Pastor Amy's Blog Homepage
June 3, 2012
Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17
At the beginning of my seminary career, my classmates and I travelled to visit the Rhada Krishna Temple in Mt. Airy. Just a short mile from here is a Hindu temple—you’ve passed it on Allen’s Lane I’m sure. But I never knew it was there until about five years ago.
Visiting the Hindu temple was a strange experience—strange in that it was new, and therefore a little awkward and confusing. In the Hindu religious tradition, each temple has a few idols, representations of god. The way these gods were explained to us Christian folks at the temple was like this: These idols represent personalities of God. They are given a face and a name so that we can understand that aspect of God a little better.
As part of the worship practice at the temple, the gods are bathed, clothed and fed each day. They are given garlands of fresh flowers around their necks every day. And the Hindu worshippers sing songs of devotion and praise to the gods, and worship these idols laying prostrate on the floor.
This was an uncomfortable, difficult experience for many of my young, fresh faced seminary colleagues, especially those who had no interfaith experience. But, I found it to be absolutely beautiful. These Hindu devotees were in love with God. And not just the idea of God but they were in love with the specific qualities of God. They called out to God, praising her for her specific traits, and celebrating those particular gifts she brings and shares with us.
This week is Trinity Sunday on the church calendar. We celebrate God—the three in one. It’s intentional that this happens one week after Pentecost. Because after Pentecost we understand better these three separate names of God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Or, to be more expansive about it—Abba God, Only Begotten, Holy Spirit. We’ve seen the work of God in the Torah, in bringing together the people of Israel. We’ve seen the work of Jesus in the gospels, living out the teachings of God and following the path to which God has called all of us. And last week—in Acts 2—we began to see a new aspect of God, or at least a name for this way that God works and behaves—this Holy Spirit, blowing through the people of God and inspiring them to the unthinkable.
Today, we are thinking about these aspects of the trinity—the Abba God, only begotten, and Holy Spirit. Admittedly, this topic could get a little boring, a little cerebral. But before you drift off to your happy place, or get lost in doodling on your bulletins, or pull out your smart phones to scan facebook or your email, I want to invite you to think and imagine with me how the trinity informs us of the personalities of God.
And there is no better place to start than the text we have been given from Romans. In this portion of the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul talked about who God is to us, God’s relationship with us. And for this purpose, Paul used language that early Christians could understand—that of slavery.
Slavery in the Roman Empire was as you might expect. Slaves did not have an identity, a personality, a name. Their name was—essentially—their job. In the book of Philemon, the slaves name referenced there was Onesimus, which in greek means, “useful.” A slave’s value came from how useful they were to their owners.
A slave’s usefulness went beyond the labor to which they were assigned. Their usefulness also came in fulfilling the sexual desires of their owners at any time.
Slavery was a common situation for many of the early Christians. So this motif was used by Paul to speak into their situations. Paul would often contrast slavery and freedom, speaking of the freedom Christians have in Christ, despite their chains in life.
But here in our text from Romans 8, Paul was not talking about freedom. Paul was talking about something more. He was contrasting slavery and adoption. Adoption is more than mere freedom. As a slave in the Roman empire, you could be freed, and slaves longed for that free person status. But, as a free person, you were still poor. You still had to work so hard to provide for your family and to earn a living. And there was always potential that you would become a slave again—if you owed a debt that could not be paid with your wages alone, you might be required again to pay that debt with a life of servitude.
But adoption is better than freedom—it’s freedom plus. It means you have a name, you have a status. You enjoy the reputation and resources of your wealthy parent. You receive the bounty of your parent, and you don’t have to wait for their death to enjoy your inheritance. It is there for you—right here and now—to enjoy.
“God’s spirit joins with our Spirit to declare that we are God’s children. And if we are children we are heirs as well: heirs of God and coheirs with Christ. Sharing in Christ’s suffering and sharing in Christ’s glory.”
What I appreciate about this text here on this auspicious, cerebral Trinity Sunday is that we learn something here about the personality of God. And we see how the trinity works together.
We see the parent aspect of the trinity—God acting with selfless benevolence towards us, those God calls children. It’s more than just a charitable caring. We put food in the baskets each week out of a sense of charitable caring. But a parent—without thought—shares their resources with their children. Parents wring their hands about the state of the school system because we care about our kids. We want the best for them. We say no to jobs because we want more time at home with them. We spend hours on the baseball field—and not always because we love baseball, but because we love our kids. We attend recitals, enduring squeaky violin concertos. We smile genuinely and clap enthusiastically at off key musicals. We try—as best we can in this economy—to squirrel away a little bit for our kid’s college education.
This love that we have for our children, this love that we see good parents have for their children—this is just the tip of the iceburg for Abba God. Abba God, loving God, caring God, worrying God, our selfless parent who shares with us all that God possesses.
Meanwhile the Spirit is doing her work, nudging, blowing, bringing us together in a rush of violent wind. At last night’s Philadelphia Anabaptist Pentecost service, I witnessed the work of the Holy Spirit first hand. Congregations stood and shared their songs of praise, in their own language and context. The rest of us joined in enthusiastically, praising God together. As we got to know each other better, I received enormous hugs from the African American women from Second Mennonite, enthusiastic greetings from our new Indonesian friends, and words of blessing from our Vietnamese brothers and sisters. A service like this was confirmation of the common spirit that works with all of us, despite our frustrations with each other outside of worship. Holy Spirit, the reconciler, the negotiator. Holy Spirit, the one who brings together people across races and cultures and makes us one.
And Jesus. The one who is like us. Our co-heir. Our brother. Jesus is one of us, and yet part of this holy trinity. Jesus our non-hierarchical example.
I spent too much time in theological education with people that worried about being heretical about the trinity and other doctrines of the church. Really, I couldn't care less about all of that. What’s important to me is not that we get our doctrinal statements perfect. What is more important than all that is our view of God and the trinity become more expansive, not more restricted by carefully worded statements of “faith.”
As humans, we can never know all there is to know about God, about how these three parts of the trinity make one unified monotheistic God. But we can, in the trinity, have a better sense of the expansive personality of God. We can see the nurturing of God, the humanity of God, the collaborative Spirit of God. And those aspects give breadth and depth to our ongoing relationship with the Holy One.
There are literally hundreds of Hindu idols, representations of the various aspects of the personality of God. And these representations help Hindus to better understand the nature of God, who God is, and how God works in the world.
I wish we had a better sense of that in our own tradition. It’s the downside of early Church history being steeped in and opposed to Greek culture and philosophy, I guess. But, we can get glimpse of the personality of God as we explore the trinity.
Abba God—our great parent, who shares generously with us. Holy Spirit, who stirs us and moves us. Jesus, our perfect example of that to which we are called. Thanks be to God for the trinity, which reveals to us God’s nature and personality. AMEN.
What can I do?