Rev. Scott's Letter June 7, Trinity Sunday
Delivered By
Rev. Tom Scott
Delivered On
June 7, 2020
Attached Document


Today is Trinity Sunday—the thanks-filled celebration of what God has shown us about the divine reality, (the conventional summary being “a trinity of persons in a unity of  being“).  This disclosure is a gift—puzzling as one may find it—and it is actually a source of hope for us in this life. 


In the midst of tumultuous events in our country, and with scripture passages for this day that seem less than fully on point, there is a lot to take in. What does the three in one actually mean and why is it important and why should we care just now when life for so many of us resembles the fabled description of the Pittsburgh steel mills of my youth: hell with the lid off.  Let’s see.


First, a quick disclaimer in the form of an anecdote: the devout Christian, famous essayist, and English dictionary compiler, Dr. Samuel Johnson, was famous for his epigrams and witticisms. His biographer was the Scotsman James Boswell, whom Johnson loved to twit on the subject of his homeland.  On one occasion, Johnson was asked by another friend whether it were true that even Scotland was part of God’s creation. He replied, “Comparisons are invidious, but God made Hell”.  So, it is all the more true for any discussion of the Trinity: our comparisons can have but limited utility and run the danger of being insulting or worse.  Still, we sally forth.


How shall we conceptualize “a trinity of persons in a unity of being”.  A conventional representation of this is the famous shamrock of St. Patrick—three leaves, one stem. A limited image—more leaning on the unity of being than the trinity of persons, but useful for arguing that God is One.


A favorite image of mine is the sassafras tree.  It is one tree, but the branches put out leaves of three different shapes: ovate (egg-shaped, broad end at stem), mitten, and three lobed. This, too, has the emphasis on the unity, while adding more individuation.


Both of these examples are weak on the three persons element and fail on the most important aspect: the inter-relation of the persons. What the greek-speaking world of long ago called “perichoresis” and the latin-speaking folk named ”circumincession”. Please bear with me here.  I don’t mean to be tedious or obscure, but I do ask for a bit of patient forbearance as I work my way on.


These terms are not theological fancy talk, they describe the motion and interplay of dancers—think ballet or ballroom dancing of the formal set style of the 18th and 19th century.  The words literally mean “movement among” the group of dancers, the persons of God. And what is brought forward here is just what we’ve lacked in the shamrock and sassafras illustrations—a way to denote individuals moving in concert, though neither identically nor seriatim (follow the leader fashion). We must be careful with the dancer image also, for unlike human participants in a quadrille, the dancers do not break away in the end to do other things. But, used carefully, we get helpful insight.


When we use these ordinary world ideas to help us understand our experience of God, what a dynamic portrait emerges! We see relationship and interaction more clearly.  Furthermore, it helps us understand better the cryptic remarks Jesus makes about the Father working, and the Son working and doing nothing apart from the Father, and the Holy Spirit being sent to work, and so on.  


The work God is undertaking concerns , “all things being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made”. The manner in which God works—both as we see it, though “through a glass darkly”, and as God knows it from “within”—is the dance, the interplay, the carrying out “in tranquility the plan of salvation” (the fulfillment, realization, and completion) of creation. 


Trinity Sunday is also about God’s seemingly endless enthusiasm for, appreciation of, and commitment to the human family. Here, fortuitously, is where the readings for today come in. 


For Trinity Sunday, Year A, I choose the alternate first reading, Exodus 34:4-6,8-9, the appointed psalm, #8, the appointed second reading from  2 Corinthians 13:11-13, and the appointed gospel Matthew 28: 16-20. From each reading I have taken an excerpt, and when these are strung together, a wonderful hope emerges.


The Exodus passage comes from the story of Moses on the mountain with God after he destroyed the first set of tablets with the ten commandments in rage over finding the Israelites worshipping the golden calf.  The Lord appears to Moses and tells him to start over with new tablets and God will write the commandments again, to which Moses replies, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance”.


From psalm 8, “Out of the mouths of babes and infants, you have founded a bulwark, because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.


From 2 Cor., “We pray to God that you may not do anything wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed.”. Paul writes here to say that the gospel he has preached is proved true and defended not by him being applauded for doing a good job (building a big congregation, etc), but by the group of believers making a community life worthy of Christ, whatever is said about Paul and to whatever end he comes.


Finally, the closing passage from Matthew’s gospel—the Great Commission—“When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted...He commanded them, saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...”. The work of Christ is entrusted even to those who doubt God, themselves, their own experience. 


Perhaps you are already catching what I am intending to convey by these quotes. It is not a new idea, but it can be revolutionary.  Though we are a stiff-necked people, there is also the generous, forbearing, and forgiving God who has safely brought us to this new day with the intention of using us for his purposes. It is not us, this present generation in power and prestige in our world whom God looks to, but our descendants—those have taken in the best we have to offer (along with the worst)—who got the message of diversity and inclusion and gender equity in part through our clumsy attempts at civil rights laws and multi-cultural studies, etc.—they are the hope, the bulwark to silence the enemy and the avenger. What matters in this enterprise is not that we somehow get appreciated for doing our little bit in our time and place—such as it may have been—what matters is that that the human family millions—billions!—strong push things along, carry on the work, and do what is right in their time, even when it shows how badly we, their forbears, failed.  And we need not worry about being perfect now, nor the next generation being perfect either, doubtless, sinless, completely pure. God is working through it all, and the fact that we keep realizing we need to do better is just as much proof of that work as any obvious accomplishment.


So, now to loop back around to Trinity Sunday,  how does all this help us deal with the economic havoc, pandemic destruction, and social upheaval in the current time? The fear, anger, and discouragement we see and feel are real and appropriate.  Our contribution to the world now is our belief in the long faithfulness of God and the unstoppable power of the spirit to push like water through rock, like trees through sidewalk, like the sun’s heat through brick, to get through where we can see no way on. If we can get into our bones that we are a stiff-necked people, group and individual, doing appalling things to one another because we are warped and obsessed with the idea of “us and them” played out in every conceivable way, and at the same time, recognize and trust that we have capacities for growth and development beyond our imaginations, there is hope beyond hope that on the other side of this terrible time there will be more justice, more freedom, more peace than before. The times become birth pangs, not a death rattle. There’s pain in both and a time for both.


Do I see evidence of new birth and not the end of things?  Yes.  Because for decades we have pushed forward the practical possibilities of the civil rights laws of the 60’s using admissions standards, quotas, gender equality, economic interests and profit motives, there is an opening horizon where people of color (not enough) head corporations, serve as mayors, police chiefs, policemen and women, generals, doctors, lawyers, presidents, politicians, academics, fashion models, sports icons, music idols snd so on.  We are nowhere near the end, but we are not where we were, which is why the street actions are so powerful, important, and encouraging.  What I hope I am making clear is that because there are so many diverse people demonstrating about how things are so bad, we are making progress by the grace and power of God.


I am not a very good Pollyanna.  I am a bit more like Eeyore.  Even so, I am glad to see what is happening. People finally—even if partially and fleetingly—see an outrage they cannot endure.  In the long history of lynching, this one stopped people short. Why is a mystery, though as I’ve said, the wide-spread communication of it helped, along with two generations of America educated in integrated schools, etc. In the end, the exact explanation of things really can’t be given.  The avalanche of rage formed from many causes was building over years for good reason, no particular noise or snowflake can be usefully credited with the cataclysm.

  April 2021  
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