A few weeks ago, I opened my sermon with an account of the creation. On this Trinity Sunday I want to share a part of that with you again.
In the beginning, there was God. God was love. God’s life of love within God’s very self was expansive and interdependent among the different parts of God. Each part of God was dependent on the love of the other parts, resulting in an even greater love. That greater love was so big that it could not be contained, and so God’s love spilled over outside Godself. And creation was born; a result of the excessive love of God spilling over outside Godself.
I had somebody write me after I preached that sermon and said they’d never heard that before. I could have answered that I was relating the creation account through the trinitarian doctrine of perichoresis and using that to build a stronger ecclesiology for the church, but that’s why I stuck to the story. Somehow the story of relationship binds us more than the doctrine of the trinity. The trinity too often gets relegated to formulas and doctrines. But the important thing about our understanding is that it reveals the deepest truth about God: the essence of God’s very self is love; God is relationship.
God is relationship in God’s very core, within God’s self. And God’s relational pursuits are excessive. God’s relationship with God’s own self is so huge that it can’t be contained: the Father pouring out love into the Son; the two bound up in the Spirit; that love bursting outside Gods self into creation. And so we have a God that pursues relationship relentlessly outside of Godself as well as within God’s self.
In the story from today’s gospel, we get a glimpse of that. Nicodemus the seeker is trying desperately to understand this language of love. But he has been taught to listen in linear language, in doctrinal language. He can’t hear Jesus’ descriptive accounts of new life made possible by God’s endless pursuit of us because love isn’t doctrinal. Relationship is inconvenient that way. It takes us by surprise.
It is, Jesus says to Nicodemus, more like being caught by a surprise burst of wind. It makes me think of walking outside on a crisp early autumn day. Now I know that autumn days are hard to come by in San Diego, but have you ever been walking outside on a day in late summer and then all of a sudden you get caught by a sudden autumn breeze? And suddenly in that breeze you feel the crispness, the change of season, the movement from one season to another, the anticipation of what is to come and the leaving behind of what has been, and then, the breeze is gone, and the wind has passed. So, Jesus says, is the pursuit of God for us.
Wind, in Greek, is the same as the word for spirit. “The wind/spirit blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” This God comes from out of nowhere and brings you new life. Because this God pursues you. And just like that crisp autumn breeze, it isn’t something you or I or anyone else initiates. Ready or not, this wind/spirit just comes. Relationship matters to this God. Not because we’re so wonderful, although some of us like to think we are. But simply because we were made for one purpose: to be pursued as the beloved of God, beauty, warts, and all. That is just who God is; this God who pursues relationship so endlessly within Godself that we are pursued endlessly in relationship outside of Godself, too.
But that can be so… inconvenient too.
Because pursuit of relationship destroys the myth of autonomy for those of us in the Church. Within the life of God, God is not autonomous. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all interdependent on each other. They do not exist without each other.
And that means we do not exist without each other either. If we take the Trinity seriously, we cannot live lives that don’t take into account the impact of our actions on other people. Self-sufficiency is a myth. Self-rule is a myth. Putting any person or country first is non-Trinitarian. We are, all of us, bound together in the very fabric of the cosmos at deep and mysterious ways. Bishop Katherine uses the example of the mysterious illness in infants called “failure to thrive” when they have their physical needs met but are not raised in relationship. It is a dangerous illness. We need each other. All of us.
And so, in the church we laugh or groan at the length it takes to make decisions. But as a wise priest friend of mine once said, in the church our job isn’t to do it right. The job of the Church is to do it together. That takes time.
But when we wait for that wind/spirit to blow where she will we may be able to do both. We need each other. We are a reflection of a God who pursues us vigorously. How we pursue each other matters. It is an inconvenient truth, but look around and it matters: not only in the church, but in the world. When we let the wind/spirit take us by surprise, the pursuit of relationship can lead to new and unexpected places.
For some, it is easier to to give up too much of the self. Living in enmeshment and enabling bad behavior in others is a path to victimization and codependency. Life together is more than the lowest common denominator. God pursues each one of us for who we are, and if you lose yourself and let others take advantage of you than it is very difficult to pursue relationship, because there isn’t much of you in the picture. But God put you in the picture and pursues you relentlessly, which means you have to show up, too.
Which brings be to my last point. God pursues us across difference. God is not sameness. God’s very self is difference: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I don’t know why. God is not one but three in one. Unity in diversity.
And in that God we find the pursuit of relationship across difference, these three persons of the Trinity locked in an eternal embrace, pouring themselves out into each other and adoring each other in their separation and difference. But here is the other thing: different as they are, they are also locked eternally in unity, in togetherness, in one substance.
And so this God, unified in diversity, has poured out that love to create this diverse and beautiful creation. And just as this God pursues relationship within God’s diverse self, God pursues the beauty of the diversity of creation among us. God pursues each of us– I won’t say regardless– I will say because of– our race, our ethnicity, our gender, our gender identity, our sexual orientation, our size, our personality, our class, our physical ability, our intelligence, our emotional or physical illness, our age, our immigration status. I say God pursues us not regardless of those parts of us but because of those parts of us because they are all beautiful. There is no color blindness in God. God knows your color. God knows your gender. God knows your sexual orientation. God knows every single thing about you. You stand naked before God, like it or not. And God pursues you. All of you. Because God made you just the way you are so that you could be pursued for just who you were made to be. And that’s a beautiful thing. God is about relationship. And God pursues us so that we might pursue each other to love each other how we are so that we can be one family, gloriously diverse and wonderfully creative. We were not created to build walls or fences but to build bridges. We were not created for so-called religious-freedom laws that do not give freedom but destroy it. Because God pursues all of us.
Relationship. It is the glue of the created order; it is the inconvenient truth of a God that pursues us relentlessly so that we can pursue each other. Relentlessly.
For God so loved the world that he sent his Son to pursue us, to be known by us. Not to condemn the world. But to love it. And when that happens and we allow ourselves to love each other, we turn from the human race into the human family. And love wins.
The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk
Trinity B, May 27, 2018
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3. Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2010.
Lewis, Karoline. “If the Trinity Mattered.” Working Preacher. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5156.