Sunday, June 7, 2020 “More Than One Way to View the Trinity”

Sunday, June 7, 2020 "More Than One Way to View the Trinity"

Join us Sunday morning for Holy Trinity’s Video Worship Service with Pastor Erik, “More Than One Way to View the Trinity.”

Here’s the YouTube link for Sunday Worship.

“More Than One View of the Trinity”

2 Cor. 13:5-13           June 7, 2020

            What does God look like?  How would you describe God? How do we explain how God operates in the world?  These are questions the early church was trying to deal with when they came up with the doctrine of the Trinity and why we still celebrate a Holy Trinity Sunday today.  The idea of the Trinity grew out of the sayings of Jesus where he talks about being one with the Father and a Spirit he would send.  But although Jesus talks this way, it is really only at the end of the book of Matthew that we hear Jesus more explicitly express what came to be known in the church as the Trinity.  We heard this just a moment ago as Jesus tells his disciples to go and baptize people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

But there may be another view of the Trinity in the Bible.  This is expressed in our first reading where Paul ends his letter by saying, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  Jesus, God, Holy Spirit, all mentioned together in the same sentence sounds a lot like a description of the Trinity.

I personally like the language that Paul uses. It takes out the limits of gender language and family relationships and broadens our perspective of God. It focuses on the characteristics of God and the values of God and the purpose of God which is to bring grace, to give love, to create community.

These are some values and characteristics that our nation could really use right now as we have seen the unrest in our country and around the world.  We have heard voices raised and violent clashes occur.  We have been reminded of the divides in our communities especially around matters of race.  As Christians, we may be thinking about how our faith calls us to respond.  We may be thinking, “What could I do to help alleviate the injustice of racism?”

I would like to propose that as people of faith we can start by examinging our image of God.  You see, we tend to like to keep God in our own image, that way we can relate to God and feel closer to God. To a certain extent there is nothing wrong with this, the problem comes when we think our image of God is the only image of God or is better than any other images. Or, we associate God only with our image so that other people become less than us, because their image doesn’t match up with ours.

We see this profoundly play out in racial tensions where one image of humanity is placed above another.  Where whiteness is somehow seen as more in the image of God than blackness.  As Christians, we have to confront this within ourselves if we are going to have healing between the races which historically have been looked down upon.

We have to look back into our history and see where Christianity was used to justify the destruction of native peoples and the enslavement of men and women from the African continent.    We need to begin by facing the truth that God is not white.  Jesus was not white.  Now, when I say God is not white how did you react? How did you feel inside?   Did you feel a little angry? Did you feel a little defensive? Did you feel a little uncomfortable, like you were being attacked?

If you take a deep breath and step back for a moment you would probably agree that this is true. If you think with your head you would probably give intellectual and theological agreement that of course God is not white, because God is more than human and God transcends race or skin color.  But on a visceral level when you hear that as a white person it is initially jarring because it messes with our assumptions of what we think God looks like.  It messes with a picture of God or Jesus we may have had in our head since we were little.

I don’t know about you, but some of the earliest pictures I saw of Jesus were probably the same as many of the pictures you are familiar with, or something similar.

You know, the long hair, blue-eyed, fair-skinned Jesus with some warm light around his head often with a beard.

I kind of liked this image.   I was a boy who could see myself growing up to be that kind of man.  It looked kind of like my dad. My dad had a beard and blue eyes and my dad loved me.  He played with me and gave me hugs.

So messing with this image messes with something I found to be comforting and kind.  But what if you were not a boy? What if you didn’t have a great dad growing up?  What if there was no one in your family with fair-skin and blue eyes?  Would such an image of Jesus be as comforting?  How would that affect what you thought God looked like?

Another reason why it can be jarring at first to hear that God is not white is because as a white person when I think about God being like me it makes me feel exceptional.  It makes me feel special.  It also makes me feel associated with the power of God.  To take away that association then can feel threatening or like a loss of power.

Now magnify that feeling over the course of centuries and you can just begin to imagine what it might have been like for generations of darker-skinned people who were made to believe that God did not look like them but rather looked like the white-skinned missionaries, pastors, politicians, kings, soldiers, merchants and traders who often exploited and oppressed them.  Think about this belief being institutionalized for hundreds of years and you begin to realize the dehumanizing destructiveness of racism.

This is what is meant by structural racism.  It means intentionally creating a system and a way of thinking where one kind of people is seen as more valuable than another based on the color of their skin.  This system includes influencing people’s image of God so that they come to be seen as less in God’s eyes, which can then justify their being treated as less than human in the eyes of those in power.

But this is not the world as God intended it to be.  The Bible does not talk about God having a skin color.  God is mysterious–often depicted as a cloud, fire, or bright light.  God then comes to be described in Christianity as the Trinity, as three in one, one in three, which again is something mysterious and actually promotes the idea of diversity within unity.

The Bible also does not tell us what Jesus looked like.  Maybe that was intentional by the Gospel writers, but If you want to get technical, then we would have to say that Jesus was probably darker-skinned, like the Arabic tribes of the Middle East.  Most all of the first Christians were probably darker-skinned as well, since that is where Christianity first spread.  Many early Christians were probably actually black, as the faith spread early on into parts of Egypt and Ethiopia.

We see this depicted in some of the earliest artistic impressions of Jesus. The Christians in Egypt came to be known as the Coptic Christians.  In a Coptic museum in Cairo there is painting dating back before the 6th century of Jesus and his disciples.

Jesus and his followers are seen as having very dark skin.

The Orthodox church in Ethiopia has a long tradition of icons that show Jesus with more African features.

The cross came to be a symbol in many different cultures that connected people to God in a new way that they could relate to, no matter what their race or ethnicity. The cross particularly connected people who had been oppressed or who were suffering to God they saw revealed in Jesus as a God who suffered with them and who wanted them to have new life.

This view of God came to resonant with the slaves brought to America, despite the fact that the Christian faith first came to them from the white folk in power.  They came to see deeper truths in Scripture.  They came to see themselves in the Israelite slaves that God led to freedom through Moses. They came to see themselves in the Jesus who was unjustly accused and who spoke up for the poor.  This gave them spirital strength and broadened their view of God, so they knew that God was with them too. Modern African American artists have come to depict this connection in their work.

Here is picture of an African American Jesus with dread locks and a crown of thorns.  It shows the on-going connection of Christ’s suffering with African Americans today.

The point here is not to say that God is black as opposed to being white. The point is that who God is, is not limited to one race.  The point is that if we are to begin to dismantle the structures of racism, we as Christians need to start with reflecting on our own  view of God to recognize our own bias and let our view be enlarged. The point is, that we are all made in the image of God.   The point is, that red, brown, yellow, black and white, we are all precious in God’s sight—that Jesus loves all the children of the world.

Acknowledging the mysterious depth of the Holy Trinity challenges our limited views of God and expands them to include the experiences of all kinds of different people. It exposes the ways we might try to narrow the image of God to fit our agenda, which can lead to the dehumanization of others.  It pulls us towards the direction of seeing the value in all of God’s people no matter what they might look like.

This can be jarring at first and can make us feel uncomfortable. But it is does not have to be scary. Rather, it can actually be exciting, for as we allow ourselves to be open to the rich diversity of God-images experienced by a variety of peoples, our own knowledge of God expands and grows, the depth of our faith begins to expand and grow, and our sense of community and compassion expands and grows.  In other words, we become better people.  We become who God calls us to be.  We come to more deeply reside in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the community of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

-Erik Goehner