Qualities of a Trinitarian Life

06/16/19 Characteristics of a Trinitarian Life

Posted by St. Athanasius at the Cathedral Center on Sunday, June 16, 2019

061619 Trinity Sunday 

Prov. 8; Rom. 5:1-5; John 16:12-15


Today is Trinity Sunday. When we spoke of the trinity a couple of weeks ago, we explored how at creation the Holy Trinity designed a trinitarian pattern for life throughout the universe. Trinity is not just a doctrine that Christians teach; it is a reality for all humans to discern in creation. This morning I want to develop that further by describing some qualities of a life that is lived according to that trinitarian pattern. I want to point to four qualities of trinitarian life to which today’s texts guide us:

  • Access, Sensitivity, Wisdom, Intimacy

Those who live a trinitarian pattern of life know the gift of access and allow that gift to flow through them. Paul wrote to the Romans that through Christ we have access to this grace. He was writing about access to God; but it mattered because that access was being denied to certain parts of the community. Gentiles have the same access as Jews to peace with God through faith. They didn’t have to become culturally Jewish to be first class citizens in the Reign of God. There are neither automatic insiders nor permanent outsiders. That is a lesson that every generation needs to relearn. The church has often denied that grace is accessible to all, even though Paul’s whole point was that access is something everyone already has by grace. We don’t earn it; it’s the starting point. Once we’re willing to receive it as a gift, we already have access to it.

Access is a huge issue in our world right now. It always has been, because certain groups have always been denied access. We made some progress in providing access to the disabled, the LGBT community, racial and religious minorities, women, immigrants and others. But many still need access to things that others take for granted: LGBTQ people need access to acceptance and security; millions need access to health care; women need access to equal pay and freedom from sexual harassment; racial minorities need access to equal justice under the law; refugees need access to a safe life as they flee various forms of danger; immigrants need access to legal status.

The problem for the Jews was that they thought they deserved it because they were the chosen people. By Paul’s time they’d forgotten how they’d been chosen. It was simply their status in God’s eyes. It was an easy leap to conclude that others were excluded unless they adopted their customs and laws. They weren’t the only culture to believe this about themselves. Egypt and Mesopotamia also considered themselves chosen for specific destinies. England considered itself God’s chosen instrument to colonize the world until WW2. Many in the US still consider it to be true of this nation.

But, unlike Egypt and Mesopotamia, Israel was chosen in a low moment of their existence. It didn’t even exist except as a conglomeration of dispossessed people, joined by their experiences of revolutions, migrations and wars. That is what reveals the true nature of access. Israel was chosen under precarious conditions; it was grace, suffering and hope -not law, comfort and settledness – that characterized their status as chosen.

It’s hard to keep choosing grace, suffering and hope, when law, comfort and settledness are available. Therein lies the challenge of access. It is only when we remember the ground of our own access that we release the spirit that offers access to others. When Israel settled in Canaan they forgot how they got there. When citizens of the U.S. forget the struggles of their ancestors, they refuse to offer access to those who struggle today. When immigrants forget the difficult journey they had to gain access to legal status and protection, they are tempted to refuse access to LGBTQ neighbors who seek the same thing.

The second quality of a trinitarian life is sensitivity. It characterizes people who give time and space to themselves and others to discover their truth. Jesus said to his disciples, I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. Sometimes we see something in another person that the person doesn’t see. I have had this experience many times, both as the one who sees something in another and as the one who doesn’t see what others see in me. No matter what we call it – resistance, blindness, immaturity, fear – the fact is when the person is not ready, it doesn’t help to push. The only way to be helpful is to give the space to discover it for oneself, to allow the Spirit to touch the person’s life until it is safe to see it.

