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The Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner The Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner

The Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner is senior pastor of Black Mountain Presbyterian Church in Black Mountain, NC.

Member of:

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Representative of:

Black Mountain Presbyterian Church, Black Mountain, NC


Slanted Truth

Romans 8:12-17

Trinity Sunday - Year B

June 11, 2006

I am a lectionary preacher. Every week in my congregation, we center the service around the particular common-lectionary texts for that specific Sunday. Those selections follow the church year, and therefore, so do our worship services. Some preachers feel constricted by the lectionary. I, however, deeply appreciate it. It makes me preach and consider biblical passages I might not necessarily choose for myself. It forces me to preach on a wide variety of Scripture. With all of that said, however, I have struggled this week with the lectionary selections. Actually, I have struggled with these particular texts in their relationship to today's celebration of Trinity Sunday.

Every year, after Pentecost, we celebrate Trinity Sunday-a theological feast day, if you will. And I have noticed that every year, the lectionary struggles to find biblical passages that capture, or rather, highlight what we have come to speak of as the Trinity-one God in three persons. One God, who we see working in three, distinct yet interdependent ways. But I always feel we are proof texting a bit on this Sunday-starting with a topic and then pulling Scripture verses out to prove our point. We aim for passages that specifically include references to God as Father, Son, and Spirit. And each year, I wrestle with our selected Scripture readings and Trinity Sunday because we cannot find in the Bible a complete treatise on this triune reality. Scripture neither defines nor explains the Trinity.

Now, don't hear me saying that we, the church, just made this thing up out of thin air. We have glimpses of this Trinitarian understanding of God all throughout our biblical witness. In this passage from Romans, we have glimpses of our God as three persons. Paul speaks of the Spirit bearing witness in us and giving us the courage to call out for God our Creator, our Father, our Mother. And crying out as God's children helps us to discover we are also joint heirs to God's promise of reconciliation with the Son, our Christ, our Brother, our Savior. So as you can see, in just this one passage, we have all three persons of the Trinity highlighted for us-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We have a glimpse of God's inner workings.

And we see other glimpses in the Gospels. In the Gospel of Matthew, we are commanded to go and baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And we overhear Jesus addressing the one he calls 'Father,' demanding to know why he hangs forsaken on the cross. In the Gospel of John, we hear constant talk from Jesus about the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, who will pick up the action when Jesus returns to the Father. In the Gospel of Luke, at Jesus' baptism, we overhear a voice from above calling Jesus the Beloved Son. I could continue, citing more glimpses, more instances of Trinitarian talk in Scripture. The historical church did not just pull this doctrine of the Trinity out of thin air. It is clearly rooted in our biblical witness. But, while this theological doctrine, this particular God-talk, is rooted in our Scripture, it is never explained in our Scripture.

And, frankly, that lack of a coherent explanation about how it all works is what disturbs some of us church folk. It is as if our Scripture drops hints about the Holy Mystery, but always does it in a way that protects that mystery a bit. The great poet Emily Dickinson once wrote, "Tell the truth, but always tell it at a slant." Our Scripture tells the truth about God and how God is at work in the world. But when it comes to God's inner workings, that truth is always told at a slant.

And so, every year, I try and figure out how to speak of this baffling holy mystery on this theological feast day. Because I must admit to you, I cannot explain the Trinity. I cannot define it for you how God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons in one. But even as much as I wish I could sometimes, I am not sure it would be faithful anyway. After all, our Scripture is full of this truth always told at a slant. Our Scripture seems to protect this Holy Mystery for a reason.

And so perhaps the more faithful thing to do, then, is to tell you what inspires me about this poetic understanding of God. And maybe you can reflect on why it inspires you as well. Why is this claim so important to our Christian faith? Why is this dance of the Trinity so crucial to our proclamation? Why does it matter?

You may or may not know it, but you are being bold and radical when you confess belief in a triune God. You can use the traditional language of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Or you can use the more inclusive language of God the Source of Life, Word of Truth, and Spirit of Love. But whatever relational language you use, when you confess belief in the triune God, you are making the bold and radical claim that the God we worship is neither static nor monolithic. We are making the bold and radical claim that somehow, the same God who created life out of chaos also walks the earth as Jesus. We are claiming that the one who experienced crucifixion at the exact same time experienced the death of a beloved child. We are claiming that the one who ascended into heaven is the same one who is always with us. We are claiming that the one who prays for us at the right hand of the Father is the same one groaning deep within our souls for the redemption of creation. When we say we believe in a triune God, we are boldly claiming that the active God of the past is an on-the-move God who is acting now and will act in the future until all has been reconciled and made new.

And, finally, and this is a really where the rubber hits the road for me, when we confess belief in a triune God, we are claiming that the God we worship and whom alone we serve is a God who has relationships at God's very core. Think about it. Another way to talk about the Holy Mystery as Three-In-One is to talk about God existing as divine community. As my beloved professor Shirley Guthrie would say, God is the divine community who lives with and for and in each other in mutual openness, freedom, and self-giving love. How can that proclamation not blow your mind?

Even though I cannot explain it, even though it is told at a slant, that truth about God as divine community amazes me. It amazes me because it is almost messy in its mysteriousness. It amazes me because it is so mutual and interdependent. It amazes me because it reframes God as being in some kind of circle dance rather than sitting on a throne. And, it amazes me because if we claim it as true, then it has profound implications for our life together as God's church and God's people.

If God, at God's very core, is about mutually interdependent relationships, then what does that say about the reality that we are created in God's image? For me, it carries great import. It says that we don't just exist beside each other, we aren't just supposed to love each other, but we deeply need each other to be fully human, in order to be Christ's body. We cannot simply exist on our own, in isolation, in autonomy, separate from the body of Christ. In order to really live out our identity as children of God, in order to live as baptized people, we need, we are called, we are created to be in honest and deep relationships with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. We really must share one another's burdens, rejoice when one of us rejoices, and weep when one of us weeps.

But the claim also goes even further than that mutual sharing of life's ups and downs. Our claim of God as divine community has serious implications for all of us in denominations that are conflicted and torn. Now I know that theological church fighting has been going on since God birthed the church into the world. And I am convinced church fighting will continue on until the last days. However, for me, this claim of God as divine community requires me to stick in there through all of it. I cannot just pack up my toys and go home when something happens that wounds me or wounds people I love. I cannot decide to separate myself from the community.

If God is divine community at God's very core, then somehow, you and I have got to figure out how to stick in there with each other so as not to lose out on who we have been created to be together. I don't always like that challenge from God, but I do believe it is true. Somehow, in God's great imagination and humor, it is only when we are together that we see the Holy Mystery with the clearest eyes. When we are together, that is when we catch glimpses of the truth told at a slant. When we are together, that is when we are living out our identity as creatures beautifully and lovingly created in the very image of the Holy Mystery. And, trust me, some days I wish it were not so. But I believe that it is.

Scripture only shows us glimpses of the Holy triune mystery, told purposefully at a slant. But I am coming to believe that poetic ambiguity is a gift. For it frees us to imagine together what it means to be created in this relational image. It frees us from the need to explain, to analyze, or to define. It frees us to be poetic about God. It frees us to join the dance of the Trinity together. It frees us to rejoice in the beauty of the mystery, to complain about the messiness, and to face the challenges that come with our profession of faith in a God who is divine community at God's very core. And who has made us in that image together.

Let us pray.

You do have a good sense of humor with us, O God, creating us to be your body and to do your work in this world. We ask that we might indeed live more fully in your image, and we pray that you will keep us close and never let us off the hook of being your people together. Amen.


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