Sunday, May 30, 2010

We've Forgotten How To Dance!

The full text of the poem I quote at the end of my sermon is found here.

As usual, comments and constructive criticism is welcome.

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: "To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.

The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth-when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world's first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

Romans 5:1-5
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

John 16:12-15
"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

This is the Word of the Lord.

I want to let you in on a little secret. It’s something that pastors and preachers are never, ever supposed to let their congregations know. So, please, remember that you didn’t hear it from me! Ready?

Most pastors and preachers that I have spoken to, and have read on the Internet, agree that preaching on this Sunday, Trinity Sunday, more than any other Sunday on the calendar, scares them to death! Some preachers are concentrating on the reading from the Book of Proverbs. Others, who usually preach from outlines or notes, are preaching from a full manuscript. I heard about one preacher who is going to end her sermon by, and no, I’m not kidding, juggling.

At issue is the fact that, honestly, no one really understands the doctrine of the Trinity, and when you try to explain it, it’s too easy to get so bogged down that it becomes incomprehensible, or else to try so hard to come up with an effective simile or metaphor that it could become, well, heretical.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fascinating discussion – you can use everything from circles to candles to shamrocks to illustrate the Trinity, and every metaphor from eggs to cherry pie to dance to try and explain how three Persons can be one God. In the end, though, every illustration, every metaphor, every eighteen-syllable theological word, comes up short.

Once, St. Augustine was walking on the beach, contemplating this mystery of the Trinity. He came across a boy who had dug a hole in the sand. The boy was going out to the sea again and again and bringing some water to pour into the hole. When Augustine asked him what he was doing, the youngster replied, “I’m going to pour the entire ocean into this hole.” Augustine replied, “That’s impossible! The whole ocean will not fit in the hole you have made!” The boy replied, “And you cannot fit the Trinity in your tiny little brain.”

The doctrine of the Trinity is not so much about what God is – rather, it is an attempt to explain how God works, and more precisely, how God works in relation with God’s creation.

We make a mistake when we picture God as a kind of three-person hierarchy: God the Father, like a boss or a senior manager, calling the shots, and Jesus and the Holy Spirit acting, like employees, only on the Father’s orders. We make a mistake when we think that God the Father is steaming in anger over a sin we (or someone else) committed, and the only thing that’s keeping the Father from flinging lightning bolts at the offending human is Jesus’ intercession on their behalf.

On the contrary, as Shirley Guthrie writes, the Triune God is fully at work in all of the acts of God – every move of God, whether the creation of the world, the advent of Jesus Christ, the Resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and on and on throughout history and in our lives today, is an act not of an independent Person of the Trinity, but of the One Triune God!

One of the ways we understand the Trinity is through what the Eastern Orthodox Church calls the perichoresis. It’s a Greek word, and, depending on who you ask, it means either “dwelling around” or “dancing around.” The idea is this: the relationship of the three Persons of the Trinity is one of constant, intimate community, of intimate interconnection and active unity. Thus when Jesus says things like “I and the Father are One,” and “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” this is not hyperbole, but a statement of fact.

Christ’s words and actions are a mirror of the Father’s words and actions, and the leading and teaching of the Holy Spirit are the leading and teaching of God the Father and Jesus Christ. Precisely, inseparably, perfectly.

And here’s where it gets a little scary: in light of this idea of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one God, a perichoresis of love, mercy, grace and truth, in John 17 Jesus prays these words for his followers – all of his followers throughout eternity, including you and I: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

It doesn’t take a doctorate in theology or sociology to see that the church today is most certainly not dwelling in the perichoresis which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit embody. We’ve forgotten how to dance!

There are, in fact, over 30,000 denominations under the broad heading of the Christian faith. In our city alone, it’s hard to go a block without seeing a church, and there are places where churches of different denominations sit next door to one another!

Somewhere along the way, we decided that the only way to be in one accord was to agree with the way “I” think. We decided that doctrine was more important than community, that mental assertions could take the place of loving one another as proof that we belong to Jesus. Where once we would have been followers of “The Way,” or “Christians,” we are now “Protestants” as opposed to “Catholics.” We are “Presbyterians” as opposed to “Baptists” or “Methodists” or “Pentecostals” or “Episcopalians” or… you get the picture.

We’ve forgotten how to dance.

But even now, it’s not too late. We can acknowledge where we differ, and still celebrate that which makes us alike. We can celebrate the unique perspectives of each Christian denomination without allowing those labels to serve as dividing lines. It cannot happen quickly, granted, and it probably won’t be perfect, but no one learns to waltz or tango in an instant, do they? We stumble, misstep, and try again, finding the rhythm, feeling the music, remembering how to dance.

It has to start sometime. Let that time be now.

It has to start somewhere. Let that place be here.

Let’s join with the poet, Andrew Stephen Damick, in saying,

O elegant and gentle Leader of the dance,
we do not know the meaning of each step
nor how to rightly turn this way or hold this pose.
Each spinning step or angled movement's twist
does sometimes give us vertigo here where we stand;
this mystery of how the rhythm's pulse
and how the music's lilt are tuned to only You
has caught us up, and we are overwhelmed.
O grace-filled, grace-bestowing Leader of the dance,
please teach me how to twirl and how to move;
please teach me how the song pervades each dancer's form,
these dancers who have learned to dance with You
throughout the ages of the song, the holy song
You sang in ages past to Abraham,
to Isaac and to Jacob and his Hebrew seed:
Now sing to me and give me, too, this life.
O Leader of the dance, this perfect partnership
of Leader and of led, of God and man,
this Incarnation's holy dance we see in You,
You now invite us to accompany.
This awesome dance, a truly cosmic synergy,
the interpenetration of us men
with Deity -- with Trinity! -- the universe
beholds and stands amazed and bows its head.

Come join the perichoresis. Let’s remember how to dance.

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