“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.”
This is a line from one of the scripture readings we heard this evening. When I was preparing tonight’s sermon, my first thought was to write about this scripture in relation to Trinity Sunday, this day when we celebrate what Christians call the Triune God — a God who is three persons but one God. Maybe you’ve heard the Triune God referred to as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit or Creator, Redeemer, and Friend — there are many ways that Christians talk about the Trinity.
So, in preparing for tonight I thought this scripture from Romans could work its way into a sermon about how each member of the Trinity is “adopted” into the other. Because for centuries the Christian Church has argued about whether or not one member of the Trinity is more subservient to the other. Like is there a hierarchy — the Father, then the Son, then the Spirit? Or how much is the Father, of the Son, and the Son of the Spirit? Like if we were to give a percentage of being to each being what percentage would we give?
So, I wrote that sermon — a sermon about the mathematical gymnastics of three in oneness and one in threeness and, frankly, I got so bored writing that sermon I thought, I don’t want to preach this, let alone listen to it!
So, let’s try another approach to this day Christians call Trinity Sunday. Last week I turned on the TV to watch the Royal wedding. I thought this would be a good way to distract myself from the serious work of writing a sermon — you know, with something light and fluffy like the Royal wedding.
And it turns out, watching the Royal wedding was a transforming experience, but not in a way I’m terribly proud of, if I’m honest. I didn’t come away from the wedding inspired by Michael Curry’s sermon. I wasn’t impressed by the music; I didn’t stop even for a minute to think about the cultural diversity. I came away from watching the Royal wedding feeling anxious. Because while I was watching, I did what a lot of us do when we’re watching major events; I looked for the faces of the people in the crowd who looked like me and I took my cue from them as to how I should be responding to the event that was taking place. And the people who looked most like me around the chapel, the people whose culture and way of being I have been raised in, to me, those folks looked anxious, so I too felt anxious.
Now, of course, there is something charming about what the British call “the stiff upper lip,” — and as an English woman I take a degree of pride in the quick wit, the self-effacing manner, the understated demeanour in which a lot English people carry themselves. And, there’s a degree of anxiety that comes with carrying yourself this way. I’m no expert on protocol for the Royal family, but it’s my observation that there’s a downside to continually shielding yourself from showing emotion, or from avoiding eye contact in a situation you feel uncomfortable in; or even just refusing to turn your heart towards someone when they’re speaking in a way that is unfamiliar to you.
It wasn’t until I went online and read some of the responses to Michael Curry’s sermon that my heart really began to change. Here are some excerpts from the responses I read online:
“I’m just an ordinary bloke off the street and when I went to work on Monday everyone in my factory was raving about this Curry’s preaching and message. I haven’t a degree in theology or a degree in preaching, but that bloke spoke right into the core of my soul. I had a few tears in my eyes as he spoke, and my Christian heart danced with joy. I loved it and have listened to it countless times as have many others. The Spirit of God was upon him and it’s made people all around me in my ordinary world take notice.”
Another person wrote this:
“A lot of folks are complaining that Bishop Curry didn’t quote from a famous king, like so many Royal wedding preachers before him. To those people I want to say, “Oh he quoted from a King, the King — Dr. Martin Luther King.”
So, I watched the Royal wedding for a second time, this time watching the faces of all the people gathered there, not just the ones who looked like me, and I didn’t feel so anxious the second time around. Here was Megan Markle, her face open and engaged with the preacher, here was this gospel choir director spreading her hands apart as she conducted, as though she were turning the hearts in that congregation toward one another. And I still saw the Royal family’s anxious shuffling and felt the anxiety in my own heart, but I saw it in the context of this black preacher — a preacher who holds a position of authority and influence equal to the Archbishop of Canterbury — this man who broke open the world of church and empire with profound, uncomfortable and transforming words in the very place where the people who were once his ancestors’ captors had stood. I saw God in the Royal wedding when I considered the way this gathering of diverse people — with the whole world watching — was grappling in literal and metaphorical ways with this biblical call to take up a spirit of adoption rather than a spirit of slavery.
The writer to the Romans says this in the reading we heard this evening (and here it is again in context):
“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
Can I tell you how radical this is? The writer is telling these new Christians gathered in first century Rome that by calling God “Father” they are claiming familial ties with the God of Abraham and Isaac, with the God of Naomi and Ruth, the God of Rahab and Mary, with the God of these people from ages past whose holy and complicated lives we read about in the Bible, with the God first century Jews considered to be the God of the Universe. Claiming this God as loving parent was a claim that would’ve gotten you in a lot of trouble in an age where the ruler of the Empire wanted his citizens to call him God and to fear him their earthly master. And then this message about Jesus starts going around, that there’s this God who has become human not in the ruler of the Empire but in Jesus, and Jesus, he calls the citizens of his kingdom, not slaves but co-heirs, brother and sister, because through the Spirit and in contrast to the rulers of our world, God has dared to adopt all people as her children.
So, what was it that made the second time through the royal wedding so different for me? It’s that I had my heart turned toward everyone gathered in that church — in recognition that the God who was being glorified that day is the God who adopts all people as her children, the God who calls all people co-heirs, brothers and sisters with Christ. And when I watched this major event unfold with that kind of spirit, the world I’ve known for so long started to look a little different and, honestly a whole lot better.
So, what does any of this have to do with Trinity Sunday, with this God who is three in one and one in three. I reckon when Christians talk about the Triune God the point isn’t that we figure out how much the Father is or isn’t of the Son is of the Spirit, or whether or not we can wrap our minds around percentages of essence. I think the profound thing about worshipping a Triune God is that three diverse persons, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, Friend — these three persons of the Trinity turn their hearts toward one another in beautiful and mysterious ways that have confounded people for centuries.
St. John of the Cross, one of the great mystics of the Christian tradition, he says this in his poem, On the one holy trinity:
Infinite love is the link
tying the trio above:
love, sole and yet triple
(such is the mystery thereof);
love, the more single and only
generates all the more love!
So, turn your hearts toward one another in infinite love. Enter your conversations with your coworkers and with your fellow citizens of this country with a spirit of all people being adopted by God rather than with a spirit of slavery (and I mean that literally and metaphorically — we’ve still got a lot of work to do, folks). Dare to tie your hearts to one another again and again and again as though you and everyone around you were the very ancestors of Abraham and Isaac, Naomi and Ruth, Rahab and Mary — as though the entire human family were the beloved family of God, because indeed we are. Infinite love — what we are practicing with one another this evening — this is what the Triune God does eternally. Loving parent, Beloved child, Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Friend — the Triune God is a divine portrait of what it looks like when people, unique in their own way, forever turn their hearts to one another. The Triune God is the greatest example of unity in diversity, of empathy, the Triune God is the Divine vision of the infinite capacity for love that human beings can generate when we give up fear and join our hearts together.