Here is something I rarely do in sermons, quote.
But some people have said or written things
simply too delicious
not to savor.
Let’s chew on this
from Jewish philosopher/theologian Martin Buber:
“Existence will remain meaningless for you
if you yourself do not penetrate into it
with active love
and if you do not in this way
discover it’s meaning for yourself.
Everything is waiting to be hallowed by you;
it is waiting for this meaning to be disclosed
and to be realized by you…
Meet the world with the fullness of your being
and you shall meet God.
If you wish to believe, love!”
(Martin Buber, I and Thou)
If you wish to believe, love!
If that idea does not excite you
I don’t know what will.
Love is the one thing we can do
that will actually have the effect
of changing who we are;
changing the world, as we know it;
and offer us a glimpse of holiness.
Really, one small love at a time:
If we wish to believe, love.
If we wish to believe,
and to actually encounter God,
then what we need to do
is stack one small love on another.
One small love beyond our natural inclination.
One small love over our social boundaries.
One small love beyond our comfort.
One small love within the walls of our self-doubt.
One small love within the swirl of our inner chaos.
One small love upon the wound that won’t go away.
One small love
upon one small love
may well lead to an expansive love
with sudden and immense proportions.
If we wish to believe, love!
Now, let’s muddy the waters.
It is Trinity Sunday
and if ever there was a muddy topic
it is the idea of the Holy Trinity.
If you ask me it is a mess.
Sure, there is cool symbolism to it,
like the Celtic knot and other images,
but the concept of the Trinity
is just plain kooky.
I know, and am well aware,
that orthodox Christian theology
rests upon this idea
for which our church here in Geneva is named:
The Holy Trinity.
But in all fairness
let us also acknowledge,
the Trinity is not a Biblical concept
and was the source of tremendous conflict and strife
for five-hundred years
before a preponderance of effort,
both theological and imperial,
insured its dominance.
Today most but not all Christian denominations
have some version of the Trinity
but they still argue
and have to explain in great detail
how to talk about it
so it is not polytheistic
in the way both Jewish and Muslim traditions view it.
I will be honest with you: I don’t ‘get’ the Trinity.
I get that it is an idea
and I get that it is a cherished centerpiece
of orthodox Christian believing,
but I can’t wrap my head around it.
I just don’t ‘get’ it.
The idea that God is three in one and one and three
just baffles me.
But if we take a step back
and widen our perspective on this,
the nonsense starts to make a little more sense.
Listen to this explanation about the nature of things from Zen Buddhism:
“The One is none other than the All,
the All none other than the One…
(but) what can words tell of things
that have no yesterday, tomorrow, or today?”
And listen to this from the even more ancient
and equally confusing, Taoism:
“Tao is emptiness, not-being,
and above all non-action, which is called Te…
Te is the mysterious power of Tao
and shows that although Tao may be not-being,
it is not for that reason nothing,
but rather the potentiality of all being…
It is by Te that Tao becomes manifest as the unifying One,
the unity behind the multiplicity of beings.”
(“Taoism” in The Concise Encyclopedia of Living Faiths, ed. R.C. Zaehner)
Or finally this, from Buddhist, Sogyal Rinpoche:
“A wave in the sea…seems to have a distinct identity,
an end and a beginning, a birth and a death.
Seen in another way,
the wave itself doesn’t really exist
but is just the behavior of water,
‘empty’ of any separate identity but ‘full’ of water.
So when you really think about the wave,
you come to realize that it is something
that has been made temporarily possible
by wind and water,
and is dependent on
a set of constantly changing circumstances.
You also realize that every wave
is related to every other wave.
(N. 3/1 from Glimpse after Glimpse by Sogyal Rinpoche).
All right, I am driving myself crazy too. What is the point?
The point is we must come to this thing we call God
with a combination of awe and the humility.
If we come to a holy place like this
in prayer and worship
but thinking we can nail down a tight definition
of who and what God is,
and find out precisely what God thinks
about what we should do,
then we will walk away foolish.
On the other hand,
if we come here with a sense of humility,
we may just walk away with a glimpse of holiness.
Humility comes in all shapes, colors, and feelings.
Humility can arrive from a sense of smallness
overcoming us as we stand beneath
gazillions of stars in a darkened sky.
It may come from the sense of finitude
washing over us as we stand with toes in the sand
and our imaginations reaching to the ocean’s horizon.
Humility may come from the surprising conclusion
to something we thought would be terrible but wasn’t,
or the serendipity of a chance encounter
that changes the course of our personal history.
Humility softens our thinking
and rounds the edges of our rationality
and opens the pores of our mind
allowing the whispers of time and space
to remind us of our smallness.
When we stand there
then whether or not we ‘get’ the Trinity
or pretend to understand the claims of any religion
about the oneness of all things
or the nature of God – does not really matter.
When we stand in the humility of our smallness
we then are able to sense that Wisdom,
as pointed to in that Proverbs passage,
coexisted with God before the mountains were shaped.
And we begin to sense,
as T. S. Eliot groped to explain,
that what we know
is the only thing we do not know;
and what we own
is what we have lost;
and where we are
is discovered in where we are not.
So this is where the limits of your preacher
may well be a handicap to you.
When confronted with what I do not understand
my only hope is to retreat into humility and awe
because that is where I can experience
what I do not know
and what I do not understand.
I am, you see, an experiential learner.
Explain to me a hundred times
and I will remain confused
and stubbornly resistant to what I do not understand.
But lead me by the hand into an experience
of the thing you want me to know
and I will soon comprehend.
That is my prison,
But thank goodness it has a backdoor –
And so I come back to Martin Buber:
If we wish to believe, love!
One small love
on one small love
will lead, in my experience,
to an encounter…
Love, true love, humbles us.
That is how we know we love,
are in love,
have true love:
we become small
inside of something much bigger
and it soon is no longer about ‘me’
and rather about ‘us’
or even about ‘you.’
That is also how we recognize not-love
mascaraing as love:
when it is all about ‘me’
and very little about ‘you’ or ‘us’
it is not love.
There is almost no humility in not-love
and absolutely no awe to be discovered there.
one small love at a time,
stacked upon another small love,
and enfolded into another small love,
leads us to encounter…God.
Talk about the Trinity all you want,
put forth clear and wonderful proclamations
of truth about God,
and who and what God is and is not, but…
if we wish to believe, love!