Trinity Sunday, June 11, 2017
Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, PA + The Rev. Roy Almquist
O Lord, our Governor, how majestic is your name in all the earth! …
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them, …
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
Between our Lessons this morning we recited the compelling Psalm 8. In this wonderful psalm David express his amazement that the same God who created the moon and the stars is also mindful of human beings … like you and me. When we travel to majestic places like the Alps in Switzerland or the Grand Canyon in Arizona, we can easily become struck by our insignificance in the vastness of the universe. Indeed, … what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
In many ways the most useless thing I could possible do on Trinity Sunday would be to preach a sermon on the Doctrine of the Trinity! Boring … pointless … answering the questions that none of you are asking!
So I do not intend to talk about the traditional teachings about the Trinity, this convoluted conundrum of doctrine and orthodoxy that seems to create more confusion than clarity. Rather, I would like to talk about what God means to me personally.
First of all, I do not believe in a God up there.
I struggle with all heavily defined concepts of heaven above and hell down below, concepts encouraged more by artists and poets than by Scripture.
I believe that we can know heaven in this life, when we begin to align ourselves with the goodness of the creation and pattern our behavior after the lessons we learn from Jesus Christ. Obviously, we can also know much hell on earth when we depart from such alignment!
I believe in God as a power and a force that pulls me toward the good that I am capable of achieving. Like all of you, I fall short of my potential … but I never feel that I fall away from the renewing love of God … the God I have come to know through Jesus Christ.
I believe in God, who like a loving parent never abandons me, but rather sustains me, encourages me, forgives me, and urges me to achieve greatness.
I believe in God as something more than the Santa Claus God of my childhood … the one with the white beard, who knows if I have been naughty or nice … and rewards or punishes according to some divine calculus. I don’t believe in that God.
I don’t believe in a God who inflicts illness as punishment,
I don’t believe in a God who wants his followers to perform terrorist acts to punish the sinful or destroy the infidel,
I don’t believe in a God who rewards faith and obedience with wealth and good fortune.
Paul Tillich, the great Christian thinker of the last century, was known for engaging unbelievers. When someone would tell Tillich … I do not believe in God … Tillich’s response would invariably be … Tell me about this God you don’t believe in. Tillich would listen carefully and when the person was finished he would invariably reply: Well, I don’t believe in that God, either.
Tillich insisted that there is no one who does not believe in God … we simply experience and define God in different ways. Tillich insisted that God is our ultimate concern … the thing we think about the first thing in the morning, the thing that obsesses us every waking hour, the last thing we think about before we fall asleep. Tell me what that thing is, Tillich insisted, and I will tell you who God is for you!
I think what this means, in a very real sense, is that we must strive to be a community that looks outward in love with a desire to serve … rather than to be a community that looks inward, setting standards for acceptable behavior or finding ways to make the circle smaller by eliminating those who do not believe and behave in a manner we consider appropriate.
How easy it is to forget that the one thing Jesus told us we ought not do is … sit in judgment on one another! [Matthew 7: 1-3] That is prohibited! Instead, we are encouraged to turn our vision outward and become those instruments of peace that St. Francis encouraged … transforming the lives of others, working for peace, striving to heal and to console, all in the spirit of Christ.
In short, we will find it pointless to talk about God’s attributes … or to argue for the existence of God. Rather, we need to reflect God’s love into the lives of our neighbors by all that we say and all that we do.
In our world there are people who make incredible personal sacrifices … who do profound good … because of their faith in God.
I think of people who risk their lives to serve the poor and to care for the injured in places of warfare, motivated by their faith in God.
I think of people who are recovering from addiction through their confidence in a God, often referenced by the term, a higher power, who is a dynamic force that they have come to know through the compassion of sponsors and other companions who uphold them in a circle of trust.
Let us listen and learn from them, for this is where we find God at work.
I am convinced that the greatest barrier to faith in God is our obsessive self-indulgence. Rampant narcissism and unbridled self-interest do more to undermine faith in God than the devil and all his works and all his ways!
Martin Luther once said the ultimate sin is to turn in on ourselves. He insisted that, despite our best efforts to get beyond self-obsession, in order to love and serve others, human beings find it all but impossible to escape the gravity of self-interest and this, more than anything, shapes our behavior and our outlook.
This is why we need God … we need to participate in a community of godly people who will call us away from this sickness unto death that can be the fate of unbridled “me-ism” and rampant self-indulgence. We need the teaching and example of Jesus … and we need that power and inspiration that can only come from outside ourselves.
Let us not be discouraged. Let us hold onto our faith in the God who has called us in our baptism to belong to Him forever. Never forget that it is precisely when we open ourselves to those who are around us and allow ourselves to experience their suffering and share compassion and kindness with them that we most clearly experience God’s presence in our lives. In such moments we can be sure that the God of love and peace, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is with us, filling us all with grace and joy, hope and promise! AMEN.