St Andrew’s Parish of Indooroopilly
7 June 2020
2 Corinthians 13.11-13
Christianity cannot be grasped ©Suzanne Grimmett
Today is jokingly referred to as “Choose your heresy Sunday”. It is the day where preaching rights are traditionally given to theological students and curates or, if you get lucky, a visiting bishop. It is as if suddenly we depart from the idea of drawing on scriptural texts to help us make sense of our lived experience to thinking that we need to have our orthodoxy on show and make sure we give a good account of our theological training.
The fact is that none of these doctrinal debates/ disputations have anything at all to offer us when a black man is murdered in the US by police and the rage that has grown through systemic, endemic racism bubbles over. Deciding how best to explain hypostatic union is an utter irrelevancy when here in Australia we are faced with name after name of Aboriginal people who have died in custody and we are forced to acknowledge the many facets of injustice, cultural desecration and racism in our own backyard.
If our theology doesn’t help us to learn from those who are oppressed, work together for justice and find courageous and hopeful responses in our darkest times, then there is no use for it.
But I think the truth is, that Trinity Sunday is just what we need right now, because God being not one, not two but something else, is an antidote to the violence which has found its way into Christian history and expressions of power. And make no mistake- what we believe about the nature of God’s power determines how we will wield power in the world.
So a short bit of history is going to happen here. At the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, there were opposing views put forward about the nature of God. Arius proclaimed that God and Jesus can’t be co-equal because that would reveal “a need or vulnerability in the Father. To say that there was need or vulnerability in the Father—in God—suggested that God could change; God could be affected by another.” It was important to Arius that God would be the unchanging reality underlying the tumult and chaos of life. 1
Athanasius on the other hand insisted that Jesus and God are equal. There is a unity of love in which power, as described in Mark’s Gospel, “is not self possessive and self-preserving like that of the Gentiles, who “lord it over” others and tyrannize them.”(Mark 10:42) Rather the power of God and Jesus are self-giving.
Why does this matter? Because a God who is a fixed immovable being is not God but an idol, and one that can be easily manipulated to our own ends and shaped in our own image. A God who is static, distant in the heavens and disconnected from us and our sufferings is the opposite of the incarnational
God revealed in Jesus the Christ. A God who is not present with us, who has no vulnerability, is easily held up and used as an image of dominating or colonising power. This kind of God is revealed in Christian artwork down the ages of a white bearded man enthroned on high and surrounded by legions of conquering angels. This kind of God is one made in our own image, or at least has the attributes of the way power has been wielded by empires through history. It should not surprise us, therefore, that a Bible is the symbol that is grasped when a world leader wishes to reassert dominance.
Our Gospel text today also places emphasis on the importance of how we understand divine power. As he gathers his disciples on that mountain the resurrected Jesus says, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ But the word for power or authority here is not dunamis which means ‘self-contained power’ but exousa which essentially conveys power that is passed on. It is not power that is grasped but power that is handed over to another in vulnerable self-offering. 2
If we begin to understand God not as a being invested in holding dominant power over all creation, but as relationship itself, a verb more than a noun, a flow of unending self-giving love, then we will understand more clearly the call of God on our lives. If God is interbeing itself rather than a self-contained deity, expressing constantly the power of self-giving love, then no one can claim dominance over another. We need to all live in the awareness of the sacred connections that hold us all vulnerably together in life.
I most recently preached on this same text on Ascension Day. Then, I focussed on three words “but some doubted.” There was even in that holy moment on the mountain with the eleven disciples, doubt about what it all would mean.
Today I want to leave you with only two- “Go, therefore…..”
When we understand that the only true power of God is self-emptying- that power is not vested in money or muscle or military might- then we can rejoice that the true power in the world is revealed in love and mercy, gentleness and humility. We can know that the powers of this world that would rob us and our fellow human beings of life and freedom and dignity will fail. Christianity cannot be claimed just by holding up a Bible, but rather is known in the world wherever it is lived out in the humility and vulnerability of relationships of self giving love. Christianity can never be grasped but only lived.
In that confidence we are called to go, therefore, into our communities, joining in the creative life of a God who is not a being or entity but is a unity who invites us into the flow of life where we will share the pain of our brother or our sister but also their joys. Like God, we can and will be changed, because that is what love does. There is no relationship where he other does not change us in some way. God as Trinity helps us to escape the prison of individualism and the confines of our relentless self-interest. We begin to understand our identity only through the relationships that sustain us in life and shape who we are and can become.
Trinity Sunday is an invitation to join in the self-giving vulnerability of God and be sent as life-givers and co-creators of a world where the death-dealing forces of oppression and violence can have no power in the face of insistent, generative love.
I will close with a beautiful trinitarian prayer written by Steven Shakespeare. Let us pray,
You are neither monarch nor monologue
But an eternal harmony
Of gift and response;
Through the Uncreated Word
And the Spirit of Truth
Include us and all creation
In your extravagant love;
Through the Wisdom of God
Who raises her voice
To call us to life.
1 Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3 : Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 ( Propers 3-16)(Paperback) – 2015 Edition