This is Holy Trinity Sunday. Isn’t that exciting? It’s one of those opportunities that preachers tend to dread really.
First of all, Holy Trinity is a doctrine or church teaching and if there was one thing drilled into us in seminary it was “never preach on doctrine!” Why? Well, because,
- It’s boring.
- The act of preaching is about speaking a word that transforms, and while various doctrines have gotten a lot of people killed over the centuries as they have been fought over and debated, few church teachings have really been transformative.
Living into a doctrine’s implications can be life changing, but the doctrine itself is not really what changes things.
So, for instance, “Justification by grace through faith” is the Reformation “rally cry” doctrine, but it’s all just words. It’s the living into what those words mean, the act of choosing to forgive. The action of accepting others with their flaws, the stepping out to do the Christ-like thing because you realize that you are justified for Jesus’ sake –discovering that God loves and accepts you no matter what — that is what brings about transformation in people, not the proper arrangement words.
It’s like the difference between talking to your spouse about the importance of love in a relationship (which is doctrine, teaching, explanation, and may all be true) and instead saying as you gaze deeply into that other person’s eyes, “I love you.” Which will transform the moment? And,
- Don’t preach doctrine because…well, did I mention? — It’s boring!
Secondly, preaching on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is just not a fruitful effort because all attempts to explain it lead you down a pathway of heresy. You can’t really explain the unexplainable.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not something that was just “decided upon” at some church council or meeting, it’s more of a description of how God has expressed God’s own self, — how God has revealed God’s self to humanity in the perichoresis of Father, Son and Spirit.
See, even saying that gets boring, doesn’t it?
So then, if I can’t preach on the doctrine itself, or wax eloquently on how to explain it, what am I to do?
I decided to just show you this instead. This has everything in it to help you understand the Holy Trinity and what it means for you. Can you figure it out?
Okay, let me help you out just a little bit. It has nothing to do with those three boys there on the right. I’ll bet that’s where you eye went right away. ‘Hey, there are three dudes, they must stand for Father, Son and Spirit.
In fact, just because there are three of them doesn’t mean anything at all. In fact, they are sort of the antithesis of that Perichoresis thing I mentioned a bit ago.
You know, that boring word you don’t understand and have never probably heard of before. “Perichoresis”
Holy Trinity really has more to do with the girls pictured on the left up there, particularly the one in the black dress with the bow. What is she doing?
That right, she looks like she’s dancing, or about to, if she can just find a partner… I wonder where one might be?
I really want to thank the journalism students from Italy, Texas, who posted this picture on the internet from the ubiquitously awkward experience that we have all had at one point in time, which is the Jr. High School dance.
You remember this scene perhaps from your own dark recesses of your mind. Quite often the Jr. High dance left deep psychological scars that we processed for decades after the event, alternatively kicking ourselves for what we did, and what we didn’t do.
You entered the decorated gym, and there they were.
All the boys on one side of the gym, trying their best to look cool while simultaneously also looking disinterested –but in reality trying to nonchalantly check out the girls, but not look too obvious, or too interested, either to each other or, God forbid, make eye contact with a girl across the gym.
In the meantime, on the opposite side of the gymnasium, the girls were sporting various dresses that accentuated parts of the anatomy that were just beginning to become more interesting to young people of this age group.
In other words, people who previously had been just another playmate or classmate were now beginning to take on different characteristics under the influence of crepe paper and low lighting.
As the music would start, (at least way back in the dark ages when I was in Jr. High,) the guys engaged in a form of merging their molecular structure with the concrete block wall.
Meanwhile, across the gym floor the girls would begin to make fluid motions, creeping out onto the floor little by little to move and gyrate to the music, at first with one another, all in hopes that perhaps one of the brave souls who had caught their eye might disengage from their “wall meld” and timidly, tepidly attempt perhaps, to dance….
I just love the “deer in the headlights” expression of that young man with the Coke bottle. “Was she just looking at me??????”
