In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Mike, my lawfully wedded husband, will vouch for me. Each year, around St. Patrick’s Day, I break into an old and doubtless tiring rant. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy St. Patrick’s Day itself, the good food, the good drink (if you ignore the green beer), and the good times. No, what I become unhinged about is the crop of four-leaf, good-luck clovers that springs up in ads, on lapels, sweaters, t-shirts, ties, buttons – and even on the underwear at Macy’s. (And if you doubt me – just keep watch. You’ll see what I mean.) But I assure you – and anyone who will listen to my ranting – that St. Patrick’s shamrock was most definitely not some four-leafed pagan talisman of fortuitous good fortune. Patrick, legend holds, used the three-leafed shamrock to teach people about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Picture it with me – the shamrock with its three identical leaves – one for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Holy Spirit – all with their origin in a single stalk and the single stalk being the immutable love of God that holds the Trinity together. Three identical leaves, no hierarchy or ranking between them – and without the Love, the stalk, no God of Trinity – without a single one of the leaves – an incomplete shamrock, an incomplete God; without any of the leaves – there’s not really much of anything there, just a thoroughly indistinct stalk of something or other, no one knows what.
So – just as we experience a shamrock as having three identical leaves that share one stem, the Church from its earliest days – even earlier than 325 and the adoption of the Nicene Creed, the early Church acknowledges that we experience the One God – Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One – we experience that One God in a threefold pattern. And this threefold pattern stands out against three kinds of unitarianism – unitarianism being sort of like having one leaf of the shamrock and no stalk. Just a leaf, soon to wither, dry up and become some dusty irrelevance.
Let’s take the unitarianism of the Father, the maker of heaven and earth. In this sort of unitarianism, the Father gets the whole thing going – is the first cause, the designer of the world and the one who sets, arbitrarily perhaps, limits and boundaries. But often this Father ends up being like lots of fathers are – loving but distant. Or cranky, overworked, and less than understanding. At its worst, the unitariansm of the Father leaves us with a God who is sometimes loving, sometimes filled with violent rage, and most of the time rather unpredictable. At certain times, this unitarianism has taken the form of an eclectic deism – like that of the framers of the Constitution, their deism that reducing God to philosophical aphorisms about individual liberty, justice, and equality (for white, heterosexual, married, property-owning males only, please. On the whole, having the Father without the Son, is a father sort of tough to pin down; but in the Trinity we have the Son – equal to the Father – this equality, a stunningly odd wrench thrown into patriarchal tradition – who deconstructs the distant Father whose love is abstract. But in the Holy Trinity we have the Son talking about the constancy of the unconditionally loving heart of the Father – a weird concept given Jesus’ time and place. What’s more, the Son comes along and, quite frankly, queers the Father – likens God the Father to a woman obsessed with her search for a missing penny, to a mother hen sheltering her chicks, to a total whack-job of a male – remember the story of the so-called Prodigal Son? The loser who demands his inheritance, gambles it away, spends it on booze, drugs and sex for hire? This loser’s father, however, knowing full well what the son is going to do, with broken heart keeps watch for the day the son will come back home, broke and broken – and when he sees his errant son still far off down the road, the father forgets all about dignity and runs to greet him and forgetting about fairness, throws a welcome-home party like no other. No way for a father to behave – the father – a softie, a pushover, a patsy for love. Odd father whom Jesus the equal Son reveals.
In the Holy Trinity we are given the God who is active in our lives as the One whose womb gave birth to creation and who for our good sets limits; God active in our lives as Equal Son of God-the-Parent, whose Godly power is made perfect in weakness; and God active in our lives as the Spirit – who speaks the truth about God and about us.
And God the Son, without God the Father – well that basically reduces Jesus to just another nice guy finishing last. This sort of unitarianism dispenses altogether with the Parent – who out of love for a broken creation has indeed put limits and boundaries upon us – for our own sake and for the sake of the common good. In a unitarianism of the Son, Jesus, no longer the co-equal Son of God the Parent – again, a rather unconventional relationship to be sure – with a unitarianism of the Son, Jesus ends up just being the son of a nice Jewish couple from Nazareth, Jesus the rabbi who had good ideas that we should imitate. This Jesus, no longer one with the Parent in creating the universe, has no power to create life from death, a cosmos out of ashes and dust – and the death of this Jesus then becomes just another sad death – and not the revelation that the Almighty, All-powerful One, present and active in creating the cosmos, would rather die than hurt or destroy those who commit even the most heinous of crimes against God or humanity.
But we would know nothing of God the Father or God the Son without God the Holy Spirit – Odd Spirit – Odd Breath that works through spoken language to reveal the fullness of God to human beings age after age. The unitarianism of the Spirit, however, absent the other two Persons of the Trinity, yields a fuzzy spirituality, devoid of any specificity, sometimes accompanied by crystals, sage smudges, and breathing exercises. A unitarianism of Spirit is as often as not about personal experiences of healing and renewal that turn God into an enlightened therapist who leads us into participation in relationships, community, and institutions largely as a means to personal growth. Altogether absent is the God, who through the Spirit’s spoken word puts the old to death and raises up the new – who comes to us from outside of ourselves – who tells us that by our own reason or strength we can know nothing of the immensity and specificity of the God who desires to be with us and with all created things beyond our sure and certain death. But too, with the unitarianism of the Spirit, we’re pretty much left to our own inner and unmoored spiritual resources – which history, if nothing else, shows us are rather meager – at best. And without the Spirit, without the life-giving breath of the Parent, the last breath of Jesus upon the cross is the last word and the rest is silence. No stones rolled away. No resurrection of the dead.
In the Holy Trinity we are given the God who is active in our lives as the One whose womb gave birth to creation and who for our good sets limits; God active in our lives as Equal Son of God-the-Parent, whose Godly power is made perfect in weakness; and God active in our lives as the Spirit – who speaks the truth about God and about us. God, Holy Trinity; namely the Spirit, the breath of creation, who through human voices speaks the Promises as lived and died for by the crucified and risen Son who reveals to us the loving heart of the Parent. One God, as in the three leaves of the shamrock, One God comprised of three leaves – for you, for me, for us all, and for the whole creation. One God who knows each of you, intimately, as Created Child of God; as broken Child of humanity; as healed Child, risen from death – by the Holy Spirit, a new creation – in the image of Christ Jesus – redeemed and therefore holy and righteous in God’s eyes – while not fully perfect yet in human time, already completely so in the time outside of time of the Most Holy Trinity. And you ARE one with the Holy Trinity as was promised you in Holy Baptism – whether you believe it or understand it or not. But don’t worry if you don’t quite believe it – God believes it – that is to say, God is faithful to it – and God says it is so, and that’s all there is to it, thank you very much.
And so, it is my testimony, my witness to you this day: when I hear that God, the Most Holy Trinity, would so regard and promise so much to such a one as I, unholy mess that I am – the only response that I can have in the face of such great grace is . . . . that words have reached their limit . . . . and with the disciples in today’s Gospel, all I can do is bow down and bend the knee, lost in wonder, awe, and praise.
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.