Today is Trinity Sunday. Perhaps many of you know that the church has something called the liturgical year – there are seasons in the life of the church, and each season means something. It begins with Advent, then we have Epiphany, and Lent, and Easter. Easter ends with Pentecost, the next week is this week, Trinity Sunday, and after that we have six months of what we call Ordinary Time – though I’ve never understood what could possibly be ordinary about time after Pentecost. Anyway, Trinity Sunday in some sense is the grande finale of the liturgical year. But why? Why doesn’t it end with Pentecost? Pentecost is about God setting the disciples on fire with love and the capacity to speak about God’s healing power in many other languages, the capacity to transform the world. But Pentecost ISN’T the peak of the liturgical year: Trinity Sunday is. What in the world IS the Trinity?
Growing up I learned that the Trinity has something to do with the life of God—that God exists as Father or Mother or Creator, Son or Christ, and Holy Spirit. But who cares?
If we cut right to the chase, this week is all about asking life’s deepest questions: it’s about asking Who is God? Who am I? and what is my purpose in the world? The Trinity has the capacity to transform our understanding of reality itself—to rip away veils of illusion and allow us to see God, ourselves, and one another the way we really are. To do this I’ll invite you to a short exercise. Please close your eyes. Who or what is God for you? How do you imagine God? Where is God? I think many of us imagine God as a force, an energy, or a person who is sort of distant and out there. But if we take the Trinity seriously, we imagine that God is not a monad, existing in isolation. In other words, God is a community. The word “God” means an endlessly dancing and interacting community of persons who overflow with love toward all of creation. And God is the DNA of reality. Which means that all of reality is made for relationship.
If any of you are familiar with Brené Brown, she is a social scientist, who has her Ph.D. in qualitative research, and she has done most of her work on the topics of vulnerability, shame, and courage. She says that what social scientists have learned is that humans are made for connection. Connection is the “why” of our existence. The Trinity goes a step further and says that we are intrinsically connected – that we are part of one another. The Western cultural belief that we are isolated individuals, which is the ocean we are swimming in and that permeates everything around us, is existentially false. We belong together, because God is a community that overflows with love toward us.
I was speaking with Craig Lemming, who used to be the Associate Priest here, and he told me about the Nguni African word Ubuntu, which literally can be translated as meaning “I am because we are.” Craig said that in this way of African thinking, a person is only a person because of his or her relationship with other people. We derive personhood by virtue of our relationships. I am someone’s daughter, mother, wife, neighbor, citizen, priest.
So Trinity Sunday is about identity. We are made in God’s image – made to move toward and with other people, not away from and against other people. We belong together. This is enormously powerful. This is the essence of Christian faith; it is the essence of following the way of Jesus. This is why we talk about the Beloved Community. The purpose of following Jesus is to be healed and transformed ourselves, so that we are free from living lives that are selfish and curved in on ourselves, and free to embrace all people, free to eliminate racism and poverty and sexism and homophobia, free to love without conditions.
My own journey as an unexpected follower of the Way of Jesus has been a journey toward experiencing this reality. Some of you know that when I was in seminary, I spent three years going to a place called Youthlink in Minneapolis. Youthlink is a day service center for young adults experiencing homelessness, and my role was just to listen to them. At first when I started going to Youthlink, honestly I felt like an idiot. There I was, a middle aged, middle class white woman, trying to get young adults with their jeans around their thighs, most of whom were African American or Latinex or Native American, to open up and talk to me.
Early on I noticed a young man named London. He always sat by himself, and he usually looked like he was about to fall asleep. He seemed more than usually shut down. So I started trying to figure out strategies for getting to know him. You know when you are really trying too hard? That’s what I was doing. One day I was asking him about music he liked, and he just looked back at me said, “Ma’am, can I have a dollar?”
What? I was totally floored that this was his response to me. There we were in the middle of Youthlink, which has every conceivable service and good—so I started stuttering to London about what did he need? If he needed food there it was in the kitchen. If he needed laundry I could get him some laundry soap and open the laundry room for him. If he needed clothes I could take him downstairs to the clothing closet. If he needed a bus token I could take him to the front desk. All of which he already knew, of course.
After I reflected on that situation what I came to understand is that both London and I were stuck seeing each other in terms of our stereotypes of each other: I saw him as a young homeless black man who needed my help, and he saw me as a bleeding heart liberal white woman who was likely to give him a dollar. So really London’s response to me cut to the chase. And it stung.
But London gave me an incredible gift. He gave me the gift of realizing how stuck I was in how I saw him and also myself. I realized that as long as I was focusing on the labels of identity that were divisive – like white woman, middle aged, etc. –that I would never be able to connect with London or any of the other youths at Youthlink simply as human beings.
So I started practicing a Trinitarian model of reality. I tried to live into a Trinitarian vision of reconciled diversity. I started walking through the door at Youthlink and reminding myself what I’m trying to show all of you today: we belong together. It is a reality. It is the truth. And things started shifting for me at Youthlink. London and I moved past our labels and started sharing something of our lives with one another. He told me he had two brothers, one of whom was always nice, the other of whom was super mad about everything, and he saw himself as being in the middle. He shared stories about what he wanted of his life. We smiled when we saw each other. We became friends.
We belong together—with all the messy, complicated, sometimes very difficult, but ultimately life-giving and generative reality that implies.
We belong together. But what about the people who have hurt you? What about people who are genuinely offensive? What about people who want nothing to do with you? Belonging together is not easy. It doesn’t mean we put up with cruelty. It doesn’t mean you have to stay with someone who is abusive. It doesn’t mean we lose our boundaries or that we all become cookie cutter versions of one another. It does mean we can sustain long-term encounters with one another that are based, not on fear, but on trust in the love and transforming power of God. The reason Trinity Sunday follows everything else in the liturgical year—advent, epiphany, lent, Easter, Pentecost – is that we need the whole reality of God’s movement toward and with us to sustain the possibility of moving toward and with each other. When we are baptized in the name of the triune God, we die with Christ to the old way, the old way of being curved in on ourselves, and we are born for freedom—the freedom of being able to have kinship with everything that exists, even people who are very, very different from us, and including the natural world, this beautiful creation God has made. This is possible because the grace of God liberates us to love and can empower us to make different choices.
When in the last month have you felt you really belonged with people? When have you felt knit together with the fabric of creation? This is sometimes so far from our normal reality that we need to take baby steps in this direction. So I want to invite all of you to a simple practice. I invite you to walk around your world, repeating to yourself, “We belong together” with every single person that you see, and with plants and animals and trees. Then notice all the feelings and thoughts that come up in you as a result. Maybe sometimes you have joy; but you might also experience resistance, or even disgust, or anger, or shame, or any number of other responses. That’s OK; you are learning about all the barriers to reconciliation that exist within you and because of the broken ways we have treated ourselves and other people and creation. Then invite God to heal those barriers within you—open yourself to the power of God to transform you, so that you become truly able to love.
Following the way of Jesus is a life-long and ultimately radical commitment that calls us to change, so that we can experience what is already true: we belong to God, we belong together. Amen.