It was a world of many gods. As Abraham set forth from Ur of the Chaldeans into an unknown future, he brought with him a new kind of faith. One God, who could no more be carved in stone or cast in metal than the sun be bottled up in some portable container. This was indeed novel in a world where deities of all types abounded in great mythical pantheons, deities more often than not at odds with one another. One God, Abraham declared. One God, Moses proclaimed. One God, Isaiah announced, who was holy, holy, holy, beyond all human attempts to package and control.
Then, along came the Christians. "Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." What's this? Still a Unity of Being, but also a Trinity of Persons? The concept was...confusing to those who had dispensed with multiple deities, who had fully embraced the notion of one God, who wanted to keep things plain and simple. Why complicate things? And what does it mean anyway? Throughout the centuries, many scholars of the Church have tried to explain the conundrum. It is like the sun, one said, which we experience as a ball of energy we see in the sky, but also as the beams of light that stream down upon us, and still again as the emanating heat that warms us. And explanations like this make a kind of sense. St. Augustine, that consummate theologian of the West, used what we would now call psychological categories to explain the Trinity in terms of memory, understanding, and will. In our own time, some with a sensitivity to the obviously male-dominated language of Father and Son have chosen alternative ways of formulizing the Trinity, speaking of the God who creates, who redeems, and who sanctifies.
But there is another truth to be gained this day, one that originates in the language of Jesus. "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. For all that the Father has is mine." In another place in John's Gospel, we hear Jesus declare, "Do you not know that the Father is in me and I in the Father?" Still elsewhere he prays that his disciples may be one "even as the Father and I are one." This is not the language of form and function; no, this is the language of relationship, the language of mutual devotion. A twelfth-century scholar, Richard of St. Vincent, reflected on this and spoke of God in terms of shared love, a community in which that love is expansive and generous. It is love that cannot be self contained. It overflows from Parent to Child to Spirit and back again. The love of God, the love that IS God is like a divine Dance, a dynamic and graceful and deeply intimate movement. In this movement, the God who is "I AM" is not alone, never alone, for the very essence of God is relationship. This is far different from those mythological deities of old who were always fighting with one another, rivals and annoyances of one another. No, what we see in the Trinity is a dance of Persons who are mutually affirming, mutually caring. For the very essence of God is relationship, community, unconditional love.
It is even more remarkable then that God, who in this Dance needs no other, did choose to create and redeem a people--no, even more, chose to create and redeem you, me, each and every individual we encounter--so that we might join in this Dance. The invitations have been sent. There are to be no mere spectators on the dance floor. No outcasts, no outsiders. We are called by God to see ourselves as God sees each of us and thus discover ourselves to be, like the Persons of the Trinity, truly beloved. Traveling with the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, I often hear her begin a conversation with a group by calling them all to remember the Gospel account of the baptism of Jesus. She reminds them of the heavenly words to Jesus--"You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased"--and then notes that in our own baptism in Christ, these words are meant for us as well: "You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased." Not a bad thing to remember. In the baptismal service in The Book of Common Prayer, similar words are spoken over the newly baptized individual: "You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ's own forever." Again, not a bad thing to remember. The prophet Isaiah said it beautifully: "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine." It is no anonymous form letter that invites us to participate in the Divine Dance. Each one of us is invited...by name.
All of this might sound good, but what does this look like when it is actually lived out? Years ago, I was walking through the grounds of Emory University in Atlanta when from a distance I saw Desmond Tutu, Nobel Laureate and Archbishop Emeritus of South Africa. He was guest-teaching there at the time and accompanied by a large handler. Eager to meet this legendary figure, I ran up, only to be immediately put off by his companion. "The bishop is busy," I was told. Turning away and feeling like little more than chopped liver, I suddenly heard a small but powerful voice: "Come, come." As I approached him, Bishop Tutu smiled and said, "Tell me your name." I did, and he responded, "And tell me about yourself." For the next ten minutes, I received his full and complete attention. For that time, I was someone of infinite value. As I turned to leave, the bishop looked me in the eye and quietly said, "I will remember you, Chuck Robertson." Not chopped liver. No. Beloved. God's Beloved. Part of the Dance.
The Apostle Paul spoke of such care, such "charity" in 1 Corinthians 13. This charity is no mere handout given to an anonymous person on the street while taking care not to make true eye contact. No, the charity that Paul speaks of is that classic King James Version, put-your-feelings-into-action kind of love, patient and kind, not jealous or self-centered, not keeping a checklist of wrongs done against us. It is a love that "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." It is "a still more excellent way" of relating to one another. It is love that, as Jesus said, we see in God's own self.
As I look around, all too often I see people who desperately need to know what this is like, people who feel alone, cast out, not beloved. What would happen if we looked at all those around us with fresh eyes, seeing not rivals or annoyances or, perhaps worst of all, as invisibles...but rather God's Beloved ones, God's Dance partners? How often I have been on flights and seen individuals trying to carry on board huge, oversized bags stuffed to the brim. They pant and sweat and curse under their breath as they struggle to fit their baggage into the overhead compartment, refusing to let go of a burden that their airline hosts stand ready to take off their backs. In ancient times, people had many gods in their image; now we all too often try to be gods ourselves, carrying the weight of the world on our all-too human shoulders, feeling guilt and responsibility and resentment. On this Trinity Sunday, God gives us a priceless gift that we can share with all those we meet, all those whose life's baggage has become so full, so heavy, that they have forgotten who they are and whose they are. We can dare to look them in the eye and quietly remind them "not only with our lips but in our lives" that they are not God and don't need to be. There is one God, who is relationship, who is Divine Dance, who is Love. And they are God's Beloved.
Let us pray. Almighty Father, whose blessed Son before his passion prayed for his disciples that they might be one, as you and he are one: Grant that your Church, being bound together in love and obedience to you, may be united in one body by the one Spirit, that the world may believe in him whom you have sent, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.