Pastor Joe Britton
St. Michael’s Church
We have heard this week quite a cacophony of voices speaking out in opposition to one thing or another. “I am opposed to racism,” says one. Or “I am opposed to police brutality,” says another. Or yet again, “I am opposed to violence of any sort,” says a third. There is a lot of opposition in the air, and opposition to many things.
But if such opposition is to achieve anything, then behind it there must also be clarity about what we are for. It is not enough simply to be opposed to injustice; one must also be prepared to articulate and then to construct its alternative. One must stand for something, beyond that which one opposes.
So of all the Sundays in the year, perhaps today is the most appropriate occasion to consider the importance of living for, rather than just against, since Trinity Sunday is when we focus on how above all, God is for us. (And I should give credit here for this idea to a lay Catholic feminist theologian named Catherine LaCugna, who died prematurely at the age of 44 from cancer in 1997. Her book, God for Us, helped to reintroduce Christians to the idea of the Trinity, not as an esoteric and slightly illogical concept, but as a portrait of life itself. But more about that in a moment …)
For months now, since last Advent, we have been telling the story of how God reaches toward us in Jesus. We have followed Jesus through his birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. That story was completed with last week’s celebration of Pentecost, the day when Jesus sends his Spirit upon us, and now this Sunday adds a kind of coda to the whole of that story, putting it all in a broader perspective.
And what today says to us is this: As a trinity of persons, God’s very nature is relationship (or communion), and so God exists solely toward and for the other. That is to say, God does not hide from us in a bunker or behind any kind of security perimeter. No, God is always completely present to us, pouring God’s own loving self fully into creation, loving it into being what it was created to be. That’s what Catherine LaCugna meant by the phrase, “God for us.”
But equally important to this statement about God, is that if God is pure relationship, and we are created in God’s image, then we ourselves are called by our very nature into relationship as the essence of what it means to be human. The direction of our attention, therefore, can never be inward and toward the self, but must always be outward and toward the other. So the foundation of our life becomes this movement from self to other, from the familiar to the unknown, from the human to the divine.
The best image I can think of this “living for the other” comes from what I am doing right here and now: taking care of my aged parents. I’m surrounded by reminders in the house of what they did for me as a child: the piano where my mother coached me as I learned to play, the sofa where they nursed me whenever I was sick, the basement where my father taught me to use tools under the guise of model railroading. I was talking late last night with my niece who is also here, and found myself describing these days as a kind of closing of the circle: as my parents once extended their lives in caring for me, so I am now doing that for them. Living for the other, in the image of how God lives for us.
And there are important implications to be taken from this trinitarian perspective. The first is, it means that the idea of the Trinity is not only a way of talking about who God is: it is also a way of talking about who we are. We are created by a God of relationship, for the purpose of being in relation with that God, and with one another—if God lives for us, then we are to live for God and for one another. To do anything other is to be less than human.
And in Jesus, we are given a concrete representation of what that kind of life looks like: he is both the exemplar and the criterion of what he called the reign, or the household, of God. For us to dwell in that reign, in other words, is to live a life first and foremost trusting as he did in God’s ways of mercy, compassion, and inclusion; and so, it is also to live a life in harmony with the whole of creation, and the human family within it. In short, to live a life that is part of the household of God, is to exist peaceably in regards to ourselves, to one another, to creation, and to God.
So, back to the pattern of opposition and confrontation which has been on such display in the news this past week. If we are to live the trinitarian life that is imprinted upon us, then in the face of the void of angry rhetoric which has come to be accepted as political discourse in this country, it is our task as Christian people to articulate and to model an alternative vision of what it is we as human beings are to live for.
The source for such a vision is given to us in the nature of the triune God in whom we believe: a God who is entirely driven by concern for and delight in relationship. It is a vision of life that is constructive, healing, aspirational, non-defensive, and self-sacrificing. It finds its expression in an unwavering commitment to the welfare and happiness of the other, which is the very meaning of justice. And as Marianne Budde, Bishop of Washington, commented this week in responding to certain incidents that took place in front of one of Washington’s churches, what is justice but “the societal expression of love, [which] is what matters most to God.” The Christian vision of life is not built on domination, it is not self-centered, and it is not authoritarian. What it is, is the self-emptying, loving extension of our own lives on behalf of one another. And any ideology to the contrary must be called out and named for what it is: a distortion of the very essence and meaning of human life, and therefore a blasphemy against God in whose image we are created.
And that, it seems to me, is what we as Christians are for, because it is none other than the way in which God is for us. Amen.