by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope -- Oklahoma City
30 May 2010
This is Trinity Sunday. And now I must confess that all of this was an elaborate ruse to get all you non-Trinitarian's in church today for a sermon on the doctrine of the Trinity.
In our group of clergy colleagues, I've been considered one of the more orthodox ones. Now, not as orthodox as Matt Meinke, to be sure, but moreso than most in the group. What I contend differentiates me and Meinke is that my orthodoxy is more "metaphorical," which allows me to be somewhat wishy-washy.
For instance, my very first sermon at Cathedral of Hope as a candidate for your pastorate was on the Second Sunday of Easter. The text was the Doubting Thomas story. I preached on the resurrection. When I had finished preaching, Mike Piazza, then the Dean and National Pastor of the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, leaned over and said he had never heard a sermon quite like that in which someone who believes in an historical resurrection heard what they wanted to hear and someone who believes in a metaphorical resurrection heard what they wanted to hear. I told him, "Thank you."
It's not that I don't have views or even deep convictions on these topics. The problem is that I have views, plural. They shift and one day go one way and another day a different direction. And even at the same time I hold positions that don't necessarily fit very well together. Maybe that's why I insist so much on mystery and have little interest in certainty.
I've never really had a problem with the Trinity. The first non-Trinitarians I met were Pentecostal Holiness – my best friend in sixth grade and his pastor father. They rejected the doctrine as non-biblical, arising from the creeds. I didn't care much for the creeds either, but though I knew what they were rejecting, I was never clear on what they actually believed, because they clearly believed in the divinity of the Creator, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
To me the early Christians were simply trying to make sense of their experience. They had encountered divinity in these myriad ways and attempted to explain how it all fit together. That was an noble enterprise, even if the resulting creeds are filled with tortured words and are based upon an Aristotelian physics that no one currently believes. In college I toyed with the idea of restructuring the doctrines of the church on quantum mechanics, but I'm not smart enough to do that.
Though I've never had much problem with the Trinity, I have also always been a little heretical, at least since college. In the Southern Baptist hymnal, the first hymn is "Holy, Holy, Holy," a Trinitarian hymn. The final line of the first and last stanzas is "God in three persons, blessed Trinity." Well, since college I have been skeptical of this idea of three "persons" and so I have always sung the line "God in three persona, blessed Trinity." I've really worked out how to fit three syllables into two beats! That line I usually sing just a little softer than my normal boisterous volume for hymn-singing. I didn't want to startle the sensibilities of those around me.
Truth is, despite being an academically trained and Ph. D.-certified metaphysician, it isn't the metaphysics of the Trinity which interests me. In fact, that rather bores me. What does interest me is the politics, the ethics, the economics of the Trinity.
To me the foundational confession of the doctrine of the Trinity is that divinity is a relationship of becoming, or what my favourite theologian James McClendon calls an "ecstatic fellowship." The goodness and love and power and glory flow forth from one to another until they overflow and that goodness, love, power, and glory spill out onto all creation, inviting it too to participate in the dance. All creation is touched with divinity and invited into a deep, ongoing relationship with each other. Ultimately, then, God's dream for creation is that it participate in what God experiences – ecstatic fellowship.
For me the doctrine of the trinity is an invitation into a way of living. It is an on-going adventure into novelty, calling us forth into relationship with one another.
In 2005, shortly after I received the call to become your Pastor, I pulled down off of my shelf the massive volume of the collected works of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I'd owned the volume for about a year and had not gotten around to reading it. But I knew I'd better start. Mike Piazza and Jo Hudson had conveyed to me that accepting the role of pastor of this congregation was more than a pastorate, it was taking on a role as a leader in a civil rights struggle and that I needed to be prepared for press conferences and rallies and protests and all the things that accompany a civil rights movement.
Well, if that was the job, then I needed to sit at the feet of one of the masters, so I began diligently reading Dr. King's works. And there I found what I was looking for – the philosophical, theological, and pastoral understanding for what lay ahead. And I have returned often to his words – for strategy, for advice, for comfort, for inspiration.
Dr. King envisioned a "beloved community." To achieve that, we must demonstrate love even to our enemies. Our means and methods must be as noble as our ends. In tonight's first reading, we glimpse his understanding that building this community is to work with the whole of creation toward its aim, its purpose. To work against this community or not to engage actively in its construction and embodiment is to work against the very creation.
Listen again to these words:
all life is interrelated. All humanity is involved in a single process, and all [humanity is] brothers [and sisters]. . . . There is a creative force in this universe that works to bring the disconnected aspects of reality into a harmonious whole.
I believe that harmonious whole to be the ecstatic fellowship. I believe that these powerfully eloquent paragraphs from Dr. King say far more about what the Trinity is than anything in the ancient creeds of the church.
The last five years I have understood my work here, in the church and through the church in service and in mission to the larger community, to be the on-going effort to build the beloved community. For me it has not simply been about civil equality or making this an independent, self-supporting congregation. Our work has been to create a better, more just, more peaceful world, because that draws us closer to ecstatic fellowship with one another, awakening the divine in each of us.
May your journey ahead be filled with adventure as you continue this holy work.