Ah, the Jr. High Dance, the beginning of things yet to come where the bewildered and the beguiled begin to learn how to take that first small step and start dancing into a wider world.
What does this have to do with the Holy Trinity?
I think we live this Jr. High Dance over and over again in our relationship to God.
God wants us to join in the dance of life. “Perichoresis” means “rotation, to dance.” It’s what we watch God do with God’s own self, as God finds ways to weave in and out of people’s lives, entering and moving, speaking….coming as Word, as Spirit, as incarnate Son who strikes up conversations with women at wells and men hiding in trees.
We have a God who appears to love to dance, to move lightly in this world and among God’s people.
But we are more like Jr. High Kids….. “deer in the headlight looks” come over us when the invitation and opportunity to join with God in the dance of life.
Isn’t that what you feel, sense in the Gospel lesson for today. Here is Jesus’ great command, the great invitation to the Disciples.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,….” Jesus says.
Jesus says “Go…” and we try to meld into the concrete wall, or sit, hoping he won’t see us, won’t make eye contact with us. “Who me? Go? I like it here.”
Jesus says “Make disciples…” and we shuffle around, mostly saying things like “well, I really don’t know how to do that!” — much the same way Jr. high boys will argue they don’t know how to dance.
Jesus says “teach”…and we respond we’re not sure what to teach, or how. We wouldn’t want to offend anyone, get this wrong, teach them the wrong thing. “If only I knew my bible better, or my catechism better, maybe I should take a few classes myself first before I try to teach anyone else.”
You get the picture here.
We have a God who wants to dance, but we quite often come off as awkward, unsure, lacking confidence, … much like kids at a Jr. High dance. – at least when it comes to living out our faith.
That’s really the issue, isn’t it?
Our lack of confidence is what gets in the way.
It makes us begin to doubt, to wonder, would anyone really want to be seen with us, let alone God?
I want to believe that I can get in step with God’s plan for my life.
I want to trust that I can step out on the floor, and be accepted, and seen as someone with gifts, talents, abilities.. but I’m afraid, and awkward, and so I hang back.
I’ll bet you do too.
Which is why it’s so important that we hear the closing promise that is made by Jesus, because it is all about how you join in the dance!
“And remember I am with you always to the close of the age.”
What gives you confidence when you’re awkward? Isn’t it a partner who believes in you? One who sticks with you no matter what? That’s how you learn how to take that first small step and start dancing into a wider world.
The promise Jesus makes changes the end of Matthew. It’s not just a command of what we are to do now that Jesus is leaving.
No, this is an invitation into the dance of the Trinity itself, and a glimpse into how God is hanging around. Not hugging the walls to see what we will do, but rather helping us step out in faith using every dimension of God at God’s disposal.
This is Jesus saying that as the Spirit and the Father and I have been weaving into the lives of those whom I have met these past three years… your lives… so now you have the promise of that continued presence.
When you “Go…” I go with you. That’s the promise Jesus makes.
When you make disciples, it’s by living as you lived and learned with me, from me, from my presence, and the Spirit’s presence, and my Father’s presence… all wrapped up in one. Disciples learn by following, and so when you live in ways that mirror the life of Jesus, others will learn how to follow by your actions and example.
“Teach”… well, where did you learn? Where did you learn to be generous, or gracious, or loving, or forgiving? Where did you learn that God loved you with an everlasting love? You teach what you have learned, and what you have taken into your own life, and you do it by moving in the ways that you observed Jesus moved…
In other words, you know this dance of faith, and God in Holy Trinity is and ever will be your partner in it.
There is no need to stand around unsure or awkward.
You move, and God moves with you, light and confident and leading, or following your lead, or simply swaying at your side. But God is there!
God is here!
That’s what Holy Trinity is about. Perichoresis, the dance of faith seen in how God moves, helping us learn how to take our own first small steps so that we can start dancing and bringing God with us into a wider world.
It’s Holy Trinity Sunday, and the music is playing, care to dance?