Reginald Fuller suggested that instead of speaking of the triune nature of God that perhaps we should speak of the human experience of God down through the ages. Sarah Coakley suggests that instead of starting with our doctrine about the Trinity that we start with prayer. “The more you pray, the more you notice that a conversation is already in progress. That’s God talking to God-the Spirit’s love-language to God coursing through you, making you and all creation holy. You don’t imagine this teaching by thinking hard. You open yourself up to it by praying hard.”
Today we heard this beautiful creation story telling us of the generations of the creation and how “the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” In this story we have the wind, a voice and God saying, “why not?” and making the world.
Paul tells us in Hebrews that Psalm 8 is a description of Christ’s incarnation, then in the letter to the Corinthians he gives them a full-blown Trinitarian doxology: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Paul’s human experience of God in the Church of Christ had three aspects: grace, love and fellowship. Paul’s letter would have been read during a church service and followed by the exchange of peace and then the Eucharist. He wanted those assembled in the church to remember to keep peace within the community, live lives of integrity and to greet one another with a holy kiss.
Paul experienced God’s grace when the ascended Jesus appeared to him and called him to ministry. He experienced God’s love when the community in Damascus took him in, taught him and his sight was restored. He experienced the fellowship of the Spirit in his encounters with his fellow Christians. He writes of these three aspects of God over and over again. Even when he struggled with the elders of the church, with the people he evangelized and the secular authorities of Rome he continued to experience grace, love and fellowship.
And, there is Matthew. He was working with a rabbi’s perspective when he wrote down the stories of Jesus’ life-he wanted to show the connection between Jesus and the Hebrew Scriptures. Matthew placed Jesus on a mountaintop-like Moses and wanted his readers to see Jesus as a continuation of the Judaic religion. Yet, Matthew, with his Jewish perspective of Jesus ends his Gospel story by including all nations in the great commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And, remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The interesting thing to me is that the disciples are standing on this mountain with the resurrected Jesus right there and in verse 17, it is noted “but some doubted.” As Jason Byassee from Vancouver School of Theology says, this is the real pearl in the passage. “What more does God have to do? Scramble out of the grave with thunder and lightning and an angel and…we still doubt.” There is comfort in this little gem: some doubted.
I don’t feel smug anymore about the followers of Jesus-their ignorance, their disbelief. It would not have been any clearer to me, I’m sure. I would have been just as dumbfounded-just as doubtful about what I was seeing and experiencing. This is human experience of God: God is so amazing we can’t absorb it all and we doubt because we can’t know or understand what is going on.
And, yet, Jesus sent those eleven disciples-even the doubters-out to evangelize the world. To teach what they had observed and heard from Jesus to everyone they encountered-to go out seeking people all over the world. And, they went out and told their experience of Jesus and God-told what they had seen and heard and felt as they followed Jesus around Galilee and off to Jerusalem.
We could look at this story and say, “Well, these were the original apostles and they had direct experience of the incarnate Christ so this command died with them.” In the Christian Church-especially in the Roman, Episcopal, and Eastern Orthodox Churches, we believe in the apostolic succession. Each of us ordained in these churches can trace our ordination through our bishops back to one of the apostles. These same bishops move the church forward by choosing whom to ordain and by tackling difficult issues with prayer and compassion. These bishops teach the larger congregation by word and example.
Our bishop, Greg, has gone out to visit people in the Holy Land to understand the plight of Palestinian Christians and he has gone into the encampments in Aberdeen to meet people who are living on the edge and he has returned so he can nurture those relationships. He shows a caring for the environment, for people who are marginalized, for people with addictions, and for the folks sitting in the pews in churches all over the diocese.
I have had friendships over the years that have nurtured my experience of the living God. Years ago, when I was at school, I would have theological discussions with one of my classmates as he was a true, unchurched Northwesterner who had found the Lutheran Church and he had lots of questions. We supported one another in our faith journeys and then, we found that people who had troubles would seek us out and tell us about their illness or their relationship problems or their academic struggles.
We prayed for them. I’m saying that if we are companions in this whole Christian thing, people will seek us out for solace, for advice, for someone who HAS to listen because, well, Jesus. And, that is my experience of the triune God: if I am praying, if I am listening to my fellow pilgrims, the Holy Spirit is there and people are drawn to me because they feel it even if they doubt it and don’t understand it. People will ask for prayers even if they don’t believe in prayer.
Yesterday, one of my Jewish friends told me I could put her in my “God box” because she needed all the help she could get right now. I called her because her dad said he was worried about her and I love her and wanted to know if there was anything I could do to make things better. So, whatever a God box is, she is in mine now.
The trinity is about community, about discipleship, and about listening to others because, well, Jesus.
I would like to finish with the disciple’s prayer from the Anglican Church of Zimbabwe because it is a prayer those doubting apostles needed after receiving the great commission from Jesus.
Lord, I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made.
I am your disciple. I won’t look back, let up, bow down, back away, or be still.
I am finished with low living, sight walking, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.
I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed.
I will not flinch in the face of despair, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won’t give up, shut up, or let up until I have stored up, prayed up and preached up for the cause of Christ.