Jesus not only knew this; it was an important part of what he wanted to leave with his followers. He wasn’t in a hurry to impose his agenda on the world -he could wait for his disciples to be ready. He had modeled the way he wanted them to live; but he never humiliated them, rushed them, squeezed them into a mold nor rejected them for not seeing quickly enough. That’s why he waited until his farewell discourse in the Upper Room to tell them about the Spirit. If he had spoken to them about the Spirit before this, it would have gone over their head. Now it was what they needed to go on without Jesus. When the Spirit of truth comes she will guide you into all truth.

Spiritual relationships leave room for the Spirit – what I call wiggle room. “You can’t see what I see yet, and I won’t impose it on you.” In spiritual relationships we trust people to move toward a future that even we cannot see, but the Spirit brings about; we allow mistakes, time to discover and wait patiently. No wonder they were upset he was going: where else would they find a friend like that?

The third quality of trinitarian life is wisdom. It’s seen in people who allow experience to teach them to discern the voice of wisdom, even when it goes against what they think they know. Wisdom is one voice among many, so it requires discernment. The church is increasingly divided between those who choose one of path of knowing over another. Evangelicals start with God’s revelation while Progressives start with human experience. Those who have been raised in a church where revelation determined what was right struggle to trust wisdom that comes from experience.

     That’s where the work of wisdom begins. Wisdom invites us to be critically open. We all have embedded beliefs – the ones we’ve held all our lives without really thinking about them. For Christians they’re usually about heaven and hell, who God is, and what Jesus did on the cross. For many they include decisions about who are good and who are bad, what is good in us and what is bad, and whom we should trust and whom we should fear. These are the beliefs that confuse us when our experiences test their truth, leading us to question what we’ve been taught.

Proverbs speaks eloquently of experiential wisdom and of where wisdom dwells. Wisdom doesn’t sit in the temple waiting for people to come to church to learn her ways. She calls from the gates of the town, from the crossroads of life, from the side of the road, from the midst of life. And it shows why it’s worth choosing wisdom over other voices. It calls – shouts! And wisdom is still speaking – on the street corner, at the marketplace, as you read the newspaper, as you watch the clouds scudding by on a summer afternoon. Wisdom’s call is to all that live. Wisdom may be the feminine face of God herself embodied in ordinary moments as well as moments of dramatic revelation, in acts of beauty and justice.

Jaquie Lewis has described this feminine side of God for herself: My God is a curvy black woman with dreadlocks and dark, cocoa-brown skin. She laughs from her belly and is unashamed to cry. She can rock a whole world to sleep, singing in her contralto voice. Her sighs breathe life into humanity. Her heartbreaks cause eruptions of justice and love. My God is an incarnate feminine power, who smells like vanilla and is full of sass and truth, delivered with kindness. She’ll do anything for her creation; her love is fierce. She weeps when we do and insists on justice. She is God. She is Love.

Finally, the quality of intimacy. People who have a trinitarian life offer the gift of intimacy to people are anxious and suffering. When strong leaders bid farewell to their followers, they leave them with their most important message. Their words are worth paying attention to. 3 key leaders whose farewell speeches are recorded in the Bible have one message in common: in the midst of the uncertainties of life, the God of grace is closer to us than we think. When Moses bid farewell to the Hebrews in the desert he told them that the life-giving word was not in heaven or beyond the sea: “it is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” (Deut. 30:14) When Jesus was about to be arrested he promised to send the disciples the Holy Spirit, a form of God that would be even closer to them than Jesus himself had been. When Paul said good bye to a group of elders he would never see again, he said “I commend you to God and to the message of God’s grace, a message that is able to build you up.”

Trinitarian people teach and embody intimacy. Paul promised the Romans: Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. My question as I accompany people suffering heart attacks, arrest, cancer, aging and grief, is: Will this suffering produce “endurance, character and hope? The answer depends to some degree on how well we listen to the voice of wisdom. That voice is loudest at the edges of life where we face the deepest truths of human existence.

Access, Sensitivity, Wisdom, Intimacy. Four qualities of trinitarian life. There’s more; but those qualities reflect the image of our trinitarian God.