Trinity are of the same substance. Every attribute of divinity which belongs to God the Father—life, love, wisdom, truth, blessedness, holiness, power, purity, joy—belongs equally as well to the Son and the Holy Spirit. The being, nature, essence, existence, and life of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are absolutely and identically the same.Just as God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are one substance, so also are all humanity, each of the same substance with others.
We are male and female, created in God’s image, but in the final analysis, we are all flesh and blood human persons. The red, yellow, black, and white colors of our skins are all precious in God’s sight. Skin color is but a slight variation in physical identity, no more significant than brown eyes or blue eyes, no more significant than black, brown, red, or blond hair. Yet we are more attentive to the social constructs of racial identities in how we relate to one another in place of the way God relates to us where those constructs and identities are absent.
To use a fancy theological term, those social constructs make us forget that we are all “consubstantial” with one another. We are all made of the same flesh-and-blood substance. The coronavirus pandemic has made this all too clear. This virus does not discriminate. It does not respect social status, wealth, gender, race, religion, age, or nationality. Its reach has been truly universal. It should have functioned as a wakeup call to disabuse us of the notion that social and economic status matters, but instead, the virus has had the opposite effect. It has fueled a blue versus red divide on whether to lockdown a state or open its economy. We see continued dualistic thinking rather than cooperation to serve everyone’s best interests. The result? Massive death and massive economic waste.
Here is some insight into what’s going on.
Since we are created in the image and likeness of God, all of us have both an essence and an energy, just like God does. There is a hidden part of each of us, truly known only to God, and only to ourselves in a limited way. That is our essence. And our essence is important because just like God’s essence, it governs our energies, that is, what we do and our relationships with others.
Every relationship, no matter how intense and no matter how long, has both an energy and an essence. Its energy manifests an explicit text, that is, what the participants of the relationship do with each other, and a not-so-obvious subtext. Each relationship with another person has its obvious outer characteristics and a dimension below its surface. Its essence has an element of mystery, just like our relationship with God, and the relationships of the persons of the Trinity to each other.
Sometimes, however, the unspoken, mysterious element of the relationship is negative. Despite civil rights laws and affirmative action, the unfortunate subtext, or essence, of many relationships between persons of different races is that of hostility and/or fear. Favorable legal outcomes only change outer appearances, that is, the energy of the situation. None of those laws and actions penetrate to the essence that controls the subtext of the persons involved in the relevant human relationships.
While you can change behavior by mandate, you cannot by mandate change hearts and minds. The change in hearts and minds, the change of the essence of what’s inside the person, is what will produce a long-lasting and meaningful re-ordering of the social contract that is so necessary to avoid the continuation of the events of the past two weeks. What has to be conquered is a mindset that fears people who are different and which fears change.
What will bring about true change leading to a non-violent and equitable world is the recognition of the common humanity all of us share. Store owners and customers share a common humanity. Police officers and suspects share a common humanity. Merchants and demonstrators share a common humanity. We all share what every human person has in common with every other human person. No matter whether we are wealthy and indigent, young and old, intelligent and stupid, sick and well, sane and insane, all races, all genders, we are all consubstantial beings with one another.
That consubstantiality should be the unspoken subtext that underlies all of our interpersonal relationships, but we as a human race have willed that it does not. Instead, humanity has engaged in selfish exploitation to satisfy a hunger for power over other people at their expense. In the minds of our present government, domination and power, not cooperation, is presented and actualized as the best route for survival and success.
The result is that the essence of who we have become is not the essence of God, but the essence of what is evil. The God we know loves and cares for all of us, yet the essence, the innermost part of many people is, “What’s in it for me.” Until we all recognize the reality of our common humanity, we will continue to see people set one against the other, each person fearing the other as a threat to survival. To get away from that, we must change the mantra of, “I first”.
The Holy Trinity is the precise opposite of “I First.” It affirms that we as human persons are in community with one another where the motivation for domination by inciting fear is absent. Living with each other in a relationship with one another should follow that pattern in which the persons of the Holy Trinity relate to each other.
