May 30, 2021 / Holy Trinity / Richard Holmer
First Reading Isaiah 6:108 / Second Reading Romans 8:12-17 / Gospel John 3:1-17
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This is the opening sentence of Leo Tolstoy’s great novel, Anna Karenina. I believe that what Tolstoy suggests is true both for our biological families and for church families, as well. There are some common threads that run through families that thrive – families who, though by no means perfect, continue to enjoy enduring happiness.
Love is an obvious quality of such families – the kind of love that is genuine, not conditional or manipulative. The love that helps families to flourish is gracious, steadfast, compassionate and patient. It’s the love that Paul describes in First Corinthians 13.
Forgiveness is readily available in happy families. There is no place for lingering bitterness and resentment – no score keeping. Family members are quick to ask forgiveness and always ready to offer it.
There is a spirit of true humility (not false modesty or low self-esteem). Arrogance and vanity are absent. There is open honesty about mistakes and imperfections – because all recognize they are not perfect, and don’t have to be in order to get along.
Laughter and joy are a consistent feature of life together. Members can laugh together and at themselves. I remember what a consultant for a capital campaign said to our church council when he arrived for our first meeting. He said, “As I came up the sidewalk, I heard you all laughing . I knew then that the campaign would go well.”
There is a spirit of mutual accountability. Members respect one another and expect each other to be responsible to shared values. A parent says to a child as they head off to a party what a youth leader may say to youth on a mission trip: “Remember who you are.”
Happy families welcome diversity within their bonds of unity. Members are by no means identical. Rigid conformity is not required. Parents soon realize each child is unique. A church family depends on a wide variety of gifts. Happy families also are welcoming to the diversity of those outside the family.
We see these qualities in happy families and in thriving congregations.
A fundamental challenge we all face then, is the quality of our relationships. We know the pain of strained and broken relationships: friendships lost, marriages that fail, families that fall apart, congregations in conflict. We witness unhealthy relationships on the large scale in the wider world: divisions between nations and races and parties.
When relationships are tense or frayed or broken – ain’t no one happy. For this reason some choose to withdraw and avoid relating to others. But very few are cut out for life as a hermit. God created us to be in relationship – with God and with one another. You and I are hard-wired to be social beings.
We are made in the image of God. And what is God’s image? On this day we celebrate the glorious and mysterious reality of the Holy Trinity: One God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This reminds us of something essential: God exists in eternal, blessed relationship. To know God is to know a God who is not static, but dynamic – a vibrant, living relationship. God is not an object or a thing – God is a subject, a person – actually three persons who at the same time are ONE. The prayer of the day for this Sunday speaks eloquently of the vibrant character of our active, living God:
Almighty God our Father, dwelling in majesty and mystery, renewing and fulfilling creation by your eternal Spirit, and revealing your glory through our Lord, Jesus Christ: Cleanse us from doubt and fear, and enable us to worship you, with your Son and the Holy Spirit, one God, living and reigning, now and forever.
To believe in God is to enter into relationship with God. We relate to God as
Father and Creator,
as Son, Jesus, Lord and Savior,
as Holy Spirit, guiding and inspiring.
God is love, love in all its passionate goodness and transforming power. The Holy Trinity abides in constant love – like a burning bush that is eternally on fire, yet never consumed. God’s love never burns out, is never extinguished. Instead it overflows from the Trinity to God’s family and the whole creation. God hates nothing that God has made – God sees it as good and loves and cares for it.
The big story the Bible tells is that God created the universe – and each of us – in order to extend the living, abiding, loving relationship that exists among Father, Son and Holy Spirit to a much wider circle. Today we are reminded in a familiar verse that “God so loved the world” (the whole, wide world) that he sent his Son into this world. Christ came to show us the way of love, that our relationships might be modeled on the eternal relationship that exists between Father, Son and Spirit.
The Holy Trinity is a holy family of three persons, sustained and abounding in love. The most basic unity of human society is the family. Each member is a distinct person : mother / father / daughter / son – and together they are one family, joined in love Human families are by no means perfect, yet they often are quite durable.
We can extend the image of family to another level. By baptism we are children of God, adopted as God’s daughters and sons – and as Paul reminds us “joint heirs of God with Christ.” You and I belong to the family of God. The Kingdom of God is the kin-dom of God; we live in kinship with God and one another. Because One has died for all, we who are many are One.
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Relationships are demanding and challenging, whether in our families, in church or in society. We don’t always get it right, and even when we do, our efforts are not always recognized or appreciated. Nevertheless, we have a model, a pattern to emulate. You and I come to know one another through relationship, not from afar.
So it is with God. God as the Holy Trinity is not an abstract theory for theologians to ponder. The Trinity is not a mystery that must be solved. We come to know God by living in relationship with God. And the love between Father, Son and Spirit is the model and guide for all our human relationships. God is known by way of openness, trust and love. This is the way we come to know one another – and are able to live together.
All happy families are alike – in heaven and on earth.
Thanks be to God.