Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31 & John 14: 18-27 ~ Rev. Scott Turnbrook ~ June 16,2019
Happy Graduation!!! Graduation Sunday always provides an opportunity for celebration, for evaluation, and for setting the course for the journey that lies ahead. We think of the future for our graduates ~ both our grads who are part of Northwood as well as the many graduates whose God-given gifts our world so dearly needs. I was doing some shopping for the graduate gift bags and I found myself in the greeting card aisle trying to select a suitable card. Not surprisingly, almost every card offered a sentiment about “the journey that lies ahead”. The journey, the path, the direction, has grown and evolved over the years. The journey began, of course with crawling, then it moved to assisted walking (moving along with assistance of nearby furniture), then to the freedom of walking, then it moved various forms of locomotion ~ which usually began with the tricycle. (show)
You remember the tricycle, don’t you? Two wheels in the back and one in the front. A great device for the beginner on the journey. Eventually, that little one moves from crawling and creeping and walking to riding their tricycle and enjoying newfound freedom. The three wheeled pedal-driven bike is a significant step in the journey one takes. To ride a tricycle is to experience one’s first feeling of freedom on the open road (or hopefully just the sidewalk). It is generally a safe way to journey as the rider takes their first pumps on the pedals and grows towards more complex forms of transportation. The tricycle rider eventually moves on…to bicycles, and unicycles, and cars and (sorry moms and dads!) … sometimes even motorcycles.
But before we jump too far ahead, I would like for us just to stick with the lowly tricycle for the purpose of our time together this morning. Just like the 3-wheeled tricycle ~ with each wheel offering stability to the system, there tends to be multiple ways that we break things down theologically as well. There are fundamental concepts, that when simplified into their parts allow us to find a deeper understanding of the larger whole.
For example, think about the complexity of one’s life…and the varied chapters in which life is lived. I have had the honour of working with many families over the years as we put together plans for a funeral service. And in the context of the service preparation, we find ourselves discussing the fundamental concepts of their beloved’s life. One component of life, for example, is about family ~ the person is a daughter, perhaps a wife, a mother, a grandmother. She is part of their family system. But… she, of course, is more than that. There were other parts that made her life shine. We also think about one’s vocation, their calling, the way they used their God-given talents and lived out their life. We also think about their spirituality. How their faith informed their life as they lived out their unique callings in faith and drew strength from God. One’s life is so varied and complex. Yet, when we break down the fundamental components of the person and truly look at their legacy, the depth and meaning of one’s life, it becomes profoundly apparent that each part is essential in order for the story of the whole person’s life to be told.
It is much like that tricycle that needs each of the three wheels, lest the rider topple head over tea kettle if one of the three wheels was suddenly removed. Each fundamental component of one’s life is a significant window into their overall life. It is essential, critical in fact, for us to begin to understand the complexity of life’s depth and meaning by understanding each of the various parts.
I think that this is the reason that the church sets aside this Sunday in the church year as ‘Trinity Sunday’. We walk quite a path through the church year…and we stop and put see how it all gets put together. Let’s just remind ourselves of the seasons of faith we have walked. We prepared for the birth of birth of God’s light and hope in Advent, receiving that gift in Christmas and following that light through Epiphany. We are embraced by God’s arrival in human form through Lent as we, along with Christ, deal with our human temptations and testing. We witness God’s amazing grace and power in Easter and spend the longest season of the year considering the power of resurrection alive. Finally, last Sunday, we shift our attention to the birth of the Holy Spirit. As the Risen Christ departs, the gift of the Holy Spirit is blessed upon each and every one of us ~ filling us with gifts for ministry. Gifts of hope and healing in the world. And…this Sunday, we put all those fundamental pieces together. Considering how Creator, Father / Mother, Holy Mystery ~ how Christ, Son of God, Messiah ~ how Holy Spirit, Holy Presence, Holy Ghost ~ how these three facets all come together into a theology that allows us to be embraced by the unknowable presence of that which we call “God”. This morning, there is a tricycle theology for us to consider as we are embraced by the trinity of our faith.
It is helpful, as we forge ahead, to note that the theology of the trinity was not adopted until 325 CE by the council of Nicea. A full three centuries had elapsed after Jesus’ life and ministry before this theology was developed and adopted by the church. Prior to that, the early church was continuing to grasp at seeking a deeper understanding of God. They viewed God (in the language of those days) as Father, and they saw God’s presence to have been revealed in the human / divine complexisty of Jesus Christ. As the Spirit was adopted as the third aspect of the trinity, we see an acknowledgement of how truly complex an understanding of the divine is. Since the days of Jesus, they understood God as being fully revealed through Jesus. With the adoption of the Spirit as the third essence of the Trinity, it was an acknowledgement of our human need to be guided by the Holy Spirit. It is almost like they had been riding a two wheeled bicycle and they were continuing to fall off! They needed that third wheel to help them continue pedalling towards a deeper understanding of this unknowable mystery of the holy. And so, in 325 the Council of Nicea adopted the third component ~ the Holy Spirit ~ to help understand the divine.
Theologian Sally McFague writes. “God is not a distant being, but being-itself, the One in whom we live and move and have our being and not just our so-called spiritual being, but our bodily being as well” What I think Professor McFague is getting at is the nature of God that must be understood to be as close as each part of our very DNA. That this God is as close as each breath we take in. And conversely, that this God will be as distant as we choose to allow God to be as well. What would it mean to you to understand your body as a part of divine creation? Could that be what the Genesis creation story means when we read that “we are made in the image of God?” That this Spirit resides in you?
What I love about a ‘tricycle theology’ is that it allows us to balance this incredibly beautiful faith in a way that we can more deeply understand. Each of the three elements are fundamental in order for our entire relationship with God to flourish. How do we seek to understand the entirety of this God that is, on the one hand, beyond our very being and understanding; yet, on the other hand, close to us…(more than close) a part of us. The gift of tricycle / trinitarian theology is that it allows us to find a balance point and not make God more complex than we need to. It allows us to balance each of the three wonderful parts of the holy mystery of God, and find an awareness of God in our lives. The reverse of this would be for us to attempt to take in the entirety of God, which would be akin to trying to drink water from a gushing hose. We simply cannot do it. Trinitarian theology allows for a broader vision to see God, gain a deeper understanding of this unknowable God, and have a deeper relationship with the Holy Mystery we call “God”.
When we look at God through this threefold perspective we begin to see the depth of this God whose vastness is beyond our comprehension whose love is beyond condition, and whose presence can be felt in each breath we take. On the surface, tricycle theology is as profoundly simple and as complex as the little child who will soon mount and ride their tricycle. And as that little tricycle rider works and works to keep upright, battling the forces of gravity with her three little wheels, she knows in her heart that God calls to her: “I loved you into creation and you are my child, you have known me through the Way of Christ, I live in your body through the spirit. I am alive in you and you are alive in me”
And with that assurance, our little tricycle rider continues riding, riding off into the sunset of her life. May we, too, ride off with a depth of knowing God in our lives as well.