Humans were made to live within a community and to have meaningful love relationships with other humans. So when you have a desire for friends, family, and even for a spouse if you are single, this is a godly desire. The desire for a relationship is not a sin. It is good. God made us this way. Recall that at the beginning of creation, God did not want Adam to be alone, so God made Eve as Adam’s companion. If you isolate yourself, you are harming yourself. In fact, according to a study published in the Journey of Epidemiology and Community Health, married people lived longer than life-long singles, and that a divorce against one’s will or widowhood negatively impacts human lifespans.
The Trinity as a template for human relationships also demonstrates that the roles each person plays in relation to the other are equally important. For example, a business that makes and sells a product gives us a pretty good example that shows parallels with the Holy Trinity. God the Father is like the inventor or engineer who designs the product. God the Son is like its manufacturer; and God the Holy Spirit sells and distributes the product. Design, manufacture, and sales all work together to accomplish a goal. Each is equally important. They all need each other to succeed. When each department does its job, the company makes money.
The Holy Trinity also teaches us that unity and love must always go together. The oneness of God and the love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not separate. God’s love unifies because the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are perfectly one they can love each other perfectly. Applied to what’s going on today in our streets, the United States is a very divided country because people don’t love others as much as they do themselves.
Today’s Gospel begins, “God so loved the world” that God gave us Jesus to enter into a relationship with us, to save us from sin by what He taught us so that we might have an eternal relationship with God, just as the persons of the Holy Trinity enjoy an eternal relationship with each other.
If we hope to emulate the love of God within the Trinity in our relationships with one another, we must seek the love that produces unity. The kind of love God had in mind for unity that is the sacrificial love Jesus had for His father is set out in the second chapter of Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, wherein Jesus, though in the form of God, did not regard his equality with God as something to be exploited, but instead emptied himself into a human likeness. Put another way, you don’t use whatever privilege or ability you may have to the disadvantage of others. Yet we live in a society where people use whatever superiority or power they may have to exploit, use, and control other people for their benefit. Doesn’t that kind of look like how the white people in our country relate to people of color?
The events of the past week have finally brought home to me what “white privilege” means. Like it or not, white people have better relationships with police, are less likely to get in trouble in school, attend better schools, live in more affluent communities, and see that characters on television and in movies overwhelmingly look like themselves. I can never know how a person of color feels about the world around me because I have not been in their skin. We cannot point to anomalies or anecdotal examples to prove that we live in a truly equal country. We can’t confront racial strife if we don’t acknowledge its existence. Racism does not just have a deep root but has many deep roots in our lives, communities, and country. The phrase, Black Lives Matter’ doesn’t mean other lives don’t matter. Rather it speaks to the disproportionate risk that Black people face in our justice system.
For every Barack Obama, there are millions of George Floyds. That must change. It is time for a great reversal, a great reordering of the world in which we live. Using force to restore life as it once was will not work. Attempts to do so will result in what we are seeing in the streets right now.
If the United States is to solve its racial divide once and for all, it must, in the words of our First Reading, stop being a stiff-necked people and instead recognize the sovereignty of the Holy Trinity just as Moses accepted the Divine Presence on Mount Sinai. We do that by looking to the Holy Trinity as a paradigm, where each person, though different, is the ontological equal of the other. That is, we all share the same basic reality. We are all made of the same substance by the same Creator God as God’s children. We are all redeemed by the same Jesus. We are all sanctified by the same Holy Spirit. All of humanity shares a common teleology, that is, a common purpose for our existence, to love God, and to love one another. And like the Holy Trinity, we are all in relationship with one another. To use a phrase we’ve heard over and over in television commercials during the coronavirus pandemic, “we’re all in this together,” not “everyone for themselves,” just like the first Christians, whom the Book of Acts described as holding all property in common and distributing it to each according to need instead of privilege, whether arising from status or merit.
But we don’t see that nonsense when we experience the Holy Trinity. While each of the persons of the Trinity has their own identity and function, they are of equal importance to one another and to humanity. They work together to achieve a common goal: an ongoing, ever-unfinished process of perfecting the essence of Divinity, which is love, which will not become part of our social picture until hearts and minds are changed. And what changes hearts and minds? In the words of today’s Second reading, we must change our ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, and live in peace. When we do that, the God of love and peace will be with us. AMEN.